Uncertainty Grips Washington and Cabinet in Wake of Chancellorsville

May 10, 1863

Presidential aide John G. Nicolay writes home: “As soon as the President received the news that Hooker had returned to this side of the Rappahannock with his army he and Genl. Halleck at once went down there to satisfy himself as to its true condition.  Considering that the movement had taken him somewhat by surprise he came home tolerably well reconciled to it, although the information of the entire success of Stonemans cavalry expedition, which we have since received makes it pretty plain that it would have been better for Hooker to have remained on the other side, and to have fought out the battle there – at least so it seems to me.  Still Hooker did not have all these data to judge from and therefore perhaps decided rightly.  It was however a great disappointment to the country, which is terribly impatient for military success.”

Attorney General Edward Bates writes in his diary that  Agriculture Commissioner “Isaac Newton called to see me and…detailed a long conversation that the Postmaster General had sought and had with him.”  They discussed pressure to replace most members of the Lincoln cabinet.

It disclosed no less than a plan to revolutionize the entire cabinet – Seward and Stanton, and perhaps Bates, indeed all except Welles, to be displaced – Chase to have Seward’s place – and, if that could not be, then Sumner to have it – Holt or Butler or Banks to have Stanton’s, and Preston King Chase’s.  And all this to be accomplished by a very simple operation, i.e., old Mr. Blair to be the private counsellor – not to say dictator – of the President.

Mr. Blair complained that his father had not, of late, been admitted, as much as he desired, to private conferences with the President.  And he urged Mr. Newton to use his influence with the President to bring about more intimate relations.  That the old man was, beyond all question, the ablest and best informed politician in America – and was known to be such! [Said] that, under his advice the President could be saved a world of trouble, and the nation [be] far better served, than in any other way!

Mr. Blair spoke in the bitterest of terms of the Secretaries of State and War – that the former was an unprincipled liar, the truth not in him – the latter a great scoundrel, making all sorts of fraudulent contracts to put money into his own pockets – that, in that way, ‘Cameron was a fool to him’ – and good deal more of that sort.

“Being asked, I advised Mr. Newton to have nothing to do with the intrigue – to take care of himself and his own department, and let Mr. Blair manage his hazardous plots in his own way and at his own risk.  He seemed to see the absurdity of trying to make old Mr. Blair the governing power behind the throne, and the great likelihood that the attempt would recoil upon the heads of the contrivers.

Evidently the Postmaster General is in dead earnest; for I have abundunt other proof that he is full in the faith that Wisdom will die with his father and him!

I knew before his very bad opinion of Seward and Stanton and his jealousy of Chase.  And as to me, I knew that he was disappointed and dissatisfied because I declined, from the start, to be an agent of ‘the Blairs.’  In fact, that clique has mistaken cunning for wisdom, and they believe fully in trick and contrivance.  They believe me, a mere mar-plot – and that, as Cardinal Wolsey said of Bishop Gardener – ‘He was a fool, for he would needs be virtuous.  I’ll have none such near his Highness!’

True, I have no confidence in Seward, and very little in Stanton; but that does not make me confide in tricky politicians who have not the first conception of statesmanship.

Mr. Lincoln has been overburdened with the weight of public affairs.  But, if our arms should be crowned with great successes (as I fondly hope) he will then become more independent and self-reliant, and less likely to submit to the dictation of any clique. Now, the extreme leaders have subordinated everything to the negro – law, justice, policy – the war itself – to their mania for abolition!

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Published in: on May 10, 2013 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

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