Letter to Hon. Abraham Lincoln
Cincinnati Daily Enquirer, February 10, 1861
DEAR SIR: Early in the present week we understand that you will pass through this city, on your way to Washington, to take upon yourself the duties and assume the tremendous responsibilities of President of the United States. Notwithstanding the fact that you have expressed yourself highly indignant that any person who did not vote for you should have the hardihood to offer you any suggestions touching your future policy and course, we propose, in the best spirit, to address you upon that point. You ought not to take offense at any counsel that may be tendered you in the present exigency of our public affairs, even if it comes from a political opponent. You ought to recollect, although you were elected by a party, that you are now the President of the United States, and that you will require something more than the support of a party organization (which, upon the popular vote, was in a minority of a million of the people of the whole country,) to carry you successfully, and with credit and honor, through the arduous trial (from which the boldest might shrink) that lies before you.
No person was ever inaugurated President under such circumstances as will signalize your advent into power. In ten States of this Union having a population of seven millions not a single person cast his suffrage for you. In four others your vote was but a meager handful of a few hundreds in a population of millions. You were elected entirely by one section of the Union upon a platform of principles hostile to the rights and interests of the other, and you see to what calamities it has led. Seven States, with extraordinary unanimity, have passed ordinances declaring themselves out of the Federal Union, and eight more are preparing to follow if you and the party which elected you do not offer them some guarantee for their constitutional rights.
As the news of your election flashed over the lightning wires it had all the effect of a terrible national calamity. Contrast the condition of the country, political and pecuniary, now with what it was on that eventful 6th of November that saw you elected to the office of President. Not the loss of a dozen battles in a war with a first-class power—not the partial destruction of the crops by an affliction of nature—not the ravages of terrible disease and pestilence—would have produced that great public gloom and distress which have settled upon the country in consequence of your election to the Presidency. The objection, my dear sir, is not to your personal character, for of that the country has but little knowledge; but it is a fear, an apprehension of the policy of the organization which elected you, and to which it is understood you are committed. You, therefore, journey to Washington under peculiar and extraordinary circumstances; and such is the distressing condition of the country that you can hardly expect to receive those fetes and be met by the people with that joy and homage that they have always hitherto displayed in welcoming the President of the United States.
Hilarity and pleasure are out of character with the grave and solemn aspect of our political and business affairs, which have caused the most patriotic and sagacious to shake their heads with dismay and despondency. Dark and lowering as are the clouds of the future, you can do much to dispel them, and bring that peace and prosperity to the country which existed before you were elected. The influence you possess as the incoming President, with an immense patronage of millions at your disposal, gives you a position that is potent for weal or woe—for the preservation or destruction of the country, as you may see fit to use it. A year ago you were an humble private citizen in Springfield, Illinois, with no prospect whatever of greatness; but circumstances, in twelve months, have placed entirely in your hands the future destiny of the greatest Republic the world ever saw. The question is, can you rise above and throw off the shackles of party, trample under your feet all platforms but the Constitution of the Union, to which you will look with an eye single to the welfare of the whole people. It is said that you are wedded to the Chicago Platform; that you are opposed to any concessions or deviations from the path there laid down; that you will carry it out, whatever may be the consequences. We devoutly hope that such is not your intention; or if it is, that wiser counsels will prevail when you shall reach the Federal Capitol.
If you shall display that uncompromising spirit, then indeed are the clays of the Union numbered, and we can bid farewell to all hopes of peace and prosperity. We may then close with the name of the present incumbent the catalogue of American Presidents! Your name will never be enrolled upon that glorious list, although for a period you may direct the affairs of a fragment of the Confederacy. Have you not, Sir, an honorable and laudable ambition to fill the seat of a WASHINGTON, JEFFERSON, and JACKSON, and are you not willing to sacrifice even the dearest party ties in order to save your country from ruin? Patriotism, honor and the national good are in one direction, while party interests and personal prejudices call you to another. In a few weeks we shall see which of these paths you will take. The people are looking forward to your choice with breathless impatience. You have forborne to give, since your election, any official sign of what your intentions were, but the private signals we have had from Springfield from your immediate friends, have been of an ominous and unpleasant character. Your silence and those interpretations have been such as, thus far, to defeat the compromises which are pending in Congress. Do not take counsel, Sir, of indiscreet pride, which says, “No compromise with States which have assumed a hostile attitude to the General Government.” Personal punctillo [sic] and imagined honor can not be brought into a great question when the fate and fortunes of millions are involved in the issue. National prosperity against national destruction, peace against war, can not be allowed when thrown into the scale to kick the beam because punctillo [sic] and pride so decree.
Such was not the spirit which JACKSON and CLAY manifested when they compromised with the single State of South Carolina, when she stood in the menacing attitude of nullification and secession, in 1833. It is not the spirit which a statesman or a patriot displays when dealing with interesting and delicate questions, upon which hangs [sic] the fortunes and fate of their country. Do not say inauguration first and compromise afterward; for, believe us, if you do, and act upon it, the terrible words “too late” will be thundered in your ears after the ceremony is over —if you begin to move in the path of concession after Congress (which alone can afford relief) has adjourned, not to meet in many months, in the regular order of events. What is done must be done speedily—before the 4th of March—if we would save the country from ruin. In this conflict of passions and prejudices which has been invoked, the time for compromise and concession is rapidly passing away; and the golden opportunity that now presents itself, to restore peace and concord before Congress adjourns, will, if not improved, be lost forever.
By identifying your name and throwing the weight of your Administration upon the side of compromise and concession, you can cement again the bonds of the Union that have been rudely broken; you can achieve a fame that will be immortal in history. But if you stand out against compromise, you will fill a most dark and unenviable place in American annals, and it will be universally admitted that you have inflicted the fatal stab that destroyed the finest Government the world ever saw, and buried the brightest hopes of freemen in the gloom of an unparalleled disaster and ruin.