The suggestion in the Proclamation as to maintaining the political frame-work of those States on what is called reconstruction, is made in the hope that it may do good without danger of harm. It will save labor and avoid great confusion.
But why any proclamation on this subject? This question is beset with the conflicting views that the step might be delayed too long or taken too soon. In some States the elements for resumption seem ready for action, but remain inactive apparently for want of a rallying point. Why shall A. adopt the plan of B., rather than B. that of A.? And if A. and B. should agree, how can they know but that the General Government here will reject their plan? By the Proclamation a plan is presented which may be accepted by them as a rallying point, and which they may be assured in advance will not be rejected here. This may bring them to act sooner than they otherwise would.
The objection to a premature presentation of a plan by the National Executive consists in the danger of committals on points which could be more safely left to further developments. Care has been taken to so shape the document as to avoid embarrassment from this source. Saying that, on certain terms, certain classes will be pardoned, with rights restored, it is not said that other classes on other terms will never be included. Saying that reconstruction will be accepted if presented in a specified way, it is not saying it will not be accepted in any other way.
The movements, by State action, for emancipation in several of the States not included in the Emancipation Proclamation, are matters of profound gratulation, and while I do not repeat in detail what I have heretofore so earnestly urged upon this subject, my general views and feelings remain unchanged, and I trust that Congress will omit no fair opportunity of aiding these important steps to a great consummation.
In the midst of other cares, however important, we must not lose sight of the fact that the war power is still our main reliance. To that power alone can we look, for a time, to give confidence to the people in the contested regions that the insurgent power will not again over-run them. Until that confidence shall be established, little can be done anywhere for what is called reconstruction. Hence our chiefest care must still be directed to the Army and Navy, who have thus far borne their hardest part nobly and well. And it may be esteemed fortunate that in giving the greatest efficiency to these indispensable arms, we do also honorably recognize the gallant men, from commander to sentinel, who compose them, to whom, more than to others, the world must stand indebted for the home of freedom disenthralled, regenerated, enlarged and perpetuated.
Abraham Lincoln. December 8, 1863.
The following is the Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction referred to in the foregoing Message, and further illustrates Mr. Lincoln's plan for the restoration of the Union:
PROCLAMATION OF AMNESTY AND RECONSTRUCTION.