January 27, 1861 – Secretary of State-designate William H. Seward wrote to President-elect Abraham Lincoln about conciliation efforts toward the southern states.
Tension had grown throughout the month, as five states joined South Carolina in seceding from the Union. As early as January 2, newspapers reported that Lincoln had received letters threatening violence at his upcoming inauguration.
Meanwhile, Lincoln continued the delicate task of selecting members of his cabinet. Lincoln met with former presidential rival Salmon P. Chase to discuss the matter, but he made sure to meet with Chase after Seward had accepted the post of secretary of state. This was because Chase and Seward were bitter rivals, and Seward may not have accepted Lincoln’s offer had he known that Chase would be a fellow cabinet member.
In their meeting at Springfield, Lincoln did not offer Chase a cabinet appointment, despite pressure from Chase’s allies and the anti-Seward faction in New York. However, Lincoln resolved that once he arrived in Washington, he would offer Chase the post of treasury secretary.
Lincoln had a different issue with Senator Simon Cameron of Pennsylvania. Many pressured Lincoln to install Cameron in the cabinet, but Lincoln expressed concern because others accused Cameron of being notoriously corrupt.
In addition, Lincoln tried balancing political appointments with the sectional crisis. He wrote to Republican Congressman James T. Hale of Pennsylvania, stating that since their party had won last year’s elections, “Now we are told in advance, the government shall be broken up, unless we surrender to those we have beaten, before we take the offices… if we surrender, it is the end of us, and of the government.”
Seward, who many Republicans believed would be an invaluable asset to Lincoln due to his political experience, advised Lincoln that conciliation toward the South may garner support among pro-Union southerners: “Every thought that we think ought to be conciliatory, forbearing and patient, and so open the way for the rising of a Union Party in the seceding States which will bring them back into the Union.”
Lincoln expressed less optimism that southern Unionists would defeat secession, but he approved negotiating with southerners as long as there would be “no compromise which assists or permits the extension” of slavery.
By month’s end, Lincoln had drafted his inaugural address and took a trip away from his hometown of Springfield to visit his stepmother, Sarah Bush Lincoln, in Coles County, Illinois.
- Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 5513-25
- Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 20-22, 24-25, 30
- McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 255