Northerners Incensed by Lincoln’s Caution

September 2, 1861/2011
Volume 2, Issue 37 (47 Issues Since 15 October 2010)

Northerners Incensed by Lincoln’s Caution

John Charles Fremont by L. Prang & Co., 1861, Library of Congress

John Charles Fremont by L. Prang & Co., 1861, Library of Congress

September 1861. John Charles Fremont had been, in 1856, the first presidential candidate of the new, anti-slavery Republican party; he had run under the slogan, “Free Soil, Free Men, and Frémont.”

Frémont, who was then commander of the Army’s Department of the West, had, on August 30, 1861, imposed martial law in Missouri, confiscated secessionists’ private property, and emancipated the slaves of all persons who resisted the government. President Lincoln feared that Fremont’s order would kindle secessionist support in Missouri and Kentucky, and perhaps even in Maryland and Delaware, and tip them toward the Southern cause.

Abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, Warren's Portraits, Boston, New York Public Library

Abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, Warren’s Portraits, Boston, New York Public Library

And so on September 2, Lincoln wrote Fremont “in a spirit of caution and not of censure” that some aspects of the edict gave him “some anxiety,” and asked him to revise the order to bring it into line with the Confiscation Act.

Frémont refused to do so, and sent his wife to plead his case. Lincoln met with her at midnight, but her entreaties were to no avail; the next day, Lincoln rescinded Fremont’s order. Of course anti-slavery Northerners were incensed by Lincoln’s caution. Abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison complained that Lincoln may be six feet four, but he is “only a dwarf in mind.”


Philip Kunhardt, Lincoln: An Illustrated Biography, p. 158

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Filed under Civil War Book of Days: 1861

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