Last Public Address

April 11, 1865

We meet this evening, not in sorrow, but in gladness of heart. The evacuation of Petersburg and Richmond, and the surrender of the principal insurgent army, give hope of a righteous and speedy peace whose joyous expression can not be restrained. In the midst of this, however, He, from Whom all blessings flow, must not be forgotten. A call for a national thanksgiving is being prepared, and will be duly promulgated. Nor must those whose harder part gives us the cause of rejoicing, be overlooked. Their honors must not be parcelled out with others. I myself, was near the front, and had the high pleasure of transmitting much of the good news to you; but no part of the honor, for plan or execution, is mine. To Gen. Grant, his skilful officers, and brave men, all belongs. The gallant Navy stood ready, but was not in reach to take active part.

By these recent successes the re-inauguration of the national authority—reconstruction—which has had a large share of thought from the first, is pressed much more closely upon our attention. It is fraught with great difficulty. Unlike the case of a war between independent nations, there is no authorized organ for us to treat with. No one man has authority to give up the rebellion for any other man. We simply must begin with, and mould from, disorganized and discordant elements. Nor is it a small additional embarrassment that we, the loyal people, differ among ourselves as to the mode, manner, and means of reconstruction.

As a general rule, I abstain from reading the reports of attacks upon myself, wishing not to be provoked by that to which I can not properly offer an answer. In spite of this precaution, however, it comes to my knowledge that I am much censured for some supposed agency in setting up, and seeking to sustain, the new State Government of Louisiana. In this I have done just so much as, and no more than, the public knows. In the Annual Message of Dec. 1863 and accompanying Proclamation, I presented a plan of re-construction (as the phrase goes) which, I promised, if adopted by any State, should be acceptable to, and sustained by, the Executive government of the nation. I distinctly stated that this was not the only plan which might possibly be acceptable; and I also distinctly protested that the Executive claimed no right to say when, or whether members should be admitted to seats in Congress from such States. This plan was, in advance, submitted to the then Cabinet, and distinctly approved by every member of it. One of them suggested that I should then, and in that connection, apply the Emancipation Proclamation to the theretofore excepted parts of Virginia and Louisiana; that I should drop the suggestion about apprenticeship for freed-people, and that I should omit the protest against my own power, in regard to the admission of members to Congress; but even he approved every part and parcel of the plan which has since been employed or touched by the action of Louisiana. The new constitution of Louisiana, declaring emancipation for the whole State, practically applies the Proclamation to the part previously excepted. It does not adopt apprenticeship for freed-people; and it is silent, as it could not well be otherwise, about the admission of members to Congress. So that, as it applies to Louisiana, every member of the Cabinet fully approved the plan. The Message went to Congress, and I received many commendations of the plan, written and verbal; and not a single objection to it, from any professed emancipationist, came to my knowledge, until after the news reached Washington that the people of Louisiana had begun to move in accordance with it. From about July 1862, I had corresponded with different persons, supposed to be interested, seeking a reconstruction of a State government for Louisiana. When the Message of 1863, with the plan before mentioned, reached New-Orleans, Gen. Banks wrote me that he was confident the people, with his military co-operation, would reconstruct, substantially on that plan. I wrote him, and some of them to try it; they tried it, and the result is known. Such only has been my agency in getting up the Louisiana government. As to sustaining it, my promise is out, as before stated. But, as bad promises are better broken than kept, I shall treat this as a bad promise, and break it, whenever I shall be convinced that keeping it is adverse to the public interest. But I have not yet been so convinced.

I have been shown a letter on this subject, supposed to be an able one, in which the writer expresses regret that my mind has not seemed to be definitely fixed on the question whether the seceded States, so called, are in the Union or out of it. It would perhaps, add astonishment to his regret, were he to learn that since I have found professed Union men endeavoring to make that question, I have purposely forborne any public expression upon it. As appears to me that question has not been, nor yet is, a practically material one, and that any discussion of it, while it thus remains practically immaterial, could have no effect other than the mischievous one of dividing our friends. As yet, whatever it may hereafter become, that question is bad, as the basis of a controversy, and good for nothing at all—a merely pernicious abstraction.

We all agree that the seceded States, so called, are out of their proper practical relation with the Union; and that the sole object of the government, civil and military, in regard to those States is to again get them into that proper practical relation. I believe it is not only possible, but in fact, easier, to do this, without deciding, or even considering, whether these states have even been out of the Union, than with it. Finding themselves safely at home, it would be utterly immaterial whether they had ever been abroad. Let us all join in doing the acts necessary to restoring the proper practical relations between these states and the Union; and each forever after, innocently indulge his own opinion whether, in doing the acts, he brought the States from without, into the Union, or only gave them proper assistance, they never having been out of it.

The amount of constituency, so to to [sic] speak, on which the new Louisiana government rests, would be more satisfactory to all, if it contained fifty, thirty, or even twenty thousand, instead of only about twelve thousand, as it does. It is also unsatisfactory to some that the elective franchise is not given to the colored man. I would myself prefer that it were now conferred on the very intelligent, and on those who serve our cause as soldiers. Still the question is not whether the Louisiana government, as it stands, is quite all that is desirable. The question is “Will it be wiser to take it as it is, and help to improve it; or to reject, and disperse it?” “Can Louisiana be brought into proper practical relation with the Union sooner by sustaining, or by discarding her new State Government?”

Some twelve thousand voters in the heretofore slave-state of Louisiana have sworn allegiance to the Union, assumed to be the rightful political power of the State, held elections, organized a State government, adopted a free-state constitution, giving the benefit of public schools equally to black and white, and empowering the Legislature to confer the elective franchise upon the colored man. Their Legislature has already voted to ratify the constitutional amendment recently passed by Congress, abolishing slavery throughout the nation. These twelve thousand persons are thus fully committed to the Union, and to perpetual freedom in the state—committed to the very things, and nearly all the things the nation wants—and they ask the nations recognition, and it’s assistance to make good their committal. Now, if we reject, and spurn them, we do our utmost to disorganize and disperse them. We in effect say to the white men “You are worthless, or worse—we will neither help you, nor be helped by you.” To the blacks we say “This cup of liberty which these, your old masters, hold to your lips, we will dash from you, and leave you to the chances of gathering the spilled and scattered contents in some vague and undefined when, where, and how.” If this course, discouraging and paralyzing both white and black, has any tendency to bring Louisiana into proper practical relations with the Union, I have, so far, been unable to perceive it. If, on the contrary, we recognize, and sustain the new government of Louisiana the converse of all this is made true. We encourage the hearts, and nerve the arms of the twelve thousand to adhere to their work, and argue for it, and proselyte for it, and fight for it, and feed it, and grow it, and ripen it to a complete success. The colored man too, in seeing all united for him, is inspired with vigilance, and energy, and daring, to the same end. Grant that he desires the elective franchise, will he not attain it sooner by saving the already advanced steps toward it, than by running backward over them? Concede that the new government of Louisiana is only to what it should be as the egg is to the fowl, we shall sooner have the fowl by hatching the egg than by smashing it? Again, if we reject Louisiana, we also reject one vote in favor of the proposed amendment to the national constitution. To meet this proposition, it has been argued that no more than three fourths of those States which have not attempted secession are necessary to validly ratify the amendment. I do not commit myself against this, further than to say that such a ratification would be questionable, and sure to be persistently questioned; while a ratification by three fourths of all the States would be unquestioned and unquestionable.

I repeat the question. “Can Louisiana be brought into proper practical relation with the Union sooner by sustaining or by discarding her new State Government?”

What has been said of Louisiana will apply generally to other States. And yet so great peculiarities pertain to each state; and such important and sudden changes occur in the same state; and, withal, so new and unprecedented is the whole case, that no exclusive, and inflexible plan can safely be prescribed as to details and colatterals. Such exclusive, and inflexible plan, would surely become a new entanglement. Important principles may, and must, be inflexible.

In the present “situation as the phrase goes, it may be my duty to make some new announcement to the people of the South. I am considering, and shall not fail to act, when satisfied that action will be proper.

Advertisements

Proclamation Concerning Foreign Port Privileges

April 11, 1865

By the President of the United States of America:

A Proclamation.

Whereas, for some time past, vessels of war of the United States have been refused in certain foreign ports, privileges and immunities to which they were entitled by treaty, public law or the comity of nations, at the same time that vessels of war of the country wherein the said privileges and immunities have been withheld have enjoyed them fully and uninterruptedly in ports of the United States; which condition of things has not always been forcibly resisted by the United States, although, on the other hand, they have not at any time failed to protest against and declare their dissatisfaction with the same. In the view of the United States no condition any longer exists which can be claimed to justify the denial to them by any one of such nations of customary naval rights, as has heretofore been so unnecessarily persisted in:

Now, therefore, I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, do hereby make known that, if after a reasonable time shall have elapsed for intelligence of this Proclamation to have reached any foreign country in whose ports the said privileges and immunities shall have been refused as aforesaid, they shall continue to be so refused, then and thenceforth the same privileges and immunities shall be refused to the vessels of war of that country in the ports of the United States, and this refusal shall continue until war vessels of the United States, shall have been placed upon an entire equality in the foreign ports aforesaid with similar vessels of other countries—the United States, whatever claim or pretence may have existed heretofore, are now, at least, entitled to claim and concede an entire and friendly equality of rights and hospitalities with all maritime nations.

In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

[L.S.]

Done at the City of Washington this eleventh day of April, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-five, and of the Independence of the United States of America the eighty-ninth. ABRAHAM LINCOLN

By the President:

WILLIAM H. SEWARD, Secretary of State.

Proclamation Modifying Blockade of Key West, Florida

April 11, 1865

By the President of the United States of America:

A Proclamation.

Whereas, by my Proclamation of this date, the port of Key West, in the State of Florida, was inadvertently included among those which are not open to commerce:

Now, therefore, be it known that I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, do hereby declare and make known that the said port of Key West is and shall remain open to foreign and domestic commerce upon the same conditions by which that commerce has there hitherto been governed.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

[L.S.]

Done at the City of Washington this eleventh day of April, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-five, and of the Independence of the United States of America the eighty ninth.

By the President: ABRAHAM LINCOLN

WILLIAM H SEWARD Secretary of State.

Proclamation Concerning Blockade

April 11, 1865

By the President of the United States of America:

A Proclamation.

Whereas, by my Proclamations of the nineteenth and twenty seventh days of April, one thousand eight hundred and sixty-one, the ports of the United States in the States of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas, were declared to be subject to blockade; but whereas the said blockade has, in consequence of actual military occupation by this Government, since been conditionally set aside or relaxed in respect to the ports of Norfolk and Alexandria, in the State of Virginia, Beaufort in the State of North Carolina, Port Royal in the State of South Carolina, Pensacola and Fernandina in the State of Florida, and New Orleans in the State of Louisiana:

And, whereas, by the fourth section of the Act of Congress approved on the thirteenth of July eighteen hundred and sixty one, entitled “An act further to provide for the collection of duties on imports and for other purposes,” the President, for the reasons therein set forth, is authorized to close certain ports of entry;

Now, therefore, be it known, that I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, do hereby proclaim that the ports of Richmond, Tappahannock, Cherrystone, Yorktown and Petersburg in Virginia; of Camden, (Elizabeth City,) Edenton, Plymouth, Washington, Newbern, Ocracoke and Wilmington, in North Carolina; of Charleston, Georgetown and Beaufort in South Carolina; of Savannah, St. Mary’s and Brunswick, (Darien) in Georgia; of Mobile in Alabama; of Pearl River, (Shieldsborough,) Natchez and Vicksburg in Mississippi; of St. Augustine, Key West, St. Marks, (Port Leon,) St. John’s, (Jacksonville,) and Apalachicola, in Florida; of Teché, (Franklin) in Louisiana; of Galveston, La Salle, Brazos de Santiago, (Point Isabel,) and Brownsville, in Texas, are hereby closed, and all right of importation, warehousing, and other privileges shall, in respect to the ports aforesaid, cease until they shall have again been opened by order of the President; and if, while said ports are so closed, any ship or vessel from beyond the United States or having on board any articles subject to duties, shall attempt to enter any such port, the same, together with its tackle, apparel, furniture and cargo, shall be forfeited to the United States.

In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand, and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

[L.S.]

Done at the City of Washington, this eleventh day of April, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-five, and of the Independence of the United States of America the eighty-ninth. ABRAHAM LINCOLN

By the President:

WILLIAM H SEWARD Secretary of State.

Response to Serenade

April 10, 1865

MY FRIENDS: I am informed that you have assembled here this afternoon under the impression that I had made an appointment to speak at this time. This is a mistake. I have made no such appointment. More or less persons have been gathering here at different times during the day, and in the exuberance of their feeling, and for all of which they are greatly justified, calling upon me to say something; and I have, from time to time, been sending out what I supposed was proper to disperse them for the present. [Laughter and applause.]

I said to a larger audience this morning what I desire now to repeat. It is this: That I supposed in consequence of the glorious news we have been receiving lately, there is to be some general demonstration, either on this or to-morrow evening, when I will be expected, I presume, to say something. Just here I will remark that I would much prefer having this demonstration take place to-morrow evening, as I would then be much better prepared to say what I have to say than I am now or can be this evening. [A voice—“And we will then have heard from Johnston.”]

I therefore say to you that I shall be quite willing, and I hope ready, to say something then; whereas just now I am not ready to say anything that one in my position ought to say. Everything I say, you know, goes into print. [Laughter and applause.] If I make a mistake it doesn’t merely affect me nor you but the country. I, therefore, ought at least try not to make mistakes. [Voices—“You have made no mistakes yet.”]

If, then, a general demonstration be made to-morrow evening, and it is agreeable, I will endeavor to say something, and not make a mistake, without at least trying carefully to avoid it. [Laughter and applause.] Thanking you for the compliment of this call, I bid you good evening.

Response to Serenade

April 10, 1865

The procession proceeded along Pennsylvania avenue gaining accessions at every step, despite the mud and rain, and when it turned up Fifteenth street it is estimated that there were over three thousand persons in the crowd. The procession proper—that is, those who had come from the Navy Yard—and a portion of the crowd proceeded to the residence of Secretary Welles, while the other portion kept along Pennsylvania avenue to the White House and the War Department. At the latter place the band of the Quartermaster’s regiment, Capt. Tompkins, under the leadership of Prof. Blish, and the band of the Fourteenth regiment V.R.C., were stationed, and their excellent music attracted an immense concourse of people, who called again loudly for Secretary Stanton, but failing to get him out, the crowd, preceded by the Quartermaster’s band, moved toward the White House, and in a few moments an immense number of people were assembled, and completely filled the portico, the carriageway, and pavements on either side, while many were forced to content themselves with a stand-up place in the mud. The bands played, the howitzers belched forth their thunder, and the people cheered. Call after call was made for the President, and his failure to appear only made the people cry out the louder. Master Tad Lincoln, who was at the window, appeared to hugely enjoy the shouting, cheering, and swaying to and fro of the crowd, who evinced a determination not to depart until the Chief Magistrate acknowledged their greeting by his presence. At length, after persistent effort, the presence of Mr. Lincoln was secured. Three loud and hearty cheers were given, after which the President said: [as above]

“FELLOW CITIZENS: I am very greatly rejoiced to find that an occasion has occurred so pleasurable that the people cannot restrain themselves. [Cheers.] I suppose that arrangements are being made for some sort of a formal demonstration, this, or perhaps, to-morrow night. [Cries of ‘We can’t wait,’ ‘We want it now,’ &c.] If there should be such a demonstration, I, of course, will be called upon to respond, and I shall have nothing to say if you dribble it all out of me before. [Laughter and applause.] I see you have a band of music with you. [Vocies, ‘We have two or three.’] I propose closing up this interview by the band performing a particular tune which I will name. Before this is done, however, I wish to mention one or two little circumstances connected with it. I have always thought `Dixie’ one of the best tunes I have ever heard. Our adversaries over the way attempted to appropriate it, but I insisted yesterday that we fairly captured it. [Applause.] I presented the question to the Attorney General, and he gave it as his legal opinion that it is our lawful prize. [Laughter and applause.] I now request the band to favor me with its performance.”

In accordance with the request, the band struck up ‘Dixie,’ and at its conclusion played ‘Yankee Doodle,’ the President remaining at the window mean-while.

The President then said: “Now give three good hearty cheers for General Grant and all under his command.” These were given with a will, after which Mr. Lincoln requested “three more cheers for our gallant Navy,” which request was also readily granted.

The President then disappeared from the window, amid the cheers of those below. The crowd then moved back to the War Department, and loud calls were again made for Secretary Stanton.

To Ulysses S. Grant

                             Head Quarters Armies of the United States,
City-Point,
Lieut Gen. Grant.  April 7. 11 AM. 1865

Gen. Sheridan says “If the thing is pressed I think that Lee will surrender.” Let the thing be pressed. A. LINCOLN