Tag Archives: National Union Party

The National Union Convention Adjourns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Campaign poster | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 172; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 421; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 10758-69, 10790, 10974; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 7960-70; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 452; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 621-25; Hoffsommer, Richard D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 333-34; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 517-18; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 716; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q264

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The National Union Convention Assembles

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

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

President Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 172; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 10681-91, 10724-47; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 451; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 621-25; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 166; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 516-17; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 716; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 320; White, Howard Ray (2012-12-18). Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks. Kindle Edition), Q264

The Springfield National Union Rally

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 9671-9705; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011-01-26), p. 639-40; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 344; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 401; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 686-87; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q363