Tag Archives: Salmon P. Chase

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 Pomeroy Circular and Other Political Intrigues

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sen. Samuel Pomeroy | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 513; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 376; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 10160, 10236, 10247-59, 10270-81, 10493; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 103-04; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 941-44; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 401; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 606; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 467-68; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 714-15; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 591; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q164

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

The 1863 Northern State Elections

October 13, 1863 – Various northern states held elections for local and state offices. Since these states were considered crucial to the war effort, President Abraham Lincoln anxiously awaited the results.

Elections for governors and state legislatures took place in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Iowa. Democrats had made gains in these states in last year’s Federal elections, and Lincoln worried that the voters might go against his Republican Party again this year. More Democratic victories would indicate that the people were tiring of the way Lincoln was handling the war.

Republicans entered these contests with some momentum thanks to recent military victories, including news that Federal forces had reinforced the Army of the Cumberland at Chattanooga. But Democrats railed against Lincoln’s war policies, including his suppression of civil liberties and enforcement of conscription. They also warned workers that Lincoln’s commitment to emancipation could mean that freed slaves might come north and compete for their jobs.

Former U.S. Congressman Clement L. Vallandigham | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

In Ohio, Republicans feared defeat so much that they joined forces with pro-war Democrats to form a “Union” ticket and nominate Democrat John Brough for governor. Brough was opposed by Clement L. Vallandigham, the Copperhead whom Lincoln had banished from the U.S. for encouraging people to oppose the war effort. While exiled in Windsor, Canada, Vallandigham campaigned for “peace at any price,” even if it meant granting Confederate independence.

Lincoln told Navy Secretary Gideon Welles that Ohio caused him “more anxiety… than he had in 1860 when he was chosen” president. Lincoln furloughed Federal employees and soldiers from that state so they could go home and vote, presumably for Republican and “Union” candidates. Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase, a former Ohio governor, left his post to campaign in his home state. Republicans Governors Oliver P. Morton of Indiana and Richard Yates of Illinois also campaigned in Ohio.

In Pennsylvania, staunch Republican Unionist Andrew Curtin ran for reelection. His opponent was Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice George W. Woodward. Republicans re-published Woodward’s statements prior to the war, which included, “Slavery was intended as a special blessing to the people of the United States,” and, “Secession is not disloyalty” because Lincoln’s election forced the southern states to leave.

Woodward also wrote, “I cannot in justice condemn the South for withdrawing… I wish Pennsylvania could go with them.” Although he had two sons serving in the Army of the Potomac, Woodward had ruled the Enrollment Act unconstitutional in his state. George B. McClellan, the still-popular former general-in-chief, wrote that if he lived in Pennsylvania, he would “give to Judge Woodward my voice and my vote.”

Democrats rallied for the possibility of Woodward and Vallandigham allying with Democrat New York Governor Horatio Seymour “in calling from the army troops from their respective States for the purpose of compelling the Administration to invite a convention of the States to adjust our difficulties.”

In response, Chase warned business leaders who reaped financial rewards from the administration’s fiscal policies, “Gov. Curtin’s reelection or defeat is now the success or defeat of the administration of President Lincoln.” At Curtin’s request, Lincoln granted leaves of absence and 15-day railroad passes to Federal employees from Pennsylvania so they could come home and vote. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton also granted furloughs to Pennsylvania soldiers so they could “vote as they shot.”

To Lincoln’s relief, Chase telegraphed from Ohio that Vallandigham’s defeat was “complete, beyond all hopes.” Brough won a 57-percent majority, or 100,000 more popular votes than Vallandigham (288,000 to 187,000). Soldiers overwhelmingly favored Brough, 41,000 to 2,000. When Lincoln received news of this victory, he telegraphed, “Glory to God in the highest, Ohio has saved the Nation.”

Curtin also won reelection in Pennsylvania, but just by 51.5 percent, or 15,000 votes. The soldier turnout was much smaller than Ohio, largely because Woodward’s court had ruled that soldiers could not vote outside their home districts. Nevertheless, Curtin’s jubilant campaign managers wired Lincoln, “Pennsylvania stands by you, keeping step with Maine and California to the music of the Union.”

Iowa officials reported that the Republicans had “swept the state overwhelmingly,” and pro-administration candidates made gains in Indiana as well. Ultimately, anti-war Democrats calling the war a failure and seeking peaceful coexistence with the Confederacy alienated their pro-war counterparts, who aligned with Republicans in supporting preservation of the Union at all costs.

Republicans credited these victories partly to letters Lincoln had written defending his war policies to Erastus Corning and John Birchard in June, and to Governor Seymour in August. His letters were later published as a pamphlet titled, “The Letters of President Lincoln on Questions of National Policy,” that sold for eight cents. This election made Lincoln more popular than ever in the North, and it emboldened him to continue his efforts to destroy the Confederacy.

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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. 333; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 9649-60, 9727-38; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 828; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 359-60; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 573-75; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 421; 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. 684-88; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 775; 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

President Lincoln’s 1862 Message to Congress

December 1, 1862 – The second session of the lame duck Thirty-seventh U.S. Congress assembled at Washington and received President Abraham Lincoln’s annual message.

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

By this month, many northerners had condemned Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. Democratic victories in the midterm elections, opposition to the war effort, and temperamental military commanders added to the president’s problems.

Democrats in Congress quickly condemned the Lincoln administration for violating civil liberties, especially the suspension of habeas corpus in September. Congressman S.S. Cox of Ohio introduced a resolution on the first day of the new session calling for the immediate release of all political prisoners and declaring that their imprisonment had been “unwarranted by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, and… a usurpation of power never given up by the people to their rulers.”

President Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

In his message, Lincoln reported that foreign relations were satisfactory, adding a statement provided by Secretary of State William H. Seward: “If the condition of our relations with other nations is less gratifying than it has usually been at former periods, it is certainly more satisfactory than a nation so unhappily distracted as we are, might reasonably have anticipated.”

Commerce was adequate, and Federal receipts exceeded expenditures. Lincoln urged Congress to give “most diligent consideration” to the nation’s finances. According to Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase, there should be “a return to specie payments… at the earliest period compatible with due regard for all interests concerned,” and Congress should authorize the creation of a national banking system.

Lincoln also noted the Post Office’s “much improved” efficiency, the Interior Department’s successful suppression of the Sioux uprising, and the perceived benefits of having a new Department of Agriculture, which Congress recently created as a bureau within the executive branch. Lincoln also reported that the Navy Department now consisted of an unprecedented 427 warships, with 1,577 guns and a total capacity of 240,028 tons.

He avoided mentioning the politically volatile Emancipation Proclamation, instead reiterating support for his original plan of compensating slaveholders for gradually, voluntarily freeing their slaves. To that end, Lincoln proposed three constitutional amendments that would supersede his constitutionally dubious emancipation decree:

  • States abolishing slavery prior to 1900 would receive Federal subsidies
  • Slaves gaining freedom during the war would remain free, and if those slaves belonged to slaveholders loyal to the Union, those slaveholders would be compensated for their loss
  • Congress would provide for the colonization of free blacks outside the U.S. with their consent

These amendments were intended to prevent “vagrant destitution” that would result in the immediate liberation of all slaves.

Lincoln concluded:

“As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country. Fellow-citizens, we cannot escape history. We of this Congress and this administration, will be remembered in spite of ourselves. No personal significance, or insignificance, can spare one or another of us. The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation. In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free–honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve. We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best, hope of earth.”

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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. 237; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 8366-99, 8810; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 120; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 234; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 501; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 292; 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