- Aug 16, 2015
It apparently originated with Colonel John Baldwin, a member of the Virginia convention who met with Lincoln on April 4, 1861. Lincoln has also been quoted as wording it this way: "“Well…what about the revenue? What would I do about the collection of duties.” Lincoln was very concerned about the loss of revenue every day that the South was out of the Union.
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Baldwin's recollections of the meeting are from testimony February 10, 1866- five years after his meeting with Lincoln.
Baldwin cautioned that his recollections might not be totally accurate, saying "Of course you will understand that I do not pretend to recollect the language at all, but this is about the substance of it."
Baldwin recalled suggesting a Constitutional amendment to protect slavery:
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.Further, Balwin suggested that Lincoln should withdraw the troops from both Fort Sumter and Fort Pickens and call for a national convention to decide the secession issue.
According to Baldwin, 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."<Interview between President Lincoln and Col. John B. Baldwin, April 4th, 1861 (Staunton: Spectator Job Office, 1866).
It is noteworthy that Baldwin did not claim that Lincoln said where shall we get "our" revenue, "my tariff" or the effect of "letting the South go". Those appear to have been later embellishments by others. Instead, Lincoln talked about the options and difficulties involved in resolving the Fort Sumter crisis.
One of the functions of the Federal installations in Charleston was the collection of tariffs. If there was to be a withdrawal from Fort Sumter and a lengthy convention process to resolve the issue, collection of tariffs during that period was an obvious and easily understood issue. (Incidentally, Baldwin's recollection of "Fifty or sixty millions" was an error: that was the total of tariff revenues from all ports, of which Charleston was, as we have seen, only a fraction).