The Writings of Carl Schurz/To President Lincoln, May 16th, 1862


Philadelphia, May 16, 1862.

. . .[1] Yesterday's papers brought the news of General Hunter's proclamation freeing the slaves in his department. I am convinced it must and will come to this all over the cotton States during the summer, and a month or two hence a proclamation like Hunter's would be looked upon as the most natural thing in the world. At the present moment it is perhaps a little premature. The thing might have been practically done without being ostensibly proclaimed. At the same time I am persuaded the people will readily acquiesce if you see fit to sustain Hunter in his act; and then the Administration must take its position with firmness and determination. Your personal influence upon public opinion is immense; you are perhaps not aware of the whole extent of your moral power. Thus, if you should see fit to justify and sustain the act as one commanded by local military necessity, there will not be a murmur against it a fortnight hence.

But if you should feel obliged to modify Hunter's proclamation, I would entreat you to consider this: As our armies proceed farther South the force of circumstances will drive us into measures which were not in the original program, but which necessity will oblige you to adopt. It seems to me of the greatest importance that the Government make no public declaration of policy which might be likely to embarrass it in the future. In fact you can hardly tell at the present moment how far you will have to go six weeks hence. The best policy would be to avoid public declarations altogether. The arming of negroes and the liberation of those slaves who offer us aid and assistance are things which must and will inevitably be done; in fact they are being done, and it would perhaps be best boldly to tell the whole truth and to acknowledge the necessity—all of which is respectfully submitted.

In regard to my own affairs permit me to repeat what I said at our last interview; I shall receive with gratitude your orders whatever they may be, especially if you should find it possible to end this suspense without much further loss of time.

P. S. To-day I have heard Hunter's proclamation quite extensively discussed and find that men who are not engaged in party politics, but wish to get done with the war in the shortest possible time, receive it quite favorably.

  1. Two sentences about where he was stopping.