"While the crowd was assembling in front of the house and before the President went up-stairs to the window from which he was to speak, I was with him, and noticed that he carried a roll of manuscript in his hand From a point of concealment behind the window drapery I held a light while he read, dropping the pages of his written speech one by one upon the floor as he finished them. Little Tad scrambled around on the floor, importuning his father to give him 'another,' as he collected the sheets of paper fluttering from the President's hand."
LINCOLN, Abraham. Autograph manuscript of HIS LAST ADDRESS as President, delivered in Washington D.C. from the window of the White House on the evening of 11 April 1865.
12 pages, large folio (13¾ x 8 3/8 in.), boldly penned in dark ink on the rectos only of 12 sheets of fine-quality lined paper, 22 lines to the page, each leaf skillfully inlaid to a larger sheet. Paginated by Lincoln "A, B, 1-10" in upper margin of each page. A final draft, but with two pencilled word insertions and four word changes in the text by Lincoln (page.A "restrained" for "repressed"; page 1 "should" for "would"; "they never having been out of it" for "being already in"; page 7 "on the" for "however), a few small smudges to page "A," otherwise IN SUPERB CONDITION. Bound ca.1890 in half red morocco and marbled paper boards, spine gilt-lettered "THE LAST SPEECH OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN, April 11, 1865 ORIGINAL MANUSCRIPT"; expertly removed from binding, each leaf expertly matted for display.
"WE MEET THIS EVENING NOT IN SORROW, BUT IN GLADNESS OF HEART": PRESIDENT LINCOLN'S LAST ADDRESS, DELIVERED AT THE WHITE HOUSE THE DAY AFTER LEE'S SURRENDER THREE DAYS BEFORE LINCOLN'S ASSASSINATION
AN ARDENT, CAREFULLY REASONED JUSTIFICATION OF LINCOLN'S PLAN FOR RECONSTRUCTION, CONTAINING THE FIRST PUBLIC ENDORSEMENT BY ANY PRESIDENT OF THE ENFRANCHISEMENT OF AFRICAN-AMERICAN FORMER SLAVES
THE LAST MANUSCRIPT OF A COMPLETE LINCOLN SPEECH STILL IN PRIVATE HANDS
Even before he took the oath as President of a deeply divided nation, the precipitate secession of 13 slave-holding states thrust upon Lincoln not only the momentous military and political issues of civil war, but also made it essential to plan for the eventual reconstruction of the shattered Union, the task he here terms "the re-inauguration of the national authority." If, as Lincoln believed, the Union would ultimately be victorious in the bloody conflict, it was incumbent upon the President to formulate clear plans for the restoration of the functions of the Federal government within the seceded states and the respective state governments in a logical, humane manner consistent with the Constitution. And, of equal urgency, what would be the status of the hundreds of thousand of newly freed slaves within those former Confederate states? What rights would former slaves enjoy? For the destruction of slavery as the result of the war had "permanently transformed the war's character, and produced far-reaching conflicts and debates over the role former slaves and their descendants would play in American life and the meaning of the freedom they had acquired." In truth, "the issues central to Reconstruction are as old as the American republic, and as contemporary as the inequalities that still afflict our society" (Eric Foner, Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution 1863-1877, New York, 1988, p.xxvii). While it fell to Lincoln to begin this arduous and complex process, his premature death meant that Reconstruction's eventual path was--for better or for worse--directed by different men, some far less sympathetic to the former Confederate states and their citizens than the 16th President.
"THE GREAT PROBLEM PRESSING UPON THE NATION"
From the early months beginning of the war, Lincoln had given careful consideration to the terms under which the Southern states might be restored to the Union. There were, unfortunately, no precedents to guide him, and his ideas therefore evolved gradually and remained flexible, to be altered as demanded by circumstances. Initially, he anticipated that some seceded states, under the right conditions, might themselves rescind secession, repudiate Confederate war aims and vote to rejoin the Union, much the way some border states had done once freed from Confederate military domination. But the Emancipation Proclamation, signed into law on 1 January 1863, altered everything. Having become a Union war aim, Emancipation also became a pre-condition for the re-admission of any seceded states. Still later, during the final phases of the war, Lincoln perceived, from observation of the reconstruction process as implemented in Louisiana--the first seceded state to come under Union control--that emancipated blacks also required guarantees of their civil rights, should be allowed free public education and, although he at first kept the idea confidential, the right to vote. Cautiously, recognizing its radical nature, Lincoln limited his proposal for extending the franchise to some blacks only: "the very intelligent, and especially those who have fought gallantly in our ranks."
Lincoln's comprehensive plan for reconstruction was first proclaimed in his Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconciliation, announced in his message to Congress on 8 December 1863 (Basler 7:36-53). The President proposed a surprisingly simple procedure for restoring sovereignty and self-government to the seceded states. A minimum of 10 per-cent of a state's 1860 voters must take an oath of allegiance to support the Constitution and to obey all acts of Congress and presidential proclamations regarding slavery; the state government would be expected to accept the abolishment of slavery, and to make provisions for the education of former slaves. On these terms, Lincoln promised executive recognition of the states' governments, restoration of full civil rights to their citizens and that their duly elected representatives would be again admitted to Congress, subject to Congressional approval. Under these liberal provisions, new governments were quickly instituted in both Louisiana and Arkansas and petitioned for the readmission of their representatives to Congress.
But Lincoln's plan predictably aroused vehement opposition in Congress, even from many members of his own party. The Radical Republican faction in Congress, determined to impose a harsher control over the seceded states than Lincoln intended, took the position that the seceded states had, in fact, left the Union, and were therefore to be regarded as conquered provinces under military occupation whose inhabitants could not claim the rights and privileges formerly guaranteed them under the Constitution they had repudiated. Many in Congress also charged that Lincoln had unlawfully usurped powers granted by the Constitution to the legislative branch (under Article IV, Sec.3), while many radicals felt the plan did not go far enough in protecting the newly emancipated slaves. In July 1864, the Radical Republicans refused to seat the new Senators from Arkansas and proposed their own, much harsher terms for reconstruction, embodied in the Wade-Davis bill, which Congress approved and sent on to the President. Lincoln chose to pocket veto the bill, stating that he was unwilling and "unprepared to be inflexibly committed to any single plan of reconstruction." Flexibility, he was convinced, remained an essential. In December 1864, the Radicals forced the tabling of the bill to readmit the state of Louisiana. These hard-fought legislative battles clearly demonstrated to Lincoln that only by taking his plan to the electorate and earning their support would his plan for reconstruction ever become a reality. So it was in acceptance of this new challenge that on April 11, 1865, in his last public address, the manuscript presented here, the President offered a persuasive, closely reasoned defense of his reconstruction policy, which he brilliantly encapsulated in a single metaphor: "Concede that the new government of Louisiana is only to what it should be as the egg is to the fowl, shall we sooner have the fowl by hatching the egg than by smashing it?"
LINCOLN'S ENDOSEMENT OF AFRICAN-AMERICAN SUFFRAGE
In 1860, free blacks were allowed to vote on an equal basis with whites in only five states, all in New England. And, as Frederick Douglass clearly admonished, "slavery is not abolished until the black man has the ballot." In cabinet discussions on the provisions of the December 1863 Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconciliation, Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase, expressing strong approval of the plan, suggested that the requisite 10-per cent of loyal voters should include freed slaves as well. Chase's suggestion was not adopted at the time but his radical suggestion stayed with Lincoln. When elections took place in Louisiana, in February, about 20 per cent of the state's 1860 voters took the oath of allegiance and cast their ballots. As the state prepared to draft a new Constitution, Lincoln began discreetly to urge that it should stipulate the enfranchisement of blacks. In March 1864, in a well-known letter to the newly-elected Union governor of Louisiana, Michael Hahn, he observed that the state constitutional convention would "probably define the elective franchise," and added: "I merely suggest for your private consideration, whether some of the colored people may not be let in [allowed to vote]--as, for instance, the very intelligent, and especially those who have fought gallantly in our ranks. They would probably help, in some trying time to come, to keep the jewel of liberty within the family of freedom. But this is only a suggestion, not to the public, but to you alone" (Basler 7:243).
By April 11, 1865, though, Lincoln was prepared to make this initiative public for the first time, and a key passage of the last address closely echoes his private remarks to Governor Hahn. The passage, referring to the provisions of the newly drafted Louisiana Constitution, reads: "It is also unsatisfactory to some that the elective franchise is not given to the colored man. I would myself prefer that it were now conferred on the very intelligent, and on those who serve our cause as soldiers." Modest though this suggestion might seem today, in the context of a nation which had until recently, tolerated slavery, enforced fugitive slave laws, barred blacks from the armed forces and in most states denied citizenship and basic civil rights to the Negro, Lincoln's endorsement was daring, unprecedented and of course, highly controversial. And, in addition, it constitutes the first public endorsement by any President of the extension of voting rights to freedmen: "never before had any American President publicly announced that he was in favor of Negro suffrage" (David Herbert Donald, Lincoln, New York, 1995, p.585).
NOAH BROOKS' FIRST-HAND ACCOUNT OF LINCOLN'S LAST ADDRESS
Journalist Noah Brooks, who had become a close friend of the Lincoln family by this time, has left an exceptionally vivid account of the Washington on the evening of April 11th and of Lincoln's delivery of this address: "On the evening of April 11, the day after news of Lee's surrender had been telegraphed to the capital, a mood of uninhibited celebration enveloped Washington: the Government buildings were illuminated and jubilant crowds carried flickering candles, lanterns and torches through the streets. "The night was misty," Brooks recalled, and "the reflection of the illuminated dome of the Capitol on the moist airwas seen many miles away. Arlington House, across the river, the old home of Lee, was brilliantly lighted, and rockets and colored lights blazed on the lawn, where ex-slaves by the thousand sang 'The Year of Jubilee.'" The President's speech, Brooks reported, was "delivered to an immense throng of people, who, with bands, banners and loud huzzahs, poured into the semicircular avenue in front of the Executive Mansion. After repeated calls, loud and enthusiastic, the President appeared at the window, which was a signal for a great outburst." Brooks sensed "something terrible in the enthusiasm" with which Lincoln was received. "Cheers upon cheers, wave after wave of applause, rolled up, the President patiently standing quiet until it was all over."
Brooks even took special note of the fact that Lincoln had carefully written out his entire speech (the sheets offered here): "While the crowd was assembling in front of the house and before the President went up-stairs to the window from which he was to speak, I was with him, and noticed that he carried a roll of manuscript in his hand. He explained that this was a precaution to prevent a repetition of the criticisms which had sometimes been made by fastidious persons upon his offhand addressesFrom a point of concealment behind the window drapery I held a light while he read, dropping the pages of his written speech one by one upon the floor as he finished them. Little Tad scrambled around on the floor, importuning his father to give him 'another,' as he collected the sheets of paper fluttering from the President's hand."
"Outside was a vast sea of faces, illuminated by the lights that burned in the festal array of the White House, and stretching far out into the misty darknessWithin stood the tall, gaunt figure of the President, deeply thoughtful, intent upon the elucidation of the generous policy that should be pursued toward the South. That this was not the sort of speech which the multitude had expected is tolerably certain. In the hour of his triumph as the patriotic chief magistrate of a great people, Lincoln appeared to think only of the great problem then pressing upon the government--a problem which would demand the highest statesmanship, the greatest wisdom, and the firmest generosity" (Brooks, Washington in Lincoln's Time, ed. H. Mitgang, pp.227-228).
THE LAST ADDRESS
Lincoln's address begins, appropriately, on a note of jubilation and thanksgiving: "We meet this evening, not in sorrow, but in gladness of heart. The evacuation of Petersburg and Richmond, and the surrender of the principal insurgent army, give hope of a righteous and speedy peace whose joyous expression cannot be restrained. In the midst of this, however, He, from Whom all blessings flow, must not be forgotten. A call for a national thanksgiving is being prepared, and will be duly promulgated. Nor must those whose harder part gives us the cause of rejoicing, be overlooked." Referring to his recent visit to Richmond, he adds: "I myself, was near the front, and had the high pleasure of transmitting much of the good news to you," but he humbly insists that "no part of the honor, for plan or execution, is mine. To Gen. Grant, his skillful officers, and brave men, all belongs. The gallant Navy stood ready, but was not in reach to take active part."
Then Lincoln turns to his principal theme: "By these recent successes the re-inauguration of the national authority--reconstruction--which has had a large share of thought from the first, is pressed much more closely upon our attention. It is fraught with great difficulty. Unlike the case of a war between independent nations, there is no authorized organ for us to treat with. No one man has authority to give up the rebellion for any other man." Alluding to the Radical Republican opposition, he observes "we, the loyal people, differ among ourselves as to the mode, manner, and means of reconstruction."
He acknowledges vehement criticism recently directed at him: "As a general rule, I abstain from reading the reports of attacks upon myself, wishing not to be provoked by that to which I can not properly offer an answer. In spite of this precaution, however, it comes to my knowledge that I am much censured for some supposed agency in setting up, and seeking to sustain, the new State Government of Louisiana." In this, he protests, "I have done just so much as, and no more than, the public knows." Lincoln then carefully reviews the formulation and implementation of his reconstruction plan, beginning with the provisions of the December 1863 Plan of Amnesty and Reconciliation. And, he points out, "I promised, if adopted by any State," that the 10 plan "should be acceptable to, and sustained by, the Executive government of the nation." At the time, he adds, he was careful to observe the separation of powers, specifying "that the Executive claimed no right to say when, or whether members should be admitted to seats in Congress" when seceded states were readmitted. The Cabinet, he adds, had approved his plan. Under it, he relates, Louisiana adopted a new Constitution, which "declared emancipation for the whole state." "Such only has been my agency in getting up the Louisiana government. As to sustaining it, my promise is out, as before stated. But, as bad promises are better broken than kept, I shall treat this as a bad promise, and break it, whenever I shall be convinced that keeping it is adverse to the public interest. But I have not yet been so convinced."
Lincoln acknowledges that there has been considerable debate on the question of whether the seceded states had actually left the Union, or not. He concludes that the argument is a fruitless one: "Any discussion of it, while it thus remains practically immaterial, could have no effect other than the mischievous one of dividing our friends. As yet that question is bad, as the basis of a controversy, and good for nothing at all--a merely pernicious abstraction." Then, in an especially strong passage, he states his own belief that the seceded states have merely fallen "out of their proper practical relation" with the national government:
INDENT THIS PARAGRAPH We all agree that the seceded States, so called, are out of their proper practical relation with the Union; and that the sole object of the government, civil and military, in regard to those States is to again get them into that proper practical relation. I believe it is not only possible, but in fact, easier, to do this, without deciding, or even considering, whether these states have even been out of the Union, than with it. Finding themselves safely at home, it would be utterly immaterial whether they had ever been abroad. Let us all join in doing the acts necessary to restoring the proper practical relations between these states and the Union; and each forever after, innocently indulge his own opinion whether, in doing the acts, he brought the States from without, into the Union, or only gave them proper assistance, they never having been out of it.
He acknowledges that 10 constitutes only a small proportion of the electorate, and that the proposed Louisiana Constitution has not conferred "the elective franchise" on the Negro, even though he confesses that "I would myself prefer that it were now conferred on the very intelligent, and on those who serve our cause as soldiers." And he firmly argues, "The question is not whether the Louisiana government, as it stands, is quite all that is desirable. The question is 'Will it be wiser to take it as it is, and help to improve it; or to reject, and disperse it?' 'Can Louisiana be brought into proper practical relation with the Union sooner by sustaining, or by discarding her new State Government?'" We must not spurn the advances already made towards Reconstruction, Lincoln insists:
INDENT THIS PARAGRAPH Some twelve thousand voters in the heretofore slave-state of Louisiana have sworn allegiance to the Union, assumed to be the rightful political power of the State, held elections, organized a State government, adopted a free-state constitution, giving the benefit of public schools equally to black and white, and empowering the Legislature to confer the elective franchise upon the colored man. Their Legislature has already voted to ratify the constitutional amendment recently passed by Congress, abolishing slavery throughout the nation. These twelve thousand persons are thus fully committed to the Union, and to perpetual freedom in the state -- committed to the very things, and nearly all the things the nation wants -- and they ask the nations recognition, and it's assistance to make good their committal.
If, out of an unreasonable insistence on even more drastic reforms, we repudiate these substantial positive steps already taken, Lincoln predicts, we simultaneously betray Southern moderates of good intention and deprive freed blacks of these long-sought and much deserved reforms:
INDENT THIS PARAGRAPH Now, if we reject, and spurn them, we do our utmost to disorganize and disperse them. We in effect say to the white men 'You are worthless, or worse--we will neither help you, nor be helped by you.' To the blacks we say 'This cup of liberty which these, your old masters, hold to your lips, we will dash from you, and leave you to the chances of gathering the spilled and scattered contents in some vague and undefined when, where, and how.' If this course, discouraging and paralyzing both white and black, has any tendency to bring Louisiana into proper practical relations with the Union, I have, so far, been unable to perceive it. If, on the contrary, we recognize, and sustain the new government of Louisiana the converse of all this is made true. We encourage the hearts, and nerve the arms of the twelve thousand to adhere to their work, and argue for it, and proselyte for it, and fight for it, and feed it, and grow it, and ripen it to a complete success. The colored man too, in seeing all united for him, is inspired with vigilance, and energy, and daring, to the same end. Grant that he desires the elective franchise, will he not attain it sooner by saving the already advanced steps toward it, than by running backward over them?
Then, choosing an expressive metaphor, Lincoln asks: "Concede that the new government of Louisiana is only to what it should be as the egg is to the fowl, we shall sooner have the fowl by hatching the egg than by smashing it?" And he points out that if we prevent Louisiana's readmission, "we also reject one vote in favor of the proposed amendment to the national constitution" (a reference to the Thirteenth Amendment and its impending ratification).
In conclusion, Lincoln restates the crucial issue as he sees it: "'Can Louisiana be brought into proper practical relation with the Union sooner by sustaining or by discarding her new State Government?'" And he again pleads the need for flexibility, since "great peculiarities pertain to each state," and "so new and unprecedented is the whole case, that no exclusive, and inflexible plan can safely be prescribed" Finally, he observes that "In the present 'situation' as the phrase goes, it may be my duty to make some new announcement to the people of the South. I am considering, and shall not fail to act, when satisfied that action will be proper."
"THAT IS THE LAST SPEECH HE SHALL EVER MAKE"
But a conspiracy taking shape in the darkness on the fringes of his audience would deny Lincoln the opportunity to make whatever announcement to the South he had already planned, and from continuing to advocate non-punitive, flexible plans for reconstruction and the extension of Civil Rights to all citizens. For in the torch-lit crowd that night lurked impending tragedy for both the President and the nation. Brooks' account vividly depicts Lincoln's audience that evening: "a vast sea of faces, illuminated by the lights that burned in the festal array of the White House, and stretching far out into the misty darkness." Not all among that vast thong, though, shared the jubilation at the victory of Union arms and the fall of the Confederacy. From later testimony, it is known that among the crowd that misty night were at least three Southern sympathizers, men who had secreted weapons and already plotted to kidnap the President in a far-fetched plan to obtain the release of Confederate prisoners of war. Richmond and the Confederate government had fallen before their far-fetched plan could be put into operation. The same men had been among the audience a little over a month ago when Lincoln delivered his Second Inaugural Address from the Capitol balcony. And on this April evening, Lincoln's future assassin, John Wilkes Booth, and two of his co-conspirators, David Herold and Lewis Paine, were part of the throng before the White House, and stood close enough that Lincoln's words were clearly audible. "Lincoln's address...triggered Booth's shift from thought to action" (Donald, p.588). When the President stated that he favored enfranchisement of southern black men and those who had served in the Union armies, "Booth turned to one of his companions, a man of several alias called Lewis Paine, and urged him to shoot Lincoln on the spot. Naturally, Paine declined. 'That means nigger citizenship,' Booth said in disgust to his other companion, David Herold. 'Now, by God, I'll put him through.' As the three men walked away, Booth muttered, 'That is the last speech he will ever make'" (W. Hanchett, The Lincoln Murder Conspiracies, p.37).
In the next few days, Booth would put into motion a crueler, more drastic plan than mere kidnapping. And four days later, the fatal shot fired from his derringer at Ford's Theatre fulfilled his dire prophecy: the April 11 Address became, in actuality, Lincoln's last speech.
Provenance: Joan Whitney Payson (Mrs. Charles Shipman Payson), bookplate engraved by Tiffany & Co. (sale, Doyle's, 17 May 1984, lot 2). Mrs. Payson's maternal grandfather was John Hay, Lincoln's private Secretary. She is believed to have purchased this exceptional manuscript from the New York firm of James F. Drake in 1938.