In Wake of Emancipation Proclamation, President Lincoln’s Attention Turns Elsewhere

Connecticut Governor William Buckingham is among those who begin to send President Lincoln congratulations for the Emancipation Proclamation.  Buckingham writes to “congratulate you and the country upon your Proclamation, declaring freedom to slaves in insurrectionary districts, by which you use the war power to strike a blow, which I regard as essential for the suppression of the rebellion and for the future tranquility of the nation.”

In the wake of the case of Rev. Samuel McPheeters, whose expulsion from Missouri, President Lincoln had to reverse, he writes General Samuel Curtis, military commander in Missouri: “But I must add that the U.S. government must not, as by this order, undertake to run the churches.  When an individual, in a church or out of it, becomes dangerous to the public interest, he must be checked; but let the churches, as such take care of themselves.  It will not do for the U.S. to appoint Trustees, Supervisors, or other agencies for the churches.

Secretary of State William H. Seward writes President Lincoln regarding the status of John Palmer Usher as the incoming secretary of the Interior to replace Caleb Smith, who had resigned effective December 31, 1862: “The Act of Congress which authorizes you to appoint “an acting head of a department” applies only to the State, Treasury and War Departments — not to the Interior– You will have to leave Mr Smiths resignation unaccepted and then the Assistant has power without special appointment, to act in the absence of the Secretary. I will draw up a bill and message for an amendment of the law.”

President Lincoln meets with General Benjamin F. Butler, who recently had been replaced as the Union commander in New Orleans after a series of controversial orders alienated both local residents and foreign governments.  The does not want to alienate the well-connected general.  Butler recalled he has received a summons to the White House as he sailed toward Massachusetts.  He wrote in his memoirs about the duplicitous meetings in which he became engaged.:

“In obedience to his wish, I went to see him.  He greeted me with every cordiality of express and manner, but I am afraid mine was not as cordial as it ought to have been.  After inquiring as to his health, I said: ‘Mr. President, will you please tell me for what acts of mine I am recalled from New Orleans?’  He said: ‘I am not at liberty to tell you, but you may ask Mr. Stanton.  I should be very happy to see you to-morrow for a consultation.’

“I then called upon Mr. Stanton.  He also received me with great cordiality.  As soon as the compliments of the day were passed, I said: ‘Well, Mr. Secretary will you tell me why I was relieved from command at New Orleans?’  Mr. Stanton replied: ‘The reason was one which does not imply, on the part of the government any want of confidence in your honor as a man, or in your ability as a commander.’  ‘Well, said I, ‘you have told me what I was not recalled for.  I now ask you to tell me what I was recalled for.’  ‘You and I,’ replied Stanton laughing, ‘are both lawyers, and it is of no use your filing a bill of discovery upon me, for I shan’t’t tell you.’

            “I knew the cause perfectly well, all the same.

“I then went to see Mr. Seward.  He received me politely, very, and invited me to dine with him that evening, which invitation I accepted.  I then said: ‘Mr. Secretary, when I left here last February, nothing of consequence was being done without your being consulted and having knowledge of it.  I have asked the President why I was relieved from command and he declines giving me the reasons, and I have come to you, believing that you can give them if you will.  ‘ ’General,’ said he, ‘things have changed somewhat since you went away.  We were then somewhat new in administration, and we interfered sometimes with each other’s departments; but now we confine ourselves more closely to our own business.  I do not know what you were recalled for, I assure you, but Halleck knows all about it.  He is the general-in-chief, and had everything to do with it.’

Thereupon I went to Halleck’s office, and we met on apparently friendly relations.  I said to him: ‘General Halleck, I have come to ask you, as my superior officer, the reasons for my being relieved from command in New Orleans and on what account it was done.’  ‘I do not know, General, no reasons were ever given me.  It was done solely under the direction of the Secretary of State.’  I knew that well enough, but could not then prove it without disclosing my witness; and after answering Halleck such questions as he chose to ask about Banks and his condition, I returned to my home, not in especial good humor.

However, I attended Mr. Seward’s dinner and we had an exceedingly cordial time.  After the dinner was over, Mr. Seward was kind enough to accompany me to the door.  As I took leave of him by hand-shaking, I said: ‘What an infernal liar your man Halleck is!  He told me that he did not know anything about the reason why I was relieved; that it was done solely upon your advice.  Good-night.’

            Butler’s dinner with Seward may have been on the following night since Illinois Senator Orville H. Browning recalls dining alone at the residence of Secretary of State Seward before the two men later went to the White House at night: “We played whist with Mrs Seward and Miss Fanny till 9 O‘clock and the Seward and I went over to the Presidents.   We found Gel Butler there who had just arrived from New Orleans.  He read to us his parting address to the people of New Orleans, and Gel Banks’ proclamation upon assuming command.   His conversation indicated he was a very ultra abolitionist.  He gave it as his opinion that the only way to put down the rebellion was to destroy slavery.   This class of people do not seem to know that armed rebellion stands between us and slavery, and that to get at the latter we must first crush the former.”

Published in: on January 2, 2013 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

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