Category Archives: Reconstruction

Peace Talks: Blair Returns to Richmond

January 22, 1865 – Elder statesman Francis P. Blair, Sr. returned to Richmond to deliver President Abraham Lincoln’s letter regarding potential peace negotiations to Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

Francis P. Blair, Sr. | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

By this time, Blair’s peace initiative had attracted attention throughout the North. The Washington National Intelligencer reported “that the Blair Mission has become the national excitement is evident enough from the leading press of the country.” According to the New York Herald, Washington “has been under an intense excitement during the last few days over the question of peace. All manner of probable and improbable, possible and impossible stories have been in circulation. We have had the rebellion closed up, Jeff. Davis flying towards Mexico, and the bulk of the rebel Congress marching for Washington to apply for admittance here.”

Rumors spread that Secretary of State William H. Seward “had decided to make peace on the best terms possible.” President Abraham Lincoln maintained “a reticence of the strictest kind,” but indicated that Blair’s peace effort “was far more successful than he anticipated… and that peace is much nearer at hand than the most confident have at any time hoped for.”

In Richmond, Confederate officials noted Blair’s not-so-secret return to the capital. Vice President Alexander Stephens wrote, “Blair is back again. What he is doing I do not know but presume the President is endeavoring to negotiate with him for negotiation…” Blair arrived on the 21st and met with President Davis that night.

Blair delivered Lincoln’s letter and specifically pointed out that Lincoln would only talk peace on the basis of North and South being “one common country,” not “two countries” as Davis had stated. Lincoln later wrote about this: “Mr. Davis read it over twice in Mr. Blair’s presence, at the close of which he, Mr. B remarked that the part about ‘our one common country’ related to the part of Mr. D’s letter about ‘the two countries’ to which Mr. D replied that he so understood it.”

Blair then brought up his idea of Federals and Confederates calling an armistice and joining forces to oust the French from Mexico. Lincoln had not endorsed this idea, Blair explained, but he had not rejected it either. Blair then told Davis that Lincoln was being pressured by the Radical Republicans, “who wished to drive him into harsher measures than he was inclined to adopt.” Therefore, in Blair’s opinion, “If anything beneficial could be effected, it must be done without the intervention of the politicians.” Perhaps Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee “might enter into an arrangement by which hostilities would be suspended and a way paved for the restoration of peace.”

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Davis said that he would trust Lee to engage in peace talks with Grant. But after returning to Washington, Blair notified Davis that the Lincoln administration did not like the idea of a military convention. This meant that if peace talks were to take place, they would have to be based on Lincoln’s letter alone.

Over the next few days, Davis consulted with Confederate Congressman William Rives of Virginia. Rives had opposed secession but went with his home state out of the Union. Davis told him that Richmond was filled with “Despondency and distrust… We are on the eve of an internal revolution.” According to Rives, Davis had made up his mind that a peace convention was needed to stop the dissent, and such a convention would likely result in reunion.

A few days later, Davis summoned Vice President Stephens to his office to discuss “special and important business.” The men were not on friendly terms, and they had not spoken since the Confederate capital moved to Richmond in 1861. Davis shared Blair’s proposals and Lincoln’s letter, and then asked Stephens for his opinion.

Stephens recommended pursuing the matter, “at least so far as to obtain if possible a conference on the subject.” But he disliked Blair’s idea of a military convention because it might result in the Confederacy either joining with the Federals against the French in Mexico or reunion. Instead, Stephens suggested that Davis and Lincoln discuss the matter themselves.

Davis replied that it would not be proper for him to go to Washington, and he knew that Lincoln would not come to Richmond. He would therefore create a commission of political leaders that would try gaining admission to Washington to negotiate a possible peace. Stephens recommended John A. Campbell, a former U.S. Supreme Court Justice and the highest-ranking Federal official to join the Confederacy. He also named Henry Benning, a politician-turned-general, and Thomas Flournoy, “a gentleman of distinguished ability, and well known personally to Mr. Lincoln.” Davis agreed.

The president discussed the matter with his cabinet and shared the names of the potential peace commissioners. They agreed with picking Campbell, but they opposed Benning and Flournoy. The members preferred Robert M.T. Hunter, a former U.S. senator and Confederate secretary of state, and current Confederate Senate pro tempore. The third man would be Stephens himself. Davis made the changes and notified the vice president that he would be sent to Washington. Stephens later wrote:

“I urged and insisted upon the impropriety of myself and Mr. Hunter being on the Commission, for my absence, as the Presiding Officer of the Senate, would, of course, be noticed, and inquiries would almost certainly be made as to where I was (even though he had been in ill-health and often took longs leaves of absence). My efforts to have it changed, however, were of no avail. The President and Cabinet persisted in the selection of the Commissioners, which they had agreed upon; so in this instance… my judgment was yielded to theirs.”

Secretary of State Judah P. Benjamin wrote a letter for the commissioners to present to Federal officials. Benjamin made it “as vague and general as possible, so as to get at the views and sentiments of Mr. Lincoln and test the reality” of a possible peace without divulging that Davis truly wanted an armistice. It read: “In compliance with the letter of Mr. Lincoln, of which the foregoing is a copy, you are hereby requested to proceed to Washington City for conference with him upon the subject to which it relates…”

But Davis insisted that the talks had to be based on Confederate independence. He therefore changed the letter to read:

“In conformity with the letter of Mr. Lincoln, of which the foregoing is a copy, you are requested to proceed to Washington City for informal conference with him upon the issues involved in the existing war, and for the purpose of securing peace to the two countries.”

This almost ensured that peace negotiations would stop before they even started.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 21816-29; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 16133-72; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 547; Harris, William C., “The Hampton Roads Peace Conference: A Final Test of Lincoln’s Presidential Leadership” (Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association, Vol. 21, Issue 1, 2000), p. 30-61; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 629; McFeely, William S., Grant: A Biography (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., Inc., 1981), p. 199; 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. 822; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks. Kindle Edition, 2012), Q165

Peace Talks: Lincoln Responds to Davis

January 18, 1865 – President Abraham Lincoln met with statesman Francis P. Blair, Sr. and responded to Confederate President Jefferson Davis’s offer to negotiate an end to the war.

Blair had been given a pass through the Federal lines to meet with Davis at Richmond and discuss a possible peace between North and South. After returning to Washington, Blair met with Lincoln on the night of the 16th and delivered Davis’s letter expressing his willingness to “secure peace to the two countries.”

Pres. Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Lincoln remained silent as Blair described his visit to Richmond, writing on the back of Davis’s letter that he “had no intimation as to what Mr. Blair would say or do while beyond our military lines.” Blair described his plan of calling a ceasefire so that Federals and Confederates could join forces to oust the French from Mexico. He made it clear that he divulged his plan to Davis “with the express understanding by the other party that it was to be confined to you.”

Blair then sparked Lincoln’s interest by saying that nearly every Confederate official he had spoken with while in Richmond believed their cause to be lost. This meant that if peace negotiations were to take place, Lincoln would have the upper hand. The meeting ended, and, after consulting with Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, Lincoln met with Blair again on the 18th. Lincoln allowed Blair to return to Richmond to deliver a reply to Davis’s letter:

“You having shown me Mr. Davis’s letter to you of the 12th instant, you may say to him that I have constantly been, am now, and shall continue, ready to receive any agent whom he, or any influential person now resisting the national authority, may informally send to me with a view of securing peace to the people of our one common country.”

Lincoln made it explicit that negotiations could only take place if they were based on reuniting North and South. He drove this point home by referring to the Confederate president as “Mr.” (not President) Davis, and by inviting “any influential person” to talk peace, which implicitly included any of Davis’s many political opponents in the South.

Meanwhile in the North, word that Lincoln allowed Blair to meet with Davis did not sit well with the Radical Republicans in Congress. The Radicals argued that there was no need to negotiate peace because total victory was at hand. They also distrusted Blair because of his former ties to Davis and the Democratic Party. With Blair’s influence, the Radicals feared that Lincoln might agree to grant amnesty to the Confederates and return their property, including slaves.

Leading Radical Senator Zachariah Chandler of Michigan said, “Blair is an old fool for going to Richmond upon a peace mission & the Administration is little better for permitting him to go… Nothing but evil can come of this nonsense.” For the Radicals, nothing less than the Confederates’ unconditional surrender would suffice.

Conservative Republicans generally supported Lincoln, but they questioned the legality of allowing a private citizen to negotiate on the nation’s behalf. An article in the New York Times read:

“None but national authorities can wage war or make for peace; and the moment we enter into negotiations with the rebel Government for terms of peace, that moment we have actually and legally conceded everything for which they have been making war.”

A writer for the Boston Advertiser stated that he had “unbounded confidence in the President,” but “the loyal masses revolt at the idea of treating with Jeff. Davis and his confederates in despotic government.” Confederate officials “are usurpers in their present position, having no right whatever to stand between our government and the people of the insurgent States… negotiation will mar the close of the war, and damage the future welfare of both sections of the country… Let our conquering generals be the only negotiators of peace.”

Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton opposed Lincoln’s decision to send Blair back to Richmond. Stanton argued that since the Confederacy was on the brink of defeat, the Federals had no need to offer any terms besides unconditional surrender. He also feared that the idea of peace talks might hamper military recruiting and demoralize the troops in the field.

Navy Secretary Gideon Welles also questioned Lincoln’s decision, writing in his diary: “The President, with much shrewdness and much good sense, has often strange and incomprehensible whims; takes sometimes singular and unaccountable freaks. It would hardly surprise me were he to undertake to arrange terms of peace without consulting anyone.”

Regardless of anybody’s opinion on the matter, Blair was soon on his way back to Richmond.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 21804-09; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 518-19; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 16133-43; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 544-45; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 690-91; Harris, William C., “The Hampton Roads Peace Conference: A Final Test of Lincoln’s Presidential Leadership” (Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association, Vol. 21, Issue 1, 2000), p. 30-61; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 625-26

Abraham Lincoln’s 1864 Message to Congress

December 6, 1864 – The Thirty-eighth U.S. Congress received President Abraham Lincoln’s annual message. With the Confederacy on the verge of defeat, the message focused mainly on winning the war and restoring the southern states to the Union.

16th U.S. President Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: histmag.org

This was the most optimistic message of Lincoln’s presidency. After summarizing foreign relations, Lincoln reported that captured southern ports such as Norfolk, Fernandina, and Pensacola had been opened for Federal commerce. He hoped that foreign merchants would use these ports to trade with the U.S. and stop blockade-running. Lincoln also indirectly referred to the recent Confederate plots against the U.S. originating from Canada, warning that if such attacks continued, the U.S. would have to consider building up naval force on the Great Lakes.

Referring to recent laws encouraging immigration, Lincoln wrote, “I regard our immigrants as one of the principal replenishing streams which are appointed by Providence to repair the ravages of internal war and its wastes of national strength and health.” He stressed that the government “neither needs nor designs to impose involuntary military service upon those who come from other lands to cast their lot in our country.”

Lincoln announced that the national debt stood at $1.74 billion as of July 1, and higher taxes were needed to pay for this. The president happily stated that the new national banking system was taking hold, “and it is hoped that very soon there will be… no banks… not authorized by Congress and no bank-note circulation not secured by the Government.”

The Navy Department report showed that there were 671 vessels with 4,610 guns either operating or under construction, with 51,000 officers and men in the U.S. navy. These men had captured 324 vessels in 1864, or 1,379 since the war began. Lincoln asked Congress to consider appropriating funds to establish a new navy yard to better accommodate the immense construction and repair of all the naval craft.

The message included summaries of each executive department, as well as Lincoln’s satisfaction with construction on the transcontinental railroad and telegraph lines. He noted Nevada’s recent statehood, “and thus our excellent system is firmly established in the mountains, which once seemed a barren and uninhabitable waste between the Atlantic States and those which have grown up on the coast of the Pacific Ocean.”

Recent discoveries of gold and silver in the west had sparked a wave of settlers heading that way to strike it rich. Such precious metals went a long way in helping fund the war effort. Since such westward expansion would necessarily encroach upon Native American land, Lincoln asked Congress to review the system governing U.S.-Native relations.

Lincoln reported on the administration of pensions to “invalid soldiers and sailors of the Republic and to the widows, orphans, and dependent mothers of those who have fallen in battle or died of disease contracted or of wounds received in the service.”

The president then turned to the war. He wrote, “Since the last annual message all the important lines and positions then occupied by our forces have been maintained and our arms have steadily advanced, thus liberating the regions left in rear, so that Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, and parts of other States have again produced reasonably fair crops.”

Lincoln stated, “The most remarkable feature in the military operations of the year is General Sherman’s attempted march of 300 miles directly through the insurgent region. It tends to show a great increase of our relative strength that our General in Chief should feel able to confront and hold in check every active force of the enemy, and yet to detach a well-appointed large army to move on such an expedition.”

The message included a satisfactory assessment of the new, Unionist state governments in Arkansas and Louisiana. Lincoln noted that Missouri, Kentucky, and Tennessee would soon have Unionist governments as well, but “Maryland presents the example of complete success” for having recently adopted a new state constitution abolishing slavery.

Lincoln requested that Congress reconsider passing the Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery; earlier in the year the amendment passed in the Senate but failed in the House of Representatives. He acknowledged that he was asking the same members of Congress to vote on the same issue again, but last month’s elections showed “almost certainly that the next Congress will pass the measure if this does not.” If slavery was to be abolished, “may we not agree that the sooner the better?” Such a bipartisan move might further demoralize the Confederacy.

Lincoln stated, “The most reliable indication of public purpose in this country is derived through our popular elections.” He claimed that his reelection and the election of predominantly Unionist candidates throughout the North showed that “the purpose of the people within the loyal States to maintain the integrity of the Union was never more firm nor more nearly unanimous than now… In affording the people the fair opportunity of showing one to another and to the world this firmness and unanimity of purpose, the election has been of vast value to the national cause.”

That being said, the message indicated that the North was now stronger than ever, not only in unity against the Confederacy, but also in men and material:

“The important fact remains demonstrated that we have more men now than we had when the war began; that we are not exhausted nor in process of exhaustion; that we are gaining strength and may if need be maintain the contest indefinitely. This as to men. Material resources are now more complete and abundant than ever.”

Referring to peace efforts earlier this year that fell through, Lincoln concluded “that no attempt at negotiation with the insurgent leader could result in any good. He would accept nothing short of severance of the Union, precisely what we will not and can not give… He does not attempt to deceive us… He can not voluntarily reaccept the Union; we can not voluntarily yield it.”

Lincoln stated that some southerners had accepted his policy of amnesty in the year since he had unveiled it, but he warned that “the time may come, probably will come, when public duty shall demand that it be closed and that in lieu more rigorous measures than heretofore shall be adopted.” Regardless of whether this happened, “I retract nothing heretofore said as to slavery,” and Lincoln reiterated his pledge to do nothing to amend his Emancipation Proclamation or return to slavery “any person who is free by the terms of that proclamation or by any of the acts of Congress.”

The message concluded, “In stating a single condition of peace I mean simply to say that the war will cease on the part of the Government whenever it shall have ceased on the part of those who began it.” Thus, Lincoln reiterated his demand for the Confederacy’s unconditional surrender, or else the war would continue.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 208; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 498-99; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 529; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 686-87; Lincoln 1864 Annual Message (http://stateoftheunion.onetwothree.net/texts/18641206.html); Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 606-07; 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. 816, 838, 843; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q464

The Wade-Davis Manifesto

August 5, 1864 – Senator Benjamin F. Wade of Ohio and Representative Henry W. Davis of Maryland bitterly denounced President Abraham Lincoln’s veto of a bill designed to give Congress the authority to impose a harsh reconstruction program on the Confederate states.

Sen. B.F. Wade and Rep. H.W. Davis | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

In July, Lincoln had pocket-vetoed the Wade-Davis Reconstruction Bill. Lincoln justified this by asserting that a punitive congressional plan would undermine the restoration of some Confederate states already begun under Lincoln’s more moderate presidential plan. This enraged the Radical Republicans in his party, which included the bill’s sponsors, Wade and Davis. They responded to Lincoln by writing a provocative op-ed in the influential New York Tribune that became known as the “Wade-Davis Manifesto.”

“This rash and fatal act of the President,” they declared, was “a blow at the friends of his Administration, at the rights of humanity, and at the principles of Republican Government.” In vetoing the Wade-Davis bill, Lincoln subjected “the loyal men of the nation” to the “great dangers” of a “return to power of the guilty leaders of the rebellion” and “the continuance of slavery.”

Wade and Davis argued that “it is their right and duty to check the encroachments of the Executive on the authority of Congress, and to require it to confine itself to its proper sphere.” They asserted that “a more studied outrage on the legislative authority of the people has never been perpetrated,” and declared that “the authority of Congress is paramount and must be respected.” In addition, Wade and Davis demanded that Lincoln “understand that our support is of a cause and not of a man,” implying that Lincoln had vetoed the bill for political reasons at the expense of the general welfare.

This internal conflict between fellow Republicans delighted the pro-Democratic press as the presidential election approached. The New York World called the manifesto “a blow between the eyes which will daze the President,” and the New York Herald cited the message as proof that Lincoln was “an egregious failure” who should “retire from the position to which, in an evil hour, he was exalted.”

The Wade-Davis Manifesto threatened to split the Republican Party just months before the election between Radicals backing Wade and Davis, and conservatives backing Lincoln. However, most Republican newspapers ultimately condemned the manifesto’s spiteful tone and voiced support for Lincoln, thus forcing the Radicals to reluctantly fall back into the party line.

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References

Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 10887-98, 11155; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 794-95; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011-01-26), Kindle Locations 9705-25; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 480; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 640; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 535, 551-52; 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. 713

 

The Wade-Davis Bill: Executive Response

July 4, 1864 – President Abraham Lincoln was presented with a bill outlining the congressional plan for reconstructing the Union, and his reaction outraged many.

After the Wade-Davis Reconstruction Bill passed both chambers of Congress, Radical Congressmen Thaddeus Stevens, Elihu Washburne, and John L. Dawson visited Lincoln at the White House to urge him to sign it into law. They returned to the Capitol and informed their fellow Radicals there was a good chance that Lincoln would not. An old friend from Illinois, Radical Congressman Jesse O. Norton, felt the same way after speaking with Lincoln, but there was “no use trying to prevent it.”

16th U.S. President Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: histmag.org

On the last day of the congressional session, Lincoln went to his Capitol office to sign the last-minute bills into law. He signed several, including a repeal of the Fugitive Slave Act and a repeal of the Enrollment Act provision allowing draftees to pay $300 to avoid conscription. But he set the Wade-Davis bill aside. Senator Zachariah Chandler of Michigan asked him if he would sign it. Lincoln replied, “Mr. Chandler, this bill was placed before me a few minutes before Congress adjourns. It is a matter of too much importance to be swallowed in that way.”

Chandler warned, “If it is vetoed, it will damage us fearfully in the Northwest. The important point is the one prohibiting slavery in the reconstructed states.” Lincoln said, “That is the point on which I doubt the authority of Congress to act.” Chandler countered, “It is no more than you have done yourself.” Lincoln replied, “I conceive that I may in an emergency do things on military grounds which cannot be done constitutionally by Congress.” Chandler angrily left. Lincoln then explained to the remaining congressmen in the room his chief objection to the measure:

“This bill and the position of these gentlemen seem to me, in asserting that the insurrectionary States are no longer in the Union, to make the fatal admission that States, whenever they please, may of their own motion dissolve their connection with the Union. Now we cannot survive that admission, I am convinced.

“If that be true, I am not President; these gentlemen are not Congress. I have laboriously endeavored to avoid that question ever since it first began to be mooted, and thus to avoid confusion and disturbance in our own councils. It was to obviate this question that I earnestly favored the movement for an amendment to the Constitution abolishing slavery, which passed the Senate and failed in the House.

“I thought it much better, if it were possible, to restore the Union without the necessity of a violent quarrel among its friends as to whether certain States have been in or out of the Union during the war–a merely metaphysical question, and one unnecessary to be forced into discussion.”

Leaving the Capitol, Lincoln was warned that failing to endorse the bill might cost him reelection in November. He responded, “If they choose to make a point upon this I do not doubt that they can do harm. They have never been friendly to me and I don’t know that this will make any special difference as to that. At all events, I must keep some consciousness of being somewhere near right; I must keep some standard of principle fixed within myself.” The congressional session ended without Lincoln’s signature on the Wade-Davis bill, thus killing the measure via a pocket veto.

On the 8th, Lincoln issued a public statement explaining why he refused to sign the bill into law. He wrote that he would not “be inflexibly committed to any single plan of restoration,” nor would he accept “that the free-state constitutions and governments, already adopted and installed in Arkansas and Louisiana, shall be set aside and held for naught, thereby repelling and discouraging the loyal citizens who have set up the same, as to further effort.”

Lincoln also refused to acknowledge “a constitutional competency in Congress to abolish slavery in States,” instead “sincerely hoping and expecting that a constitutional amendment, abolishing slavery throughout the nation, may be adopted.”

To appease the Radicals, Lincoln wrote that he was “fully satisfied with the system for restoration contained in the Bill, as one very proper plan for the loyal people of any State choosing to adopt it,” and he offered to provide “Executive aid and assistance to any such people, so soon as the military resistance to the United States shall have been suppressed in any such State.”

This was meaningless because no state would voluntarily choose to adopt the punitive Wade-Davis bill on its own. Radicals already outraged by Lincoln’s veto became even more incensed by Lincoln’s empty pledge to enforce the bill in states that voluntarily adopted it. Thaddeus Stevens fumed, “What an infamous proclamation! The idea of pocketing a bill and then issuing a proclamation as to how far he will conform to it!”

The congressional recess would not stop the Radicals from plotting revenge against the president.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 432; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 10855-98; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 794-95; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 9674-715; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 464, 466; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 639; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 532-33, 535; 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. 712-13; Murphy, Richard W., The Nation Reunited: War’s Aftermath (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 30

The Wade-Davis Bill: Congressional Reconstruction

July 3, 1864 – The U.S. Congress passed a measure that aimed to supersede President Abraham Lincoln’s “Ten Percent Plan” for bringing Confederate states back into the Union after the war.

In December 1863, Lincoln had presented a plan whereby Confederate states could return to the Union if 10 percent of their registered voters swore loyalty to the Union and elected delegates to a constitutional convention that would abolish slavery and repudiate secession. Many members of Congress, especially the Radical Republicans, denounced this plan as too lenient for the “treasonous rebels.” Perhaps more importantly, they opposed any plan that would allow the president, and not Congress, to make the rules.

Congressman Henry W. Davis of Maryland, chairman of the House Committee on the Rebellious States, introduced a congressional reconstruction measure in January. Davis, who feuded with the prominent Blair family (which supported Lincoln) over political power in Maryland, sought to place Congress in charge of restoring the Union. And while Lincoln sought to begin the restoration process immediately, Davis’s plan would not go into effect until the war ended.

Sen. B.F. Wade and Rep. H.W. Davis | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Under this plan, a state could begin its restoration process only after 50 percent of its registered voters swore loyalty. And while Lincoln’s oath involved promising prospective loyalty to the Union, Davis’s oath required men to swear they had never voluntarily supported the Confederacy. This meant that northerners would have to move into these states because none of them had half their voters oppose the Confederacy from the beginning.

Davis’s bill called for the president to appoint military governors to rule the Confederate states until the loyal registered voters elected delegates to constitutional conventions. These conventions were required to abolish slavery, and repudiate secession and the war debt.

It also called for the abolition of slavery, even though a constitutional amendment abolishing slavery (which Lincoln supported) was defeated in June. But the bill did not go as far as some Radicals went in calling for giving freed slaves the right to vote. In fact, Lincoln had already urged Governor Michael Hahn of Louisiana to consider granting suffrage to slaves and free blacks in his state.

The measure also banned all Confederate officials and military personnel from voting or holding public office. Only when all these conditions were met could the president declare the state restored the Union, and the declaration required congressional consent. Once restored, the state would be granted its representation in Congress and the Electoral College.

The bill came under House debate in March, when Davis railed against Lincoln and his Ten Percent Plan. Davis declared that until Congress recognized “a state government organized under its auspices, there is no government in the rebel states except the authority of Congress.” Davis also condemned Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which he called “a political trick” because it technically freed no slaves.

The House, divided between Radicals supporting Davis and conservatives supporting Lincoln (as well as a small group of Democrats both for and against the war) passed the bill in May by a vote of 73 to 59. Leading Radical Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania voted against the measure because he thought it too lenient.

The bill next went to the Senate, where it was taken up by a committee chaired by Radical Republican Benjamin Wade of Ohio. As the congressional session was set to expire on July 3, Wade scrambled to bring the bill to the Senate floor on the 1st for debate. By that time, many senators had already returned to their home states; 20 were absent when the bill passed in the late hours of the 3rd by a vote of 18 to 14. All non-Republicans opposed the measure.

The bill reflected the Radicals’ continuing opposition not only to Lincoln’s view of reconstruction, but also to Lincoln’s reelection, which could be secured by the electoral votes of the three states that had been restored to the Union according to Lincoln’s Ten Percent Plan (Tennessee, Louisiana, and Arkansas). Both the executive and legislative reconstruction plans called into question whether the Federal government had the authority to force states to amend their constitutions.

Since the bill passed both chambers of Congress by far less than the two-thirds majority needed to override a presidential veto, it would require Lincoln’s signature to become law.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 10855-77; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 794-95; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 9674-715; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 639; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 532-33; 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. 706; Murphy, Richard W., The Nation Reunited: War’s Aftermath (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 30; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 618

The Radical Republican Convention

May 31, 1864 – Radicals and other disgruntled Republicans held a convention in Cleveland to nominate a candidate to defeat President Abraham Lincoln’s bid for reelection.

Maj Gen John C. Fremont | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Many Republicans were dissatisfied with Lincoln’s performance, particularly his “lenient” plan to bring the southern states back into the Union. Some had proposed replacing Lincoln with Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase, but Chase had been discredited by the Pomeroy Circular. When Major General John C. Fremont, who had long quarreled with Lincoln before resigning in 1862, expressed interest in running against him, his backers quickly organized an assembly at Chapin Hill a week before the Republican National Convention took place.

This Radical convention sought to protest the “imbecile and vacillating policy of the present Administration in the conduct of the war.” Organizers expected thousands to attend, but only about 400 actually showed. Of these, only 158 were delegates, many of whom held no significant political influence. They were mostly abolitionists and German immigrants loyal to Fremont (especially in Missouri), but some Democrats attended in an attempt to form a new “Radical Democratic” alliance against Lincoln.

Many Radicals who learned that the convention would be stacked with Fremont supporters refused to attend. Republicans and Democrats who pushed for Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant to oppose Lincoln also stayed away. Even Horace Greeley, the influential editor of the New York Tribune who called for this convention in the first place, withdrew his support.

The most prominent name associated with the convention was abolitionist Wendell Phillips, and even he did not attend. Instead he submitted a written statement calling the Lincoln administration “a civil and military failure, and its avowed policy ruinous to the North in every point of view…”

Phillips condemned Lincoln’s reconstruction plan because it “makes the freedom of the negro a sham, and perpetuates slavery under a softer name,” and he concluded, “If Mr. Lincoln is re-elected I do not expect to see the Union reconstructed in my day, unless on terms more disastrous to liberty than even disunion would be.”

Delegates adopted a platform that advocated:

  • A constitutional amendment to permanently abolish slavery and “secure to all men absolute equality before the law”
  • Granting black men the right to vote
  • Congress, not the president, administering reconstruction
  • Seizing the land of Confederates by military force and redistributing it to Federal soldiers, former slaves, or anyone else the Radicals deemed worthy
  • Abolishing the Electoral College and electing the president by popular vote
  • Limiting the president to one term
  • Barring the president from violating civil liberties, including suspending the writ of habeas corpus

Fremont was nominated by acclamation. The delegates expected him to run a strong race, just as he did as the first ever Republican presidential candidate in 1856. As a nod to the small Democratic constituency in attendance, Democratic Brigadier General John Cochrane was nominated vice president. Fremont agreed to run in the naïve hope that Radicals and Democrats could form a broad enough coalition to beat Lincoln in November.

In his acceptance statement, Fremont declared that he represented “a view to prevent the misfortune of (Lincoln’s) reelection,” which “would be fatal to the country.” He condemned Lincoln’s mismanagement of the war. However, he ignored the party’s pledge to uphold social and political equality, and he openly opposed the Radical plan to redistribute confiscated land.

A pundit called this disappointing convention “a most magnificent fizzle” that only featured “disappointed contractors, sorehead governors, and Copperheads.” Noting the delegates’ lack of political clout, the pro-Lincoln New York Times called the assembly “a congregation of malcontents… representing no constituencies, and controlling no votes.” Most Radicals renounced this party for its alliance with Democrats and ultimately acknowledged that the best way to advance their agenda was to back Lincoln.

When Lincoln was told that only 400 people attended this assembly, he thumbed through a Bible until he came upon 1 Samuel 22:2 and read, “And every one that was in distress, and every one that was in debt, and every one that was discontented, gathered themselves unto him; and he became a captain over them: and there were with him about 400 men.”

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 172; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 10517, 10691-713; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 7910-31; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 447; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 624; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 511-12; 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. 715-16; Schweikart, Larry and Allen, Michael, A Patriot’s History of the United States (New York: Penguin Books, 2004), p. 342; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q264