Tag Archives: William Dennison

Lincoln Looks to Unify the Republicans

September 10, 1864 – President Abraham Lincoln worked to reunite the conservatives and Radicals within his Republican Party as the presidential race began heating up.

Lincoln spent time this month gauging the national attitude toward his possible reelection in November. His chances for victory seemed bleak in August, but since then the Federals had captured Mobile Bay and Atlanta, which emboldened northerners to support the candidate who pledged to continue the war until it was won.

Lincoln also hoped to bring the conservatives and the Radicals together on a united front. The Radicals had joined with War Democrats at a small convention and nominated former General John C. Fremont to oppose Lincoln. The “Pathfinder” had resigned from army command in 1862, and Lincoln would not reinstate him.

President Abraham Lincoln and Major General John C. Fremont | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

By August, most Radicals withdrew their support for Fremont because they felt he had no chance to win. Still unwilling to back Lincoln, they met to decide upon an alternate candidate, but they finally agreed that there was none, and so most reluctantly backed Lincoln. Thurlow Weed, a party boss supported by conservatives, informed Secretary of State William H. Seward on September 10, “The conspiracy against Mr. Lincoln collapsed on Monday last.”

To placate the conservatives, Lincoln replaced Hiram Barney as New York customs collector with Simeon Draper, a prominent New York businessman and close friend of Weed and Seward. To placate the Radicals, Lincoln made it known that he would be willing to remove their hated rival, Montgomery Blair, as postmaster general in the cabinet.

Senator Zachariah Chandler of Michigan became the intermediary between Lincoln and the congressional Radicals. He presented Lincoln’s offer to them and added a condition: that Fremont drop out of the race. Fremont had no chance to win the election, but he could prevent Lincoln from winning by drawing enough votes from abolitionists and German immigrants to give the Democratic nominee, George B. McClellan, the majority.

Chandler met with Fremont at New York’s Astor House and presented him with a deal: if he stepped down, he would get a new army command and Blair would be removed from the cabinet. Fremont consulted with his advisors, with Gustave Paul Cluseret of the New Nation writing that Fremont would listen to “any man who causes imaginary popular enthusiasm to glitter before his eyes, spends his money, profits by his natural indolence to cradle him in an illusion from which he will only awaken ruined in pocket and in reputation.”

Fremont agreed to drop out the same day this editorial appeared. He told Chandler, “I will make no conditions–my letter is written and will appear tomorrow.” On the 18th, Fremont announced his “intention to stand aside from the Presidential canvas.” He declared that he would continue supporting the “radical Democracy” (i.e., the group of Radicals and War Democrats who nominated him), but he wrote:

“The union of the Republican Party has become a paramount necessity. In respect to Mr. Lincoln I continue to hold exactly the sentiments contained in my letter of acceptance. I consider that his administration has been politically, militarily, and financially a failure, and that its necessary continuance is a cause of regret for the country.”

Fremont recognized that he could divide the Republican vote if he stayed in the race, and allowing McClellan to win would mean either “separation or re-establishment with slavery.”

Even though Fremont would not exchange his withdrawal for Blair’s removal, Chandler reminded Lincoln that Fremont had done him a service by dropping out. Lincoln therefore went ahead and requested Blair’s resignation anyway: “My dear Sir, You have generously said to me more than once that whenever your resignation could be a relief to me it was at my disposal. The time has come.”

Blair agreed to resign, and Lincoln replaced him with William Dennison, the former Ohio governor and president of the Republican National Committee. David Davis, who had helped secure Lincoln’s election in 1860, called Dennison “honorable, highminded, pure, and dignified.” Blair’s resignation prompted Radicals such as Benjamin Wade and Henry W. Davis to begin campaigning for Lincoln, despite having recently excoriated him in their Wade-Davis manifesto.

Covering all his bets, Lincoln began arranging for soldiers to come home on furloughs and vote in states that did not allow absentee voting. Some questioned this practice, fearing that soldiers might be more inclined to support their beloved McClellan, but Lincoln felt that the troops would back him because he, unlike McClellan, had pledged to finish the job of winning the war before negotiating a peace.

Absentee ballots were allowed in 17 states, but others, including crucial Indiana, did not. Lincoln therefore asked Major General William T. Sherman, commanding the Military Division of the Mississippi, to furlough all his Indiana regiments for the state elections in October. Lincoln wrote, “They need not remain for the Presidential election, but may return to you at once.” Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton also worked to furlough as many troops as possible.

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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. 460; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 11334-56. 11389-413, 11503; 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 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 11724-44; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 497, 500; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 659, 663; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 565-66, 570-74; 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. 776; 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), Q364

The National Union Convention Adjourns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Campaign poster | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

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