Tag Archives: Lyman Trumbull

President Lincoln’s 1861 Message to Congress

December 3, 1861 – President Abraham Lincoln submitted his first annual message to Congress, which described the current state of affairs and reiterated his view that the Union must be preserved by all necessary means.

President Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

President Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

In accordance with the tradition begun by Thomas Jefferson, Lincoln did not appear in person before Congress, but rather submitted his message for a clerk to read. In it, Lincoln declared: “A disloyal portion of the American people have during the whole year been engaged in an attempt to divide and destroy the Union.”

Lincoln provided a status on all executive departments. In an unprecedented move, Lincoln announced that he supported extending diplomatic recognition to the only two black republics in the world, Haiti and Liberia: “If any good reason exists why we should persevere longer in withholding our recognition of the independence and sovereignty of Hayti and Liberia, I am unable to discern it.”

Regarding the Treasury department, Lincoln wrote, “It is gratifying to know that the expenditures made necessary by the rebellion are not beyond the resources of the loyal people, and to believe that the same patriotism which has thus far sustained the Government will continue to sustain it till peace and union shall again bless the land.” This did not reflect the growing financial difficulties facing the country at that time.

Regarding the navy, Lincoln wrote that “… it may almost be said that a navy has been created and brought into service since our difficulties commenced.” By this time, the two blockading squadrons in the Atlantic and the Gulf had grown so large that they became four. The navy, which had less than 9,000 officers and men before the war, now had 24,000.

Noting that the Supreme Court had three vacancies, Lincoln stated, “I have so far forborne making nominations to fill these vacancies (because)… I have been unwilling to throw all the appointments northward, thus disabling myself from doing justice to the South on the return of peace; although I may remark that to transfer to the North one which has heretofore been in the South would not, with reference to territory and population, be unjust.”

Lincoln reviewed the Confiscation Act, which enabled Federal commanders to seize slaves used “for insurrectionary purposes” and decreed that disloyal slaveholders “forfeited” their rights to own slaves. He expressed hope that the border states would “pass similar enactments,” and if so, Congress should “provide for accepting such persons from such States, according to some mode of valuation.” According to Lincoln, states that voluntarily freed their slaves should be compensated, “in lieu, pro tanto, of direct taxes, or upon some other plan to be agreed on with such States respectively.” And slaves in those states would “be at once deemed free” by the Federal government.

Addressing fears that freed slaves would compete with whites for jobs, Lincoln reiterated his support for black colonization (i.e., deportation) “at some place or places in a climate congenial to them. It might be well to consider, too, whether the free colored people already in the United States could not, so far as individuals may desire, be included in such colonization.”

Referencing Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase, Lincoln remarked that colonization may “involve the acquiring of territory… If it be said that the only legitimate object of acquiring territory is to furnish homes for white men, this measure effects that object, for the emigration of colored men leaves additional room for white men remaining or coming here.”

Turning to the war, Lincoln contended that “I have been anxious and careful that the inevitable conflict for this purpose shall not degenerate into a violent and remorseless revolutionary struggle” by making this a war to preserve the Union only. However, Lincoln stated, “The Union must be preserved, and hence, all indispensable means must be employed. We should not be in haste to determine that radical and extreme measures, which may reach the loyal as well as the disloyal, are indispensable.”

Lincoln boasted that Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri were now under Unionist control. Those states “have now an aggregate of not less than 40,000 in the field for the Union, while of their citizens certainly not more than a third of that number, and they of doubtful whereabouts and doubtful existence, are in arms against us.” However, Lincoln did not mention that Kentucky and Missouri had dual Unionist and secessionist governments.

Recounting the retirement of Winfield Scott, Lincoln stated, “The retiring chief repeatedly expressed his judgment in favor of General McClellan for the position, and in this the nation seemed to give a unanimous concurrence.” The president then paid a curious compliment to the new general-in-chief:

“It has been said that one bad general is better than two good ones, and the saying is true if taken to mean no more than that an army is better directed by a single mind, though inferior, than by two superior ones at variance and cross-purposes with each other.”

Lincoln noted the Confederacy’s tendency toward despotism without mentioning his own: “It continues to develop that the insurrection is largely, if not exclusively, a war upon the first principle of popular government–the rights of the people.” Arguing that only a small minority of southerners actually supported the Confederacy, the president stated, “Monarchy itself is sometimes hinted at as a possible refuge from the power of the people.”

Lincoln then turned attention to labor, and the principle that any free person could rise to prominence in America:

“Many independent men everywhere in these States a few years back in their lives were hired laborers. The prudent, penniless beginner in the world, labors for wages awhile, saves a surplus with which to buy tools or land for himself, then labors on his own account another while, and at length hires another new beginner to help him. This is the just and generous and prosperous system which opens the way to all, gives hope to all, and consequent energy and progress and improvement of condition to all.”

Lincoln concluded his message with: “The struggle of to-day is not altogether for to-day; it is for a vast future also. With a reliance on Providence all the more firm and earnest, let us proceed in the great task which events have devolved upon us.”

Lincoln did not directly address or defend his suspensions of writs of habeas corpus and other violations of civil liberties. He also made no mention of the Trent affair, which prompted laughs from members of Congress; some even exclaimed, “Mr. Lincoln forgot it!” However, Lincoln did not want to publicly address the matter because the State Department still awaited the official British response.

Lincoln also did not include Simon Cameron’s original report on the War Department, which included the controversial passage: “Those who make war against the Government justly forfeit all rights of property… It is as clearly a right of the Government to arm slaves, when it may become necessary, as it is to use gun-powder taken from the enemy.” Lincoln was not ready to allow slaves to serve in the army in any capacity other than as laborers.

The president disappointed abolitionists by not using slavery as a weapon to destroy the Confederacy. Abolitionist Strubal York wrote to Senator Lyman Trumbull, both from Lincoln’s home state of Illinois:

“Such a Message! Not one single manly, bold, dignified position taking it from beginning to end—No response to the popular feeling—no battlecry to the 500,000 gallant soldiers now in the field, but a tame, timid, timeserving common place sort of an abortion of a Message, cold enough with one breath, to freeze hell over. I have not seen one intelligent man who approves of it. I take it there are none such in the limits of the Free States… Mr. Lincoln must have been facing southward when he wrote this thing.

Criticism and praise for Lincoln’s message to Congress continued throughout the month.

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References

Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 6731-42; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 160; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 87; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 355 | 406-407; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 146; Time-Life Editors, The Blockade: Runners and Raiders (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 116-19; 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; Wikipedia: Trent Affair

The Second Session of the Thirty-Seventh U.S. Congress

December 2, 1861 – The second session of the first Republican-dominated Congress opened amid growing discontent with the way the Lincoln administration was prosecuting the war.

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

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

The Republican majority in this Congress included an unprecedented number of New Englanders, most of whom belonged to the party’s Radical faction. Of the 22 Senate committees, 16 were chaired by senators either from New England or born in New England but representing other states. The two most powerful members of the House of Representatives, House Speaker Galusha Grow and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Thaddeus Stevens, represented Pennsylvania but had been born and raised in New England.

Debate quickly focused on more effective means to wage the war. For the Radicals, this meant transforming the conflict from preserving the Union by destroying the Confederacy to destroying the southern way of life by crusading against slavery. This was evidenced by the House rejecting a motion to reaffirm the Crittenden-Johnson Resolution of July 25, which had declared that the war was being waged solely to preserve the Union.

Members of Congress introduced several petitions and bills emancipating slaves, especially those belonging to masters “in rebellion.” Senator Lyman Trumbull of Illinois introduced a bill providing “for the confiscation of the property of rebels, and giving freedom to the persons they hold in slavery.” This would expand the Confiscation Act by seizing and freeing the slaves of anyone supporting the Confederacy (the current act only provided for seizing slaves actively serving the Confederacy and placing them under Federal supervision).

Trumbull had once been a close political ally of President Lincoln, but they had since clashed on the slavery issue, prompting Trumbull to declare that the president lacked “the will necessary in this great emergency.”

Aside from slavery, financing the war dominated debates. It was estimated that by the end of the fiscal year of June 30, 1862, the Federal debt would be $750 million, with only $165 million in revenue generated by taxation. Unprecedented tax increases were proposed, along with other measures such as increasing import tariffs on coffee, tea, sugar, and molasses. More proposals would be forthcoming upon receiving the Treasury Department’s annual report.

Regarding the military, Congress authorized the navy secretary to award the Medal of Honor to enlisted men in the Navy and Marine Corps. Creation of the Medal came about due to pressure from servicemen and the public. This was the highest military award ever granted by the U.S. Congress also approved an official thanks for “the gallant and patriotic services of the late Brig Gen Nathaniel Lyon, and the officers and soldiers under his command at the Battle of Wilson’s Creek.”

In addition, the Senate held a memorial service for Edward D. Baker of Oregon, a fellow senator-turned-colonel, killed at Ball’s Bluff in October. In an unusual occurrence, President Lincoln visited the Senate chamber to attend the service.

The Senate addressed the defection of John C. Breckinridge to the Confederacy by approving a motion: “Whereas John C. Breckinridge, a member of this body from the State of Kentucky, has joined the enemies of his country, and is now in arms against the Government he had sworn to support,” it was resolved “that said John C. Breckinridge, the traitor, be, and he hereby is, expelled from the Senate.”

Breckinridge, the former U.S. vice president under James Buchanan, had attended the special congressional session the previous summer but had since disavowed the Union and accepted a military commission as a Confederate brigadier general. Senators unanimously voted to expel him from the chamber, 36 to 0.

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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. 99; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 6818-29; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 88, 92; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 145-48, 151; 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. 358, 495-96; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 267-68; Smith, Dean E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 751-52; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 213-14; Sylvia, Stephen W., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 484; 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 Growing Rift Between Lincoln and McClellan

November 13, 1861 – President Abraham Lincoln called upon new General-in-Chief George B. McClellan, who refused to see him. This symbolized the evolving relationship between Lincoln and McClellan.

Federal Major General George B. McClellan | Image Credit: Histmag.org

Federal Major General George B. McClellan | Image Credit: Histmag.org

With Winfield Scott retired, McClellan now commanded all Federal armies while continuing to directly command the Army of the Potomac. Despite the slight embarrassment at Munson’s Hill and the defeat at Ball’s Bluff, McClellan still enjoyed immense popularity among northerners and his troops. This was exemplified by an enormous torchlight parade observed by Lincoln, in which participants honored McClellan as the savior of the Union.

Over the past few months, Lincoln had made a habit of occasionally dropping by McClellan’s home to discuss military strategy. For Lincoln, McClellan sometimes waived the social and military custom of requiring a prior appointment. On other occasions, Lincoln had called on McClellan only to be turned away for various reasons.

Lincoln paid an unannounced visit to McClellan’s home on the night of November 13, accompanied by Secretary of State William H. Seward and Lincoln’s secretary, John Hay. McClellan’s servant informed the men that the general had gone to the wedding of Colonel Frank Wheaton at the headquarters of General Don Carlos Buell. The servant invited the men to wait in the parlor, as McClellan was expected home soon.

McClellan arrived an hour later, ignored the announcement that he had visitors, and passed the parlor on his way upstairs. After another half-hour, Lincoln asked the servant to tell McClellan that they were still waiting. The servant informed them that McClellan had gone to bed.

The three men left, with Hay furiously urging that McClellan be fired immediately and Seward condemning the “insolence of epaulets.” Lincoln forgave the snub, saying, “I will hold McClellan’s horse if he will only bring us success.” However, the insult was not forgotten, as Lincoln began summoning McClellan to the White House when he wanted to meet with the general.

A grand review of 70,000 men of McClellan’s army took place on November 20 outside Washington. Spectators noted the vast difference between the undisciplined troops of last summer and the martial precision of McClellan’s army. However, some continued to criticize McClellan’s lack of activity.

Among McClellan’s fiercest critics were the Radical Republicans in Congress. Senator Lyman Trumbull of Illinois warned that if McClellan put his army into winter quarters without fighting a battle, “I very much fear the result would be recognition of the Confederacy by foreign governments (and) the demoralization of our own people… Action, action is what we want and must have.”

Although he had three times the men and artillery as the Confederates in northern Virginia, McClellan complained:

“I cannot move without more means… I have left nothing undone to make this army what it ought to be… I am thwarted and deceived by these incapables at every turn… It now begins to look as if we are condemned to a winter of inactivity. If it is so the fault will not be mine; there will be that consolation for my conscience, even if the world at large never knows it.”

Politics began affecting relations between McClellan and the Republican administration he answered to. McClellan had close ties with New York Democrats, many of whom hoped that he would run for president in 1864. While McClellan disliked slavery, he also disliked abolitionists (most of whom were Republicans), and he wrote to a supporter: “Help me to dodge the nigger–we want nothing to do with him. I am fighting to preserve the integrity of the Union… To gain that end we cannot afford to mix up the negro question.”

McClellan’s refusal to meet with Lincoln demonstrated the growing animosity McClellan had toward Lincoln and his Republican allies in Congress. This animosity would play a role in future military planning.

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References

Bailey, Ronald H., Forward to Richmond: McClellan’s Peninsular Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 62; CivilWarDailyGazette.com (November 13); Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 96; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 143; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 82, 84; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 383; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 139; 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. 362-65; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 75

The Confiscation Act

August 6, 1861 – President Abraham Lincoln reluctantly signed a bill into the law authorizing Federal military commanders to seize property, including slaves, from people “aiding, abetting, or promoting” rebellion against the U.S.

Sponsored by Republican Senator Lyman Trumbull of Illinois, the law decreed in carefully worded language that “all such property is hereby declared to be lawful subject of prize and capture wherever found; and it shall be the duty of the (president) to cause the same to be seized, confiscated, and condemned.” The confiscated property “shall be condemned in the district or circuit court of the United States having jurisdiction.”

District attorneys were empowered to “institute proceedings of condemnation,” and any revenue gained from the confiscated property would be given to the Federal government. If a citizen brought a case for confiscation to the district attorney, that citizen would be eligible to receive half the confiscated property’s value; this incentivized informers. Property subject to seizure included land, homes, livestock, farm equipment, businesses, cash, stocks, bonds, and most importantly, slaves (although they were not referred to by that term).

Every slave owner aiding the Confederate military “shall forfeit his claim to such labor.” While this empowered Federal authorities to seize slaves as prizes of war, the law provided no explanation of what would be done to care for the slaves once confiscated. The law also did not provide for freeing those slaves; it only provided for taking them from disloyal masters.

Slaves as "contraband of war" | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Slaves as “contraband of war” | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Since this law mostly applied to slaves working in the Confederate armies as laborers, many assumed that those confiscated would be put to work at the same jobs for the Federal armies. This seemed to indicate that they would stay slaves, except now working for the Federal government rather than the Confederacy. Nevertheless, this law adopted the policy initiated by Major General Benjamin F. Butler at Fort Monroe, where he considered fugitive slaves to be “contraband of war” and refused to return them to their masters.

In the Republican-dominated Congress, all but six Republicans approved this measure. Supporters argued that confiscating property was an appropriate action to take against traitors. Many Radical Republicans saw this is a first step toward abolishing slavery, and they pushed this bill through Congress partly as a way to express disapproval of Lincoln’s moderate stance on the issue.

All but three members of the non-Republican parties in Congress (Democrats, Whigs, Constitutional Unionists, etc.) opposed this measure. Opponents argued that the law contradicted Lincoln’s stated war aims and the Crittenden-Johnson Resolution declaring that the war was about preserving the Union without interfering with slavery. Congressman John J. Crittenden, who co-sponsored the resolution, argued that legal precedent established the Federal government had no right to interfere with slavery during peace, and thus it should be the same during war.

Critics also argued that the logic of seizing property from traitors had no merit because under the Constitution, property could not be seized until the owner was convicted in court. Thus, property would be confiscated without constitutionally guaranteed due process. This law could also pave the way towards Federal military forces waging war on civilians.

While signing several last-minute bills in the Senate Chamber, Lincoln hesitated before signing this one because it interfered with slavery, something Lincoln had pledged not to do in his inaugural address. The partisan nature in which the bill passed troubled many because it indicated that if the conflict became a war against slavery, Republicans could expect no support from any other political parties to fight it. Partly to keep up bipartisanship in the struggle, this law was never fully enforced.

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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 12211-19; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 6608; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 161-62; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 54; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 369; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 105-06; 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. 355-56; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 60; 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

Reconciliation Efforts End

March 1, 1861 – The Senate took up last-minute measures in the hopes of finally reconciling North and South and restoring the Union.

Congressman Thomas Corwin of Ohio | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Congressman Thomas Corwin of Ohio | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

In their last days in session, senators considered three compromise proposals:

Although Republicans tried delaying votes on these measures to prevent their passage before the congressional session ended on March 3, the bills finally came to the floor:

  • A bill adopting the Crittenden proposals failed over Crittenden’s protests
  • A bill replacing the Crittenden plan with the Corwin amendment (introduced by George Pugh of Ohio) failed, 25 to 14
  • A bill calling for a national convention to seek a compromise (introduced by William H. Seward of New York and Lyman Trumbull of Illinois) failed, 25 to 14
  • A bill approving the Peace Convention recommendations failed, 34 to 3; most Republicans objected to this measure even being considered

This left the Corwin amendment, which passed by the exact two-thirds majority needed, 24 to 12. The measure had been introduced in the Senate by Seward, President-elect Abraham Lincoln’s secretary of state-designate. Lincoln, who also supported this amendment, had used his influence to persuade enough Republicans to approve it. Congressmen who had resigned their seats when their states seceded did not vote.

This amendment sought to assure the South that slavery would be permanently legal. It also aimed to dissuade the border slave states from joining the Confederacy. President James Buchanan not only approved this measure but he set a precedent by signing it, even though a president’s signature was not necessary for constitutional amendments.

The measure was submitted to the states for ratification; if approved, it would become the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Although it had endorsements from Democrats and Republicans, the Corwin amendment went ignored in the new Confederacy and northern states ultimately rejected it. This marked the last major attempt at compromise.

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Sources

  • Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 4385
  • Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 16
  • Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 44
  • Napolitano, Andrew P., Lies the Government Told You: Myth, Power, and Deception in American History (Thomas Nelson, Kindle Edition, 2010), Loc 346-49
  • 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), Q161
  • Wikipedia: Corwin Amendment

Compromise Failures Make Disunion Imminent

January 10, 1861 – Senator Jefferson Davis of Mississippi warned his colleagues to take action before the country drifted toward war.

In the North, mass meetings took place in Chicago supporting the Federal government. A sharp distinction between supporting the U.S. and abolishing slavery was drawn in Rochester, New York, when U.S. supporters broke up a meeting of abolitionists. Some abolitionists preferred disunion to a nation that tolerated slavery. Wendell Phillips delivered a speech at the Congregational Society in Boston, proclaiming himself a disunion man, hailing the southern secession as beneficial to the North, and expressing hope that all slave states would leave the Union.

The legislatures of New York, Ohio, Wisconsin, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania adopted resolutions supporting the U.S., with New York backing its support with force if necessary. New York Governor Edwin D. Morgan ordered state authorities to impound all weapons and ammunition stored in private warehouses awaiting shipment to Georgia. Georgia Governor Joseph E. Brown retaliated by ordering the seizure of several northern vessels in his state.

As North and South became more polarized, the congressmen of 14 middle states that allowed slavery (i.e., the “border” or “mid-South” states) met to discuss compromise ideas. Meanwhile, former Secretary of War John B. Floyd urged southerners to oppose Federal coercion to remain in the Union.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Members of Congress also made impassioned speeches in favor of either compromise or disunion. Senator Davis declared:

“Senators, we are rapidly drifting into a position in which this is to become a Government of the Army and Navy in which the authority of the United States is to be maintained, not by law, not by constitutional agreement between the States, but by physical force; and you will stand still and see this policy consummated?”

Davis said that if northern intolerance toward the southern way of life compelled the southern states to secede, there would be no hostilities as long as the Federal government did not try forcing those states to return. Republican Lyman Trumbull of Illinois accused Davis and his fellow southerners of being the aggressors by trying to leave the Union and taking Federal property (i.e., forts and arsenals) with them. Trumbull said:

“He (Davis) talks as if we Republicans were responsible for civil war if it ensues. If civil war comes, it comes from those with whom he is acting. Who proposed to make civil war but South Carolina? Who proposes to make civil war but Mississippi and Alabama and Georgia, seizing by force of arms, upon the public property of the United States?… They are making war, and modestly ask us to have peace by submitting to what they ask!…”

Senator William H. Seward of New York | Credit: Wikispaces.com

Senator William H. Seward of New York | Credit: Wikispaces.com

Two days later, Republican William H. Seward, President-elect Abraham Lincoln’s secretary of state designate, addressed the Senate: “The alarm is appalling; for the Union is not more the body than liberty is the soul of the nation… A continuance of the debate on the constitutional power of Congress over the subject of slavery in the Territories will not save the Union. The Union cannot be saved by proving that secession is illegal or unconstitutional.” He expressed dread toward war and added, “I do not know what the Union would be worth if saved by the use of the sword.”

Seward proposed admitting Kansas as a free state, allowing slavery to continue where it already existed, and dividing all national territory into two states covering the Rocky Mountains and the western deserts. The lower half (to be called New Mexico) would allow slavery, and the upper half (unnamed) would be free. Seward also called for a Federal convention to consider amendments to stop secession; this angered southerners because such a convention would be dominated by the more populous North, and it confirmed many southerners’ belief that Republicans sought to destroy states’ rights.

On the 14th the House Committee of Thirty-three announced it could not reach a compromise, just like the Committee of Thirteen in the Senate. The House committee submitted a majority report and two minority reports; the full House approved the majority report but it did nothing to settle the question of whether to allow slavery in the territories, which was a key point in any potential compromise between Republicans and southern Democrats.

Submitted by Committee Chairman Thomas Corwin of Ohio, the majority report proposed a constitutional amendment protecting slavery where it existed and barring any future constitutional amendments regarding slavery unless approved by the slaveholding states. Corwin also proposed repealing northern laws obstructing enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act while granting jury trials to fugitive slaves. This “Corwin Amendment” remained one of the final compromise ideas still under consideration in Congress.

Meanwhile, many southerners had already decided that secession would be the best solution to the crisis. Jefferson Davis wrote to South Carolina Governor Francis W. Pickens on January 18:

“I hope we shall soon have a Confederacy, that shall be ready to do all which interest or even pride demands, and in the fullness of a redemption of every obligation… We have much of preparation to make, both in military and civil organization, and the time which serves for our preparation, by its moral effect tends also toward a peaceful solution…”

The following week, Naval Commander John A.B. Dahlgren ordered the removal of ammunition from the Washington Navy Yard in case of a secessionist attack.

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Sources

  • Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 1240-51, 3838
  • Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 9-11
  • Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 21-22, 24-29
  • 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) Q161

The Incoming Lincoln Administration

December 5, 1860 – President-elect Abraham Lincoln expressed great dissatisfaction with President Buchanan’s message released yesterday. Lincoln disagreed with Buchanan placing responsibility for the sectional crisis on the northern free states.

Abraham Lincoln in 1860 | Image Credit: Flickr.com

Abraham Lincoln in 1860 | Image Credit: Flickr.com

Lincoln spent this month considering cabinet appointments and political patronage, and clarifying his position on the sectional crisis. But he offered no specifics on what he planned to do once he would become president in March of next year. Lincoln explained to his private secretary that the very existence of government “implies the legal power, right, and duty… of a President to execute the laws and maintain the existing government.”

On December 8, President-elect Lincoln offered a political rival, Senator William H. Seward of New York, the post of secretary of state. Lincoln later met with another rival, Edward Bates, in Springfield and told him that his presence in Lincoln’s administration was “necessary to its complete success.” Lincoln offered Bates the post of attorney general, explaining he had to offer Seward the secretary of state job for political reasons. Lincoln intimated a hope that Seward would decline; in the meantime, Bates accepted the attorney general spot.

Near month’s end, Seward accepted Lincoln’s offer “after due reflection and much self distrust.” Some speculated that Lincoln’s slowness in offering the post to Seward indicated a reluctance to bring such a powerful rival into his cabinet. Lincoln had explained this to Seward, who took it into consideration before accepting. Seward took the job mainly because he believed Lincoln to be “incompetent,” especially on foreign affairs, and he needed an experienced politician such as Seward to be his de facto “prime minister.”

Lincoln expressed his views in a letter to Senator Lyman Trumbull of Illinois on the 10th: “Let there be no compromise on the question of extending slavery. If there be, all our labor is lost, and, ere long, must be done again… The tug has to come & better now, than any time hereafter.” Lincoln wrote several letters this month urging a rejection of any compromise on extending slavery beyond where it already existed.

On the 15th, President-elect Lincoln wrote a confidential letter to Congressman John A. Gilmer of North Carolina, repeating his reluctance to make any public statements out of fear they would be misinterpreted. Lincoln wrote, “I never have been, am not now, and probably never shall be, in a mood of harassing the people, either North or South.” But regarding slavery, Lincoln asserted, “You think slavery is right and ought to be extended; we think it is wrong and ought to be restricted. For this, neither has any just occasion to be angry with the other.”

Lincoln also wrote to Congressman Alexander H. Stephens of Georgia, attempting assurances that his administration would not interfere with slavery in any way where it already existed: “The South would be in no more danger in this respect, than it was in the days of Washington. I suppose, however, this does not meet the case. You think slavery is right and ought to be extended; while we think it is wrong and ought to be restricted. That I suppose is the rub.”

Lincoln offered on opinion on the dispute taking place in Charleston Harbor between South Carolina officials and the Federal troops garrisoning the forts. He wrote to influential Democrat Francis P. Blair, Sr on the 21st.: “According to my present view if the forts (at Charleston) shall be given up before the inaugeration (sic), then General (Winfield Scott) must retake them afterwards.” Lincoln wrote a similar letter to Congressman Elihu B. Washburne of Illinois.

Lincoln met with Senator Simon Cameron of Pennsylvania in Cameron’s hotel room at Springfield on the 28th. The men had a friendly meeting, but Lincoln was still unsure whether to offer Cameron a cabinet post due to charges of corruption, fraud, and influence peddling against him. Nevertheless, Lincoln leaned more toward appointing Cameron because of this meeting and the many letters of recommendation from Cameron’s colleagues.

The next day, President-elect Lincoln wrote to Cameron, promising to nominate him for either secretary of war or the treasury. However, Cameron’s political enemy, A.K. McClure, met with Lincoln at Springfield and revealed documentation showing that Cameron’s moral deficiencies made him unfit for a cabinet post.

Lincoln conferred with Cameron again in Springfield on the 30th. Cameron alleged that Lincoln’s campaign managers had assured him control of the treasury, but critics objected to Lincoln putting such a corrupt man in that post. Cameron had been nicknamed “Winnebago Chief” for allegedly swindling Native Americans years ago, and opponents called him “a man destitute of honor and integrity.” Criticism prompted Lincoln to drop Cameron from consideration, but Cameron’s backers continued pushing to get him into the cabinet.

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Sources

  • Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 5491, 5525-35, 5557-68
  • Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 4-6
  • Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 9-11, 14, 17
  • McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 246-49, 259-60