LINCOLN EXERTS EXECUTIVE CONTROL OVER AMNESTY AND, BY EXTENSION, RECONSTRUCTION.
LINCOLN, ABRAHAM. 1809-1865.
Autograph Manuscript, DRAFT PROCLAMATION RESERVING FOR THE PRESIDENT THE RIGHT TO GRANT AMNESTY TO CONFEDERATE PRISONERS, Signed in the text "I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States," 1¼ pages recto and verso, legal folio (350 x 210 mm), after December 8, 1863 and before March 26, 1864, on blue-lined paper, 22 lines to the page (THE SAME PAPER USED FOR THE FIRST DRAFT OF THE GETTYSBURG ADDRESS, THE 1864 ELECTION VICTORY SPEECH, AND THE LAST ADDRESS). Horizontal folds, few very minor smudges including the edge of a fingerprint, faint shadow near center fold on left edge, a little residue from album hinge on verso, small printed caption pasted to head ("President Lincoln"), overall fine and fresh condition.
Provenance: [Robert Todd Lincolnpresumed gift to] Mary Ford, née Molesworth; by descent in the Molesworth family of Pencarrow for over a century; sold at auction to the current owner (Pencarrow Collection of Autograph Manuscripts, Sotheby's, December 8, 1999, lot 137).
"I, ABRAHAM LINCOLN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, DO PROCLAIM, DECLARE, MAKE KNOWN AND ORDER THAT ... ALL PERSONS IN [THE CUSTODY OF THE UNITED STATES], AND NOT COMING THEREUNTO VOLUNTARILY FOR THE EXPRESS PURPOSE OF SECURING THE BENEFITS OF SAID [AMNESTY] PROCLAMATION, SHALL BE SUBJECT TO THE SPECIAL CLEMENCY OF THE PRESIDENT, TO BE GIVEN OR WITHHELD."
LINCOLN ON THE LEGAL DETAILS OF AMNESTY: ONE OF AN EXTREMELY FEW LINCOLN DRAFT MANUSCRIPTS RELATING SPECIFICALLY TO RECONSTRUCTION POLICY. On 8 December 1863, although the Confederate surrender was more than eighteen months away, Abraham Lincoln issued his historic Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction, a bold maneuver intended to hasten the end of War by consolidating hope in the North and enticing weary Southerners to surrender. Lincoln would grant a full pardon and restoration of all rights of property (excepting slaves) to anyone who took an oath to "faithfully support, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, and the Union of all the States thereunder." The Government was quickly overwhelmed by requests for amnesty and in March of the following year the President issued a second Proclamation, clarifying exactly which "insurgent enemies" were entitled to the pardon. The present is an important draft of that second statement, written in clearer and more direct language, in which Lincoln explains that Confederate prisoners already in the custody of the United States are not automatically entitled to a pardon under the terms of the December Amnesty, but that instead he personally will review each plea on a case by case basis. Subsequent autograph endorsements allowing the bearer to "take the oath of 8 December and be released" are frequently met with in the market.
Presidential power to grant amnesty was an important aspect of Lincoln's effort to control Reconstruction in general. Lincoln never deviated from the theory that secession was illegal and that Southern states remained in the Union despite the temporary takeover of their governments by rebels. Together with the 10%-plan, the second major tenet of the December 8 Proclamation, whereby a State could elect Federal representatives with only 10% of the voting population acceding to the loyalty oath, Lincoln acted to restore both property and franchise to Southerners with as few stipulations as possible. Some radical Congressman, however, led by Thaddeus Stevens, insisted that Southern states had forfeited all their rights prior to secession and would have little more legal status than conquered nations. "What Lincoln well understood, but did not acknowledge, was that the 'metaphysical question' of reconstruction theories concealed a power struggle between Congress and the Executive over control of the process. If the southern states had reverted to the status of territories, Congress had the right to frame the terms of their readmission under its constitutional authority to govern territories and admit new states. If, on the other hand, the states were indestructible and secession was the act of individuals, the president had the power to prescribe the terms of restoration under his constitutional authority to suppress insurrection and to grant pardons and amnesty" (Macpherson Battle Cry of Freedom p 700). Lincoln must have been mindful of this when he penned the present manuscript. He was not only proffering the olive branch to individual Confederate prisoners of war but also giving evidence of his personally conservative and forgiving attitude to Reconstruction. Of course, he never had the chance to fully implement and develop this position in policy before his assassination.
The existence of this important draft was unknown for well over a century, as was generally all the material collected by Mary Ford [1816-1910] in the late 19th century and held at her family's seat in Cornwall until it was sold by Sotheby's in 1999. How she obtained the present manuscript is unrecorded; it was certainly a non sequitur amongst a collection focusing on important European literary and musical manuscripts. The most likely path seems to be directly from Robert Todd Lincoln. Robert Todd Lincoln, the only child of the Lincoln's to survive into adulthood, was the custodian of his father's papers after the assassination. He is known to have given away a few manuscripts as gifts, including the manuscript of the 1864 election victory speech (on the same paper as the present manuscript) and also including diplomatic gifts. As Mary Ford's family was prominent and politically active it seems likely that their paths would have crossed in the years that Robert Lincoln was U.S. Minister to England, 1889-1893a period during which Mary Ford was collecting.