Contemporary Copy of Chase's Letter to Abraham Lincoln in Support of General Hunter's Emancipation Order

May 16, 1862

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Contemporary Copy of Chase's Letter to Abraham Lincoln in Support of General Hunter's Emancipation Order
Letter Signed
2 pages | SMC 501

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      Background

      This is a contemporary copy of Secretary Chase’s famous letter to Lincoln in support of General David Hunter’s order declaring, in early May 1862, “forever free” all of the slaves in South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. Chase, the most radical member of Lincoln’s cabinet, and his rival in 1860 (and 1864) for the presidency, exulted in Hunter’s emancipation order and urged Lincoln’s support of it: such approval would meet with the approbation of nine-tenths of the people, he claimed, upon whom Lincoln’s administration must rely.  In Chase’s judgment, Hunter’s emancipation order had been made as a military measure to meet a military exigency, and should be suffered to stand upon the responsibility of the Commanding General who made it. Lincoln thought otherwise. “No commanding general shall do such a thing,” he fired back immediately, “upon my responsibility, without consulting me.” Then he officially rescinded Hunter’s order, making clear that if anyone were to free anyone, he would be the one to do it.


      Manuscript Letter (unsigned), being a secretarial copy of Chase’s letter to Lincoln datelined Washington, May 16, 1862, in support of General Hunter’s emancipation order. 2 pages, recto and verso.
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      Washington, May 16, 1862.

      My dear Sir-

      Obliged to go to Philadelphia this afternoon, I cannot confer with you as I wish in relation to the Military Order of Maj. Gen. Hunter, enfranchising the slaves in his Department.

      Of course, I do not assume to judge of the military necessity; but it seems to me of the highest importance, whether our relations at home or abroad be considered, that this Order be not revoked. It has been made as a military measure, to meet a military exigency, and should, in my judgment, be suffered to stand upon the responsibility 

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      of the Commanding General who made it.

      It will be cordially approved, I am sure, by more than nine-tenths of the people on whom you must rely for support of your Administration

      Pardon this brief and hurried note, and believe me

      Most cordially and respectfully yours

      [signed] S. L. Chase.

      To the President.

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      To the President.
      May 16, 1862.
      Hunter Order abolishing slavery.