Washington has the Slows

August 1 , 1862

Presidential aide John Hay writes colleague John G. Nicolay regarding the slow pace of Washington and the fast past of filling new patronage positions at the Treasury Department: “There is positively nothing of the slightest interest since you left.  The abomination of desolation has fallen upon this town.  I find I can put in twenty-four hours out of every day very easily, in the present state of affairs at the Executive Mansion.  The crowd continually increases instead of diminishing.  The Tax business has begun to grind. [Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P.] Chase is having things very much his own way.  He makes out a batch of twenty or thirty commissions at a time filling in the names & presenting them to the President to sign.”

President Lincoln wrote the executive editor of the New York Tribune to visit him after Sidney Gay sent him a sample of correspondence from readers who wanted to know the “real object” of the rebellion.   Gay had written Lincoln that he declined to publish such letters, but “I can not however justify it to myself that the public of The Tribune should at this moment, be denied the privilege of being heard thro’ its Columns, & the Government be at the same time, left in ignorance of that which so many thousands of the people desire it should hear.  Taking a middle course, therefore, I send you one letter as a specimen of all the rest, & as an evidence of a feeling which it would not be safe to make manifest in a more public manner.”  Lincoln asked Gay to come to the White House and bring the letter’s author, supposedly a former congressman, with him.

General George B. McClellan, who once had been general-in-chief of the Union army, writes General Henry W. Halleck, who now holds that position: “My own experience enables me to appreciate most fully the difficulties and unpleasant features of your position.  I have passed through it all and most cordially sympathize with you; for I regard your place, under present circumstances as one of the most unpleasant under the Government.”  As McClellan did in the past with President Lincoln, he extends his advice from military to civilian affairs.

Of one thing, however, you may be sure, and that is of my full and cordial support in all things.  Had I been consulted as to who was to take my place, I would have advised your appointment.  So far as you are concerned, I feel towards you, and shall act, precisely as if I had urged you for the place you hold.  There is not particle of feeling or jealousy in my heart towards you.  Set your mind perfectly at rest on that score.  No one of your old and tried friends will work with you more cordially and more honestly than I shall.

If we are permitted to do so, I believe that together we can save this unhappy country and bring this war to a comparatively early termination; the doubt in my mind is whether the selfish politicians will allow us to do so.  I fear the results of the civil policy inaugurated by recent Acts of Congress and practically enunciated by General Pope in his series of orders to the Army of Virginia.

It is my opinion that this contest should be conducted by us as a War, and as a War between civilized nations; that our efforts should be directed towards crushing the armed masses of the rebels, not against the people; but that the latter should, as far as military necessities permit, be protected in their constitutional, civil, and personal rights.

I think the question of slavery should enter into this war solely as a military one; that while we do our best to prevent the rebels from making military uses of their slaves, we should avoid any proclamations of general emancipation, and should protect inoffensive citizens in the possession of that, as well as of other kinds of property.  If we do not actively protect them in this respect, we should at least, avoid taking an active part on the other side and let the negro take care of himself.

The people of the South should understand that we are not making war upon the institution of slavery, but that if they submit to the Constitution and Laws of the Union they will be protected in their constitutional rights of every nature.  I think that pillaging and outrages to persons ought not to be tolerated; that private persons and property should enjoy all the protection we can afford them, compatible with the necessities of our position.  I would have the conduct of the Union troops present a strong contrast with that of the rebel Armies and prove by our action, that the Government is, as we profess it to be, benign and beneficent; that, wherever its power extends, protection and security exist for all who do not take an active part against us.

Peculiar circumstances may force us to depart from these principles in exceptional cases, but I would have these departures the exceptions, not the rule.

I and the Army under my command are fighting to restore the Union and supremacy of its laws, not for revenge; I therefore deprecate, and view with infinite dread, any policy which tends to render impossible the reconstruction of the Union and to make this contest simply a useless effusion of blood.

We need more men: the old regiments of this Army should be promptly filled — by immediate drafting, if necessary.  We should present such an overwhelming force as to render success certain, be able to follow it up, and to convince the people of the South that resistance is useless.

I know that our ideas as to the concentration of forces agree perfectly.  I believe that the principles I have expressed in this letter accord with your own views.  I sincerely hope that we do not differ widely.  You see I have met you in your own spirit of frankness, and I would be glad to have your views on these points, that I may know what I am doing.  We must have a full understanding on all points, and I regard the civil or political question as inseparable from the military in this contest.

It is unnecessary for me to repeat my objections to the idea of withdrawing this Army from its present position.  Every day’s reflection but serves to strengthen my conviction that the true policy is to reinforce this Army, at the earliest possible moment, by every available man, and to allow it to resume the offensive with the least possible delay.

Published in: on August 1, 2012 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

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