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Vol. 75/No. 4      January 31, 2011

Marx’s 1864 letter to
Lincoln on his reelection

Below is a November 1864 letter by Karl Marx, a founder of the modern communist movement, to Abraham Lincoln congratulating him on being reelected president of the United States.

Sir,—We congratulate the American people upon your reelection by a large majority. If resistance to the Slave Power was the reserved watchword of your first election, the triumphant war-cry of your reelection is Death to Slavery.

From the commencement of the Titanic American strife the working men of Europe felt instinctively that the star-spangled banner carried the destiny of their class. The contest for the territories which opened the dire epopee, was it not to decide whether the virgin soil of immense tracts should be wedded to the labor of the emigrant or prostituted by the tramp of the slave-driver?

When an oligarchy of 300,000 slaveholders dared to inscribe for the first time in the annals of the world “slavery” on the banner of Armed Revolt, when on the very spots where hardly a century ago the idea of one great Democratic Republic had first sprung up, whence the first Declaration of the Rights of Man1 was issued, and the first impulse given to the European revolution of the eighteenth century; when on those very spots counter-revolution, with systematic thoroughness, gloried in rescinding “the ideas entertained at the time of the formation of the old constitution,” and maintained “slavery to be a beneficent institution,” indeed, the only solution of the great problem of “the relation of capital to labor,” and cynically proclaimed property in man “the corner-stone of the new edifice,”—then the working classes of Europe understood at once, even before the fanatic partisanship of the upper classes for the Confederate gentry had given its dismal warning, that the slaveholders’ rebellion was to sound the tocsin for a general holy crusade of property against labor, and that for the men of labor, with the hopes for the future, even their past conquests were at stake in that tremendous conflict on the other side of the Atlantic. Everywhere they bore therefore patiently the hardships imposed upon them by the cotton crisis,2 opposed enthusiastically the pro-slavery intervention—importunities of their betters and, from most parts of Europe, contributed their quota of blood to the good cause.

While the working men, the true political powers of the North, allowed slavery to defile their own republic, while before the Negro, mastered and sold without his concurrence, they boasted it the highest prerogative of the white-skinned laborer to sell himself and choose his own master, they were unable to attain the true freedom of labor, or to support their European brethren in their struggle for emancipation; but this barrier to progress has been swept off by the red sea of civil war.

The working men of Europe feel sure that, as the American War of Independence initiated a new era of ascendancy for the middle classes, so the American Anti-Slavery War will do for the working classes. They consider it an earnest of the epoch to come that it fell to the lot of Abraham Lincoln, the single-minded son of the working class, to lead his country through the matchless struggle for the rescue of an enchained race and the reconstruction of a social world.

Karl Marx

1. The Declaration of Independence

2. The cotton crisis was caused by the stoppage of cotton deliveries from America due to the blockade of the Southern slave states by the Federal fleet. Most of the European cotton industry was paralyzed, and this worsened the condition of the workers.

Related articles:
Civil War and forging of U.S. working class  
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