John C. Fremont to Abraham Lincoln, Sunday, September 08, 1861 (Proclamation and situation in Missouri)

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John C. Fremont to Abraham Lincoln, Sunday, September 08, 1861 (Proclamation and situation in Missouri)


Major-General John Fremont's response to President Lincoln's September 02 letter.


The letter indicates the process and intention of the proclamation. The letter also shows that President Lincoln was not in full control of his military.


John C. Fremont


Library of Congress


Library of Congress


September 08, 1861


Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress.


Library of Congress






8 September 1861

My dear Sir

Your letter of the 2d,1 by special messenger, I know to have been written before you had received mine, and before my telegraphic despatches and the rapid development of critical conditions here, had informed you of affairs in this quarter. I had not written to you fully or frequently, first because in the incessant change of affairs I would be oposed to giving you contradictory accounts, and secondly because the amount of the subjects to be laid before you would demand too much of your time. Trusting to have your confidence I have been leaving it to events themselves to shew you whether or not I was shaping affairs here according to your ideas. The shortest communication between Washington and St. Louis generally involves two days, and the employment of two days in time of war goes largely towards success or disaster. I therefore went along according to my own judgment, leaving the result of my movements to justify me with you, and as in regard to my proclamation of the 30th. Between the rebel armies, the Provisional Government, and home traitors I felt the position bad and saw danger. In the night I decided upon the proclamation & the form of it. I wrote it the next morning and printed it the same day. I did it without consultation or advice with any one, acting solely with my best judgement to serve the country and yourself, and perfectly willing to receive the amount of censure which should be thought due if I had made a false step. It was as much a movement in the war as a battle is, and in going with these I shall have to act according to my judgement of the ground before me, as I did on this occasion. If upon reflection, your better judgement still decides that I am wrong in the article respecting the liberation of slaves I have to ask that you will openly direct me to make the correction. The implied censure will be recived by me as a soldier always should the reprimand of his chief. If I were to retract of my own accord it would imply that I myself thought it wrong and that I had acted without the reflection which the gravity of the point demanded. But I did not do so. I acted with full deliberation and upon the certain conviction that it was a measure right and necessary, and I think so still.

In regard to the other point of the proclamation to which you refer I desire to say that I do not think the enemy can either misconstrue it, or urge any thing against it, or undertake to make unusual retaliation. The shooting of men who shall rise in arms, within its lines, against an army in the military occupation of a country, is merely a necessary measure of defence and entirely according to the usages of civilized warfare. The article does not at all refer to ordinary prisoners of war, and certainly our enemies have no ground for requiring that we should waive in their benefit any of the ordinary advantages which the usages of war allow to us. As promptitude is itself an advantage in war I have to ask that you will permit me to carry out upon the spot the provisions of the proclamation in this respect. Looking at affairs from this point of view I feel satisfied that strong and vigorous measures have now become necessary to the success of our arms, & hoping that my views may have the honor to meet your approval I am with respect & regard

Very truly yours,

J. C. Fremont

[Note 1 On September 2, Lincoln wrote to Fremont and requested that he modify the portion of his August 30 proclamation which freed the slaves of rebels in Missouri.]

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