President Lincoln Contemplates Appointing Cassius Clay as Russian Ambassador

August 12, 1862

Kentucky Republican Cassius Clay had been appointed minister to Russia at the beginning of the Lincoln Administration.  He resigned in January 1862 to seek an appointment as a major general.  Clay was replaced by former Secretary of War Simon Cameron.  Now Cameron contemplates resigning so Lincoln feels out Cassius about a return engagement to St. Petersburg: “I learn that you would not dislike to returning to Russia as Minister Plenopotentiary. You were not recalled for no any fault of yours, but, as understood it was done at your own request. Of course there is no personal objection to your re-appointment – Still, Gen. Cameron can not be re-called, except at his request.  Some conversation passing between Gen. Cameron him and myself renders it due to him that he should not resign without full notice of my intention to re-appoint you –  If he resigns, with such full knowledge and understanding, I shall be quite willing, and even gratified, to again send you to Russia.”

The next day after visiting the White House, Clay writes his interpretation of the complicated shift: “I leave for home today, by way of New-York, to visit my family — and await your pleasure –  about again entering upon service, as you promise me. If agreeable to you, as Commander in Chief, I will for the present, retain my Commission of Majr General, with which you have honored me, – till you order me into other service – unless you desire me to resign, which I am ready to do whenever you shall intimate to me your wishes. I have not received your letter, as promised me – but I suppose that you have been content to give me your verbal promise, which is sufficient. So I have thus written to General Cameron. I trust you will allow him to come home at once on leave of absence; and he will resign – so you will not lose the public money by such leave.”

Conflict emerges elsewhere in the Lincoln cabinet. Navy Secretary Gideon Welles writes in his diary: “I called early this morning on the Secretary of State touching a communication of his of the 8th inst. which I receive yesterday, in which I am directed in the name of the President to give instructions which I do not approve, and which in one or two points conflict with law and usage.  Though the direction was in the President’s name, I learned he knew nothing of the proceeding.”

Published in: on August 12, 2012 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

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