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.”

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Officials Press President Lincoln for Patronage

August 11, 1862

Patronage often bedevilled President Lincoln.  New tax legislation opened up many Treasury Department jobs.  Connecticut Senator James Dixon writes President Lincoln to complain about two positions as federal tax collectors: “If Hammond & Holister are not appointed my humiliation & disgrace will be complete. Babcock & the Chairman of State Committee will see you by Wednesday. I rely with hope & confidence that you will spare our cause the injury & myself the intense mortification of a rebuke from you. Will you please reply & relieve my anxiety?”  Dixon follows up the same day with two more letters.  In one, he says: “Excuse my earnestness. How can I feel less when I know that the appointment of Mr Chase’s list is the death of your true friends & supporters in the state, as well as my own personal disgrace & humiliation.” The chairman of the Connecticut Republican party, Orville Platt, also writes President Lincoln:

I understand that the list recommended by Senator Dixon & others does not meet the approbation of Secretary Chase & that other persons have been recommended by him to you.

I have no hesitation in saying that the appointments recommended by Mr Dixon will satisfy the loyal People of the state, and that a large majority, nearly all, desire them to be made and will feel grieved and disappointed if any other persons are selected.

The same day, three top Illinois officials, all Lincoln friends, write President Lincoln to press for the appointment of Lincoln’s former law partner, Stephen T. Logan, as a federal judge: “We have reason to beleive [sic] that Judge Logan would accept the Judgeship of this Circuit now vacant, if tendered to him. It is needless for us to tell you how much pleasure his nomination would give us.”

Published in: on August 11, 2012 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

Calm Before the Battles in Washington

August 10, 1862

Sunday is quiet at the White house although President Lincoln meets with a New York Judge who offers to raise a black regiment In South Carolina, Union David Hunter dissolves the black regiments he formed.

General George B. McClellan is sure that his replacements cannot do better than he did.  McClellan wrote his wife that General Henry W. “Halleck is turning out just like the rest of the herd — the affair is rapidly developing itself, & I see more clearly every day their settled purpose to force me to resign.  I am trying to keep my temper & force them to relieve me or dismiss me from the service.  I have no idea that will be with this army more than two or three weeks longer & should not be surprised any day or hour to get my ‘walking papers.’  I have a strong idea that Pope will be thrashed during the coming week — & very badly whipped he will & ought to be — such a villain as he ought to bring defeat upon any cause that employs him.” McClellan added: “I am inclined to believe that [General John] Pope will catch his Tartar within a couple of days & be disposed of.  The absurdity of Halleck’s course in ordering the army away from here is that it cannot possibly reach Washn in time to do any good, but will necessarily be too late — I am sorry to say that I am sorry to the conclusions that H. is very dull & very incompetent — alas poor country!

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President Lincoln Expresses Gratitude to Henry Clay’s Son

August 9, 1862

President Lincoln responded to a gift of a snuff box that had been sent to him by John Clay on August 4: “I send you through Adams Express a snuff box, not of much intrinsic value, but which belonged to my late father, whose avowed sentiment “that he owed a higher allegiance to the Constitution and Government of the United States than to the Constitution and government of any State”, is mine, and whose other noblest sentiment “that he would rather be right than be President.”  President Lincoln wrote of his Kentucky hero: “The Snuff-box you sent, with the accompanying note, was received yesterday – Thanks for this memento of your great and patriotic father.  Thanks also for the assurance that, in these days of dereliction, you remain true to his principles. In the concurrent sentiment, of your venerable mother, so long the partner of his bosom and his honors, and lingering now where he was, but for the call to rejoin him where he is, I hear recognize his voice, speaking from on high, as it ever spoke, for the Union, the Constitution, and the freedom of the world – mankind[.]”

Union General-in-chief Henry W. Halleck wrote his wife: “The President and cabinet have thus far approved everything I have proposed.  This is kind and complimentary, but it only increases my responsibility, for if any disaster happens they can say We did for you all you asked.  The great difficulty now is to get the troops together in time.  I have felt so uneasy for some days about General Pope’s army that I could hardly sleep.  I cannot get General McClellan to do what I wish.  The President and Cabinet have lost all confidence in him and urge me to remove him from command.  This is strictly entre nous.  In other words they want me to do what they were afraid to attempt!  I hope I may never be obliged to follow their advice in the matter.”

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

Senator Presses President Lincoln for Tougher Prosecution of the War

August 8, 1862

A cabinet meeting is held, “but nothing proposed and nothing done of any moment” according to Secretary of Treasury Salmon P. Chase.  Historian Mark Neely argued in The Fate of Liberty: Abraham Lincoln and Civil Liberties that Chase was wrong.  Orders issued by the War Department were discussed at the cabinet meeting that “had a momentous effect on civil liberties in the United States.  The brief period of sweeping and uncoordinated arrests that followed their issuance constituted the lowest point for civil liberties in t he North during the Civil War.”  The War Department order was designed to “prevent evasion by military duty” by those who shifted residence or sought to leave the country.

Michigan Senator Zachariah Chandler was in sympathy with tough measures.  He writes President Lincoln to press for vigorous prosecution of the Second Confiscation Act: “With a free circulation of my speech and a positive assurance that the evils therein set forth shall be promptly remedied.  That the Confiscation Law shall be literally enforced, Slaves used for all menial service and our brave troops no longer used to guard the property of Rebels in Arms. Michigan has Nobly done her whole duty.  We have already enlisted eight thousand men for the War under the 300,000 Call & shall fill Our quota within one week from today.  Our pledges must be fulfilled & I know You will do it.  Compell [sic] your Generals to obey the Laws & the Country will Call blessed. You can form no conception of the public sentiment in the North West. I was called radical in Washington, but I find myself so far behind the people that I am almost ashamed of my laggardness.”

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Patronage Concerns President and Divides Connecticut

August 7, 1862

Secretary of Treasury Salmon P. Chase wrote President Lincoln with his list of appointees for new revenue collection positions: “The persons recommended for Collector in the First Congressional District of Connecticut are, Mark Howard, Alphonso C. Crosby, Ellsworth H. Phelps, and John B. Mix. The two Senators, and Representative Loomis, recommend Mr. Crosby. The Governor, State Officers, Speaker of the House of Representatives, and the Secretary of the Navy, recommend Mark Howard. I know Mr. Howard to be a man of great reputation for integrity and business ability, and think the public interests will be best promoted by his appointment. I therefore recommend it.”  As was sometimes the case in Connecticut, patronage divided leaders and Senator James Dixon prevailed in his opposition to Howard.  President Lincoln had to walk a difficult path to make appointments without losing key support in Congress.   A few days later, Dixon would write Lincoln:

I left Washington on Friday, anxious to attend our grand war meeting this evening. Our new Regt. for this County (the 16th) is full & will be ready this week. Last evening a delegation of our friends met me in this City to hear my report from Washington. There were present some of our best men, your warm friends and the upholders of your administration. Among them were the Editor of the Courant, –  the Chairman of our Rep. State Committee & other leading men. They expressed the most intense interest in the success of the list of candidates presented to you by me. They represent nearly all the working force of our party. The little knot of ultras who desire the other list appointed are insignificant in numbers & influence. They are I assure you bitterly & openly abusive of your policy & your course. Must they be strengthened by being made recipient of your confidence.

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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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President Lincoln Wary of Northern Reaction to Upcoming Emancipation Proclamation

August 4, 1862

As he approached issuance of the draft emancipation, President Lincoln is sensitive to any action that might awaken northern racism and opposition to his Administration. President Lincoln tells a group of Westerners that he would use blacks as laborers but not as soldiers. The New York Tribune reported: “The deputation came away satisfied that it is the determination of the Government not to arm negroes unless some new and more pressing emergency arises. The President argued that the nation could not afford to lose Kentucky at this crisis, and gave it as his opinion that to arm the negroes would turn 50,000 bayonets from the loyal Border States against us that were for us.

Upon the policy of using negroes as laborers, the confiscation of Rebel property, and the feeding the National troops upon the granaries of the enemy, the President said there was no division of sentiment. He did not explain, however, why it is that the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Virginia carry out this policy so differently. The President promised that the war should be prosecuted with all the rigor he could command, but he could not promise to arm slaves or to attempt slave insurrections in the Rebel States. The recent enactments of Congress on emancipation and confiscation he expects to carry out.

Historian Allan Nevins wrote:  “A warm discussion followed, which Lincoln was said to have closed with the words: ‘Gentlemen, you have my decision.  It embodies my best judgment, and if the people are dissatisfied, I will resign and let Mr. [Hannibal Hamlin try it.’  Such heat had been generated that one caller exclaimed: ‘I hope, in God’s name, Mr. President, you will!’”

General George B. McClellan wrote General Henry W. Halleck about Halleck’s order to abandon the Peninsula campaign: “Your telegram of last evening is received.  I must confess that it has caused me the greatest pain I ever experienced, for I am convinced that the order to withdraw this Army to Acquia Creek will prove disastrous in the extreme to our cause — I fear it will be a fatal blow.

Several days are necessary to complete the preparations for so important a movement as this & while they are in progress I beg that careful consideration may be given to my statements.

This Army is now in excellent discipline & condition; we hold a debouche on both banks of the James River, so that we are free to act in any direction, & with the assistance of the gun boats I consider our communications as now secure.  We are (25) twenty five miles from Richmond & are not likely to meet the enemy in force sufficient to fight a battle until we have marched (15) fifteen to (18) eighteen miles, which brings us practically within (10) ten miles of Richmond.  Our longest line of land transportation would be from this point, (25) twenty five miles; but with the aid of the gun boats we can supply the Army by water, during its advance, certainly to within (12) twelve miles of Richmond.  At Acquia Creek we would be (75) seventy five miles from Richmond, with land transportation all the way.

From here to Fort Monroe is a march of about (70) seventy miles, for I regard it as impracticable to withdraw this Army and its material except by land.

The result of the movement would thus be to march (145) one hundred and forty five miles to reach a point now only (25) twenty five miles distant, & to deprive ourselves entirely of the powerful aids of the gun boats & water transportation.

Published in: on August 4, 2012 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

Special Sunday Cabinet Meeting Discusses Use of Black Soldiers & Emancipation

August 3, , 1862

Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase recalled: “I received a summons to a Cabinet Meeting.  The President spoke of the Treaty said to have been formed between the Cherokees and Confederates, and suggested the expediency of organizing a force of whites and blacks, in separate Regiments, to invade and take possession of their country.  Statistics of the Indians were sent for, from which it appeared that the whole fighting force of the Cherokees could hardly exceed 25000 men.  Mr Usher, Assistant Secretary of the Interior was not in favor of the expedition.  He thought it better to deal indulgently with deluded Indians, and make their deluders feel the weight of the Federal authority.  Most, on the whole, seemed to concur with him.

Mr. Usher mentioned a report that the Louisville Democrat had come out openly for disunion, saying that it was now manifest that the Government was in the hands of the Abolitionists.  The President said, this was equivalent to a declaration of hostility by the entire Douglas Party of Kentucky, and manifested much uneasiness.

There was a good deal of conversation [in the Cabinet meeting] on the connection of the Slavery question with the rebellion.  I expressed my conviction for the tenth or twentieth time, that the time for the suppression of the rebellion without interference with slavery had long passed; that is was possible, probably, at the outset, by striking the insurrections wherever found, strongly and decisively; but we had elected to act on the principles of a civil war, in which the whole population of every seceding State was engaged against the Federal Government, instead of treating the active secessionists as insurgents and exerting our utmost energies for their arrest and punishment;– that the bitternesses of the conflict had now substantially united the white population of the rebel States against us;– that the loyal whites remaining, if they would not prefer the Union without Slavery, certainly would not prefer Slavery to the Union; that the blacks were really the only loyal population worth counting and that, in the Gulf States at least, their right to Freedom ought to be at once recognized, while, in the Border States, the President’s plan of Emancipation might be made the basis of the necessary measures for their ultimate enfranchisement; – that the practical mode of effecting this seemed to me quite simple; – that the President had already spoken of the importance of making of the freed blacks on the Mississippi, below Tennessee, a safeguard to the navigation of the river;– that Mitchell with a few thousand soldiers, could take Vicksburgh;– assure the blacks freedom on condition of loyalty; organize the best of them in companies, regiments &c., and provide, as far as practicable, for the cultivation of the plantations by the rest;– that Butler should signify to the slaveholders of Louisiana that they must recognize the freedom of their workpeople by paying them wages;– and that Hunter should do the same thing in South Carolina.

Mr. Seward expressed himself as in favor of any measure likely to accomplish the results I contemplated, which could be carried into effect without Proclamations; and the President said he was pretty well cured of objections to any measure except want of adaptedness to put down the rebellion; but did not seem satisfied that the time had come for the adoption of such a plan as I proposed.

There was also a good deal of conversation concerning the merits of Generals.  I objected pretty decidedly to the policy of selecting nearly all the highest officers from among men hostile to the Administration and continuing them in office after they had proved themselves incompetent, or at least not specially competent, and referred to the needless defeat of McClellan and the slowness of Buell.  Seward asked what I would do.  I replied, Remove the men who failed to accomplish results, and put abler and more active men in their places.  He wished to know whom I would prefer to Buell.  I answered that if I was President, or Secretary of War authorized to act by the President, I would confer with the General in Chief; require him to name to me the best officers he knew of; talk the matter over with him; get all the light I could; and then designate my man.

Chase writes: “The President read a communication from Genl. [Henry]  H[alleck] proposing that 200,000 militia should be drafted for 9 months, and that the 300,000 men to fill old and form new regiments should be obtained without delay; and to prevent the evil of hasty and improper appointments and promotions, that a Board of Officers should be organized, to which all proposed action of that sort should be referred.  The General condemned, respectfully but as decidedly, the inconsideration which [George B.] McClellan and [Don Carlos] Buell in their important commands; and I was sorry to hear him say, in reply to a question of the President, as to what use could be made of the black population of the borders of the Mississippi, ‘I confess, I do not think much of the negro.’”

President Lincoln wrote Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles: “Allow me to request that you will afford all facilities not inconsistent with public interests to Captain Diller and Dr. Wetherell for some chemical experiments which they desire to make privately under my direction.”  They were working on a new gunpowder formula.

General Halleck sent a telegram to General George B. McClellan – which was bound to agitate his mercurial subordinate: “It is determined to withdraw your army from the Peninsula to Aquia Creek.  You will take immediate measures to effect this, covering the movement the best you can.  Its real object and withdrawal should be concealed even from your own officers.  Your material and transportation should be removed first.  You will assume control of all the means of transportation within your reach, and apply to the naval forces for all the assistance they can render you.”

Published in: on August 3, 2012 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

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