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LINCOLN, ABRAHAM, President. Autograph letter signed ("A. Lincoln") as President to Major General [John Alexander] McClernand, in Memphis, Tennessee; Executive Mansion, Washington, D.C., 8 January l863 [misdated l862]
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LINCOLN, ABRAHAM, President. Autograph letter signed ("A. Lincoln") as President to Major General [John Alexander] McClernand, in Memphis, Tennessee; Executive Mansion, Washington, D.C., 8 January l863 [misdated l862]. 2 l/4 pages, 4to, on lined Executive Mansion stationery, central vertical fold with small 1/8 in.) chip, discreetly reinforced at two folds (not touching text), a quarter-inch clean tear at blank right-hand margin of first leaf.\n\n"BROKEN EGGS CANNOT BE MENDED. I HAVE ISSUED THE EMANCIPATION PROCLAMATION AND I CANNOT RETRACT IT"\n\n"My dear Sir\n"Your interesting communication by the hand of Major Scates is received. I never did ask more, nor ever was willing to accept less, than for all the States, and the people therof, to take and hold their places, and their rights, in the Union, under the Constitution of the United States. For this alone have I felt authorized to struggle; and I seek neither more nor less now. Still, to use a coarse, but an expressive figure, broken eggs can not be mended. I have issued the emancipation proclamation, and I can not retract it. After the commencement of hostilities I struggled nearly a year and a half to get along without touching the 'institution'; and when finally I conditionally determined to touch it, I gave a hundred days fair notice of my purpose, to all the States and people, within which time they could have termed it wholly aside, by simply again becoming good citizens of the United States. They chose to disregard it, and I made the peremptory proclamation on what appeared to me to be a military necessity. And being made, it must stand. As to the States not included in it [the Emancipation Proclamation], of course they can have their rights in the Union as of old. Even the people of the states included, if they choose, need not be hurt by it. Let them adopt systems of apprenticeship for the colored people, conforming substantially to the most approved plans of gradual emancipation; and, with the aid they can have from the general government, they may be nearly as well off, in this respect, as if the present troubles had not occurred, and much better off than they can possibly be if the contest continues persistently.\n\n"As to any dread of my having a 'purpose to enslave, or eterminate, the whites of the South,' I can scarcely believe that such dread exists. It is too absurd. I believe you can be my personal witness that no man is less to be dreaded for undue severity, in any case."\n\n"If the friends you mention really wish to keep peace upon the old terms, they should act at once. Every day makes the case more difficult. They can so act, with entire safety, so far as I am concerned.\n\n"I think you would better not make this letter public; but you may rely confidently on my standing by whatever I have said in it. Please write me if anything more comes to light.\nYour very truly\nA. Lincoln."\n\nThe parallels between the early lives of Lincoln's correspondent, General McClernand, and Lincoln himself are sriking. McClernand was born in Hardinsburg, Kentucky and moved to Illinois while still a child; he read law in Shawneetown, was admitted to the bar in l832, served in the Black Hawk war and became a successful lawyer in Jacksonville. Philosophically and politically, though, Lincoln and McClernand differed profoundly. McClernand was drawn into politics as a Jacksonian Democrat and a staunch anti-abolitionist. He served in Congress from 1843 to l851 and from l859 to l860, helped to draft the Compromise of l850, and later defended the principle of popular sovreignty as articulated by Stephan A. Douglas. When secession and armed conflict followed, though, he resigned from Congress and accepted a commission as Brigadier General of volunteers. While he was commended in some early actions, he resented being placed under command of Grant, whom he rashly criticized after the battle of Shiloh in letters to Halleck and Lincoln. In October 1862 he was authorized by Lincoln to raise an army to move against Vicksburg; instead, his force succeeded in seizing Fort Hindman, Arkansas, on January 11, l863, and was then incorporated as part of Grant's Army of the Gulf. Removed after Vicksburg and returned to Illinois, his later commands were undistinguished. After the war he was a circuit judge of the Sangamon district, resided in Springfield and was active in Democratic politics.\nWhile McClernand's letter to the President which prompted this remarkable response is not known to be extant, an archival record in the Robert Todd Lincoln papers notes that McClernand wrote: "A gentleman of the first respectability just arrived from the rebel army....brings suggestions of...import from officers of high rank in the rebel service, who were formerly my warm personal and political friends. These officials desire the restoration of peace and are represented to be willing to wheel their columns into the line of that policy...." In addition, apparently, they, or perhaps McClernand, voiced the irrational fear that Lincoln's real goal in emancipation was to "enslave, or exterminate the whites of the South," towards which Lincoln is politely dismissive.\nPublished, from a photocopy in the Illinois State Library in A. Lincoln, Collected Works, edited by Roy P. Basler, vol. vi, pp.48-49. Lincoln's retained secretarial copy signed by the President is in the Robert Todd Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress.\n\nProvenance:
US
NY, US
US

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