American Abolitionists and Antislavery Activists:
Conscience of the Nation

Updated April 4, 2021

l to r: Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Phillips

Updated May 3, 2015

Lincoln's Message to Congress, March 6, 1862

Message to Congress [1]

March 6, 1862

Fellow-citizens of the Senate, and House of Representatives,

I recommend the adoption of a Joint Resolution by your honorable bodies which shall be substantially as follows:

``Resolved that the United States ought to co-operate with any state which may adopt gradual abolishment of slavery, giving to such state pecuniary aid, to be used by such state in it's discretion, to compensate for the inconveniences [2] public and private, produced by such change of system''

If the proposition contained in the resolution does not meet the approval of Congress and the country, there is the end; but if it does command such approval, I deem it of importance that the states and people immediately interested, should be at once distinctly notified of the fact, so that they may begin to consider whether to accept or reject it. The federal government would find it's highest interest in such a measure, as one of the most efficient means of self-preservation. [3] 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. The point is not that all the states tolerating slavery would very soon, if at all, initiate emancipation; but that, while the offer is equally made to all, the more Northern shall, by such initiation, make it certain [4] to the more Southern, that in no event, will the former ever join the latter, in their proposed confederacy. I say ``initiation'' because, in my judgment, gradual, and not sudden emancipation, is better for all. In the mere financial, or pecuniary view, any member of Congress, [5] with the census-tables and Treasury-reports before him, can readily see for himself how very soon the current expenditures of this war would purchase, at fair valuation, all the slaves in any named State. Such a proposition, on the part of the general government, sets up no claim of a right, by federal authority, to interfere with slavery within state limits, referring, as it does, the absolute [6] control of the subject, in each case, to the state and it's people, immediately interested. It is proposed as a matter of perfectly free choice with them. [7]

In the annual message last December, I thought fit to say ``The Union must be preserved; and hence all indispensable means must be employed.'' I said this, not hastily, but deliberately. War has been made, and continues to be, an indispensable means to this end. A practical re-acknowledgement of the national authority would render the war unnecessary, and it would at once cease. If, however, resistance continues, the war must also continue; and it is impossible to foresee all the incidents, which may attend [8] and all the ruin which may follow [9] it. Such as may seem indispensable, or may obviously promise great efficiency towards ending the struggle, must and will come.

The proposition now made, though an offer only, I hope it may be esteemed no offence to ask whether the pecuniary consideration tendered would not be of more value to the States and private persons concerned, [10] than are the institution, and property in it, in the present aspect of affairs. [11]

While it is true that the adoption of the proposed resolution would be merely initiatory, and not within itself a practical measure, it is recommended in the hope that it would soon lead to important practical results. In full view of my great responsibility to my God, and to my [12] country, I earnestly [13] beg the attention of Congress and the people to the subject. ABRAHAM LINCOLN

March 6. 1862.


[1]   ADf, DLC-RTL; DS, DNA RG 46, Senate 37A F2; DS, RG 233, House of Representatives Original Executive Document No. 69. A joint resolution of April 10 declared that ``the United States ought to co-operate with any State which may adopt gradual abolishment of slavery giving to such State pecuniary aid, to be used by such State in its discretion to compensate for the inconveniences, public and private, produced by such change of system.'' A further resolution of April 14 ordered the printing of ten thousand copies of the message and resolutions. Emendations not in Lincoln's handwriting appear in the draft and were probably made at the cabinet meeting on March 5. Those which Lincoln adopted are indicated in succeeding footnotes, as also are Lincoln's significant deletions.

[2]   ``Inconveniences'' substituted for ``evils.''

[3]   ``Self-preservation'' substituted for ``preserving it's own existence.''

[4]   ``Make it certain to'' substituted for ``convince.''

[5]   ``Any member of Congress'' substituted for ``any honorable member.''

[6]   ``The absolute'' substituted for ``entire.''

[7]   The following sentence appears at this point in the autograph draft, but is bracketed for deletion: ``Should the people of the insurgent districts now reject the councils of treason, revive loyal state governments, and again send Senators and Representatives to Congress, they would, at once find themselves at peace, with no institution changed, and with their just influence in the councils of the nation, fully re-established.''

[8]   ``Which may attend'' inserted.

[9]   ``Follow'' substituted for ``attend.''

[10]   ``Persons concerned'' substituted for ``owners.''

[11]   The following sentence is deleted at this point: ``I believe it would assist us much in returning to peace, and to all our rights under the Constitution, and the laws.''

[12]   ``Afflicted'' deleted at this point.

[13]   Substitution of ``respectfully'' for ``earnestly'' not adopted.


Source:  Basler, Collected Works, Vol. V, pp. 144-146.  [Downloaded 4/27/2015 from]