Tag Archives: Democratic Party

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

The Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction

December 9, 1863 – President Abraham Lincoln outlined a plan to bring the Confederate states back into the Union. This was part of his effort to exacerbate political dissension in the Confederacy while uniting the factions within his own Republican Party.

As the Confederacy seemed about to collapse, Federal politicians began considering how the post-war South should be administered. By this time, three clear plans had taken shape in Congress:

  • Democrats supported canceling the Emancipation Proclamation and offering general amnesty to all Confederates if they agreed to return to the Union; once returned, they could send representation to Congress and all would continue as it did before the war.
  • Conservative Republicans supported upholding the Emancipation Proclamation and offering conditional amnesty, with the Confederate states sending representation to Congress only after certain conditions were met, including accepting black freedom.
  • Radical Republicans supported upholding the Emancipation Proclamation and revoking the civil rights of those who supported the Confederacy; the states would be treated as conquered territories and brought back into the Union after several conditions were met, including accepting both black freedom and equality.

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

As the leader of the conservative faction, Lincoln proclaimed, “Whereas it is now desired by some persons heretofore engaged in said rebellion to resume their allegiance to the United States, and to reinaugrate loyal State governments,” he offered a “full pardon” to those who “directly or by implication, participated in the existing rebellion” if they swore loyalty to the Union and promised to obey Federal laws.

Those excluded from the pardons included high-ranking Confederates, officers who relinquished U.S. military commissions to join the Confederacy, and those who treated Federal soldiers “otherwise than lawfully as prisoners of war.” Those receiving a pardon would have all their property rights restored, “except as to slaves.” The decree also included Lincoln’s proposed policy on converting slavery into free labor in the South:

“Any provision which may be adopted… in relation to the freed people (by the new state governments), which shall recognize and declare their permanent freedom, provide for their education, and which may yet be consistent, as a temporary arrangement, with their present condition as a laboring, landless, and homeless class, will not be objected to by the national Executive.”

Lincoln’s proclamation also included what became known as the “Ten Percent Plan,” which proposed that if 10 percent of a state’s registered voters (according to the 1860 census) swore loyalty to the Union and recognized the “permanent freedom of slaves,” then those voters could form a new government and send Federal representation to Washington. It would then be for Congress to decide whether to seat those new representatives in the House and Senate.

This marked a significant political shift for Lincoln. When the war began, he argued that the rebellion consisted of a small minority who did not represent the majority of southern sentiment. But by proposing the “Ten Percent Plan,” he acknowledged that 90 percent of every Confederate state constituency most likely wanted no part of reunion. As such, harsher measures would be needed to bring their states back into the Union and ensure that their leaders would be loyal.

Democrats were the plan’s loudest critics. They argued that it violated the Constitution’s guarantee that each state have a republican form of government since 10 percent of a state’s voters would be dictating how the remaining 90 percent should be governed. They also noted that since no Confederate state would likely have a 10 percent loyalty rate, that percentage would be made up of former slaves and northerners migrating to the states. Moreover, forcing people to swear allegiance to the government violated the principle stated in the Declaration of Independence that government “derives its just powers from the consent of the governed.”

The pro-Democrat New York World pointed out that “By setting up… State governments, representing one-tenth of the voters, in Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennessee and North Carolina,” the Lincoln administration “could control as many electoral votes as may be needed to turn the scale” in next year’s presidential election. Democratic New York Governor Horatio Seymour argued that this plan would give 70,000 voters in the southern states just as many votes in the Electoral College as 16 million voters in Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, and Wisconsin.

But this proclamation was not intended to satisfy the minority Democrats; it was intended to appease both Radicals and conservatives within the Republican Party. Radicals supported the demands that Confederates swear loyalty to the Union and acknowledge the end of slavery. Conservatives supported the “Ten Percent Plan” because it undermined Radical ideas to reorganize southern states as conquered territories.

Radicals favored disqualifying anybody with Confederate sympathies from voting, along with any southern professional who lacked Union sympathies. Radicals also insisted that all slaves should be immediately freed without compensation to slaveholders, and that newly freed slaves should be allowed to vote in some cases. They also argued that Congress, not the president, had the constitutional authority to restore the Union.

Conservatives argued that most southerners owned no slaves and had not voted to secede, and thus should not be penalized for merely fighting to defend their homes. Lincoln saw revoking emancipation as a “cruel and an astounding breach of faith,” but he also saw no reason to further punish the South since both sides had been so terribly punished by the war itself.

Behind the conflict between Radicals and conservatives was a growing conflict between Lincoln and Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase. While Lincoln was largely viewed as the conservative leader of the Republican Party, Chase aspired to replace him as president in 1864, and thus he was supported by most Radicals.

However, some Radicals voiced support for Lincoln’s plan, including influential Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts. Sumner said that Lincoln’s proclamation gave him “great satisfaction” because it touched upon “his idea of proper reconstruction without insisting on the adoption of his peculiar theories.” And Joseph Medill, editor of the pro-Radical Chicago Tribune, wrote that the “political future begins to look clear,” and stated that this decree proved there was only one politician “in whom the nation more and more confides–Abraham Lincoln.”

Newspapers critical of Lincoln’s proclamation included the New York Journal of Commerce, which called it a “ukase from the chambers of an autocrat,” and the Chicago Times, which contended that Lincoln was either “insane with fanaticism, or a traitor who glories in his country’s shame.”

However, the pro-Democrat New York World praised the decree because it canceled out the “abolition plan of Senator (Charles) Sumner” (i.e., the Radical plan to immediately free all slaves and punish all Confederates). The influential Blair family, representing the conservative Republicans, also commended it because it canceled “Sumner’s and Chase’s territorial project.”

Despite the rift between the two Republican factions, Lincoln’s proclamation temporarily united the party by offering concessions to both sides. Lincoln also assured members of Congress that he would be willing to change the plan to suit future events if necessary. Furthermore, it threatened to disrupt Confederate politics by enticing some southerners to push for restoring the Union under this plan. This marked the first significant Federal step toward restoring the Union.

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References

Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 16790, 16807-33; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 9950-71, 10048-72; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 382; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 563-64, 588-89; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 444-45; 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. 698, 709; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 618; 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), Q463

Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Message to Congress

December 8, 1863 – The first session of the Thirty-Eighth U.S. Congress assembled in Washington and received President Abraham Lincoln’s annual message.

U.S. Capitol Building under construction | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

In this new Congress, Republicans held majorities in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. However, Democrats had made substantial gains due to their victories in the mid-term elections of November 1862. Also, the Republicans were becoming increasingly split between the Radicals (those who sought harsh subjugation of the South) and the conservatives (those who sought a more conciliatory conquest of the South).

The first order of business in the House was to elect a new speaker, as the previous speaker, Republican Galusha Grow of Pennsylvania, had been voted out of office. The Radicals supported Schuyler Colfax, but the conservatives resisted; Lincoln led the conservatives in deeming Colfax “a little intriguer–plausible but not trustworthy.”

Lincoln and the conservatives looked for someone who could unify not only the Republican Party, but also ally with pro-war Democrats to form a “National Union” party dedicated to winning the war. As such, Lincoln supported Francis P. Blair, Jr., scion of the famous Blair political family (brother Montgomery Blair was Lincoln’s postmaster general). However, Blair had left politics to become a general in the Army of the Tennessee.

The conservatives next looked to Elihu Washburne of Illinois, but Washburne could not garner enough support in the House to make an effective run. Lincoln then sought a compromise by meeting with Colfax and having him pledge to stay neutral in the upcoming debates between the Radicals and conservatives. With Lincoln’s backing, Colfax became the House speaker.

Members quickly submitted resolutions calling for a constitutional amendment permanently abolishing slavery, and debate opened later this month. Congress approved a resolution thanking Major General Ulysses S. Grant for his recent military victories and creating a gold medal in his honor. Washburne introduced a bill reinstating the army rank of lieutenant general, which had previously been held only by George Washington and Winfield Scott (Scott’s was a brevet rank). Washburne, one of Grant’s biggest supporters, clearly had Grant in mind for this new rank.

President Lincoln’s annual message to Congress was read in both chambers on the 8th. The opening included summaries of the reports submitted by the cabinet officers. Lincoln stated that foreign relations were peaceful: “The efforts of disloyal citizens of the United States to involve us in foreign wars, to aid an inexcusable insurrection, have been unavailing.”

He heralded a recent treaty signed with Great Britain ending the African slave trade between the two nations: “That inhuman and odious traffic has been brought to an end.” After noting affairs in other countries, he turned to the territories. Although “Indian disturbances in New Mexico have not been entirely suppressed,” Native American relations seemed stable following last year’s Sioux uprising. Lincoln expressed support for negotiating treaties–

“… extinguishing the possessory rights of the Indians to large and valuable tracts of land. It is hoped that the effect of these treaties will result in the establishment of permanent friendly relations with such of these tribes as have been brought into frequent and bloody collision with our outlying settlements and emigrants.”

Turning to the northern home front, Lincoln stated that those “dark and doubtful days” of a year ago had given way to a more hopeful time. He explained:

“The rebel borders are pressed still farther back, and by the complete opening of the Mississippi the country dominated by the rebellion is divided into distinct parts, with no practical communication between them. Tennessee and Arkansas have been substantially cleared of insurgent control, and influential citizens in each, owners of slaves and advocates of slavery at the beginning of the rebellion, now declare openly for emancipation in their respective States. Of those States not included in the emancipation proclamation, Maryland, and Missouri, neither of which three years ago would tolerate any restraint upon the extension of slavery into new territories, only dispute now as to the best mode of removing it within their own limits.”

The president reported:

“Of those who were slaves at the beginning of the rebellion, full 100,000 are now in the United States military service, about one-half of which number actually bear arms in the ranks; thus giving the double advantage of taking so much labor from the insurgent cause, and supplying the places which otherwise must be filled with so many white men.”

Lincoln lauded the fact that, contrary to southern fears, “no servile insurrection, or tendency to violence or cruelty, has marked the measures of emancipation and arming the blacks.” Unlike the previous year’s message, Lincoln did not reiterate any support or plans for colonizing blacks outside the U.S. This indicated the administration’s shift from deportation to emancipation.

Lincoln asserted that the recent state elections were “highly encouraging” in terms of war policy. As such, “we have the new reckoning. The crisis which threatened to divide the friends of the Union (i.e., Radicals, conservatives, and War Democrats) is past.”

He also announced that he would issue a proclamation related to bringing the Confederate states back into the Union, which he attached to his annual message. He provided a summary of this proclamation, which would be released to the public the next day. Lincoln concluded:

“Hence our chiefest care must still be directed to the Army and Navy, who have thus far borne their harder part so nobly and well; and it may be esteemed fortunate that in giving the greatest efficiency to these indispensable arms we do also honorably recognize the gallant men, from commander to sentinel, who compose them, and to whom more than to others the world must stand indebted for the home of freedom disenthralled, regenerated, enlarged, and perpetuated.”

The president omitted several items that other politicians thought worth noting. He did not touch upon his establishment of the first national Thanksgiving holiday, he did not note the significance of completing construction on the U.S. Capitol dome, and he did not mention the important role blacks were playing in turning the tide of the war.

Opposition newspapers naturally criticized Lincoln’s message. However, Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune declared that no message since George Washington’s had “given such general satisfaction.” The press would be even more vocal both for and against Lincoln when he issued his proclamation on restoring the Union the next day.

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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. 429; Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 211; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 351; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 9939-50, 9994-10037, 10048-72; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 381; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 590; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 443-45; 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. 688; 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), Q463

The 1863 Northern State Elections

October 13, 1863 – Various northern states held elections for local and state offices. Since these states were considered crucial to the war effort, President Abraham Lincoln anxiously awaited the results.

Elections for governors and state legislatures took place in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Iowa. Democrats had made gains in these states in last year’s Federal elections, and Lincoln worried that the voters might go against his Republican Party again this year. More Democratic victories would indicate that the people were tiring of the way Lincoln was handling the war.

Republicans entered these contests with some momentum thanks to recent military victories, including news that Federal forces had reinforced the Army of the Cumberland at Chattanooga. But Democrats railed against Lincoln’s war policies, including his suppression of civil liberties and enforcement of conscription. They also warned workers that Lincoln’s commitment to emancipation could mean that freed slaves might come north and compete for their jobs.

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

In Ohio, Republicans feared defeat so much that they joined forces with pro-war Democrats to form a “Union” ticket and nominate Democrat John Brough for governor. Brough was opposed by Clement L. Vallandigham, the Copperhead whom Lincoln had banished from the U.S. for encouraging people to oppose the war effort. While exiled in Windsor, Canada, Vallandigham campaigned for “peace at any price,” even if it meant granting Confederate independence.

Lincoln told Navy Secretary Gideon Welles that Ohio caused him “more anxiety… than he had in 1860 when he was chosen” president. Lincoln furloughed Federal employees and soldiers from that state so they could go home and vote, presumably for Republican and “Union” candidates. Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase, a former Ohio governor, left his post to campaign in his home state. Republicans Governors Oliver P. Morton of Indiana and Richard Yates of Illinois also campaigned in Ohio.

In Pennsylvania, staunch Republican Unionist Andrew Curtin ran for reelection. His opponent was Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice George W. Woodward. Republicans re-published Woodward’s statements prior to the war, which included, “Slavery was intended as a special blessing to the people of the United States,” and, “Secession is not disloyalty” because Lincoln’s election forced the southern states to leave.

Woodward also wrote, “I cannot in justice condemn the South for withdrawing… I wish Pennsylvania could go with them.” Although he had two sons serving in the Army of the Potomac, Woodward had ruled the Enrollment Act unconstitutional in his state. George B. McClellan, the still-popular former general-in-chief, wrote that if he lived in Pennsylvania, he would “give to Judge Woodward my voice and my vote.”

Democrats rallied for the possibility of Woodward and Vallandigham allying with Democrat New York Governor Horatio Seymour “in calling from the army troops from their respective States for the purpose of compelling the Administration to invite a convention of the States to adjust our difficulties.”

In response, Chase warned business leaders who reaped financial rewards from the administration’s fiscal policies, “Gov. Curtin’s reelection or defeat is now the success or defeat of the administration of President Lincoln.” At Curtin’s request, Lincoln granted leaves of absence and 15-day railroad passes to Federal employees from Pennsylvania so they could come home and vote. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton also granted furloughs to Pennsylvania soldiers so they could “vote as they shot.”

To Lincoln’s relief, Chase telegraphed from Ohio that Vallandigham’s defeat was “complete, beyond all hopes.” Brough won a 57-percent majority, or 100,000 more popular votes than Vallandigham (288,000 to 187,000). Soldiers overwhelmingly favored Brough, 41,000 to 2,000. When Lincoln received news of this victory, he telegraphed, “Glory to God in the highest, Ohio has saved the Nation.”

Curtin also won reelection in Pennsylvania, but just by 51.5 percent, or 15,000 votes. The soldier turnout was much smaller than Ohio, largely because Woodward’s court had ruled that soldiers could not vote outside their home districts. Nevertheless, Curtin’s jubilant campaign managers wired Lincoln, “Pennsylvania stands by you, keeping step with Maine and California to the music of the Union.”

Iowa officials reported that the Republicans had “swept the state overwhelmingly,” and pro-administration candidates made gains in Indiana as well. Ultimately, anti-war Democrats calling the war a failure and seeking peaceful coexistence with the Confederacy alienated their pro-war counterparts, who aligned with Republicans in supporting preservation of the Union at all costs.

Republicans credited these victories partly to letters Lincoln had written defending his war policies to Erastus Corning and John Birchard in June, and to Governor Seymour in August. His letters were later published as a pamphlet titled, “The Letters of President Lincoln on Questions of National Policy,” that sold for eight cents. This election made Lincoln more popular than ever in the North, and it emboldened him to continue his efforts to destroy the Confederacy.

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References

Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 333; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 9649-60, 9727-38; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 828; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 359-60; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 573-75; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 421; 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. 684-88; 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), Q463

The Springfield National Union Rally

September 3, 1863 – At least 50,000 people attended a rally in President Abraham Lincoln’s hometown of Springfield, Illinois, in support of Lincoln and his war policies.

In June, Illinois Democrats had staged an enormous protest demonstration in Springfield. Many anti-war Copperheads attended the event, and passionate orators stirred the crowd into a near frenzy as they called for an immediate cease-fire and peace negotiations with the Confederacy. Participants approved resolutions calling for “the restoration of the Union as it was” and opposed “further offensive prosecution of the war.”

“Unconditional Union Men” countered that rally with one of their own “in favor of law and order and constitutional government.” Leaders formed an organizing committee for the event, which called itself the “National Union” party and included not only Republicans, but pro-war Democrats as well. Hoping to build momentum for the upcoming elections and draw more people than the Copperheads in June, the committee invited Lincoln to attend in person.

Committee chairman James C. Conkling wrote the president assuring him “that not only would the thousands who will be here be prepared to receive you with the warmest enthusiasm but the whole country would be eager to extend to you its congratulations on the way.” Knowing that Lincoln was fully aware of his dwindling popularity in his home state, Conkling warned, “The Presidential campaign for your successor (if any) has already commenced in Illinois.”

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

Lincoln declined to attend, citing war demands. However, he sent a letter to Conkling and asked that it be read to the audience and published in the newspapers. Lincoln instructed, “Read it very slowly.” The letter was intended to appeal to the pro-war and pro-administration people expected to attend the event.

Lincoln thanked those “whom no partizan malice, or partizan hope, can make false to the nation’s life.” He then responded to the Copperhead calls for an immediate end to the war by stating that, in his mind, there were just “three conceivable ways” to restore peace:

  • Destroying the Confederacy
  • Acknowledging Confederate independence
  • Negotiating some kind of compromise

Regarding the first option, Lincoln wrote, “This I am trying to do. Are you for it? If you are, so far we are agreed.” For the second, he wrote, “I am against this. Are you for it? If you are, you should say so plainly.” And for the third, he wrote, “I do not believe any compromise, embracing the maintenance of the Union, is now possible. All I learn leads to a directly opposite belief.”

Copperhead charges that Lincoln opposed “peace through compromise” were “deceptive and groundless.” Ignoring the Confederates’ unofficial attempt to discuss peace in July, Lincoln stated that he had received “no word or intimation . . . in relation to any peace compromise.”

Lincoln then wrote about emancipation, a highly sensitive issue in Illinois. He justified his Emancipation Proclamation by arguing, “I think the constitution invests its commander-in-chief, with the law of war, in time of war.” Addressing Illinoisans who refused to fight for slave liberation, Lincoln stated:

“You say you will not fight to free negroes. Some of them seem willing to fight for you; but no matter. Fight you, then, exclusive to save the Union. I issued the Proclamation on purpose to aid you in saving the Union… But negroes, like other people, act upon motives. Why should they do anything for us if we will do nothing for them? If they stake their lives for us, they must be prompted by the strongest motive–even the promise of freedom. And the promise, being made, must be kept.”

Lincoln warned that when the war ended, “there will be some black men who can remember that, with silent tongue, and clenched teeth, and steady eye, and well-poised bayonet, they have helped mankind on to this great consummation; while, I fear, there will be some white ones, unable to forget that, with malignant heart, and deceitful speech, they have strove to hinder it.”

The president optimistically concluded, “Peace does not appear so distant as it did,” as the “signs look better” for a Federal victory. Noting that the Federals now controlled the Mississippi River, “The Father of Waters again goes unvexed to the sea. Thanks to the great North-West for it… Thanks to all, for the great republic–for the principle it lives by, and keeps alive—for man’s vast future, –thanks to all.”

This letter was positively received by the audience at Springfield, as well as most other northerners who supported the war effort. For the first time, Lincoln equated emancipation with preserving the Union, thus implying that those who opposed freeing slaves must therefore oppose the war. This did much to gain support for Republicans in the upcoming state elections.

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References

Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 9671-9705; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011-01-26), p. 639-40; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 344; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 401; 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. 686-87; 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), Q363

The Vallandigham Affair Continues

June 11, 1863 – Exiled Copperhead Clement L. Vallandigham was nominated to run for governor of Ohio, and President Abraham Lincoln issued a response to those protesting his abuse of civil liberties.

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

Lincoln had banished Vallandigham to the South last month after Vallandigham had delivered incendiary speeches condemning the administration’s war policies and encouraging others to oppose the war effort. After Federal authorities escorted Vallandigham to Tennessee, President Jefferson Davis directed Confederate officials to consider the former Ohio congressman an “alien enemy” and send him to Wilmington, North Carolina.

In the North, Vallandigham continued enjoying widespread support for his opposition to the war, as more and more people joined the Copperheads in calling for negotiating a peace with the Confederacy. Delegates to the Ohio Democratic convention nominated Vallandigham for governor, despite his banishment, by a vote of 411 to 11.

Davis wanted nothing to do with Vallandigham, then under guard at Wilmington. He feared that sheltering Vallandigham would discredit the northern peace movement, which the Confederacy actively supported. Davis told Vallandigham to either reject the nomination or leave the South. Vallandigham chose the latter, and in mid-June, Confederates shipped him to Bermuda. He was later sent to Canada, where he ran for governor while in exile.

Meanwhile, protests of Lincoln’s handling of the Vallandigham affair continued. A delegation of New York Democrats led by Erastus Corning had adopted resolutions condemning the military suppression of civil liberties. Lincoln drafted a response and read it to his cabinet before sending it to the New Yorkers. Navy Secretary Gideon Welles remarked, “It has vigor and ability and with some corrections will be a strong paper.” Lincoln sent the letter and had a copy printed in the New York Tribune, titled, “Letter to Erastus Corning, et al.”

Lincoln began by praising the delegation for their “eminently patriotic” vow to uphold the Union and support the administration’s prosecution of the war as long as it remained within constitutional boundaries. While Lincoln conceded that military arrests of civilians would be unconstitutional in peacetime, he noted that the Constitution allowed for the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus “in cases of Rebellion or Invasion,” when “the public Safety may require it.”

The president argued that “public Safety” required the suspension because the country indeed faced a “clear, flagrant, and gigantic” rebellion. According to Lincoln, this “giant rebellion” had stretched into the northern states, where “under cover of ‘liberty of speech,’ ‘liberty of the press,’ and ‘Habeas corpus,’ (the rebels) hoped to keep on foot amongst us a most efficient corps of spies, informers, suppliers, and aiders and abettors of their cause.”

This brought the war to the home front, and this required military intervention because civil courts were “utterly incompetent” to address such subversion. Lincoln explained that being “Thoroughly imbued with a reverence for the guaranteed rights of individuals,” he had been “slow to adopt the strong measures” such as military suppression, and he guessed that a time would come “when I shall be blamed for having made too few arrests rather than too many.”

Lincoln rejected the argument that Vallandigham had been arrested “for no other reason than words addressed to a public meeting.” He wrote that Vallandigham had been arrested “because he was laboring, with some effect, to prevent the raising of troops (and) to encourage desertions… He was damaging the army, upon the existence and vigor of which the life of the nation depends.” The president then posed a rhetorical question to prove his point:

“Must I shoot a simple-minded soldier boy who deserts, while I must not touch a hair of a wily agitator who induces him to desert?… I think that in such a case to silence the agitator and save the boy is not only constitutional, but withal a great mercy.”

Lincoln disagreed with the New Yorkers’ resolution that military suppression during war would lead to limits on personal freedoms in peace. He wrote that he could no more accept this premise “than I am able to believe that a man could contract so strong an appetite for emetics during temporary illness, as to persist in feeding upon them through the remainder of his healthful life.”

Nearly 10 million people ultimately read this letter, which proved vastly popular among Republicans and other champions of the war effort. The Loyal Publication Society printed and distributed 500,000 copies, with many politicians using it for their campaigns.

Lincoln followed up this letter with one to Matthew Birchard, leading delegate to the Ohio Democratic Convention that nominated Vallandigham for governor. This was a response to Birchard and others coming to Washington to protest Vallandigham’s banishment. Lincoln wrote this letter at the urging of Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase, a former Ohio governor who was familiar with the state’s politics.

Unlike Lincoln’s first letter, this one was much more scathing. He accused Vallandigham of being responsible “personally, in a greater degree than… any other one man” for desertions, draft evasions, and terrorism against Unionists. Nominating him for governor encouraged “desertion, resistance to the draft and the like.”

Lincoln pledged to revoke Vallandigham’s banishment if each Ohio delegate pledged to “do all he can to have the officers, soldiers, and seamen of the army and navy… paid, fed, clad, and otherwise well provided and supported.” The delegates called such an ultimatum a “sacrifice of their dignity and self-respect,” and refused. Vallandigham’s banishment continued, as did military arrests in the northern states.

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References

Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 290, 294; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 9361-419; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 304, 308; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 524-25; Historical Times Encyclopedia Of The Civil War (2010, retrieved 6/4/2012); Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 361, 364-65; 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. 598; Porter, George Henry, Ohio Politics During the Civil War Period (New York: 1911), p. 167; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 775; Vallandigham, James L., A Life of Clement L. Vallandigham (Baltimore, MD: Turnbull Brothers, 1872), p. 293-95; 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), Q263

Dissension on the Northern Home Front

April 13, 1863 – Calls for peace grew louder in the North, especially among Democrats known as “Copperheads.” The military responded with draconian orders against civilian protest.

The military Department of the Ohio, which included the region west of the Alleghenies and north of the Ohio River, was heavily populated by Copperheads, or northerners who opposed the war. Their nickname was derived from their practice of wearing copper pennies in their lapels. Copperheads were also known as “Peace Democrats” or “Butternuts” for the color of some Confederate uniforms.

Copperheads owned many influential newspapers such as the Chicago Times, the New York Journal of Commerce, and the Metropolitan Record, the official Catholic newspaper in New York City. They often used these newspapers to publish articles criticizing the Lincoln administration, the war, and emancipation.

Maj Gen A.E. Burnside | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Copperheads often held massive rallies to oppose the Lincoln administration’s disregard for civil liberties; some even supported Federal defeat in the war. Major General Ambrose E. Burnside, commander of the Department of the Ohio, sought to silence the Copperheads by issuing General Order No. 38:

“That, hereafter, all persons found within our lines who commit acts for the benefit of the enemies of our country will be tried as spies or traitors, and, if convicted, will suffer death. The habit of declaring sympathies for the enemy will no longer be tolerated in this department. Persons committing such offenses will be at once arrested, with a view to being tried as above stated, or sent beyond our lines into the lines of their friends. It must be distinctly understood that treason, expressed or implied, will not be tolerated in this department.”

Burnside’s order was based on President Abraham Lincoln’s suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, which sanctioned arresting suspected Copperheads and holding them in military prisons without trial. While Burnside hoped to stop opposition, he actually galvanized the opposition into taking more forceful action against the war.

In contrast, Republicans and Unionists encouraged supporters to join the various “Union Leagues” forming throughout the North. The Union League of America (ULA) had been formed in 1862 to instill patriotism and offset the growing dissent among northerners. By this month, pro-Republican editor Joseph Medill of the Chicago Tribune claimed there were more than 75,000 Union League members in Illinois alone.

The Union Leagues had secret rituals, oaths, and signals, and they were often financed by the Republican Party. In turn, they worked to persuade voters to support Republican candidates and policies. Copperheads accused them of brainwashing the public and joked that “ULA” stood for “Uncle Lincoln’s Asses.”

The Copperhead influence was put to the test in state elections held this month. In Connecticut, former Governor Thomas H. Seymour, a Copperhead sympathizer, challenged the incumbent, William A. Buckingham, on a platform opposed to suppression of civil liberties, emancipation, and conscription. New Hampshire Democrats also nominated a Copperhead sympathizer for governor.

Lincoln arranged for Republican political boss Thurlow Weed to raise $15,000 among New York financiers to back Republican campaigns in both states, as well as Rhode Island. The War Department also gave furloughs to troops from these states so they could go home and vote, ostensibly for Republicans. Consequently, the Republicans won all three states, but not by landslides. Buckingham won only 52 percent of the vote, and only the presence of a third-party War Democrat tipped the New Hampshire election to the Republican candidate.

The Copperhead influence would become stronger as people gradually tired of the ongoing war.

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References

Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 19957-66; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 279; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 772; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 632; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 280; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 505; Lindsey, David, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 159; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 334-35, 337-38; 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. 599; 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), Q263

Final Legislation of the 37th U.S. Congress

March 3, 1863 – President Abraham Lincoln reviewed several bills and signed many into law as the lame-duck session of the Thirty-seventh U.S. Congress ended.

U.S. Capitol Building under construction | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

A measure was approved authorizing the president to appoint four major generals and nine brigadiers for the Regular Army, as well as 40 major generals and 200 brigadiers for the volunteer army. Thirty-three ranking Federal officers were dismissed from the military for various offenses. Other military measures included:

  • Authorizing the Medal of Honor for army soldiers; previously the Medal was only awarded to navy personnel
  • Appointing financier Jay Cooke to lead the effort to sell war bonds

Lincoln vetoed a bill authorizing letters of marque against ships transporting goods to or from the Confederacy. Senator Charles Sumner, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, opposed this measure because allowing Federal privateers (i.e., “rovers of the sea”) to confront neutral ships suspected of working with the Confederacy would “involve us with the great neutral powers of the world.” Sumner also resented that Secretary of State William H. Seward, who supported this bill, bypassed Sumner to push it through Congress. Lincoln sided with Sumner in vetoing the measure.

Lincoln approved the following finance-related measures:

  • Establishing the means to prevent and punish revenue fraud
  • Authorizing the Treasury Department to collect all cotton, tobacco, rice, and sugar captured by Federal forces in Confederate states
  • Loaning the Federal government $300 million this year and $600 million next year
  • Replacing postage stamp currency with $50 million in greenbacks

General legislation approved by Lincoln included:

  • Increasing the number of Supreme Court justices to 10
  • Establishing the Idaho Territory (present-day Idaho and parts of Montana and Wyoming, taken from parts of the Washington and Dakota territories)
  • Establishing the National Academy of Sciences

Under the Habeas Corpus Act, Congress sanctioned Lincoln’s suspension of the writ of habeas corpus in September by authorizing, “That during the present rebellion, the President of the United States, whenever in his judgment the public safety may require it, is authorized to suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in any case throughout the United States, or any part thereof.”

This retroactive congressional approval shifted the power over suspending the writ from Congress to the president. It also overrode the ruling by U.S. Chief Justice Roger B. Taney in Ex Parte Merryman (1861), which declared that the Constitution only empowered Congress, not the president, to suspend habeas corpus.

The act also canceled state court rulings by exempting Federal military officers from being sued for violating civil liberties: “It shall then be the duty of the State court to accept the surety (of the Federal court ruling on the matter) and proceed no further in the cause or prosecution, and the bail that shall have been originally taken shall be discharged.” To balance this provision, Federal officers were required to report all arrests made to the Federal judges presiding over the jurisdiction. Nevertheless, this led to a large increase in military arrests in the northern states.

This law drew intense opposition from the minority Democrats. Senator Willard Saulsbury of Delaware delivered a scathing (and possibly drunken) speech on the Senate floor in which he called Lincoln “an imbecile” who was “the weakest man ever placed in a high office.” Vice President Hannibal Hamlin, presiding over the Senate, called upon the sergeant-at-arms to subdue Saulsbury when he refused to yield; Saulsbury threatened the officer to “shoot you dead.”

Most Democrats in Congress, especially the Peace Democrats or “Copperheads,” vigorously opposed all these measures enacted by the Republican majority. War Democrats argued that the war-related measures went beyond merely defeating the Confederacy by violating civil liberties, inflating the size of the Supreme Court (thus assuring a Republican majority on the bench), and nationalizing institutions such as banking.

Some Democrats hid in cloakrooms to prevent a quorum when voting on key measures, others added outrageous amendments to bills, and some senators filibustered as long as they could to prevent voting. However, every Republican-driven piece of legislation ultimately passed by the time Congress adjourned on the 4th.

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References

Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 17608-17, 19712-29; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 331; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 267; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 503-04; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 325; Sylvia, Stephen W., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 484; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 61; 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), Q163

The 1862 Federal Elections

November 4, 1862 – Democrats made substantial gains in both the Federal and state elections, which reflected growing dissatisfaction with President Abraham Lincoln’s war policies among northern voters.

1862 U.S. Flag | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Despite not being on the ballot, Lincoln considered these elections the first major political test for him and his administration. The election feature six contested governorships, as well as most state legislative and all U.S. House seats. This was the first U.S. House race conducted according to the 1860 census, which had granted 14 new House seats to western states (Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Kansas) and removed seven seats from the middle states (New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Ohio, and Indiana).

Lack of southern opposition enabled the Republicans to keep their majority in the House, but the margin dropped sharply. Republicans had 105 of the 178 House seats in the previous Congress, but the next Congress would have 102 Republicans, 75 Democrats, and nine from other parties. Notable Republicans who lost reelection included House Speaker Galusha Grow of Pennsylvania, John A. Bingham of Ohio, and Roscoe Conkling of New York. Prominent anti-war, anti-Lincoln Democrat Clement L. Vallandigham lost his Ohio seat only due to Republican redistricting.

Democrats gained 23 seats in the middle states while Republicans lost 28. Five states that Lincoln won in 1860 (New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois) elected Democratic majorities to the House. However, Republicans remained strong in New England, the Northwest, and California where abolitionism was more popular and voters supported Lincoln’s recent Emancipation Proclamation. And the Federal military occupation of Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri assured Republican victories in those states.

In state elections, Democrats won only two of the six governorships, but the Republican governors of Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania could have easily been defeated had they been up for reelection. The biggest Democratic win was New York, the North’s largest state. New York Republicans had split between a moderate candidate (backed by Secretary of State William H. Seward and political boss Thurlow Weed) and Radical abolitionist General James Wadsworth, backed by influential newspaper editor Horace Greeley. The split enabled Horatio Seymour, the state’s most talented Democrat, to win the race.

Seymour supported a war to preserve the Union but not to abolish slavery, and he warned that the Emancipation Proclamation would “invoke the interference of civilized Europe.” Seymour also denounced Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus: “Liberty is born in war, it does not die in war.” Upon winning the election, Seymour pledged to adhere to Lincoln’s war policies but resist infringements on personal freedoms.

Republicans enjoyed many victories in the state legislative races, maintaining control of the legislatures in 17 of the 19 free states. Only New Jersey and Lincoln’s home state of Illinois had Democratic majorities in their legislatures. Because the legislatures selected U.S. senators, the Republicans saw a five-seat increase in their Senate majority.

In Illinois, voters rejected a new state constitution but approved two sections by majorities greater than 100,000: 1) “No (person of full or partial African descent) shall migrate or settle in this State”; 2) “No (person of full or partial African descent) shall have the right (to vote) or hold any office in this State.” This reflected the opinion of most Illinoisans that they were fighting the war to preserve the Union, not to free slaves.

In Kentucky, Federal authorities threatened to arrest candidates campaigning against the Lincoln administration, and the military governor called the vote a “kind of Military Census, telling how many loyal men there are in a county.” In Missouri, Federal authorities required voters to swear strict loyalty to the U.S., thus disqualifying many Democrats from voting. Moreover, the Missouri constitutional convention exempted the non-elected provisional state government from facing a popular vote. Consequently, Republicans easily carried both Kentucky and Missouri.

The main reasons for the Democratic victories included war weariness, a struggling economy with soaring prices and taxes, the high cost of shipping, the possibility of a military draft, infringements on civil liberties, and the fear of freed slaves coming north to compete for jobs. Moreover, northern governors resented Federal infringement on their prerogatives, particularly military recruitment.

Republicans were horrified by this “great, sweeping revolution of public sentiment,” calling the elections “a most serious and severe reproof.” Democrats proclaimed that “the verdict of the polls showed clearly that the people of the North were opposed to the Emancipation Proclamation,” and they celebrated “Abolition Slaughtered.”

Lincoln reacted to the results by saying he felt like a boy who stubbed his toe–too big to cry but it hurt too much to laugh. He had alienated conservatives by signing the Confiscation Acts and issuing the Emancipation Proclamation. He then alienated Radical Republicans by voicing opposition to the Second Confiscation Act even after approving it. And Lincoln’s silencing of criticism through the suspension of habeas corpus backfired as people went to the polls to voice their opposition to politicians who supported his policies.

In Washington, the general perception was that northerners were dissatisfied with the Lincoln administration. The New York Times opined that the elections showed a “vote of want of confidence” in Lincoln. Republican Senator James W. Grimes of Iowa said, “We are going to destruction as fast as imbecility, corruption, and the wheels of time can carry us.”

However, the results did not necessarily reflect a wholesale Republican repudiation. The Democratic victories were very narrow in some states (for example, 4,000 in Pennsylvania, 6,000 in Ohio, and 10,000 each in New York and Indiana). The Republicans would still have a majority in both houses of Congress. And many, including Lincoln, believed that the results would have been different had soldiers, who generally supported the administration, been allowed to go home to vote.

Moreover, this election introduced the concept of an alliance between Republicans and War Democrats, as several states featured candidates running on a fusion or “Union” ticket to show political solidarity in the war effort. This coalition helped offset the Republican stigma of being the minority party and the Democratic stigma of being identified with the South.

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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 19704; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 230; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 8038-70, 8081-93, 8931; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 753-54; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011-01-26), p. 631; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 228; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 485; Jackson, Donald Dale, Twenty Million Yankees: The Northern Home Front (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 142-46; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 284; 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. 561; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: C.B. Richardson, 1866; revised version New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 577-78; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 174; 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 Q462

The Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War

December 9, 1861 – The U.S. Senate approved a measure creating a joint House-Senate military oversight committee whose investigative methods quickly proved controversial.

The recent Federal disaster at Ball’s Bluff had prompted many congressmen to push for creating some kind of a committee to investigate and hold someone responsible. Before such a committee had been formed, Congress sent messages to both Secretary of War Simon Cameron and General-in-Chief George B. McClellan “to ascertain who is responsible for the disastrous movement of our troops at Ball’s Bluff.” Both men similarly responded that “an inquiry on the subject of the resolution would, at this time, be injurious to the public service.” Forming a committee could be more effective in getting answers.

The day after Senate approval, the House of Representatives unanimously approved what became known as the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the Present War. This committee would “have power to send for persons and papers, and to sit during the recess of either house of Congress.” It consisted of three senators:

  • Republican Benjamin F. Wade of Ohio
  • Republican Zachariah Chandler of Michigan
  • Democrat Andrew Johnson of Tennessee

And four representatives:

  • Republican George Julian of Indiana
  • Republican Daniel Gooch of Massachusetts
  • Republican John Covode of Pennsylvania
  • Democrat Moses Odell of New York
Senator Benjamin Wade | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Senator Benjamin Wade | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Most Republicans on the committee identified themselves as Radicals, including committee chairman Wade. The Radicals distrusted McClellan, not only because he was a Democrat, but because he had not waged war against the Confederacy aggressively enough for them. Many Democrats denounced the committee as a “Jacobin” body intending to discredit military commanders who did not share their political views. Others praised the committee as a necessary organ to investigate widespread allegations of military incompetence, inefficiency, and corruption.

Committee members held secret hearings in the Capitol basement, divulging only selected portions of testimony to the press. Many witnesses were denied their basic constitutional rights, such as the right to legal counsel or to face accusers, and “evidence” was often based more on rumor than fact. The committee targeted several military commanders for removal more for their political beliefs than their performance in the field.

Nobody was beyond the committee’s reach, including President Lincoln himself. Lincoln had to testify in response to allegations that First Lady Mary Lincoln was “two thirds slavery and one third secesh” because she had several relatives in the Confederate army. Although Lincoln expressed relief that the members were “in a perfectly good mood,” Wade told him, “Mr. President, you are murdering your country by inches in consequence of the inactivity of the military and the want of a distinct policy in regard to slavery.”

This marked just the beginning of the committee’s reign as top inquisitor of the Federal war effort.

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References

Bailey, Ronald H., Forward to Richmond: McClellan’s Peninsular Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 65-66; CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 100; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 6883-94; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 108; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 89; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 425; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 147-48; 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. 362; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 188-89; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 80-81; 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), Q461