Saturday, December 01, 2007

December 1, 1862:

Lincoln's Second State of the Union

Lincoln's second Message to Congress, or State of the Union, is best remembered for its closing paragraph:

"Fellow-citizens, we can not escape history. We of this Congress and this Administration will be remembered in spite of ourselves. No personal significance or insignificance can spare one or another of us. The fiery trial through which we pass will light us down in honor or dishonor to the latest generation. We say we are for the Union. The world will not forget that we say this. We know how to save the Union. The world knows we do know how to save it. We, even we here, hold the power and bear the responsibility. In giving freedom to the slave we assure freedom to the free -- honorable alike in what we give and what we preserve. We shall nobly save or meanly lose the last best hope of earth. Other means may succeed; this could not fail. The way is plain, peaceful, generous, just -- a way which if followed the world will forever applaud and God must forever bless.”

But that's hardly the entire scope of the document, which, unlike modern State of the Union speeches, was delivered in writing to Congress (Jefferson began that practice, and it lasted until Wilson again began delivering the speeches himself, which Washington and Adams had done). Lincoln's second State of the Union -- when the union was indeed in a bad way -- includes a lot of other information, some of it unexpected, except to Lincoln scholars and enthusiasts: trade matters, the settlement of the West and the building of a railroad to the Pacific, relations with other countries, the financial condition of the US Post Office and much more. He even proposed this a constitutional amendment:

ART.--. Every State wherein slavery now exists which shall abolish the same therein at any time or times before the 1st day of January, A. D. 1900, shall receive compensation from the United States as follows...

ART.--All slaves who shall have enjoyed actual freedom by the chances of the war at any time before the end of the rebellion shall be forever free; but all owners of such who shall not have been disloyal shall be compensated for them at the same rates as is provided for States adopting abolishment of slavery, but in such way that no slave shall be twice accounted for.

ART.--Congress may appropriate money and otherwise provide for colonizing free colored persons with their own consent at any place or places without the United States...

There's also discussion of the future population of the United States. Lincoln reckoned it to be about 251 million by 1930, by extrapolating growth rates from 1790 to 1860. (The US population didn't reach that level till about 1990.) The entire speech is here.

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