Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Lincoln, the Domestic Diplomat

In the three posts about "Lincoln's Political Economy," I tried to show that Foreign Powers were constrained from acknowledging the CSA. First, they did not want to back the wrong side. Second, in the community of nations, sovereignty counts. To assist in a domestic insurrection is the same as waging war on the legitimate government of that country. For this reason among many, Lincoln did not acknowledge, and could not afford to acknowledge, the new nation of the Confederate States of America.
To Lincoln, the federal government retained authority over all thirty-plus states were under his jurisdiction. By holding to the belief of a rightful Union, he continued to exercise some level of authority over all them, even if it was only blockade south of the Mason-Dixon line.

More than once he corrected General Henry Halleck for using phraseology that did not conform to a usage of  a United States: "You know I did not like the phrase, in Orders, No. 68 I believe, "Drive the invaders from our soil." (Letter, July 6, 1863). They were not invaders--they were fellow citizens of the U.S.

The suspension of the writ of habeas corpus in Maryland, April 1861 to 1862, is an early exercise in Lincoln's assumption of that authority, backed up by force. But Lincoln also had to practice diplomacy within his community of individual states: they were turning on each other. And governors frequently wrote Lincoln, telling him exactly how little support they would give for [x] or how much support they needed for [y].

Even More Complicated 
In most formulations of Civil War America, the U.S. map is divided into three useful categories: North, South, and border states. The border states were mostly slave-holding states that held with the Union.

The question of slavery was united with many other issues, red herrings or not. Popular sovereignty and states' rights was a rallying cry in pockets of nearly every state of the Union. The Democratic party was a major party in every state, not just Southern ones; they might decry any Republican measure. Some were anti-war, or at least, anti-Civil War: the Peace Democrats, and more flagrantly in opposition, the "Copperheads". The famous habeas corpus Valladigham Case was in Ohio, a Union state with Clement Valladigham potentially a Copperhead governor. Ultimately, Lincoln declined to hold Mr. Valladigham. Instead, he was allowed to go South, into sympathetic territory.

Local Terrain and Cooperation
With the blue states and the light blue ones above, Lincoln had to work with the Governors and officials that would let him, and make war on those who would not. He needed political and military forecasts, a way to bolster pro-Union officials and to cajole or contain those who would let Union break to pieces.  For every suspension of habeas corpus, there were hundreds, even thousands of efforts to  hold Union together without playing hardball--or, by granting exceptions to hard rules in the name of decency, mercy, or even expediency. 

An Early Diplomacy: Stay on Point. Do Not Speculate.
During the 1859 presidential election, Lincoln wrote constantly to delegates and campaigners about staying 'on message'. The message without variation was contentious enough. He also stayed aloof from personal attacks, devising tactics for countering smear campaigns that left him carefully above. Post-election, the calls for further explanation of his policies continued. Lincoln stayed low-key in Illinois, generally providing only references to his previous record. Along with this demand for explanations, he had to field the calls of patronage. On December 15, 1860, he partly broke his silence to answer a letter containing rumors about "stacking the deck" using patronage:
"As to the use of patronage in the slave states, where there are few or no Republicans, I do not expect to inquire for the politics of the appointee, or whether he does or not own slaves. I intend in that matter to accommodate the people in the several localities, if they themselves will allow me to accommodate them."
This letter came before the second wave of secession or even before Lincoln's inauguration ceremony. He was already attempting to hold onto everyone who would stay. As reported in a  previous post, the attack on Fort Sumter caused Lincoln to break his silence. By calling for militia to defend the Union, he may have precipitated the second wave of secession. Such perilous outcomes only made Lincoln more determined to hang on to what he could. Another look at the map's light-blue states shows you how much strategic territory he was trying to hold.

Under Suspension of Habeas Corpus: Limiting Military Rule
This letter to General John M. Schofield, local commander of Union forces in St. Louis, Missouri
July 13, 1863
I regret to learn of the arrest of the Democrat editor. I fear this loses you the middle position I desired you to occupy.  . . .  Please spare me the trouble this is likely to bring   [.]
A translation: you stupid jerk. Let him go. Another one, a few months later, to the same man:
October 1, 1863
"Your immediate duty, in regard to Missouri, now is to advance the efficiency of that establishment, and to so use it, as far as practicable, to compel the excited people there to leave one another alone."
In other words, Schofield was to let the state take the lead whenever possible in local police matters. Not that there was a police. There was only military and home guard. Lincoln's instructions are explicitly to keep the peace:
 ". . . you will only arrest individuals, and suppress assemblies, or newspapers, when they may be working palpable injury to the Military in your charge; and in no other case will you interfere with the expression of opinion in any form, or allow it to be interfered with violently by others."
This instruction shows that Lincoln did not want to deny Missourians their civil rights, even under the suspension of the writ.  Also important to Lincoln's concerns, however, is a strong with not to alienate state voters used to considering liberty their birthright. Lincoln was constantly on watch to make sure that his local militaries were secure. The civil rights were to be left alone--unless necessary for military security. It also shows that his military, then as ever, were expected to be, partly, diplomats.

There are hundreds of letter where Lincoln listens to personal appeals from the parents of deserters, the wives of fallen Confederate heroes, mothers in poverty whose sons are in stockade for some infraction were not paid, former Senator's sons in Federal prison, et cetera. Each one of these letters, whether giving way or not, is calculated to offer a mercy when it did not interfere with a rational military principle.

These are efforts at diplomacy, to right wrongs and keep state officials happy, newspapers a little more quiet, and citizens calm. But the best example of Lincoln's domestic diplomacy especially concerning the Border States brings us where we started.

The Emancipation Proclamation
My first post on Lincoln was about this important document. There, above, and elsewhere, I said Lincoln did insist he had jurisdiction over all states. With the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln paid the secessionist states an economic ultimatum for a political one. For the border states, it is different. It required diplomacy, or, not giving the first ultimatum that would get him an answering one back. Insisting on emancipation there would lose him whatever shred of political or military support he had.

Though Lincoln wrote some adamant letters to Tennessee's governor, and allowed some punitive regimes in Kentucky, et cetera, he was nevertheless at least partly sympathetic to their plight. Missouri's, Tennessee's and Kentucky 's economies were closely tied to other slave states, particularly in regard to shipping their cash crops downriver via the Mississippi. Their existing commerce was essentially ruined by staying in the Union. To take away the last prop of their economy, however heinous that prop might be, would be to lose them forever--and maybe the war.

All states paid heavily in the Civil War. Lincoln's soft-pedal on slavery in the border States via the Emancipation Proclamation acknowledges their particular economic hardship, their uneasy (and sometimes enforced) yet ultimate loyalty. These border states took the brunt in most of the battles of the Civil War: militarily, politically, and economically.

Today, Lincoln's detractors have revived old tired arguments against this great, beleaguered, and frequently unpopular leader. They have counted on our failure to examine Lincoln's historical context in full.  But Lincoln's words reveal the great care he took in his leadership, in both big and small matters. His milieu was one of cantankerous states used to deciding for themselves. The Union was ripping at every seam.  Lincoln had a stiff spine but also a compassionate view. His letters and speeches reveal his profound understanding of lasting and humane principles, military leadership, economic necessity, diplomacy, and the context of his age.

I hope you have enjoyed this (12 part) series, which was originally intended to be three posts. :-)
Thanks to Slamdunk for suggesting it! What an adventure!  And especially thank you to all who commented along the way. You kept me going, through many lamps of midnight oil.

Abraham Lincoln, Speeches and Writings, 1859-1865. The Library of America. Available.
The American Civil War: Habeas Corpus, at etym online, especially useful and linked above, here
Shelby Foote, The Civil War, Volume I. Random House. Available.
A fine paper written by C.R. Smith, posted here.
US Government Info at About.com, with Lincoln's 1862 Proclamation suspending the writ of habeus corpus, here. This is short.
Wikipedia, Border States. From that Wikipedia page you can access pages such as "Kentucky in the Civil War" that give more details to what I have quickly glossed. Kentucky is particularly interesting in that it was under a very tough general and under conditions of guerilla war.

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Bob G. said...

Again, you've provide some much needed insight into a very complex man...and a damn fine President given the circunstances of his service.
(and I never really was a "fan" of Henry halleck anyway...lol)

Well done.
And congrats on the Zemanta refs.

Carolina Linthead said...

Dear Ann T.

I will be giving a mini-lecture this fall at a local public library on the Feb. 1865 Alexander Gardner photograph of Lincoln. This is not the Lincoln of the 185os, or even the newly inaugurated President Lincoln.

Gardner captured and preserved for the ages the careworn war president. Gardner's Lincoln can see the end in sight, but somehow knows it will be the end of him, as well. He has given all, that last full measure of which he spoke in Nov. 1863, in service to his country. Now he must contemplate the new birth of freedom, even as he contemplates his own mortality.

This is this Lincoln that I love dearly...the mature Lincoln, finally understanding the social revolution he had helped bring about, finally understanding that the destruction of slavery is not enough. Indeed, this is the Lincoln who understands that the nation's wounds cannot be bound up unless the millions of former slaves have a say in the matter.

At least some black men must have the vote, he concludes, for otherwise they will never be able to secure their freedom under the law. How far the great mind has come from the old days as a Clay colonizationist! He finally sees that these children of Africa are Americans, as surely as are children of Europe like himself. He finally understands that their fate is intertwined with that of the nation.

This is the Lincoln who finally sets aside the racial prejudices of his age, who sees clearly the new nation that must emerge out of the chaos and ruin of war. And so in his last public address (not up to the brilliance of his Second Inaugural, but what speech is?), he muses aloud that he thinks at least some black men must have voting rights.

This musing, as much as any other word or deed, drives John Wilkes Booth to pull the trigger. In the end, Lincoln did what so many others had done on his watch: he gave his life for his country. In death, he became a martyr for what in life he had only lately begun to embrace: black equality. With his death, followed as it was by the troubled presidency of Andrew Johnson, the stage was set for ratification of the 14th and 15th Amendments, guaranteeing civil and voting rights regardless of race. And thus was the foundation laid for all future civil and equal rights legislation.

Thank you so much for exploring Lincoln in these posts! Thank you for sharing with us your thoughts on this and so many other topics.

Ann T. said...

Dear Bob,
You are one of those who kept me going, with these complimentary comments!

I so enjoyed reading Lincoln's letters and speeches. He was an amazing man. Working through this series has also allowed me to see the magnitude of the security threat we faced. A big fat duh to Ann T.

Thanks for all your comments and interest. They indeed kept me going! I admire Lincoln so much more after this series--and for specific reasons that I never before contemplated.

Ann T.

Ann T. said...

Dear C. L.,
I have been so gratified to have your scholarly but ardent comments in this series.

Your comments today help confirm a post earlier in the series, where I said Lincoln's understanding of race went through a process--and--here you are proving it.

Thanks Very Much for comments. Someday I hope to read more on international diplomacy during the Civil War, and a bit more on habeas corpus. I think I could have a "Lincoln only" blog so easily!

Thank you, and come back any time!
Ann T.

Carolina Linthead said...

Dear Ann,

You are so very welcome! My writing for the last ten years has focused on the process of emancipation and the subsequent contest over the meaning of freedom in the border state of Kentucky, and so I greatly enjoyed your post today, even if I seemed to ignore it in my first comment ;-)

Anyone who writes about these things must first "get right" with President Lincoln, and so I have read more than a bit of what has been written about him. Still, nothing is quite so eye-popping as what Lincoln himself wrote. It is there that we see the measure of the man as he matures, particularly in his understanding of race and politics.

If by war's end Lincoln was certainly no longer a Clay man regarding race, he was also no longer the "party" man that spoke with such fire at Cooper Union in 1860. Indeed, in 1864 he snubbed his nose at Republicans, choosing to run for re-election on the Union Party ticket, with a Democrat as his running mate!

That departure, IMHO, reflects how much Lincoln had matured in his understanding of the politics of suppressing a rebellion. On the one hand, he was constantly pushing his field commanders to crush the war machine of the rebels; on the other, he was constantly trying to rein in the commanders responsible for keeping the peace, not just in the border states but also in the rapidly growing areas of occupation.

As you indicate, Lincoln was in tune with the politics of his age, and so he quickly moved to embrace "war" Democrats into his Union Party, even as he moved to restore civilian government in occupied areas of the South. And once his forces secured the whole of the Mississippi, he encouraged the restoration of cotton production, etc., so that these areas can be reintegrated into the national economy. He also had the massive military railroad-building machine hard at work to build new roads into these occupied regions, even as plans were laid for the transcontinental railroads.

In short, the Lincoln you describe in these posts was a man who could "see" in ways few others could...or can. I believe that from early on in his presidency he saw a path which would lead to a restored Union and a new birth of freedom without laying waste to the Constitution in the process. We forgive him if he sometimes followed imperfectly that path, for who else could have even begun to envision it?

The Observer said...

Ann T:
That light blue is an awfully generous coloring of a state--Missouri--that had its own state Confederate Army battle flag. A light purple might be more like it!

My appreciation for Lincoln has grown even larger thanks to you and your knowledgeable readers. You cannot help yourself to wonder--what if he had not been killed, what would things have looked like?

Great leaders who know that all they have done is the right thing and in doing the right thing seem to often pay for that with their lives. They say M.L.K. had a premonition he would be killed before it happened...

Thanks so much, and thanks to all the commenters too.

The Observer

Ann T. said...

Dear C.L.,
I have nothing to add to these newer comments except--again thank you and--I will be adding to my Lincoln knowledge from now on. What a great man.

Ann T.

Ann T. said...

Dear The Observer,
LOL on the light purple--we could color Kentucky the same way. Maybe even Tennessee.

I have enjoyed Lincoln's words, and all the comments. It seems like everyone who has been interested has had more knowledge than I did--like you, about Missouri.

In my 'blog description' I have asked for thoughtful comments, and by George, in nine months I have only had two that weren't. I am the luckiest blogger on the planet.

Thanks for all the support.
Ann T.