LINCOLN, Abraham and DAVIS, Jefferson. Manuscript petition to "His Excellency Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States," from W.W. Keep, Chairman of "the Board of Trustees of the Orphan Home of the State of Mississippi." Meridian, Miss., 9 February 1865. WITH AUTOGRAPH ENDORSEMENTS OF BOTH DAVIS AND LINCOLN ("Abraham Lincoln" and "Jeffers. Davis") on verso, dated 3 March and 18 March 1865, 2pp., 4to, neatly mended at folds.
IN THE WANING DAYS OF THE WAR, TWO WARRING PRESIDENTS UNITE TO AID A CONFEDERATE WAR ORPHANS. The only known instance of a document jointly signed by Lincoln and Davis
A unique and unprecedented collaboration in which the warring Presidents jointly agree to facilitate a highly unusual humanitarian effort. Indeed the document contains a resonant echo of the concluding phrases of Lincoln's Second Inaugural--delivered two weeks before--in which he memorably appealed for Americans "to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan..."
W. W. Keep, chairman of the board of trustees of the Orphans Home of the State of Mississippi, writes to Davis on 9 February 1865. He asks that an agent of the Home, the Rev. Thomas Cox Teasdale (1808-1891), a Baptist pastor of Columbus, Mississippi, be permitted "to visit Richmond in order to confer with the President, Secretary of War & other authorities," regarding the orphanage's needs, and to obtain from the Confederate authorities "a permit to transport through the lines" a shipment of "at least 100 bales of cotton." Next, the trustees request that Rev. Teasdale be granted a "'passport' through the lines to Washington City, to confer with President Lincoln & the authorities there," and from President Lincoln obtain "full and proper authority" to deliver the cotton "to any place held by the United States forces as may be deemed advisable." There, the cotton is to be "sold and the proceeds invested in Supplies" for the Mississippi orphans home.
With the bloody conflict in its last stages, in a truly extraordinary gesture, both Presidents agree to the complicated proposal--an episode all the more remarkable in light of Lincoln's firm insistence throughout the war that no official cognizance ever be taken of the rebel government in Richmond. On one panel of the verso of Keep's petition President Davis gives his approval: "Refd to the Secty of Treas[ur]y. & the Secty of War for conference with the Rev. Dr. Teasdale in connection with the praiseworthy effort in which he is engaged." Davis then pens a pass beneath his endorsement: "Rev. Dr. Teasdale has permission to pass our lines..." But the words are crossed out in pencil. Beneath that, on the same panel, Lincoln signifies his agreement to the project: "Gen. Canby is authorized, but not ordered, to give Rev. Mr. Teasdale such facilities in the within matter, as he, in his discretion may see fit."
Lincoln also wrote a separate pass for Rev. Teasdale to carry: "Pass the Rev. Thomas Teasdale through our lines going South, with convenient baggage" (Basler 8:365). Characteristically, Lincoln conditions his assent to this project on the cooperation of the local Union commander. Even a humanitarian effort would not be allowed to interfere with the successful completion of the war. In this case, the commander is Maj. Gen. Edward R. Canby, head of the Military Div., Western Mississippi, where the cotton shipment was most likely to originate (perhaps through the Union-held port of New Orleans). Canby's endorsement parallels Lincoln's: "Under the authority of the President the cotton herein referred to may be sent to any point within our lines for sale without being subject to any military restrictions of any kind and the supplies may be brought under like conditions. I have no authority to remit the taxes collected by the Agents of the Agents of the Treasury Departments."
Why did Lincoln agree to this proposal? In the first instance he already knew Rev. Teasdale from Springfield, Illinois, where he had been a Baptist pastor for several years, before moving to Mississippi in 1858. According to Teasdale's memoirs, Lincoln remembered him in their 18 March meeting and said, "You ask me to give relief in a case of distress, just as we have been trying to produce." Chidingly, the President added "We want to bring you rebels into such straits, that you will be willing to give up this wicked rebellion." But when Teasdale reminded him that it was not just the powerful who suffered but "the hapless little ones," Lincoln replied, "That is true, and I must do something for you." Lincoln read the document carefully, turned it over, read Davis's endorsement, then penned his own, a scant four inches from Jefferson Davis's.
With the end of the war coming fast, Lincoln may have been eager to make a humanitarian gesture of cooperation with the nearly vanquished South. Ideas of reconstruction and reconciliation were very much on his mind during these months. He realized that great work would have to be done to try and repair the astounding human and material destruction wrought by the war. Ironically, the end of fighting just weeks later scuttled Teasdale's plan. He traveled to New York, St. Louis and other Northern cities, but after Appomattox, the cotton trade collapsed. Fortunately, Teasdale found other sources of funding and by the fall of 1865 his project, the Confederate Orphans' Home of Mississippi, was in full operation.
Published in Basler 8:363. The background to this unique document is detailed in Teasdale's Reminiscences (1891), 202-203, and in Sandburg, Abraham Lincoln: The War Years, 4:127-128. See also Gilbert Colgate, Jr., "The Day the War Ended," in Civil War Times Illustrated, Vol. 19, no.2 (May 1980), pp.42-44.
Provenance: Thomas C. Teasdale -- Gilbert Colgate -- The present owner, by descent.