President Lincoln Addresses Mass Union Meeting in front of U.S. Capitol

August 6, 1862

President Lincoln rarely gave speeches to big crowds during the Civil War.  Today, he makes an exception at Union rally held on Capitol Hill: “I believe there is no precedent for my appearing before you on this occasion, [applause] but it is also true that there is no precedent for your being here yourselves, [applause and laughter;] and I offer, in justification of myself and of you, that, upon examination, I have found nothing in the Constitution against. [Renewed applause.] I, however, have an impression that there are younger gentlemen who will entertain you better, [voices – “No, no; none can do better than yourself. Go on!”] and better address your understanding, than I will or could, and therefore, I propose but to detain you a moment longer. [Cries – “Go on! Tar and feather the rebels!”].”“ President Lincoln went on to rebut stories about dissension on Union strategy:

I am very little inclined on any occasion to say anything unless I hope to produce some good by it. [A voice – `You do that; go on.’] The only thing I think of just now not likely to be better said by some one else, is a matter in which we have heard some other persons blamed for what I did myself. [Voices – ‘What is it?’] There has been a very wide-spread attempt to have a quarrel between Gen. McClellan and the Secretary of War. Now, I occupy a position that enables me to observe, at least, these two gentlemen are not nearly so deep in the quarrel as some pretending to be their friends. [Cries of ‘Good.’’] Gen. McClellan’s attitude is such that, in the very selfishness of his nature, he cannot but wish to be successful, and I hope he will – and the Secretary of War is in precisely the same situation. If the military commanders in the field cannot be successful, not only the Secretary of War, but myself for the time being the master of them both, cannot be but failures. [Laughter and applause.] I know Gen. McClellan wishes to be successful, and I know he does not wish it any more than the Secretary of War for him, and both of them together no more than I wish it. [Applause and cries of “Good.”] Sometimes we have a dispute about how many men Gen. McClellan has had, and those who would disparage him say that he has had a very large number, and those who would disparage the Secretary of War insist that Gen. McClellan has had a very small number. The basis for this is, there is always a wide difference, and on this occasion, perhaps, a wider one between the grand total on McClellan’s rolls and the men actually fit for duty; and those who would disparage him talk of the grand total on paper, and those who would disparage the Secretary of War talk of those at present fit for duty. Gen. McClellan has sometimes asked for things that the Secretary of War did not give him. Gen. McClellan is not to blame for asking what he wanted and needed, and the Secretary of War is not to blame for not giving when he had none to give. [Applause, laughter, and cries of ‘Good, good.’] And I say here, as far as I know, the Secretary of War has withheld no one thing at any time in my power to give him. [Wild applause, and a voice – ‘Give him enough now!’] I have no accusation against him. I believe he is a brave and able man, [applause,] and I stand here, as justice requires me to do, to take upon myself what has been charged on the Secretary of War, as withholding from him.

Lincoln concluded: “I have talked longer than I expected to do, [cries of “No, no—go on,”] and now I avail myself of my privilege of saying no more.” After the Union Meeting, Lincoln has dinner with Springfield attorney James Conkling, a family friend.  A year later, Conkling would organize a similar meeting in Springfield and invite the president – who would send a major statement of policy instead.

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Published in: on August 6, 2012 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

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