The following text is presented here in complete form, as true to the original written document as possible.
NOTE: Draft of a letter by Herman Merrills Johnson.
To His Excellency – Abraham Lincoln
President of the United States
Permit a humble citizen to address your excellency, on a subject which, the nation has reason, to believe has enjoyed not a little of your serious and great tho’t - the disposition, namely, of the colored population of the country by colonization. It is proper to say, that the undersigned has been, from the time of your nomination for the high office you now fill, in entire sympathy with the sentiments you have professed on the great and vital questions of the day. He has followed the course of your administration with a scrutiny prompted by the deepest and liveliest solicitude. He has felt that he had cause of devout gratitude to almighty God who has given your excellency such prudence and firmness in the unprecedented crisis you have had to meet. Not that the moderation and lenity displayed in your administration has met the demands of justice in the case, but it has accorded with that practical wisdom which has its throne higher than justice. The National heart was benumbed and the national conscience perverted on the subject which is the immediate cause of the terrible calamity now upon us. The people had been industriously taught to believe that the sound rights and guaranties of the “peculiar Institution” were before all other interests of a great and Christian nation. Any step, at the first, which would have seemed to hazard, the temple of this idolatry, would have been rebuffed by too many, alas! as sacrilege. This protracted chastisement, suffering, scourging, was necessary to renew in the popular heart a moral sensibility and to penetrate it with a just conviction: and it is therefore that the conservative prudence of your administration, thus far, or nearly so, will be pronounced by the historian, the highest practical wisdom. But the hour passes. That conviction has arrived. It grows hourly deep and strong. That sensibility is [losing?]. The people are now in advance of the administration – impatiently in advance. And if your excellency could publish an
order tomorrow that should remove the cornerstone of the great fabric of slavery and let the temple [tumble?] in ruins around its [orators?], it would meet with a hearty response from nine tenths of the truly loyal people North and South. I say and South, not from conjecture. I add one case of clear testimony, to the many made public. A person now in my house, direct from Memphis, of large intelligence and a cool judgment not easily biased by theory or party, conversed not three weeks since with a citizen of South Carolina, himself a large slave-holder and a believer in the system, but who said, Let Slavery go and let its foundations be shattered, if need be by the stroke of the almighty, only let the Union be restored and [illegible]: and he says there are others who feel the same way in all the southern states. But if this could be done: if by the magic of a word the shackles of four million slaves could be loosed and the bondsmen thro’out the extent of our free Republic should rise with the next dawn all freemen; and if all this were possible and practicable – which I do not see – and if accomplished, we are but fairly that face to face with the great problem your excellency is laboring to solve – what shall be done with the negro free? And if no scheme of general emancipation is proclaimed; even if your administration should execute itself to preserve the status of slavery – which Heaven forbid! – We can not escape the issue. As our armies advance, they [illegible superscripted text] will come in upon us in multiplied thousands: the question presses with increasing weight daily, what shall be done with them? We might persuade ourselves that they might remain as free laborers where they are and both races be benefited by the change; but the former masters, whether from honest conviction or prejudice, or resentment, or love of authority, will not be so persuaded. In the free North they are even less welcome. In your next communication to the delegation of colord men, your ex. said rightly, and with a right noble frankness, [illegible] that disability growing out of difference of race must be dealt with as a fact which we can not change. We may go further and say that this grievance will not be mitigated by time; but will be
constantly aggravated instead; that such is the inevitable law of society, where two races subsist together in the same country, so unlike in blood and manners as to forbid a coalescence into a homogenous people. The only alternative then, is colonization. We are shut up to that conclusion. Colonize, but where? Liberia has been open to them these 40 years, but [comparatively?] few have gone there. [illegible] with the aid which the government could render they might have found in it their complete redemption. By the annual transportation of the moderate number of from 75 to 100,000, in half a [century?] the race would disappear from our shores and their places be filled by free laborers so gradually as to give no shock to our industry. But the time for that hope is past. The stream, which by its even current could empty the waters of the most liberal fountain, can not carry the avalanche precipitated on it by a mighty convulsion. The scheme of African Col. which must still be cherished as the [illegible] of regeneration to the African [Continent?], can not meet the demands of the present emergency. Hayti has offered its [best inducement?] but the impression it can make on the map is too feeble to be counted. Your excellency proposes Central America. This too may receive even stray drops from the ocean but fear scarcely more. The great body of the race are not intending, at first to leave the land of their birth [illegible]. We must either tolerate them [illegible] with its [illegible] and [imitations?] or we must give them a home within our own territory. They may swarm but will not emigrate. Where can [illegible] them? My words may lack wisdom or fail of practical influence, nevertheless, let me speak pray, what I propose. Set apart for the peninsula of Florida, and the low country of Georgia to South Carolina. Let the up-country of S.C. be attached to Ga. or N.C. or divided between them; and let the rem. of S.C. be blotted from the map. She has merited this [illegible] vengeance. No loyal tear would drop for her fate; no loyal breath would utter a sigh. Fla. is scarcely better deserving of commiseration. Bro’t into the Union prematurely, to preserve “the balance of power” in the Senate, the growth of her population has not yet equalled her to the claim of a single Rep. Conscious of her feebleness, she would [illegible] [her?] lack of strength and dying by insolence.
She came in flaunting defiance at the general Gov’t and at whom [illegible] to question the “divine rights” of the “[illegible] Institution”. The “Laissez Faire,” which she inscribed on her coat of arms was interpreted by her own citizens to mean nothing less, and to embody the essential doctrine of State Sovereignty which the South was then assiduously cultivating as the justifying [illegible] of [secession?]. Let her drop there not as a sister island, but as an abortion. Even before her admission, she became the theater and prime instigator of a war on the Seminoles, whose chief offense, was the fact that the runaway slaves would rake refuge in their inaccessable everglades; and in a war provoked for such a cause, we expended more blood and treason than in the war of the Revolution, and one government purchased to itself the abiding stigma of importing Cuban blood-hounds to track out and tear the natives of the swamps, and thus worry into an unwilling abandonment of their homes the freemen our soldiers could not conquer. Such is the record of Florida.] I would not be severe on Geo. Suffice it to say, that her [intervening] coast is necessary to give a [illegible] and [illegible] of territory for the object proposed; and the additions on the side of Cara. And the attached to by 4th of Fla [illegible] the harbor of Pensacola would be a sufficient compensation. To this project, there occurs to me but two objections that would seem to have serious weight. The first is that we give up the two great commercial ports of Savannah and Charsn. But our Gt. of Wd. regulate all of the affairs of the colony, would still have the use and control of the ports as before. The second is, the question of right to appropriate the soil. If then, there is neither military nor civil authority to confiscate the real estate of traitors, give just compensation. By the census of 1850, the valuation of land in that portion of S.C. here indicated would not amount to 10.000.000. Fifty millions would by out the whole territory; and it would be a good investment. The Gt. could by rentals or sale to the new occupants, replace every dollar of it. I will not trespass further on the time of your Ex. to argue the appropriateness of this location – its adaptation is [illegible] both of climate and soil; nor to show that we should