Presidents Overrules Reporter’s Court-Martial

March 20, 1863

New York Herald reporter Thomas W. Knox was courtmartialed in February by order of General William T. Sherman for disobeying his orders.  James M. Perry wrote in  Bohemian Brigade: The Civil War Correspondents: “When word of the verdict reached Washington, a number of reporters, acting individually and led by ‘Colonel’ John W. Forney, absentee owner of the Philadelphia Press and secretary of the Senate, signed a memorial to President Lincoln calling on him to set the verdict aside.

“Knox’s friend, the New York Tribune’s Albert Richardson, was working in Washington at the time, and he led a delegation of newspaper reporters and a Colorado congressman that delivered the memorial to the president.

“Lincoln told a few stories – in one, he said that if Longfellow’s stream was ‘Minne-haha,’ a smaller one he and Richardson had seen on a western trip years earlier should be known as the ‘Minneboohoo’ – they all settled down to talk about Knox.  The president said he would set the verdict aside only if Grant agreed.

We reminded him that this was improbable, as Sherman and Grant were close personal friends.  After a few minutes, he replied, with courtesy, but with emphasis: –

‘I should be glad to serve you or Mr. Knox, or any other loyal journalist.  But, just at present, our generals in the field are more important to the country than any of the rest of us.  It is my fixed determination to do nothing whatever which can possibly embarrass any of them.  Therefore, I will do cheerfully what I have said, but it is all I can do.’

President Lincoln issues orders today: “Whereas, it appears to my satisfaction that Thomas W. Knox, a correspondent of the New York Herald, has been, by the sentence of a court-martial, excluded from the military department under the command of Major-General Grant, and also that General Thayer…and many other respectable persons are of opinion that Mr. Knox’s offense was technical, rather than willfully wrong, and that the sentence should be revoked; Now, therefore, said sentence is hereby so far revoked as to allow Mr. Knox to return to General Grant’s head-quarters, and to remain if General Grant shall give his express assent, and to again leave the department, if General Grant shall refuse such assent.

William Lilley writes President Lincoln regarding his dismissal form his quartermaster post: “I ask a perusal of the following statement of facts as a matter of sheer justice–

I was appointed Quarter Master on the 16th of October 1861, and was with General Sherman’s Expedition in South Carolina. I was rejected by the Senate on the 15th of Jan’y 1862, on mistaken grounds– On my arrival in Washington I appeared before the Military Committee and satisfied them that they had done me injustice– On the representation of Senator Wilson2 in the presence of Judge Johnston of Kansas you issued an order for my reinstation. This order bears date the 9th of August, 1862.3 On the 11th of the same month I handed it to Secretary Stanton. For a period of seven months therefore he has kept me idle, on hotel expenses, awaiting his action on your written order, giving me, from time to time, such answers as would seem to preclude my right to leave the city. The very last time I saw him, some ten days since, he said that he would attend to it before the adjournment of the Senate.

Now, Sir, I have no complaints to make, no harsh language to use, and had this been an ordinary application I should have long since been attending to my own private affairs. But I was anxious to remove the stigma that attaches to the man who receives an adverse vote of the Senate, more especially as I was assured by Senators King, Wade, Lane, Sherman, Nesmith and several others that there was “not the remotest doubt but that I would go through if my name was again sent in;” and as I had your order that this should be done, I suggest that no prudent man would have retired from the field.

I have no disposition to complain of the course Secretary Stanton has seen proper to pursue. I merely state facts– But I respectfully ask if this be proper treatment to a man who has ever been an ardent supporter of this war? Who has proved his loyalty by receiving the notice of his Commander in the official report of the battle of Port Royal Ferry? Besides, is this course good policy? Is it calculated to arouse the energy of the country in support of your administration? If Secretary Stanton meant to disobey your order was it not acting in bad faith towards me to keep me in ignorance of it for seven long months?

Charles Dana, on an investigation trip to the western military commands, writes Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton: “There is absolutely no information here respecting affairs down the River. Gen Rosecrans having abandoned Forts Henry and Heiman and ordered them to be levelled and a rebel force having appeared at Heiman, Hurlbut1 on Asboth’s2 reporting the facts ordered him to reoccupy Heiman considering it to be the key to both Columbus and Paducah – Asboth accordingly proceeded there by water with two Regiments of Infantry — two cannon and some cavalry, and found a small body of cavalry Shirk cooperated in the movement and destroyed all the flats and skiffs collected by the rebels to force facilitate their operations on both sides of the Tennessee Hereafter two small Gunboats will patrol that river as far up as Savannah.”

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President Gets Report on Western Military Situation

March 19, 1863

Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton writes President Lincoln: “This afternoon Mr Dana who was sent West on some business of this Department reached Cairo.  I instructed him by a telegram to ascertain with precision and report what was known at Cairo respecting the operations at Vicksburg and on the Mississip[p]i. The accompanying telegram has just been received from him.”  Dana had telegraphed: “Nothing can be ascertained here, but I shall no doubt be able to gather some facts at the District Head Quarters at Columbus whence will report tomorrow.  The Naval Commander here is positive that every thing is working perfectly down the River.”

Cassius M. Clay, in New York on his way to his diplomatic post in Russia, writes President Lincoln: “There are several more applicants for the secretaryship. I trust you will allow

1– me to choose my secretary, as I was allowed no patronage in Ky. but the appointment of my nephew Green Clay. I can send you the name when I select one — and if you don’t like him — I’ll send another till you are pleased.

2. I ask leave of absence from St Petersburg for six weeks to begin at my choice this summer or spring. I desire to see Italy — and the court &c– are all absent in the summer months.

Published in: on March 19, 2013 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

President Considers a New Command for General Fremont

March 18, 1863

President meets with Indiana Congressman George W. Julian who pushes a new posting for General John C. Frémont: “On the 18th of March I called on Mr. Lincoln respecting the appointments I had recommended under the conscription law, and took occasion to refer to the failure of General Fremont to obtain a command,”  He said he did not know where to place him, and that it reminded him of the old man who advised his son to take a wife, to which the young man responded ‘Whose wife shall I take?’  The President proceed to point out the practical difficulties in the way by referring to a number of important commands which might suit Fremont, butt which could only be reached by removals he did not wish to make.  I remarked that I was very sorry if this was true, and that it was unfortunate for our cause, as I believed his restoration to duty would stir the country as no other appointment could.  He said, ‘it would stir the country on one side and stir it the other way on the other. It would please Fremont’s friends, and displease the conservatives; and that is all I can see in the stirring argument.”

Historian Bruce Tap wrote: “Julian followed up his [February] speech with a visit to the White House a few weeks later, where he urged the appointment of Frémont to a military command as a way to invigorate the country and boost morale. Despite Fremont’s undistinguished performance in the Shenandoah Valley, Julian and other committee members continued to believe that his presence in the army would increase morale.  Instead of admitting to Julian that he doubted Fremont’s military abilities, the president deflected the request, telling him he did not know where to put Fremont.  He then became more candid: ‘It would stir the country on one side and stir it the other way on the other.  It would please Fremont’s friends and displease the conservatives,’ just as his Emancipation Proclamation had earlier done.  Disappointed, Julian later wrote, ‘These observations were characteristic, and showed how reluctant he was to turn away from the conservative counsels he had so long heeded.’”

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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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Quiet Day at the White House

March 16, 1863

The Cabinet continues discussion of  letters of marque and piracy begun the previous week.

A day after spending the evening with President Lincoln, Senator Charles Sumner writes British statesman John Bright to complain about Secretary of Stated William H. Seward “A difficulty, amounting almost to calamity, is the want of confidence in Mr. Seward.  There is not a senator — not one — who is his friend politically, & the larger part are positively, & some even bitterly against him.  It is known that from the beginning he has had no true conception of our case; that he regarded this tremendous event with levity; that he has filled his conversation & his writings with false prophecies; that he has talked like a politician, & that he has said things & kept up relations, shewing an utter indifference to his old party associations.  There are some who attribute to him a purpose of breaking down the Republican Party, even at the expense of his country, to revenge his defeat at Chicago.  I do not share this judgment, &, when I have heard it pressed upon the Presdt, I have presented a milder theory which is simply this: that he failed at the beginning to see this event in its true character & that, blinded by an illimitable egotism, he has never been able fully to correct his original misapprehensions.

In the House of Reps. he has no friends; nor among his colleagues of the cabinet, not one of whom regards him with any favor.–I have mentioned before the vis inertia of the Presdt — & his indisposition to change.  Then there is a fear of his friends in the press & in business, lest they should make war on the Administration, if he were dismissed.

President Lincoln writes that West Virginia Congressman Kellian V. Whaley “calls and says he has nothing to fall back upon now, except to have Rev. Mr. Stevens, appointed a chaplain for the hospital at Charleston, Kanhawa Co. Va.”

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President Reads Aloud with Massachusetts Senator

March 15, 1863

President Lincoln meets with a New York delegation who bring information that  “ships now building in English yards professedly for the Emperor of China, but really for our rebels.”  At night, Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner visits the White House.  Mr. Lincoln liked to read aloud and both men  read from Theodore D. Woolsey’s Introduction to the Study of International Law.   Sumner was one of the few politicians liked by Mary Todd Lincoln.

Presidential assistant John G. Nicolay writes: “The Senate finally adjourned yesterday at two oclock, after a week’s very constant and industrious work, and I have the hope of a little intermission in the hurry and confusion of the last three months.  That I shall enjoy and appreciate it, there is no doubt.  Taking the winter altogether I have gone through much more easily and comfortably than I expected to do at its beginning.  I feel much fresher and stronger than I did at this time last year and have   no doubt that I shall still greatly improve in this respect, with the leisure and mild weather of the Spring.”

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Quiet Day at the House as President Lincoln Seeks English History Books

March 14, 1863

After a meeting with Senator Thomas H. Hicks: “To-day, Gov. Hicks, with Col. Walton, Member of Md. Leg. & Mr. Ireland, Post-Master at Anapolis, and ask that Col. George Sangster, of N.Y. be promoted. These Md. people make his acquaintance [from] his commanding paroled camp at Anapolis. Senator Harris, is also for him.”

Kentucky Republican Cassius M. Clay is preparing to return to his post as minister to St. Petersburg, Russia.  President Lincoln writes a formal note to Queen Isabel II of Spain: “Great and Good Friend I have received the letter which your Majesty was pleased to address to me on the 28th. of December announcing that the Duchess of Montpensier Your Majestys beloved sister had on the 12th of the same month happily given birth to a Prince who has received at the holy baptismal font the names of Petro de Alcantana Maria de Gudalupe Isabel Francisco de Asis Gabriel Sebastian Christina.  I participate in the satisfaction afforded by this happy event and offer my sincere congratulations upon the occasion May God have, Your Majesty always in His holy keeping Your Good Friend.”

President Lincoln request Volumes 3 and 4 of David Hume’s History of England from the Library of Congress.   The Senate adjourns.

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Cabinet Concerned with Letters of Marque

March 13, 1863

Attorney General Edward Bates writes in his diary: “At 10, this morning, Senator [Charles] Sumner came to my office to talk about Letters of Marque, as authorised by the late act. (Which act, by the way, he had opposed, in an able speech)

“He told me, what I did not know before, that Secy Seward had proposed the immediate issue of letters, and that the subject wd. Be up today, in C.C.

Sure enough, it did come up, and was talked over at some length; but nothing definitive was done – as the C. was not full [Chase and stanton being absent, at N. Y.{.] Being forewarned, I was very guarded objected, in a mild tone, stating some of the grounds – i.a.,

Privateering is only a milder sort of piracy, softened and elgalized by the practice of nations, and only from the policy of weakening the enemy by plundering him – That our enemy has no marine commerce, and so offers little temptation to privateersmen, whose sole object is booty – That, as all the enemy’s trade upon the ocean is in neutral bottoms, it is very dangerous to trust Privateersmen with the delicate power to overhaul and seize neutral ships, endangering constantly the peace of the nation; and that without any great temptation to incur such a risk.  That, as to what seemed to be the real, but not avowed object, the practical increase of the Navy, as agst the enemy’s armed cruisers, at present at sea, or soon expected from England, ti was not likely that many wd. Offer, strong enough [sic] to cope with them – the object of privateers is not the to fight but to capture &c[.]

“Mr. Blair at first, seemed pointedly, against the measure – saying that it was equivalent to war with England, and wd. Certainly lead to war.  But afterwards, when the Prest. Said, (answering Mr. Seward) that he supposed that we wd. Have to come to it, in some form, Mr. Blair seemed to assent that [it] wd. Have to be done, war or no war.

N.B. I have observed lately that whatever opinion Mr. B. starts with, he yields a ready assent to the final conclusion of the Prest., whether brot about by the influence of Chase Seward or Stanton.  Mr. B. takes special care of himself, his family and special friends, determined not to differ much with the appointing power.

“On the evening of March 13, 1863, Abraham Lincoln slipped unobtrusively into the presidential box at the Washington Theatre to see James Henry Hackett in his celebrated role of Falstaff,” wrote historian Don E. Fehrenbacher.   Soon thereafter, Hackett sent the President a copy of his new book, Notes and Comments upon Certain Plays and Actors of Shakespeare.”  Hackett would write: “Your Excellency favord me last Friday eveng 13th inst by a spontaneous visit to the Washington theatre to witness my personation of the Falstaff of King Henry IV, and I would respectfully ask your acceptance of a volume which I have recently published and the concluding portion of which refers particularly to the remarkable points of that renowned character– I have sent said Book through The Adams’ Express Compy and venture to hope that at your convenient leisure you may find therein some agreeable relaxation from your cares of State.”

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President Concerned with Campaign Against Charleston

March 12, 1863

President Lincoln has long been preoccupied with the joint naval-army campaign against Charleston.  Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles writes in his diary that Admiral Samuel “Du Pont is getting as prudent as McClellan; is very careful; all dash, energy, and force are softened under the great responsibility.  He has a reputation to preserve instead of one to make.”

[Chief Engineer] Stimers arrived this morning and read to me the minutes of a council held on board the Wabash.  The army officers were present, and it is plain they were a drawback on naval operations.  Talk of beginning the attack on Charleston by an assault on the sand-batteries at the mouth of the harbor instead of running past them.  Of obstructions and torpedos little is know, but great apprehensions are entertained.  Stimers is sent up to get more ironclads and another raft.  The President came in, and the whole subject was recounted.  His views and mine are alike.  To delay for the objects stated till April will be to postpone to May.  Expressed ourselves very decidedly, and told Stimers to hurry back.

Talked over the subject of Rebewl privateers building in England.  Said to the President and Mr. Seward I thought England should be frankly informed that our countrymen would not be restrained from active operations if Great Britain persisted in making war on our commerce under Confederate colors.

Historian Brooks D. Simpson writes of Lincoln’s preoccupation with the capture of Vicksburg: “Privately, however, Lincoln worried.  Repeatedly he sought information about matters in the West once inquiring, ‘Do Richmond papers have any thing about Vicksburg?’  He considered sending Benjamin F. Butler to the Mississippi to report on the situation – and a week later Stanton drafted orders directing Butler to supersede Grant.   In March, the administration decided on a course of action.  Lacking reliable and disinterested sources of information about Grant and his command.  Lincoln and Stanton decided that if they could not see things for themselves, they could choose someone to serve as their eyes and ears.  Charles A. Dana, a former newspaper editor who was now a troubleshooter for the War Department, seemed ideal for the task.  Stanton sent him west on the pretense that he would be investigating how paymasters performed in the West: Grant had already complained that his men were not being paid on time, so the general might not suspect the true import of Dana’s mission.  Receiving his orders on March 12, Dana immediately headed to Memphis.”

President Lincoln writes: “I herewith transmit to the Senate, for its consideration and ratification, a treaty with the chiefs and headmen of the Chippewas of the Mississippi and the Pillagers and Lake Winibigoshish bands of Chippewa Indians.”  The next day, the treaty is ratified.

Presidential secretary John Hay leaves the White House for New York on his way to  Hilton Head, South Carolina “for a two or three weeks’ visit to Gen. [David] Hunter.”

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President Lincoln Meets About Promotions and Appointments

March 11, 1863

President Lincoln meets with New Hampshire Senator John Hales regard

Col. Edward B. Cross, who also attends meeting.   The president also meets with Missouri Congressman James Rollins regarding  Colonel  Odon Guitar’s promotion to brigadier general.

President Lincoln writes Secretary of the Interior  John P. Usher at the request of Iowa Senator James Harlan regarding Mahlon Wilkinson of Dakota Territory as an Indian agent: “If there be a vacancy at the place named, let the appointment within requested, be made. If there be two vacancies, let this appointment be to the lower one.”   He writes Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner: “I still have no name for Solicitor to go to Peru. Have you?”  The president writes Attorney General Edward Bates: “Attorney General, please make out & send me a pardon for Wilbur Buckheart [convicted of mail robbery].  The papers are with you.”

General Carl Schurz, ever opinionated and ever ambitious,  writes President Lincoln regarding his own promotion: “I arrived here yesterday quite sick, on my way to our old family physician at Philadelphia. I would have taken the liberty of calling upon you, had I been able to go out to-day.

This morning Mr. [Charles] Sumner visited me and related to me a conversation he had had with you. From what he told me I had to conclude that I was dropped from the list of your nominations because otherwise it would have been necessary to promote Gens Stahel and Steinwehr also. I have no objection to the promotion of these two gentlemen, but I really do not see, permit me to say why we should be inseparably bound together and placed on a level. You will not remember a single instance in which I spoke ill of any person to you, and I am far from desiring to do so in this case. But I may say without overestimating my position in this country too much, that the government will hardly expose itself to the charge of partiality by placing me a step ahead of men who have so far scarcely in a single instance commanded the attention of the people. Leaving aside all services rendered before and during the war, only those who will find fault under all circumstances will forget, that I gave up a first-class mission for the privilege of fighting and dying for the country, while the gentlemen, whom I must not overtake in their career — and I wish you would try the experiment — would gladly give up their shoulder straps for a comfortable second class consulate. Pardon me for saying such things; but by classifying me with others you have roused my pride a little.

Mr. Sumner tells me also that the Germans expressed to you different opinions on this matter. I know I have enemies among them; I would perhaps have none if I enjoyed the benefit of indifference and obscurity. There are some whose sensitiveness I have hurt; others whom I have refused to recommend for office; and still others who are of an envious disposition, hate everybody that rises above their heads and magnify one to belittle another. But should this quarrelsome spirit have an influence upon the action of this Government? Besides I feel as though I had become something of an American and not altogether dependent upon the endorsement of any class of foreign born people. Nobody will consider this claim on my part presumptuous who remembers, that the votes for Liberty I have made were by no means all German.

But if I wanted the endorsement of a large majority of the Germans, I am positive I can have it at any moment. We might commence by taking the vote of my Army-Corps, and I give you my word for it, three fourth of all the officers and men will give me a vote of confidence to the exclusion of all my competitors.

Pardon me, Sir, I feel almost ashamed of arguing my claims, and I would certainly not do so, did I not feel still more humiliated before the people by being dropped by this Administration, while such men as Dan. Sickles, F. Steele and others are sustained and honored. Everybody must necessarily believe in the existence of some special reason against me, — for nobody will suppose that my promotion is impossible because in that case Messrs. R. and Z. want to be promoted also. Do you want a special occasion for promoting me? Let it be for meritorious conduct at the battle of Bull Run, let my commission bear that date, and every officer and soldier of the 11th Corps who has seen me on that day will applaud the act.– Still, had I never been nominated I would have submitted with equanimity. But to be first nominated and then dropped is a reflection on my character, which as a man who is widely known I ought not so suffer.

I should be happy to speak to you about two or three subjects not connected with this matter, but of some importance. If I were sure that I could see you without being obliged to wait too long, I would, sick as I am be happy to call. Will you be kind enough to let me know[?] I shall go to Philadelphia I think day after to-morrow.

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