Tag Archives: Radical Republicans

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

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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

Banks Initiates Reconstruction in Louisiana

January 11, 1864 – Major General Nathaniel P. Banks, commanding the Federal Department of the Gulf from New Orleans, issued orders calling for the election of Louisiana state officials and delegates to a convention that would rewrite the Louisiana constitution.

Major General Nathaniel P. Banks | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

The state officials were to comprise “the civil government of the State under the Constitution and laws of Louisiana, except so much of the said Constitution and laws as recognize, regulate, or relate to slavery, which, being inconsistent with the present condition of public affairs, and plainly inapplicable to any class of persons now existing within its limits, must be suspended.”

Banks had been prodded by President Abraham Lincoln to implement his “Ten Percent Plan” in Louisiana. Banks resolved that “the only speedy and certain method” to do this was to hold a special election for state officials under the current Louisiana constitution while declaring that the provisions in that document regarding slavery were “inoperative and void.”

Most Unionists opposed Banks’s plan because they wanted to amend the constitution to not only abolish slavery but to abolish other alleged injustices that favored planters over the masses. Banks responded by also calling for the election of delegates that would revise or replace the Louisiana constitution at a later date.

Those eligible to vote in the elections for state officials and delegates were white men who swore allegiance to the Union and adhered to the Emancipation Proclamation. However, the proclamation exempted many areas of Louisiana from abolishing slavery. Also, the election would be held when Federal occupation forces controlled only 17 of the state’s 48 parishes. Regardless, Banks had the 10 percent of 1860 voters he needed to call for the election, and it was set for February 22.

Some objected to the notion that only white men would be voting to revise Louisiana’s constitution. A petition was sent to Washington, signed by over 1,000 men, calling on the Federal government to grant the “free people of color” in New Orleans the right to vote. The signees included 27 veterans of the Battle of New Orleans in 1815 and the relatives of many men currently serving in the military. Radical Republicans in Congress applauded the delegates who delivered the petition, and Lincoln invited them to the White House.

But while the Radicals favored granting black men the right to vote, many opposed Lincoln’s “Ten Percent Plan.” Congressman Henry W. Davis of Maryland introduced a resolution stating, “There is no legal authority to hold any election in the State of Louisiana; … (and) any attempt to hold an election… is a usurpation of sovereign authority against the authority of the United States.” Politics played a part in Davis’s opposition, as Lincoln had not supported Davis’s bitter struggle against the Blairs’ political machine in Maryland.

Despite the opposition, Lincoln directed Banks to “proceed with all possible despatch” to install a Unionist state government in Louisiana. He reminded Banks that, as department commander, he was “at liberty to adopt any rule which shall admit to vote any unquestionably loyal free state men and none others. And yet I do wish they would all take the oath.”

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References

Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 16850; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 359; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 10346-58, 10391; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 388-89, 393; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 454, 459; 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. 707; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q164

The Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 16790, 16807-33; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 9950-71, 10048-72; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 382; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 563-64, 588-89; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 444-45; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 698, 709; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 618; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q463

Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Message to Congress

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The president reported:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 429; Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 211; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 351; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 9939-50, 9994-10037, 10048-72; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 381; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 590; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 443-45; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 688; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q463

Lincoln Addresses Republican Dissension

December 19, 1862 – President Abraham Lincoln met with the secret Senate Republican caucus committee and shrewdly arranged for the committee members and his cabinet to explain their differences face to face.

U.S. President Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

When Lincoln learned about the secret caucus on the 16th, he was “more distressed” about this supposed conspiracy against him “than by any event of my life.” He asked Senator Orville Browning of Illinois, “What do these men want? They wish to get rid of me, and I am sometimes half disposed to gratify them. We are on the brink of destruction. It appears to me the Almighty is against us, and I can hardly see a ray of hope.”

More bad news came that night, when Lincoln received the resignations of both Secretary of State William H. Seward and his son, Assistant Secretary of State Frederick Seward. Lincoln went to meet with the elder Seward, who was already packing to return to New York. The president refused to accept his resignation and, although Lincoln kept the letter, he told nobody about it as he awaited the caucus results.

The senators resolved to demand that Lincoln reorganize his cabinet, and they deputized nine colleagues to issue this demand at the White House on the 18th. The meeting began at 7 p.m., when Jacob Collamer of Vermont read a statement calling for Lincoln to replace conservative cabinet members with those who agree with Lincoln “in political principles and general policy.” Furthermore, all major military commanders must also be “a cordial believer and supporter of the same principles.”

U.S. Secretary of State William H. Seward | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Various senators delivered speeches “attributing to Mr. Seward a lukewarmness in the conduct of the war.” Benjamin Wade of Ohio accused Lincoln of taking war advice from “men who had no sympathy with it or the cause,” and he alleged that the Republican defeats in last month’s midterm elections were due to “the fact that the President had placed the direction of our military affairs in the hands of bitter and malignant Democrats.”

William P. Fessenden of Maine was more respectful, applauding Lincoln’s patriotism and dedication while admonishing him because “the Cabinet were not consulted as” a group before making crucial decisions about the war. Fessenden then accused Seward of undermining the war effort and claimed that army commanders were “largely pro-slavery men and sympathized strongly with the Southern feeling.” Fessenden singled out Major General George B. McClellan as the prime example.

Lincoln responded by reading copies of letters he had written to McClellan proving that Lincoln had consistently urged him to destroy the enemy as soon as possible. The senators then turned back to Seward, with Charles Sumner of Massachusetts accusing him of writing questionable diplomatic letters “which the President could not have seen or assented to.”

After three hours of discussion, Lincoln pledged to consider the committee’s recommendations and asked the senators to return tomorrow night to resume talks. The men agreed. At next morning’s cabinet meeting, Lincoln informed the members about the committee’s concerns. He said that the senators considered Seward, who did not attend, “the real cause of our failures.” He reported, “While they believed in the President’s honesty, they seemed to think that when he had in him any good purposes Mr. S. contrived to suck them out of him unperceived.”

Lincoln persuaded the members to attend that evening’s meeting with the committee so he could shrewdly put up a unified front against the senators. Before the meeting began, the senators were surprised to see the cabinet members (except Seward) waiting in the anteroom. Lincoln brought them all into the office and announced that his cabinet would be attending to listen to the complaints and testify that the administration was united in purpose.

The meeting began with Lincoln reading a long rebuttal to the committee’s resolutions, which included “some mild severity” against them. Acknowledging that he did not consistently consult with his entire cabinet before making important policy decisions, Lincoln asserted “that most questions of importance had received a reasonable consideration” and he “was not aware of any divisions or want of unity.”

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

Lincoln then asked his cabinet to say “whether there had been any want of unity or of sufficient consultation.” This put Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase in an embarrassing predicament. As a Radical ally, Chase had secretly told the senators that there was dissension and a lack of communication in the cabinet, but now he had to say so in front of the president. To say so would make him disloyal to Lincoln; to not say so would mean he had deceived the senators.

Chase angrily said that he should not have been placed in this awkward situation. He then “fully and entirely” supported Lincoln’s statement and grudgingly admitted that “there had been no want of unity in the cabinet.” The discussion then turned back to Seward, but Chase’s admission seriously damaged the senators’ case against him.

After five hours, Lincoln asked the senators if they still demanded Seward’s resignation. Four said yes, but the other five were no longer sure. The meeting finally adjourned around 1 a.m. with everyone present fairly confident that Seward would not be removed.

Lincoln noted Chase’s disapproval of how the meeting was handled and, as expected, Chase visited him the next day and explained how he had been embarrassed. He told Lincoln that he had written a letter of resignation. Lincoln quickly asked, “Where is it?” Chase pulled it from his pocket and said, “I brought it with me. I wrote it this morning.” Lincoln replied, “Let me have it.”

Chase reluctantly handed the paper to Lincoln, who read it and said, “This… cuts the Gordian knot. I can dispose of this subject now.” Both Postmaster General Montgomery Blair and Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton also offered to resign, but Lincoln refused. He did not, however, refuse Chase’s because it played right into Lincoln’s hands. If the senators insisted on removing Seward, then their greatest ally in the cabinet, Chase, would have to go as well. As Lincoln said to Senator Ira Harris of New York, “I can ride on now. I’ve got a pumpkin in each end of my bag!”

The Radicals ultimately withdrew their demands, Lincoln refused the resignations of both Seward and Chase, and all cabinet members resumed their duties. Lincoln’s shrewdness in handling this affair diffused the political crisis for now.

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References

Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 244-46; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 8563-85; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 111, 113-15; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 240-41; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 486-87; Jackson, Donald Dale, Twenty Million Yankees: The Northern Home Front (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 146-47; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 297-99; 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. 574-75; 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), Q462

Republican Dissension at Washington

December 16, 1862 – Republican senators gathered in an extraordinary caucus to determine how to better manage the war effort after the terrible defeat at Fredericksburg.

The northern press howled with indignation and outrage after Fredericksburg. Many correspondents and pundits were reluctant to blame Major General Ambrose E. Burnside because he was still new to his job and generally not hostile to the press. Instead they went straight to the top, condemning President Abraham Lincoln and his top subordinates (i.e., Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton and General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck) unmercifully.

Many Radical Republicans in Congress agreed with the press criticisms. Senator Zachariah Chandler of Michigan declared, “The fact is that the country is done for unless something is done at once… The President is a weak man, too weak for the occasion, and those fool or traitor generals are wasting time and yet more precious blood in indecisive battles and delays.” Prominent historian George Bancroft called Lincoln “ignorant, self-willed, and is surrounded by men some of whom are as ignorant as himself.”

President Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Lincoln offered a general response to his critics and the situation of the time: “If there is a worse place than hell, I am in it.”

Joseph Medill, the pro-Radical editor of the Chicago Tribune, wrote an editorial that summed up why the public was so irate:

“Failure of the army, weight of taxes, depreciation of money, want of cotton… increasing national debt, deaths in the army, no prospect of success, the continued closure of the Mississippi… all combine to produce the existing state of despondency and desperation.”

Medill alleged that the “central imbecility” of the Fredericksburg campaign belonged to Lincoln, who often received bad counsel from cabinet members that were too conservative to effectively wage war against the Confederacy. Medill singled out Secretary of State William H. Seward: “Seward must be got out of the Cabinet. He is Lincoln’s evil genius. He has been President de facto, and has kept a sponge saturated with chloroform to Uncle Abe’s nose.”

Many Radicals agreed with Medill, based on Seward’s tendency toward moderation in the war effort:

  • He had tried negotiating with the Confederate envoys during the Fort Sumter crisis before the war.
  • He had opposed supplying the Federals at Fort Sumter.
  • He had consistently backed Major General George B. McClellan despite all his shortcomings.
  • In a recent letter, he had blamed “the extreme advocates of African slavery and its most vehement opponents (i.e., the abolitionists)” for starting and continuing the war.
  • He had long resisted allowing blacks to take up combat duty in the military.
  • His political benefactor, Thurlow Weed, had worked to defeat Radical Republican James Wadsworth for governor in Seward’s home state of New York.

Wild rumors began circulating that Lincoln would resign, he would reorganize his cabinet, he would reinstate McClellan as a sort of military dictator, and so on. The 32 Senate Republicans secretly caucused in the Senate reception room to discuss how they could help “secure to the country unity of purpose and action” and save the war effort from doom.

U.S. Secretary of State William H. Seward | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

The Radicals pushed for a harsher, more stringent prosecution of the war, which conservatives such as Seward had resisted. The senators ultimately agreed that Seward was responsible for the military failures because he exerted more influence over Lincoln than any other cabinet member. Chandler wrote his wife accusing Seward of “plotting for the dismemberment of the government.” Morton S. Wilkerson of Minnesota stated that Seward held “a controlling influence upon the mind of the President,” and “so long as he remained in the Cabinet nothing but defeat and disaster could be expected.”

Jacob Collamer of Vermont declared that “the President had no Cabinet in the true sense of the word,” and William P. Fessenden of Maine claimed that “there was a back-stairs influence which often controlled the apparent conclusions of the Cabinet itself.” James Grimes of Iowa called on his colleagues to approve a resolution demanding that Lincoln fire Seward.

The Radicals’ disdain for Seward had been partly caused by Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase, their ally in Lincoln’s cabinet. Chase had been telling them that Lincoln seldom sought his cabinet’s advice, except for adhering to Seward’s “malign influence” on him. Chase accused Seward of using his relationship with Lincoln for political gain, while Chase used his relationship with the Radicals for the same purpose. Orville Browning of Illinois felt confident that the country could be saved by removing conservatives from high positions and replacing them with “a cabinet of ultra men,” led by Chase.

Seward’s allies among the Republican senators worked to postpone the motions for a day, giving Preston King of New York time to inform Seward that a caucus had been formed “to ascertain whether any steps could be taken to quiet the public mind and to produce a better condition of affairs.” When King told him the real reason for the caucus was to oust him, Seward said, “They may do as they please about me, but they shall not put the President in a false position on my account.”

Both Seward and his son, Assistant Secretary of State Frederick Seward, drafted identical letters and sent them to Lincoln: “I hereby resign the office of Secretary (and Assistant Secretary) of State of the United States, and have the honor to request that this resignation may be immediately accepted.”

The next day, the Republican senators caucused again and modified their stance against Seward. Without directly naming him, the senators approved a resolution drafted by Ira Harris of New York stating “that in the judgment of the Republican members of the Senate, the public confidence in the present Administration would be increased by a reconstruction of the Cabinet.” The resolution included:

  • Formation of a new cabinet fully dedicated to prosecuting the war with the utmost vigor
  • Congressional approval of each cabinet member before they assumed their posts
  • Unanimous agreement among all cabinet members on all war policies

This resolution had no basis in the Constitution, which allows the president full authority over his own cabinet and the extent of its power. Thirty-one of the 32 senators approved, with King abstaining. The senators then formed a committee of nine to present this to Lincoln and demand that he fire Seward.

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References

Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 244; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 8454, 8497-8530; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 103-04; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 111; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 240-41; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 486-87; Goolrick, William K., Rebels Resurgent: Fredericksburg to Chancellorsville (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 92-93; Jackson, Donald Dale, Twenty Million Yankees: The Northern Home Front (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 146-47; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 297-98; 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. 574-75; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 174-77; 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), Q462