Senator William P. Fessenden Appointed as Treasury Secretary

July 1, 1864

President Lincoln nominates Maine Senator William P. Fessenden to be secretary of treasury – while Fessenden is calling on Lincoln to suggest that Comptroller of Currency Hugh McCulloch be nominated instead as the replacement to resigned Secretary Salmon P. Chase.

Presidential aide John Hay writes in his diary: “I went in at half-past ten this morning to see the President. He gave me a nomination. He said, “I have determined to appoint Fessenden himself.’ I said, ‘Fessenden is in my room waiting to see you.’ ‘Send him in & go at once to the Senate.’

“I delivered the message to the Senate & it was instantly confirmed: the executive session not lasting more than a minute, & returned to the office. There I meet Abe Wakeman in high glee. He thought it a great thing to do: that henceforward the fifty thousand Treasury agents would be friends of the President instead of enemies. I could not help pouring some cold water on his enthusiasm.

“Going to the Senate as usual early this afternoon I saw several who seemed very well pleased. At the House it was still better. Washburne said, ‘This appointment of Fessenden is received with great eclat. The only fear is that he will not accept. The general feeling in Congress is in favor of Boutwell in case Fessenden declines. If the President cares for any expression from Congress a very strong one could be sent up for Boutwell.’ Coe of New York was here about the Gold Bill which was repealed today He visited the President & was by him set upon Fessenden to aid in insisting on his accepting the place. The President said so to Howe also & to Diven & to Ashmun and others. A strong delegation of Congress waited upon Fessenden today to add their request that he would accept.”

Recently resigned Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase writes in his diary: “This morning the papers contained telegrams answering that Gov Tod declines to take the Treasury Department. On receiving this information the President sent to the Senate the name of Mr. Fessenden – a wise selection. He has the confidence of the country and many who have become inimical to me will give their confidence to him and their support. Perhaps they will more than they otherwise would to sustain him in order to shew how much better a Secretary he is than I am. If so the country will gain even by hostility to me transmuted into friendship for him.

Gen Moorhead called and related briefly an interview between himself and Mr. Williams, and the President. They had attempted to induce him to send for me with a view to my return to the Department; but he would not consent to this. He thought we could not agree and it was without use; and in this he was I think right. I cannot sympathize with his idiotic notion more than once expressed to me and others that the best policy is to have no policy and he cannot sympathize with my desires for positive and energetic action. It is best that he try somebody else. They had then mentioned to him Mr. Howe of Pittsburgh as a proper person for Secretary; but found him not inclined to this. The conversation preceded Tod’s declination; and had reference to the possibility that the Senate might not confirm the nomination.

The day was given to writing letters and to conversation with others who called. In the evening Fessenden came in immediately after dinner, or rather just before finishing dinner. Nobody but Senator Sprague and myself were at the table and he introduced the subject of his nomination. He expressed an extreme aversion to acceptance–fears of inability to carry on the Department–and especially strong apprehensions that his health would give way. He had he said begun a note declining, but had been prevented from finishing it by constant interruptions–and had received so many and such urgent appeals to accept that he was greatly embarrassed and wanted my advice. I told [him] I thought he ought to accept–that all the great work of the Department was now fairly blocked out and in progress–that the organization was planned, in many parts complete, and in all in a state which admitted completion–that is so far as completeness could be said of any thing needing constant supervision and allowing constant development and improvement. His most difficult task would be to provide money. He would now see, I though, how important sufficient taxation was and that the Department ought to have been helped by some legislation, asked but denied. But he would have some advantages which I had not. I had been obliged to inaugurate the National Banking System and to claim the circulation for the whole country through their Association and had necessarily encountered the ill will of those whose prejudices or interests bound them to the support of the old System. And I had necessarily also given offence to many whose counsels I had not been able to follow or whose wishes I had not been able to satisfy. These persons would have no cause of ill will against him; and would very probably come to his support with zeal increased by their ill will to me. So my damage would be his advantage, especially with a certain class of capitalists and Bankers; and I thought nothing more probable than that he would be able to obtain loans easier than I could. At any rate this would be his chief and so far as I could see the only real difficulty in his administration. He expressed great apprehension lest his health might give way and said that if he took the place to which he was much urged in Congress and by callers and telegrams from various parts of the country, he should look to me for counsel and all the help I could give. I told him that I thought he would want very little of either; but that all I could give was at his service. He referred to the longstanding relations of confidence and friendship and affection would continue the same as ever. Judge Spaulding came in–and we all three rode to the Capitol together. Fessenden stopped at the Senate Wing, but Spalding and I rode to the Capitol together. Fessenden stopped at the Senate Wing, but Spalding and I rode a few minutes longer together, talking of the resignation[,] of Todds [sic] appointment and declension &c when I left him also at the Capitol and returned home

Chase writes Jay Cooke, a political friend who was his chief bond salesman: “When I found that upon the question of Mr. Cisco’s successor I was not to be left free from all other considerations except simple fidelity to the general cause and fitness for the place, but was expected to take into consideration questions of local politics, I felt myself constrained to make it a turning point. I had been so much embarrassed and injured by the standing of one of the members of the cabinet that I could not feel at all safe unless that office was in hands on that I could not feel at all safe unless that office was in hands on that I could not feel at all safe unless that office was in hands on that I could not feel depend. The President differed with me and I tendered my resignation, and he thought it best to accept it. I could not remain and feel that my department was really under my own control or that I had any real ability serve the country in it. The President did not see the matter as I did.”

Journalist Noah Brooks writes: “Yesterday morning the town was set all agog by the announcement that Secretary Chase had resigned his portfolio of the Treasury Department, and that David Tod, late Governor of Ohio, had been named as his successor. There was a general feeling of regret and apprehension among public men and citizens when the rumor of the fact became a certainty and ti was positively known that Chase was no longer in the Cabinet. The Senate, which now has its session at eleven o’clock in the morning, went into executive session at half-past eleven, when the name of David Tod was submitted as the successor of the outgoing Secretary. The Chase men were nearly frantic, asserting that the movement would cost Lincoln his re-election; that Tod was an idiot, and that Chase had been driven out by the machinations of Blair. A careful sifting of the facts, however, showed that the disagreement between the President and the Secretary was twofold in character, the first being the refusal of the President to accede to the demand of Chase that Maunsell B. Field, now Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, should be Assistant Treasurer at New York, in place of Cisco, resigned. The second was that the Ways and Means Committee of the House had declined to accede to Chase’s request, just made, that Congress should provide, before the adjournment, for $100,000,000 additional to the estimate and appropriations already made, on account of a deficiency in the estimates of the Treasury Department It is well known that the great moneyed interest of New York has the real control of Secretary Chase’s policy, and that circumstances have rendered it possible for the Wall street magnates to tell him that unless certain things were done, Wall street would not support him to carry on this system. Chase had designated Field as the successor of Cisco, and the Register of the Treasury, L.E. Chittenden, was to succeed Field, while Risley, a special agent, was to succeed Chittenden. The President insisted upon spoiling his programme, and named Hillhouse, an able financier, for Cisco’s place. He also declined sending a special message to Congress asking for a supplemental tax bill to raise the additional $100,000,000 asked by Chase, preferring to postpone all such requests for this session.

Chase responded, and ex-Governor Todd was nominated, but not accepted by the Senate, that body refusing to confirm. The Finance Committee waited on the President asking him to send in a more acceptable name; while the Senate demurred, Tod had the good sense to telegraph from Columbus his non-acceptance of the dazzling gift offered him The Chase men were disconsolate — they had hoped that some second rate man would succeed Chase; and if Chase, who is cold-hearted, obstinate and enormously self-conceited, had desired that a lesser man than he should be shown to be behind him, he could not have named a better man than David Tod — at least so say the Ohioans, who as supposed to know. Then there were not lacking those who said that Chase had resigned as soon as the report the Treasury Investigating Committee had been made, for the purpose of embarrassing the Administration, and that he had named his own successor for the same purpose. That does not seem probable.

This morning, bright and early, Senator Fessenden, of Maine, Chairman of the Finance Committee, was named by the President as Secretary of the Treasury, and was immediately confirmed without the formality of sending his name to the Finance Committee. Everybody was pleased, and the only ones who had aught unpleasant to say were the Chase impracticables, who were bound not to be pleased. They said that gold was up in New York on the report — keeping out of sight that gold had gone up on the report that Hooper, of Massachusetts, the author of the Gold Bill, had gone into Chase’s place, and also forgetting, apparently, that gold had gone down and Government stocks up when Chase’s resignation was positively known, the money interest persisting in believing that any change would be for the better, or that things could be no worse. But we all suffered a relapse by three o’clock in the afternoon, when it was announced that Fessenden had declined the place also, believing his physical ability was unequal to the task. He is one of your narrow-chested, thin men, who have not much vitality nor physical endurance, and he did a prudent thing for himself to resign; but he would make a better Secretary than Chase, beyond a doubt; and so at this present writing matters stand in statu quo.

Presidential aide John Hay writes in his diary: “The President says, ‘It is very singular, considering that this appointment of F.’s is so popular when made, that no one ever mentioned his name to me for that place. Thinking over the matter two or three points occurred to me. First, he knows the ropes thoroughly: as Chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance he knows as much of this special subject of Mr Chase. 2nd, he is a man possessing a national reputation and the confidence of the country. 3rd, he is a radical — without the petulent and vicious fretfulness of many radicals. On the other hand I considered the objections: the Vice President & Sec. Treasury coming from the same small state — though I thought little of that: then that Fessenden from the state of his health is of rather a quick & irritable temper: but in this respect he should be pleased with this incident; for, while for some time he has been running in rather a pocket of bad luck — such as the failure to renominate Mr Hamlin which makes possible a content between him & the V.P., the most popular man in Main for the election which is now imminent, & the fact of his recent spat in the Senate where Trumbell told him his ill-temper had left him no friends — this thing has developed a sudden & very gratifying manifestation of good feeling in his appointment, his instant confirmation, the earnest entreaties of every body that he may accept & all that. It cannot but be very grateful to his feelings. This morning he came into this room just as you left it. He sat down & began to talk about other things. I could not help being amused by seeing him sitting there so unconscious and you on your way to the Capitol. He at last began to speak of this matter, rather supporting McCulloch for Secretary. I answered, ‘Mr Fessenden, I have nominated you for that place. Mr Hay has just taken the nomination to the Senate.’ ‘But it hasn’t reached there — you must withdraw it — I can’t accept.’ ‘If you decline,’ I replied, ‘ you must do it in open day, for I shall not recall the nomination.’ We talked about it for some time and he went away less decided in his refusal. I hope from the long delay, that he is making up his mind to accept. If he would only consent to accept & stay here and help me for a little while, I think he would be in no hurry to go.”

The President yesterday told me he had a plan for relieving us to a certain extent financially: for the Government to take into its own hands the whole cotton trade and buy all that [is] offered; take it to New York, sell for gold, & buy up its own greenbacks. Harrington talked somewhat the same doctrine to me last night.

I am glad the President has sloughed off that idea of colonization. I have always thought it a hideous & barbarous humbug & the thievery of Pomeroy and Koch have about converted him to the same belief. Mitchell says Usher allows Pomeroy to have the records of the Chiriqui matters away from the Department to cook up his fraudulent accounts by. If so, Usher ought to be hamstrung.

The President says, what Chase ought to do is to help his successor through his installation, as he professed himself willing to do in his letter to me; go home without making any fight and wait for a good thing hereafter, such as a vacancy on the Supreme Bench or some such matter.

Attorney General Edward Bates writes in his diary: “David Tod of Ohio was, yesterday nominated by the President, to fill Mr. Chase’s vacancy, as secy of the Treasury. It took all by surprise, and the Senate, I heard, was reluctant, and doubtful whether or no to confirm him. Luckily, he declined, by telegraph. Then, Wm. Pitt Fessenden, Maine Senator, was nominated, and confirmed, as by acclamation. This seems to be generally acceptable.

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Published in: on July 1, 2014 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

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