Lincoln: “We all declare for liberty; but in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing . . .”
On April 18, 1864, President Lincoln addressed a Sanitary Fair in Baltimore, Maryland, one of the countless fairs held throughout the North to raise money for work now undertaken by the Red Cross and the army itself. He said in part,
Ladies and Gentlemen: . . . Looking upon these many people, assembled here [in Baltimore], to serve, as they best may, the soldiers of the Union, it occurs at once that three years ago, the same soldiers could not so much as pass through Baltimore. The change from then till now, is both great, and gratifying. Blessings on the brave men who have wrought the change, and the fair women who strive to reward them for it.
. . . The world has never had a good definition of the word liberty, and the American people, just now, are much in want of one. We all declare for liberty; but in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing. With some the word liberty may mean for each man to do as he pleases with himself, and the product of his labor; while with others the same word may mean for some men to do as they please with other men, and the product of other men’s labor. Here are two, not only different, but incompatable things, called by the same name — liberty. And it follows that each of the things is, by the respective parties, called by two different and incompatable names — liberty and tyranny.
The shepherd drives the wolf from the sheep’s throat, for which the sheep thanks the shepherd as a liberator, while the wolf denounces him for the same act as the destroyer of liberty, especially as the sheep was a black one. Plainly the sheep and the wolf are not agreed upon a definition of the word liberty; and precisely the same difference prevails to-day among us human creatures, even in the North, and all professing to love liberty. Hence we behold the processes by which thousands are daily passing from under the yoke of bondage, hailed by some as the advance of liberty, and bewailed by others as the destruction of all liberty. Recently, as it seems, the people of Maryland have been doing something to define liberty; and thanks to them that, in what they have done, the wolf’s dictionary, has been repudiated.
Lincoln continued and commented on colored soldiers being massacred at Fort Pillow six days earlier.
It is not very becoming for one in my position to make speeches at great length; but there is another subject upon which I feel that I ought to say a word. A painful rumor, true I fear, has reached us of the massacre, by the rebel forces, at Fort Pillow, in the West end of Tennessee, on the Mississippi river, of some three hundred colored soldiers and white officers, who had just been overpowered by their assailants. There seems to be some anxiety in the public mind whether the government is doing its duty to the colored soldier, and to the service, at this point. At the beginning of the war, and for some time, the use of colored troops was not contemplated; and how the change of purpose was wrought, I will not now take time to explain. Upon a clear conviction of duty I resolved to turn that element of strength to account; and I am responsible for it to the American people, to the Christian world, to history, and on my final account to God. Having determined to use the negro as a soldier, there is no way but to give him all the protection given to any other soldier. The difficulty is not in stating the principle, but in practically applying it. It is a mistake to suppose the government is indiffe[re]nt to this matter, or is not doing the best it can in regard to it. We do not to-day know that a colored soldier, or white officer commanding colored soldiers, has been massacred by the rebels when made a prisoner. We fear it, believe it, I may say, but we do not know it. To take the life of one of their prisoners, on the assumption that they murder ours, when it is short of certainty that they do murder ours, might be too serious, too cruel a mistake. We are having the Fort-Pillow affair thoroughly investigated; . . . If there has been the massacre of three hundred there, or even the tenth part of three hundred, it will be conclusively proved; and being so proved, the retribution shall as surely come. It will be matter of grave consideration in what exact course to apply the retribution; but in the supposed case, it must come.
Lee Rests His Hopes on Lincoln Being Defeated in the Fall Election
“I do not think our enemies are so confident of success as they used to be. If we can baffle them in their various designs this year & our people are true to their cause & not so devoted to themselves & their own aggrandisement, I think our success will be certain. We will have to suffer & must suffer to the end. But it will all come right. This year I hope will establish our supplies on a firmer basis. On every other point we are strong. If successful this year, next fall there will be a great change in public opinion at the north. The Republicans will be destroyed. I think the friends of peace will become so strong that the next administration will go in on that basis. We have only therefore to resist manfully.”
Serving in Louisiana Changes Views of Vehement Pro-Slavery North
April 22, 1864. Massachusetts abolitionist and women’s rights activist Lydia Maria Child wrote in a letter:
“Capt. Wade, of the U. S. Navy, who bought a house for his wife in this town [Wayland, Massachusetts], has been a bitter pro-slavery man, violent and vulgar in his talk against
abolitionists and ‘niggers.’ Two years ago, he was for having us mobbed because we advocated emancipating and arming the slaves. He has been serving in the vicinity of N. Orleans, and has come home on a furlough, an outspoken abolitionist. He not only says in private; but has delivered three lectures in town, in which he has publicly announced the total change in his sentiments since he has had ‘an opportunity to know something on the subject.’ A few days ago, he was going in the cars from Boston to Roxbury, where a colored soldier entered the car. Attempting to seat himself, he was repulsed by a white man, who rudely exclaimed, ‘I’m not going to ride with niggers.’ Capt Wade, who sat a few seats further forward, rose up, in all the gilded glory of his naval uniform, and called out, ‘Come here, my good fellow! I’ve been fighting alongside of people your color, and glad enough I was to have ’em by my side. Come and sit by me.’ Two years ago, I would not have believed such a thing possible of him. So the work goes on, in all directions.”
Making Freedom, African Americans in U.S. History, Sourcebook 4 (2004), p. 55.
– Submitted by Vermont Humanities Council Executive Director Peter A. Gilbert