President Abraham Lincoln Writes Secretary of the Treasury Chase, Agreeing to the Meet With Church Leaders Engaged in Educating the Newly Freed Slaves in the South

He advances both his reelection prospects and the work benefiting the freedmen by seeing representatives of the United Brethren - a church with close ties to the Methodists, who were by far the largest Protestant denomination in the North and gave the Union cause their full support

The full letter of Chase, Lincoln’s response, and Chase’s docket all present: The meeting related to concerns over Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton’s insubordinate order to place all control of Southern Methodist Churches in the hands of Northerners, which was against Lincoln’s policy and could effect the United Brethren’s...

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President Abraham Lincoln Writes Secretary of the Treasury Chase, Agreeing to the Meet With Church Leaders Engaged in Educating the Newly Freed Slaves in the South

He advances both his reelection prospects and the work benefiting the freedmen by seeing representatives of the United Brethren - a church with close ties to the Methodists, who were by far the largest Protestant denomination in the North and gave the Union cause their full support

The full letter of Chase, Lincoln’s response, and Chase’s docket all present: The meeting related to concerns over Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton’s insubordinate order to place all control of Southern Methodist Churches in the hands of Northerners, which was against Lincoln’s policy and could effect the United Brethren’s work

President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. No event in American history matches the drama of that event. It not only liberated some 4 million slaves, but freed the entire nation from the moral, political and economic shackles that slavery imposed. After his death it would be the key ingredient in elevating Lincoln above the sphere of politics and partisanship to the heights of high  leadership.

Some non-governmental charities were established during the war to aid the increasing number of former slaves who had been freed by Union forces or who managed to reach their lines. These freedmen had pressing needs, and the creation of the Freedmen’s Bureau, whose goal it was to officially perform this task, did not occur until 1865.

After Vicksburg fell to United States forces on July 4, 1863, the city served as a beacon to slaves throughout Mississippi. Thousands of African Americans ran away from their owners and flocked to Vicksburg to begin their lives as freedmen. The trailblazing organization in educating these newly liberated black people was the United Brethren, a church with close ties to the Methodist Church then, and today part of the United Methodists.  They established the first freedmen’s school in Vicksburg.  A contemporary article describes, “In the basement of the Methodist Church, a school is taught by the mission of the United Brethren, in three good rooms…. This school is well managed. It was the first established for the colored people in this city, is the largest school, and the pupils, on the whole, constitute a better class than any other in Vicksburg.”

Edward Raymond Ames was a minister in the Methodist Episcopal Church and a vocal opponent of slavery. He served as an Army chaplain during the war and in November 1863 was commissioned by Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton to commandeer houses of worship from the Methodist Episcopal Church in the South, whose churches had pro-Confederate leadership. Ministers with Northern sympathies were to be placed in the pulpits. In Stanton’s mind the policy served a military purpose: to have pro-Union preachers in the pulpits of the South. Ames traveled throughout the South with Stanton’s authority, and ministers not willing to take a loyalty oath to the United States were removed. Issues relating to the Methodist Episcopal Church mattered because, as Lincoln pointed out, the Methodists in the North were by far the largest Protestant denomination and gave the Union cause their full support. His Secretary of the Treasury Salmon Chase, who was a staunch abolitionist, stated, “I have thanked God that the Methodist Episcopal Church…knew only one sentiment—that of devotion to our country…how we have leaned upon your Bishops…your ministers…your great people.”

But Stanton’s order to require paths was taken without Lincoln’s knowledge, and against his policy, which was: “When an individual in a church or out of it becomes dangerous to the public interest, he must be checked but the churches as such must take care of themselves. It will not do for the US to appoint trustees supervisors or other agents for the Churches.” This was not the first time that Stanton had defied Lincoln, thinking he knew better. In fact, the President often had to deal with conduct of his Secretary of War that at times bordered on insubordination, and was always watching his words in communicating with Stanton.

When in February 1864 Lincoln learned of Stanton having sent Ames on his mission, he was furious.  “I have never interfered, nor thought of interfering as to who shall or shall not preach in any church; nor have I knowingly, or believingly, tolerated any one else to so interfere by my authority. If any one is so interfering by color of my authority, I would like to have it specifically made known to me. . . . I will not have control of any church on any side.’’ The President saw the fallacy of Stanton’s line of thinking, noting that “while men may without an oath assemble in a noisy political meeting, they must take the oath to assemble in a religious meeting.” Thus, to Lincoln, there was no military aspect to this, and he did not want to risk losing precious support in the North by appearing to try to control churches. And in fact his concerns were justified, as newspapers in the North attributed Stanton’s order to him and criticized it as government overreach. With his reelection campaign almost under way, and his prospects for reelection cloudy, the last thing Lincoln wanted was that type of opposition.

But though Lincoln was put out by Stanton’s insubordination, yet he was unwilling to confront him squarely on this policy, saying “It is not quite easy to withdraw it entirely, at once.” Instead he demanded the exemption of certain border states, like Missouri and Kentucky from the order. And his letter to Stanton on the subject was phrased more as an inquiry as to what is to be done about the order.

The new oath had implications for others doing work in the South, particularly those who felt they might fall under the control of Ames or one of his proteges. In March 1864, a delegation of the United Brethren arrived in Washington to meet with Lincoln’s cabinet, also hoping for a meeting with the President himself.  The Chair of this delegation was Bishop David Edwards. His biographer writes that the purpose of the visit was to express concern about the impact of the policy on their work: “Secretary Stanton had issued an order by which all churches of the Methodist Episcopal Church South not occupied by a loyal minister appointed by a loyal bishop were turned over to the disposal of Bishop Ames. The United Brethren Church had encouraging missions at Vicksburg and at Davis Bend and was contemplating quite general work among the freedmen and it was thought that the order of Mr. Stanton would be prejudicial to the work undertaken.” Clearly Edwards’ delegation was worried that the work of the United Brethren would come under the direction of others, and perhaps also was concerned that the focus of the policy was on establishing loyalty rather than providing aid and education to the freed slaves. This latter issue was a problem because some Northern Methodist churchmen who might be appointed might not have the same agenda as the United Brethren, or were lukewarm on emancipation and could not be trusted to aid those helping the freemen, or they could actively impede it.

Considering the importance of the Methodists and their friends in the North to the war effort, doors opened for them. Edwards himself describes the meetings: “March 22: This morning according to arrangements we went to see the Secretary of War. Obtained some favors through an order but could not easily reach the secretary on ecclesiastical points.  March 23: Visited Secretary Chase. We were kindly received and taken by him in person and introduced to the President with whom we had an interesting interview. We also visited Attorney general Bates with whom we had an encouraging and long to be remembered talk. Finished our work. Feel that it will pay in the end.”

Although the exact discussions are not recorded, from Edwards’ words we see that Stanton apparently clarified his order to make sure their work would not be impeded, and Lincoln reassured them of his support. Thus did he advance both his reelection prospects and the work benefiting the freedmen.

This is the original letter from Chase, offering to introduce the Brethren and Edwards to the President, along with the President’s response.

Autograph letter signed, March 23, 1864, from Chase to Lincoln. “My dear sir, A delegation of the United Brethren with Bishop Edwards as Chairman ask an interview with you in relation to their benevolent labors among the freedmen.

“It it will be agreeable to you to visit them at 2 oclock or any later hour I shall be happy to introduce them.”

Lincoln responded with this Autograph endorsement signed, Washington, March 23, 1864. “I shall be pleased to see the delegation at 2pm as proposed.”

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