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[Detail] The Diary of Horatio Nelson Taft, 1861-1865

Slavery and Emancipation

Taft wrote on January 9, 1862, of a split in the Republican Party between abolitionists and those who supported Lincoln's stated goal of saving the Union "…and let Slavery take care of itself." He also mentions that Stephen Douglas Democrats were supporting the President, giving him added political strength. Two months later, April 11, the diary again mentions slavery with reference to the passage of a bill to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia.

On January 1, 1863, Taft stated, "The expected Proclamation is 'out' tonight" in the newspaper. A few days later (January 6), he made derogatory remarks about African Americans "contrabands," saying

He will go if you drive him, but is never quite ready or willing when there is work to do. His whole idea of Freedom is, "Nothing to do and plenty to eat."

From "The Diary of Horatio Nelson Taft, 1861-1865. Volume 2, January 6, 1863"

On January 9, 1863, only a few days after the formal declaration of the Emancipation Proclamation, Taft wrote a terse note illustrating his opposition to fighting a war to end slavery.

There seems to be an increasing desire to see this terrible War ended, Negro or no Negro, Slavery or no Slavery. It does seem preposterous to me that we should be spending Millions, nay hundreds of Millions, and sacrificing scores of thousands of lives to abolish Slavery just now, when we have all we can do to hold our own and hope for success without bringing Slavery into the question.

From "The Diary of Horatio Nelson Taft, 1861-1865. Volume 2, January 9, 1863"

Two days later he wrote of "…a great deal of growling among the shirking officers and soldiers…" about a war fought to end slavery. But on this date he appeared to change his attitude regarding the reason behind the Emancipation Proclamation.

…I think Mr Lincoln intended to give the Rebels a hard blow by his Proclamation of freedom, careing less about abolishing Slavery than crushing the Rebellion. Interested and short sighted men declare it is all for the abolition of Slavery.

From "The Diary of Horatio Nelson Taft, 1861-1865. Volume 2, January 11, 1863"

Near the end of January 1863, he reported that a "…Bill in the House to authorize the raising of Negro Regiments for the War" created excitement in the chamber which met through the night but adjourned the following morning without coming to a vote. A few weeks later (February 18), Taft wrote of popular opposition to the enlistment of African American troops but expressed his support for any measure that would help bring the war to an end.

…Much opposition has been made to the raising of Negro Regiments for the War. But if the Negroes will fight let us have them. …I go for using all the means that God and Nature has put into our hands to crush out the Rebellion. The moral effect of the proclamation will help us much throughout the world, and that may be its greatest advantage.

From "The Diary of Horatio Nelson Taft, 1861-1865. Volume 2, February 18, 1863"
  • To what extent do the diary entries between January 9 and February 18 reflect a change in Taft's personal opinions regarding the Emancipation Proclamation? Cite evidence from the diary to support your answer.
  • To what extent do you think Taft's position on the Emancipation Proclamation reflected popular sentiment in the North? What sources could you consult to determine if your hypothesis is correct?

In early December 1864, Taft mentioned Lincoln's annual message to Congress on the prospects for peace and indicated that the war would not cease until slavery was abolished.

…That I think is a foregone conclusion. The Constitution of the U.S. will be amended to that Effect. This or the next Congress will pass the Act submitting the Amendment to the States and three fourths of them are ready to ratify it. There does not seem to be any prospect of Peace till the Rebels are entirely exhausted. They are fighting for Independence and Slavery. They can have neither.

From "The Diary of Horatio Nelson Taft, 1861-1865. Volume 3, December 8, 1864"
  • How accurate were Taft's predictions about Congress submitting a constitutional amendment ending slavery to the states?
  • How would you summarize Taft's views on slavery and emancipation as the war neared an end?