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This despatch is chiefly famous for the changes made in it by President Lincoln. It conveyed the first full instructions sent to Adams after the outbreak of the rebellion. What is most noticeable in the changes are the added accuracy and caution made by the President. Every change is either to avoid asperity, strengthen a position, or give more exact expression to a principle. Instance
be seen in his change of "wrongful” to “ hurtful,” to describe any intercourse of the British government with the Confederate commissioners; the softening of “no one of these proceedings will be borne ” by substituting “will pass unquestioned ”; the omission of an open threat of war if Great Britain recognized the Confederacy. These and other similar alterations, made at a critical period, so early in the administration that the President was practically without diplomatic experience, have been steadily admired from that day to this as a proof of the natural diplomacy of shrewd common sense. By this time it had become tolerably clear who was to run the government. Seward, who so short time ago thought he ought to be dictator, had now learned enough to write, with the generosity that kept pace with his eccentric egotism," there is but one vote in the cabinet and that is cast by the President.” He soon after wrote to his wife, “The President is the best of us all.”
Northern impatience made it impossible, politically, to give in to General Scott's desire for further preparation and methodical and broad lines of attack, and Lincoln decided that, to satisfy the country, an advance must be made, even if, as the General in Chief anticipated, any victory gained in this superficial way should prove indecisive. On the night of May 23, the heights from Arlington to Alexandria, where the President had been able to see, from the White House, the Confederate flag flying, were occupied by the Federal troops. Again, after this little advance, he allowed his generals as much time for getting the army into shape as the popular voice permitted. Before a real battle came Congress had met. Lincoln, on assuming the office, had put the call for the next meeting of Congress as late as July 4, so that the members might approach their. work with a knowledge of what the spirit of the North really was, and also, as Blaine and others say, doubtless correctly, because the President wished every possible moment for the canvass of Kentucky An observer, Dr. Furness, seeing how much stress Lincoln put on the border states, once remarked, “ The President would like to have God on his side, but he must have Kentucky." The result showed him justified. Of the ten representatives chosen, nine were for the Union, an outcome which did much to influence
Virginia, Missouri, and Maryland. This favorable sign was needed. New states had seceded, so that the number was now eleven, and Congress itself sat in a fortified city fearing assault. The few skirmishes that had occurred meant nothing. The first pitched battle was soon to come. Meantime all was excitement and preparation. So distinctly were the lines now drawn that Andrew Johnson was the only Senator who appeared from the eleven seceding states.
The President's message spoke even more firmly than his inaugural, and showed such fixed intentions that Congress followed its requests almost without exception. He first narrated what had thus far been done, again showing how the South had forced the issue. "And this issue embraces more than the fate of these United States. It presents to the whole family of man the question whether a constitutional republic or democracy - a government of the people, by the same people can or cannot retain its territorial integrity against its own domestic foes." He spoke with satisfaction of the response of the country to the call to arms, described the present sentiment in the border states, and sharply answered the doctrine of "armed neutrality" prevailing in those states, which included the intention to prevent either side from sending forces across them. "This,"
said the President, “would be disunion completed. Figuratively speaking, it would be the building of an impassable wall along the line of separation - and yet not quite an impassable one, for under the guise of neutrality it would tie the hands of Union men and freely pass supplies from among them to the insurrectionists, which it could not do as an open enemy. ... nizes no fidelity to the Constitution, no obligation to maintain the Union; and while very many who have favored it are doubtless loyal citizens, it is, nevertheless, very injurious in effect.” plained shortly his reasons
on habeas corpus, rejoiced in the more favorable attitude of foreign powers, and requested at least 400,000 men and $400,000,000. “A right result at this time will be worth more to the world than ten times the money."
He then went again fully into the principle of secession, adding nothing new, but putting his firmness unmistakably before the country. One incident connected with this passage is too characteristic of the President to omit. Speaking of the “sophism ” of peaceable withdrawal from the Union, he said, “ With rebellion thus sugar-coated they have been drugging the public mind of their section for more than thirty years.” When, according to Lamon, the document was put in the hands of the public printer, who happened to be
a friend of Lincoln, he hurried to the President and told him that “sugar-coated,” which might do before a mass-meeting in Illinois, would not be good taste in a message to the Congress of the United States, a message which would become part of the public history of the country. Lincoln laughed and replied: “That term expresses precisely my idea, and I am not going to change it. 'Sugar-coated' must stand. The time will never come in this country when the people will not understand exactly what 'sugar-coated' means.”
Toward the end of the message appeared this significant statement. “ This is essentially a people's contest. On the side of the Union it is a struggle for maintaining in the world that form and substance of government whose leading object is to elevate the condition of men to lift artificial weights from all shoulders. ... I am most happy to believe that the plain people understand and appreciate this. It is worthy of note that while in this, the government's time of trial, large numbers of those in the army and navy who had been favored with the offices have resigned and proved false to the hand which had pampered them, not one common soldier or common sailor is known to have deserted his flag.”