President Lincoln Faces Twin Challenges: Secession & Patronage

Wednesday, March 6, 1861

President Lincoln was besieged on two fronts.

Lincoln aide John Hay wrote a newspaper article: “The ‘irrepressible conflict’ of office seekers has fairly set in, and the members of Congress are waylaid, dogged, importuned, buttonholed, coaxed and threatened persistently, systematical, and without mercy, by day and by night, There seems to be no way to abate the nuisance, and they must bear the infliction with the best grace they can assume. It is astonishing how many gentlemen are now in Washington, from all parts of the country, who have served the nation or served states, elected Lincoln, or elected congressmen, or performed some signal political service, for which they claim, modestly of course, to be rewarded by the party. It is singular, too, while their merits loom up in their own estimation into magnificent proportions the offices which they claim dwindle into relative insignificance. The members of the cabinet have the charming prospect of being in a state of regular siege for months to come. Secretary [Caleb] Smith entered upon the duties of the Interior today. In five minutes the ante-room was filled with a motley crowd of applicants, each anxious to gain immediate audience and have his little matter attended to; but they were, most of them, doomed to disappointment, and could not even effect an entrance.”

Hay wrote: “If any fears existed that the President would be in any respect an instrument in other hands they are, I apprehend, pretty well dispersed. He does his own thinking and acting, and, while he will take counsel from his constitutional advisers, he will never shrink from the responsibility of decision upon all measures of government.”

Both the Union and Confederacy struggled to win the loyalty of Virginia. Frederick Seward, son of Secretary of State William H. Seward, wrote: “All the energies of the disunionists were put forth therefore to acquire Virginia. It was confidently believed, however, at the North, that the disunion leaders were in a minority, though a very active and persevering one. The disunionists themselves insisted that their policy meant peace, not war, for all the free States, even if united, could not hope to conquer all the slaveholding ones. While the debates in the Virginian convention thus dragged along, the leaders cast about for means to ‘fire the Southern heart,’ and so secure a ‘united South.’
“On his way home from St. John’s Church, the first Sunday after his arrival in Washington, Mr. Lincoln had said to my father: ‘Governor Seward, there is one part of my work that I shall have to leave largely to you. I shall have to depend upon you for taking care of these matters of foreign affairs, of which I know so little, and with which I reckon you are familiar.”
“President Lincoln now had set about his laborious duties in good faith, and the first shape in which they presented themselves to him was in the swarm of office-seekers that beleaguered the White House, filling all the halls, corridors, and offices from morning till night. The patient good humour and the democratic habits of the new President led him to give audience to everybody, at all hours. Even the members of his Cabinet, sometimes, had to force their way through the crowd, and get the private ear of the President in the corner of a roomful of visitors, before they could impart to him grave matters of state.”

Published in: on March 18, 2011 at 12:43 am  Leave a Comment  
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