Tide Turns Case 7
One of the most frequently asked questions about Abraham Lincoln is how he would have approached Reconstruction had he not been assassinated. The best we can do is find glimpses in his handling of liberated Southern territory during the Civil War. New Orleans served as a particular focal point because it was the biggest city in the Deep South and home to a large population of free and emancipated African Americans.
Here, he writes General Nathaniel Banks, then in command of the city’s occupation, to make several recommendations for a readmitted Louisiana. Lincoln’s first priority is a new state constitution making slavery illegal, but he also endorses broader programs to foster racial equality, including public schools for African Americans. It is one of his earliest attempts to articulate a free, biracial postwar society.
MS-1863.08.05 - Transcription
Abraham Lincoln to Nathaniel P. Banks, 5 August 1863
Washington, August 5, 1863.
My dear General Banks
Being a poor correspondent is the only apology I offer for hot having sooner tendered my thanks for your very successful, and very valuable military operations this year. The final stroke in opening the Mississippi never should, and I think never will, be forgotten.
Recent events in Mexico, I think, render early action in Texas more important than ever. I expect, however, the General-in-Chief, will address you more fully upon this subject.
Governor Boutwell read me to-day that part of your letter to him, which relates to Louisiana affairs. While I very well know what I would be glad for Louisiana to do, it is quite a different thing for me to assume direction of the matter. I would be glad for her to make a new Constitution recognizing the emancipation proclamation, and adopting emancipation in those parts of the state to which the proclamation does not apply. And while she is at it, I think it would not be objectionable for her to adopt some practical system by which the two races could gradually live
themselves out of their old relation to each other, and both come out better prepared for the new. Education for young blacks should in included in the plan. After all, the power, or element, of "contract" may be sufficient for this probationary period; and, by it's simplicity, and flexibility, may be the better.
As an anti-slavery man I have a motive to desire emancipation, which pro-slavery men do not have; but even they have strong enough reason to thus place themselves again under the shield of the Union; and ^to^ thus perpetually hedge against the recurrence of the scenes through which we are now passing.
Gov. Shepley has informed me that Mr Durant is now taking a registry, with a view to the election of a Constitutional Convention in Louisiana. This, to me, appears proper. If such Convention were to ask my views, I could present little else than what I now say to you. I think the thing should be pushed forward, so that ^if possible,^ it's mature work may reach here by the meeting of Congress.
For my own part I think I shall not, in any event, retract the emancipation proclamation; nor, as executive, ever return to slavery any person who is free by the terms of that proclamation, or by any of the acts of Congress.
If Louisiana shall send members to Congress, then admis
sion to seats will depend, as you know, upon the respective Houses, and not upon the President.
If these views can be of any advantage in giving shape, and impetus, to action there, I shall be glad for you to use them prudently for that object. Of course you will confer with intelligent and trusty citizens of the State, among whom I would suggest Messrs. Flanders, Hahn, and Durant; and to each of whom I now think I may send copies of this letter. Still it is perhaps better to not make this letter generally public.
Yours very truly
Aug. 5 1863
Letter of President Lincoln thanks for capture of Port [Hudson?]