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Lincoln’s Final State of the Union Message, 1864

In his fourth and final State of the Union address to Congress, President Lincoln reaffirms his commitment both to restoring the Union through military victory and his determination to see the end of slavery in the United States. After briefly addressing foreign affairs and inviting Congressional attention to the reports of his Cabinet officers, Lincoln notes that “The war continues.” He expresses pleasure at the steady advance of Union forces, allowing many occupied areas to grow crops, and admires the confidence of the Union forces illustrated by General William T. Sherman’s march through Georgia, then underway.

The President draws several lessons from the 1864 national elections recently completed. First, he believes the election demonstrates a unanimous and unshakeable commitment to restoring the Union. Second, he finds hope because the human and natural resources of the Union are both “unexhausted” and “inexhaustible.” Seeing immigration as a “replenishing stream,” Lincoln looks forward to a future when Atlantic and Pacific states are connected by “railways and telegraph lines.” Third, he sees a growing commitment to emancipation.

Therefore, he urges the House of Representatives to pass the proposed Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery, even before the next Congress takes office. Lincoln remains committed to emancipation and the destruction of slavery, even while offering lenient pardon to those rebels willing to return to their allegiance to the Union, either individually or collectively.

[ABRAHAM LINCOLN]. Newspaper. New York Observer, New York, N.Y.: Sidney E. Morse and Richard C. Morse. December 8, 1864. Includes complete printing of Lincoln’s last annual message to Congress. 8 pp. (385-392), 18¼ x 25 in.

Inventory #30001.23       Price: $500

Excerpts:

The ports of Norfolk, Fernandina, and Pensacola have been opened by proclamation. It is hoped that foreign merchants will now consider whether it is not safer and more profitable to themselves, as well as just to the United States, to resort to these and other open ports than it is to pursue, through many hazards and at vast cost, a contraband trade with other ports which are closed, if not by actual military occupation, at least by a lawful and effective blockade.” (p390/c3)

The act passed at the last session for the encouragement of immigration has so far as was possible been put into operation. It seems to need amendment which will enable the officers of the Government to prevent the practice of frauds against the immigrants while on their way and on their arrival in the ports, so as to secure them here a free choice of avocations and places of settlement.... I regard our immigrants as one of the principal replenishing streams which are appointed by Providence to repair the ravages of internal war and its wastes of national strength and health.” (p390/c3-4)

The great advantage of citizens being creditors as well as debtors with relation to the public debt is obvious. Men readily perceive that they cannot be much oppressed by a debt which they owe to themselves.” (p390/c4)

It is of noteworthy interest that the steady expansion of population, improvement, and governmental institutions over the new and unoccupied portions of our country have scarcely been checked, much less impeded or destroyed, by our great civil war, which at first glance would seem to have absorbed almost the entire energies of the nation.” (p390/c4)

The great enterprise of connecting the Atlantic with the Pacific States by railways and telegraph lines has been entered upon with a vigor that gives assurance of success, notwithstanding the embarrassments arising from the prevailing high prices of materials and labor.” (p390/c5)

The war continues. Since the last annual message all the important lines and positions then occupied by our forces have been maintained and our arms have steadily advanced, thus liberating the regions left in rear, so that Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, and parts of other States have again produced reasonably fair crops.” (p390/c5)

The most remarkable feature in the military operations of the year is General Sherman’s attempted march of 300 miles directly through the insurgents’ region. It tends to show a great increase of our relative strength that our General in Chief should feel able to confront and hold in check every active force of the enemy, and yet to detach a well-appointed large army to move on such an expedition.” (p390/c5)

Important movements have also occurred during the year to the effect of molding society for durability in the Union. Although short of complete success, it is much in the right direction, that 12,000 citizens in each of the States of Arkansas and Louisiana have organized loyal State governments, with free constitutions, and are earnestly struggling to maintain and administer them.... Maryland presents the example of complete success. Maryland is secure to liberty and union for all the future. The genius of rebellion will no more claim Maryland. Like another foul spirit being driven out, it may seek to tear her, but it will woo her no more.” (p390/c5)

At the last session of Congress a proposed amendment of the Constitution abolishing slavery throughout the United States passed the Senate, but failed for lack of the requisite two-thirds vote in the House of Representatives. Although the present is the same Congress and nearly the same members, and without questioning the wisdom or patriotism of those who stood in opposition, I venture to recommend the reconsideration and passage of the measure at the present session. Of course the abstract question is not changed; but an intervening election shows almost certainly that the next Congress will pass the measure if this does not.” (p390/c5)

There has been much impugning of motives and much heated controversy as to the proper means and best mode of advancing the Union cause, but on the distinct issue of Union or no Union the politicians have shown their instinctive knowledge that there is no diversity among the people. In affording the people the fair opportunity of showing one to another and to the world this firmness and unanimity of purpose, the election has been of vast value to the national cause.” (p390/c5)

The election has exhibited another fact not less valuable to be known—the fact that we do not approach exhaustion in the most important branch of National resources—that of living men. While it is melancholy to reflect that the war has filled so many graves and carried mourning to so many hearts, it is some relief to know that, compared with the surviving, the fallen have been so few.” (p390/c5)

The important fact remains demonstrated that we have more men now than we had when the war began; that we are not exhausted nor in process of exhaustion; that we are gaining strength, and may, if need be, maintain the contest indefinitely. This as to men. Material resources are now more complete and abundant than ever. The national resources, then, are unexhausted, and, as we believe, inexhaustible.” (p390/c6)

On careful consideration of all the evidence accessible it seems to me that no attempt at negotiation with the insurgent leader could result in any good. He would accept nothing short of severance of the Union, precisely what we will not and cannot give.... He cannot voluntarily reaccept the Union; we cannot voluntarily yield it. Between him and us the issue is distinct, simple, and inflexible. It is an issue which can only be tried by war and decided by victory.... What is true, however, of him who heads the insurgent cause is not necessarily true of those who follow. Although he cannot reaccept the Union, they can. Some of them, we know, already desire peace and reunion.” (p390/c6)

In presenting the abandonment of armed resistance to the national authority on the part of the insurgents as the only indispensable condition to ending the war on the part of the Government, I retract nothing heretofore said as to slavery. I repeat the declaration made a year ago, that ‘while I remain in my present position I shall not attempt to retract or modify the emancipation proclamation, nor shall I return to slavery any person who is free by the terms of that proclamation, or by any of the Acts of Congress.’ If the people should, by whatever mode or means, make it an Executive duty to re-enslave such persons, another, and not I, must be their instrument to perform it. In stating a single condition of peace, I mean simply to say that the war will cease on the part of the Government whenever it shall have ceased on the part of those who began it.” (p390/c6)

New York Observer (1829-1912) was a weekly Presbyterian newspaper begun by Sidney E. Morse (1794-1871) and Richard C. Morse (1795-1868), younger brothers of inventor and painter Samuel F. B. Morse (1791-1872). Although religious topics were the primary focus of the newspaper from a conservative Presbyterian perspective, the newspaper also included political and other issues. During the Civil War and beyond, it became one of the most important New York newspapers, and it increasingly covered the news of other denominations as well, including Congregationalists, Episcopalians, Baptists, and Unitarians.


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