Today, December 6, 1864, President Abraham Lincoln delivered his fourth Annual Message to Congress. He began, “Fellow-Citizens of the Senate and House of Representatives: Again the blessings of health and abundant harvests claim our profoundest gratitude to Almighty God.”
He then addressed the issues of the Port of San Juan and its impact on international trade, including recent positive negotiations with Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Columbia, Venezuela, and Peru. All, apparently, was well with South America.
The trade with China survived a rebellion of its own and lived to trade another day, but relations with Japan were a little more precarious. Several more Southern ports had been reopened and it was hoped that illegal slave traders would take their contraband cargoes elsewhere. No welcome was extended to those who sought asylum in America, especially if those seeking asylum had, by chance, once supported the Confederacy. Canada received a wag of the finger for its place in harboring Confederate sympathizers, but the Canadian government was not held responsible for those miscreants who crossed her borders.
It is of noteworthy interest that the steady expansion of population, improvement, and governmental institutions over the new and unoccupied portions of our country have scarcely been checked, much less impeded or destroyed, by our great civil war, which at first glance would seem to have absorbed almost the entire energies of the nation. The organization and admission of the State of Nevada has been completed in conformity with law, and thus our excellent system is firmly established in the mountains, which once seemed a barren and uninhabitable waste between the Atlantic States and those which have grown up on the coast of the Pacific Ocean.
Railroads (transcontinental) and telegraphs (transnational) got a nice mention. Progress is always good, apparently. The House of Representatives was chastised for not passing the constitutional amendment abolishing slavery in the last session, and was given a stern warning that it needed to pass it during the present session. A nod was made toward the success of the November elections.
But, the proverbial elephant in the room finally made its appearance. “The war continues.” In spite of the fighting, a variety of states were returning to good annual harvests, and General William T. Sherman’s March through the Deep South was considered impressive enough to make it into the address. Congress was reminded that the Union was more affluent than ever. There were more people living and voting now than ever before, and national resources seem to be “inexhaustible.” Jefferson Davis came in for his share of criticism:
On careful consideration of all the evidence accessible it seems to me that no attempt at negotiation with the insurgent leader could result in any good. He would accept nothing short of severance of the Union, precisely what we will not and can not give. His declarations to this effect are explicit and oft repeated. He does not attempt to deceive us. He affords us no excuse to deceive ourselves. He can not voluntarily reaccept the Union; we can not voluntarily yield it. Between him and us the issue is distinct, simple, and inflexible. It is an issue which can only be tried by war and decided by victory. If we yield, we are beaten; if the Southern people fail him, he is beaten. Either way it would be the victory and defeat following war.
Finally, President Lincoln reiterated what he had been saying for four long years–that Union and an end to slavery were the only terns acceptable for ending the war. He patiently explained, once again, that at some point the pardons would end and the Union would close in for the kill. The Emancipation Proclamation would stand, and slavery would end, at least not under his watch.
If the people should, by whatever mode or means, make it an Executive duty to reenslave such persons, another, and not I, must be their instrument to perform it. In stating a single condition of peace I mean simply to say that the war will cease on the part of the Government whenever it shall have ceased on the part of those who began it.
The Union was very close to victory.