Wednesday, May 28, 2008

"Impartial History...Will Write You Down as the Greatest Tyrant that Ever Lived..."

I think the weekly edition of Lincolniana on auction we've been doing has the potential to be incredibly useful. I began the program thinking this would be a good way for us to track the value of certain items in today's marketplace, but my thinking has evolved a bit over the past few weeks.

Most of the Lincoln documents available for auction are not found in the Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln. The editors of that monumental documentary editing project knew they had not been able to locate every document in existence. As you might imagine, hundreds of documents have come to light since the project was completed. In part, that is why the folks at the Papers of Abraham Lincoln Project in Springfield are working so hard to create a 21st Century Collected Works.

As we continue to monitor the auction sites, I am pleasantly surprised with both the quantity and quality of the documents that are still in private hands. As I find documents and spend a few moments digging up research on them, I am amazed by how many individual stories still need to be told. Today's document is another fantastic example of this.

This week, a controversial, full-page document, written by Lincoln on July 4, 1864, is up for auction. This document has an absolutely breathtaking backstory.

According to my eyes, the document reads as follows:

July 4, 1864

Senator Powell


The Sec. of War informs me that Col. Woolford will be put on trial this week & just as early in the week as the case can be prepared

Very Respectfully

A. Lincoln

In response to General James B. Fry's order of "the enrollment without delay, of all colored males of military age," Union Colonel Frank L. Wolford of the 1st Kentucky Volunteer Cavalry, denounced President Abraham Lincoln as a tyrant and a traitor during a public ceremony on March 10, 1864. Wolford urged his fellow Kentuckians to resist the enrollment of African American soldiers.

Wolford's incendiary remarks were promptly telegraphed to mlitary authorites and Wolford was arrested. On March 24, Lincoln and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton "dishonorably dismissed" Wolford from service for "violation of the Fifth of the Rules and Aricles of War, in using disrespectful words against the Presdient of the United States, for disloyalty, and for conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman."

The Chicago Tribune condemned Wolford in a graphic editorial, calling the disgraced cavalryman a "negrophobist." In language closely resembling Lincoln's letter to James C. Conkling, which was read in public the previous August and published, the Tribune condemned Wolford:

Let Mr. Wolford, and all his kith and kin in politics, remember that the God-fearing black, who, with musket in hand steps forward at the call of the country, is tenfold more the brother and fellow citizen of the true patriot, than the wretcheswho to spite the negro would ruin the country.

Nonetheless, on April 1, 1864, General Ulysses S. Grant revoked the previous order and Wolford was indeed reinstated in command.

But that is hardly the end of the story.

According to the very detailed item description:

Col. Wolford was chosen a presidential elector of Kentucky's pro-McClellan Conservative Union Party and, as he had done previously, spoke throughout the state against Lincoln's policies. On June 27, 1864, Wolford was arrested again at Lebanon, Kentucky, and sent to Washington in shackles per Gen. Burbridge's orders, though still no formal charges had been filed. Burbridge became known as the "Butcher of Kentucky" for the imprisonment and execution of numerous Kentuckians, including public figures, on charges of treason and other crimes, many of which were baseless. When Wolford was brought to Secretary of War Stanton, the shackles were ordered to be removed and Wolford to be taken to a room at the Willard Hotel just a few blocks from the White House. At the hotel, Wolford received a message that Pres. Lincoln wanted to see him. The bearer of the message, Van Buren, who had served under Wolford as an engineer, and was a friend, was told by Wolford that he was a prisoner, he had seen the President's picture, and did not care to see him, but if the President wished to see him, he could "call around." Van Buren at first refused to carry such a message, but finally consented. Col. Wolford met with Lincoln, Stanton, Kentucky Senator Lazarus Powell, and others at the Willard.

On July 7, 1864, three days after writing this letter to Sen. Powell, Lincoln met again with Col. Wolford at the White House and handwrote a statement for Wolford to sign on Executive Mansion stationery:

I hereby give my parol of honor, that if allowed, I will forthwith proceed to Louisville Kentucky, and then remain, until the court for my trial shall arrive, when I will report myself to their charge, and that in the mean time I will abstain from public speaking, and every thing intended or calculated to produce excitement." Wolford signed it, beneath which the President penned, "Col. Wolford is allowed to go on the above conditions. A. Lincoln.

On July 17, 1864, Pres. Lincoln wrote to Wolford that he had that day sent to Attorney General James Speed "a blank parole in duplicate, which, if you chose, you can sign, and be discharged. He will call upon you. I inclose a printed copy of the letter I read to you the last day you were with me, and which I shall be pleased for you to look over." The parole, handwritten by Lincoln for Wolford's signature: "I hereby pledge my honor that I will neither do or say anything which will directly or indirectly tend to hinder, delay, or embarrass the employment and use of colored persons, as soldiers, seamen, or otherwise, in the suppression of the rebellion, so long as the U.S. government chooses to so employ and use them."

On July 30th, Wolford replied to Lincoln in a lengthy letter.

In answer to this proposal I have frankly to say that I can not bargain for my liberty and the exercise of rights as a freeman on any such terms. I have committed no crime. I have broken no law of my country or of my state. I have not violated any military order or any usages of war, no act or word of mine has ever given encouragement to the enemy. I have no sympathy for the rebellion; all my sympathies are with and all my hopes are for my country. The triumph of the national arms, the preservation of the Union, the maintenance of the Constitution, the restoration of the supremacy of the law over all the States, and the perpetuation of civil and religious liberty are the objects most dear to my heart. I may say without presumption that I have done more to enlist white men in the army of the Union than any other man in the State of Kentucky. I have done nothing to hinder the enlistment even of negroes, because I do not associate with them and have no influence over them. You, Mr. President, if you will excuse the bluntness of a soldier, by an exercise of arbitrary power, have caused me to be arrested and held in confinement contrary to law, not for the good of our common country, but to increase the chances of your re-election to the Presidency and otherwise to serve the purposes of the political party whose candidate you are, and now you ask me to stultify myself by signing a pledge whereby I shall virtually support you in deterring other men from criticising the policy of your Administration. No, sir; much as I love liberty I will fester in a prison or die on a gibbet before I will agree to any terms that do not abandon all charges against me and fully acknowledge my innocence...If, Mr. President, you can not face your case, so stated, it is only because you can not face the truth. If you by persisting in your policy of forcibly abolishing slavery, should cause this war to continue two years longer...It will bring over a million freemen to a bloody end. It will cause cripples and widows and orphans to become so numerous, and crime and violence and bloodshed and misery will increase to such an extent, and your tyranny will have become so great in carrying out the policy you have adopted in order to keep down the discontented and wounded spirits, that your course will come to rise up to defy you, that impartial history, in attesting the goodness and severity of God, will write you down as the greatest tyrant that ever lived...

Four days later, on August 3rd, Wolford telegraphed Lincoln. The Judge Advocate had ordered him to immediately report to Washington to be tried before a military commission. Wolford told the President that he had "scrupulously kept" the terms of his July 7th parole and that Lincoln had promised he would be tried in Louisville.

On August 4th, Lincoln telegraphed:

Yours of yesterday received. Before interfering with the Judge Advocate General's order, I should know his reasons for making it. Meanwhile, if you have not already started, wait till you hear from me again. Did you receive letter and inclosures from me?

Wolford's August 5th reply indicates that he had not as yet mailed the lengthy July 30th response to Lincoln's July 17th offer of parole and discharge:

I duly recd letter and was on the point of mailing my answer when the order of the Judge Advocate came. My answer is now on the way to you.

Lincoln never replied to Wolford's lengthy, critical letter.

With his fate undecided, Wolford went back on the campaign trail. On September 19, 1864, Col. Wolford spoke in Richmond, Kentucky, at a McClellan rally, beginning:

I have been asked to point out a single clause in the Constitution of the United States that Mr. Lincoln has violated. This is an easy task; for there is scarcely a clause in that sacred instrument that he has not violated.

In the November 8, 1864, presidential election, Lincoln won in a landslide, 212-21 electoral votes. Lincoln won 22 states to McClellan's 3, including Kentucky, Pres. Lincoln's birthplace.

On July 5, 1864, a day after Lincoln wrote this letter about Col. Wolford to Senator Powell, the President issued a the following proclamation:

Whereas many citizens of the State of Kentucky have joined the forces of the insurgents and...that combinations have been formed in the said State of Kentucky with a purpose of inciting revel forces to renew the said operations of civil war within the said State...I, Abraham hereby declare that in my judgment the public safety especially required that the suspension of the privilege of the writ of Habeas Corpus be effectually suspended within the said State...and that martial law be established therein...

Habeas Corpus was protection against illegal imprisonment. With its suspension, Col. Wolford and other Kentuckians could be imprisoned indefinitely without going to trial. Arrested frequently, Wolford never went to trial.

Col. Frank Lane Wolford had served in the Kentucky House of Representatives from 1847 until 1849. From 1849 until the outbreak of the Civil War, he had earned a reputation as one of the best criminal lawyers in the state . On March 4, 1865, Wolford returned to the Kentucky House, serving until 1867 when he was appointed Adjutant General of Kentucky by Gov. John W. Stevenson. In 1869, Wolford returned to his law practice and, in 1882, was elected to Congress, serving from 1883-1887.

The letter has been professionally restored, the folds have been reinforced on verso. Toning and a few spots of foxing as well as some soiling.

This letter, measuring 5" x 8", does not appear in the Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln.

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