Tag Archives: Democratic Party

The Thirteenth Amendment: Debate Begins

January 9, 1865 – The U.S. House of Representatives opened debate on a constitutional amendment abolishing slavery that had been defeated last year.

The abolition amendment had passed the Senate in 1864 but failed to garner the two-thirds majority needed to pass the House. In his December message to Congress, President Abraham Lincoln declared that since the newly elected Congress made passage of the amendment “only a question of time,” the current lame-duck Congress should revisit it. This would demonstrate northern solidarity against the Confederacy and show that the border states would no longer side with the South on the slavery issue.

Rep. J.M. Ashley of Ohio | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Republican Congressman James M. Ashley of Ohio reintroduced the amendment on the House floor in early January, announcing, “Mr. Speaker, if slavery is wrong and criminal, as the great body of enlightened Christian men admit, it is certainly our duty to abolish it, if we have the power.” Republicans generally supported the amendment, especially the Radicals who sought more punitive measures against the South. Most Democrats opposed the measure, and a contentious debate took place throughout the month.

Democrats warned their fellow party members there would be political fallout if they supported the amendment. However, a significant change occurred when Moses F. Odell of New York announced he would change his previous “no” vote to “yes,” declaring, “The South by rebellion has absolved the Democratic Party at the north from all obligation to stand up longer for the defense of its ‘cornerstone.’”

The New York Times reported that Odell gave “a convincing argument in favor of this measure, and an able appeal to the Democratic party to throw aside all partisan feeling and sustain it, thereby setting at rest forever the subject which has caused so much agitation and excitement in our national counsels.” Lincoln rewarded Odell with the lucrative political job of New York navy agent.

Other Democrats remained opposed. Robert Mallory of Kentucky said that “the Constitution does not authorize an amendment to be made by which any State or citizen shall be divested of acquired rights of property or of established political franchises.” Unionist John A. Kasson of Iowa countered, “you will never, never, have reliable peace in this country that that institution exists, the perpetual occasion of moral, intellectual, and physical warfare.”

Democrat Samuel S. Cox of Ohio declared, “Whatever it may be termed, I am opposed to compounding powers in the Federal Government.” This amendment “sought to consolidate the powers of the States, and tended toward monarchy and despotism… it would tend to disturb the balance of power between the States, and destroy our peculiar representative system.”

Charles Eldridge of Wisconsin warned that “the adoption of the amendment would afford the rebel leaders another topic to arouse the lukewarm, raise additional armies and prolong the war.” This measure would best be “made in time of calmness, in a fraternal spirit and with kindness, with a view to the establishment of the peace of the Union in all its parts.”

Another Democrat agreed:

“When the sky shall again be clear over our heads, a peaceful sun illuminating the land, and our great household of states all at home in harmony once more, then will be the time to consider what changes, if any, this generation desire to make in the work of Washington, Madison, and the revered sages of our antiquity.”

Fernando Wood of New York opposed the amendment on racial grounds:

“The Almighty has fixed the distinction of the races; the Almighty has made the black man inferior, and, sir, by no legislation, by no partisan success, by no revolution, by no military power, can you wipe out this distinction. You may make the black man free, but when you have done that what have you done?”

Unionist Austin King, a Missouri slaveholder, declared support for the amendment:

“Slavery had been the cause of disturbance for the last thirty years, and if it must perish, slaveholders could not, complain, as they had been the architects of their own ruin. Slavery has been the means by which the Southern leaders have wheeled into the line of insurrection, and for this reason, it has lost the support and sympathy it once possessed. Slavery had been a constant source of irritation, and in order to secure the blessings of peace, the great question of its further continuance should be submitted to the people for their decision.”

Another Missouri congressman and former slaveholder, James Rollins, declared:

“I am no longer the owner of a slave, and I thank God for it. If the giving up of my slaves without complaint shall be a contribution upon my part, to promote the public good, to uphold the Constitution of the United States, to restore peace and preserve this Union, if I had owned a thousand slaves, they would most cheerfully have been given up. I say with all my heart, let them go; but let them not go without a sense of feeling and a proper regard on my part for the future of themselves and their offspring… the peculiar friends of slavery have controlled the government for much the greater part of the time since its establishment, and but for their own wickedness and folly might have saved the institution, and had their full share in its management for many years to come… we can never have an entire peace as long as the institution of slavery remains as one of the recognized institutions in this country.”

John McBride of Oregon said, “Slavery, too long pursuing its criminal practices, demanded sentence and execution, without benefit of clergy.” Republican (and future President) James A. Garfield announced, “Mr. Speaker, we shall never know why slavery dies so hard in this Republic and in this Hall, till we know why sin outlives disaster, and Satan is immortal…” Radical leader Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania argued that slavery was “the worst institution upon earth, one which is a disgrace to man and would be an annoyance to the infernal spirits.” He added:

“We have suffered for slavery more than all the plagues of Egypt. More than the first born of every household has been taken. We still harden our hearts, and refuse to let the people go. The scourge still continues, nor do I expect it to cease until we obey the behests of the Father of men. We are about to ascertain the national will by an amendment to the Constitution. If the gentlemen opposite will yield to the voice of God and humanity and vote for it, I verily believe the sword of the destroying angel will be stayed, and this people be reunited. If we still harden our hearts, and blood must still flow, may the ghosts of the slaughtered victims sit heavily upon the souls of those who cause it.”

Debate continued throughout the month, leading to the final vote on the last day of January.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 211-13; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 512-13; 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 15635-45; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 606-07, 620-23, 630; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 686-90; McGinty, Brian, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 752-53; 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. 839

The 1864 Elections

November 8, 1864 – Abraham Lincoln won reelection, thus ensuring that the war to destroy the Confederacy and reunite the Union would continue.

The presidential election pitted the incumbent Lincoln, who pledged to prosecute the war until the Union was restored and slavery abolished, against Democrat George B. McClellan, his former general-in-chief. McClellan had alienated the peace wing of his party by pledging to prosecute the war until the Union was restored, but he was willing to negotiate with the southern states on all other questions, including slavery.

Abraham Lincoln and George B. McClellan | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Election Day in Washington was rainy and gray. Government officials had been furloughed to go home and vote, leaving the capital empty and quiet. Prominent banker Henry D. Cooke observed that “the streets wear a quiet Sunday air–in the Department building(s), the empty corridors respond with hollow echoes to the foot fall of the solitary visitor; the hotels are almost tenantless, and the street cars drone lazily along the half-filled seats.”

The Lincoln administration also furloughed soldiers and sailors with the expectation that they would vote for Lincoln. As a result, over 150,000 soldiers and sailors in the Federal military cast ballots for who they wanted as their commander-in-chief. Lincoln even allowed party officials to use a boat on the Mississippi River to collect ballots from the crews of gunboats patrolling the waterway.

Lincoln and his fellow National Unionists were optimistic about their chances, but they expected the election to be close. The president told correspondent Noah Brooks, “I am just enough of a politician to know that there was not much doubt about the result of the Baltimore convention (which nominated Lincoln for reelection), but about this thing I am very far from being certain. I wish I were certain.”

Around 7 p.m., Lincoln and his secretary John Hay walked to the War Department to get the results from the telegraph office, but most results were delayed by storms. The initial messages trickling in indicated larger Republican majorities than expected. To Lincoln’s surprise, he won Philadelphia by 10,000 votes and Baltimore by 15,000. Regarding Maryland, Lincoln remarked, “All Hail, Free Maryland. That is superb!” Results from Boston showed Lincoln ahead by 5,000 votes.

As the night wore on, Lincoln passed the time between messages by reading funny stories from humorist Petroleum V. Nasby. This irritated Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, as Assistant Secretary of War Charles Dana recalled:

“The idea that when the safety of the republic was thus as issue, when the control of an empire was to be determined by a few figures brought in by the telegraph, the leader, the man most deeply concerned, not merely for himself but for his country, could turn aside to read such balderdash and to laugh at such frivolous jests was, to his mind, repugnant, even damnable. He could not understand, apparently, that it was by the relief which these jests afforded to the strain of mind under which Lincoln had so long been living, and to the natural gloom of a melancholy and desponding temperament–this was Mr. Lincoln’s prevailing characteristic–that the safety and sanity of his intelligence were maintained and preserved.”

By midnight, dispatches indicated that Lincoln had won Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and all the New England states. Results from New York and Illinois would not come for another two days, but even without them, it was clear that Lincoln had won handily. Those on hand congratulated him, and he simply replied that he was “glad to be relieved of all suspense.”

A band serenaded the War Department at 2:30 a.m., and when Lincoln returned to the White House, a crowd had gathered and demanded a speech. Lincoln said:

“If I know my heart, my gratitude is free from any taint of personal triumph. I do not impugn the motives of any one opposed to me. It is no pleasure to me to triumph over any one, but I give thanks to the Almighty for this evidence of the people’s resolution to stand by free government and the rights of humanity. I earnestly believe that the consequences of this day’s work… will be to the lasting advantage, if not to the very salvation, of the country.”

The Lincoln-Johnson ticket ultimately won 55 percent of the popular vote, or 400,000 more votes than the ticket of McClellan and anti-war Democrat George H. Pendleton. Lincoln won the Electoral College 212 to 21, with McClellan carrying only New Jersey, Delaware, and Kentucky. Soldiers voted overwhelmingly for Lincoln, 116,887 to 33,748; Lincoln won eight of every 10 soldier votes in the western armies and seven of every 10 in McClellan’s old Army of the Potomac. This indicated that despite their love for McClellan, they wanted to finish the job they had been sent to do.

Democrats made the biggest gains in the major cities, and counties with large Irish and German-American populations. Their base continued to consist mostly of unskilled laborers, immigrant Catholics, border state slaveholders, and anti-war dissidents. Republicans won using the same successful formula from 1860–harnessing the voting power of native-born farmers, high-skilled workers, city professionals, young voters, abolitionists, and New Englanders.

Military victories at Mobile Bay, Atlanta, and the Shenandoah Valley contributed to Lincoln’s reelection. Radical Republican John C. Fremont’s withdrawal from the race also played a part, as did McClellan’s repudiation of his own party’s anti-war stance. McClellan did not express disappointment in defeat. Instead he wrote, “For my country’s sake I deplore the result…” and announced he would retire from the U.S. army.

In addition to Lincoln’s victory, Republicans or Unionists maintained strong majorities in both the House of Representatives (149 to 42) and the Senate (42 to 10). This further ensured that Lincoln’s policies would continue for at least another two years. On the state level, Republicans or Unionists won the governorships and legislatures in every northern state except the three that Lincoln lost (New Jersey, Delaware, and Kentucky).

Lincoln had the ability to influence the election with military furloughs, martial law, and suspension of habeas corpus. Charles Dana said that all “the power and influence of the War Department, then something enormous from the vast expenditure and extensive relations of the war, was employed to secure the re-election of Mr. Lincoln.” Yet despite all these resources at hand, Lincoln could only garner a 10 percent margin of victory in an election that excluded all southern states. On the flipside, even if the Confederate states had been allowed to vote, and all 81 electoral votes in those states went to McClellan, he still would have lost to Lincoln by over 100 votes.

Soldiers voted overwhelmingly for Lincoln, but ballots were not cast in secret and it was tacitly understood that Democratic military officers who criticized Lincoln could lose their commissions. Curiously, the soldier vote went strongly for McClellan in Kentucky (3,068 to 1,205), where Federal authorities did not supervise the polls. McClellan also soundly won that state’s total popular vote, 61,478 to 26,592. Lincoln lost his home county in Illinois (Sangamon), and all its neighboring counties. Most big cities favored McClellan, with New York City and Detroit voting three-to-one against Lincoln.

However, the soldier vote in favor of Lincoln proved the difference in Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Indiana, and Illinois. Lincoln won the key state of New York by just 7,000 votes, and he won the states with the most electoral votes (New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio) by just 86,407 out of 1,774,131 ballots cast, or a margin of less than five percent. Missouri also went strongly for Lincoln, where Federal officials required voters to swear allegiance to the U.S. before casting ballots.

For Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, Lincoln’s victory meant that he could take more military risks without fear of political consequences. These included more aggressive action against the Confederacy and the removal of incompetent political commanders. For most southerners, Lincoln’s reelection was no surprise, and it confirmed their belief that northerners supported the Federal subjugation of the South.

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References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 507-08; Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 183-84; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 543; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 19810-26; Davis, William C., Death in the Trenches: Grant at Petersburg (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 157-58; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 484; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 11582, 11603-25; 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 13096-137, 15248-58; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 518; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 664-66; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 166; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 592, 594; 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. 804-05; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 333-34, 353; 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

Prelude to the 1864 Federal Elections

November 7, 1864 – By November, most pundits believed that President Abraham Lincoln and his Republican party would win the upcoming elections. However, the Republicans were not taking any chances.

Abraham Lincoln and George B. McClellan | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

In the presidential election, Lincoln ran for reelection on a “National Union” party ticket that included both Republicans and some War Democrats in a united front. Lincoln’s running mate was Andrew Johnson, the Democratic war governor of Tennessee who had been the only southern U.S. senator not to leave Congress when his state seceded.

Lincoln’s opponent was George B. McClellan, the popular former general-in-chief whom Lincoln had fired. McClellan had alienated political allies by repudiating his own party’s platform that called for peace at any cost, including southern independence and continuation of slavery.

The Republican-dominated National Unionists played up the recent military victories as reasons to reelect Lincoln. At a Cincinnati theater, prominent actor James E. Murdoch recited T. Buchanan Read’s latest poem celebrating Major General Philip Sheridan’s victory at Cedar Creek. Titled “Sheridan’s Ride,” it caused a sensation, and Republicans quickly used the poem to fuel their campaigns:

“Up from the South, at break of day

“Bringing to Winchester fresh dismay…

“But there is a road from Winchester town

“A good, broad highway leading down…

“Still sprang from these swift hoofs, thundering south

“The dust like smoke from the cannon’s mouth

“Or the trail of a comet, sweeping faster and faster

“Foreboding to traitors the doom of disaster…”

Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton urged Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant not to provoke a major battle at Richmond or Petersburg out of fear that a military defeat could cost Lincoln the election. Similarly, it was suggested that Major General William T. Sherman wait until after the election to begin his march from Atlanta to the sea.

Every effort was made to furlough soldiers so they could go home and vote. For states allowing absentee voting, election officials were sent to the armies to collect the soldiers’ ballots. Lincoln was confident that the troops would vote for him, even though most who had served under McClellan still revered him.

Two days before the election, Major General John A. Dix, commanding the military department that included New York, announced that Confederate agents from Canada planned to burn New York City on Election Day. That same day, the U.S. State Department issued a communiqué:

“Information has been received from the British provinces to the effect that there is a conspiracy on foot to set fire to the principal cities in the Northern States on the day of the Presidential election.”

New York Gov Horatio Seymour | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

New York Governor Horatio Seymour, an administration opponent, tried calming fears by stating, “There is no reason to doubt that the coming election will be conducted with the usual quiet and order.” Nevertheless, administration officials dispatched Major General Benjamin F. Butler and 7,000 Federal troops to New York City and the harbor forts to supervise the election process. The military presence may have served as a not-so-subtle persuasion for undecided voters to back the National Unionists.

Even without potential panic in New York, Lincoln’s reelection seemed assured before Election Day. On the 7th, James Russell Lowell published “The Next General Election” in the influential North American Review. He supported Lincoln and denounced Democrat attempts to reconcile with southerners. He called Lincoln “a long-headed and long-purposed man” who had “shown from the first the considerate wisdom of a practical statesman.”

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References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 507-08; Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 183-84; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 543; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 19810-26; Davis, William C., Death in the Trenches: Grant at Petersburg (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 157-58; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 483; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 11582, 11603-25; 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 12044-54, 13096-137, 15248-58; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 517; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 664-66; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 166; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 592, 594; 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. 780; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 333-34, 353; 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), Loc 56359-62

McClellan Repudiates His Party’s Platform

September 8, 1864 – Former General-in-Chief George B. McClellan officially accepted the presidential nomination by the Democratic Party. However, he alienated the peace wing of the party by repudiating their call to end the war at any cost.

Democratic campaign poster | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Since being removed from command by President Abraham Lincoln, McClellan had remained sequestered at his Orange, New Jersey, home awaiting reassignment. Despite calls from McClellan’s supporters, Lincoln refused to reinstate him. McClellan responded by supporting the Democratic Party in hopes of ousting Lincoln and his Republicans in this year’s election. The Democrats in turn nominated him to directly challenge Lincoln for the presidency.

The Democrats were sharply divided between those who wanted to continue fighting the war until the Union was restored and those who wanted to end the war immediately, regardless of whether the Union was restored. They had compromised at their convention by nominating a War Democrat for president and a Peace Democrat (George H. Pendleton) for vice president, and by endorsing the Peace Democrats’ platform. McClellan quickly learned that the two were not reconcilable.

McClellan faced tremendous pressure. The war faction, particularly eastern Democrats, urged him to renounce the peace platform, especially now that the Federals had captured Atlanta. If McClellan accepted the nomination but said nothing about the platform, War Democrats would perceive it as a tacit approval and possibly withdraw their support.

Conversely, if McClellan did anything less than endorse the peace faction’s call to end the war at any cost, he risked alienating them. Clement L. Vallandigham, the Peace Democrat who authored the platform, warned McClellan, “Do not listen to your Eastern friends who, in an evil hour, may advise you to insinuate even a little war into your letter of acceptance… If anything implying war is presented, 200,000 men in the West will withhold their support.”

Maj Gen G.B. McClellan | Image Credit: Wikispaces

From his home, McClellan wrote six drafts of his acceptance letter, trying in vain to satisfy both sides. In the early drafts, McClellan seemed to lean toward the peace faction by calling for an immediate armistice to negotiate an end to the war, and supporting a resumption of war only if negotiations failed. But influential War Democrats persuaded him to remove this pledge because once the war stopped, it would most likely not be started again, with or without Union.

McClellan submitted the final draft of his acceptance letter to the nominating committee at midnight. To placate the Peace Democrats, he pledged that if elected, he would “exhaust all the resources of statesmanship” to end the war. McClellan then explained why he accepted the nomination, even though he had not sought it:

“The existence of more than one Government over the region which once owned our flag is incompatible with the peace, the power, and the happiness of the people. The preservation of our Union was the sole avowed object for which the war was commenced. It should have been conducted for that object only, and in accordance with those principles which I took occasion to declare when in active service.”

McClellan then backed the War Democrats by firmly declaring that the war would not end until the Union was restored:

“The Union must be preserved at all hazards. I could not look in the face of my gallant comrades of the army and navy, who have survived so many bloody battles, and tell them that their labor and the sacrifice of so many of our slain and wounded brethren had been in vain, that we had abandoned that Union for which we have so often periled our lives. A vast majority of our people, whether in the army and navy or at home, would, as I would, hail with unbounded joy the permanent restoration of peace, on the basis of the Union under the Constitution, without the effusion of another drop of blood. But no peace can be permanent without Union.”

McClellan stated that when “our present adversaries are ready for peace, on the basis of the Union,” he would be willing to negotiate with them in “a spirit of conciliation and compromise… The Union is the one condition of peace–we ask no more.”

This letter enraged the Peace Democrats, and many hurried to call a new convention to nominate a different candidate. However, they were unable to do so, and most (including Vallandigham) eventually backed McClellan simply because it was too late to find an alternative.

McClellan’s letter meant that if he was elected, everything besides restoring the Union, including ending or reinstating slavery, would be negotiable. But the Confederates would not accept restoration as a condition for peace because their only condition was separation. This ensured that the war would continue until a clear victor emerged.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 179-80; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 456; 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 11564-85; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 494; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 656; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 568; 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. 775-76

The 1864 Democratic National Convention

August 29, 1864 – Delegates assembled at Chicago to nominate an opponent for Abraham Lincoln, but they were split over how to deal with the Confederacy.

The Democrats had delayed their convention for over two months in hopes that the Federal war effort would stagnate enough so that voters would turn to them to end the costly conflict. But the Democrats did not have the momentum they were hoping for; although Richmond remained uncaptured, the fall of Atlanta was imminent, and the Federals had won a sensational victory at Mobile Bay.

Also, the party was deeply divided between War Democrats who sought to continue the war until the Confederacy returned to the Union, and Peace Democrats (i.e., Copperheads) who sought peace at any price, even if it meant Confederate independence. The Peace Democrats seemed to outnumber the war faction, as delegates cheered the playing of “Dixie” at the convention and gave little applause to Federal war tunes.

Both sides agreed on two things: abolishing slavery should not be a war aim, and Lincoln and the Republicans had ruined the country. August Belmont announced, “Four years of misrule by a sectional, fanatical and corrupt party, have brought our country to the verge of ruin.” An Iowa delegate declared, “With all his vast armies Lincoln has failed, failed, failed, and still the monster usurper wants more victims for his slaughter pens.”

Convention Chairman Thomas Seymour delivered a speech in which he stated, “The Administration cannot save the Union. We can. Mr. Lincoln views many things above the Union. We put the Union first of all. He thinks a (emancipation) proclamation more than peace. We think the blood of our people more precious than edicts of a president.”

Former U.S. Congressman Clement L. Vallandigham | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

The delegates adopted their party platform on the 30th. Clement L. Vallandigham, the former Ohio congressman exiled by Lincoln for encouraging men to avoid the draft, chaired the resolutions subcommittee responsible for writing the party platform. This ensured that the Peace Democrats would dictate what policies the party would embrace. It was resolved:

“That this convention does explicitly declare, as the sense of the American people, that after four years of failure to restore the Union by the experiment of war, during which, under the pretense of a military necessity, or war power higher than the Constitution, the Constitution itself has been disregarded in every part, justice, humanity, liberty, and the public welfare demand that immediate efforts be made for a cessation of hostilities, with a view to an ultimate convention of the States, or other peaceable means, to the end that at the earliest practicable moment peace may be restored on the basis of the Federal Union of the States.”

This was greatly influenced by the Peace Democrats, and it indicated that the party wanted peace above all else, including reunion. The delegation declared, “That the aim and object of the Democratic party is to preserve the Federal Union and the rights of the States unimpaired.” As such, they condemned the Republicans’ “administrative usurpation of extraordinary and dangerous powers not granted by the Constitution,” which included arresting political dissidents, implementing martial law, suspending habeas corpus, and infringing on the right to bear arms.

The delegates noted the Lincoln administration’s “shameful disregard” of “our fellow citizens who now are, and long have been, prisoners of war in a suffering condition.” This was a criticism of the administration’s refusal to exchange prisoners of war because the Confederacy would not exchange black troops. Consequently, Federal prisoners languished in overcrowded and diseased prison camps such as Andersonville.

The delegates next debated who their presidential nominee should be, with some Peace Democrats refusing to endorse any candidate “with the smell of war on his garments.” Several peace candidates were suggested, including Chairman Seymour, New York Governor Horatio Seymour, and New York Congressman Fernando Wood. Other potential candidates included L.W. Powell of Kentucky and former President Franklin Pierce.

Peace Democrats initially objected to former General-in-Chief George B. McClellan, but his backers assured them that “the General is for peace, not war… If he is nominated, he would prefer to restore the Union by peaceful means, rather than by war.” Before the convention had begun, McClellan made his views clear: “If I am elected, I will recommend an immediate armistice and a call for a convention of all the states and insist upon exhausting all and every means to secure peace without further bloodshed.”

Having written the party platform, the Peace Democrats agreed to allow the War Democrats to nominate McClellan. He received 174 votes on the first ballot, with Thomas Seymour garnering 38 and Horatio Seymour 12. Horatio Seymour announced he would not accept the nomination and was dropped. McClellan received 202 1/2 votes on the next ballot, and Vallandigham moved that his nomination be made unanimous.

Democratic campaign poster | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

To balance the ticket, George H. Pendleton of Ohio was nominated for vice president. Pendleton had opposed the war and voiced sympathy for the Confederacy. Rumors quickly spread that McClellan was so embarrassed by the peace platform that he would refuse to endorse it. But he remained the Democratic nominee nonetheless, poised to defeat his former commander-in-chief in the upcoming election.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 178-79; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 451; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 11302; 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 11543-73; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 491-92; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 653-54; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 166; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 562-64; 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. 771-72, 791; Schweikart, Larry and Allen, Michael, A Patriot’s History of the United States (New York: Penguin Books, 2004), p. 343; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 775; 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), Q364

Lincoln Predicts His Own Defeat

August 23, 1864 – President Abraham Lincoln asked his cabinet members to endorse a confidential memo acknowledging that he would probably not win the upcoming presidential election.

President Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

The continuing stalemate on nearly all military fronts emboldened Lincoln’s political enemies as the election approached. Anti-war Democrats (i.e., “Copperheads”) dreaded the prospect of Lincoln winning reelection. Prominent Copperhead Marcus M. “Brick” Pomeroy, editor of the La Crosse (Wisconsin) Democrat, published an editorial stating that if Lincoln “is elected… for another four years, we trust some bold hand will pierce his heart with dagger point for the public good.”

Lincoln also faced strong opposition from within his own party, primarily from the Radical Republicans who asserted that he had not prosecuted the war vigorously enough. On August 18, over two dozen prominent Radicals met at New York Mayor George Opdyke’s home to discuss holding a new party convention that would replace Lincoln as their nominee.

Some Radicals, such as former Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase and Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner, did not participate in the meeting, preferring instead to wait and see what the Democrats did at their convention at the end of August. Nevertheless, the attendees agreed to call for a new convention in Cincinnati on September 28 to “concentrate the union strength on some one candidate who commands the confidence of the country, even by a new nomination if necessary.”

But in a follow-up meeting in late August, the Radicals conceded “that it was useless and inexpedient to attempt to run Mr. Lincoln.” They instead proposed asking Lincoln to voluntarily step down in favor of a more Radical candidate. They also sent letters to the northern governors asking them if they believed Lincoln should be replaced. To their dismay, none did.

Meanwhile, Zachariah Chandler of Michigan worked behind the scenes to garner Radical support for Lincoln. Henry W. Davis, co-sponsor of the Wade-Davis bill and the vitriolic Wade-Davis manifesto, agreed to back Lincoln only if he ousted Postmaster General Montgomery Blair from his cabinet (Davis and Blair were bitter political rivals in Maryland). Other Radicals also hinted at possibly supporting Lincoln if he dropped Blair.

Despite this potentially new support base, the conservative Republicans who had consistently supported Lincoln still worried that he would lose the election. Party boss Thurlow Weed warned Lincoln in early August that his defeat was possible. In an interview, Lincoln acknowledged, “I cannot but feel that the weal or woe of this great nation will be decided in the approaching canvas.” Then Lincoln received a somber letter from political ally Henry J. Raymond on the morning of August 23.

In response to the growing opposition to him, Lincoln wrote a memorandum that read:

“This morning, as for some days past, it seems exceedingly probable that this Administration will not be re-elected. Then it will be my duty to so co-operate with the President elect, as to save the Union between the election and the inauguration; as he will have secured his election on such ground that he can not possibly save it afterwards.”

The growing opposition, combined with the fact that no president had been reelected since Andrew Jackson 32 years before, prompted Lincoln’s doubt. Lincoln also worried that a new president, which would most likely be a Democrat, would cancel many of his war policies. He could even seek a compromise with the South, which might include granting Confederate independence or withdrawing the Emancipation Proclamation.

Lincoln sealed the memo shut and brought it to his weekly cabinet meeting on the 23rd. He asked for the members’ endorsement by signing the back of the paper without reading it. Lincoln feared this document would spread alarm throughout the North if made public. They all signed, even though none knew that they approved Lincoln’s secret prediction of his own defeat.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 182; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 11178-90, 11268, 11313-23, 11367-78, 11696-707; 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 11511-42; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 489; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 647-48; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 554-55, 557-59; 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), Loc 55465-68

 

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 Niagara Peace Talks

July 5, 1864 – Influential newspaper editor Horace Greeley begged President Abraham Lincoln to meet with Confederate agents who were supposedly willing to discuss ways of ending the war.

The War Department had censored the press since Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant began his grand offensive in May, leading most northerners to believe that the Federals were on the verge of winning the war. But after two months, the truth could no longer be hidden. The Confederate armies had not been destroyed, neither Richmond nor Atlanta had been captured, and the horrific number of casualties sparked calls to stop the conflict.

Horace Greeley | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

This outcry was led by Greeley of the New York Tribune. Greeley wrote Lincoln that his “irrepressible friend” William “Colorado” Jewett had informed him that “two Ambassadors” representing President Jefferson Davis on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls had “full & complete powers for a peace.” Greeley pleaded with Lincoln to meet with them because:

“Confederates everywhere (are) for peace. So much is beyond doubt. And therefore I venture to remind you that our bleeding, bankrupt, almost dying country also longs for peace–shudders at the prospect of fresh conscription, of further wholesale devastations, and of new rivers of human blood. And a wide-spread conviction that the Government and its prominent supporters are not anxious for Peace, and do not improve proffered opportunities to achieve it, is doing great harm.”

Greeley wrote, “I entreat you to submit overtures for pacification to the Southern insurgents.” Lincoln believed that Greeley was being duped by Confederates seeking to stir up antiwar passions and influence the upcoming elections. In fact, Federal agents had reported that Copperheads were in direct contact with Confederate agents in Canada to try forming a Midwestern alliance with the Confederacy. This became known as the “Northwest Conspiracy.”

Nevertheless, Lincoln authorized Greeley to escort to Washington “any person anywhere professing to have any proposition of Jefferson Davis in writing, for peace, embracing the restoration of the Union and abandonment of slavery.”

Three Confederate agents arrived at Niagara Falls on the 12th–Clement C. Clay of Alabama, James Holcombe of Virginia, and Jacob Thompson of Mississippi. These men had numerous contacts among the Copperheads in the northern states, and now they communicated through Greeley to try to get the Federal government to negotiate peace.

Greeley objected to being Lincoln’s envoy, and so the president dispatched his secretary John Hay to travel with Greeley to Niagara Falls. The men delivered a message written by Lincoln and endorsed by Secretary of State William H. Seward:

“To Whom it may concern: Any proposition which embraces the restoration of peace, the integrity of the whole union, and the abandonment of slavery, and which comes by and with an authority that can control the armies now at war against the United States, will be received and considered by the Executive Government of the United States, and will be met by liberal terms on other substantial and collateral points, and the bearer or bearers thereof shall have safe conduct both ways.”

The Confederates expected Lincoln to insist on restoring the Union, but they were surprised by his insistence on ending slavery because it exceeded his Emancipation Proclamation and all congressional legislation. Lincoln added this requirement for peace knowing that the Confederates would find it unacceptable; he could then announce that he tried negotiating a settlement but the Confederacy refused.

Greeley and Hay delivered Lincoln’s message to the Confederate agents, who read it and explained that they were not prepared to negotiate a peace based on these terms because that would signify a Confederate surrender. The Confederates sent a transcript of the meeting to the Associated Press, “throw(ing) upon the Federal Government the odium of putting an end to all negotiation.”

They wrote, “If there be any citizen of the Confederate States who has clung to the hope that peace is possible,” Lincoln’s terms “will strip from their eyes the last film of such delusion.” As for “any patriots or Christians” in the North “who shrink appalled from the illimitable vistas of private misery and public calamity,” they should “recall the abused authority and vindicate the outraged civilization of their country.”

Lincoln’s message was nothing more than a political maneuver, which backfired when the anti-administration press published it and condemned him for refusing to end the carnage without freeing the slaves. Democrats railed that if Lincoln would simply abandon emancipation, the war could end. But they did not seem to understand that the Confederates would not agree to restoring the Union on any terms.

Both the Confederates and the Copperheads wanted an armistice, but for different reasons. Copperheads believed it would lead to negotiations that would ultimately bring the South back into the Union. Confederates believed it would lead to their independence, and they humored the Copperheads’ “fond delusion” of restoration as a means to their end.

The Niagara Falls meeting proved to Greeley that the Confederates would not negotiate based on either restoration or emancipation. However, the Confederates continued encouraging the antiwar movement, and the military stalemate in Virginia and Georgia made Lincoln’s reelection prospects seem increasingly bleak.

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References

Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 21727-42; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 433-34, 437; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 10930, 11089-133; 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 9717-37; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 465; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 646-47; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 533-34, 540-42; 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. 761-63, 766; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 351

The National Union Convention Adjourns

June 8, 1864 – Delegates re-nominated Abraham Lincoln for president as expected, but they opted to replace the current vice president with a Democrat supportive of the war effort.

On the second day of the National Union Convention in Baltimore’s Front Street Theater, the delegates’ first order of business was to adopt a party platform. It was drafted by Henry J. Raymond, editor of the New York Times and supporter of President Lincoln. Despite Republican pledges to unite with War Democrats, this platform was dominated by the Republican Party.

The platform included 11 planks, five of which resolved to support Lincoln’s continuing war policies, to refuse to compromise with “rebels,” to force the Confederates’ “unconditional surrender,” and to honor those “who have periled their lives in defense of their country.” The delegates especially supported the recruitment of former slaves into the army, and they called for black servicemen to receive the same protection under the law as whites.

Other planks encouraged foreign immigration, supported fiscal responsibility, urged construction of a transcontinental railroad, and approved the Lincoln administration’s stance against European monarchies interfering in the affairs of Western republics (particularly France’s invasion of Mexico).

The third plank received the most hat-waving and applause: “Resolved, That as Slavery was the cause, and now constitutes the strength, of this Rebellion… (we) demand its utter and complete extirpation from the soil of the Republic.” It called for a constitutional amendment to permanently abolish slavery.

Famed abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, on hand as a reporter for his newspaper The Liberator, reported that when the abolition plank was introduced, “the whole body of delegates sprang to their feet… in prolonged cheering. Was not a spectacle like that rich compensation for more than 30 years of personal opprobrium?”

Conspicuously, no resolution was offered either supporting or opposing Lincoln’s reconstruction plan. This was currently under heated debate in Congress, and since it was beginning to divide the Republican Party, the delegates left it alone.

The next order of business was the nomination of presidential and vice presidential candidates. To nobody’s surprise, Lincoln was nominated for a second term on the first ballot. The only dispute came when the delegates could not decide on who should introduce Lincoln as their nominee.

Lincoln won by a vote of 484 to 22. The 22 dissenting votes came from Missouri’s Radical delegation, which instead voted for Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant. This was mostly just a symbolic gesture because at the roll call, the Missourians switched their votes to make Lincoln’s nomination unanimous.

The vote for vice president was much more contentious. Incumbent Vice President Hannibal Hamlin of Maine had expressed dissatisfaction with the office over the last four years because he contributed little to administration policy. He told an associate, “I am only a fifth wheel of a coach, and can do little for my friends.” But he expected to be re-nominated regardless, especially after Lincoln had been unanimously chosen.

Many delegates backed Hamlin, but many others noted that Hamlin identified more with the New England Radicals than the new National Unionists and therefore favored a Democrat to make this a truly balanced ticket. When delegates pressed Lincoln’s secretary John Hay to make a choice on the president’s behalf, Hay showed them a message from Lincoln: “Wish not to interfere about V.P. Can not interfere about platform. Convention must judge for itself.”

Simon Cameron of Pennsylvania put forth Hamlin for re-nomination. The Kentucky delegation countered by naming Lovell H. Rousseau, and the New York delegation named Democrat Daniel S. Dickinson. Tennesseans then put forth the name of Andrew Johnson.

Johnson had defied his constituents by becoming the only southern U.S. senator who did not leave Congress when his state seceded. He was a rigid constitutionalist strongly opposed to both secession and the southern aristocracy. As military governor of Tennessee, Johnson supported abolishing slavery. He shared the Radicals’ sentiment that the “rebels” had to be severely punished for trying to form their own nation. But he also shared the conservatives’ sentiment that the president, not Congress, should administer reconstruction after the war. As such, he supported Lincoln’s “Ten Percent Plan.”

Johnson won the nomination on the first ballot with 200 votes, followed by Hamlin with 150 and Dickinson with 108. Thurlow Weed’s New York machine switched allegiance from Dickinson to put Johnson over the top. Delegates opposed to Johnson then switched their votes to make it unanimous for him.

Campaign poster | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

There were grumblings among the delegates about having a southerner on the ticket, regardless of his professed loyalty to the Union. But because the vice presidency was considered such an irrelevant position, most were happy with the compromise. Nobody seemed to consider the possibility that Lincoln might die in office, as William Henry Harrison and Zachary Taylor had done before him.

An attendee wrote that after the nominations were official, “the long pent up enthusiasms burst forth in a scene of wildest confusion,” and a band played “Hail, Columbia” and “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

The next day, a committee appointed by the National Union delegation, headed by Convention President William Dennison, traveled to Washington and personally congratulated Lincoln on his nomination. Lincoln told Dennison and the committee:

“I do not allow myself to suppose that (the delegates) have concluded to decide that I am either the greatest or best man in America, but rather they have concluded it is not best to swap horses while crossing the river, and have further concluded that I am not so poor a horse that they might not make a botch of it in trying to swap.”

Regarding the resolution calling for abolishing slavery, Lincoln said that those who joined the Confederacy once had a chance to come back to the Union without “the overthrow of their institution,” but that chance was now gone. The president concluded by saying he would not officially accept the nomination “before reading and considering what is called the Platform.”

Lincoln also met with members of the Union League, who endorsed the nominees and platform of the National Union Convention (even though the League would have preferred a more punitive stance against the Confederacy, especially regarding the confiscation of southern property). Lincoln told the members, “I will neither conceal my gratification, nor restrain the expression of my gratitude, that the Union people, through their convention… have deemed me not unworthy to remain in my present position.”

Reiterating his support for abolishing slavery, Lincoln said that “such amendment of the Constitution as now proposed became a fitting, and necessary conclusion to the final success of the Union cause.” He then recalled a “story of an old Dutch farmer, who remarked to a companion once that ‘it was not best to swap horses when crossing streams.’”

That night, an Ohio delegation with a brass band serenaded the president at the White House. Lincoln responded, “What we want, still more than Baltimore conventions or presidential elections, is success under General Grant.” He asked the serenaders to give three cheers for Grant and “the brave officers and soldiers in the field.”

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 172; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 421; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 10758-69, 10790, 10974; 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 7960-70; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 452; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 621-25; Hoffsommer, Richard D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 333-34; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 517-18; 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. 716; 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

The National Union Convention Assembles

June 7, 1864 – Republicans and some Democrats supporting the war effort gathered at Baltimore’s Front Street Theater on the first day of a convention to decide who would be the presidential and vice presidential candidates in the upcoming national election.

Delegates to this convention mostly represented the conservative faction of the Republican Party, and they invited War Democrats to join them. To promote this new political unification, the delegates changed their name to the National Union Party, and this became known as the National Union Convention.

President Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

To many at this gathering, re-nominating President Abraham Lincoln was a foregone conclusion. But he had not always been such an easy choice. Radical Republicans were so dissatisfied with Lincoln’s leniency toward the South and his moderation on freeing slaves that they had backed Lincoln’s treasury secretary, Salmon P. Chase, to run against him. When Chase dropped out, some Radicals formed their own convention and nominated John C. Fremont, the Republican nominee in 1856, to run again.

Lincoln was also unpopular among many conservative Republicans and War Democrats for his inability after four years to conquer the Confederacy. They noted that history was against him as well: the last incumbent to win reelection to the presidency was Andrew Jackson, 28 years before. Martin Van Buren was the last incumbent to be re-nominated by his party; he then lost the 1840 election.

But by this month, most Republicans had come to accept that Lincoln was the best choice, if only grudgingly. Even so, there was still a small number of delegates at this convention who hoped for a deadlock so they could offer a compromise candidate such as Chase, or even Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant.

Lincoln sent his secretaries John Nicolay and John Hay to represent him at the convention. Nicolay noted that this was “almost too passive to be interesting–certainly… not at all exciting as it was at Chicago” in 1860, where Lincoln was first nominated. The lack of enthusiasm was largely attributable to the recent news of the horrible battle losses in Virginia. But it also had to do with a lack of suspense, as Hay said that “death alone could have prevented the choice of Mr. Lincoln by the Union Convention.”

Senator Edwin D. Morgan of New York, chairman of the National Union Executive Committee, opened the convention with a speech that included a call to “declare for such an amendment of the Constitution as will positively prohibit African slavery in the United States.” Lincoln had quietly urged the convention to support this measure, which undercut the Radical convention by co-opting its top issue. This was loudly cheered.

Morgan reminded the attendees of the first Republican convention in 1856 and the subsequent election loss. But then, “in 1860 the party banner was again unfurled, with the names of Abraham Lincoln and Hannibal Hamlin inscribed thereon. This time it was successful; but with success came the rebellion, and with the rebellion, of course, war, and war, terrible and cruel war, has continued up to the present time, when it is necessary, under our Constitution, to prepare for another Presidential election.”

Morgan declared, “Does any one doubt that this convention intends to say that Abraham Lincoln shall be the nominee?” The correspondent for the New York Times, a pro-Lincoln newspaper, wrote that the audience erupted in “great applause.”

Other speakers on this first day made it clear that this was not the third Republican convention, but rather the first National Union convention. The prevailing theme was that Republicans and War Democrats were putting up a united front against Radicals, Peace Democrats, and Confederates to select a presidential candidate dedicated to winning the war.

In all, over 500 delegates representing 25 states and the territories of Nebraska and Colorado attended this convention. They allowed the admittance of delegates from Tennessee, Louisiana, and Arkansas, three states reconstructed according to Lincoln’s controversial “Ten Percent Plan.” Unionists representing just 10 percent of the voting population selected the delegates in these states.

Missouri sent two rival delegations, one elected by the state’s Radical Union Convention, and one elected by the state’s Unconditional Union Party. The attendees voted 440 to 4 to seat the Radical delegation and expel the conservatives.

Conventions in many western states, most notably California, Iowa, and Wisconsin, elected delegates loyal to Lincoln. Simon Cameron, Lincoln’s disgraced former secretary of war, used his influence as Pennsylvania political boss to pack his state’s delegation with Federal employees who owed their jobs to Lincoln. New York boss Thurlow Weed persuaded his state’s 66 delegates to back Lincoln.

The entire 24-man Massachusetts delegation pledged to nominate Lincoln, despite opposition from influential abolitionist Wendell Phillips and Governor John Andrew. Delegates from Salmon Chase’s home state of Ohio rejected publicly supporting Chase and instead backed Lincoln, mainly because they were all “aspirants for Congress, who expect Administration favor.”

Meanwhile, Democrats had scheduled their convention to begin on the 7th as well, but they postponed it until late summer. Since it appeared that the Federal armies were stalling throughout the South, the Democrats wanted to wait until northern dissatisfaction with the war’s developments worked to their advantage.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 172; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 10681-91, 10724-47; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 451; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 621-25; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 166; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 516-17; 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. 716; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 320; White, Howard Ray (2012-12-18). Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks. Kindle Edition), Q264