Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Diary of John Hay: May 7, 1861

I went in to give the President some little items of Illinois news, saying among other things that Singleton was behaving very badly. He replied with emphasis that Singleton was a miracle of meanness; calmly looking out of the window at the smoke of two strange steamers puffing up the way, resting the end of the telescope on his toes sublime.

I spoke of the proposition of Browning to subjugate the South, establish a black republic in lieu of the exterminated whites, and extend a protectorate over them while they raised our cotton. He said: “Some of our northerns seem bewildered and dazzled by the excitement of the hour. Doolittle seems inclined to think that this war is to result in the entire abolition of slavery. Old Col. Hamilton, a venerable and most respectable gentleman, impresses upon me most earnestly the propriety of enlisting the slaves in our army."

I told him his daily correspondence was thickly interspersed by such suggestions.

“For my own part,” he said, “I consider the central idea pervading this struggle is the necessity that is upon us of proving that popular government is not an absurdity. We must settle this question now, whether, in a free government, the minority have the right to break up the government whenever they choose. If we fail, it will go far to prove the incapability of the people to govern themselves. There may be one consideration used in stay of such final judgment, but that is not for us to use in advance: That is, that there exists in our case an instance of a vast and far-reaching disturbing element, which the history of no other free nation will probably ever present. That, however, is not for us to say at present. Taking the government as we found it, we will see if the majority can preserve it."

He is engaged in constant thought upon his Message. It will be an exhaustive review of the questions of the hour and of the future. . . .

SOURCES: Clara B. Hay, Letters of John Hay and Extracts from Diary, Volume 1, p. 30-2; Tyler Dennett, Editor, Lincoln and the Civil War in the Diaries and Letters of John Hay, p. 19-20.

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