Lincoln Cabinet Meeting Held on Fort Sumter

Saturday, March 9, 1861

Cabinet meeting on Fort Sumter at night as concern mounts over its fate. Navy Secretary Gideon Welles maintains that a relief exposition could be successful without first destroying the Charleston forts. General Winfield Scott disagrees.

Attorney General Edward Bates writes in his diary: “I was astonished to be informed that Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor must be evacuated and that gen. Scott, Gen. Totten, and Major Anderson concur in opinion that, as the place has but 28 days provisions, it must be relieved, if at all, in that time; and that it will take a force of 20,000 men, at least, and a bloody battle, to relieve it!’

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Lincoln Holds First White House Reception

Elizabeth Todd Grimsley

Friday, March 8, 1861

The Lincolns are overwhelmed in their first White House reception for what Attorney General Edward Bates calls “a motley crowd” that required President Lincoln to shake hands for two and a half hours. Lincoln aide John G. Nicolay writes: “For over two hours the crowd poured in as rapidly as the door would admit them, and many climbed in at the windows. It was withal more ‘ton’-ish than such things usually are. Of course in such a crowd crinoline suffered, and at least fifty men have been swearing worse than ‘our army in Flanders,’ ever since they home that evening, over the loss of new hats and valuable overcoats.”

“And what a crush and jam it was!,” recalled Elizabeth Todd Grimsley, Mrs. Lincoln’s cousin. “But the young private Secretaries Nicolay and Hay managed the introductions to the President and the receiving party wonderfully well. The hand shaking was a thing long to be remember by the President, and while it was gratifying, we must confess to a sigh of relief when we heard the marine Band strike up ‘Yankee Doodle’, the signal for retiring. The President took me on his arm and we made the circuit of the East room, a custom as old as the house itself, I believe, and a silly one, in that the wife of the President is relegated tot he escort of another gentleman.”
“We were amused at the many remarks we overheard — such as, ‘The President bears himself well, and does not seem the least embarrassed’. ‘How much alike the President and Mrs. Grimsley are!’ ‘Yes! Brother and sister. They must belong to a very tall family.’
“And so ended that memorable reception, the last in which north and south would mingle for many years.”

Charles Francis Adams, soon to be the U.S. ambassador to England, wrote: “Such a crush was, I imagine, never seen in the White House before, on a similar, or any other, occasion. After two vain attempts to get into the reception room, Dexter and I resolutely set ourselves in the main current, and were pushed and squeezed along. It was a motley crowd. There they were — the sovereigns; some in evening dress, others in morning suits; with gloves and without gloves; clean and dirty; all pressing in the same direction, and all behaving with perfect propriety. There was no ill temper; no vulgarity or noise; no rudeness; in spire of the crowd and discomfort, everything was respectful and decorous. The sight was one not pleasant to see, and even less pleasant to participate in; but still good of its kind. Here, as everywhere, the people governed themselves. At last, after the breath was nearly out of our bodies, Dexter and I came in sight of the President — the tall, rapidly bobbing head of the good ‘Abe,’ as he shook hands with his guests, and quickly passed them along. The vastly greater number he hurried by him; but, when any one he knew came along, he bent himself down to the necessary level, and seemed to whisper a few words in the ear, in pleasant, homely fashion; though not exactly in one becoming our President. I hurried by as quickly as I could, and retreated into the rear of the room, there to observe. I stayed about an hour and a half, meeting Mr. Sumner, Mr. and Mrs. S.A. Douglas and others, and subsequently, leaving by the south front, reached home with ‘tir’d eye-lids upon tir’d eyes.’”

Diplomats Visit White House

John G. Nicolay, John Hay, and Abraham Lincoln

Thursday, March 7, 1861

The diplomatic corps, many of whom were sympathetic to the Confederacy, visited the White House.

Lincoln aide John G. Nicolay wrote: “The first official act of Mr. Lincoln – after the inauguration [–] was to sign my appointment as Private Sec’y….As the work is now ,it will be a very severe tax on both my physical and mental energies, although so far I have borne it r remarkably well. By and by, in two or three months, when the appointments have all been made, I think the labor will be more sufferable. John Hay and I are both staying here in the White House. We have very pleasant offices and a nice large bedroom, though all of them sadly need new furniture and carpets. That too we expect to have remedied after a while.
“We all stayed at Willard’s Hotel the week before the inauguration. There was of course a great crowd there, and so many ladies in the parlors as to make it seem like having a party every night. Since my arrival. I have been to one party – one wedding – and the inauguration ball which by the way was really a very successful and brilliant affair. Today the Corps Diplomatique made their formal call upon the President, and tomorrow night the first public reception takes place.”

Another Lincoln aide, William O. Stoddard recalled that “the first reception by this Administration of the diplomatists who represent Europe at the court of this republic, took place on the [7]th of March, 1861, and it was, in some respects, an odd affair. Every man and woman among them was imbued with the idea that one of the frequent revolutions to be expected in republicans had arrived and was at work, and there was no such thing as telling what it might do. They were deeply interested, and they all came to pay their respects to the revolution. That reception, was, in fact, a lot of fine old governments, in professedly robust health and expecting long lives, dropping in to see a young government, which they believed to be mortally sick and soon to pass away. So they all offered what they called their congratulations.”

Springfield resident Elizabeth Todd Grimsley wrote that “there was a diplomatic reception, but the legations were not out in full force, nor did they come together, in a body, as was their custom. The French Minister, Mercier, was absent. Lord Lyons was coldly dignified — already the nations were looking at us askance.”

Published in: on March 18, 2011 at 11:20 pm  Leave a Comment  
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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.”

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Lincoln Sends Senate His Cabinet

Tuesday, March 5, 1861

White House aide John G. Nicolay takes Lincoln Cabinet nominations to the Senate. Outgoing Secretary of War Joseph Holt informs that President that Major Robert Anderson’s position on Fort Sumter is increasingly serious.

The President met with several delegations — including one from Iowa. Charles Aldrich recalled that “there were sixty of seventy gentlemen from our State who had come to be present at the inauguration of Abraham Lincoln. We were all introduced to the President by Josiah B. Grinnell, who seemed to know everybody from our State and also was ell acquainted with the President. This presentation went off quite rapidly; in fact, it was very formal. The President pronounced our names as he took each by the hand and we speedily passed on with those who had gone before. Just ahead of me was a gentleman by the name of George May, a well-known pioneer of Marion County. In his boyhood he had known Mr. Lincoln but he did not expect any recognition on that account. Mr. Lincoln, however, shook his hand and allowed him to pass along, when he turned around, and taken one of his long strides, put his hand upon Mr. May’s shoulder and turned him about. ‘Are you George May, the son of my old friend, (William) May?’ George merely bowed an affirmative assent to this inquiry, but Mr. Lincoln detained him a few seconds, during which time he showered him with a whole lot of questions. ‘When did ou come down, George? How long do you expect to remain? Come around here again before you leave. I want to have a visit with you.’ George blushed like a modest girl and passed on. The politicians who were present and witnessed this little episode were in accord upon the proposition that George May would get whatever he asked for. After the reception was over we were received by Mrs. Lincoln. I believe that we were also presented by Mr. Grinnell. She merely bowed as each name was announced, and that part of the reception was speedily over.”
in Intimate Memories of

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President Lincoln is Inaugurated Amid Tight Security

Lincoln's First Inauguration

Monday, March 4, 1861

About noon, President-elect Lincoln travels to the unfinished U.S. Capitol by carriage with outgoing President James Buchanan. Army and police were on high alert for potential violence on the cold, windy day.

Journalist Ben Perley Poore wrote: “The preparations for the inauguration of Mr. Lincoln were of an unusual character. Many believed that an attempt would be made on that day by the Secessionists to obtain possession of the Government, and great precautions against this were taken. The ostensible director was General Scott, who had his headquarters at a restaurant near the War Department, and who rode about the city in a low coupe drawn by a powerful horse. But the real director of the military operations was Colonel Stone, of the regular army, who had been organizing the military of the District, and who had been organizing the military of the District, and who had a very respectable force at his command. He had a battalion of the united States Engineer Corps directly in the rear of the President’s carriage, and sharp-shooters belonging to a German company were posted on buildings all along the route, with orders to keep a vigilant watch as the President’s carriage approached, and to fire at any one who might aim a weapon at the President. There was also a large force of detectives stationed along the route and at the Capitol.
“The procession was a very creditable one, the United States troops and the District Militia making a fine show, with the Albany Burgess Corps, and a few organizations from a distance. Mr. Lincoln rode with President Buchanan, and, on arriving at the Capitol, entered the Senate Chamber leaning on the old gentleman’s arm. After Mr. Hamlin had taken his oath of office as Vice-President, and several new Senators had sworn in, a procession was formed, as usual, which repaired to the platform erected over the steps of the eastern portico of the Capitol. When Mr. Lincoln came out he was easily distinguished as his tall, gaunt figure rose above those around him.
“His personal friend, Senator [Edward D.] Baker, of Oregon, introduced him to the assemblage, and as he bowed acknowledgments of the somewhat faint cheers which greeted him the usual genial smile lit up his angular countenance. He was evidently somewhat perplexed, just then, to know what to do with his new silk hat and a large gold-headed cane. The cane he put under the table, but the hat appeared to be too good to place on the rough boards. Senator Douglas saw the embarrassment of his old friend, and, rising, took the shining hat from its bothered owner and held it during delivery of the inaugural address. Mr. Lincoln was listened to with great eagerness. He evidently desired to convince the multitude before him rather than to bewilder or dazzle them. It was evident that he honestly believed every word that he spoke, especially the concluding paragraphs, one of which I copy from the original

Indiana Congressman George W. Julian recalled: “The day was beautiful, and the procession to the Capitol quite imposing. Mr. Lincoln and ex-President Buchanan entered the Senate chamber arm in arm; and the latter was so withered and bowed with age that in contrast with the towering form of Mr. Lincoln he seemed little more than half a man. The crowd which greeted the President in front of the east portico of the Capitol was immense, and has never been equaled on any similar occasion with the single exception of General Garfield’s inauguration. Mr. Lincoln’s voice, though not very strong or full-toned, rang out over the acres of people before him with surprising distinctness, and was heard in the remotest parts of his audience. The tone of moderation, tenderness, and good-will, which marked his address, made an evident impression, and the most heartfelt plaudits were called forth by the closing passage..

Massachusetts Congressman Charles Francis Adams remembered: “Lincoln’s inauguration (Monday) came with a sudden change of weather. The sun shone brightly, but a strong wind carried on it clouds of that Washington dust, which, then much more than now — for the streets were not yet asphalted — was wont to render walking detestable on days of early march. I wrote two accounts of what took place; one in my diary, which, however, was rather short, as I also wrote for publication a long descriptive letter, printed a few days later in the Boston Transcript.. It was dated March 4th. From the Senate gallery I saw Lincoln walk in, army in arm with Buchanan, and the two seated themselves in front of the desk of the Vice-President. And, ‘in spite of the wry neck and dubious eye, the outgoing President was,’ to my mind, ‘undeniably the more presentable man of the two; his tall, large figure, and white head, looked well beside Mr. Lincoln’s lank, angular form and hirsute face; and the dress of the President-elect did not indicate that knowledge of the proprieties of the place which was desirable. Then followed the inaugural, delivered from ‘the miserable scaffold’ on the east front before ‘a vast sea, not exactly of upturned human faces, but of hats and shirt-bosoms of all descriptions.’ Of the inaugural, I did not hear one word; for I was standing on a projection of the unfinished Senate wing of the standing on a projection of the unfinished Senate wing of the Capitol, watching the scene, and was thus too far removed. But ‘Mr. Lincoln’s delivery struck me as good; for it was quiet, with but little gesture and small pretence of oratory; the audience did not strike me as very enthusiastic — not such as they tell us hailed Jackson when he stood on the same steps on the occasion of the first invasion of Washington by the hordes of the youthful West — but it was silent, attentive, appreciate, and wonderfully respectable and orderly. At length a louder and more prolonged cheer announced that the inaugural was delivered. The Chief Justice administered the oath of office, and the long, eager, anxious struggle was over. A Republican President was safely inaugurated.
“Not until the ceremony was over did the curious cease to speculate as to the probabilities of ‘a bead being drawn on Mr. Lincoln,’ and the chances of assassination; and the question was curiously discussed whether the whole South would not yet furnish one Ravaillac.’ Now the procession was re-formed, and the new President was escorted to the White House. I started for home. As I walked up by way of F Street and the Patent Office, parallel with Pennsylvania Avenue, the procession’s route, I chance to meet Mr. Sumner, and joined him. ‘He seemed satisfied with the inaugural, and remarked of it: ‘I do not suppose Lincoln had it in his mind, if indeed he ever heard of it; but the inaugural seems to me best described by Napoleon’s simile of ‘a hand of iron and a velvet glove.’‘ At home, on the other hand, I found my father in high glee over the endorsement that same inaugural gave him, and he was declaring the party saved. I also met Winter Davis, who pronounced himself as ready to stand on the President’s position.’ Thus, that day, every one was, as Seward predicted they would be, ‘satisfied.’”

Journalist Henry Villard wrote:“Great efforts were made to render the inauguration an imposing occasion. The city itself indicated, by the scantiness of festive array, that the mass of the inhabitants were hostile to the new rule. Burt many thousands, including militia and political organizations, had come from the North and helped to give imposing proportions to the traditional procession from the White House to the farther end of Pennsylvania Avenue. The morning was cloudy and raw; nevertheless, at least thirty thousand people listened to the reading of the message from the historical corner of the Capitol. Probably two-thirds of the immense audience caught every word of the clear utterance of the new President. Not the faintest disturbance occurred then or at any time during the day. On the contrary, the chief figure of the occasion was lustily cheered. For some reason or other, offensive demonstrations and even violence to the President had been apprehended, and the small regular force held in readiness for the repression of such attempts. Old General Scott, who rarely left his quarters, owing to his infirmities, made a special effort and was on duty near the Capitol, receiving frequent reports from the army officers in charge of the detachments of regulars distributed over the city; but not the remotest sign of mischief appeared. In the evening, the customary big inauguration ball came off, and, as usual, it was a very crowded, much mixed and, upon the whole, very ordinary affair, though the newspapers the next morning praised it as the most brilliant festivity that had ever taken place in the national capital.”

Iowan Charles Aldrich wrote: “The days dragged slowly, but finally the 4th of March dawned upon the federal city, and everyone wsa bestirring himself in preparation for the great event of the century. I had secured a ticket which I could obtain admission to the Capitol building and possibly a seat in the gallery of the proceeedings were to take place. I preferred, however, to join the crowd outside, in the hope that I could get close enough to the stand to hear the great inaugural address. At that time little had been done in the way of decorating the grounds on the east front of the Capitol. Across the street from the northeast entrance there still stood a high board fence. These boards were set up on end, and were far from being a graceful addendum to the landscape. The platform had been erected about halfway up the northeast steps, and extended in the direction of the street. There was a multiplicity of seats provided for such people as could gain admittance. At the outer edge of the platform a wide board was set up on its end, and formed the back of the seat from which the occupant could face the President while he was speaking. Stephen A. Douglas sat on the south end of this front row of seats, occupying a place in the corner. I had heard him speak in the United States Senate and in Tammany Hall, New York City, and was familiar with his appearance.
“I went across the street a distance of ten or twelve rods, and selected standing-room with my back against one of those tall boards. The area in front of this northeast corner of the Capitol was filled with spectators to the number of many thousands. Just before the appearance of Mr. Lincoln, a file of soldiers, doubtless regulars, came into the area, and marched along in front of the platform, slowly making their way through the crowd. From where I stood I could see their bayonets above the heads of the people. There was at that time serious apprehension that the President might be shot when he appeared to make his address, but this small company of men was all that was in sight in the way of defense. It was quietly understood, however, that several hundred men were scattered through the crowd armed with revolvers. Had any hostile hand been raised against the President its owner would very speedily have bitten the dust. It was a solemn and almost gloomy time, because there was a universal consciousness that we were just on the outbreak of war.”
“However, the assembled multitude had not long to wait before President Lincoln appeared, walking alone through the door that led to the portico outside of the Senate chamber. He walked quickly down the steps to the front of the platform. Removing his hat he looked for some place to dispose of it. From where I stood I plainly saw Stephen A. Douglas reach for the hat and the President yielded it to him. It was stated afterwards in the papers that Mr. Douglas quietly remarked: ‘Mr. President, I will take your hat.’ Some of the newspaper people who were sadly lacking in reverence stated that ‘Mr. Douglas could not be President himself, but that he held the hat of the man who was.’ The next movement on the part of Mr. Lincoln was thrusting his hand into his right breeches pocket and taking out a steel spectacle case. He opened this with a snap and drew out a pair of spectacles which he placed before his eyes. At that time he could not make a movement, however slight, which did not elicit rounds of applause. When he removed his hat, when he put on his glasses, and when he restored the steel case to his pocket, there were loud cheers. He took his place at a table which had been conveniently placed, and drew out the manuscript of his inaugural address. The first words he uttered were — ‘Fellow citizens of the united States!’ It seemed to everybody who heard him that he dwelt upon and emphasized the word ‘united.’ At all events, his expression was greeted with loud cheers. From this time until the close of his address his auditors were loud in their applause. I never listened to a speaker whose enunciation was so clear and distinct as that of Mr. Lincoln. You not only heard every word that he uttered, but every sentence was most clearly expressed. I believe his voice was perfectly audible to every one of the people who occupied the acres before and around him. At the close of his address he was greeted with deafening cheers, which seemed to carry with them an expression of highest confidence in the President.”
“When he concluded he stepped to one side of the table upon which lay an apparently well-worn copy of the Bible. The oath of office was administered by Chief Justice Taney — the President kissing the Bible — after which the people who occupied the platform and steps arose and slowly filed into the Capitol. The address was already printed and was at once upon the streets. I know that it was as profoundly satisfying to the people present, as it was to the loyal people of the whole country.”

Wisconsin’s Carl Schurz recalled the scene: “I saw Lincoln step forward to the desk upon which the Bible lay — his rugged face, appearing above all those surrounding him, calm and sad, but so unlike any other in that distinguished assemblage that one might well have doubted how they could work together. I saw Senator Douglas standing close by him, his defeated antagonist, the ‘little giant’ of the past period, who, only two years before, had haughtily treated Lincoln like a tall dwarf. I witnessed the remarkable scene when Lincoln, about to deliver his inaugural address, could not at once find a convenient place for his hat, and Douglas took that hat and held it like an attendant, while Lincoln was speaking. I saw the withered form of Chief Justice Taney, the author of the famous Dred Scott decision, that judicial compend of the doctrine of slavery, administer to oath of office to the first President elected on a distinct anti-slavery platform. I saw, standing by, the outgoing President, James Buchanan, with his head slightly inclined on one side, and his winking eye, and his white neck-cloth — the man who had done more than any other to degrade and demoralize the National Government and to encourage the rebellion, now to retire to an unhonored obscurity…”

Benjamin Brown French, who became a Lincoln Administration official, recalled: “The inauguration ceremonies over, we escorted the new President to the white house where he received all comers with that cordial welcome that so strongly marks the sincerity of the man.
“In the procession was a sort of triumphal car, splendidly trimmed, ornamented and arranged, in which rode thirty-four young girls. On our return, the girls all alighted, & I took them in and introduced them to the President. He asked to be allowed to kiss them all, & he did so, It was a very interesting scene, & elicited much applause.”

Winfield Scott Proposes Response to Secession

Sunday, March 3, 1861

President-elect Lincoln works on his inaugural address to be delivered the next day.

He confers with William H. Seward about his attempt to manipulate cabinet selection. Lincoln has dinner at Willard for his cabinet appointees. The next day he sent their nominations to the Senate without obtaining final acceptance from such problematic appointees as Salmon Chase.

The first of three Confederate commissioners, recently resigned Georgia Congressman Martin J. Crawford, arrives in Washington.

General Winfield Scott follows up on his dinner with Lincoln the previous night by writing:
“Hoping that, in a day or two, the new President will have, happily, passed through all personal dangers, & find himself installed an honored successor of the great Washington — with you as chief of his cabinet — I beg leave to repeat, in writing, what I have before said to you, orally, this supplement to my printed “views,” (dated October last) on the highly disordered condition of our (so late) happy & glorious union. To meet the extraordinary exigencies of the times, it seems to me that I am guilty of no arrogance in limiting the President’s field of selection to one of the four plans of procedure, subjoined: —
I. Throw off the old, & assume a new designation — the Union party; — adopt the conciliatory measures proposed by Mr. Crittenden, or the Peace convention, & my life upon it, we shall have no new case of secession, but, on the contrary, an early return of many, if not al the states which have already broken off from the Union. Without some equally benign measure, the remaining slave holding states will, probably, join the Montgomery confederacy in less than sixty days, when this city — being included in a foreign country — would require permanent Garrison of at least 35,000 troops to protect the Government within it.
II. Collect the duties on foreign goods outside the ports of which this Government has lost the command, or close such ports by acts of congress, & blockade them.
III. Conquer the seceded States by invading armies. No Doubt this might be done in two or three years by a young able General — a Wolfe, a Sesaix or a Hoche, with 300,000 disciplined men — estimating a third for Garrisons, & the loss of a yet greater number by skirmishes, sieges, battles & southern fevers. The destruction of life and property, on the other side, would be frightful — however perfect the moral discipline of the invaders.
The conquest completed at that enormous waste of human life, to the north and north west — with at least $250–000,000, added thereto, and cui bono? — Fifteen devastated provinces — not to be brought into harmony with their conquerors; but to be held, for generations, by heavy garrisons — at an expense quadruple the net duties or taxes which it would be possible to extract from them — followed by a Protector or an emperor.
IV. Say to the seceded [sister] — States — wayward sisters, depart in peace!

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Seward Tries to Back out of Cabinet

Saturday, March 2, 1861

Congress passes 13th Amendment prohibiting interference in “any domestic institution,” namely slavery. This amendment was never ratified.

William H. Seward, upset by the number of former Democrats including Salmon P. Chase who were slated for the cabinet, tries to decline cabinet appointment as secretary of state. Seward writes President-elect Lincoln: “Circumstances which have occurred since I expressed to you in December last my willingness to accept the office of Secretary seem to be to render it my duty to ask leave to withdraw that consent.”

Lincoln has dinner with General Winfield Scott.

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Lincoln Meets with Virginia Congressman

Friday, March 1, 1861

Simon Cameron agrees to become secretary of war. Mary Todd Lincoln tours the White House.

John Hay, about to become of the top two assistants to Prsesident Lincoln wrote an unflattering portrait of Washington in a newspaper article: “You see here, it may be, a reverend senator blind with a bad article of whisky; an eloquent representative, purpureal of nose and moist with the perspiration of yesterday. You shall see crowding the bars, shuffling along the aisles, populating the corridors of the blear caravanserai of hotels, at once represented every stage of official eminence and every grade of inebriety. There are generals, and colonels, and majors, and captains, governors, senators, honorables; all chew tobacco; all spit; a good many swear, and not a few make a merit of being able to keep two cocktails in the air at once. The hotel halls are littered with a mixture of dirt, scraps of paper, cigar stumps and discarded envelopes, and the whole is embroidered with an irregular arabesque of expectoration. Exceedingly small and very dirty boys take a good deal of trouble and make an unnecessary amount of noise in the endeavor to induce you to purchase the Star and States for five cents. Heavy persons, whom you have never seen before, with moist hands, eyes luminous with intoxicating beverages, break through the crowd and wildly shake your hand. They convict you of having met them before somewhere. You say you have been there, whereupon you are instantly saddled with an acquaintance who grasps your hand fifty times a day, and whom you heartily wish at the — antipodes.”

Virginia Congressman A. R. Boetler visited President-elect Lincoln at his lodgings in Willard’s Hotel. He later recalled: “It was about four o’clock in the afternoon when I left the Capitol, and driving rapidly to Willard’s, where the President-elect had a suite of rooms fronting the avenue, the first person I met on reaching the hotel was an old acquaintance from the county of Berkeley, Virginia, Colonel Ward H. Lamon, Mr. Lincoln’s law partner and compagnon de voyage from Springfield to Washington, who, on learning my wishes, kindly undertook to ascertain if Mr. Lincoln, whom he had just left alone, would see me. He soon came down with an invitation to walk up stairs, and as I did so, accompanied by the Colonel, I noticed that the corridors were strictly guarded by policemen – an unnecessary but natural precaution under the circumstances of apprehension and excitement that then prevailed in Washington.
“On being introduced, Mr. Lincoln greeted me with great kindness and cordiality. ‘I’m glad to see you,’ said he; ‘always glad to see an Old Line Whig. Sit down.
Apologizing for disturbing him, I said: ‘I’ve no doubt that the unusual demands now made on your time and energies require you to have more rest than is likely to be allowed you here by the public; but my visit is not one of conventional formality or idle curiosity, as I come upon an important matter now pending in the House, and, therefore, trust that I am not trespassing too far on your courtesy in calling this evening.’
“‘Not a bit of it,’ he replied; ‘not a bit. I’m really glad you have come, and wish that more of you Southern gentlemen would call and see me, as these are times when there should be a full, fair and frank interchange of sentiment and suggestions among all who have the good of the country at heart. So draw up your chair, and tell me what’s going on in the House to-day.’
“Thus encouraged, showing him a copy of Stanton’s Force bill, I called his attention to some of its extraordinary features, and to the fact that it was ‘bristling all over with war.’ I spoke of the angry feeling it had excited in Congress, and of the painful anxieties it had caused throughout Virginia; how it had demoralized the members of her State convention, and was frustrating the patriotic efforts of her conservative citizens to keep her from seceding. I told him , also, how determined the friends of the measure were to force it through the House that evening, and how much reason there was to fear tht is passage would do irrreparable injury to the cause of the Union. ‘Consequently, Mr. Lincoln,’ said I, ‘I have ventured to come to you to tell you frankly what I think of the policy of this bill – to ask your opinion of it, and to invoke your influence in having it defeated.’
“While I was making these remarks, Mr. Lincoln listened to me with patient politeness, and when I pause for a reply, he said: ‘You must allow me the Yankee privilege of answering your questions by first asking a few myself. During the late Presidential canvass, were you not chairman of the National executive Committee of the party that supported Bell and Everett?’
“Yes,’ said I, ‘of the Constitutional party.’
“The campaign motto or platform of which,’ he continued, ‘was ‘The Union, the Constitution, and enforcement of the laws?”
“It was,” I replied; “and I think that it was not only the briefest, but about the best and most comprehensive platform that could have been adopted for that canvass.”
“And you still stand by it, of course?” said he.
“I certainly do,’ was my reply.
“Then,’ he remarked, ‘there is no reason why we should not be of the same mind in this emergency, if I understand the meaning of your platform. How do you, yourself, interpret?’
‘It’s meaning,’ I answered, ‘is obvious. It has nothing hidden in it – nothing more than meets the eye. We go for ‘the Union’ as our fathers made it – to be a shield of protection over our heads, and not a sword of sujugation at our hears; for ‘the Constitution’ as they designed it, to be equally binding on both sections, North as well as South, in all its compromises, and in all its requirements; and for ‘the enforcement of the laws’ by peaceable and constitutional means, not by bayonets – Federal bayonets, especially, Mr. Lincoln.’
“‘Then your idea is,’ said he, ‘that Federal bayonets should not be used for the enforcement of laws within the limits of a State?’
‘As a general rule, unquestionably not,’ I answered; ‘but, of course, there are exceptional cases, such as have already occurred – case of invasion, insurrection, etc. – when the civil authorities of a state, finding themselves inadequate to the duty of protecting their people, or unable to enforce the laws within the limits of their jurisdiction, may rightfully require the Federal forces to assist them; in which event, it becomes the duty of the General Government, on application of the Legislature of the State, or of its Executive, when the Legislature cannot be convened, to furnish the required aid.’
“‘And, now,’ said he, ‘to apply your platform to the present condition of affairs in those Southern States of the Union which are assuming to be no longer part of it. How about enforcing the laws in them, just now – the laws of the United States?’
“‘Inasmuch,’ I replied, ‘as the difficulties of doing so peaceably, under existing circumstances, are exceeded only by the dangers of attempting it forcibly, the practical question to be determined beforehand is whether the experiment is worth a civil war. Which consideration,’ I added, ‘brings us back to the object of my visit, and I therefore again take the liberty of asking if you approve of Congress passing such a Force bill now as this of Stanton’s, and whether you will not aid as in defeating it?’
“‘Of course,’ said he, ‘I am extremely anxious to see these sectional troubles settled peaceably and satisfactorily to all concerned. To accomplish that, I am willing to make almost any sacrifice, and to do anything in reason consistent with my sense of duty. There is one point, however, I can never surrender – that which was the main issue of the the Presidential canvass and decided at the late election, concerning the extension of slvery in the Territories.’
“‘As to that matter,’ I replied, ‘however important it may have hertofore seemed to some persons, we can well afford to remit it to the remote future, when there may be a practical necesity for its consideration, inasmuch as it has dwindled into utter insignificance before that portentous issue now so unexpectedly before us.’
“‘Unexpectedly, indeed, and portentous enough in all conscience!’ said he; ‘but I trust that matters are not as bas as they appear.’
“‘Bad as they certainly are,’ I replied, ‘they will be infinitely worse before long if the utmost care be not taken to allay the present excitement, and to preserve the existing status between the sections until some such plan as that of Mr. Crittenden’s,, for a general convention, can be carried into effect, which, as the Peace Conference here has failed to secure a compromise, is the ultimate reliance left us for that object.’ I then went on to say: ‘Mr. Lincoln, it may seem presumptuous in me to express my opinion to you on these subjects so decidedly. But I speak frankly, because I feel deeply their vital importance tot he whole country, and especially to the people of the district which I represent, which is a border district, stretching along the Potomac from the Alleghenies to tidewater, and which, in the event of a sectional civil war, will not only be the first to suffer from its effects, but will feel them first, last, and all the time, and in all their intensity. I speak to you as a Union man, from a Union county, of a Union district, of a Union State – a State which has done more to make and to maintain the Union than any of her sister States have had it in their power to do, and which now, from her known conservatism, her acknowledged prestige in national politics, and her geographical position, midway between the angry sections, can do more than any other States to preserve the peace and to bring about, by her mediatorial influence, a satisfactory adjustment of these fearful complications in spite of the opposition of those twin forces of the Union – the fanatical faction of Abolitionists in the North, and that of the no less fanatical secessionists per se in the South – provided only that a little more time to be allowed her to continue her patriotic efforts to these. You will, therefore, I trust, not impute my earnestness to prescription when I say to you, in all sincerity, that the passage of this Force bill will paralyze the Unions of Virginia, and be the means of precipitating her into secession – a calamity which, at this juncture, will unquestionably involve the whole country in a civil war.’
“After a silence of some seconds, during which Mr. Lincoln seemed to be absorbed in thought, he presently looked up with a smile, and said: ‘Well, I’ll see what can be done about the bill you speak of. I think it can be stopped, and that I may promise you it will be.’
“Thanking him most cordially and sincerely for his kindness in acceding to y request, I then inquired if I might announce from my place in the House that he did not approve of the measure.
“‘By no means,’ said he, ‘for that would make trouble. The question would at once be asked, what right I had to interfere with the legislation of this congress. Whatever is to be done in the matter, must be done quietly.’
“But, as I have promised two of my colleagues,’ said I, ‘to let them know the result of this interview, I hope you will at least allow me to acquaint them, confidentially, with the substance of your conversation?’ To this he assented, and warmly thanking him again, I got up to take leave; but, on his insisting that I should resume my seat, I remained in conversation with him some fifteen minutes longer. As what subsequently passed between us had no special bearing on the object of my visit, it is needless now to make any further referene to it, except to say, that it served to deepen the impression already made up me by the interview, that Mr. Lincoln was a kind-hearted man; that he was, at that time, willing to allow the moderate men of the South a fair opportunity to make further efforts for a settlement of our intestine and internecine difficulties, and that he was by no means disposed to interfere, directly or indirectly, with the institutions of slavery in any of the States, or to yield to the clamorous demand of those bloody-minded extremists, who were then so very keen to cry ‘havoc!’ and ‘let slip the dogs of war;’ and afterward so exceedingly careful, with the characteristic caution of their kind, to keep out of harm’s way during the continuance of hostilities. Having concluded my visit, I was about to return to the Capitol, when, perceiving that the House flag was down (a recess having been ordered from give until seven o’clock the same evening ), I went at once to my room (at Willard’s, where I boarded that winter, and employed myself until dinner in making full notes of the foregoing conversation, while it was fresh in my memory.”

Published in: on March 17, 2011 at 9:58 pm  Leave a Comment  
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