Sunday, September 18, 2016

John M. Forbes to Senator Charles Sumner, December 27, 1862

Boston, December 27, 1862.

My. Dear Mr. Sumner, — I had hoped to have sent you to-day communications to the President from the rest of our electors (except Mr. Morey, absent in Europe) all indorsing the Proclamation and begging for its enforcement; but the electors are so widely separated, from Nantucket to the Connecticut, that concert of action is difficult. Whittier will probably write a letter instead of signing with us.

May I ask of you the favor to present the letters already sent you, carefully including Judge Chapman's cordial assent.

I sincerely hope that you and others will have sufficient influence with the President to insure his giving us on 1st January such a Proclamation as will only need the “General Orders” of his subordinates to carry into effect not only emancipation but all the fruits thereof, in the perfect right to use the negro in every respect as a man, and consequently as a soldier, sailor, or laborer, wherever he can most effectually strike a blow against the enemy.

It seems to me very important that the ground of "military necessity" should be even more squarely taken than it was on 22d September. Many of our strongest Republicans, some even of our Lincoln electors, have constitutional scruples in regard to emancipation upon any other ground, and with them must be joined a large class of Democrats, and selfstyled “Conservatives,” whose support is highly desirable, and ought to be secured where it can be done without any sacrifice of principle.

I know that you and many others would like to have it done upon higher ground, but the main thing is to have it done strongly, and to have it so backed up by public opinion that it will strike the telling blow, at the rebellion and at slavery together, which we so much need.

I buy and eat my bread made from the flour raised by the hard-working farmer; it is certainly satisfactory that in so doing I am helping the farmer clothe his children, but my motive is self-preservation, not philanthropy or justice. Let the President free the slaves upon the same principle, and so state it that the masses of our people can easily understand it.

He will thus remove constitutional scruples from some, and will draw to himself the support of a very large class who do not want to expend their brothers and sons and money for the benefit of the negro, but who will be very glad to see Northern life and treasure saved by any practical measure, even if it does incidentally an act of justice and benevolence.

Now I would not by any means disclaim the higher motives, but where so much prejudice exists, I would eat my bread to sustain my life; I would take the one short, sure method of preserving the national life, — and say little about any other motive. . . .

Forgive me for writing so much, and for asking you to try to urge my poor ideas upon the President, but I feel strongly that we all need encouragement and hope; and a good strong Proclamation full of vigor, of freedom, and of democracy, would almost compensate us for the dreadful repulse of Fredericksburg.

Truly yours,
J. M. Forbes.

SOURCE: Sarah Forbes Hughes, Letters and Recollections of John Murray Forbes, Volume 1, p. 349-51

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