President Lincoln Relaxes from Cabinet Turmoil

December 22, 1862

At 10 A.M., Navy Captain John Dahlgren comes to the White House to test a new gunpowder.    Lincoln scholar Emanuel Hertz wrote: “The President, glad to drop such troublesome business (accepting one of Chase’s resignations) and relaxing into his usual humor, sat down and said, ‘Well, Captain, here’s a letter about a new powder,’ which he read, and showed the sample.  Said he had burned some, and there was too much residuum.  ‘Now, I’ll show you.’  He got a small sheet of paper, placed on it some of the powder, ran to the fire, and with the tongs picked up a coal, which he blew, specs still on nose.  It occurred to me how peaceful was his mind, so easily diverted from the great convulsion going on and a nation menaced with disruption.

“The President clapped the coal to the powder, and away it went, he remarking, ‘There is too much left there.’  He handed me a small parcel of the powder to try.”

Senate Republicans meet to hear a report on their colleagues meetings with President Lincoln regarding a possible cabinet shakeup.  Illinois Senator Orville H. Browning H. Browning writes in his diary: “After the adjournment of the Senate the caucus of Republican Senators again met to receive the report of the committee appointed to wait on the President upon the subject of reconstruction of the Cabinet.  Judge Collamer laid before the Caucus a written paper which had been presented by the Committee to the President, on Thursday evening stating that they again called on the President at his request and found all the cabinet there except Mr Seward.   Chase, Blair and bates made speeches — the others said nothing.  The purport of the speeches was to prove that the cabinet did hold meetings, and did every thing properly, and that there were no dissentions among them — Mr Chase among others stating that the cabinet were all harmonious.  I asked Judge Collamer how Mr Chase could venture to make such a statement in the presence of Senators to whom he had said that Seward exercised a back stair and malign influence upon the President, and thwarted all the measure of the Cabinet.

He answered ‘He lied.’

Nothing was done in caucus except to hear the report of the committee.   At night I went to the Presidents and had a conversation with him.  He said he could not afford to make a new cabinet.  If he did the new one would be immediately assailed as the old one was, and it would give no additional strength to our cause.  I replied that this was a time of more peril that any we had yet encountered, and that all the wisdom and patriotism of the country to save it from ruin — that by a firm, decided course in the right direction that he could even yet save himself and the Country — that he might so compound a cabinet as to reconcile all the elements of loyalty to the Administration , and suggested Mr Ewing of Ohio, Genl Banks of Mass: Mr Guthrie of Ky &c as representatives of all parties, and means whose general views of policy I thought would harmonize.  He said we must have our friends, and some of those named had not voted with us.   I replied they are friends of the country, and the very fact that they did not vote with us was one of the reasons for calling them to his aid — that the Republicans could not, as a party, save the country in this crisis, not could the democratic party   We must have the united support of all loyal men of all parties or we would fail, and in this way only could we secure that union.   He then said that a cabinet composed of the class of men I had suggested would give him trouble, and be in his way on the negro question.  I replied that I thought not.  They would keep prominently before the Country, as the great central object of the war, the suppression of the rebellion, the restoration of the Union, and the re establishment of the authority of the constitution and the laws, but would not hesitate to do, in regard to slavery, all that was necessary and proper to be done to secure these objects — but it was no doubt true that they would object to converting the war into one for the extermination of slavery leaving the Country to take care of itself.  He said he believed he had rather try and get along with the cabinet he had than try a new one

I told him the attack in the Senate caucus upon Mr Seward was by the partizans of Mr Chase, and that I had reason to believe that he had set them on.  That their game was to drive all the cabinet out — then force upon him the recall of Mr Chase as Premier, and form a cabinet of ultra men around him.  He said with a good deal of emphasis that he was master, and they should not do that — I then left him.

President Lincoln writes the Army of the Potomac: “I have just read your Commanding General’s preliminary report of the battle of Fredericksburg.  Although you were not successful, the attempt was not an error, nor the failure other than an accident.  The courage with which you, in an open field, maintained the contest against an entrenched foe, and the consummate skill and success with which you crossed and re-crossed the river, in face of the enemy, show that you possess all the qualities of a great army, which will yet give victory to the cause of the country and of popular government.  Condoling with the mourners for the dead, and sympathizing with the severely wounded, I congratulate you that the number of both is comparatively so small.  I tender to you, officers and soldiers, the thanks of the nation.”

President Lincoln writes to generals William B. Franklin and William F. Smith: “Yours of the 20th. suggesting a plan of operations for the Army of the Potomac, is received.  I have hastily read the plan, and shall yet try to give it more deliberate consideration, with the aid of military men.  Meanwhile let me say it seems to me to present the old questions of preference between the line of the Peninsula, and the line you are now upon.  The difficulties you point out as pertaining to the Fredericksburg line are obvious and palpable.  But now, as heretofore, if you go to James River, a large part of the army must remain on or near the Fredericksburg line, to protect Washington.  It is the old difficulty. When I saw Gen. Franklin at Harrison’s Landing on James River last July, I can not be mistaken in saying that he distinctly advised the bringing of the Army away from there.”

Published in: on December 22, 2012 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

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