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This Week in History
December 4 - 10, 1863
President Lincoln Reports to Congress —
On the State of the Union

December 2011

Abraham Lincoln .

On Dec. 8, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln sent to Congress both his Annual Message, and an appended Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction. Coming as it did in the midst of a raging battle for the Union, the message was remarkable for the breadth of the domestic and foreign issues which it discussed. As Lincoln's secretary John Hay had written in August of that year, "The Tycoon is in fine whack. I have rarely seen him more serene and busy. He is managing this war, the draft, foreign relations, and planning a reconstruction of the Union, all at once...."

After citing the "improved condition of our national affairs," Lincoln's first focus in his Congressional message was the very important statement that, "We remain in peace and friendship with foreign powers." The fact that the European powers, especially Great Britain and France, were supporting the Confederacy and providing it with war materiel was well known. The Confederates themselves, and many of their radical Republican ideological allies, pushed any situation which could embroil the Union in controversies with Britain, hoping that the Union would have to fight two wars simultaneously. But, as Lincoln wisely said, when faced with almost intolerable incitements to resort to military measures, "One war at a time."

The possibility of foreign interference at the end of 1863 had lessened, however, partly due to the Emancipation Proclamation, and partly to Union victories. As Lincoln said in his message: "The efforts of disloyal citizens of the United States to involve us in foreign wars, to aid an inexcusable insurrection, have been unavailing. Her Britannic Majesty's government, as was justly expected, have exercised their authority to prevent the departure of new hostile expeditions from British ports. The Emperor of France has, by a like proceeding, promptly vindicated the neutrality which he proclaimed at the beginning of the contest."

What Lincoln diplomatically did not say, was that in early September, two ramming ships destined for the Confederate Navy were nearing completion at Birkenhead, Britain. Many such ships had been built already at Liverpool and other ports and had crossed the Atlantic to make up the bulk of the Confederate navy. This time, however, after the Union victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg, Charles Francis Adams, the U.S. Minister to Great Britain, informed British Foreign Minister Lord Russell, that if the ships at Birkenhead were allowed to sail, "it would be superfluous for me to point out to your Lordship that this is war." The ships did not sail.

As for Napoleon III of France, he had withdrawn from more overt support of the Confederacy, but he would, in the coming year, install Duke Maximillian of Austria as Emperor of Mexico on the southern flank of the United States. But any plans that France and Great Britain were hatching to engage in open war with the Union were quickly put aside when the Czar of Russia sent both his Atlantic and Pacific fleets for a goodwill visit to the United States in the late fall, thus sending an unmistakable message that Russia would not allow any interference by the European powers. On Dec. 19, soon after Lincoln had sent his message to Congress, seamen from the Russian Atlantic Squadron were received by the President at an afternoon reception at the White House.

In the same message, Lincoln stated that "Satisfactory arrangements have been made with the Emperor of Russia, which, it is believed, will result in effecting a continuous line of telegraph through that empire from our Pacific coast. I recommend to your favorable consideration the subject of an international telegraph across the Atlantic ocean; and also of a telegraph between this capital and the national forts along the Atlantic seaboard and the Gulf of Mexico." President Lincoln had a very strong dedication to the development of science and technology, and took every occasion to support inventors whose work might help the nation. He himself in his earlier days had designed a river boat with "buoyant chambers" and "sliding spars." And in 1863, while travelling to confer with General Hooker, Lincoln wrote down his idea for the design of a fast, strong "steam-ram" which could guard a harbor, "as a Bull-dog guards his master's door." Joseph Henry, the nation's leading scientist and head of the Smithsonian Institution, said that "the most far-seeing head in this land is on the shoulders of that awkward rail-splitter from Illinois."

In another part of his message to Congress, Lincoln dealt with the slave trade: "The supplemental treaty between the United States and Great Britain for the suppression of the African slave trade, made on the 17th day of February last, has been duly ratified, and carried into execution. It is believed that, so far as American ports and American citizens are concerned, that inhuman and odious traffic has been brought to an end." On Jan. 1 of 1863, Lincoln had signed the final version of the Emancipation Proclamation. He told Secretary of State William Seward that, "If my name ever goes into history it will be for this act, and my whole soul is in it."

The Proclamation freed only slaves in the territory controlled by the Confederacy, but it also stated that Negroes "will be received into the armed services of the United States." During that year, Lincoln promoted the recruitment of black troops, and when the Confederates declared that captured Northern black soldiers would be put to death, the President issued a warning on July 30 that "the government of the United States will give the same protection to all its soldiers."

Lincoln's American System economic policy was highlighted by his annual report's section on the disposition of public lands, which demonstrated the President's grasp of what constitutes real economic value. "It has long been a cherished opinion of some of our wisest statesmen that the people of the United States had a higher and more enduring interest in the early settlement and substantial cultivation of the public lands than in the amount of direct revenue to be derived from the sale of them. This opinion has had a controlling influence in shaping legislation upon the subject of our national domain. I may cite, as evidence of this, the liberal measures adopted in reference to actual settlers; the grant to the States of the overflowed lands within their limits in order to their being reclaimed and rendered fit for cultivation; the grants to railway companies of alternate sections of land upon the contemplated lines of their roads which, when completed, will so largely multiply the facilities for reaching our distant possessions. This policy has received its most signal and beneficent illustration in the recent enactment granting homesteads to actual settlers."

In the Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction which Lincoln appended to his report to Congress, he proposed to grant full pardons to people taking part in the rebellion, excepting civil or diplomatic officers of the Confederate government, military, or naval officers above a certain rank, all who left the U.S. government or service to aid the rebellion, or those who "engaged in any way in treating colored persons or white persons ... otherwise than lawfully as prisoners of war." Those who wished to return to being citizens of the United States had only to swear an oath of loyalty to the Constitution, and swear to support the Emancipation Proclamation and all acts of Congress dealing with slaves.

The President further declared that "whenever, in any of the States of Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, and North Carolina, a number of persons, not less than one-tenth in number of the votes cast in such State at the Presidential election" of 1860, re-establish a democratic government, that government "shall be recognized as the true government of the State" and would receive Federal protection against invasion and against domestic violence. John Hay declared that "I never have seen such an effect produced by a public document. Men acted as if the millennium had come.... Lovejoy ... said it was glorious. 'I shall live,' he said, 'to see slavery ended in America....'"

However, the Radical Republicans were not pleased by Lincoln's intention to bring the Southern states back into the Union as quickly as possible, as long as their citizens agreed to support the Constitution and the Emancipation Proclamation. The radicals, and newspaperman Horace Greeley in particular, did everything they could to defeat Lincoln's renomination in 1864, fortunately to no avail. But Lincoln felt the ferocity of his supposed allies' attacks: "To be wounded in the house of one's friends," said Lincoln, "is perhaps the most grievous affliction that can befall a man."



The original article was published in the EIR Online’s Electronic Intelligence Weekly, as part of an ongoing series on history, with a special emphasis on American history. We are reprinting and updating these articles now to assist our readers in understanding of the American System of Economy.