John Wilson to Richard Yates


John Wilson to Richard Yates


Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum








The elections for President to be modified, so as to be held by Districts, instead of by States, might also be offered, if deemed expedient.

P.S. think of a place for my son, if you can find any -


Washington Jany 1, 1861.

Dear Sir,

The papers of the day have advised you of the excitement here and at the South generally, but the pen of Lucifer, if he would wield one, could not convey an adequate description of the political mania that seems to have seized upon many of the Southern people. I say "many," because I know that there are great numbers of Union loving, law abiding citizens all over the South, who are now overwhelmed and borne down by the author, and abetting of this mania and are compelled to bow to the storm, till the worst of its fury is over. As if to transfer, as far as they can, to the North, a portion of their frenzy, they are charging Mr Lincoln and his friends as the author of all these evils, notwithstanding the Republicans have not had power for a single day, in any branch of the Govt. nor have they done any thing, which can be pointed out as at all objectionable. That this scheme of disunion has long been considered and prepared, there can be no doubt; but the motives and objects that induced this action would require more time and space for discussion, than can be given in an ordinary letter. Such, in fact, is not my object, but simply to present a few suggestions, which seem to be justified by the circumstances of our country, for your consideration, in connection with the position our State should take in the present crisis, as a prominent and influential member of the Union.

The Union must be preserved at all hazards, and at whatever cost; for the recognition of the right of secession in any or all the States, will sooner or later disintegrate the Union, and

the individual States, and lead to anarchy, civil war, and military despotism. To conquer the South, which probably could only be done by desolating it, would be but little, if any better; as we could only hope, in that event, to hold it by force; and the idea of this Republic holding conquered Provinces or States by force, is utterly repugnant to our feelings, and the spirit and genius of our institutions. The use of force, then, the result of which cannot be doubted, is evidently not expedient, till other, and peaceful efforts fail. Such efforts cannot be made by the present Executive or rather will not, for he is either imbecile, and not competent to the emergency; or has so far committed himself to the authors of the evils that are not upon us, that he is either tacitly acquiescing, or secretly promoting their aims and ends; in fact, I think he is a little compounded of both. Nor can such efforts be made by our friends in Congress, as they were not elected for that purpose, and therefore have not the authority for so doing; neither would their action be binding on their constituents or successors, and of that fact the mischief makers are well advised.

To the secessionists, who would utterly destroy the fair fabric of our Union, erected and cemented, by the wisdom, patriotism, and life blood of the purest patriots and most enlightened statesmen that ever lived, we owe only the punishment due to the outraged laws of our country, but to our friends among them, who have endeavored, though thus far in vain, to stem the torrent of disunion and lawless violence, we owe every support encouragement and assistance that can be rendered with a due regard to honor and justice, and to the preservation of that exact equality among the States, which is the fundamental principle of our institutions and even of our very existence.

The North being far the stronger party, and having just

come off victors in one of the most, if not the most important political contest that has ever occurred in our country, can afford to be generous, as well as just, and to hold out the olive branch of peace to our friends, to sustain them in their efforts for the Union. This, of course, will divide the South, and with the aid of the North, the conservatives will be able to crush out the traitors from among them. To do this, I would suggest, that the people of the free states, by their delegates, elected for the purpose by primary meetings, propose the following settlement of existing difficulties, to wit.

That the rendition clause of the Compromise Act of 1850, amended so that fugitives from labor, shall have a trial by jury before the U.S. Court, shall be embodied in the Constitution; with a clause declaring that Congress, or the Territorial Legislatures, shall have no legislative authority on the subject of slavery; and that each Territory, when it had the population required by the then existing laws of Congress, shall be admitted as a state, without one word about slavery in their Constitution; and that immediately after such admission, the question of slavery in such State, shall be determined by its own convention, elected for that purpose; and if such Convention should decide against slavery and that decision be sustained by the popular vote the slaves in such State shall be removed within six months, or become free. The question of slavery in the District of Columbia, to remain in abeyance while slavery exists in Maryland and Virginia; and when abolished in those states, to be determined by the votes of the people of the District; with such provision as will secure to their owners, such slaves as may be brought into the District as servants, by their masters, while discharging their duties as Members of Congress. Where a slave is rescued from his owner, or the officers of the law, after a jury has decided that he owes service to the person claiming him, such decision to

John Wilson

authorize and require the issue of an [Action?] by such court, against the lands & tenements, or other property of the City, Town County, or residents of the District, in which such rescue is made with power to sell any or all of said property after three days notice, till the proven value of the slave, and all expenses were fully paid and liquidated. This of course, would render unnecessary the "personal liberty laws"; and they should forthwith be repealed.

Neither your time nor mine, will permit me to go into arguments to sustain these views. I believe they would be acceptable to the North; and I am sure they would to the Conservative men of the South. They would not strengthen slavery, but leave it to the irrepressible conflict, which free labor always wages against servitude; and to that ultimate extinction which must follow the vast tragic increase and spread of our white population. Without some such provision I fear a perfect unity will be cemented among all the people of the slave holding states - a consequent division of the Union Civil War, which may be suppressed by European interference; the destruction of the power and influence of our Republic - and the increase and spread of slavery over all the slave holding states and also over the Mexican & South American Governments, which would probably be brought within the Southern Confederacy.

I suppose a convention, to amend our State constitution, has been voted for by a majority of our people; and I supposed, in authorizing the election of Delegates to that Convention, you might ask the people, to extend the powers of those Delegates, to enable them to make any recommendation they see proper in the present affairs of the State, individually or in connection with her sister States, or the Federal Govt. I know you will do what is best in the premises; and I hope you will pardon these suggestions, which grow out of my friendship for you, for our states, and for our beloved Union. Truly yours,

John Wilson.

John Wilson

Jany 1/62




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