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Union League of Philadelphia Supports Lincoln on Emancipation, African-American Troops in 1864
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The will of the people is supreme.

The vital principle of [Lincoln’s] whole administration has been his recognition of the fact, that our Government is simply a machine for carrying into effect THE WILL OF THE PEOPLE.

[ABRAHAM LINCOLN]. HENRY CHARLES LEA. Printed Pamphlet. No. 18: The Will of the People, [January – April 1864]. 8 pp., 5½ x 8½ in.

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It has been generally assumed that the acts of the President have been the exponents of his own individual convictions. Democrats have censured him for converting the ‘war against disunion’ into a ‘war against slavery.’ Radical Republicans have been equally prone to condemn him as a half-hearted Abolitionist, who required perpetual stimulation to perform his duty, and who is not to be trusted because he did not, immediately on his inauguration, carry out the views which he had previously expressed of opposition to slavery.

Both parties seem to have forgotten that our form of government is as purely democratic as can be reduced to a practical system. Our whole political machinery is devised for the purpose of allowing the people to regulate the national policy. The will of the people is supreme.” (p3)

For twenty years prior to his election he had, on all fitting occasions, expressed his disapprobation of slavery, and his desire that it could be constitutionally done away with. Yet in the popular vote which made him President he saw the expression simply of a determination to resist the aggressions of slavery, and not the condemnation of the system itself.” (p4)

As the nation changed its views, so he was ready to change his policy. When, therefore, the Emancipation Proclamation made its appearance, the people was prepared to welcome that which, a year earlier, would have aroused a tempest of disapprobation.” (p5)

The next step was the arming of negro troops. In July, 1862, Congress authorized the employment of ‘persons of African descent’ in our armies. The public mind was not yet prepared to accept the assistance of the despised race.... The administration accordingly did not press the matter.” (p5-6)

Those who have witnessed the marvellous revolution in public opinion on this subject cannot but admire the manner in which Mr. Lincoln’s honest deference to public opinion has produced results which the tact of the cunning statesman might have failed to secure. Taking each step as the voice of the people demanded it, he has never been forced to retrace his position. Supported by and supporting the popular feeling, he has moved onward in unison with it, and each new development has afforded sure foothold for further progress.” (p6)

His Proclamation of Amnesty puts into practical shape the wishes which have long been silently forming themselves in every loyal heart. Again has he divined the will of the people, and at the fitting time his acts have responded, making, as far as his competence extends, that will the law of the land. To this intuitive perception of public opinion, and this skill in translating it into action, Mr. Lincoln owes much of the success of his administration. He is at once the leader and the led....” (p7)

The transitory passions of the multitude are very different from the slowly formed convictions of the people. The President has known to distinguish between them, and he has at times shown as lofty a firmness to resist the former as he has ever manifested alacrity to respect the latter.... The vital principle of his whole administration has been his recognition of the fact, that our Government is simply a machine for carrying into effect THE WILL OF THE PEOPLE.” (p8)

Excerpts from Resolutions Passed January 11, 1864:

And Whereas, The Union League of Philadelphia, composed, as it is, of those who, having formerly belonged to various parties, in this juncture recognize no party but their country; and representing, as it does, all the industrial, mechanical, manufacturing, commercial, financial and professional interests of the city, is especially qualified to give, in this behalf, an unbiased authentic utterance to the public sentiment. Therefore,” (p2)

Resolved, That we cordially approve of the policy which Mr. Lincoln has adopted and pursued, as well as the principles he has announced as the acts he has performed: and that we shall continue to give an earnest and energetic support to the doctrines and measures by which his administration has thus far been directed and illustrated.” (p2)

Historical Background

Loyal Leagues (also often known as Union Leagues) were men’s clubs established during the Civil War, largely to support the war effort and the policies of the Lincoln administration. They usually consisted of the professional, merchant, and artisan classes in northern cities. The first such club formed in Philadelphia in 1862.

This pamphlet, written by Henry C. Lea as director of the Union League of Philadelphia’s Board of Publication, insisted that Lincoln’s policies reflected the will of the people. Six years earlier, in his first debate with Stephen A. Douglas in August 1858, Lincoln famously said, “In this and like communities, public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed. Consequently he who moulds public sentiment, goes deeper than he who enacts statutes or pronounces decisions. He makes statutes and decisions possible or impossible to be executed.”

On April 15, 1864, Lea met with Lincoln in Washington, and three days later, he wrote to Lincoln, including two pamphlets he had recently written, including this one. He informed Lincoln, “I was much gratified to find from your remarks that in one of them—‘The Will of the People’—I had to some extent indirectly appreciated the motives which have guided your policy. It appeared to me to present a line of argument likely to be effective before the people, & I confess to surprise that it should not have been long since brought more prominently into notice to repel the attacks of radicals & Copperheads.” (Henry C. Lea to Abraham Lincoln, April 18, 1864)

Henry Charles Lea (1825-1909) was born in Philadelphia and received a classical education from Irish American tutor Eugenius Nulty. Lea showed particular promise in natural history. He joined his father in the publishing business in 1843, but had a nervous breakdown in 1847. While recuperating, he read medieval French history and decided to become a historian rather than a scientist. In 1850, he married his first cousin Anna Caroline Jaudon (1824-1912), who was of French Huguenot descent, and they had four children between 1851 and 1859. Over the next fifty years, Lea produced ten books and numerous articles on medieval institutional, legal, and ecclesiastical history. During the Civil War, Lea was a member of the Union League of Philadelphia and led its Board of Publication. In that role, he wrote many of the League’s published pamphlets. From 1863 to 1865, he served as a Bounty Commissioner and aided the provost marshal in recruiting soldiers, including African Americans. He continued in the publishing business until 1880, when his sons took over the firm. He continued to write and assemble an extensive medieval manuscript collection. He received honorary degrees from both American universities like Harvard, Princeton, and Pennsylvania and foreign universities in Giessen and Moscow.


Good with light foxing and toning.