Tuesday, July 30, 2013

July 31, 1863 (Saturday): Lincoln Tries to Pull Back Arkansas

Senator William K. Sebastian

EXECUTIVE MANSION, Washington, July 31, 1863.
[Major-General HURLBUT:]
    MY DEAR GENERAL HURLBUT: Your letter by Mr. Dana was duly received. I now learn that your resignation has reached the War Department. I also learn that an active command has been assigned you by General Grant. The Secretary of War and General Halleck are very partial to you, as you know I also am. We all wish you to reconsider the question of resigning; not that we would wish to retain you greatly against your wish and interest, but that your decision may be at least a very well-considered one.
    I understand that Senator [William K.] Sebastian, of Arkansas, thinks of offering to resume his place in the Senate. Of course the Senate, and not I, would decide whether to admit or reject him. Still, I should feel great interest in the question. It may be so presented as to be one of the very greatest national importance; and it may be otherwise so presented as to be of no more than temporary personal consequence to him.

    The emancipation proclamation applies to Arkansas. I think it is valid in law, and will be so held by the courts. I think I shall not retract or repudiate it. Those who shall have tasted actual freedom I believe can never be slaves or quasi slaves again. For the rest, I believe some plan, substantially being gradual emancipation, would be better for both white and black. The Missouri plan, recently adopted, I do not object to on account of the time for ending the institution; but I am sorry the beginning should have been postponed for seven years, leaving all that time to agitate for the repeal of the whole thing. It should begin at once, giving at least the new-born a vested interest in freedom which could not be taken away. If Senator Sebastian could come with something of this sort from Arkansas, I, at least should take great interest in his case; and I believe a single individual will have scarcely done the world so great a service. See him, if you can, and read this to him; but charge him to not make it public for the present Write me again.
Yours, very truly,

Official Records, Series I., Vol. 24, Part 3, Pages 566-567.

Hurlbut was a close colleague of Lincoln's.  At the beginning of the war he was sent by Lincoln to Charleston to evaluate the situation at Fort Sumter.  The administration did, in fact, prevail upon him to remain in the Army.  But Sebastian did not rejoin the Senate, although that body did repeal his expulsion and compensate his family for the time he would have served after his death.  The noteworthy feature of the letter is Lincoln's flexibility on the subject of gradual emancipation.  Here he hopes Arkansas can be peeled away from the Confederacy through some middle ground proposal on the issue.

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