President Lincoln Meets with Louisiana Delegation about Reconstruction

June 19, 1863

Three Louisiana conservatives – E. E. Malhiot, Bradish Johnson, and Thomas Cottman –  write President Lincoln regarding reconstruction of that state: “The undersigned, a committee appointed by the Planters of the State of Louisiana, respectfully represent, that they have been delegated to seek of the General Government a full recognition of all the rights of the State, as they existed previous to the passage of an act of secession, upon the principle of the existence of the State Constitution unimpaired, and no legal act having transpired that could in any way deprive them of the advantages conferred by that Constitution. Under this constitution the State wishes to return to its full allegiance, in the enjoyment of all rights and privileges exercised by the other states under the Federal Constitution. With the view of accomplishing the desired object, we farther request that your Excellency will as Commander-in-chief of the Army of the United States direct the military Governor of Louisiana to order an election in conformity with the constitution and laws of the State, on the first Monday of November next, for all State and Federal Officers.

President Lincoln responds to them: “Since receiving the letter, reliable information has reached me that a respectable portion of the Louisiana people desire to amend their State constitution, and contemplate holding a convention for that object. This fact alone, as it seems to me, is a sufficient reason why the general government should not give the committal you seek, to the existing State constitution. I may add that, while I do not perceive how such committal could facilitate our military operations in Louisiana, I really apprehend it might be so used as to embarrass them.”  He notess: “As to an election to be held next November, there is abundant time, without any order, or proclamation from me just now. The people of Louisiana shall not lack an oppertunity of a fair election for both Federal and State officers, by want of anything within my power to give them.” President Lincoln adds: “If the military force of the rebellion were already out of the way, so that the people of Louisiana could now practically enter upon the enjoyment of their rights under the present State and National Constitutions, your request would stand before me in a different aspect.

Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles writes in his diary that Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. “Chase informs me that he has just returned from a visit to Hooker’s headquarters, at or near Fairfax Court-House. The troops, he says, are in good spirits and excellent condition, as is Hooker himself. He commends Hooker as in every respect all that we could wish. His (Chase’s) tone towards Halleck is much altered since our last conversation. All of which is encouraging. But Chase’s estimate and judgment of men fluctuates as he has intercourse with them and they are friendly and communicative or otherwise.”  Most administration officials, however, are losing faith in Hooker.

In a letter to the Chicago Tribune, presidential aide John G. Nicolay responds to a Tribune letter that “we are told the President said to Senator Sumner recently that he had not seen a copy of the Chicago Tribune for four months. Now as it is mailed regularly we wish to know whether it is received at the White House.  If it miscarries we will have that corrected.  If he does not want it – declines to read it – we will discontinue sending it.  Please answer.  Yours Respectfully, Tribune Company.”  Nicolay responds:

“The Chicago Tribune is received very regularly, opened and kept with other papers on the newspaper table in my office; it is very regularly examined by myself, and especially sought after by the Western men who happen here.

‘That so from desiring to place the Tribune under ban in the Executive Mansion the President requests me to say that he will be very glad to receive it here so long as in your kindness you may please to send it.

“And to this much from him let me add a word on my own responsibility.  Excepting the Washington City Dailies, in which he carefully reads the telegraphic dispatches, the President rarely ever looks at any papers simply for want of leisure to do so.  In this the Tribune fares as well as, and no worse than all others.  Still I think that during the two years of his stay here, he would have been attracted to your journal more frequently as to an old and familiar friend, if it had not in that time contained so much which he had a right to expect it would at least have left unsaid.’”

“I can assure you of what you ought to be able to guess – that the President’s task here is no child’s play.  If you imagine that any man could attempt its performance, and escape adverse criticism, you have read history in vain, and studied human nature without profit.  But it was not to be expected that those of the President’s friends, who knew him long and intimately – who understood his integrity and his devotion to the country and the cuase entrusted to his charge – would at least abstain from judging him in the blindness of haste and condemning him in the bitterness of ill-temper?  It does seem to me that this much was due to generosity and charity for the fiery trial which he is called upon to pass through here, if not to political or personal friendship.

“Let me repeat that these are exclusively my own thoughts and not the President’s and even I would not have written them, if I could, without misconstruction have otherwise answered the implication in your note to which you specifically requested a reply.

“Let me add that I desire to continue reading the Tribune – reserving only the prvilege of finding as much fault with it as it finds with the Administration, which I know is unselfishly endeavoring to do its whole duty in the crisis.”

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

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