Tag Archives: Zachariah Chandler

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 Wade-Davis Bill: Executive Response

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 432; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 10855-98; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 794-95; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 9674-715; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 464, 466; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 639; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 532-33, 535; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 712-13; Murphy, Richard W., The Nation Reunited: War’s Aftermath (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 30

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

Federal Fugitive Slave Policy

July 30, 1861 – Major General Benjamin F. Butler, commanding the Federal garrison at Fort Monroe, Virginia, wrote to Secretary of War Simon Cameron requesting clarification on the Lincoln administration’s policy on slaves escaping from their masters and seeking protection within Federal military lines.

The Federal government began outlining the basis of a fugitive slave policy on July 9, when the House of Representatives approved a resolution lifting any requirements for army commanders to return fugitives to their owners. This passed despite urgings from several commanders to recommend returning the fugitives, as was being done in the Western Theater, since the army had no way to care for them.

The influential Radical Republicans in Congress not only supported protecting fugitives from their masters, but many favored turning the war into a crusade to abolish slavery as well. Charles Sumner of Massachusetts and Zachariah Chandler of Michigan, two of the most vocal abolitionists in the Senate, met with President Abraham Lincoln and Vice President Hannibal Hamlin at the White House on July 23.

Hamlin, also an abolitionist, sided with Sumner and Chandler in urging Lincoln to make the conflict a war of slave liberation. Sumner asserted that this was a military necessity; Chandler argued that freeing slaves would make the Confederacy collapse under the chaos of racial disorder.

Taking a centrist position between the Radicals and conservatives in his party, Lincoln explained that most northerners were not ready to fight to free slaves. Moreover, forcing slaveholders to free their slaves without compensation or any plan for education, employment, or welfare would encourage Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri to secede. The Radicals feared that Lincoln tried too hard to garner support from Democrats, most of whom backed Lincoln’s pledge not to interfere with slavery where it already existed.

BenjaminFButlerButler, who had already sparked controversy by his refusal to return fugitives to their masters in May and calling them “contraband of war,” forced the issue on the 30th in his letter to Cameron. Butler asked a series of questions about the legal status of the contrabands, about 1,000 of whom had sought refuge within his lines over the past two months. Butler also expressed concern about having sent reinforcements to Washington because this had compelled him to give up Hampton where “all these black people were obliged to break up their homes… fleeing across the creek within my lines for protection and support.” Butler wrote:

“Indeed it was a most distressing sight to see these poor creatures, who had trusted to the protection of the arms of the United States, and who aided the troops of the United States in their enterprise, to be thus obliged to flee from their homes, and the homes of their masters, who had deserted them, and become not fugitives from fear of the return of the rebel soldiery, who had threatened to shoot the men who had wrought for us, and to carry off the women who had served us to a worse than Egyptian bondage.”

The Federal government was still bound to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act, but Butler had argued that that law did not apply since Virginia claimed to no longer be a state in the Union and thus had no claim to fugitives escaping to the protection of a “foreign” army. Butler believed that refusing to return fugitives hindered the Confederate war effort, and as such he had put the slaves to work as unpaid laborers in his camp.

Feeling that it was time to decide “the question of their final disposition,” Butler asked:

“First–What shall be done with them? and, Second, What is their state and condition? Are these men, women, and children, slaves? Are they free? Is their condition that of men, women, and children, or that of property, or is it a mixed relation? What their status was under the Constitution and laws, we all know? What has been the effect of rebellion and a state of war upon that status?… If property, do they not become the property of the salvors? But we, their salvors, do not need and will not hold such property… has not, therefore, all proprietary relation ceased?”

Butler then partly answered his own questions by opining that these slaves could no longer be considered property:

“Have they not become thereupon men, women and children? No longer under ownership of any kind, the fearful relicts of fugitive masters, have they not by their masters’ acts and the state of war assumed the condition, which we hold to be the normal one, of those made in God’s image?”

Noting that some Federal commanders, including Major General Irvin McDowell at Bull Run, had ordered fugitive slaves returned to their masters, Butler asked, “Is that order to be enforced in all Military Departments? Now, shall the commander of regiment or battalion sit in judgment upon the question, whether any given black man has fled from his master, or his master fled from him? Indeed, how are the free born to be distinguished?”

Butler explained that he wanted to continue his current course of action because in wartime, all enemy property was theoretically subject to confiscation. If “it should be objected that human beings were brought to the free enjoyment of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, such objections might not require much consideration.”

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 61; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 6597; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 161-62; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 43; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 102-03; 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. 355; 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), Q361