President Tours the New Patent Office

March 17, 1863

For the second day in a row, the Lincoln cabinet discuss letters of marque and privateering. “Since the subject was partially considered, last Friday, I have thought much upon the subject, and am confirmed in the belief that it is a very hazardous experiment,” writes Attorney General Edward Bates in his diary.  “The only national reason for issuing letters of Marque, is to weaken the enemy by capturing his ships and seizing his goods, in transitu, on the ocean.  But our enemy has no merchant ships and no goods in transitu, in international trade.  His only ships are men of War cruising against our commerce.  And they are stronger than our Privateers (fitted out to prey upon commerce) are likely to be.  Fighting is not the vocation nor the intent of Privateers.  It is only an undesired incident, that may happen when the Prize is found to be strong than was expected, or when forced to defend against hostile cruisers.”

The Patent Office is toured by President and Mrs. Lincoln: “This temple of American genius has lately received additions,” reports the New York Herald.  “ Mrs. Lincoln, with characteristic unselfishness, has sent from the White House a splendid variety of the presents of the Kings of Siam and the Tycoon of Japan. Among the most noticeable is a suit of Japanese armor . . . for which the Knight of La Mancha would have given his boots. . . . The President and Mrs. Lincoln seemed to enjoy greatly this respite from the cares of State among so many interesting objects.”

President Lincoln writes General William S. Rosecrans: “ I have just received your telegram saying that ‘The Secy. of War telegraphed after the battle of Stone River’ ‘Anything you & your command want, you have,” and then specifying several things you have requested, and have not received.

The promise of the Secretary, as you state it, certainly pretty broad; nevertheless it accords with the felling of the whole government here towards you.  I know not a single enemy of yours here.  Still the promise must have a reasonable construction.  We know you will not purposely make an unreasonable request; nor persist in one after it shall appear to be such.

Now, as to the matter of a Pay-Master.  You desired one to be permanently attached to your Army, and, as I understand, desired that Major Larned should be the man.  This was denied you; and you seem to think it was denied, partly to disoblige you, and partly to disoblige Major Larned–the latter, as you suspect, at the instance of Paymaster-General Andrews.  On the contrary, the Secretary of War assures me the request was refused on no personal ground, whatever, but because to grant it, would derange, and substantially break up the whole pay-systems as now organized, and so organized on very full consideration, and sound reason as believed.  There is powerful temptation in money; and it was and is believed that nothing can prevent the Pay-Masters speculating upon the soldiers, but a system by which each is to pay certain regiments so soon after he has notice that he is to pay those particular regiments that he has not time or opportunity to lay plans for speculating upon them.  This precaution is all lost, if Paymasters respectively are to serve permanently with the same regiments, and pay them over and over during the war.  No special application of this has been intended to be made to Major Larned, or to you Army.

And as to Gen. Andrews, I have, in another connection, felt a little aggrieved, at what seemed to me, his implicit following the advice and suggestions of Major Larned–so ready are we all to cry out, and ascribe motives, when our own toes are pinched.

Now, as to your request that your Commission should date from December 1861.  Of course you expected to gain something by this; but you should remember that precisely so much as you should gain by it others would lose by it.  If the thing you sought had been exclusively ours, we would have given it cheerfully; but being the right of other men, we have a merely arbitrary power over it, the taking it from them and giving it to you, became a more delicate matter, and more deserving of consideration.  Truth to speak, I do not appreciate this matter of rank on paper, as you officers do.  The world will not forget that you fought the battle of ‘Stone River’ and it will never care a fig whether you rank Gen. Grant on paper, or he so, ranks you.

As to the appointment of an aid contrary to your wishes, I knew nothing of it until I received your despatch; and the Secretary of War tells me he has known nothing of it, but will trace it out.  The examination of course will extend to the case of R. S. Thomas, whom you say you wish appointed.

And now be assured, you wrong both yourself and us, when you even suspect there is not the best disposition on the part of us all here to oblige you.

The President talks to Maryland Congressman  Henry W. Davis regarding the incoming House of Representatives.  The next day, the President will write the cantankerous Davis: “There will be, in the new House of Representatives, as there were in the old, some members openly opposing the war, some supporting it unconditionally, and some supporting it with “buts” and ‘ifs’ and ‘ands.’ They will divide on the organization of the House — on the election of Speaker.

As you ask my opinion, I give it that the supporters of the war should send no man to congress who will not  go into caucus with the unconditional supporters of the war, and abide the action of such caucus, and support in the House, the person therein nominated for Speaker.  Let the friends of the government first save the government, and then administer it to their own liking.

The president added: “This is not for publication, but to prevent any misunderstanding of what I verbally said to you yesterday.”

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