Tag Archives: Radical Republicans

Lincoln Predicts His Own Defeat

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

President Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 182; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 11178-90, 11268, 11313-23, 11367-78, 11696-707; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 11511-42; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 489; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 647-48; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 554-55, 557-59; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Loc 55465-68

 

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The Wade-Davis Manifesto

August 5, 1864 – Senator Benjamin F. Wade of Ohio and Representative Henry W. Davis of Maryland bitterly denounced President Abraham Lincoln’s veto of a bill designed to give Congress the authority to impose a harsh reconstruction program on the Confederate states.

Sen. B.F. Wade and Rep. H.W. Davis | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

In July, Lincoln had pocket-vetoed the Wade-Davis Reconstruction Bill. Lincoln justified this by asserting that a punitive congressional plan would undermine the restoration of some Confederate states already begun under Lincoln’s more moderate presidential plan. This enraged the Radical Republicans in his party, which included the bill’s sponsors, Wade and Davis. They responded to Lincoln by writing a provocative op-ed in the influential New York Tribune that became known as the “Wade-Davis Manifesto.”

“This rash and fatal act of the President,” they declared, was “a blow at the friends of his Administration, at the rights of humanity, and at the principles of Republican Government.” In vetoing the Wade-Davis bill, Lincoln subjected “the loyal men of the nation” to the “great dangers” of a “return to power of the guilty leaders of the rebellion” and “the continuance of slavery.”

Wade and Davis argued that “it is their right and duty to check the encroachments of the Executive on the authority of Congress, and to require it to confine itself to its proper sphere.” They asserted that “a more studied outrage on the legislative authority of the people has never been perpetrated,” and declared that “the authority of Congress is paramount and must be respected.” In addition, Wade and Davis demanded that Lincoln “understand that our support is of a cause and not of a man,” implying that Lincoln had vetoed the bill for political reasons at the expense of the general welfare.

This internal conflict between fellow Republicans delighted the pro-Democratic press as the presidential election approached. The New York World called the manifesto “a blow between the eyes which will daze the President,” and the New York Herald cited the message as proof that Lincoln was “an egregious failure” who should “retire from the position to which, in an evil hour, he was exalted.”

The Wade-Davis Manifesto threatened to split the Republican Party just months before the election between Radicals backing Wade and Davis, and conservatives backing Lincoln. However, most Republican newspapers ultimately condemned the manifesto’s spiteful tone and voiced support for Lincoln, thus forcing the Radicals to reluctantly fall back into the party line.

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References

Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 10887-98, 11155; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 794-95; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011-01-26), Kindle Locations 9705-25; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 480; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 640; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 535, 551-52; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 713

 

The Wade-Davis Bill: Executive Response

July 4, 1864 – President Abraham Lincoln was presented with a bill outlining the congressional plan for reconstructing the Union, and his reaction outraged many.

After the Wade-Davis Reconstruction Bill passed both chambers of Congress, Radical Congressmen Thaddeus Stevens, Elihu Washburne, and John L. Dawson visited Lincoln at the White House to urge him to sign it into law. They returned to the Capitol and informed their fellow Radicals there was a good chance that Lincoln would not. An old friend from Illinois, Radical Congressman Jesse O. Norton, felt the same way after speaking with Lincoln, but there was “no use trying to prevent it.”

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

On the last day of the congressional session, Lincoln went to his Capitol office to sign the last-minute bills into law. He signed several, including a repeal of the Fugitive Slave Act and a repeal of the Enrollment Act provision allowing draftees to pay $300 to avoid conscription. But he set the Wade-Davis bill aside. Senator Zachariah Chandler of Michigan asked him if he would sign it. Lincoln replied, “Mr. Chandler, this bill was placed before me a few minutes before Congress adjourns. It is a matter of too much importance to be swallowed in that way.”

Chandler warned, “If it is vetoed, it will damage us fearfully in the Northwest. The important point is the one prohibiting slavery in the reconstructed states.” Lincoln said, “That is the point on which I doubt the authority of Congress to act.” Chandler countered, “It is no more than you have done yourself.” Lincoln replied, “I conceive that I may in an emergency do things on military grounds which cannot be done constitutionally by Congress.” Chandler angrily left. Lincoln then explained to the remaining congressmen in the room his chief objection to the measure:

“This bill and the position of these gentlemen seem to me, in asserting that the insurrectionary States are no longer in the Union, to make the fatal admission that States, whenever they please, may of their own motion dissolve their connection with the Union. Now we cannot survive that admission, I am convinced.

“If that be true, I am not President; these gentlemen are not Congress. I have laboriously endeavored to avoid that question ever since it first began to be mooted, and thus to avoid confusion and disturbance in our own councils. It was to obviate this question that I earnestly favored the movement for an amendment to the Constitution abolishing slavery, which passed the Senate and failed in the House.

“I thought it much better, if it were possible, to restore the Union without the necessity of a violent quarrel among its friends as to whether certain States have been in or out of the Union during the war–a merely metaphysical question, and one unnecessary to be forced into discussion.”

Leaving the Capitol, Lincoln was warned that failing to endorse the bill might cost him reelection in November. He responded, “If they choose to make a point upon this I do not doubt that they can do harm. They have never been friendly to me and I don’t know that this will make any special difference as to that. At all events, I must keep some consciousness of being somewhere near right; I must keep some standard of principle fixed within myself.” The congressional session ended without Lincoln’s signature on the Wade-Davis bill, thus killing the measure via a pocket veto.

On the 8th, Lincoln issued a public statement explaining why he refused to sign the bill into law. He wrote that he would not “be inflexibly committed to any single plan of restoration,” nor would he accept “that the free-state constitutions and governments, already adopted and installed in Arkansas and Louisiana, shall be set aside and held for naught, thereby repelling and discouraging the loyal citizens who have set up the same, as to further effort.”

Lincoln also refused to acknowledge “a constitutional competency in Congress to abolish slavery in States,” instead “sincerely hoping and expecting that a constitutional amendment, abolishing slavery throughout the nation, may be adopted.”

To appease the Radicals, Lincoln wrote that he was “fully satisfied with the system for restoration contained in the Bill, as one very proper plan for the loyal people of any State choosing to adopt it,” and he offered to provide “Executive aid and assistance to any such people, so soon as the military resistance to the United States shall have been suppressed in any such State.”

This was meaningless because no state would voluntarily choose to adopt the punitive Wade-Davis bill on its own. Radicals already outraged by Lincoln’s veto became even more incensed by Lincoln’s empty pledge to enforce the bill in states that voluntarily adopted it. Thaddeus Stevens fumed, “What an infamous proclamation! The idea of pocketing a bill and then issuing a proclamation as to how far he will conform to it!”

The congressional recess would not stop the Radicals from plotting revenge against the president.

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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. 432; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 10855-98; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 794-95; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 9674-715; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 464, 466; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 639; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 532-33, 535; 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. 712-13; Murphy, Richard W., The Nation Reunited: War’s Aftermath (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 30

The Wade-Davis Bill: Congressional Reconstruction

July 3, 1864 – The U.S. Congress passed a measure that aimed to supersede President Abraham Lincoln’s “Ten Percent Plan” for bringing Confederate states back into the Union after the war.

In December 1863, Lincoln had presented a plan whereby Confederate states could return to the Union if 10 percent of their registered voters swore loyalty to the Union and elected delegates to a constitutional convention that would abolish slavery and repudiate secession. Many members of Congress, especially the Radical Republicans, denounced this plan as too lenient for the “treasonous rebels.” Perhaps more importantly, they opposed any plan that would allow the president, and not Congress, to make the rules.

Congressman Henry W. Davis of Maryland, chairman of the House Committee on the Rebellious States, introduced a congressional reconstruction measure in January. Davis, who feuded with the prominent Blair family (which supported Lincoln) over political power in Maryland, sought to place Congress in charge of restoring the Union. And while Lincoln sought to begin the restoration process immediately, Davis’s plan would not go into effect until the war ended.

Sen. B.F. Wade and Rep. H.W. Davis | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Under this plan, a state could begin its restoration process only after 50 percent of its registered voters swore loyalty. And while Lincoln’s oath involved promising prospective loyalty to the Union, Davis’s oath required men to swear they had never voluntarily supported the Confederacy. This meant that northerners would have to move into these states because none of them had half their voters oppose the Confederacy from the beginning.

Davis’s bill called for the president to appoint military governors to rule the Confederate states until the loyal registered voters elected delegates to constitutional conventions. These conventions were required to abolish slavery, and repudiate secession and the war debt.

It also called for the abolition of slavery, even though a constitutional amendment abolishing slavery (which Lincoln supported) was defeated in June. But the bill did not go as far as some Radicals went in calling for giving freed slaves the right to vote. In fact, Lincoln had already urged Governor Michael Hahn of Louisiana to consider granting suffrage to slaves and free blacks in his state.

The measure also banned all Confederate officials and military personnel from voting or holding public office. Only when all these conditions were met could the president declare the state restored the Union, and the declaration required congressional consent. Once restored, the state would be granted its representation in Congress and the Electoral College.

The bill came under House debate in March, when Davis railed against Lincoln and his Ten Percent Plan. Davis declared that until Congress recognized “a state government organized under its auspices, there is no government in the rebel states except the authority of Congress.” Davis also condemned Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which he called “a political trick” because it technically freed no slaves.

The House, divided between Radicals supporting Davis and conservatives supporting Lincoln (as well as a small group of Democrats both for and against the war) passed the bill in May by a vote of 73 to 59. Leading Radical Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania voted against the measure because he thought it too lenient.

The bill next went to the Senate, where it was taken up by a committee chaired by Radical Republican Benjamin Wade of Ohio. As the congressional session was set to expire on July 3, Wade scrambled to bring the bill to the Senate floor on the 1st for debate. By that time, many senators had already returned to their home states; 20 were absent when the bill passed in the late hours of the 3rd by a vote of 18 to 14. All non-Republicans opposed the measure.

The bill reflected the Radicals’ continuing opposition not only to Lincoln’s view of reconstruction, but also to Lincoln’s reelection, which could be secured by the electoral votes of the three states that had been restored to the Union according to Lincoln’s Ten Percent Plan (Tennessee, Louisiana, and Arkansas). Both the executive and legislative reconstruction plans called into question whether the Federal government had the authority to force states to amend their constitutions.

Since the bill passed both chambers of Congress by far less than the two-thirds majority needed to override a presidential veto, it would require Lincoln’s signature to become law.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 10855-77; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 794-95; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 9674-715; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 639; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 532-33; 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. 706; Murphy, Richard W., The Nation Reunited: War’s Aftermath (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 30; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 618

The Resignation of Salmon P. Chase

June 30, 1864 – Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase submitted his fourth letter of resignation, but this time President Abraham Lincoln surprised him by accepting.

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

There had long been tension between Lincoln and Chase. The Radical Republicans had backed Chase for president over Lincoln, but an embarrassing situation was averted when Chase quietly ended his candidacy and Lincoln was nominated earlier this month for a second term. But in May, Chase expressed some regret at not trying harder to wrest the presidential nomination from Lincoln. Ever since Chase had been Lincoln’s rival in the contest for the Republican presidential nomination in 1860, he believed himself intellectually and morally superior to the president.

But troubles plagued Chase’s Treasury Department. The new taxes and tariffs were not enough to fund the war, and Chase could not get reauthorization to hire financier Jay Cooke to sell more war bonds. Printing paper money not backed by gold caused rampant inflation, and reports of corruption in the selling and trading of confiscated southern cotton abounded.

Chase blamed political enemies for highlighting these problems, especially the influential Blair family. Congressman Francis P. Blair, Jr., a staunch Lincoln ally, had excoriated Chase in the House of Representatives for mismanaging the department, and Chase condemned Lincoln for not distancing himself from the Blairs.

In late June, John J. Cisco resigned from the highly important post of assistant Federal treasurer in New York City. Chase proposed to replace Cisco with Maunsell B. Field, a man who knew little of finance but was loyal to Chase. New York politicians, including both U.S. Senators Edwin D. Morgan and Ira Harris, opposed the appointment, with Morgan giving Lincoln a list of three alternatives.

Lincoln wrote to Chase on the 28th, “I cannot, without much embarrassment, make this appointment.” Explaining the political dilemma that it would cause, Lincoln forwarded Morgan’s list to him and asked, “It will really oblige me if you will make a choice among these three.”

Chase requested a personal meeting to discuss the matter, but Lincoln declined “because the difficulty does not, in the main part, lie within the range of a conversation between you and me. As the proverb goes, no man knows so well where the shoe pinches as he who wears it.” Lincoln also noted that he had approved most of Chase’s other recommendations in the past, even when they caused “great burden” among political rivals.

Refusing to pick any of Morgan’s three choices, Chase persuaded Cisco to stay in his post. Chase then tendered his resignation a fourth time, adding, “I shall regard it as a real relief if you think proper to accept it.” Although Lincoln had refused it three times before, he astounded Chase by replying:

“Your resignation for the office of Secretary of the Treasury sent me yesterday is accepted. Of all I have said in commendation of your ability and fidelity I have nothing to unsay; and yet you and I have reached a point of mutual embarrassment in our official relations which it seems cannot be overcome, or longer sustained, consistently with the public service.”

At the same time, Lincoln sent this message to Chase and submitted the name of Ohio Governor David Tod to replace Chase as head of the Treasury Department to the Senate. The anti-Lincoln press immediately panned the move, with the New York Herald opining that Tod knew “no more of finances than a post.”

The message to the Senate arrived first, prompting Finance Committee Chairman William P. Fessenden to ask Chase in a meeting, “Have you resigned? I am called to the Senate and told that the President has sent in the nomination of your successor.”

Stunned, Chase later wrote of Lincoln’s response in his diary, “I had found a good deal of embarrassment from him; but what he had found from me I could not imagine, unless it has been caused by my unwillingness to have offices distributed as spoils or benefits, with more regard to the claims of divisions, factions, cliques, and individuals, than to fitness of selection.”

What Chase failed to understand was that Lincoln merely kept him in the cabinet to prevent him from openly opposing his presidency. Now that Lincoln had secured the nomination for a second term, Chase’s usefulness had run out.

Members of the Senate Finance Committee, many of whom supported Chase, called on Lincoln to protest his removal. Lincoln showed them all four of Chase’s resignation letters, explaining that this had been coming for some time. Some still complained, but none insisted on reinstating Chase.

Lincoln also refused the senators’ urgings to withdraw Tod’s name as treasury secretary. But Tod declined the job due to poor health, prompting Lincoln to then nominate Fessenden. No Republican could object to him, even Chase, who called the appointment “a wise selection.”

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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. 431; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 10790-833; 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 9642-62; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 463; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 631-33; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 530

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 Radical Republican Convention

May 31, 1864 – Radicals and other disgruntled Republicans held a convention in Cleveland to nominate a candidate to defeat President Abraham Lincoln’s bid for reelection.

Maj Gen John C. Fremont | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Many Republicans were dissatisfied with Lincoln’s performance, particularly his “lenient” plan to bring the southern states back into the Union. Some had proposed replacing Lincoln with Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase, but Chase had been discredited by the Pomeroy Circular. When Major General John C. Fremont, who had long quarreled with Lincoln before resigning in 1862, expressed interest in running against him, his backers quickly organized an assembly at Chapin Hill a week before the Republican National Convention took place.

This Radical convention sought to protest the “imbecile and vacillating policy of the present Administration in the conduct of the war.” Organizers expected thousands to attend, but only about 400 actually showed. Of these, only 158 were delegates, many of whom held no significant political influence. They were mostly abolitionists and German immigrants loyal to Fremont (especially in Missouri), but some Democrats attended in an attempt to form a new “Radical Democratic” alliance against Lincoln.

Many Radicals who learned that the convention would be stacked with Fremont supporters refused to attend. Republicans and Democrats who pushed for Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant to oppose Lincoln also stayed away. Even Horace Greeley, the influential editor of the New York Tribune who called for this convention in the first place, withdrew his support.

The most prominent name associated with the convention was abolitionist Wendell Phillips, and even he did not attend. Instead he submitted a written statement calling the Lincoln administration “a civil and military failure, and its avowed policy ruinous to the North in every point of view…”

Phillips condemned Lincoln’s reconstruction plan because it “makes the freedom of the negro a sham, and perpetuates slavery under a softer name,” and he concluded, “If Mr. Lincoln is re-elected I do not expect to see the Union reconstructed in my day, unless on terms more disastrous to liberty than even disunion would be.”

Delegates adopted a platform that advocated:

  • A constitutional amendment to permanently abolish slavery and “secure to all men absolute equality before the law”
  • Granting black men the right to vote
  • Congress, not the president, administering reconstruction
  • Seizing the land of Confederates by military force and redistributing it to Federal soldiers, former slaves, or anyone else the Radicals deemed worthy
  • Abolishing the Electoral College and electing the president by popular vote
  • Limiting the president to one term
  • Barring the president from violating civil liberties, including suspending the writ of habeas corpus

Fremont was nominated by acclamation. The delegates expected him to run a strong race, just as he did as the first ever Republican presidential candidate in 1856. As a nod to the small Democratic constituency in attendance, Democratic Brigadier General John Cochrane was nominated vice president. Fremont agreed to run in the naïve hope that Radicals and Democrats could form a broad enough coalition to beat Lincoln in November.

In his acceptance statement, Fremont declared that he represented “a view to prevent the misfortune of (Lincoln’s) reelection,” which “would be fatal to the country.” He condemned Lincoln’s mismanagement of the war. However, he ignored the party’s pledge to uphold social and political equality, and he openly opposed the Radical plan to redistribute confiscated land.

A pundit called this disappointing convention “a most magnificent fizzle” that only featured “disappointed contractors, sorehead governors, and Copperheads.” Noting the delegates’ lack of political clout, the pro-Lincoln New York Times called the assembly “a congregation of malcontents… representing no constituencies, and controlling no votes.” Most Radicals renounced this party for its alliance with Democrats and ultimately acknowledged that the best way to advance their agenda was to back Lincoln.

When Lincoln was told that only 400 people attended this assembly, he thumbed through a Bible until he came upon 1 Samuel 22:2 and read, “And every one that was in distress, and every one that was in debt, and every one that was discontented, gathered themselves unto him; and he became a captain over them: and there were with him about 400 men.”

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 172; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 10517, 10691-713; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 7910-31; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 447; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 624; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 511-12; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 715-16; Schweikart, Larry and Allen, Michael, A Patriot’s History of the United States (New York: Penguin Books, 2004), p. 342; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q264