Lincoln’s Message to Congress – July 4, 1861

In today’s New York Times “The Opinion Pages” – Harold Holzer reminds us that in that simmering time after the Confederacy opened fire on Fort Sumter in April 1861, after the Baltimore Riots of April 18-19, 1861, after Lincoln ordered a naval blockade of Southern ports and after his call for 75,000 volunteers to “maintain the honor, the integrity, and the existence of our National Union” – a time of secession – the President had yet to receive approval from Congress. As a matter of fact, Congress was not in session. In what many would regard as a bold move in a dangerous and politically sensitive time – he called Congress back into a special session.

In those days, the President did not appear on Capitol Hill to personally express himself or give his messages. So when the Congress reconvened on July 4, 1861, it was the job of the clerks to read the President’s message and then it was printed in newspapers for a wider distribution – hardly distributed with the speed of today’s technology and social networking! With this message Lincoln set about getting the approval of Congress for his recess actions. This message marks Lincoln’s first full explanation of the purpose of the war.

The message ends with these words:

And having thus chosen our course, without guile and with pure purpose, let us renew our trust in God and go forward without fear and with manly hearts.

Read Holzer’s NYTimes essay here and read the full text of the July 4, 1861 message to Congress here.