Cabinet Pushes to Dismiss General McClellan

August 30, 1862

Pressure begins to build to remove General George  McClellan as the Second Battle of Bull Run continues.   Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton and Secretary of Treasury Salmon P. Chase meet to produce document for cabinet to present to the president calling for McClellan’s dismissal.  Chase writes in his diary of meetings with Stanton and Attorney General Edward Bates: “Judge Bates called, and we conversed in regard to Genl. McClellan– he concurring in our judgment.  Afterwards I went to the War Department where Watson showed ma a paper expressing it.  I suggested modifications.  Afterwards saw Stanton.  He approved the modifications, and we both signed the paper.  I then took it to Secy. Welles, who concurred in judgment but thought the paper not exactly right and did not sign it.  Returned the paper to Stanton.”

Historian Marvin R. Cain wrote of Attorney General Edward Bates: “Although he opposed McClellan, his willingness to endorse the Chase-Stanton petition to bring about the General’s relief reflected in part his anxiety over the situation in Missouri.  After he read the Chasse-Stanton document, he agreed to sign it, provided he was permitted to alter any of the statements.  Chase consented, for he needed signatures.  Bates therefore prepared his version, which was a concise and brief request for McClellan’s relief in the best interests of the country.  He, Chase, Stanton, and Smith then signed it.  When Welles saw the memorandum the second time, he again refused to sign and expressed surprise at Bate’s action.  He mistakenly concluded that Stanton and Chase had exerted great pressure on the Attorney General.”

Stanton and Chase meet with opposition by Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles who feels such written pressure was inappropriate.  A second version was written by Attorney General Bates but Welles again refused to sign the next day.  Welles would write in his diary on Sunday: “Yesterday, Saturday, P.M., when about leaving the Department, Chase called on me with a protest addressed to the President, signed by himself and Stanton, against continuing McClellan in command and demanding his immediate dismissal.  Certain grave offenses were enumerated.  Chase said that Smith had seen and would sign it in turn, but as my name preceded his in order, he desired mine to appear in its place.  I told him I was not prepared to sign the document; that I preferred a different method of meeting the question; that if asked by the President, and even if not asked, I was prepared to express my opinion, which, as he knew, had long been averse to McClellan’s dilatory course, and was much aggravated from what I had recently learned at the War Department; that I did not choose to denounce McC. for incapacity, or to pronounce him a traitor, as declared in this paper, but I would say, and perhaps it was my duty to say, that I believed his removal from command was demanded by public sentiment and the best interest of the country.

Chase said that was not sufficient, that the time had arrived when the Cabinet must act with energy and promptitude, for either the Government or McClellan must go down.  He then proceeded to expose certain acts, some of which were partially known to me, and others, more startling, which were new to me.  I said to C. that he and Stanton were familiar with facts of which I was ignorant, and there might therefore be propriety in their stating what they knew, though in a different way,– facts which I could not indorse because I had no knowledge of them.  I proposed as a preferable course that there should be a general consultation with the President.  He objected to this until the document was signed, which, he said, should be done at once.

This method of getting signatures without an interchange of views with those who are associated in council was repugnant to my ideas of duty and right.  When I asked if the Attorney-General and Postmaster-General had seen the paper or been consulted, he replied not yet, their turn had not come.  I informed C. that I should desire to advise with them in so important a matter; that I was disinclined to sign the paper; did not like the proceeding; that I could not, though I wished McClellan removed after I had heard, and should have no hesitation in saying so at the proper time and place and in what I considered the right way.  While we were talking, Blair came in.  After Chase left me, he returned to make a special request that I would make no allusion concerning the paper to Blair or any one else.

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Published in: on August 30, 2012 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

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