Despite his dilemma concerning Simon Cameron, efforts by President-elect Abraham Lincoln to fill the rest of his cabinet carried on. William H. Seward of New York and Edward Bates of Missouri had already agreed to serve as secretary of state and attorney general respectively. Lincoln supporters were especially happy that Seward, one of Lincoln’s chief rivals for the presidential nomination and the party’s foremost leader, had been appointed. Considering Lincoln’s lack of foreign policy experience, many considered Seward a major asset to the incoming administration. According to Harper’s Weekly, “The Republicans are in ecstasies.”
Another top rival of Lincoln’s, Salmon P. Chase of Ohio, came to Springfield to meet with the president-elect about a possible cabinet post. Lincoln had summoned Chase, whom he called the Republicans’ “Moses,” but he was careful to wait until Seward had already agreed to run the State Department. Chase and Seward were bitter rivals, and Seward might have declined the post had he known that Lincoln intended to make Chase a fellow cabinet member.
It took Chase two days and four different railroads to travel from Columbus to Springfield. When he finally checked into the Chenery House, Lincoln broke custom by going to call on him instead of the other way around. Lincoln played to Chase’s vanity, telling him, “I have done with you what I would not perhaps have ventured to do with any other man in the country—sent for you to ask you whether you will accept the appointment of Secretary of the Treasury, without, however, being exactly prepared to offer it to you.” He explained that he needed to resolve the Cameron situation first.
Chase later wrote that he was impressed by Lincoln’s “clearsightedness, uprightness, fidelity to the principles he represents & firm resolve to administer the Govt in the most patriotic spirit and with the strictest regard to the rights of all the States and their citizens.” Chase recalled the talk as “entirely free & unreserved.” However, he told Lincoln that he “desired no position & could not easily reconcile myself to the acceptance of a subordinate one.” Lincoln was not discouraged.
The next day, Lincoln met with Chase again along with Amos Tuck, a former New Hampshire congressman seeking a post of his own. Tuck worked with Lincoln to try to get Chase to accept the treasury job. On Sunday the 6th, Chase joined the Lincolns at the First Presbyterian Church, where they heard a “most excellent sermon” by minister John Howe Brown. By this time, Chase had changed his mind about the cabinet position. He asked Hiram Barney, a top Republican who had arranged for Lincoln to deliver his famous Cooper Union speech in New York, to send “a deputation to Springfield” to lobby on Chase’s behalf. Lincoln would not make a formal offer until he got to Washington, but he had already made up his mind to hire Chase.
Now only New England was left unrepresented in the cabinet, and the most promising candidate from that region was Gideon Welles of Connecticut. J.D. Baldwin of the Worcester Daily Spy wrote to Lincoln singing Welles’s praises, calling him “one of the very ablest and best men in the Republican party.” Baldwin then informed Welles: “I have written to Mr. Lincoln to express to him my sense of your character and eminent fitness for a cabinet office, and to say how much it will heighten the very great satisfaction with which I remember my vote for him in the convention, (for I gave him my vote on the ballot that secured his nomination) to have him select you.”
Prominent Bostonian Edward L. Pierce wrote to Welles expressing confidence that a cabinet position “should be conferred on you in preference to any New England man.” Lincoln had hinted at Charles Francis Adams, but Pierce thought Adams should stay in Congress. Lincoln had also suggested Nathaniel P. Banks, but Pierce called him “too indifferent to principles.” Lincoln stuck to his pledge not to make any further cabinet appointments until he reached Washington, but secretly he liked Welles, both for his New England roots and the fact that he had been a former Democrat.
- Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln. New York: Simon & Schuster, (Kindle Edition), 2011.
- Holzer, Harold, Lincoln President-Elect: Abraham Lincoln and the Great Secession Winter of 1860-1861. New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, Reprint Edition, 2008.
- Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day. New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971.