Apocryphal Lincoln quote?

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#1
A fellow poster had in one of his posts this quote from Abraham Lincoln, when discussing causes of the war:

Let the South go? Where then shall we get our revenue?

Other posters then said the quote was likely not accurate. I don't know one way or the other, so I went looking for the source and found this passage, among others.

The South resisted this wholesale robbery, to the best of her ability. Some few of the more generous of the Northern representatives in Congress came to her aid, but still she was overborne; and the curious reader, who will take the pains to consult the "Statutes at Large," of the American Congress, will find on an average,-a tariff for every five years recorded on their pages; the cormorants increasing in rapacity, the more they devoured. No wonder that Mr. Lincoln when asked, "why not let the South go?" replied, "Let the South go! where then shall we get our revenue?"
Admiral Raphael Semmes
, Memoirs of Service Afloat, During the War Between The States

The original source may well have been this issue of the Baltimore Exchange from April 23, 1861. See the 5th column about halfway down under the heading "The Peace Mission".

http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83009573/1861-04-23/ed-1/seq-1.pdf

Mr. Lincoln replied that, mathematically speak ing, the troops could not crawl under Maryland,
nor could they fly over it, and consequently they would have to come through it. It he was to fol
low the advice of Dr. Fuller, he would have no Government at all. France and England would
recognize the Southern Confederacy, and his revenues would be broken up, and the Government
would be worth nothing
. Dr. Fuller assured him that he thought diti'erently himself, and believed
that there could be a strong Government in the South and another one in the North, who might
live in alliance. Mr. Lincoln thought differently, and said that South Carolinians were now march
inn through Virginia for the purpose of hanging him. Dr. Fuller then told the President that"tho
impression bad been created among the people, ho did not know whether it was erroneous or not, that
his Cabinet were principally disposed to have peace, and that Gefferal Scott bad counselled peace, but
that he was the man who desired war. Mr. Smith, Secretary of the Interior, here came forward and
stated that he felt it to be his duty to state that the Cabinet entirely approved of Mr. Lincoln's course in this matter.


The wording is not the same, but the general idea is the same.

My question is this: what is the general consensus on this quote? If it's false, how do we know it's false? If it's true, how did it get from the summary in the newspaper to the quote that Semmes and others used?
 

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diane

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#2
I am fairly certain the person who first reported this quote was Albert Bledsoe. He was an Episcopalian reverend and good friend of Lincoln's from Illinois, but turned against him over his policies toward the South. After the war, he claimed to know for a fact Lincoln was an atheist among other less than complimentary things. He was well known as an apologist for the Old South and so forth. I can't say whether or not Lincoln said this, or if it was a little joke or serious, or what but I can say the person who quoted it might be taken with a grain of salt, in understanding of his political positions.
 
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#3
The usual source I have seen is an account that R. L. Dabney wrote after the war in which he quoted what he said John B. Baldwin (not a relative of mine) of Virginia told him regarding a meeting he had with Lincoln in April 1861.
 
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#5
I think the quote is bogus, written down (as [B]@NedBaldwin[/B] indicates) long after the war by a former Confederate, Dabney, who got it second-hand. But even so it doesn't make a lot of sense, considering that the vast majority of federal revenue came from tariffs assessed in northern ports, almost two-thirds from New York alone. "Where shall we get our revenue?" may have been a good argument for not letting Manhattan secede, but South Carolina, not so much.

southstreet1858.png

Canal boats (foreground) and blue-water sailing ships crowd the waterfront near South Street in lower Manhattan in this 1858 view by Franklin White of Lancaster, New Hampshire. In that year, customs duties collected at the Port of New York alone provided nearly half of all federal revenue. When foreign trade rebounded the next year after the Panic of 1857, customs duties collected at the Port of New York accounted for almost two-thirds of federal revenue. From Johnson and Lightfoot, Maritime New York in Nineteenth-Century Photographs.
 
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brass napoleon

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#6
My question is this: what is the general consensus on this quote? If it's false, how do we know it's false? If it's true, how did it get from the summary in the newspaper to the quote that Semmes and others used?
We apply the same standards to it that we do to any historical quote. Who heard him say it? When did that person record it? Was it quoted verbatim, or paraphrased? When was it first published? How often was it retold (and potentially mangled) before it was finally published. Did the person who retold it have an agenda? The Semmes quote, as posted above, is worthless, because it tells us absolutely nothing about who heard it or when. The Baltimore Exchange quote is better, but it still doesn't tell us who originally heard it (was it Rev Fuller or someone else?) and it's paraphrased, not to mention the fact that it's from a newspaper, which were even more notoriously unreliable in that age than they are now.

The most credible example I've seen of an exchange on this topic came from Colonel John Baldwin, a delegate to the Virginia secession convention. He spoke directly to Lincoln and testified in Court about what was said 5 years later. His quotes have frequently been mangled by Lost Causers ever since (most notably Dabney, who @NedBaldwin and @AndyHall mentioned above), but here's what John Baldwin actually said in his testimony:

'He [Lincoln] said something about the withdrawal of the troops from Sumter on the ground of military necessity. Said I, "that will never do under heaven. You have been President a month to-day, and if you intended to hold that position you ought to have strengthened it, so as to make it impregnable. To hold it in the present condition of force there is an invitation to assault. Go upon higher ground than that. The better ground than that is to make a concession of an asserted right in the interest of peace."-"Well," said he, "what about the revenue? What would I do about the collection of duties?" Said I, "Sir, how much do you expect to collect in a year?"-Said he, "Fifty or sixty millions." "Why sir," said I, "four times sixty is two hundred and forty. Say $250,000,000 would be the revenue of your term of the presidency; what is that but a drop in the bucket compared with the cost of such a war as we are threatened with? Let it all go, if necessary; but I do not believe that it will be necessary, because I believe that you can settle it on the basis I suggest." He said something or other about feeding the troops at Sumter. I told him that would not do. Said I, "You know perfectly well that the people of Charleston have been feeding them already. That is not what they are at. They are asserting a right. They will feed the troops and fight them while they are feeding them. They are after the assertion of a right. Now, the only way that you can manage them is to withdraw from them the means of making a blow until time for reflection, time for influence which can be brought to bear, can be gained, and settle the matter. If you do not take this course, if there is a gun fired at Sumter-I do not care on which side it is fired-the thing is gone." "Oh," said he, "sir, that is impossible."'

- Colonel John Baldwin, Feb 10, 1866

Source: http://valley.lib.virginia.edu/VoS/personalpapers/documents/augusta/p3baldwininterview.html#baldwin2

Notice that he says nothing about where we shall get "our" revenue, nor is he talking at all about the ramifications of "letting the South go", nor does he say anything at all about "my tariff" (as some Lost Causers have misquoted him). He's examining the different possibilities of evacuating Fort Sumter. Could he order it evacuated on the ground of military necessity? What would he do about revenue collection at the port? How would he feed the troops?

As far as the revenue collection, Baldwin makes an excellent point, although he gets the numbers wrong. 50-60 million dollars was the TOTAL tariff revenue collected at ALL United States ports, of which Charleston was only a tiny fraction. But Baldwin's point is correct - the cost of a war would consume the entire annual tariff revenue in a matter of days. I don't think even Lincoln's biggest detractors would argue that he was stupid enough not to see that.

But even though Baldwin was present, and he described the conversation under oath, and it was a mere 5 years after the fact, we also have to look at his own agenda. And it's clearly there in his statement:

Now, said I, sir, it seems to me that our true policy is to hold the position that we have and for you to uphold our hands by a conservative, conciliatory, national course. We can control the matter, and will control it if you help us. And sir, it is but right for me to say another thing to you, that the Union men of Virginia, of whom I am one would not be willing to adjourn that Convention until we either effect some settlement of this matter or ascertain that it cannot be done. As an original proposition, the Union men of Virginia did not desire amendments to the Constitution of the United States; we were perfectly satisfied with the constitutional guarantees that we had, and thought our rights and interests perfectly safe. But circumstances have changed; seven States of the South, the cotton States, have withdrawn from us and have left us in an extremely altered condition in reference to the safe-guards of the Constitution. As things stand now, we are helpless in the hands of the North. The balance of power which we had before for our protection against constitutional amendment is gone. And we think now that we of the border States who have adhered to you against all the obligations of association and sympathy with the Southern States have a claim on the States of the North which is of a high and very peculiar character. You all say that you do not mean to injure us in our peculiar rights. If you are in earnest about it there can be no objection to your saying so in such an authentic form as will give us constitutional protection. And we think you ought to do it, not grudgingly, not reluctantly, but in such a way as that it would be a fitting recognition of our fidelity in standing by you under all circumstances-fully, and generously, and promptly. If you will do it in accordance with what we regard as due to our position it will give us a stand-point from which we can bring back the seceded States."
He wants a series of Constitutional amendments to protect "our peculiar rights". He says that doing so "can bring back the seceded States." That in turn would bring back any tariff revenues that those states took with them, all without launching a war that would burn through four years worth of tariff revenue in a matter of days.

But Lincoln steadfastly refused to consider any such compromises, as he had said over and over and over again:

"Entertain no proposition for a compromise in regard to the extension of slavery. The instant you do, they have us under again; all our labor is lost, and sooner or later must be done over. [Steven] Douglas is sure to be again trying to bring in his [Popular Sovereignty]. Have none of it. The tug has to come & better now than later."

Source: http://quod.lib.umich.edu/l/lincoln/lincoln4/1:232?rgn=div1;view=fulltext
 
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#7
I would note that the Buchanan administration had effectively bankrupted the government. "On the 4th of March, 1861, there was not money enough left in its vaults to pay for the daily consumption of stationery", quoted from Personal reminiscences of Lucius E Chittenden. And the Government had debts that were coming due. So whether there would be revenue would have been on Lincoln's mind.
 
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#8
I think the quote is bogus, written down (as [B]@NedBaldwin[/B] indicates) long after the war by a former Confederate, Dabney, who got it second-hand. But even so it doesn't make a lot of sense, considering that the vast majority of federal revenue came from tariffs assessed in northern ports, almost two-thirds from New York alone. "Where shall we get our revenue?" may have been a good argument for not letting Manhattan secede, but South Carolina, not so much.
I have seen an argument made in 1861 along the following lines: since the Constitution required that "all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States", then if Lincoln wasnt going to collect revenue from merchants in Charleston, merchants in NY City would refuse to pay as well since otherwise it would be uneven treatment.
 
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#9
We apply the same standards to it that we do to any historical quote. Who heard him say it? When did that person record it? Was it quoted verbatim, or paraphrased? When was it first published? How often was it retold (and potentially mangled) before it was finally published. Did the person who retold it have an agenda?
Exactly what I was wondering, because even between the newspaper article and the Semmes usage, there's a difference. It's probably a case of Chinese Whispers at best.

From what everyone has posted (and I knew I'd get some useful information :smile: ) would you say it was fair to label this "anecdotal", since it's not something that can be word for word verified? We can't discount it entirely, but it could be taken out of context, or have changed wording as it passed from source to source, assuming Lincoln said it. It can't be used as an authoritative statement about Lincoln's thoughts in the way that his speeches or writings can.

Thanks all.
 
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#10
I would note that the Buchanan administration had effectively bankrupted the government. "On the 4th of March, 1861, there was not money enough left in its vaults to pay for the daily consumption of stationery", quoted from Personal reminiscences of Lucius E Chittenden. And the Government had debts that were coming due. So whether there would be revenue would have been on Lincoln's mind.
I think one of the options he was wondering about was whether ship coming into Southern ports could be intercepted and the revenues collected at sea, so if the quote is accurate, it may refer to speculation about methods of collecting.
 

DanF

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#11
What sticks out to me is Baldwin a member of the Virginia delegation claims that Lincoln met with him alone secretly.

This does not make sense to me. Also as a member of an official delegation would he have not been obliged to mention it to his other delegates and report it to his State?
 
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#12
I've no opinion whatsoever on the quotes in the OP, real, apocryphal or otherwise. We got four posts into this, though, before "Lincoln-bashing tropes" were sited. Pretty typical around here.

The problem, as usual, is that we're confusing Tariff revenue (levied against imported, finished goods) and export revenue, that provided a huge source of hard currency (net income) to the country.

Exporters don't want domestic industry protected with import Tariffs, for fear of retaliation on their exports. Really simple. I've no idea what Lincoln did or didn't say in this regard, but the concept ain't unique to 1860.
 
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#13
I have seen an argument made in 1861 along the following lines: since the Constitution required that "all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States", then if Lincoln wasnt going to collect revenue from merchants in Charleston, merchants in NY City would refuse to pay as well since otherwise it would be uneven treatment.
Lincoln's proclaimation announcing the blockade of Southern ports begins:

Whereas an insurrection against the Government of the United States has broken out in the States of South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas, and the laws of the United States for the collection of the revenue cannot be effectually executed therein comformably to that provision of the Constitution which requires duties to be uniform throughout the United States​

So, yes, it seems like the requirement that duties be uniform throughout the United States was on his mind.

My understanding of Lincoln's views is that “military necessity” could justify actions that he otherwise lacked the authority to take. So, if Fort Sumter was indefensible, he could withdraw his forces from the fort rather than leaving them in a militarily hopeless situation. This is very different from asserting a right to give away Federal property, which is something he cannot do without the approval of Congress. The situation with the tariff is similar. He can fail to collect the tariff at certain ports if circumstances make it impractical to collect tariffs at those ports. But he doesn't have the authority to decide that goods coming into some ports should be taxed while goods coming into other ports should not be, and Congress cannot grant him that authority to do that because the Constitution explicitly prohibits it. So if Lincoln were to announce, as a gesture of good will, that he would no longer attempt to collect tariffs at Charleston, he would have to stop trying to collect them anywhere.

I don't think that he is concerned with the possible reaction of merchants in New York City if he ignores the Constitutional requirements. Rather, it's that he believes in the Constitution, and has just sworn an oath to uphold it, and is not disposed to toss it out the window just because a bunch of people it South Carolina are unhappy with it.
 

cash

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#14
As already mentioned, the claim originates with John Baldwin, a Unionist member of the Virginia Secession Convention and a confederate colonel during the Civil War.

Lincoln wanted to talk with a member of the convention, and Baldwin was available so he came to Washington. The two held a meeting in private.

In February of 1866, Baldwin claimed, " 'Well,' said he, 'what about the revenue? What would I do about the collection of duties?' Said I, 'Sir, how much do you expect to collect in a year?' Said he, 'Fifty or sixty millions.' 'Why, sir,' said I, 'four times sixty is two hundred and forty. Say $250,000,000 would be the revenue of your term of the presidency; what is that but a drop in the bucket compared with the cost of such a war as we are threatened with? Let it all go, if necessary; but I do not believe that it will be necessary, because I believe that you can settle it on the basis I suggest.' "

Even if we were to take Baldwin at his word, Lincoln was not a stupid man and he would know that any tariff revenue he'd be able to get would indeed be only a drop in the bucket compared to what he would spend on a war.

After the interview with Baldwin, Lincoln spoke at length about it with John Minor Botts. Botts' reporting of what Lincoln said, especially concerning the offer of evacuating Fort Sumter in return for Virginia staying in the Union, does not mesh with Baldwin's account. Baldwin claims no such offer, but we know from C.S. Morehead of Kentucky and from John Hay's diary that Lincoln made that very offer prior to his inauguration and from Botts that he made the offer at least one other time afterward, this time to a group including Francis Pierpont, Rep. John S. Millson, and Garrett Davis of Kentucky. Richard N. Current, in Lincoln and the First Shot, provides more evidence that Lincoln did indeed make the offer to Baldwin, but Baldwin didn't recognize what Lincoln was talking about. So there is reason to doubt Baldwin's account.

Additionally, Lincoln never tried to assert federal authority to collect revenue in Charleston from the time he took office all through the Sumter crisis. If it were so important to him, why didn't he do anything about it? Fort Sumter had no revenue collection.
 

unionblue

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#15
I would note that the Buchanan administration had effectively bankrupted the government. "On the 4th of March, 1861, there was not money enough left in its vaults to pay for the daily consumption of stationery", quoted from Personal reminiscences of Lucius E Chittenden. And the Government had debts that were coming due. So whether there would be revenue would have been on Lincoln's mind.
From the book, Greenback: The Almighty Dollar and the Invention of America, by Jason Goodwin, chapter 12, The Spy, pg. 219-220:

"...The Union entered the war with two hundred thousand dollars in its coffers, but the treasury secretary, Salmon P. Chase, remained cool until the Battle of Bull Run in July 1861 upset all hopes of an easy victory over the South. The army was now looking at a long campaign, and soldiers needed to be paid. Chase borrowed from the northern banks, sold war bonds to patriotic investors, and finally, sorrowfully (for he was a hard-money man) he turned to the option of printing money. In April 1862 Chase issued $150 million on the credit of the United States. Five months later he ordered a second round of $150 million, and another $150 million the next year. The second issue included the first government-issued one-dollar bills..."

Sincerely,
Unionblue
 

Lost Cause

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#16
A fellow poster had in one of his posts this quote from Abraham Lincoln, when discussing causes of the war:

Let the South go? Where then shall we get our revenue?

Other posters then said the quote was likely not accurate. I don't know one way or the other, so I went looking for the source and found this passage, among others.

The South resisted this wholesale robbery, to the best of her ability. Some few of the more generous of the Northern representatives in Congress came to her aid, but still she was overborne; and the curious reader, who will take the pains to consult the "Statutes at Large," of the American Congress, will find on an average,-a tariff for every five years recorded on their pages; the cormorants increasing in rapacity, the more they devoured. No wonder that Mr. Lincoln when asked, "why not let the South go?" replied, "Let the South go! where then shall we get our revenue?"
Admiral Raphael Semmes
, Memoirs of Service Afloat, During the War Between The States

The original source may well have been this issue of the Baltimore Exchange from April 23, 1861. See the 5th column about halfway down under the heading "The Peace Mission".

http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83009573/1861-04-23/ed-1/seq-1.pdf

Mr. Lincoln replied that, mathematically speak ing, the troops could not crawl under Maryland,
nor could they fly over it, and consequently they would have to come through it. It he was to fol
low the advice of Dr. Fuller, he would have no Government at all. France and England would
recognize the Southern Confederacy, and his revenues would be broken up, and the Government
would be worth nothing
. Dr. Fuller assured him that he thought diti'erently himself, and believed
that there could be a strong Government in the South and another one in the North, who might
live in alliance. Mr. Lincoln thought differently, and said that South Carolinians were now march
inn through Virginia for the purpose of hanging him. Dr. Fuller then told the President that"tho
impression bad been created among the people, ho did not know whether it was erroneous or not, that
his Cabinet were principally disposed to have peace, and that Gefferal Scott bad counselled peace, but
that he was the man who desired war. Mr. Smith, Secretary of the Interior, here came forward and
stated that he felt it to be his duty to state that the Cabinet entirely approved of Mr. Lincoln's course in this matter.


The wording is not the same, but the general idea is the same.

My question is this: what is the general consensus on this quote? If it's false, how do we know it's false? If it's true, how did it get from the summary in the newspaper to the quote that Semmes and others used?
Since it appears the quote has not been proven to be accurate or false, a further expansion of a similar “general idea” can be added from Lincoln’s Special Session Message to Congress on July 04, 1861:

What is now combated is the position that secession is consistent with the Constitution--is lawful and peaceful . It is not contended that there is any express law for it, and nothing should ever be implied as law which leads to unjust or absurd consequences. The nation purchased with money the countries out of which several of these States were formed. Is it just that they shall go off without leave and without refunding? The nation paid very large sums (in the aggregate, I believe, nearly a hundred millions) to relieve Florida of the aboriginal tribes. Is it just that she shall now be off without consent or without making any return? The nation is now in debt for money applied to the benefit of these so-called seceding States in common with the rest. Is it just either that creditors shall go unpaid or the remaining States pay the whole? A part of the present national debt was contracted to pay the old debts of Texas. Is it just that she shall leave and pay no part of this herself?

Again: If one State may secede, so may another; and when all shall have seceded none is left to pay the debts. Is this quite just to creditors? Did we notify them of this sage view of ours when we borrowed their money? If we now recognize this doctrine by allowing the seceders to go in peace, it is difficult to see what we can do if others choose to go or to extort terms upon which they will promise to remain.

http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=69802
 



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