As Abraham Lincoln’s thinking on slavery evolved, he mulled over several schemas to curtail slavery.
He once met with Delaware Congressman George P. Fisher to sound Fisher out on the prospects for a compensation emancipation plan for Delaware — sort of a test run for the rest of the country.
Slavery was mostly confined to the agricultural southwest corner of Delaware. The state’s climate didn’t support year-round agriculture or the need for a year-round slave workforce.
The president calculated the cost of purchasing the freedom of one slave at $300. He planned to pay the slave owners in U.S. bonds. His timetables varied, from freeing all remaining slaves by 1867 to stretching slavery into the 1890s.
Fisher, newly a Republican, came to Washington with Benjamin Burton, a Republican who owned more slaves than any other Delaware farmer.
Burton wanted to know how Lincoln could be sure Congress would pay the slave owners. Lincoln told him, “Mr. Burton, you tend to your end of the swingle tree, and I’ll tend to mine.”
The congressman was hopeful when he returned to Delaware, but, when word of the plan spread, the state’s Democratic-controlled press denounced it as a conspiracy to deprive Delaware of its sovereign right to determine its own affairs.
Fisher realized his bill would fail by one vote. He didn’t want to embarrass the president, so he never formally presented it to the legislature.
Emancipation didn’t come to Delaware early, but the president did appoint Fisher to a new seat on the U.S. District Court in 1863.
Source: Delaware History, Fall-Winter 2008, Delaware Historical Society