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1862 December 10: Lincoln’s Second State of the Union Message—Part I

December 10, 2012

The December 10, 1862, issue of The Prescott Journal carried President Lincoln’s second State of the Union address to Congress, which he delivered on December 1, 1862.  Before we get to the actual message (Part II of this post), here is what Editor Lute Taylor of the Journal had to say about the message, and what the Saint Paul Press had to say.


We publish in another column what the St. Paul Press says of the Message.  It has a rose colored view.  In our opinion, the Message has not gunpowder enough in it.  It does not savor enough of battle and subjugation.  It fall about many things which are not pertinent now.  It reasons too much—decides too little.  Oh, for an hour of “By the Eternal!”  Oh, for a man who will seize the vast forces of the North, and hurl them in a storm of death upon the rebels.

We all know how a rousing fire after blazing and roaring for a while, will grow quiet—the white ash settle over the red heart within, and it will be seemingly dormant and dead.  But the death is only seeming.  Thrust in the poker, pile on the fuel, and the red flames leap to life again.

When this rebellion broke out, the fires of patriotism blazed with a fierceness, which if properly directed, would have burned up the rebellion like stubble.  We expected short, quick, terrible work, and a crowning victory.  But we have seen time wasted, opportunities lost, debts contracted, and armies decimated, until the white ash has settled upon the fires of our patriotism.  We looked to see the President thrust in the poker, wake the flame anew.  We looked for clarion words, breezy with the tempest of war, strong with the fixedness of inflexible purpose, which should cheer the saddened heart, revive the drooping faith, and strengthen the virtuous purposed of all loyal souls.

To be sure, The Message says many good things.  It is a great thing for a President to speak of Slavery as Mr. Lincoln does, but the Message is too tame, too bloodless.  It is no time to be calm.  The country reels under an awful burden.  Doubt and fear are beginning to palsy the hearts of the people.  At such a time, an American President should address an assembled Congress in language which has the blush of rigurous [sic] blood upon it.  His words should be stiffened with a purpose unyielding as fate.  He should assure the eagerly listening Nation, that this rebellion shall speedily be driven to hell, if there is blood and money enough in the loyal North to do it.

We believe the conviction is gradually growing in the minds of the people, that Mr. Lincoln, though a pure, honest, patriotic man, has not nerve enough for this terrible crisis.—Let us still hope that his action will show a vigor which we fail to find in his speech.


From the St. Paul Press.


We lay before our readers this morning an abstract of the most important message which has eminated [sic] from any of the line of American Presidents since the foundation of the Republic.

The moral, political and physical greatness of the American people are fittingly expressed in the grandeur of the themes which it is the province of an American President to lay before the National Legislature.  But this document reflects not only the gigantic interests developed by the wants of an empire, continental in its proportions but, still more vividly, the grander interest thrown up on the surface, the upheavals of the mighty civil convulsion which shakes the empire to its center.  This last great struggle for civilization and humanity, in which the plain man who read those words of advice to the representatives of the nation has been destined to play so central and grand a part, culminates in the issues which are presented in this document—the mere grouping of which lifts it to the dignity of an epic.

To reverse the order in which the topics are presented, and to take up first that one which, in the sublimity and scope of its bearings, towers, above and and overshadows all the rest, the loyal millions of the Free North will note with joy, and all the traitors of the South, with wailing and gnashing of teeth—that the President stands firmly by his Emancipation Proclamation.  He does more.  He proposes it, for the first time in an Executive message, not merely as a war measure, but as a permanent principle to be engrafted on the constitution, declaring Freedom to be the organic and universal law of the land.  There it is distinctly set forth, relieved of all quibbles and glosses, Freedom for all, the consummate issue of the war, the only path to victory, the only enduring pledge of peace, the only permanent bond of national unity.  Thank God! the Time and the Man have at last met and understand each other.  What the Time inspires, the Man has the courage to utter.  All American history is but a preparation for the bold and lofty proposition.  No previous American President would have dared, in the wildest flight of speculation, to have touched a topic which Abraham Lincoln thus openly and without equivocation announces, after twenty one months of war, as the settled policy of government.  We hazard nothing in the prediction that the people, heretofore distracted by apparently timid and vacillating counsels, and disheartened by the want of adequate and decisive statesmanship, will rally en masse in support of the President upon this platform.  It is the trumpet of resurrection to the dead genius of the nation-life.  It rolls away the stone from the sephulchre [sic] of American Democracy.  It sweeps away at one blow all the illusory equivocation which slavery has spun like a cobweb around the Constitution, and introduces a New Dispensation with a New Testament, of which the old was only a promise and a prophecy—but a prophecy whose spirit and purposes has been buried by the Scribes and Pharisees under vain “tithes of mint and cummin.”

Among the secondary topics of the Message, the proposed colonization of free negroes does not seem to us to possess the importance or the feasibility attributed to it.  Of much greater importance is the recommendation for the adoption of the great financial scheme proposed by Mr Chase [Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase] a year ago.  A uniform national currency secured by United States stocks, would form an infinitely better and more secure basis of banking than any now existing, and in the West, at least, would be hailed a s a deliverance from the worst and most ruinous currency system under which poor people every groaned since the day of the French asignats [sic].¹

The Pacific Railroad and the opening of a national highway for steam vessels from the Atlantic to the Mississippi are urged upon Congress probably with no expectation that it will immediately undertake these great enterprises.

The Atlantic telegraph is also favorably noticed, but among these great measures of physical development none is more striking than the one often discussed by our friend J. W. Taylor, of a telegraphic communication with Europe across the continent to connect by a submarine telegraph by the way of the Aleutian Islands or Bhoring’s Straits with the line now building from St. Petersburg to the Pacific coast of the great Russian Empire.

1.  Assignat was the type of a monetary instrument used during the time of the French Revolution, and the French Revolutionary Wars.

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