572. Edward L. Pierce (Statement for William H. Herndon).
I had an interview with Mr Lincoln Feb 15. 1862 just after my return from Beaufort S.C. whither I had been sent Mr Chase, the Secretary of the Treasury, to inspect and report as to the condition and needs of the freedmen recently brought within our lines by the capture of Hilton Head. and the Sea Islands. on my arrival at Washington I delivered to Mr Chase a full report which appeared shortly in the N.Y. Tribune and later in the Rebellion Record. Mr Chase wished to interest Mr Lincoln in the colored people and desired me to call on him, giving me a note of introduction which stated my errand. When I called Mr Lincoln had only one or two people with him, and did not seem to be busy; but he was evidently not happy. There was sickness in his family which proved fatal. When my turn came, I
684began my account of the negroes at Port Royal but he soon cut me short, saying that he ought not be troubled with such details: that there seemed to be a great itching to get negroes within our lines and that the Senate the other day hesitated to confirm General Halleck because he had excluded them. Observing his impatience, I attempted a shorter account than I had first intended, but he soon cut me short again by repeating what he had said before. I replied that these negroes were at Port Royal by no one's invitation, being domiciled there before our occupation; and unless something was done to organize and protect them, there would be a spectacle there which it would not be pleasant to contemplate. Not liking my reception, I rose, and backing towards the door, said "Mr Lincoln, I did not come to you of my own motion, and certainly not for any office or job, but only at the Secretary's request, to tell you about these people". He saw I was not pleased, and as I reached the door called me back, saying "I did not suppose you were a beggar, wait a moment" He then took a card from a pile at his desk, and wrote on one, which I still have, as follows "I shall be obliged if the Sec. of the Treasury will, in his discretion, give Mr. Pierce such instructions in regard to Port Royal contrabands, as may seem judicious
Feb 15. 1862"
I mentioned the interview in an article for the Atlantic Monthly Sept 1863 p 296 entitled "The Freedmen at Port Royal" The Secretary gave full instructions two weeks later and I sailed for March 3. 1862 with a colony of superintendents and teachers.
The President approached the great question slowly and reluctantly and he little dreamed in February 1862 of the Proclamation he was to issue in the September and January following. He did not seem to have any faith that the two races could live together peaceably in a condition of civil equality and, perhaps influenced in part by the Blair's, adopted the solution of separation by colonizing the colored people. In 1863, calling to his assistance, Senator Pomeroy he sent a colony to Ile A 'Vache but it proved disastrous; and no further attempt in that direction was made.