Sunday, July 3, 2011

July 4, 1861 (Thursday) : Forward Without Fear

Portion of Lincoln's Address-Library of Congress

Having been convened on an extraordinary occasion, as authorized by the Constitution, your attention is not called to any ordinary subject of legislation…..At the beginning of the present Presidential term, four months ago, the functions of the Federal Government were found to be generally suspended within the several States of South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Florida, with the exception of those of the Post-Office Department.….The forts remaining in the possession of the Federal Government in and near these States were either besieged or menaced by warlike preparations, and especially Fort Sumter was nearly surrounded by well-protected hostile batteries…Finding this condition of things and believing it to be an imperative duty upon the incoming Executive to prevent, if possible, the consummation of such attempt to destroy the Federal Union, a choice of means to that end became indispensable.  This choice was made and was declared in the inaugural address.  The policy chosen looked to the exhaustion of all peaceful measures before a resort to any stronger one.....On the 5th of March (the present incumbent’s first full day in office), a letter of Major Anderson, commanding at Fort Sumter, written on the 28th of February, and received at the War Department on the 4th of March, was, by that Department, placed in his hands.  This letter expressed the professional opinion of the writer that re-enforcements could not be thrown into that fort, within the time for his relief rendered necessary by the limited supply of provisions and with a view of holding possession of the same, with a force less than 20,000 good and well-disciplined men….In a purely military point of view this reduced the duty of the Administration in the case to the mere matter of getting the garrison safely out of the fort…..It was believed, however, that to so abandon that position, under the circumstances, would be utterly ruinous; that the necessity under which it was to be done would not be fully understood; that by many it would be construed as part of a voluntary policy; that at home it would discourage the friends of the Union, embolden its adversaries, and go far to insure to the latter a recognition abroad; that, in fact, it would be our nation's destruction consummated… was also resolved to notify the Governor of South Carolina that he might expect an attempt should be made to provision the fort, and that if the attempt should not be resisted there would be no effort to throw in men, arms, or ammunition, without further notice, or in case of an attack on the fort.  This notice was accordingly given, whereupon the fort was attacked and bombarded to its fall without even awaiting the arrival of the provisioning expedition….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 maintain its territorial integrity against its own domestic foes….So viewing the issue, no choice was left but to call out the war power of the Government…The call was made, and the response of the country was most gratifying, surpassing in unanimity and spirit the most sanguine expectation.  Yet none of the States commonly called slave States, except Delaware, gave a regiment through regular State Organization….The people of Virginia have thus allowed this giant insurrection to make its nest within her borders, and this Government has no choice left but to deal with it where it finds it….In the border States, so called—in fact the middle States-there are those who favor a policy which they call “armed neutrality:” that is, an arming of those States to prevent the Union forces passing one way or the disunion the other over their soil.  This would be disunion completed….Soon after the first call for militia it was considered a duty to authorize the commanding general in proper cases, according to his discretion, to suspend the writ of habeas corpus…This authority has purposely been exercised but very sparingly.  Nevertheless the legality and propriety of what has been done under it are questioned and the attention of the country has been called to the proposition that one who is sworn to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed” should not himself violate them….To state the question more directly, are all the laws but one to go unexecuted and the Government itself go to pieces lest that one be violated?....It is now recommended that you give the legal means for making this contest a short and a decisive one; that you place at the control of the Government for the work at least 400,000 men and $400,000,000…..The sophism itself is, that any state of the Union may, consistently with the national Constitution, and therefore lawfully and peacefully, withdraw from the Union without the consent of the Union or any other state….With rebellion thus sugar coated, they have been drugging the public mind of their section for more than thirty years….The States have their status in the Union, and they have no other legal status.  If they break from this they can only do so against law and by revolution….It may well be questioned whether there is to-day a majority of the legally qualified voters of any State, except, perhaps, South Carolina, in favor of disunion…..Lest there might be some uneasiness in the minds of candid men as to what is to be the course of the Government toward the Southern States after the rebellion shall have been suppressed, the Executive deems it proper to say, it will be his purpose then, as ever, to be guided by the Constitution and the laws; and that he probably will have no different understanding of the powers and duties of the Federal Government relatively to the rights of the States and the people, under the Constitution, than that expressed in the inaugural address…..And having thus chosen our course, without guile and with pure purpose, let us renew our trust in God, and go forward without fear and with manly hearts.
                                                                                                ABRAHAM LINCOLN
July 4, 1861

Official Records, Series III, Vol. 1, Pages 311-321

Lincoln's address to a special session of Congress laid out the case for war, a justification for the suspension of habeas corpus, a request for the men and funds to carry out the war, and a statement of what the government's actions would be on completion of the conflict.  From a Constitutional standpoint, much of the address deals with the idea the states did not exist prior to the Constitution (except Texas) and thus have no rights outside the Union.


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