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1863 December 19: President Lincoln’s 1863 “State-of-the Union” Message

December 19, 2013

The Polk County Press of December 19, 1863, published only a summary of President Abraham Lincoln’s message delivered to the Thirty-Eighth Congress on December 8, 1863.  It is what we today would probably call the President’s state-of-the-union address, but that term was not used in 1863.  The President did not address the full Congress in person, but rather sent a written message.

The Prescott News did print the entire message.  The message is very long, therefore we are posting only the Press’ summary.  To read the entire message, see The American Presidency Project.

We begin, however, with The Prescott Journal’s introduction to the message:

We published the President’s Message immediately upon its arrival in an Extra and re-publish it in to-day’s issue.

We believe it meets with general approval.  Its frank and unequivocal treatment of the questions of Slavery and Reconstruction, gives assurance that there is to be no wavering or hesitation in the policy hitherto indicated.

We can already see permanent Peace in the not far distant future.  The power of the Disturbing Element—the Slave Power, is broken ;  the sceptre has passed from its hands.  Through the night of doubt and conflict the day is shining, and Freedom has become the Law of the Nation’s life.

Summary from The Polk County Press:

The President’s Message.

This important document has been received, but owing to our limited space, we cannot publish it.  It was delivered to Congress on the 8th inst.  [T]he first subject taken up and discussed is “our Foreign Relations,” which the President says are in a good and satisfactory condition.  Questions that have arisen have been discussed with mutual good-will, and accommodated in a spirit of justice.  The question touching the rights of foreigners in this country is discussed at some length.  It has been found that many have claimed alienage who have exercised the right of suffrage for years and the President suggests such an amendment of the laws as will make the fact of voting a decision against any plea of exemption from military service on such ground.

The report of the Secretary of War is very briefly dispatched, but a large space is devoted to the Navy, and a compliment is paid to its administration by Secretary WELLES [Gideon Welles].  Our naval force at the present time embraces 558 [should be 588] vessels, encluding [sic] 75 iron-clads, exceeding in number those of any other power, and 24,000 seamen.  A Navy Yard is recommended on the Western waters, and another on the Atlantic seaboard.

Our consular system is spoken of as self-sustaining ;  the condition of the territories pronounced satisfactory and the mineral resources of several of them far richer than heretofore understood ;  a system for the encouragement of emigration is recommended ;  a commission or special court is suggested for the settlement of claims for injuries sustained by subjects of foreign powers ;  an amendment to the act taxing foreign consuls is recommended ;  the operations of the Treasury Department are detailed at some length, and the report on the whole is very encouraging.

Of the Public Lands the President says that the United States have a higher interest in their settlement and cultivation than in the revenue to be derived from their sale.  During the last year 146,513 [should be 1,456,514] acres have been taken up under the Homestead Act ;  a modification is suggested by which its benefits may be extended to the greatest extent to our soldiers.

Treaties have been negotiated for large amounts of Indian lands, and while he hopes certain provisions therein embraced will result in the permanent establishment of friendly relations with several tribes, he recommends a thorough remodeling of our whole Indian system.

The President says the emancipation proclamation was resorted to as a military measure, to aid in suppressing the rebellion, and that in his judgement it has aided, and will further aid, the cause for which it was issued, and he does not intent to revoke it, or in any way impair its efficiency, or to return to slavery any person who is made free by it, or by any act of Congress.  He says, however, it is subject to the modifying power of legislation and the supreme judicial proceedings, but until these intervene it will be held to possess all the force of enacted law.  It has led to an improved state of public sentiment in foreign countries regarding our cause, while its operation at home has not been marked by servile insurrections or tendency to violence or cruelty.  Of the freedmen in the service he says so far as tested, it is difficult to say that they are not as good as any.  Of those who were slaves at the beginning of the rebellion, full 100,000 are now in the United States military service, about one-half of which number actually bear arms in the ranks, thus filling places which would otherwise have to be filled by as many white men.

He congratulates the country on the movements for emancipation in States not included in the Proclamation, and hopes that Congress will omit no opportunity of aiding these important steps to the great consummation.  But after all, he concludes by saying that the army and navy are our chief reliance ;  to them we shall be most indebted for the home of freedom, enlarged and perpetuated.

The Message throughout is a clear and able document, and should be read by every man in the United States.  Accompanying the Message is a Proclamation, which we publish in full, showing how the rebel States may resume their place in the Union.

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