Cabinet Meeting Addresses Military and Civilian Questions

August 2, 1862

The issue of emancipation had been much on President Lincoln’s mind in June and July.

Months later, President Lincoln told artist Francis B. Carpenter his recollection of events: “This Cabinet meeting took place,  I think, upon a Saturday.  All were present, excepting Mr. Blair, the Postmaster-General, who was absent at the opening of the discussion, but came in subsequently.  I said to the Cabinet that I had resolved upon this step, and had not called them together to ask their advice, but to lay the subject-matter of a proclamation before them; suggestions as to which would be in order, after they had heard it read.  Various suggestions were offered.  Secretary [of the Treasury Salmon P.] Chase wished the language stronger in reference to the arming of the blacks.  Mr. Blair, after he came in, deprecate the policy, on the ground that it would cost the Administration in the fall elections.  Nothing, however, was offered that I had not already fully anticipated and settled in my own mind, until Secretary Seward spoke.  He said in substance: ‘Mr. President, I approve of the proclamation, but I question the expediency of its issue at this juncture.  The depression of the public mind, consequent upon our repeated reverses, is so great that I fear the effect of so important a step.  It may be viewed as the last measure of an exhausted government, a cry for help; the government stretching forth its hands to Ethiopia stretching forth her hands to the government.’  ‘His idea,’ said the President, ‘was that it would be considered our last shriek, on the retreat.’  (This was his precise expression.)  ‘Now,’ continued Mr. Seward, ‘while I approve the measure, I suggest, sir, that you postpone its issue, until you can give it to the country supported by military success, instead of issuing it, as would be the case now, upon the greatest disasters of the war!'”  Mr. Lincoln continued: ‘The wisdom of the view of the Secretary of State struck me with very great force.  It was an aspect of the case that, in all my thought upon the subject, I had entirely overlooked.  The result was that I put the draft of the proclamation aside, as you do your sketch for a picture, waiting for a victory.  From time to time I added or changed a line, touching it up here and there, anxiously watching the progress of events.  Well, the next news we had was of Pope’s disaster, at Bull Run.  Things looked darker than ever.’”

Treasury Secretary Chase wrote in his diary: “Genl [James]  Shields called and talked over movement up the Shenandoah.  He to me that when he received peremptory orders to return, he had held communication with Fremont and Jackson’s capture was certain.  I told him of my urgency that [Irvin] McDowell should be ordered forward with his entire command from Warrenton per  Front Royal, to Charlottesville and Lynchburg; that the President was not ready to act; that McDowell himself was apparently disinclined, preferring concentration at Manassas and then advance to Richmond.  Plain enough now, he said, that this was the true movement.  He had himself telegraphed McDowell that Jackson would be Pattersonized by recall of troops from pursuit.  The troops were, nevertheless, recalled; and, by peremptory order from the President himself, those of Shields were directed to return to Manassas and those of Fremont to resume position as a corps of observation.”

Published in: on August 2, 2012 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

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