President Lincoln Stands Firm on Dismissal of Major John J. Key

November 24, 1862

President Lincoln responds to a letter from former Army Major John J. Key, who had been dismissed from the service by President Lincoln in October: “A bundle of letters including one from yourself, was, early last week, handed me by Gen. [Henry W.] Halleck, as I understood, at your request.  I sincerely sympathise with you in the death of your brave and noble son.”

In regard to my dismissal of yourself from the military service, it seems to me you misunderstand me.  I did not charge, or intended to charge you with disloyalty.  I had been brought to fear that there was a class of officers in the army, not very inconsiderable in numbers, who were playing a game to not beat the enemy when they could, on some peculiar notion as to the proper way of saving the Union; and when you were proved to me, in your own presence, to have avowed yourself in favor of that ‘game,’ and did not attempt to controvert that proof, I dismissed you as an example and a warning to that supposed class.  I bear you no ill will; and I regret that I could not have the example without wounding you personally.  But can I now, in view of the public interest, restore you to the service, by which the army would understand that I indorse and approve that game myself?  If there was any doubt of your having made the avowal, the case would be different.  But when it was proved to me, in your presence, you did not deny or attempt to deny it, but confirmed it in my mind, by attempting to sustain the position by argument.

I am really sorry for the pain the case gives you, but I do not see how, consistently with duty, I can change it.

President Lincoln also responds to a letter from General Carl Schurz, a committed Republican upset with Democratic victories earlier in the month, in which Schurz wrote: .The people had sown confidence and reaped disaster and disappointment.  They wanted a change, and…they sought it in the wrong direction.  I entreat you, do not attribute to small incidents…what is a great historical event.  It is best that you…should see the fact in its true light and appreciate its significance: the results of the elections was a most serious and severe reproof to the administration….”  The President replies:

I have just received, and read, your letter of the 20th.  The purport of it we lost the late elections, and the administration is failing, because the war is unsuccessful; and that I must not flatter myself that I am not justly to blame for it.  I certainly know that if the war fails, the administration fails, and that I will be blamed, if I could do better.  You think I could do better; therefore I blame you for blaming me.  I understand you now to be willing to accept the help of men, who are not republicans, provided they have ‘heart in it.’  Agreed.  I want no others.  But who is to be the judge of hearts, or of ‘heart in it’?  If I must discard my own judgment, and take yours, I must also take that of others; and by the time I should reject all I should be advised to reject, I should have none left, republicans, or others–not even yourself.  For, be assured, my dear sir, there are men who have ‘heart in it’ that think you are performing your part as poorly as you think I am performing mine.  I certainly have been dissatisfied with the slowness of Buell and McClellan; but before I relieved them I had great fears I should not find successors to them, who would do better; and I am sorry to add, that I have seen little since to relieve those fears.  I do not clearly see the prospect of anymore rapid movements.  I fear we shall at last find out that the difficulty is in our case, rather than in particular generals.  I wish to disparage no one–certainly not those who sympathize with me; but I must say I need success more than I need sympathy, and that I have not seen the so much greater evidence of getting success from my sympathizers, than from those who are denounced as the contrary.  It does seem to me that in the field the two classes have been very much alike, in what they have done, and what they have failed to do.  In sealing their faith with their blood, Baker, an[d] Lyon, and Bohlen, and Richardson, republicans, did all that men could do; but did they any more than Kearney, and Stevens, and Reno, and Mansfield, none of whom were republicans, and some, at least of whom, have been bitterly, and repeatedly, denounced to me as secession sympathizers?  I will not perform the ungrateful task of comparing cases of failure.

In answer to your question ‘Has it not been publicly stated in the newspapers, and apparantly proved as a fact, that from the commencement of the war, the enemy was continually supplied with information by some of the confidential subordinates of as important an officer as Adjutant General Thomas?’  I must say ‘no’ so far as my knowledge extends.  And I add that if you can give any tangible evidence upon that subject, I will thank you to come to the City and do so.

Published in: on November 24, 2012 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

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