July 22, 1864
President Lincoln briefs the Cabinet on the complicated negotiations undertaken by Tribune Editor Horace Greeley. Navy Secretary Gideon Welles writes in his diary: “At the Cabinet-meeting the President read his correspondence with Horace Greeley on the subject of peace propositions from George Saunders and other at Niagara Falls. The President has acquitted himself very well ,– if he was to engage in the matter at all,–but I am sorry that he permits himself, in this irregular way, to be induced to engage in correspondence with irresponsible parties like Saunders and Clay or scheming busybodies like Greeley. There is no doubt that the President and the whole Administration are misrepresented and misunderstood on the subject of peace, and Greeley is one of those who has done and is doing great harm and injustice in this matter. IN this instance he was evidently anxious to thrust himself forward as an actor, and yet when once engaged he began to be alarmed; he failed to honestly and frankly communicate the President’s first letters, as was his duty, but sent a letter of his own, which was not true and correct, and found himself involved in the meshes of his own frail net.”
Attorney General Edward Bates writes in his diary: “In C.C – present, Welles, Usher, Blair, Bates, and part of the time, Fessenden. Absent Seward and Stanton –
The Prest. gave a minute account of the (pretended) attempt to negotiate for peace, thro’ George [N.] Sanders, Clem. C. Clay and Holcolm[be] by the agency of that meddlesome blockhead, Jewitt [Jewett] and Horace Greel[e]y. He read us all the letters.
“I am surprised to find the Prest. Green enough to be entrapped into such a correspondence; but being in, his letters seem to me cautious and prudent.
Jeweitt [Jewett] a crack-brained simpleton (who aspires to be a knave, while he really belongs to a lower order of entities) opens the affair, by a letter and telegram to Greel[e]y; and Greel[e]y carries on the play, by writing to the President, to draw him out, and, if possible, commit him, to his hurt – while the pretended Confederate Commissioners play dumby, – wa[i]ting to avail themselves of some prrobable blunder, on this side.
“I noticed that the gentlemen present were, at first, very chary, in speaking of Grel[e]y, evidently afraid of him and his paper, the Tribune; and so, I said I cant [sic] yet see the color of the cat, but there is certainly a cat in that mealtub.’ The contrivers of the plot counted largely on the Presidents [sic] gullibility, else they never would have started it by the agency of such a mad fellow as Jewitt [Jewett] – perhaps they used him prudently, thinking that if bluffed off, at the start, they might pass it off as a joke….
“The President, I fear, is afraid of the Tribune, and thinks he cant [sic] afford to have it for an enemy. And Usher tries to deepen that impression. But Blair says there is no danger of that; that Greel[e]y is restrained by Hall, who controls the paper, and Greel[e]y too, owning 9/10 of the stock, and is a fast friend of the President – (of that? [I question])
Welles more perceptively writes in his diary: “In these peace movements, the President has pursued his usual singular course. Seward was his only confidant and adviser, as usual in matters of the greatest importance. He says that Mr. Fessenden accidentally came in on other business while he was showing Seward and the Greeley correspondence, and he was let into a knowledge of what was going on, but no one else. John Hay was subsequently told, before going off, and now, to-day, the Cabinet are made acquainted with what has been done. The President, instead of holding himself open to receive propositions, has imposed conditions and restrictions that will embarrass the parties.”
General George B. McClellan, under consideration for the Democratic nomination, writes Francis P. Blair, Sr., about the presidential campaign: “In the course of our conversation its basis, the predominating idea, was your proposition that I should write a letter to the Presdt distinctly stating that I would not permit my name to be used as a candidate for the Presidency in opposition to the present incumbent, and that in that event — not otherwise — I would be actively employed by him in a position befitting my rank, & that thus the nation would have the benefit of what you are pleased to regard as valuable services on my part. That another officer of high rank General Grant had written such a letter was mentioned by you as an argument in favor of my pursuing a similar course.
Here let me repeat the statement, which you are aware I have more than once made, that I have not taken a single step nor said one word for the purpose of influencing the action of any political Convention, & that I am not an aspirant for nomination for the Presidency. It is my firm conviction that no man should seek that high office, and that no true man should refuse it, if it is spontaneously conferred upon him, & he is satisfied that he can do good to his country by accepting it. Whoever is nominated for the Presidency in opposition to the present incumbent, it will be upon principles differing widely from those which have controlled his course. Should the result of the election be in his favor — no harm will have inured to him from the contest. Should a majority of the loyal voters of the country decide in favor of his opponent it will be upon a struggle of principles not of men. Now, situated as your country is, its fate trembling in the balance, anyone who pledged himself not to oppose the reelection of the actual incumbent as a condition of obtaining office or employment places himself upon the horns of a dilemma.
If he does not conscientiously approve the policy of the incumbent, he simply sells his self respect honor & truth — as well as his country – for a price.
Or he says by implication at least, that he does fully approve of all the measures of the incumbent, & that he regards the question as merely a choice of men, ¬ of principles or measures.
No one who knows me will suppose that I could accept the first alternative. The second is admissable for the reason that I do not approve of the policy and measures of the present President.
To prevent the possibility of misunderstanding permit me to mention a few important points in regard to which I differ very widely from the President — I shall not attempt to go over the whole ground because it is not necessary to do so.
By retaining my commission as I have done at a great personal sacrifice, I have shown my constant readiness to perform any proper duty to which I might be assigned. If the cause of my being removed from command & being kept so long unemployed was a want of confidence in my ability as a soldier it would have been idle for me to ask for command. But I am not permitted to adopt this solution, for the reason that it was only a short time before my removal from command that the President took occasion to express to me his high confidence in my value as a soldier.
If political considerations caused my displacement I can merely assert that no thought, word or act of mine justified such a course, and the onus of undoing the work, together with all its consequences, must rest with t hose who are alone responsible for it.
I conceive that I should forfeit my own self respect, & be wanting in that respect due the high office of the president of the U.S. should I seek for employment — ‘I sit upon the bank & patiently watch the wind.’
I think that the original object of the war, as declared by the Govt., viz: the preservation of the Union, its Constitution & its laws, has been lost sight of or very widely departed from, & that other issues have been brought into the foreground which either should be entirely secondary, or are wrong or impossible or attainment.
I think the war has been permitted to take a course which unnecessarily embitters the inimical feeling between the two sections, & much increases the difficulty of attaining the true objects for which we ought to fight. Convinced that the Union of the States should never be abandoned so long as there is a hope that it can be made to secure the welfare & happiness of the people of all the States, I deprecate a policy which far from tending to that end tends in the contrary direction.
I think that in such a contest as this policy should ever accompany the use of arms, & that our antagonists should be made to know that we are ever ready to extend the olive branch, & make an honorable peace on the basis on the Union of all the states.