Turner on the President’s Message
Christian Recorder: March 21, 1862
On March 6, 1862, President Lincoln delivered his Message to Congress Recommending Compensated Emancipation speech. He called for the Federal Government to compensate states and owners if they would voluntarily free their enslaved people. Below is Turner’s response.
Keywords: President Lincoln, Emancipation, Slavery
Mr. Editor:- The late Message of President Lincoln to Congress, relative to emancipation, has given rise to more speculations, and created more surmises than any other document ever issued from the mansion halls of the White House; and likely no other Message ever, for the moment, was productive of so surreptitious suspense since this nation had its name. Its annunciation seems to benumb the most active intellects, and paralyze the most flippant tongues.
Both Houses of Congress were thrown into a many wonder, as to how they would unwind the intricate strata of its apparent preternatural syllabication. Collegiate sons, who had been reared on the bread of literature, and had prowled through the fields of classic lore, gleaning from every source language, constructability, and how its convoluted reticulations should be dismembered, were paradoxically magnetized, from all appearance, or else logic, rhetoric, and analysis, were proving recreant to the noble trust for which they had been procured.
But passing on from Congressmen to the lower grades of society, we behold governors, State legislatures, mayors, City counsellors, police officers, political petit-maîtres, Irishmen, Germans, women, children, and, last of all in God’s universe, the Ethiopian, all making terrible strides to get the paper. The newspaper boys are flitting up and down the streets as on India rubber toes and wiry springing heels, proclaiming, as they go, President Lincoln on emancipation! Silence, say the inmates of many houses, (who never think of a paper.) What’s that? The boy shrills out again- President Lincoln on emancipation! Get the paper, get the paper! Say the rich, poor, white or colored, whoever he may be, for all must see. Accordingly, the paper is bought, regardless of price; and the way they go at reading it!—everyone is spellbound, the children all come around, with eager anxiety, to see what is the matter, they look as though a death warrant had arrived, the old folks are all breathless, the reader proceeds to chatter out the message,--listen--be quiet,--
“Resolved, The United States ought to cooperate 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 a change of system.”
But at this juncture the baby wakes up, and countermands the silence by a few sonorous yells, (great confusion.) Every solace is offered, and unless the irritated child soon learns the art of muteness, it is hurried away to some sphere where its interrupting loquacity breaks not the incorporate charm that enshrines every fiber of the mind.
The Ethiopian, too, with all his untutoredness (sic), verges out of his dreary iceberg cavern, as if touched by the thawing sun of a free day. Laying hold of the message, he grapples, with Herculean strength, in untwisting its most technical terminologies, hoping to congratulate in the person of the President a Moses waving a mace of independence, with a voice waxing louder and louder, exclaiming, Let my people go, --hoping to hear freedom’s birth heralded intones of volcanic mutterings,--hoping it (the Message,) to be the Jesus of liberty coming to dethrone the Herod of tyranny, --hoping to hear the Jubilee trumpet, Arise, ye slaves, and come to freedom! But, alas, alas, not yet, is the echo.
Newspaper correspondents, too, join the puzzled van, and drift down the deep current of –I don’t know what it means. Several days pass by, and no one dares to comment upon it. The thing is too tender—to near the heart strings. The vitals of the nation are touched. The immortal Negro is too precious—dearer than the thousands of the gallant sons of the nation, who have fallen the bloody victims of slavery’s hellish caprice.
The Generals, Colonels, Captains, Lieutenants and Soldiers, who have wallowed and died in human gore, at Bull Run and other places, the carnage hand and devastating sweep of death, which racks the nation and convulses society, the widowed wives and orphaned children, are all insignificant and worthless when compared with the brave sons of Africa. Why, who would have thought, five years ago, that we were so valuable?
But what is the conclusion arrived at in relation to the true spirit of the Message! Sir, it is this:--A great many here have been blinded and made to believe that it portends hope for a brighter day; but I look at it as one of the most ingenious subterfuges, to pacify the humane and philanthropic hearts of the country, that was ever produced, and I believe it will result to the North what Senator Douglass’ Squatter Sovereignty did to South Carolina. I have not time nor space to analyze the Message; but how some of our people can see so much in it to elate them, I cannot find out; for, after recommending it, it denies that Congress has any power to legislate slavery—leaving it under the absolute control of individual States, with which control they have ever been invested. Before we raise our joys too high, mark this phrase—giving to such State pecuniary and to be used by such State in its discretion. In that phrase there is a broad field, a wide space, an ocean of thought.
Baltimore, March 16, 1862