Friday, March 14, 2008

Compensated Emancipation

Abraham Lincoln, 1862

Abraham Lincoln hoped that a grand plan of compensated emancipation might bring a speedy end to the rebellion. Though Senator Charles Sumner doubted the plan’s success, he worked with the president and his cabinet. On March 6, 1862, the president sent a special message to Congress, calling for a joint resolution offering “pecuniary aid” to any border state that would initiate a gradual plan of compensated emancipation. As Lincoln explained, the plan would help save the Union because:

The leaders of the existing insurrection entertain the hope that this government will ultimately be forced to acknowledge the independence of some part of the disaffected region, and that all the slave states North of such part will then say ``the Union, for which we have struggled, being already gone, we now choose to go with the Southern section.'' To deprive them of this hope, substantially ends the rebellion; and the initiation of emancipation completely deprives them of it, as to all the states initiating it.

On this date in 1862, Lincoln tried to convince Senator James A. McDougal to support “gradual emancipation with compensation.” Using statistics, Lincoln pleaded his case in a detailed letter. He began with a brow-raising claim: “Less than one half-day’s cost of this war would pay for all the slaves in Delaware at four hundred dollars per head.” Lincoln claimed that Delaware had 1,798 slaves in 1860. If the government paid $400 for each slave, that would only cost $719,000. At the same time, each day of war cost the Union $2 million. Furthermore, Lincoln ran the statistics for Maryland, the District of Columbia, Kentucky, and Missouri and found the government could ‘purchase’ all of their slaves for a little over $173 million, roughly the same amount the government would spend in 87 days of war.

Lincoln spent the rest of March trying to garner Congressional support. Though he was unsuccessful, he did not entirely abandon his plan of compensated emancipation.

That July, Lincoln called border state representatives to the White House and again tried to convince them to accept some form of compensated emancipation, but again with no success.

The plan appears again in his Annual Message to Congress in December 1862.

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