Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Transcribed and Annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College. Galesburg, Illinois.
Abraham Lincoln to William H. Seward, Monday, April 01, 1861 (Reply to Seward's “Some Thoughts for the President's Consideration")
From Abraham Lincoln to William H. Seward1, April 1, 1861
April 1, 1861
My dear Sir:
Since parting with you I have been considering your paper dated this day, and entitled "Some thoughts for the President's consideration"-- The first proposition in it is, "1st We are at the end of a month's administration, and yet without a policy, either domestic or foreign"--
At the beginning of that month, in the inaugural, I said "The power confided to me will be used to hold, occupy and possess the property and places belonging to the government, and to collect the duties, and imposts". This had your distinct approval at the time; and, taken in connection with the order I immediately gave General Scott, directing him to employ every means in his power to strengthen and hold the forts, comprises the exact domestic policy you now urge, with the single exception, that it does not propose to abandon Fort Sumpter--
Again, I do not perceive how the re-inforcement of Fort Sumpter would be done on a slavery, or party issue, while that of Fort Pickens would be on a more national, and patriotic one.
The news received yesterday in regard to St. Domingo,2 certainly brings a new item into within the range of our foreign policy; but up to that time we have been preparing circulars, and instructions to ministers, and the like, all in perfect harmony, without ever a suggestion that we had no foreign policy.
Upon your closing proposition, that "whatever policy we adopt, there must be an energetic prossecution of it"
"For this purpose it must be somebody's business to pursue and direct it incessantly"
"Either the President must do it himself, and be all the while active in it, or"
"Devolve it on some member of his cabinet"
"Once adopted, debates on it must end, and all agree and abide" I remark that if this must be done, I must do it-- When a general line of policy is adopted, I apprehend there is no danger of its being changed without good reason, or continuing to be a subject of unnecessary debate; still, upon points arising in its progress, I wish, and suppose I am entitled to have the advice of all the Cabinet--
Your Obt. Servt.
[ Endorsed on Envelope by Lincoln:]
Hon. W. H. Seward
[Note 1 On March 28 General Scott informed Secretary of War Cameron that the evacuation of both Fort Sumter and Fort Pickens at Pensacola would be necessary to prevent the eight remaining slave states from seceding from the Union. Lincoln, shocked and dismayed, queried his cabinet the following day about the advisability of relieving the forts. Despite Scott's warning, a cabinet majority approved their being provisioned, over the objection of Secretary of State Seward, who would only recommend the relief of Fort Pickens. Lincoln thus concluded to call for an expedition to relieve Fort Sumter, to depart no later than April 6.
Seward, still hoping that the secession crisis could be solved through negotiation and resenting his defeat in the cabinet, delivered a memorandum to Lincoln which in effect called for a change in administration policy. See Seward to Lincoln, April 1, 1861. The memorandum asserted that the administration was in fact thus far without policy, domestic or foreign. Occupying or evacuating Fort Sumter had become a partisan question, when patriotism should instead be the major concern of the American people. Fort Sumter should be evacuated (though Pickens should be held) "as a safe means of changing the issue," with union or disunion then becoming the basis of a policy. And to bring this about public interest should be diverted to foreign policy, focusing on French and Spanish incursions in the Western Hemisphere and the seemingly unfriendly attitude of Great Britain. But "whatever policy we adopt," Seward wrote, "there must be an energetic prosecution of it." Suggesting that Lincoln had been deficient in that prosecution, Seward wrote that policy making and execution should be taken on either by the president or by some member of his cabinet. "It is not in my special province." he wrote. "But I neither seek to evade nor assume responsibility."
It is to that extraordinary note that Lincoln replies here.]
[Note 2 Spanish troops from Cuba had intervened in a rebellion in Santo Domingo.]
PREVIOUS NEXT NEW SEARCH