New York, Monday, July 29, 1861.
This is my seventh sleepless night – yours too, doubtless – yet I think I shall not die, because I have no right to die. I must struggle to live , however, bitterly. But to business.
You are not considered a great man, and I am a hopelessly broken one. You are now undergoing a terrible ordeal, and God has thrown the gravest responsibility upon you. Do not fear to meet them.
Can the Rebels be beaten after all that has occurred, and in view of the actual disaster state of feeling caused by our late awful disaster? If they can – and it is your business to ascertain and decide – write me that such is your judgment, so that I may know and do my duty.
And if they cannot be beaten – if our recent disaster is fatal – do not fear to sacrifice yourself to your country. If the Rebels are not to be beaten – if that is your judgment in view of all the light you can get – then every drop of blood henceforth shed in this quarrel will be wantonly, wickedly shed, and the guilt will rest heavily on the soul of every promoter of the crime. I pray you to decide quickly, and let me know my duty.
If the Union is irrevocably gone, an Armistice for thirty, sixty, ninety, 120 days – better still, for a year – ought at once to be proposed with a view to a peaceful adjustment. Then Congress should call a National convention to meet at the earliest possible day. And there should be an immediate and mutual exchange or release of prisoners and a disbandment of forces.
I do not consider myself at present a judge of any thing but the public sentiment. That seems to me every where gathering and deepening against a prosecution of the war. The gloom in this city is funereal for our dead at Bull Run were many, and they lie unburied yet. On every brow sits sullen, scowling, black despair.
It would be easy to have Mr. Crittenden move any proposition that ought to be adopted, or to have it come from any proper quarter. The first point is to ascertain what is best that can be done – which is the measure of our duty – and do that very thing at the earliest moment.
This letter is written in the strictest confidence, and is for your eye alone. But you are at liberty to say to members of your Cabinet that you know I will second any move you may see fit to make. But do nothing timidly nor by halves.
Send me word what to do. I will live till I can hear it at all events. If it is best for the country and for mankind that we make peace with the Rebels at once and on their own terms, do not shrink even from that. But bear in mind the greatest truth – “Whoso would lose his life for my sake shall save it,” do the thing that is the highest right, and tell me how I am to second you.
Yours, in the depths of bitterness,
SOURCE: The Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.