President Lincoln Visits the Capitol

August 12, 1863

Navy Secretary Gideon Welles writes in his diary: “The President addressed me a letter, directly additional instructions and of a more explicit character to our naval officers in relation to their conduct at neutral ports.  In doing this, the President takes occasion to compliment the administration of the Navy in terms most commendatory and gratifying.

The proposed instructions are in language almost identical with certain letters which have passed between Mr. Seward and Lord Lyons, which the former submitted to me and requested me to adopt.  My answer was not what the Secretary and Minister had agreed between themselves should be my policy and action.  The President has therefore been privately interviewed and persuaded to write me,–an unusual course with him and which he was evidently reluctant to do.  He earnestly desires to keep on terms of peace with England and, as he says to me in his letter, to sustain the present Ministry, which the Secretary of State assures him is a difficult matter, requiring all his dexterity assures him is a difficult matter, requiring all his dexterity and ability,–hence constant derogatory concessions.

In all of this Mr. Seward’s subservient policy, or want of a policy, is perceptible.  He has no convictions, no fixed principles, no rule of action, but is governed and moved by impulse, fancied expediency, and temporary circumstances.

…The President has a brief reply to Governor Seymour’s rejoinder, which is very well.  Stanton said to me he wished the President would stop letter-writing, for which he has a liking and particularly when eh feels he has facts and right [on his side].  I might not disagree with Stanton as regards some correspondence, but I think the President has been more successful with Seymour than some others.  His own letters and writings are generally unpretending and abound in good sense.

President Lincoln writes to John A. McClernand regarding a colleague from Lincoln’s youth: “Our friend, William G. Greene, has just presented a kind letter in regard to yourself, addressed to me by our other friends, Yates, Hatch, and Dubois.  I doubt whether your present position is more painful to you than to myself.  Grateful for the patriotic stand so early taken by you in this life-and-death struggle of the nation, I have done whatever has appeared practicable to advance you and the public interest together.  No charges, with a view to a trial, have been preferred against you by any one; nor do I suppose any will be.  All there is, so far as I have heard, is Gen. Grant’s statement of his reasons for relieving you.  And even this I have not seen or sought to see; because it is a case, as appears to me, in which I could do nothing without doing harm.  Gen. Grant and yourself have been conspicuous in our most important successes; and for me to interfere, and thus magnify a breach between you, could not but be of evil effect.  Better leave it where the law of the case has placed it.  For me to force you back upon Gen. Grant, would be forcing him to resign.  I can not give you a new command, because we have no forces except such as already have commanders.  I am constantly pressed by those who scold as already have commanders.  I am constantly pressed by those who scold before they think, or without thinking at all, to give commands respectively to Fremont, McClellan, Butler, Sigel, Curtis, Hunter, Hooker, and perhaps others when, all else out of the way, I have no commands to give them when, all else out of the way, I have no commands to give them.  This is now your case, which, as I have before said, pains me, not less than it does you.

My belief is that the permanent estimate of what a general does in the field, is fixed by the ‘cloud of witnesses’ who have been with him in the field; and that relying on these, he who has the right needs not to fear.

President Lincoln writes Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton: “Hon. Secretary of War: Mrs. Baird tells me that she is a widow; that her two sons and only support joined the army, where one of them still is; that her other son, Isaac P. Baird, is a private in the Seventy-second Pennsylvania Volunteers—Baxter’s Fire Zouaves, Company K; that he is now under guard with his regiment on a charge of desertion; that he was under arrest for desertion, so that he could not take the benefit of returning under the proclamation on that subject.  Please have it ascertained if this is correct, and if it is, let him be discharged from arrest and go to duty.  I think, too, he should have his pay for duty actually performed. Loss of pay falls so hard upon poor families.”

Aide John Hay accompanies President Lincoln and Secretary of State William H. Seward to the Capitol.  Hay writes in his diary: “Saw the Statuary of the East Pediment.  The Presdt. objected to [Hiram”Powers Statute of the Woodchopper, as he did not make a sufficiently clean cut.”  Mr. Lincoln was always proud of his own axemanship skills.  Hay adds:

Coming home the President told Seward of what Frank Blair said about an interview he had had with Poindexter in the West.  Poindexter said ‘we are gone up, there is no further use of talking.’  ‘How about yr. Institution?” Frank asked.  ‘Gone to the Devil.

Seward said ‘Slavery is dead: the only trouble is that the fools who support it from the outside do not recognize this, and will not till thing is over.  In our Masonic warfare, we made a great fight.  The Masons were beaten: they knew & felt it, and retired from the fight.  But the Jack Masons as they were called kept up their dismal howls of sympathy for the Masons long after they had given up the fight and forgotten all about it.  So now, though slavery is dead, the Democratic party insists on devoting itself to guarding the corpse.”

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