Tag Archives: Francis P. Blair Jr.

The Pomeroy Circular and Other Political Intrigues

February 6, 1864 – President Abraham Lincoln learned that a pamphlet was being circulated urging Republicans to replace him with another candidate in the upcoming presidential election.

Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

As the presidential campaign opened, the Republican Party was split between conservatives who backed Lincoln for a second term, and Radicals who wanted a candidate that would impose harsher war measures on the South. This split was clear in Congress, as Republicans spoke out both for and against Lincoln. Many Radicals, led by House Speaker Schuyler Colfax, favored Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase to replace him.

Ward Hill Lamon, Lincoln’s personal friend and part-time bodyguard, informed the president that “a most scurrilous and abominable pamphlet about you, your administration, and the succession,” endorsed by an Ohio congressman, was given to a prominent New York banker. Titled “The Next Presidential Election,” the paper urged Republicans to oppose “the formal nomination of Mr. Lincoln in State Legislatures and other public bodies.”

The pamphlet’s author asserted, “The people have lost all confidence in his ability to suppress the rebellion and restore the Union.” The Federals had failed to win the war due to the “vascillation (sic) and indecision of the President,” “the feebleness of his will,” and his “want of intellectual grasp.”

The writer declared, “Mr. Lincoln cannot be re-elected to the Presidency.” Because of this, a new candidate was needed, someone who was “an advanced thinker; a statesman profoundly versed in political and economic science, one who fully comprehends the spirit of the age.” The pamphlet was endorsed by Senator John W. Sherman and Congressman James Ashley, both from Chase’s home state of Ohio. The implication was clear: those who supported this document supported replacing Lincoln with Chase as the Republican presidential candidate.

Sen. Samuel Pomeroy | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Less than two weeks later, a committee of Radical Republicans led by Senator Samuel C. Pomeroy of Kansas distributed a “strictly private” pamphlet of their own to the top Republicans throughout the northern states. In this document, the authors alleged that “party machinery and official influence are being used to secure the perpetuation of the present Administration,” and “those who believe in the interests of the country and of freedom demand a change in favor of vigor and purity.”

This pamphlet, which became known as the “Pomeroy Circular” (actually written by James M. Winchell), contained three arguments against Lincoln:

  • “Even were the re-election of Mr. Lincoln desirable, it is practically impossible against the union of influences which will oppose him.”
  • Should “he be reelected, his manifest tendency toward compromises and temporary expedients of policy will become stronger during a second term than it has been in the first.” The “war may continue to languish,” and “the cause of human liberty, and the dignity of the nation, suffer proportionately.”
  • The “‘one-term principle’ (is) absolutely essential to the certain safety of our republican institutions.” No president had been reelected since Andrew Jackson, 32 years before.

Then, directly naming Chase as the desired alternative, the authors inserted two arguments why the readers would “validate the honor of the republic” by backing him:

  • He had “more of the qualities needed in a President during the next four years, than are combined in any other available candidate.”
  • He had a “record, clear and unimpeachable, showing him to be a statesman of rare ability, and an administrator of the highest order,” as well as “a popularity and strength… unexpected even to his warmest admirers.”

The Pomeroy committee then urged the Republicans reading the circular to “render efficient aid by exerting yourself at once to organize your section of the country… for the purpose either of receiving or imparting information.”

When the Pomeroy Circular was published in the newspapers, it enraged Lincoln’s supporters. Former Major General Francis P. Blair, Jr., now Lincoln’s most vocal champion in the House of Representatives, charged that criticisms of administration policies had been “concocted for purposes of defeating the renomination of Mr. Lincoln” and of supporting “rival aspirants to the presidency.” Blair refuted the circular’s claims of Chase’s high character:

“It is a matter of surprise that a man having the instincts of a gentleman should remain in the Cabinet after the disclosure of such an intrigue against the one to whom he owes his position. I suppose the President is well content that he should stay; for every hour that he remains sinks him in the contempt of every honorable mind.”

Blair then highlighted charges of corruption in Chase’s Treasury Department, declaring that “a more profligate administration of the Treasury Department never existed under any government… the whole Mississippi Valley is rank and fetid with the frauds and corruptions of its agents… some of (whom) I suppose employ themselves in distributing that ‘strictly private’ circular which came to light the other day.” Democrats kept silent, delighted that the Republican Party seemed to be splitting in half in an election year.

Partly in response to the Pomeroy Circular, delegates to the Republican conventions in Indiana and Ohio endorsed Lincoln for a second term. Many Republican conventions, committees, legislatures, newspapers, and Union Leagues voiced loud support for Lincoln over Chase. Lincoln also exerted his political influence by seeing that the Government Printing Office suppressed any anti-Lincoln material. And government workers, most of whom had been hired by Lincoln, overwhelmingly supported him.

As the Pomeroy Circular made national headlines, Chase wrote Lincoln maintaining he had “no knowledge of the existence of this letter before I saw it in the (Constitutional) Union.” He admitted that he had consulted with politicians urging him to run for president, but he never led anyone to believe that he would seriously seek the office. Chase then offered to resign: “I do not wish to administer the Treasury Department one day without your entire confidence.”

Through his contacts, Lincoln was well aware that Chase was working with Radicals to conduct an informal campaign to oust him from the presidency. Winchell later asserted that Chase not only had prior knowledge of the Pomeroy Circular, but he had approved its publication. Responding to Chase’s letter, Lincoln wrote: “Yours of yesterday in relation to the paper issued by Senator Pomeroy was duly received; and I write this note merely to say I will answer a little more fully when I can find the leisure to do so.”

After keeping Chase waiting for six days, Lincoln sent a longer response on the 29th:

“On consideration, I find there is really very little to say. My knowledge of Mr. Pomeroy’s letter having been made public came to me only the day you wrote; but I had, in spite of myself, known of its existence several days before. I have not yet read it, and I think I shall not… Whether you shall remain at the head of the Treasury Department… I do not perceive occasion for a change.”

Lincoln stated that he was “not shocked, or surprised” by the circular because his backers informed him about Pomeroy’s committee beforehand. Lincoln explained, “I have known just as little of these things as my own friends have allowed me to know. They bring the documents to me, but I do not read them–they tell me what they think fit to tell me, but I do not inquire for more.”

The president then told Chase that he had nothing to do with Blair’s attack on him in Congress. By refusing Chase’s offer to resign, Lincoln shrewdly kept him at the Treasury Department, where he could keep close tabs on his activities, and where Chase could not openly run for president.

Many of Chase’s backers acknowledged that the Pomeroy Circular did more harm than good for him, including Congressman (and future U.S. President) James A. Garfield, who conceded, “It seems clear to me that the people desire the re-election of Mr. Lincoln.”

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References

Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 513; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 376; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 10160, 10236, 10247-59, 10270-81, 10493; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 103-04; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 941-44; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 401; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 606; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 467-68; 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. 714-15; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 591; 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), Q164

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Vicksburg: Federal Operations

June 18, 1863 – Major General Ulysses S. Grant continued his relentless siege, and he also finally removed one of his troublesome commanders.

Maj Gen J.A. McClernand | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

The tedium of the ongoing siege gave Grant time to address a longstanding problem with one of his commanders, Major General John A. McClernand of XIII Corps. McClernand was a former politician who had gained his position through political connections rather than military experience. Grant had long sought to remove McClernand but refrained due to his popularity in the North and his ability to get Democratic support for the war.

In mid-June, Major General Francis P. Blair, Jr., commanding a division in Major General William T. Sherman’s XV Corps, discovered an article in the Memphis Evening Bulletin that included a congratulatory order issued by McClernand to his men for their valiant efforts in the Second Battle of Vicksburg on May 22. The order itself was not improper, but McClernand then went further:

“How and why the general assault failed, it would be useless now to explain. The Thirteenth army corps, acknowledging the good intentions of all, would scorn indulgence in weak regrets and idle criminations. According justice to all, it would only defend itself. If while the enemy was massing to crush it, assistance was asked for a diversion at other points or by reinforcement, it only asked what, in one case, Maj. Gen. Grant had specifically and peremptorily ordered, namely, simultaneous and persistent attacks all along our lines, until the enemy’s outer works should be carried: and what in the other by massing a strong force in time upon a weakened point, would have probably insured success.”

This implied that the defeat had been caused by Grant and his other two corps commanders failing to do enough to support McClernand’s men. McClernand compounded his poor judgment by sending this order to newspapers politically friendly to him, without first sending it through the commanding officer per army regulations. Thus, neither Grant nor anyone else outside McClernand’s corps knew about the order until Blair found it two weeks later.

Sherman sent the article to Grant, calling it an outrage to the rest of the army and “an effusion of vain-glory and hypocrisy.” In fact, it was so offensive that Sherman, who had served under McClernand in the Fort Hindman campaign, initially believed that he had neither written it, “Nor can I believe General McClernand ever published such an order officially to his corps. I know too well that the brave and intelligent soldiers and officers who compose that corps will not be humbugged by such stuff.”

Sherman added that the order, if real, was not intended for the troops, but rather to convince the voters back home that McClernand was “the sagacious leader and bold hero he so complacently paints himself.” Major General James B. McPherson, commanding XVII Corps, called the order an effort “to impress the public mind with the magnificent strategy, superior tactics and brilliant deeds” of McClernand.

Federal General U.S. Grant | Image Credit: Wikispaces.org

Grant was reminded of the War Department directive “which actually forbids the publication of all official letters and reports, and requires the name of the writer to be laid before the President of the United States for dismissal.” He sent the newspaper article to McClernand with a message:

“Inclosed I send you what purports to be your congratulatory address to the Thirteenth Army Corps. I would respectfully ask if it is a true copy. If it is not a correct copy, furnish me one by bearer, as required both by regulations and existing orders of the Department.”

McClernand replied, “The newspaper slip is a correct copy of my congratulatory order, No 72. I am prepared to maintain its statements. I regret that my adjutant did not send you a copy promptly, as he ought, and I thought he had.” Noting that all of McClernand’s orders had gone through the proper channels without incident except this one, Grant immediately issued a directive:

“Major General John A. McClernand is hereby relieved of command of the Thirteenth Army Corps. He will proceed to any point he may select in the state of Illinois and report by letter to Headquarters of the Army for orders.”

Grant assigned Lieutenant Colonel James H. Wilson, the army’s chief engineer who happened to despise McClernand, to deliver the order. Wilson arrived at McClernand’s headquarters at 3 a.m. and woke the general. When he finally read the message, McClernand, knowing that Wilson hated him, invoked a pun: “Well, sir, I am relieved. By God, sir, we are both relieved!”

McClernand quickly wrote a reply: “Having been appointed by the President to command of that corps, under a definite act of Congress, I might justly challenge your authority in the premises, but forbear to do so at present.” Grant did not acknowledge this veiled threat, but he did address McClernand’s official report on the Battle of Vicksburg, which he submitted just before being relieved:

“This report contains so many inaccuracies that to correct it, to make it a fair report to be handed down as historical, would require the rewriting of most of it. It is pretentious and egotistical, as is sufficiently shown by my own and all other reports accompanying.”

Grant replaced McClernand with Major General E.O.C. Ord, a Regular army officer. McClernand spent the rest of the year lobbying General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck, Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, and President Abraham Lincoln for reinstatement. Lincoln finally returned him to command of XIII Corps in early 1864, after the corps had been transferred to the Department of the Gulf.

Meanwhile, the siege inexorably continued. Federals spent two days digging a tunnel under a Confederate redan north of the road to Jackson. The tunnel was 45 feet long and included three 15-foot passageways. Gunpowder was packed at the end of each passageway, totaling 2,200 pounds, with the intent to blow a hole in the Confederate defenses. The gunpowder was detonated on the 25th. The explosion created a large crater in the ground, but the Confederates had expected the blast and pulled back. They easily repelled the ensuing Federal charge.

Federal artillery on land and on the Mississippi continued bombarding Vicksburg around the clock, and Federal troops inched closer to the Confederate defenses each day. Vicksburg residents and Confederate troops faced starvation as the Federals cut all supply lines and guarded all approaches to and from the city. Grant wrote Sherman about rumors from the Confederate lines:

“Strong faith is expressed by some in (General Joseph E.) Johnston’s coming to their relief. (They) cannot believe they have been so wicked as for Providence to allow the loss of their stronghold of Vicksburg. Their principal faith seems to be in Providence and Joe Johnston.”

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 295; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 414, 421-22, 424; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 313, 316; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 136-37, 147-49; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 368; Simon, John Y., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 456-57

Lincoln Fires Fremont

October 24, 1861 – President Lincoln issued formal orders replacing John C. Fremont with David Hunter. However, complications in executing the order would arise.

President Abraham Lincoln and Major General John C. Fremont | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

President Abraham Lincoln and Major General John C. Fremont | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

On the day that Fremont left St. Louis to join his army in pursuing Price, Secretary of War Simon Cameron and Adjutant General Lorenzo Thomas left Washington to inspect Fremont’s department. Before leaving, Lincoln handed Cameron General Orders No. 18, written by General-in-Chief Winfield Scott:

“Major-General Fremont, of the U.S. Army, the present commander of the Western Department of the same, will, on the receipt of this order, call Major-General Hunter, of the U.S. Volunteers, to relieve him temporarily in that command, when he (Major-General Fremont) will report to General Headquarters, by letter, for further orders.”

Cameron was authorized to decide whether to present this order to Fremont, based on the inspection results.

At the same time, Lincoln wrote to Brigadier General Samuel R. Curtis, one of Fremont’s subordinates, asking, “Ought Gen. Fremont to be relieved from, or retained in his present command?” Curtis’s answer would be “entirely confidential,” with Lincoln hoping to receive advice from “an intelligent unprejudiced, and judicious opinion from some professional Military man on the spot.”

Cameron and Thomas arrived at St. Louis on the 11th, where they visited Benton Barracks under Curtis’s command. They were impressed by the facility, but when told that it cost just $15,000 to build, Cameron concluded, “The actual cost should be ascertained.”

Curtis received Lincoln’s letter and responded that although Fremont was accessible, he never sought Curtis’s advice or divulged his plans. Regardless, Curtis stated that he would never offer his opinion to Fremont based on Fremont’s arrest of Colonel Frank P. Blair, Jr. Overall, Curtis asserted that Fremont was “unequal to the command of an army.”

That evening, Cameron and Thomas visited a camp south of St. Louis commanded by a cavalry major who expressed concern that department officials might be using funds meant to supply his garrison for other purposes. Lieutenant Colonel I.P. Andrews, the department’s deputy paymaster-general, told Cameron and Thomas of “irregularities in the Pay Department” requiring him “to make payment and transfers of money contrary to law and regulations.”

Andrews contended that Fremont had sent a “file of soldiers” to arrest him unless he honored a questionable payment. Andrews also alleged that Fremont had commissioned a St. Louis theater musician as a “captain of engineers” and “director of music,” and this musician had twice demanded pay. Cameron overrode Fremont’s order to pay him.

The department quartermaster informed Cameron and Thomas that many of Fremont’s staff officers were contractors who arranged for the army to hire their businesses and pay the prices that they set for their goods, without competitive bidding and without considering whether the goods were necessities. Even Cameron, a man known for vast corruption himself, considered Fremont’s expenditures offensive.

On October 12, Lincoln received independent reports from Congressman Elihu Washburne of Illinois and friend Ward H. Lamon, who recently met with Fremont. Washburne reported: “The disclosures of corruption extravagance and peculation are utterly astounding… A gang of California robbers and scoundrels rule, control and direct everything.” Lamon reported, “Things are in a terribly unorganized state here… There is about as much likelihood of his catching (Price’s Missouri Guards) as there is of his being struck by lightning.”

Cameron and Thomas finally met with Fremont at Tipton, where Fremont gave them a tour of his best division. However, both Cameron and Thomas agreed that even Fremont’s best troops were in no condition for battle. The men met with Hunter that same day, who stated that the army was mired in confusion because Fremont was “utterly incompetent.” Hunter complained that Fremont had ordered him to move his 10,000 troops without rations, supplies, or arms. Only 20 of Fremont’s 100 cannon imported from Europe functioned properly, though Hunter alleged that Fremont received a kickback for purchasing them. Hunter also asserted that even though he was second in command, Fremont shared none of his military plans with him.

Cameron confronted Fremont with the order to replace him with Hunter. Fremont pleaded for a chance to lead the Army of the West in battle. Cameron agreed, but only if Fremont used all the money being used to pay contractors to improve the army’s condition. Fremont was to send all future bills to Washington for examination, and stop paying officers he had commissioned. The administration had to approve all future appointments.

In a discussion about Fremont with his cabinet, Lincoln read a letter from Gustave Koerner, Fremont’s aide-de-camp, to “His Excellency the President,” complaining that Deputy Paymaster-General Andrews had been put in charge of approving department expenditures:

“Deputy Paymaster-General Lieutenant-Colonel Andrews refuses to honor General Fremont’s commissions, which have heretofore invariably been accepted by him. Officers of the Army who have sacrificed their all to take up arms for their country are thus left destitute, and their families in want of the most urgent necessities of life. Very many of these officers are now in the field and in face of the enemy. Their efficiency and the spirits of many of the troops serving under them will be most seriously affected by this course. Unless you will provide a remedy to insure these men in their well-deserved remuneration a portion of the army will necessarily disband… as no officers will or can serve without a valid commission.”

Six days later, Lincoln finally wrote to Curtis asking him to formally deliver General Orders No. 18 to Fremont. Curtis was instructed not to deliver the orders if Fremont had “fought and won a battle, or shall then be actually in a battle, or shall then be in the immediate presence of the enemy, in expectation of a battle.”

Republicans expressed shock and dismay when Lincoln’s order was leaked to the press; Fremont had been their first-ever presidential candidate and a hero to abolitionists. Lincoln explained that Fremont was being removed because of charges that he had been “incompetent, wasteful, extravagant, and under the influence of fraudulent contract manipulators.” Nevertheless, Horace White of the Chicago Tribune wrote, “Our President has broken his own neck if he has not destroyed his country.”

But Fremont would stay in command until the order was personally delivered to him. Learning from the press that the order had been issued, Fremont worked to avoid receiving the order by posting troops as guards, prohibiting any unauthorized persons from accessing his headquarters.

On October 29, Leonard Swett arrived at St. Louis with the order removing Fremont from command. Swett, who had worked with Lincoln on the Illinois circuit court in the 1850s, was assigned to hand the order to Curtis, and Curtis was then to effect the transfer of power from Fremont to Hunter.

Swett met with Curtis that evening and expressed concern that Fremont might already know about the order since it had been published in some newspapers. The men decided to make two copies of the order and send them with two different officers in the hope that at least one of them would get through the lines and reach Fremont’s headquarters. This farcical operation continued into November.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 85-86, 89; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 98; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 71, 75; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 124-25, 131; 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

The Fremont Controversy Continues

September 22, 1861 – As Major General John C. Fremont continued garnering ill favor with fellow officers and politicians, President Abraham Lincoln wrote to a colleague explaining why he could not support Fremont’s controversial emancipation proclamation.

Major General John C. Fremont | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Major General John C. Fremont | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Fremont, commanding the Department of the West out of St. Louis, had been in trouble with the Lincoln administration ever since he issued his controversial decree declaring martial law in Missouri and authorizing the liberation of slaves belonging to disloyal Missourians. Also, many of his former supporters were now turning against him because of what they saw as poor leadership and corrupt management.

Postmaster General Montgomery Blair and Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs had inspected Fremont’s department and recommended his removal. Blair’s brother, Colonel Frank P. Blair, Jr., served under Fremont and urged his removal as well. Fremont responded by arresting Frank for “insubordination in communicating… with the authorities at Washington; making complaints against and using disrespectful language towards Gen. Fremont, with a view of effecting his removal.”

Lincoln, who had not yet received the report from the Montgomeries, continued discussing the matter with his cabinet. Meanwhile, Fremont informed his superiors that he had ordered Frank’s arrest due to his “insidious and dishonorable efforts to bring my authority into contempt with the Government.” This perceived insult of the influential Blair family increased the uproar within the Lincoln administration against Fremont.

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

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

Upon returning to Washington and learning of his brother’s arrest, Montgomery wrote to Fremont offering to show him the letter that Frank had written urging Fremont’s removal. Montgomery wrote, “I will send (Frank Blair’s) letter. It is not unfriendly. Release him. There is no time for strife except with the enemies of the (Federal government).”

But Frank remained in a St. Louis jail for the time being. He accused Fremont of manipulating the press based on the fact that every Unionist newspaper in St. Louis except one supported Fremont, and the provost marshal (on Fremont’s orders) soon closed the lone newspaper supporting Blair. Frank wrote from jail, “All the talk about this quarrel being detrimental to the public service is bosh. If Fremont is not removed, the public service will go to the devil.”

During this time, Lincoln quarreled with fellow Republicans who backed Fremont over him. These Republicans included Senator Orville Browning, a longtime friend from Illinois, who had helped draft the Confiscation Act. Browning admonished Lincoln for failing to support Fremont’s proclamation, arguing that the Federal government could only be preserved by freeing the slaves.

In a lengthy response, Lincoln stated that he was “astonished’ to learn that Browning would discourage the president from “adhering to a law, which you had assisted in making.” Lincoln explained that Fremont’s “proclamation, as to confiscation of property, and the liberation of slaves, is purely political, and not within the range of military law, or necessity.” Lincoln asserted that if a general needed slaves for army purposes, “he can seize them, and use them; but when the need is past, it is not for him to fix their permanent future condition. That must be settled according to laws made by law-makers, and not by military proclamations.”

To Lincoln, conforming to military proclamations would be “itself the surrender of the government.” How could it be “pretended that it is any longer the government of the U.S… wherein a General, or a President, may make permanent rules of property by proclamation?” Lincoln acknowledged that he would support Fremont’s policy if it was endorsed by Congress, but a general or even a president could not “seize and exercise the permanent legislative functions of the government.”

Back at St. Louis, Fremont ordered the arrest of the St. Louis Evening News editor and the closure of his newspaper; the editor had accused Fremont of failing to relieve the Lexington siege. News of Lexington’s fall, combined with the disaster at Wilson’s Creek last month, placed more pressure on Fremont to produce a victory in Missouri. Fremont strongly defended himself, while Lincoln continued discussing his performance with his cabinet and Lieutenant-General Winfield Scott.

To take some heat off himself, Fremont quietly released Frank Blair from jail. However, Frank remained indignant and threatened to have Fremont court-martialed for imprisoning him under false pretenses. The controversy within Fremont’s department continued into October.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 76; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 68; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 118-21; Nevin, David, The Road to Shiloh: Early Battles in the West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 33; 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), Q361

The Fremont Controversy: Fremont’s Retort

September 8, 1861 – After six days, Major General John C. Fremont finally responded to President Lincoln’s request to modify clauses in his controversial proclamation.

Major General John C. Fremont | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Major General John C. Fremont | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Fremont, commanding the Federal Department of the West, admitted that he had consulted with nobody, including his superiors, before issuing his decree, which imposed martial law in Missouri and freed all slaves belonging to disloyal masters. Fremont took full responsibility for the order, which he called “as much a movement in the war as a battle,” and like a battle, he would “have to act according to my judgment of the ground before me.”

Regarding Lincoln’s request to change the slave emancipation order, Fremont wrote: “If upon reflection your better judgment still decides that I am wrong in the article respecting the liberation of slaves, I have to ask that you will openly direct me to make the correction,” otherwise, “to retract of my own accord, it would imply that I myself thought it wrong, and that I had acted without the reflection which the gravity of the point demanded.” He asserted that he acted “upon the certain conviction that it was a measure right and necessary, and I think so still.”

Fremont also defended his order to execute armed Missourians suspected of disloyalty: “The shooting of men who shall rise in arms against an army in the military occupation of a country is merely a necessary measure of defense,” and according to Fremont, it was valid “according to the usages of civilized warfare.” Since Lincoln had defined this conflict as an insurrection and not a war against an independent nation, the rebels “have no ground for requiring that we should waive in their benefit any of the ordinary advantages which the usages of war allow to us.”

Mrs. Jessie B. Fremont | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Mrs. Jessie B. Fremont | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Fremont then asked for Lincoln’s permission to enforce the proclamation, “hoping that my views may have the honor to meet your approval.”

In an unprecedented move, Fremont assigned his wife, Jessie Benton Fremont, daughter of the legendary Senator Thomas Hart Benton, to personally deliver this response from his St. Louis headquarters to the president at Washington. Mrs. Fremont arrived on the 10th not only to deliver her husband’s letter, but to persuade Lincoln to withdraw his objections to Fremont’s proclamation. Radical Republicans had emboldened the Fremonts, ardent abolitionists, by advising them that turning this conflict into a war against slavery would prevent Great Britain from recognizing Confederate independence.

Lincoln, a moderate Republican, sought to not only maintain harmony within the party but also maintain the delicate wartime alliance between the Republicans and Unionist Democrats. As such, Fremont’s proclamation had gone too far, and while Fremont’s defiance had amused the Radicals, Lincoln did not share their amusement when he met with Mrs. Fremont in the Red Room at 9 p.m. on September 10.

Without offering the lady a seat, Lincoln took Fremont’s letter from her and read it, dissatisfied that the general had refused to modify his order. Mrs. Fremont told Lincoln that he needed to consider liberating slaves to garner European support. Interrupting her, Lincoln said, “You are quite a female politician. It was a war for a great national idea, the Union, and… General Fremont should not have dragged the Negro into it.”

16th U.S. President Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: Bing public domain

16th U.S. President Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: Bing public domain

Lincoln said that he would write a reply and let Mrs. Fremont know when it was ready for delivery. Irritated, Mrs. Fremont defended her husband’s wisdom and prestige, which she contended were “above and beyond” most military officers. Lincoln later said that she “left in anger, flaunting her handkerchief before my face.”

The next day, Lincoln gave Mrs. Fremont his reply. He explained that although he “perceived in general no objection” to Fremont’s proclamation, he could not allow military commanders to override official policies mandated by Congress. Lincoln stated that the order regarding freeing slaves exceeded the Confiscation Act. Therefore, Lincoln expressed his “wish that that clause should be modified.”

Lincoln would take responsibility for removing those non-conforming portions of the decree so that Fremont would not have to admit to any mistake. Lincoln wrote:

“Your answer, just received, expresses the preference on your part that I should make an open order for the modification, which I very cheerfully do. It is therefore ordered that the said clause of said proclamation be so modified, held, and construed, as to conform to, and not to transcend, the provisions on the same subject contained in the act of Congress entitled ‘An Act to confiscate property used for insurrectionary purposes’ Approved, August 6. 1861; and that said act be published at length with this order.”

While Mrs. Fremont awaited Lincoln’s response, she was visited by Francis P. Blair, Sr., whose family was old friends with the Fremonts. However, that friendship quickly dissolved when Blair informed her that his son, Frank Jr., had written to his other son, Montgomery, recommending that General Fremont be removed from command. This prompted Mrs. Fremont to angrily declare that her husband could kill Frank Jr. in a duel.

Lincoln’s letter arrived shortly afterward, and Mrs. Fremont promptly returned to St. Louis to deliver it to the general. In addition, Lincoln granted Fremont’s request to issue an “open order” to change the proclamation by submitting the letter’s contents to the press for publication throughout the country.

While Fremont’s emancipation proclamation may have been morally just, it threatened to divide the U.S. since most politicians and soldiers were fighting to preserve the Union, not to end slavery. It also threatened to undermine Lincoln’s policies as well as those of Congress. Nevertheless, Fremont remained firm that he would not “change or shade” his proclamation because it “was worth a victory in the field.”

After sending Mrs. Fremont on her way, Lincoln wrote to her denying “being understood as acting in any hostility” toward her husband. Lincoln then addressed the increasing complaints about Fremont’s leadership by dispatching Postmaster General Montgomery Blair (Frank Sr.’s son and Frank Jr.’s brother) to assess Fremont’s command at St. Louis. Blair traveled with Major General David Hunter and Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs, arriving at Fremont’s headquarters early on the 12th.

Two days later, both Blair and Meigs agreed in recommending Fremont’s removal. Meigs reported that “great distress and alarm prevail,” and Fremont “does not encourage the men to form regiments for defense.” Blair stated that Fremont seemed “stupefied and almost unconscious and is doing absolutely nothing.” Both men left St. Louis that day, but the Fremont controversy would continue.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 74-75; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 6618-30; Faust, Patricia L, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 291-92; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 96-97; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 64; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 389-90; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 117-18; 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. 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), Q361

Lincoln Responds to Fremont’s Proclamation

September 2, 1861 – President Lincoln addressed the delicate issue of Major General John C. Fremont’s August 30 proclamation imposing martial law in Missouri and liberating slaves belonging to Confederate sympathizers.

President Abraham Lincoln and Major General John C. Fremont | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

President Abraham Lincoln and Major General John C. Fremont | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Fremont had not sought approval from his superiors before issuing his decree; in fact, Lincoln learned about it from a newspaper. Southerners immediately expressed outrage and declared that Fremont had revealed the true purpose of the northern aggression: freeing slaves and destroying the southern way of life. An article in the Louisville Courier declared:

“Like a thief in the night the spoiler comes, and today or tomorrow or next day he may be in our midst, our presses may be silenced, and our citizens sent off to share the fate of hundreds of political prisoners who now fill the cells of Fort Lafayette.”

Lincoln, who had better political timing than Fremont, knew that such a proclamation would undermine the war effort by inciting the loyal slave states and disrupting the fragile alliance between northern Democrats and Republicans. Therefore, he dispatched a messenger to deliver a letter to Fremont at his St. Louis headquarters.

Writing “in a spirit of caution, and not of censure,” Lincoln stated, “Two points in your proclamation of August 30th give me some anxiety.” First, Fremont’s threat to execute any armed person suspected of disloyalty could have an unintended consequence: “Should you shoot a man, according to the proclamation, the Confederates would very certainly shoot our best man in their hands in retaliation, and so, man for man, indefinitely.” Lincoln directed Fremont to “allow no man to be shot, under the proclamation, without first having my approbation.”

Second, freeing slaves in Missouri, a state that had not yet joined the Confederacy, “will alarm our Southern Union friends, and turn them against us–perhaps ruin our rather fair prospect of Kentucky.” Lincoln asked Fremont to modify his proclamation to conform to the Confiscation Act, which only allowed for seizing slaves directly aiding the Confederate war effort and then placing them in Federal custody, not freeing them.

Privately, Lincoln feared that the radical wing of the Republican Party had more loyalty to Fremont, an abolitionist and the first Republican presidential candidate, than to Lincoln. And if the radicals sided with Fremont rather than Fremont’s commander in chief, it would cause a major rift between the government and military. Lincoln’s fear was well founded because when Fremont read the president’s letter, he perceived it as an insult and refused to modify the order as Lincoln requested.

Meanwhile, some of Fremont’s subordinates had begun questioning his competence. Colonel Francis P. Blair, Jr. wrote to his brother Montgomery, Lincoln’s postmaster general, that Fremont “should be relieved of his command.” While Blair agreed with Fremont’s anti-slavery stance, he claimed that Fremont’s disorganized leadership demoralized his men. Blair also contended that Fremont’s “gross and inexcusable negligence” had allowed Confederate resistance to grow in Missouri. This marked a significant turnaround because the influential Blair family had lobbied for Fremont to be given the command in the first place.

In the field, Fremont’s proclamation invited Confederate retaliation just as Lincoln predicted. Brigadier General M. Jeff Thompson of the Missouri State Guard issued a counter-proclamation to the man “commanding the minions of Abraham Lincoln”:

“For every member of the Missouri State Guard, or soldier of our allies the Confederate States, who shall be put to death in pursuance of said order of General Fremont, I will Hang, Draw and Quarter a minion of said Abraham Lincoln…”

Thompson also pledged “to exceed General Fremont in his excesses, and will make all tories that come within my reach rue the day that a different policy was adopted by their leader.” Thompson alleged that “mills, barns, warehouses, and other private property has been wastefully destroyed by the enemy in this district… Should these things be repeated, I will retaliate tenfold, so help me God!”

At Washington, Lincoln met with General-in-Chief Winfield Scott on a rainy September 5th to discuss the Fremont situation. In addition to the proclamation, Lincoln had recently received more reports attesting to Fremont’s incompetence as department commander. One report alleged that Fremont and his staff had spent nearly $12 million on items such as steamboats, equipment, uniforms, and lavish entertainment.

Lincoln and Scott agreed not to remove Fremont, but rather to send an adjutant and inspector general to help him. Scott wanted to send Major General David Hunter, but Hunter held too high a rank for such a role, so he officially recommended that Lincoln send Brigadier General George Stoneman. Lincoln thought it over for a few days.

During that time, Lincoln’s cabinet and the Blair family urged Fremont’s removal. Sidestepping military etiquette, Lincoln wrote to Hunter asking a favor regarding the Fremont situation:

“He is losing the confidence of men near him, whose support any man in his position must have to be successful… (Fremont’s) cardinal mistake is that he isolates himself, & allows nobody to see him; and by which he does not know what is going on in the very matter he is dealing with.”

Lincoln explained that Fremont needed “to have, by his side, a man of large experience. Will you not, for me, take that place? Your rank is one grade too high to be ordered to it; but will you not serve the country, and oblige me, by taking it voluntarily?” Hunter accepted.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 72-74; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 6618; Faust, Patricia L, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 291-92; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 96-97; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 61-62; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 389-90; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 114-16; 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. 352-53; 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), Q361

The Special Session of the 37th U.S. Congress

July 4, 1861 – The 37th Congress of the United States assembled in special session as requested by President Abraham Lincoln’s militia proclamation of April 15.

U.S. Capitol Building under construction, circa 1861 | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

U.S. Capitol Building under construction, circa 1861 | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

By the time Congress gathered, 11 states had joined the Confederacy, leaving just 24 states with representation. Without the Democrat-dominated southern states, Republicans held strong majorities in the House of Representatives (106-70, or 60 percent) and the Senate (32-16, or 67 percent).

Not only did Democrats hold only about 25 percent of each chamber’s seats, but they were divided over whether to support a Republican-controlled war. They were also demoralized due to the recent death of party leader Stephen A. Douglas. Many congressmen in the slaveholding border states belonged to the Constitutional Union faction, which generally supported the Lincoln administration.

Republicans elected Galusha A. Grow as House speaker. Grow was a Pennsylvania abolitionist who strongly supported the war. Grow rewarded his supporters by appointing Francis P. Blair, Jr. as chairman of the House Military Affairs Committee, which held strong influence over the war effort, and Thaddeus Stevens as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, which controlled all taxing and spending legislation.

16th U.S. President Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: Bing public domain

16th U.S. President Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: Bing public domain

The following day, the congressional clerk read President Lincoln’s message, dated July 4. Lincoln revisited the Fort Sumter dispute of April; he explained that the South Carolinians had needlessly attacked a Federal garrison that posed no real threat to them, even though Lincoln had deployed warships and transports to reinforce the fort.

Lincoln stated that the Sumter mission was “intended to be ultimately used, or not, according to circumstances,” and hinted that if he could have reinforced Fort Pickens, he would have aborted the Sumter expedition (reinforcing Pickens “would be a clear indication of policy,” which “would better enable the country to accept the evacuation of Fort Sumter, as a military necessity.”) But none of Lincoln’s other writings or correspondence contained a correlation between Sumter and Pickens.

Placing full blame on southerners, Lincoln stated, “It was with the deepest regret that the Executive found the duty of employing the war-power, in defense of the Government, forced upon him.” He disregarded claims by Confederate officials that they only sought to be left alone, not to assail the Federal government. Lincoln also did not acknowledge attempts by Confederate envoys to negotiate a peace, pay their share of the Federal debt, or compensate for lost Federal property.

Lincoln provided further justification for invading the South by writing that the Confederacy “presents to the whole family of man the question whether a constitutional republic or democracy–a government of the people by the same people–can, or can not, maintain its territorial integrity against its own domestic foes?” However, many countered that maintaining Federal territory was contingent upon consent from the states since they had formed the Federal government.

Despite the fact that secession had been approved by either conventions or popular vote in 11 states, Lincoln intimated that most southerners did not want to secede. Lincoln also refused to acknowledge secession as a constitutional right, instead asserting that the Union was indivisible.

Referring to the Ex Parte Merryman court case in May, Lincoln declared that infringements on civil liberties such as suspending writs of habeas corpus were necessary for the wartime emergency. Denying constitutional freedoms would become a weapon to use against secessionists. He noted, “Are all the laws, but one, to go unexecuted, and the government itself go to pieces, lest that one be violated?”

Lincoln did not explain why he had selected July 4 as the day for Congress to gather. Instead he asked congressmen to retroactively endorse all the actions he had taken since the war began, conceding that strong opposition to his policies remained in Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri. Even so, Lincoln rejected Kentucky’s wish to maintain an armed neutrality, arguing that such a stance would eventually embolden secessionists and further divide the Union: “To prevent the Union forces passing one way, or the disunion the other, over their soil, would be disunion completed… At a stroke it would take all the trouble off the hands of secession, except only what proceeds from the external blockade.”

He also asked the members to “give the legal means for making this contest a short, and a decisive one,” seeking “at least four hundred thousand men, and four hundred millions of dollars… a less sum per head, than was the debt of our revolution.” A “right result, at this time will be worth more to the world, than ten times the men, and ten times the money…” However, Lincoln also admitted that “one of the greatest perplexities of the government, is to avoid receiving troops faster than it can provide for them.”

This message, combined with his April 15 militia proclamation, maintained the legally questionable premise that this war would be waged against the “insurrection” of individual southerners who joined in “combinations too powerful to be suppressed by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings.” This clearly demonstrated that administration policy would be to treat this conflict like suppressing an uprising, not invading an independent nation.

Large majorities in both chambers of Congress strongly approved Lincoln’s message, mainly because there was no longer any southern opposition. Congressmen quickly and eagerly began debating measures to finance the war as Lincoln had requested. Ultimately Congress endorsed all of Lincoln’s actions except for his suspension of habeas corpus. 

Salmon P. Chase of Ohio | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Salmon P. Chase of Ohio | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

In addition to Lincoln’s message, Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase submitted a financial report that alarmed many congressmen. By this time, the Federal government had an $80 million deficit with only $3 million in reserves. This meant that the government could not meet its regular financial obligations, let alone the many more that would be incurred by war. Chase had agreed to make up the deficit by having Jay Cooke & Company sell government bonds for a commission.

In addition to the $80 million needed for regular expenditures, the Treasury would need $320 million more to meet Lincoln’s request for $400 million by the end of the fiscal year (June 30, 1862). To raise this sum, Chase proposed borrowing $240 million (by selling war bonds and Treasury notes); raising tariffs, selling land, and imposing property taxes for up to $60 million; and obtaining the last $20 million through direct taxation, internal tariffs, or whatever “the superior wisdom of Congress” would approve. This would prove inadequate because the war became larger than anyone had anticipated, and an early lack of public confidence in the Lincoln administration slowed the bond sales.

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Sources

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 49; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 5654-67, 5689, 6989; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 55; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 6154, 6324-34, 6389-6400; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 42; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 367-68; Jackson, Donald Dale, Twenty Million Yankees: The Northern Home Front (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 56; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 90-91; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 380; 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. 288, 323; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 95-97; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 163; 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), Q361