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Abraham Lincoln. Library of Congress, Words and Deeds in American History Collection Alternate: The first reading of the Emancipation Proclamation before the cabinet

[Detail] The first reading of the Emancipation Proclamation

Collection Overview

The complete Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress consists of approximately 20,000 documents dating from 1833 to 1916. Most of the approximately 20,000 items, however, are from the 1850s through Lincoln's presidential years, 1860-65. Treasures in this collection include Lincoln's draft of the Emancipation Proclamation, his March 4, 1865 draft of his second Inaugural Address, and his August 23, 1864 memorandum expressing his expectation of being defeated in the upcoming presidential election. The bulk of the Lincoln Papers consists of letters written to Lincoln by a wide variety of correspondents: friends, and legal and political associates from Lincoln's Springfield, Illinois days; national and regional political figures and reformers; and local people and organizations writing to their president.

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The Civil War and Reconstruction, 1850-1877

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U.S. History

Biography: Abraham Lincoln's Early Years

At 21, in a blue and white striped cotton shirt, a one-bit hat, and pants rolled up six inches from his socks, Abraham Lincoln appeared to his friends to be "as ruff a specimen of humanity as could be found."

Thirty years later, Lincoln was a candidate for the President of the United States, and James Q. Howard was sent to Springfield, Illinois to gather reminiscences such as this one for a campaign biography. Howard interviewed Lincoln and a number of his friends and associates. His notes became the basis for several biographies and its anecdotes became the stuff of legend. Search on biography and autobiography for Howard's notes and other materials that provide a sketch of Lincoln's early years.

  • What do the biographical anecdotes that Howard recorded suggest about Lincoln's character?
  • What did Lincoln's friends and associates tell Howard about why they liked Lincoln and what made him special?
  • How might Howard's mission to gather information for a campaign biography have influenced whom he chose to interview and the notes that he took?
  • How have biographers portrayed Lincoln over the years? How have they used Howard's notes?

An 1858 letter from newspaper editor Charles Ray reflects the growing demand for information about Lincoln during his senatorial contest with Stephen A. Douglas. It was not until the following year, however, with talk of a presidential nomination, that Lincoln consented to write a brief autobiography, which he sent to his friend and political associate, Jesse Fell. Lincoln's cover letter to Fell is available in the collection and the transcription includes the autobiography itself.

  • What does this letter to Jesse Fell, and Lincoln's reluctance to write an autobiography, suggest about Lincoln?

"We reached our new home about the time the State came into the Union — It was a wild region, with many bears and other wild animals still in the woods — There I grew up — There were some schools, so called; but no qualification was ever required of a teacher, beyond the "readin, writin, and cipherin" to the Rule of Three — If a straggler supposed to understand latin, happened to sojourn in the neighborhood, he was looked upon as a wizzard — There was absolutely nothing to excite ambition for education. Of course when I came of age I did not know much — Still somehow, I could read, write, and cipher to the Rule of Three, but that was all — I have not been to school since — The little advance I now have upon this store of education, I have picked up from time to time under the pressure of necessity —"

From "Abraham Lincoln to Jesse W. Fell, December 20, 1859," transcription of autobiographical sketch.

  • What were some of the challenges of Lincoln's early life?
  • Why do you think that Lincoln emphasized his lack of education in his autobiographies?
  • What reasons would Lincoln's campaign biographers have had for emphasizing Lincoln's lack of education?
  • According to Howard's notes, what "advance(s)" did Lincoln make upon his "store of education" and how?
  • What examples of humor can you find in this brief autobiography? How does Lincoln create this humor? What does this humor contribute to the autobiography?

About six months after Lincoln sent Fell this autobiography, he wrote a longer piece, listed as "Abraham Lincoln, [May-June 1860] (Autobiographical Notes)" in the collection. This second autobiography is the final and most extensive account Lincoln ever gave of his life. Referring to himself as "A," Lincoln briefly mentions how he made fences on the frontier, commenting on the popular image of himself as a "rail-splitter," as explained in the transcription notes.

"March 1st 1830 — A. having just completed his 21st year, his father and family, with the families of the two daughters and sons-in-law, of his step-mother, left the old homestead in Indiana, and came to Illinois — Their mode of conveyance was waggons drawn by ox-teams, as A. drove one of the teams — They reached the county of Macon, and stopped there some time within the same month of March. His father and family settled a new place on the North side of the Sangamon river, at the junction of the timber-land and prairie, about ten miles Westerly from Decatur — Here they built a log-cabin, into which they removed, and made sufficent of rails to fence ten acres of ground, fenced and broke the ground, and raised a crop of sod corn upon it the same year — These are, or are supposed to be, the rails about which so much is being said just now, though they are far from being the first, or only rails ever made by A."

From "Abraham Lincoln, [May-June 1860] (Autobiographical Notes)," Page 5 .

  • How do you think that Lincoln's early years on the frontier, in Kentucky, Indiana, and Illinois, might have shaped his attitudes and character?
  • In 1860, Lincoln wrote that he never "had any success in life which gave him so much satisfaction," as being elected Captain of a volunteer Company during the Black-Hawk war. Why might that election have meant so much to him?
  • What do Lincoln's autobiographies reveal about why Lincoln sought public office? What were his motivations?
  • What do the biographical and autobiographical materials suggest about how Lincoln won election to the Illinois Legislature? Why did people vote for him?
  • Why do you think Lincoln might have included the story of being attacked in New Orleans by African Americans in his autobiography?
  • Why do you think the repeal of the Missouri Compromise inspired Lincoln to re-enter politics?
  • What is the appeal of the image of Lincoln as a "rail-splitter?" What was Lincoln's attitude toward this popular image of himself?
  • How is Lincoln portrayed in contemporary popular images? How do these images compare to those of the past?


From 1834 to 1840, Lincoln served in the Illinois Legislature. During this time, he also did surveying to support himself and studied law, eventually opening a practice in Springfield in 1837. In 1840, he declined reelection and for the next five years focused on his law practice and on beginning a family. But in 1846, Lincoln was elected to the United States Congress as a Whig and served one term, from December 1847 to March 1849.

All of the battles of the Mexican War had been fought and peace negotiations were under way when Lincoln began his term in Congress. Nevertheless, within a few days of taking his seat, he questioned the constitutionality of the war and the way it was initiated in his "Spot Resolution." In making his argument, Lincoln demanded to know the exact spot where hostilities began, earning him the nickname "Spotty Lincoln" by Congressional Democrats and other supporters of the war. Search on Mexican War for a copy of the "Spot Resolution" as well as other items, such as a speech to Congress, a letter to John Mason Peck in which Lincoln defends his position, and Lincoln's second autobiography in which he summarizes his position.

  • What are the resolution's objections to the way the Mexican War was started?
  • How does Lincoln articulate these objections in the resolution?
  • What reasons might Lincoln and the Whig party have had for introducing the "Spot Resolution," given that the Mexican War was practically over?
  • In his autobiographical notes, Lincoln refers to his voting record in regard to the Mexican War. What does this suggest about how the resolution impacted his reputation?
  • What techniques did Lincoln use in his response to John Mason Peck?

The Mexican War heightened the tensions surrounding the issue of slavery. A letter from Anson G. Henry to Abraham Lincoln in December 1847 reflects the growing split within the Whig party over whether slavery should be allowed in the territories that would be ceded to the United States at the end of the Mexican War. In an effort to strike a compromise, Lincoln proposed a bill to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia . Search on 1849 bill for a draft of the proposal as well as Howard's notes of his interview with Lincoln, in which Lincoln discussed the bill.

  • Why did Lincoln and his supporters want to abolish slavery in Washington, D.C.? Why didn't they call for the abolition of slavery in other states?
  • How might an abolitionist such as William Lloyd Garrison or Frederick Douglass have reacted to Lincoln's proposal? Why?
  • What can you infer about Lincoln's position on slavery from this proposal?
  • What practical measures does the bill propose for abolishing slavery in the capital? Why do you think that Lincoln included these measures?
  • How was the bill meant to create a compromise over the issue of slavery in the territories?
  • Why wasn't the bill ever officially introduced?

After serving one term in the House of Representatives, Lincoln retired from political life and seemed content to build his thriving law practice. But when Stephen A. Douglas, Illinois Senator and chairman of the Senate Committee on Territories, introduced the Kansas-Nebraska Bill in 1854, Lincoln reentered the political arena as a candidate for the Senate in 1855. The Kansas-Nebraska Bill nullified the ban on slavery in U.S. territories established by the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and, in Lincoln's words, "aroused him as he had never been before."

Lincoln canvassed throughout the state and, according to his second autobiography, "his speeches at once attracted a more marked attention than they had ever before done." Nevertheless, Lincoln lost the election due to political maneuvering, which he explains in a letter to Congressman Elihu Washburne, who had supported Lincoln's candidacy:

"The agony is over at last; and the result you doubtless know.... I began with 44 votes, Shields 41, and Trumbull 5, — yet Trumbull was elected.... It was Gov'r Matterson's work. He has been secretly a candidate every since (before, even) the fall election. All the members round about the canal were Anti-Nebraska; but were, nevertheless nearly all democrats, and old personal friends of his. His plan was to privately impress them with the belief that he was as good Anti-Nebraska, as any one else.... We saw into it plainly ten days ago; but with every possible effort, could not head it off."

From "Abraham Lincoln to Elihu B. Washburne, February 9, 1855 (Senate) ."

Lincoln ran for the Senate again in 1858, against Democratic incumbent, Stephen A. Douglas. He ran as a Republican because the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act ultimately caused the dissolution of the Whig Party, its members joining the Democrats, the new Republican Party, or the anti-immigrant Know-Nothing Party. Lincoln got little attention at the beginning of the campaign and in a letter to Douglas, dated July 24, 1858, challenged him to debate the issues of the day.

"Will it be agreeable to you to make an arrangement for you and myself to divide time and address the same audiences during the present canvass? Mr. Judd who will hand you this is authorized to receive your answer; and if agreeable to you to enter into the terms of such arrangement."

From "Abraham Lincoln to Stephen A. Douglas, July 24, 1858 (Debates) ."

On the same day, Douglas, a noted debater, accepted Lincoln's challenge . Search on Douglas debates for pertinent materials, including a letter from Joseph Medill to Lincoln, recommending questions for the debate. Lincoln received it on the day of the second and most famous debate at Freeport. Here, Lincoln exposed Douglas's ambiguity on the issue of popular sovereignty. Search on popular sovereignty for a draft of a speech Lincoln wrote nearly a year before, attacking Douglas's stance on the issue.

Despite Lincoln's success in the debates, Douglas returned to the Senate for another term.

  • How does Lincoln define popular sovereignty, or self-government, in his speech?
  • How does he define Nebraskaism?

Lincoln's 1860 Presidential Campaign

Although he lost the senatorial election to Douglas, Lincoln won national attention through the campaign and debates. A Search on Douglas debates provides a letter from Ohio politician, William Dennison Jr. to Illinois's Lyman Trumbull requesting information on the Lincoln-Douglas debates, showing that Lincoln's fame had spread beyond the borders of his home state.

As Lincoln's popularity within the Republican Party grew, he was invited to address members of his party throughout the nation. In September 1859 Lincoln gave several speeches to Ohio Republicans, and on February 27, 1860, he spoke at Cooper Union in New York City. A Search on Ohio speech provides the notes Lincoln used for his 1859 engagements. The notes articulate Lincoln's policy on slavery, and his positions on popular sovereignty and the Supreme Court's Dred Scott decision.

"We must not disturb slavery in the states where it exists, because the Constitution, and the peace of the country both forbid us — We must not withhold an efficient fugitive slave law, because the constitution demands it —

But we must, by a national policy, prevent the spread of slavery into new territories, or free states, because the constitution does not forbid us, and the general welfare does demand such prevention — We must prevent the revival of the African slave trade, because the constitution does not forbid us, and the general welfare does require the prevention — We must prevent these things being done, by either congresses or courts — The people — the people — are the rightful masters of both Congresses, and courts — not to overthrow the Constitution, but to overthrow the men who pervert it —"

From "Abraham Lincoln, [September 16-17, 1859] (Notes for Speech in Kansas and Ohio)," Page 2.

  • Why did Lincoln argue that slavery must not be disturbed in states where it exists?
  • Why did Lincoln call for the enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act?
  • According to Lincoln, what is the reason for prohibiting slavery?
  • What distinction does Lincoln make between popular sovereignty and what he calls "Douglas popular sovereignty?"
  • Why does Lincoln argue that Douglas and his position present more danger to the Republican Party than Jefferson Davis and his position?
  • What techniques does Lincoln use to portray Douglas as a real danger?
  • How does Lincoln define the purpose of the Republican Party? What does Lincoln suggest should be the first priority of the Republican Party?
  • If you had been a Republican in Lincoln's audience, how would you have felt about Lincoln's speech? What opinion might you have formed of Lincoln?

Lincoln's speech at Cooper Union was received so well that he was recognized as a serious candidate for the presidency. Search on Cooper Union for reactions to Lincoln's speech, including remarks by James A. Hamilton, the son of Alexander Hamilton, who became an enthusiastic Lincoln supporter.

Despite Lincoln's growing fame, Lyman Trumbull, whom Lincoln had helped win the Illinois Senate seat in 1855, wrote Lincoln a discouraging assessment of his prospects of becoming the Republican nominee. He wrote, "...I am inclined to believe as between you and Gov. Seward, if the contest should assume that shape, that he would most likely succeed...."

Lincoln and his staunch supporters recognized the difficulty in winning the nomination but were not deterred by the challenge. As popular support for Lincoln grew, Wide Awake Clubs were formed to promote his nomination and election. Eventually, Republicans decided that Lincoln would be perceived as less radical than other contenders and nominated him for the presidency at the Republican National Convention in Chicago in May 1860. Search on wide awake, 1860 presidential nominee, and 1860 campaign for materials that reflect the major events and political landscape of the time. Explore the sheet music from The Alfred Whital Stern Collection of Lincolniana to analyze campaign songs about Lincoln.

  • What do these letters reveal about the kinds of activities that were involved in campaigning in 1860?
  • Who were Lincoln's opponents in the race for president?
  • What factors did the Republicans consider in nominating their presidential candidate in 1860?
  • What were the most important issues of the 1860 presidential race?
  • What strategies were employed to gain support for Lincoln?

When the Democrats held their National Convention in April 1860, several delegates, mostly from the South, walked out and the convention adjourned without nominating a presidential candidate. Two months later, the two factions of Democrats held separate conventions in Baltimore, one nominating Stephen A. Douglas for president, and the other nominating Vice President John C. Breckinridge. This split in the Democratic Party virtually insured Lincoln's victory. Search on 1860 congratulations for the many letters Lincoln received for his election.


Secession and Inauguration

As soon as the results of the 1860 presidential election were in, South Carolina called for a state convention to vote on secession. North Carolina congressman John Gilmer was just one of several southerners who asked President-elect Lincoln to publicly explain his policies in order to avert secession. In Lincoln's "strictly confidential" reply to Gilmer's December 10 letter, he refused to issue any public response to the questions he raised, writing, "Is it desired that I shall shift the ground upon which I have been elected? I can not do it."

Two days later, Nathan Sargent reported to Lincoln that certain congressmen also felt that Lincoln should make a public statement:

"Mr Pearce said that your speaking out now would do no good in the cotton states, but if you would speak what he had no doubt were your sentiments, it would have a powerful effect in the Northern slave states, and might arrest the epidemic now so fearfully & rapidly spreading: he knew not, he said, what else would arrest the disease.... We all feel as if an awful calamity was impending over us: as if we were in an ocean steamer about to be engulfed in the fathomless deep."

From "Nathan Sargent to Abraham Lincoln, December 12, 1860 (Reports on opinions of Congressmen regarding secession)," Page 2 .

Eight days later, by a unanimous vote in their state convention on December 20, South Carolina seceded from the Union and called on other southern states to do likewise. Between Lincoln's election and inauguration Congress considered, but ultimately rejected, the Crittenden Compromise as a solution to secession. Search on Crittenden Compromise for several items regarding compromise efforts. Though Lincoln was not yet in office, his actions and opinions were influential. He received numerous letters about the secession crisis, asking for his position and offering advice. Search on secession for over 450 related items.

Within forty days, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas followed South Carolina's lead. They established the Confederate States of America and inaugurated Jefferson Davis of Mississippi as their president, all before Lincoln took office.

  • What is the tone of Gilmer's letter to Lincoln and of Lincoln's response?
  • Why does Lincoln refuse to answer Gilmer's questions in a new statement?
  • Do you think that Lincoln's response was diplomatic? Why or why not?
  • What does a January 8, 1861, letter by Julie Matie reveal about southern perceptions of Lincoln?
  • How do other letters portray and explain such perceptions?
  • What did Sargent mean when he wrote in his report that "Mr L.'s election was not the cause of all this, it was but the pretext?"
  • What do you think triggered the secession crisis?
  • Do you think that Lincoln handled the crisis well? What would you have done and why?

On March 4, 1861, Lincoln delivered his inaugural address to a divided Union. Lincoln prepared a first draft of his address in January and February, and submitted it for review by William H. Seward, who recommended changes . According to William Herndon, Lincoln's law partner in Springfield, Lincoln had consulted several texts in preparing his address. Herndon said that Lincoln asked for a copy of Henry Clay's great speeches, Andrew Jackson's proclamation against South Carolina's nullification proclamation, and a copy of the U.S Constitution. He also consulted Webster's reply to Hayne in their debate over nullification.

  • Why do you think that Lincoln submitted a draft of his inaugural address for Seward's review?
  • How much did Lincoln change his address through the course of preparing it? What kinds of changes did he make? What do they suggest about Lincoln?
  • Can you find evidence in the inaugural address of Lincoln's study of Clay, Jackson, Webster, and the Constitution?

Contemporary letters reveal what issues the public was debating at the time of Lincoln's inauguration, and provide a context for better appreciating Lincoln's inaugural address. On October 29, 1860, Scott sent Lincoln his "views suggested by (the) imminent danger" of secession. He writes, "To save time, the right of secession may be conceded & instantly balanced by the correlative right, on the part of the Federal Government — against an interior State or States — to reestablish, by force, its former continuity of territory." Scott predicts that the use of force to reestablish the Union would result in terrible violence and concludes that it would be better for the Federal Government to allow the Union to reorganize as four separate confederacies.

  • What does Lincoln say in his inaugural address about what Scott calls "the right of secession?"
  • What arguments does Lincoln make to support his conclusion that "no State, upon its own mere motion, can lawfully get out of the Union, — that resolves and ordinances to that effect are legally revolutionary, according to circumstances?"
  • Does Lincoln articulate an official policy toward the new Confederacy? What might his view of secession imply about how the Federal Government could legally and morally respond to the Confederacy?
  • How do you think Scott would have reacted to Lincoln's inaugural address? What messages does Lincoln convey to the southern states in his address? How does he convey each message? What techniques does he use?

(For more on the history and significance of the inaugural ceremony and address, as well as Lincoln's inaugurations, see the Teachers Page Feature, Inaugurations and the Collection Connections for " I Do Solemnly Swear...": Presidential Inaugurations .)


Civil War Battles and Strategy

Soon after the Confederate States of America was formed in early February 1861, it began to take over federal forts, arsenals, and other property in the South. Only Fort Pickens in Pensacola, Florida and Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina remained in federal hands. On the morning after his inauguration, however, Lincoln received a February 28 report from Major Robert Anderson at Ft. Sumter, warning that he needed reinforcements to maintain his occupation of the fort.

Lincoln questioned General Winfield Scott, commander of the United States Army, about the feasibility of reinforcing the fort in a letter dated March 9 . On the 11th and 12th, Scott advised that timely reinforcement was impossible and that Anderson should evacuate the fort. On the 13th, however, former Navy man Gustavus V. Fox met with Lincoln to recommend a plan for reinforcing the fort. Lincoln called his cabinet together to discuss his options. A Search on Fort Sumter provides numerous documents including the notes of Lincoln's cabinet members, such as Secretary of State William H. Seward, who warned, "The dispatch of an expedition to supply or reinforce Sumter would provoke an attack and so involve a war at that point." Secretary of the Interior Caleb B. Smith reasoned:

"If it shall be understood that by its evacuation we intend to acknowledge our inability to enforce the laws and our intention to allow treason & rebellion to run its course, the measure will be extremely disastrous and the Administration will become very unpopular. If however the country can be made to understand that the Ft is abandoned from necessity and at the same time Ft Pickens & other forts in our possession shall be defended and the power of the Govt vindicated, the measure will be popular & the country will sustain the Administration."

From "Caleb B. Smith, March 29, 1861 (Notes from cabinet meeting on Fort Sumter; endorsed by Abraham Lincoln) ."

Ultimately, Lincoln decided to send reinforcements to both forts. He also sent messengers to inform Governor Pickens of South Carolina that the Federal Government would be making a peaceful reinforcement of Fort Sumter. In response, President Jefferson Davis demanded Anderson's evacuation of the fort. On April 12, when Anderson refused, the Confederacy's General Beauregard fired the first shot of the Civil War in an assault on the fort. Lincoln's reinforcements arrived too late to aid Major Anderson who, after 34 hours of fighting, surrendered Fort Sumter.

  • What options did Lincoln have for dealing with Ft Sumter?
  • What were some of the possible consequences of reinforcing Ft. Sumter?
  • What were some of the possible consequences of failing to reinforce it?
  • How would different groups have reacted to each course of action? How would people of the northern states, the northern slave states that had not yet seceded, and the confederate states have responded?
  • What kind of message did Lincoln's decision to reinforce both forts send to each group of people?
  • Given warnings such as Seward's, do you think that Lincoln essentially decided to start a war when he decided to reinforce the forts? Why or why not?

On July 21, 1861, Union and Confederate armies clashed at a rail junction near Manassas, Virginia, just a few miles south of Washington, D.C. Throughout the day, a series of telegraphic dispatches were sent on the progress of the battle. One telegraph, written at 5:20 PM proclaimed, "We have carried the day — Rebels...are totally routed...." The news soon reached Lincoln that early reports were incorrect and that the Union forces were in full retreat.

In light of the Union defeat at Manassas, Lincoln prepared notes on strategies that the Union should take in Northern Virginia and in the western theater. He also called in General George McClellan to take command of the Union Army.

Soon, Lincoln and McClellan clashed over military policy, evident in correspondence from January and February of 1862. In a lengthy letter to Secretary of War Stanton, McClellan objected to Lincoln's strategy and outlined his own. Lincoln replied to McClellan on February 3, writing, "You and I have distinct and different plans for a movement of the Army of the Potomac."

  • What were McClellan's criticisms of Lincoln's plan to attack southwest of Manassas?
  • What was McClellan's plan of attack in 1862? What did he see as the benefits of this plan?
  • How would you characterize Lincoln's style of working and communicating with McClellan? How would you describe McClellan's style?

In the end, Lincoln yielded to McClellan, who implemented his strategy in the Peninsula Campaign of 1862. Lincoln became more and more agitated, however, by the general's failure to follow orders. When McClellan failed to pursue General Robert E. Lee's retreating army after the September 17 battle at Antietam Creek, Lincoln chided McClellan for his "over-cautiousness." McClellan's explanation that his horses were "sore-tongued and fatigued" further irritated Lincoln, who wrote a terse note to McClellan asking what his cavalry had done since Antietam that would cause the horses to be fatigued. Lincoln followed up the note with the following apology to McClellan :

"...Most certainly I intend no injustice to any; and if I have done any, I deeply regret it. To be told after more than five weeks total inaction of the Army, and during which period we have sent to that Army every fresh horse we possibly could, amounting in the whole to Seven thousand nine hundred and eighteen, that the cavalry were too much fatigued to move, presented a very cheerless, almost hopeless prospect for the future; and it may have forced something of impatience into my despatch. If not recruited and rested then, when could they ever be?"

From "Abraham Lincoln to George B. McClellan, October 27, 1862 ."

Mary Todd Lincoln echoed Lincoln's concern about "McClellan and his slowness" in a letter written to her husband in the fall of 1862, while traveling in New York and New England. Mary Lincoln wrote, "Many say, they would almost worship you, if you would put a fighting General, in the place of McClellan." A few days later Lincoln replaced McClellan.

  • Why do you think that Lincoln allowed McClellan to proceed with his Peninsula Campaign of 1862? What was the outcome of the campaign?
  • In your estimation, was Lincoln attempting to micromanage the war? Should he have left field decisions up to General McClellan?
  • What is the tone of Lincoln's "apology" to McClellan?
  • What do you think caused the problems between Lincoln and McClellan?
  • Why do you think that Lincoln ultimately replaced McClellan? Do you think that he should have done it sooner?

In July 1863, one of the bloodiest and most celebrated battles of the war was fought at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Search on Gettysburg for items such as Simon Cameron's telegram reporting Lee's invasion of Pennsylvania and advising, " ... the absolute necessity of action by Meade tomorrow even if attended with great risk...." Though Meade won the battle of Gettysburg, he failed to pursue Lee's retreating forces. Lincoln expressed his disappointment in a July 14 letter to Meade, which, however, he decided not to send. Other correspondence about General Meade is also available.

  • Why was Lincoln disappointed with General Meade?
  • Why do you think Lincoln decided not to send Meade his letter of July 14?
  • How does Lincoln's correspondence about the battle of Gettysburg and General Meade compare to his correspondence about General McClellan and his battles?
  • How would you characterize Lincoln's sense of his role as Commander-in-Chief? How would you characterize his style of commanding?


The Emancipation Proclamation

In August 1861, Congress authorized the confiscation of slaves used to aid the rebellion in the First Confiscation Act. On the 30th of that month, Union General Fremont issued a proclamation freeing all slaves in Missouri that belonged to secessionists. In a letter dated September 11, Lincoln ordered Fremont to change his proclamation to conform to the First Confiscation Act. The letter was widely published in the newspapers, and Lincoln received many letters condemning his decision and expressing support for Fremont. Search on Fremont for correspondence between Lincoln and Fremont, public reaction to Lincoln's decision and other items, such as Lincoln's letter to Orville H. Browning, in which he explains his position.

  • What were Lincoln's objections to Fremont's proclamation?
  • What reasons did people give for supporting Fremont and condemning Lincoln's decision?
  • Do you think that these letters supporting Fremont represent a major change in northern public opinion about slavery? Why or why not? If so, what might account for such change?

In May of the following year, Union General David Hunter issued a similar proclamation freeing slaves in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. Again, Lincoln was forced to issue a public statement revoking the proclamation. He concluded his statement, however, by urging the slave-holding border states of Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri to "'adopt a gradual abolishment of slavery,'" as encouraged by Congress's Joint Resolution of March 1862:

"You can not if you would, be blind to the signs of the times — I beg of you a calm and enlarged consideration of them, ranging, if it may be, far above personal and partizan politics — This proposal makes common cause for a common object, casting no reproach upon any — It acts not the pharisee. The change it contemplates would come gently as the dews of heaven, not rending or wrecking anything — Will you not embrace it? So much good has not been done, by one effort, in all past time, as, in the providence of God, it is now your high previlege to do — May the vast future not have to lament that you have neglected it."

From "Abraham Lincoln, May 19, 1862 (Proclamation revoking General David Hunter's General Order No. 11 on military emancipation of slaves)," Page 4 .

  • From what source does Lincoln borrow some of his language in this passage?
  • How would you characterize this language? What kind of tone does it create?
  • Why do you think that Lincoln uses such different language to make this appeal to the states at the end of his proclamation?

On July 17, 1862, Congress passed the Second Confiscation Act, declaring that slaves who crossed over Union lines were "forever free" provided that they had been held by supporters of the Confederacy. Although Lincoln had expressed concern over parts of the act and had drafted a veto message, he nevertheless signed the bill. Several days later, on July 22, 1862, Lincoln surprised members of his Cabinet with a draft of an emancipation proclamation . Search on Emancipation Proclamation revisions for the suggestions that Lincoln got from his cabinet members.

  • What was the difference between the First and Second Confiscation Acts? What was the rationale for freeing certain slaves in each of the acts?
  • What does the language and purpose of the confiscation acts suggest about the status of slaves in the eyes of the Federal Government?
  • What were Lincoln's reasons for opposing the Second Confiscation Act?
  • Why do you think he signed the bill?

On August 20, a letter entitled "The Prayer of Twenty Millions" appeared in the New York Tribune, in which editor Horace Greeley accused Lincoln of being "strangely and disastrously remiss in the discharge of your official and imperative duty with regard to the emancipating provisions of the new Confiscation Act." Two days later, the newspaper published Lincoln's reply in which he clearly defined his position without mentioning his emancipation proclamation, which was then still in progress.

  • How would you summarize Lincoln's position on slavery, based on his comments about the Confiscation Act, his response to Greeley, and his rejections of Major Fremont's and Major Hunter's proclamations?
  • Is Lincoln's position in these writings consistent with the position he took in his proposed bill to abolish slavery in Washington, D.C.? Why or why not?
  • Why do you think that Lincoln prioritized maintaining the Union over abolishing slavery?
  • Do you think that Lincoln prioritized legal considerations over moral considerations? Why or why not?
  • Do you think that Lincoln is remembered more for saving the Union or ending slavery? Do you think that one was more important to him than the other?

On January 1, 1863, Lincoln issued his final draft of the Emancipation Proclamation. The transcription of this final draft includes notes that discuss the history and ultimate significance of the proclamation. Search on emancipation for reactions to the proclamation, including state resolutions made in support of Lincoln's declaration. A letter of thanks written on behalf of George Washington, a former slave, is also available. Other letters, from residents of Mississippi and Florida, petition the president to extend the exemption from the Emancipation Proclamation to their counties.

  • What prompted Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation when he had rejected earlier proclamations by Generals Fremont and Hunter?
  • Why didn't Lincoln free all slaves through his proclamation?
  • Why did Lincoln feel it was so important to placate the border states?
  • Why do you think that Lincoln and Secretary of State Seward thought that it was important to wait for a military victory before issuing the Emancipation Proclamation?
  • According to the notes, the Emancipation Proclamation has been considered, "one of the great documents in the history of human freedom. But its stature has resulted in widespread misconceptions about its inception, its provisions, its scope, its intended effect." Do you agree with this assessment? If so, why do you think this has happened?

The Emancipation Proclamation also made it possible for African Americans to serve in the military and launched a wave of enlistments. Lincoln received correspondence expressing both support for and concern about the policy, such as letters from The Rev. Edmund Kelly and General John A. Dix. The policy was put to the test by the 54th Massachusetts, an African-American regiment commanded by Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, which demonstrated valor in the ill-fated attack on Fort Wagner in July, 1863. Colonel Shaw's father wrote to Lincoln shortly after the battle asking for protection of the officers and men of African-American regiments. General Ulysses S. Grant welcomed the enlistment of African-American troops and wrote Lincoln in August 23, 1863:

"I have given the subject of arming the negro my hearty support. This, with the emancipation of the negro, is the heavyest blow yet given the Confederacy. The South care a great deal about it and profess to be very angry. But they were united in their action before and with the negro under subjection could spare their entire white population for the field. Now they complain that nothing can be got out of their negroes."

From "Ulysses S. Grant to Abraham Lincoln,
August 23, 1863 (Raising black regiments in the South)


President Lincoln's Reelection

Despite progress in the war, Lincoln and most political pundits were convinced that he would lose his bid for reelection in 1864. The country was war weary and the Democratic Party's nominee, George McClellan, was likely to negotiate a peace treaty with the Confederacy if elected.

Lincoln's colleagues within the Republican Party also had doubts about his reelection. In February 1864 newspapers printed a letter by Senator Samuel C. Pomeroy in which he argued that Lincoln could not win reelection and advocated nominating Salmon P. Chase for president. Search on Pomeroy circular for a series of pertinent letters.

By August, the outlook was so grim that Thurlow Weed wrote William H. Seward, "Ten or eleven days since, I told Mr Lincoln that his re-election was an impossibity.... The People are wild for Peace. They are told that the President will only listen to terms of Peace on condition Slavery be 'abandoned.'" Search on reelection 1864 for letters expressing contemporary opinions about Lincoln's reelection, including a letter by an opposer of Lincoln, J. W. Alden, who enclosed a list of "Ten Reasons why Abraham Lincoln should not be elected President of the United States a second term."

  • Why do you think so many northerners suspected that Lincoln was unwilling to establish peace without destroying slavery? Do you think Lincoln's statements or policies warranted such suspicion?
  • Do you agree or disagree with the ten reasons why Lincoln should not be reelected? How would you argue for or against these reasons? What evidence would you use to support your argument?

Many people agreed with Weed's assessment of public opinion and pressured Lincoln to attempt peace negotiations. Search on peace negotiations 1864 for discussions of the option and an attempt at negotiations at Niagara Falls. In a letter written to Lincoln on August 22, 1864, the New York Times editor, Henry J. Raymond advocated making a proffer of peace to President Davis "on the sole condition of acknowledging the supremacy of the Constitution, — all other questions to be settled in convention of the people of all the States:"

"If the proffer were accepted (which I presume it would not be,) the country would never consent to place the practical execution of its details in any but loyal hands, and in those we should be safe.

If it should be rejected, (as it would be,) it would plant seeds of disaffection in the South, dispel all the delusions about peace that previal in the North, silence the clamorous & damaging falsehoods of the opposition, take the wind completely out of the sails of the Chicago craft, reconcile public sentiment to the War, the draft, & the tax as inevitable necessities, and unite the North as nothing since firing on Fort Sumter has hitherto done."

From "Henry J. Raymond to Abraham Lincoln, August 22, 1864 (Political affairs)," Page 4.

  • According to Raymond, why would making an offer of peace be a sure-fire way of helping Lincoln's reelection?
  • Do you think that negotiating peace in order to get reelected would have been ethical? Why or why not?

Despite doubts within the Party, Lincoln won the Republican nomination. Nevertheless, he feared he had no chance of winning the election. He also feared that as President, McClellan would negotiate a settlement with the Confederacy that would allow the South to maintain the institution of slavery. On August 23, Lincoln wrote and sealed a memorandum, which he then asked his cabinet to endorse, not knowing the contents. After winning the election in November, Lincoln revealed to his cabinet that the memorandum pledged his cooperation with the president-elect for the sake of the nation.

Anticipating McClellan's election, Lincoln also asked Frederick Douglass to draft a plan for helping as many slaves as possible to escape from the South before the November election. Douglass submitted the plan on August 29, 1864, but it was never implemented because Lincoln's prospects for reelection soon improved with the capture of Atlanta and with General John C. Fremont's withdrawal from the presidential campaign.

  • What do Lincoln's memorandum and request for a plan from Frederick Douglass suggest about his character and values?

On March 4, 1865, Lincoln gave his second inaugural address at the Capitol. A Search on inauguration 1865 yields only a few items, including a program for the inauguration ceremony, an invitation to the inaugural ball, and a letter from Salmon P. Chase to Mrs. Lincoln. Chase sent Mrs. Lincoln the bible that her husband kissed in taking the oath of office, writing:

"I hope the Sacred Book will be to you an acceptible souvenir of a memorable day; and I most earnestly pray Him, by whose Inspiration it was given, that the beautiful SunShine which just at the time the oath was taken dispersed the clouds that had previously darkened the sky may prove an auspicious one of the dispersion of the clouds of war and the restoration of the clear sunlight of prosperous peace under the wise & just administration of him who took it."

From "Salmon P. Chase to Mary Todd Lincoln, March 4, 1865
(Sends Bible kissed by Lincoln at Inauguration; endorsed by Abraham Lincoln)

Less than two months later, and only five days after General Lee's surrender, on the evening of April 14, Lincoln was fatally wounded while attending a performance at Ford's Theater in Washington, D.C. James Knox was seated in the second row of the orchestra seats just under the presidential box at the theater. In a letter to his father, dated April 15, 1865, Knox described the assassination:

"Just after the 3d Act, and before the scenes were shifted, a muffled pistol shot was heard, and a man sprang wildly from the national box, partially tearing down the flag, then shouting '"sic semper tyrannis", the south is avenged' with brandished dagger rushed across the stage and disappeared The whole theatre was paralyzed. ...The shrill cry of murder from Mrs Lincoln first roused the horrified audience, and in an instant the uproar was terrible. The silence of death was broken by shouts of 'kill him', 'hang him' and strong men wept, and cursed, and tore the seats in the impotence of their anger, while Mrs. Lincoln, on her knees uttered shriek after shriek at the feet of the dying President."

From "James S. Knox to Knox, April 15, 1865 (Eyewitness account of Lincoln's assassination)," Page 2.

Search on assassination for numerous letters warning Lincoln of the danger of assassination throughout his presidency. Learn more about the public reaction to Lincoln's assassination in the Collection Connections for The Alfred Whital Stern Collection of Lincolniana.

Search on assassination for numerous letters warning Lincoln of the danger of assassination throughout his presidency. Learn more about the public reaction to Lincoln's assassination by doing a search using the term assassination in The Alfred Whital Stern Collection of Lincolniana.



After the war, Americans faced the task of reconstructing the Confederate States. This included solving questions of how to reintegrate the former rebels into the United States as well as how to integrate freed slaves into southern society. However, plans for Reconstruction had begun early in the war. And debates about whether free African Americans could be integrated into American society predated the war and resulted in the Colonization Movement. Search on colonization for correspondence about plans to create colonies of free African Americans in Haiti, New Granada, and Liberia.

During the war, Union General William T. Sherman initiated a colony of freed slaves in South Carolina. On January 15, 1865, General Sherman issued Special Field Order No. 15 as he moved his forces north from Savannah through the Carolinas. The order gave former slaves the exclusive right to settle on abandoned and confiscated lands on the Sea Islands of South Carolina and on a thirty-mile wide strip of land from Charleston to the St. John's River in Florida.

On February 1, General John C. Robinson wrote to Lincoln of "the utter folly of any such attempt at colonization." After the war, Robinson, who had opposed providing lands to freedmen, headed the Freedmen's Bureau in North Carolina.

  • What were General Robinson's reasons for opposing Special Field Order 15?
  • What course of action did Robinson recommend instead? What were his goals for the freed slaves?
  • What does the letter reveal about Robinson's attitudes towards the freed slaves?
  • To what extent do you think that these attitudes, which were also shared by others in the Lincoln and later Johnson administrations, would affect Reconstruction?
  • Why were freedmen not given land after the war similar to lands provided in the Homestead Act of 1862? What factors prevented freedmen from obtaining "forty acres and a mule?"

In his annual message to Congress on December 8, 1863, Lincoln announced his Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction. Search on Reconstruction for reaction to Lincoln's proclamation and advice on Reconstruction. In his December 25 letter to Lincoln, Arkansas Unionist William D. Snow congratulated Lincoln that his policy in "a single stroke" gives "direction to, too discursive & acrimonious political discussions, threatening the much needed unity of friends; and at the same time, opens a practical & easy door to rapid reconstruction." Other correspondents, however, such as Horace Maynard, warned of problems with Lincoln's plan for Reconstruction.

  • Who does Lincoln exclude from his general pardon and why?
  • What did the proclamation require of the former Confederate States in order to be readmitted into the Union? Do you think this policy was lenient? What else could Lincoln have required?
  • What were the requirements of the oath of loyalty?
  • What other options, besides general pardon, could Lincoln have exercised in reconstructing the Confederate States?
  • What were some of the problems that people such as Maynard had with Lincoln's Reconstruction plan?
  • Why do you think that Lincoln issued his Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction before the war was over?

As per Lincoln's plan, Louisiana and Arkansas reestablished their state governments for reentry into the Union. Several Republicans, however, thought Lincoln's plan was too lenient and Congress refused to recognize representatives from the two ex-Confederate States, believing that to do so would be to surrender control of Reconstruction to the President. Search on Arkansas reconstruction and Louisiana reconstruction for materials related to these early efforts at Reconstruction.

  • What do these materials reveal about how Reconstruction was actually implemented and what challenges stood in the way?

In July 1864 Congress passed the Wade-Davis bill, outlining its own plan of Reconstruction. The plan called for the President to appoint a military governor to oversee the South. It also required 50 percent of the state's voters to swear allegiance to the Union and to swear that they had never supported the Confederacy before creating a new state constitution. The plan called for the end of slavery, but would have limited suffrage in the South to white men. President Lincoln vetoed the bill, and Wade and Davis responded with their Wade-Davis Manifesto, which was printed in the New York Tribune on August 5. Search on Wade-Davis for pertinent materials.

  • What does the Wade-Davis Bill suggest about Congress's attitude toward the South?
  • Why did Congress think that Lincoln's Reconstruction plan was too lenient? What would the benefits and dangers of being less and more lenient have been?
  • What do letters about Reconstruction reveal about the southern population's actual allegiance to the Union and to the Confederacy?
  • Do you think that Lincoln's plan or Congress's plan offered a better way to reconstruct the South? Why?

A search on Reconstruction also provides correspondence from a number of political leaders with whom Lincoln discussed Reconstruction. On April 11, Salmon P. Chase proposed a plan, writing:

"The easiest & safest way seems to me to be the enrollment of the loyal citizens, without regard to complexion, and encouragement & support to them in the reorganization of State Governments under constitutions securing suffrage to all citizens of proper age & unconvicted of crime. This you know has long been my opinion. It is confirmed by observation more & more.

This way is recommended by its simplicity, facility &, above all, justice. It will be, hereafter, counted equally a crime & a folly if the colored loyalists of the rebel states shall be left to the control of restored rebels, not likely in that case to be either wise or just, until taught both wisdom and justice by new calamities."

From "Salmon P. Chase to Abraham Lincoln, April 11, 1865 (Reconstruction)."

In December of 1864 Montgomery Blair informed Lincoln that the reason some leaders, including Chase, were arguing that the Confederate states ought to be considered territories instead of states was because it would allow the Federal Government, instead of State Governments, to determine state laws including suffrage. He warned:

"One object now avowed is, to enable Congress to constitute a government by exacting conditions on admission which shall put the blacks and whites on equality in the political control of a government created by the white race for themselves — This is not merely manumission from masters, but it may turn out that those who have been held in servitude may become themselves the masters of the Government created by another race.

On January 31, 1865, Congress passed the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, abolishing slavery in the United States. Though he did not need to, Lincoln also signed the Amendment. It was not until July 28, 1868, that the 14th Amendment, known as the Reconstruction Amendment was ratified. It recognized African Americans as citizens and guaranteed their civil rights, such as suffrage. Nevertheless, it took the Civil Rights movement of the1960s to better secure equal rights for many African Americans living in the South."


Critical Thinking

Chronological Thinking: Foreign Affairs During the Civil War

While the Civil War is noteworthy as a conflict that pitted Americans against Americans, its impact reached beyond its shores. Conflict within the U.S. affected international relations, which in turn affected the war at home.

In November 1861 the Confederate States of America sent James Mason and John Slidell to Europe as representatives of their new government. They traveled on board the British ship Trent. Union Captain Charles Wilkes of the U.S.S. San Jacinto intercepted and boarded the Trent, apprehended the Confederate diplomats and took them to the U.S. where they were imprisoned. This outraged the British who considered it a violation of their neutrality, and the Trent Affair threatened to detonate a war. Writing to Lincoln on December 16, 1861, former president Millard Fillmore warned him against a war with Britain:

"...if we are so unfortunate as to be involved in a war with her at this time, the last hope of restoring the Union will vanish, and we shall be overwhelmed with the double calamities of civil and foreign war at the same time, which will utterly exhaust our resources, and may practically change the form of our government and compel us in the end to submit to a dishonorable peace."

From "Millard Fillmore to Abraham Lincoln, December 16, 1861 (Trent Affair)," Page 2.

The U.S. avoided a war by releasing Mason and Slidell and paying reparations to Britain. Search on Trent Affair for contemporary first hand accounts, such as a letter from Thurlow Weed reporting on the situation in Britain to Secretary of State William H. Seward.

Two years after the Trent Affair, the U.S. threatened war when they heard that a British company, the Laird Brothers,was going to provide the Confederacy with ironclad ram ships. Search on Laird Brothers for materials pertaining to that crisis. A letter from John Campbell to Lincoln suggests that by June 1864 British-U.S. relations had changed:

"I most unfeignedly rejoice in the movements which I observe to be taking place among the States for the renomination of your Excellency.

A copy of the British Standard herewith sent, expresses my deliberate opinion, and, I believe, the opinion likewise of multitudes of candid, reflecting, patriotic, and humane men in Great Britain.

You have achieved a mighty work, under an accumulation of obstacles, such as for variety, complexity, and magnitude, has never before surrounded the Ruler of any nation....

I pray that your life and health may be preserved to complete the stupendous work you have begun and so far carried on, & that you may in due season, see the accomplishment of your utmost wishes, both as it respects the Union and Slavery."

From "John Campbell to Abraham Lincoln, June 10, 1864 (Support for Lincoln's re-nomination in Great Britain)."

  • How serious was the Trent Affair?
  • According to Thurlow Weed, what were some of the causes of Britain's confrontational attitude toward the U.S. in 1861?
  • Was Lincoln willing to risk a war with Britain or France over the Trent Affair?
  • What was the nature of the controversy over the Laird rams?
  • What can you tell from John Campbell's letter about why British attitudes towards Lincoln might have changed over the course of the war?

In 1863, Stephen A. Hurlbut and James A. Hamilton wrote Lincoln of France's plans to court the Confederacy and to establish a colony in Mexico and Texas. Search on France and Maximilian to learn about how the U.S. responded when the French Army seized Mexico City and Napoleon appointed Prince Ferdinand Maximilian as ruler over Mexico.

  • Why was the Union concerned about the possibility of British or French influence in Mexico?
  • According to Hamilton, what would Napoleon have gained in colonizing Mexico and Texas?
  • Why was the Lincoln administration alarmed with the French installation of Ferdinand Maximilian as Emperor of Mexico? What was the U.S. response?
  • How did the Civil War impact the United States' relationship with Britain and France? How did it impact Lincoln's decisions about foreign affairs?

Use a timeline, outline, or some other chronological format to trace developments in international relations during the Civil War. Consider if the Trent Affair had resulted in a war with Britain or if France had succeeded in establishing a colony in Mexico and Texas. Create a timeline or write a short narrative illustrating what might have happened.


Historical Comprehension: Abraham Lincoln to Albert G. Hodges

On March 26, 1864, three men from Kentucky met with Lincoln to discuss issues impacting the border states, especially the service of African Americans in the military. Lincoln's visitors were Governor Thomas Bramlette, former Senator Archibald Dixon, and Albert G. Hodges, the editor of the Frankfort Commonwealth. Upon leaving, Hodges asked Lincoln for a written statement of the ideas he'd shared with them. In a letter written on April 4th, Lincoln complied with Hodges' request, reiterating his personal opposition to slavery and his feeling of presidential duty to uphold the Constitution, which prohibited him from taking a stand "on the moral question of slavery."

Examine Lincoln's explanation and identify his major arguments.

  • What points was Lincoln making by using the analogy of amputating a limb to save a life?
  • According to Lincoln, would the nation have had the manpower necessary to win the war without the Emancipation Proclamation and the enlistment of African-American soldiers and sailors?
  • Why did Lincoln believe that the Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863, did not violate his sacred oath to uphold the Constitution?
  • What did Lincoln mean when he wrote, "I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have controlled me?"


Historical Analysis and Interpretation

In September 1861 and March 1862 Lincoln revoked the emancipation proclamations of Generals Fremont and Hunter. But in July 1862 he signed the Second Confiscation Act, authorizing the confiscation of slaves used to aid the rebellion. A month later, the New York Tribune published Horace Greeley's "The Prayer of Twenty Millions," calling upon Lincoln to take a clear position on the abolition of slavery.

On August 22 the Tribune published Lincoln's response, in which he explained, "...If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that...."

In August 1864, Charles Robinson, editor of the Green Bay, Wisconsin, Advocate, wrote Lincoln about his response to Greeley. It was an election year, and Democrats and Republicans alike were exploring peace efforts to appeal to war-weary voters. Robinson understood from a remark Lincoln had made about "The Niagara 'Peace' movement," that Lincoln was unwilling to negotiate peace without the abolition of slavery. Robinson asked Lincoln to reconcile that position with his earlier response to Greeley.

Lincoln drafted a reply to Robinson's letter on August 17, 1864. He shared the draft with a few advisers and wrote a second response later that month. Neither response seems to have been sent to Robinson, but it is possible that Lincoln communicated to him through another channel. Examine both drafts and analyze Lincoln's response to Robinson's question.

  • According to Lincoln, why weren't his response to Greeley and his statement about the Niagara Falls "Peace" movement at odds with each other?
  • What are Lincoln's arguments against reversing the Emancipation Proclamation?
  • Does Lincoln say that he will not support peace negotiations without the promise to end slavery?
  • Is Lincoln's position consistent with his response to Greeley?
  • In Lincoln's second draft of his response, he underlines the word "announce" in the sentence, "As a matter of policy, to announce such a purpose, would ruin the Union cause itself." What does this emphasis contribute to the meaning of the sentence and to the message of the letter?
  • In the second draft, Lincoln has removed the following statement, which appears in the first draft:

"But if the rebels would only cease fighting & consent to reunion on condition that I would stipulate to aid them in re-enslaving the blacks, I could not do that either-The people, if they would, could do that too; but I could never be their agent to do it-For such a work, they must find another would have to be found."

From "Abraham Lincoln to Charles D. Robinson, August 17, 1864 (Reply to Robinson's letter of August 7)," Page 3.

  • Why do you think that Lincoln removed this statement from his second draft? How does this change the overall message of his response?
  • What do the changes that Lincoln made between his first and second drafts suggest about his goal in responding to Robinson?


Despite Lincoln's reelection, there were many in the North, especially from the Democratic Party, who opposed his administration and the war and who even sympathized with the Confederacy. At the time, these people were referred to as "copperheads," after the poisonous snake. In Congress, copperheads led by Clement Vallandigham called for negotiating an end to the war and a reunion with the South. Outside of Congress, copperheads opposed the war in public demonstrations. Search on copperhead for correspondence about the group's activities including riots in New York state and Charleston, Illinois.

In the election of 1862, Vallandigham lost his seat in Congress, but he continued to speak out against the Lincoln administration and the war. On May 1, 1863, Vallandigham spoke to a large audience at a Democratic rally in Mount Vernon, Ohio. He denounced the war as "wicked, cruel, and unnecessary," and spoke against the draft law.

Four days later, federal soldiers came to Vallandigham's house in the middle of the night to arrest him. When he refused to let them in, they broke down the doors and removed him by force. They took him by a special train to another town where he was imprisoned without being charged with any specific crime. He wasn't permitted to see a judge, but was brought before eight army officers who declared him guilty of disloyal statements against the government.

On September 24, 1862, President Lincoln had issued a proclamation suspending the writ of habeas corpus, which made this unconventional, military arrest of Vallandigham possible. The writ of habeas corpus protects Americans' civil liberties by requiring the government to bring a prisoner before a judge to prove that there is a just cause for holding the prisoner. According to a provision in the Constitution, however, Lincoln suspended this right during the war in order to apprehend Confederate spies and sympathizers who performed acts of disloyalty against the government. Such acts included interfering with military enlistment, resisting the draft, and speaking against the war or the government in newspapers or in public. Finally, the proclamation also meant that prisoners would be tried and punished by military courts instead of by a jury.

Vallandigham and his lawyers contested his arrest by submitting a petition for a writ of habeas corpus to the U. S. Court for the Southern District of Ohio. But Judge Humphrey Leavitt denied Vallandigham's request and upheld the military arrest and trial. Vallandigham's supporters appealed to the Supreme Court, but the Court refused to hear the case. Search on Vallandigham for materials related to the copperhead leader's disloyal activities, arrest, and trial. Search on habeas corpus for reactions to Lincoln's proclamation as well as Lincoln's response to a letter from Democratic leaders questioning Lincoln's policy.

  • How does Lincoln defend his suspension of habeas corpus in his letter to the Democratic leaders? Do you find his arguments compelling? Why or why not?
  • How else could Lincoln have dealt with disloyalty?
  • Do you agree with Lincoln that his suspension of the writ of habeas corpus was in line with the Constitution?
  • Do you think that the suspension of habeas corpus to arrest Vallandigham was appropriate? How else could the government have dealt with Vallandigham?
  • What is the danger of public speech against the government?
  • What is the danger of allowing a government to suppress free speech, to make arrests without proving just cause, and to try a prisoner in a military court?
  • Do you agree that the danger of disloyal speech during wartime warrants the suppression of free speech?
  • Are there other kinds of situations that warrant the suppression of free speech?
  • Why might it be important for the people to be able to criticize its government during a time of war?
  • What is the rationale for suspending the requirement to prove just cause and to provide a trial by jury during wartime?

Since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, the Bush Administration, the U.S. Justice Department, and Congress have created laws and regulations, including the Patriot Act, to help the government combat terrorism. Among other things, these regulations allow the government to perform searches without warrants and to detain people indefinitely without formally charging them. What are the similarities and differences between these measures and Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus? Do you think that public attitudes towards civil liberties have changed significantly since Lincoln's time?


Historical Research Capabilities: The Fort Pillow Massacre, the Sioux Uprising, and the New York Draft Riots

The collection's materials provide good starting points for research into several interesting events and issues of the 1860s.

Search on Fort Pillow for materials related to the Confederate massacre of African-American soldiers at Fort Pillow, Tennessee. On April 12, 1864, Confederate Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest and his cavalry of 2,500 men captured the fort occupied by 557 Union soldiers. According to an official investigation made after the war, the Confederates murdered most surviving African-American troops and their officers despite their having surrendered. They buried African-American soldiers alive, and set fire to the tents of wounded prisoners of war.

The collection contains Lincoln's request to his cabinet for recommendations on how to respond to the massacre and each cabinet member's proposal. Do further research outside the collection to learn how Lincoln ultimately responded to the massacre and to find out more about the Confederacy's response to the Union's employment of African-American troops. Analyze Lincoln's decision based on the recommendations of his cabinet.

  • What did the cabinet members' proposals have in common? How did they differ?
  • To what degree did Lincoln follow the advice of his cabinet?
  • According to the cabinet members, what were the advantages and dangers of the course Lincoln eventually took? What was the actual impact of Lincoln's decision?
  • Do you think that Lincoln made a good decision? What would you have done and why?

Search on Sioux Uprising for materials related to the conflict between Dakota Native Americans, called the Santee Sioux, and federal troops and civilians in Minnesota. The Santee Sioux gave up nine-tenths of their land as 150,000 settlers came into Minnesota before the Civil War. In 1862, the Federal Government failed to provide the Santee Sioux with the food it had promised in exchange for their lands. When the Santee Sioux tried to trade for food at the reservation agency, the Euro-American traders cheated them. And when the Santee Sioux chief, Little Crow, asked the reservation agent to open the agency's food storage to his starving people, he refused.

In August, the Santee Sioux attacked the agency, a nearby federal fort, and the town of New Ulm. Colonel Henry H. Sibley was sent in to end the "Sioux Uprising." He captured 600 Santee Sioux,and 303 of them were sentenced to death, but Lincoln commuted sentences for all but 38, who were executed on December 26, 1862. Chief Little Crow had evaded capture by Sibley, but was eventually killed for the bounty on his head, and his scalp was displayed in St. Paul.

Learn more about the "Sioux Uprising" in the collection and do further research to investigate the Federal Government's policy towards Native Americans during the Civil War.

Finally, use the collection to research the New York Draft Riots of 1863. Explain the causes of the riots and the measures that were taken to secure peace.


Arts & Humanities

The Gettysburg Address

While the battle of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, is generally remembered as a Union victory, it was also a missed opportunity that bitterly disappointed Lincoln. Union General Meade failed to pursue General Lee's retreating army and allowed them to escape across the Potomac River. According to his July 21 letter to General Oliver O. Howard, Lincoln had believed that once a rebel army went north of the Potomac, the Union forces would be able to prevent it from ever returning south. He drafted a letter to General Meade expressing his disappointment:

"You fought and beat the enemy at Gettysburg; and, of course, to say the least, his loss was as great as yours — He retreated; and you did not; as it seemed to me, pressingly pursue him; but a flood in the river detained him, till, by slow degrees, you were again upon him. You had at least twenty thousand veteran troops directly with you, and as many more raw ones within supporting distance, all in addition to those who fought with you at Gettysburg; while it was not possible that he had received a single recruit; and yet you stood and let the flood run down, bridges be built, and the enemy move away at his leisure, without attacking him....

Again, my dear general, I do not believe you appreciate the magnitude of the misfortune involved in Lee's escape — He was within your easy grasp, and to have closed upon him would, in connection with our other late successes, have ended the war — As it is, the war will be prolonged indefinitely."

From "Abraham Lincoln to George G. Meade, July 14, 1863 (Meade's failure to pursue Lee)."

Lincoln never sent Meade this letter. Nevertheless, Meade was aware of the President's disappointment and offered his resignation, but Lincoln did not accept.

When the Union and Confederate forces left the battlefield at Gettysburg, they both left 50,000 dead, wounded, or missing behind. Burial teams were sent in to quickly cover the 8,000 bodies left on the battlefield until an interstate committee could be created to arrange for a military cemetery.

On November 2, 1863, David Wills, Gettysburg citizen and chairman of the interstate committee, sent Lincoln an invitation to attend the dedication of the military cemetery at Gettysburg and make a "few appropriate remarks." Arrangements for Lincoln to attend the dedication are also available by searching on Gettysburg.

Edward Everett, the nation's most celebrated orator, was the featured speaker at the dedication ceremony. In keeping with expectations of the time, Everett gave a two-hour address recounting the battle in great detail, decrying the Confederacy, and exonerating Meade for failing to pursue Lee's forces. And yet, on the day after the ceremony, Everett wrote Lincoln congratulating him on his remarks and stating, "I should be glad, if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes." Requests for copies of Lincoln's address also attest to the impact of the president's remarks.

Of the five known copies of the address in Lincoln's hand, two were written expressly for his secretaries, John Nicolay and John Hay. Search on Gettysburg address for both copies. Analyze Lincoln's address, keeping in mind the context of the battle and the dedication ceremony.

  • Occurring only about four months after the battle at Gettysburg, what significance do you think the dedication of the military cemetery had?
  • What would the dedication ceremony have meant to the citizens of Gettysburg, to friends and relatives of soldiers buried at Gettysburg, and to the nation?
  • According to David Wills's invitation to Lincoln, what was the purpose of having Lincoln speak at the dedication ceremony? Do you think that Lincoln's address fulfilled that purpose?
  • Why do you think Lincoln's remarks were so short?
  • Why do you think Lincoln chose not to even mention some of the things that Everett discussed, such as the people and causes involved in the war?
  • How did Lincoln define the purpose of the Civil War in his address?
  • How did this definition compare to the way Everett must have represented the war in discussing its battles, its opposing sides, and even, according to Lincoln's November 20 letter to Everett, the debate over state sovereignty?
  • What is it about the Gettysburg address that makes it so poetic?
  • Why do you think the Gettysburg address is one of the most celebrated works of American literature?


Lincoln the Writer

Lincoln's speeches are celebrated as some of the most poetic and influential works of American literature. And yet, according to Lincoln's first autobiography, there was little in Lincoln's humble education to prepare him for such achievement:

"...when I came of age I did not know much — Still somehow, I could read, write, and cipher to the Rule of Three, but that was all — I have not been to school since — The little advance I now have upon this store of education, I have picked up from time to time under the pressure of necessity...."

From "Abraham Lincoln to Jesse W. Fell, December 20, 1859," transcription of autobiographical sketch.

The collection contains a variety of writings that demonstrate Lincoln's skill with language and afford an opportunity to better understand this skill. Begin an analysis by comparing Lincoln's letters. In countless letters dealing with matters of the state, Lincoln employs a formal style, while in personal letters his style is more casual. Search on Mary Todd Lincoln for correspondence to his wife, such as a letter written on March 4, 1860 during a speaking tour:

"This is Sunday morning; and according to Bob's orders, I am to go to church once to-day — Tomorrow I bid farewell to the boys, go to Hartford, Conn. and speak there in the evening; Tuesday at Menden, and Wednesday at New-Haven — and Thursday at Woonsocket, R. I — Then I start home, and think I will not stop — I may be delayed in New-York City an hour or two — I have been unable to escape this toil — If I had foreseen it I think I would not have come East at all."

From "Abraham Lincoln to Mary Todd Lincoln, March 4, 1860 (Report from Exeter, New Hampshire)."

  • In what ways are Lincoln's letters to his wife different from his professional letters?
  • How does Lincoln use language, grammar, and punctuation to achieve different effects?
  • How would you characterize the style and tone of Lincoln's autobiographies?
  • What do you think Lincoln's goals were in writing an autobiography and what literary techniques did he use to achieve those goals?

Despite his humble education, Lincoln was able to teach himself law, and in 1836 he obtained a law-license, opening his own practice the following year. Search on the word case and a year in which Lincoln practiced law, for example, 1839 case, or 1851 case for examples of Lincoln's legal writing, such as an affidavit for the case of Hill vs. Bennett.

  • What were Lincoln's goals in writing legal documents such as affidavits? How are these goals different from the goals of letter writing?
  • What words would you use to describe Lincoln's legal writing?
  • Can you identify passages where Lincoln used a legal style of writing in documents that he wrote as a Senator and President, such as a Bill to abolish slavery in Washington, D.C., his first inaugural address, or his response to Horace Greeley in the New York Tribune?
  • What other writing styles does Lincoln use in such compositions? What is the role of each style that he uses?

Lincoln's law partner, William Herndon, said that Lincoln referenced the writings of Henry Clay, Andrew Jackson, Daniel Webster, as well as the Constitution, in drafting his first inaugural address. Lincoln was also fond of Shakespeare. He would often read and re-read Shakespeare's plays as a diversion from presidential responsibilities and liked to read speeches aloud to impromptu audiences. In a letter to James H. Hackett, a prominent actor, Lincoln expresses his interest in Shakespeare:

"Some of Shakspeare's plays I have never read; while others I have gone over perhaps as frequently as any unprofessional reader. Among the latter are Lear, Richard Third, Henry Eighth, Hamlet and especially Macbeth. I think nothing equals Macbeth. It is wonderful. Unlike you gentlemen of the profession, I think the soliloquy in Hamlet commencing "Oh my offense is rank" surpasses that commencing, "To be or not to be." But pardon this small attempt at criticism."

From "Abraham Lincoln to James H. Hackett, August 17, 1863 (Shakespeare)."

  • What does Lincoln's letter to Hackett suggest about why he likes Shakespeare?
  • Do you find evidence of Lincoln's admiration for Shakespeare in any of his writing? Can you find evidence of his admiration for Clay, Jackson, or Webster?
  • If so, what can you tell from this evidence about why Lincoln appreciated each writer? Was it his use of language or his ideas?
  • What does such evidence suggest about what Lincoln hoped to achieve with his own writing?
  • Is there evidence of any other influences on Lincoln's writing?
  • Lincoln often wrote memoranda to clarify his thoughts. What does this suggest about the role of writing in Lincoln's life and presidency?


Nineteenth-Century Poetry

After Lincoln's assassination, in addition to decking their cities in black, many people also wrote poems for the occasion and displayed them in the windows of their homes. Poetry was a very popular and public art form during the nineteenth century, and it was often used to commemorate a particular occasion or event.

Search on poem for 35 examples of Victorian poetry, including "My Child-hood Home I See Again" by Lincoln. Many handwritten poems were written personally to Lincoln, while he also received a few printed pieces, including an inaugural poem from 1865. Frank Wells sent Lincoln a patriotic poem, which Lincoln judged to be "Pretty fair poetry" according to a note on the envelope. Lincoln also received patriotic poems from an African-American soldier and a man named Barry Gray, who celebrated the Emancipation Proclamation:

"Not often unto mortal is it given —
Whate'er his worldy rank or state may be —
The power, sustained by principle and truth,
To set, as Lincoln did, a people free.
He was ordained to do this Christlike deed,
To snap the bonds of slavery apart,
To break the chains which held the negro down,
And draw the iron from his bleeding heart.
This Proclamation, stamped with his strong will,
This writ of Freedom, sealed by his firm hand,
This last, great act, Emancipation's prayer,
Freeing all bonds men living in the land,
Will cause Humanity throughout the world,
To bless and honor Abraham Lincoln's name,
And, more than marble fane or statue could,
Will crown his memory with enduring fame."

From "Barry Gray to Abraham Lincoln, January 1863 (Poem celebrating Emancipation Proclamation)."

  • What kind of imagery appears in patriotic poems of Lincoln's time? What is the tempo of these poems?
  • How do these poems depict Lincoln, his physical appearance, his achievements, his personal qualities, and his relationship to God and country?
  • What comparisons and metaphors are used to depict Lincoln and what do they suggest about him?
  • How do these poems depict slavery and the South?
  • Do you think that Gray's poem celebrating the Emancipation Proclamation accurately portrays the significance and history of the proclamation? Does it accurately portray Lincoln?
  • Why do you think that poetry is a less popular and public art form today?
  • What is the role of poetry in contemporary United States culture?


Letter Writing: Audience, Tone, and Persuasion

During his tenure as president, Lincoln received thousands of letters from well-wishers and critics. After issuing the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln received a flood of mail, most of which supported the president's declaration. On July 4, 1864, nearly two years after the announcement of the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln received a letter from a Sunday school class of the Congregational Church at Paterson, New Jersey recommending a second Emancipation Proclamation:

"We were glad when we learned that you had made a Proclamation of Freedom, by which so many of these poor slaves have been restored, and so many more are yet to be restored to the rights and the liberties which the nation, in defiance of God's Law and the Declaration of Independence, had so long robbed them of. But while we were very glad, we were very sorry too. And our sorrow was because while you had struck the chains from so many, you had not freed all within your power.

And we now write you this letter to ask you, in the name of God, who made them; — in the name of Christ, who died for them; — in the name of the Declaration of Independence, which declares their right to Freedom; — in the name of Free Government, which is disgraced by Slavery; — in the name of Justice, which is violated; — in the name of Humanity, which is outraged; — in the name of those who have gone out from our own school and offered their lives in defence of the Nation; and lastly in the name of our Nation whose life is still at stake; that you will speedily make another proclamation of Freedom for all those whom your first proclamation passed by — so that all the slaves in the republic may be free men and free women: So that when we again meet to celebrate the day which is sometimes called the birthday of Liberty, we may feel that there is no mockery in the matter, and we may read the Declaration of Independence without blushing for shame."

From "Congregational Church at Paterson, New Jersey to Abraham Lincoln, July 4, 1864 (Petition recommending second Emancipation Proclamation)."

Assume the role of one of Lincoln's secretaries and draft a response to the Sunday school class of the Paterson Congregational Church.

  • What techniques did the Sunday school class use in writing their letter to drive home their message?
  • How effective was the letter?
  • What kind of message would you want to send the Sunday school class in response?
  • Given the class's letter, what kind of tone would you use in your response? What kind of techniques would you use to bring your message across?
  • Would you recommend including a review of Lincoln's official pronouncements regarding emancipation or respond on a more emotional level?

On February 1, 1865, Lincoln received a letter from Mrs. C. Greene Brayton expressing distress at rumors that Lincoln was negotiating with the Confederacy. Compare Brayton's letter to that of the Congregational Church Sunday school. How does the tone of the two letters differ? How would you advise Lincoln to respond to the Brayton letter?


Public Speaking

Many of Lincoln's works were written to be delivered to a live audience and are best appreciated by reading them aloud. Search on Abraham Lincoln speech and Abraham Lincoln address for a variety of works including Lincoln's speech on the Mexican War, an early speech supporting Taylor for President, a speech Lincoln wrote for a Union meeting, the Gettysburg address, and the first and second inaugural addresses.

Compare two or more of Lincoln's speeches and select one to read aloud.

  • Who was the audience for each speech? How could Lincoln have expected the audience to feel about the issues he would be speaking about?
  • What were Lincoln's goals in addressing his audience? What techniques did he use to achieve those goals?
  • Where was the speech held? What was the event or occasion?
  • What does Lincoln's underlining suggest about the meaning of his words and how they should be read?
  • What does Lincoln's choice of language suggest about the tone of the speech?
  • How does Lincoln's grammar affect the reading of a speech? For example, what is the difference between saying, as Lincoln did in his second inaugural address, "Fondly do we hope — fervently do we pray" and saying "We fondly hope and fervently pray?"
  • What role did Lincoln's speeches play in his life and career? What role did they play in the nation's history, culture, and literary tradition?
  • How has the presentation and power of public speeches changed since Lincoln's time?