President Meets with and Lectures Missouri Delegation

September 30, 1863

President Lincoln meets for hours in the morning with the “Committee of Seventy” from Missouri who want the dismissal of General John Schofield and Governor Hamilton Gamble.  The meeting reflected a wider split in the Lincoln administration between conservatives such as  Attorney General Edward Bates and Postmaster General Montgomery Blair and radicals like Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase.  Bates writes in his diary: “Today, the Jacobin Delegation of Mo. And Kansas had its audience of the Prest.  I saw him afterwards in a good humor.  Some of them he said, were not as bad he supposed – He really thought some of them were…pretty good men, if they only knew how!  Of course, they did not get Schofield’s head.”  Journalist Walter B. Stevens wrote that President Lincoln “bore the appearance of being much depressed, as if the who matter at issue in the conference which was impending was of great anxiety and trouble to him,’ says one of the Missourians who sat awaiting the president’s coming.”

Presidential aide John Hay writes: “The Missourians spent rather more than two hours with the President this morning.  They discharged their speech at him which Drake read as pompously as if it were full of matter instead of wind, and then had desultory talk for a great while.  The President never appeared to better advantage in the world.  Though He knows how immense is the danger to himself from the unreasoning anger of that committee, he never cringed to them for an instant.  He stood where he thought he was right and crushed them with his candid logic.  I was with those people all the while til today.  They trifled with a great cause unpardonably.  The personal character of the men, too ill sustained their attitude.  They are gone and I suppose have virtually failed.”

Walter Stevens wrote:  “At 9 o’clock in the morning of the last day of September, 1863, President Lincoln, accompanied by one of his secretaries, came into the great east room of the White House and sat down.

‘He bore the appearance of being much depressed, as if the who matter at issue in the conference which was impending was of great anxiety and trouble to him,’ says one of the Missourians who sat awaiting the president’s coming.

“There were seventy ‘Radical Union men of Missouri’‘ they had accepted that designation.  They had been chosen at mass convention in Jefferson city — ‘the largest mass convention ever held in the state,’ their credentials said.  That convention had unqualifiedly indorsed the emancipation proclamation and the employment of negro troops.  It had declared its loyalty to the general government.  It had appointed these seventy Missourians, from fifty-seven counties, to proceed to Washington and ‘to procure a change in the governmental policy in reference to Missouri.

‘This action by Missouri meant more than a local movement.  It was the precipitation of a crisis at Washington.  It was the voice of the radical anti-slavery element of the whole country speaking through Missouri, demanding that the government commit itself to the policy of the abolition of slavery and to the policy of the use of negro troops against the confederate armies.  It was the uprising of the element which thought the administration at Washington had been too mild.  President Lincoln understood that the coming of the Missourians meant more than their local appeal.  The Missourians understood, too, the importance of their mission.  On the way to Washington the seventy had stopped in city after city, had been given enthusiastic reception by the antislavery leaders; they had been encouraged to make their appeal for a new policy in Missouri insistent and to stand on the platform that the border states must now wipe out slavery of loyal owners.

Hence it was that immediately upon their arrival in Washington the seventy Missourians coming from a slave state put into their address to the president such an avowal as this:

We rejoice that in your proclamation of January 1, 1863, you laid the mighty hand of the nation upon that gigantic enemy of American liberty and we and our constituents honor you for that wise and noble act.  We and they hold that that proclamation did, in law, by its own force, liberate every slave in the region it covered; that it is irrevocable, and that from the moment of its issue the American people stood in an impregnable position before the world and the rebellion received its death blow.  If you, Mr. President, felt that duty to your country demanded that you should unshackle the slaves of the rebel states in an hour, we see no earthly reason why the people of Missouri should not, from the same sense of duty, strike down with equal suddenness the traitorous and parricidal institution in their midst.

According to aide John Hay, the president says: “I suppose the committee now before me is the culmination of a movement inaugurated by a Convention held in Missouri last month, and is intended to give utterance to their well considered views on public affairs in that state.  The purpose of this delegation has been widely published and their progress to the city everywhere noticed.  It is not therefore to be expected that I shall reply hurriedly to your address.  It  would not be consistent either with a proper respect for you, or a fair consideration of the subject involved to give you a hasty answer.  I will take your address, carefully consider it and read it at my earliest convenience.  I shall consider it, without partiality for or prejudice against any man or party; no painful memories of the past and no hopes for the future, personal to myself shall hamper my judgment.”

President Lincoln defends Schofield against their vague attacks: “I am sorry you have not been more specific in the statements you have seen fit to make about Gen. Schofield.  I had heard in advance of your coming that apart of your mission was to protest against his administration & I thought I should hear some definite statements of grievances instead of vague denunciations which are so easy to make and yet so unsatisfactory.  But I have been disappointed.  If you could tell me what Gen[.] Schofield has done that he should not have done, or what omitted that he should have done, your case would be plain.  You have on the contrary only accused him vaguely of sympathy with your enemies.  I cannot act on vague impressions.  Show me that he has disobeyed orders: show me that he has done something wrong & I will take your request for his removal into serious consideration.  He has never protested against an order – never neglected a duty with which he has been entrusted so far as I know.  When Gen. Grant was struggling in Mississippi and needed reinforcement no man was so active and efficient in sending him troops as Gen. Schofield.  I know nothing to his disadvantage.  I am not personally acquainted with him.  I have with him no personal relations.  If you allege a definite wrongdoing & having clearly made your point, prove it, I shall remove him.”

Kansas Senator James Lane presses the point: “Do you think it is sufficient cause for the removal of a General, that he has lost the entire confidence of the people.”  President Lincoln suggested not if the causes were unjust, but Lane pressed forward: “General Schofield has lost that confidence.”  There were murmurs of approval from the delegation but President Lincoln said: “I am in possession of facts that convince me that Gen[.] Schofield has not lost the confidence of the entire people of Missouri.”  The delegates suggested that he had lost the confidence of “All loyal people.”  Again Lane pressed: “There are no parties and no factions in Kansas – All our people demand his removal.”  He added: “The massacre of Lawrence, is in the opinion of th people of Kansas, solely due to the embicility [sic] of Gen. Schofield.”

President Lincoln again demurrs: “As to that, it seems to me that is a thing which could be done by any one making up his mind to the consequences, and could no more be guarded against than assassination.  If I make up my mind to kill you for instance, I can do it and [three?] hundred gentleman [sic] could not prevent it.  They could avenge but could not save you.”  Delegation members then pressed various points – incoherently and ineptly in the view of Hay.  “In every instance, a question or two from the President pricked the balloon of loud talk and collapsed it around the rears of the delegate to his no small disgust and surprise.  The baffled patriot would retreat to a sofa & think the matter over again or would stand in his place and quietly listen in a bewildered manner to the talk and discomfiture of another.”

One delegate suggests: “We are your friends and the Conservatives are not.” President Lincoln replied: ”These so called Conservatives will avoid, as a general thing, votes, or any action, which will in any way interfere with or imperil, the success of their party.  For instance they will vote for supplies, and such other measures as are absolutely necessary to sustain the Government.  They will do this selfishly.  They do not wish that the Government should fall, for they expect to obtain possession of it.  At the same time their support will not be hearty: their votes are not equal to those of the real friends to the Administration.  They do not give so much strength.  They are not worth so much.  My Radical friends will therefore see that I understand and appreciate their position.  Still you appear to come before me as my friends if I agree with you, but not otherwise.  I do not here speak of mere personal friendship, as between man and man, – when I speak of my friends I mean those who are friendly to my measures, to the policy of the government.

I am well aware that by many, by some even among this delegation, – I shall not name them, – I have been in public speeches and in printed documents charged with ‘tyranny’ and willfulness, with a disposition to make my own personal will supreme.  I do not intend to be a tyrant.  At all events I shall take care that in my own eyes I do not become one.  I shall always try and preserve one friend within me, whoever else fails me, to tell me that I have not been a tyrant, and that I have acted right.  I have no right to act the tyrant to mere political opponents.  If a man votes for supplies of men and money; encourages enlistments; discourages desertions; does all in his power to carry to the war on to a successful issue, – I have no right to question him for his abstract political opinions.  I must make a dividing line, some where, between those who are the opponents of the Government and those who only oppose peculiar features of my administration while they sustain the Government.”

Mr. Lincoln advocated gradual emancipation.  He complained to the delegation: “My friends in Missouri last winter did me a great unkindness.  I had relied upon my Radical friends as my mainstay in the management of affairs in that state and they disappointed me.  I had recommended Gradual Emancipation, and Congress had endorsed that course.  The Radicals in Congress voted for it.  The Missouri delegation in Congress went for it, – went, as I thought, right.  I had the highest hope that at last Missouri was on the right track.  But I was disappointed by the immediate emancipation movements It endangers the success of the whole advance toward freedom.  But you say that the gradual emancipation men were insincere;  – that they intended soon to repeal this action; that their course and their professions are purely fraudulent.  Now I do not think that a majority of the gradual Emancipationists are insincere.  Large bodies of men cannot play the hypocrite.  I announced my own opinion freely at the time.  I was in favor of gradual emancipation.  I still am so.  You must not call yourselves my friends, if you are only so while I agree with you.  According to that, if you differ with me you are not my friends.”

At the end of the meeting, according to Clarke, “Mr. Drake stepped forward and, addressing the president, who was standing, said, with deliberation and emphasis.  ‘The hour has come when we can no longer trespass upon your attention.  Having submitted to you in a formal way a statement of our grievances, we will take leave of you, asking the privilege that each member of the delegation may take you by the hand.  But, in taking leave of you, Mr. President, let me say to you many of these gentlemen return to a border state filled with disloyal sentiment.  If upon their return there the military policies of your administration shall subject them to risk of life in the defense of the government and their blood shall be shed — let me tell you, Mr. President, that their blood shall be upon your garments and not upon ours.’” Clarke reported that the President responded “[w]ith great emotion.  Tears trickled down his face, as we filed by shaking his hand. “

In their notes of the meeting, John Hay and William O. Stoddard concluded: “In the main ignorant and well meaning, they chose for their spokesman Drake who is  neither ignorant nor well meaning, who covered the marrow of what they wanted to say in a purposeless mass of unprofitable verbiage which they accepted because it sounded well, and the President will reject because it is nothing but sound.  He is a man whom only the facts of the toughest kind can move and Drake attacked him with tropes & periods which might have had weight in a Sophomore Debating Club.  And so the great Western Delegation from which good people hoped so much for freedom, discharged their little rocket, and went home with no good thing to show for coming – a little angry and a good deal bewildered – not clearly seeing why they have failed – as the President seemed so fair and their cause so good.”

Clarke was more upbeat in his remembrance: “We did not receive specific promises, but I think we felt much better toward the close than we had felt in the first hour.  The president spoke generally of his purposes rather than with reference to conditions in Missouri.  Toward the close of the conference he went on to speak of his great office, of its burdens, of its responsibilities and duties.  Among other things he said that in the administration of the government he wanted to be the president of the whole people and of no section.  He thought we, possibly, failed to comprehend the enormous stress that rested upon him.  ‘It is my ambition and desire,’ he said with considerable feeling, ‘to so administer the affairs of the government while I remain president that if at the end I shall have lost every other friend on earth I shall at least have one friend remaining and that one shall be down inside me.’”

Two months later, John Hay wrote in his diary that President Lincoln told him: “I talked to these people in this way when they came to me this fall.  I saw that their attack on Gamble was malicious.  They moved against him by flank attacks from different sides of the same question.  They accused him of enlisting rebel soldiers among the enrolled militia: and of exempting all the rebels and forcing Union men to do the duty: all this in the blindness of passion.  I told them they were endangering the election of Senator: that I thought their duty was to elect Henderson and Gratz Brown; and nothing has happened in our politics which has pleased me more than that incident.”1

One Missouri delegate, Enos Clarke, recalled: “The address was the result of several meetings we held after we reached Washington.  We were there nearly a week.  Arriving on Saturday, we did not have our conference at the White House until Wednesday.  Every day we met in Willard’s Hall, on F street, and considered the address.  Mr. Drake would read over a few paragraphs, and we would discuss them.  At the close of the meeting Mr. Drake would say, ‘I will call you together to-morrow to further consider this matter.”  Clarke later answered questions about the conclave:

WHO WAS THE AUTHOR OF THE ADDRESS, MR. CLARKE?

“There was no special greeting.  We went to the White House a few minutes before 9, in accordance with the appointment which had been made, and took seats in the east room.  Promptly at 9 the president came in, unattended save by one of his secretaries.  He did not shake hands, but sat down in such a position that he faced us.  He seemed a great, ungainly, almost uncouth man.  He walked with a kind of ambling gait.  His face bore the look of depression, of deep anxiety.  Mr. Drake steped forward as soon as the president had taken his seat and began to read the address.  He had a deep, sonorous vice and he read slowly and in a most impressive manner.  The reading occupied half an hour.  At the conclusion Mr. Drake said this statement of our grievances had been prepared and signed by all of those present.

DID THE PRESIDENT SEEM TO BE MUCH AFFECTED BY THE READING?

…at the conclusion [Mr. Lincoln] began to discuss the address in a manner that was very disappointing to us. He took up one phase after another and talked about them without showing much interest.  In fact, he seemed inclined to treat many of the matters contained in the paper as of little importance. The things which we had felt to be so serious Mr. Lincoln treated as really unworthy of much consideration.  This was the tone in which he talked at first.  He minimized what seemed to us most important.

DID HE INDULGE IN ANY STORY TELLING OR HUMOROUS COMMENT?

No. There was nothing that seemed like levity at that stage of the conference.  On the contrary the president was almost impatient, as if he wished to get through with something disagreeable.  When he had expressed the opinion that things were not so serious as we thought he began to ask questions, many of them.  He elicited answers from different members of the delegation.  He started argument, parrying some of the opinions expressed by us and advancing opinions contrary to the conclusions of the Committee of Seventy.  This treatment of our grievances was carried so far that most of us felt a sense of deep chagrin.  But after continuing in this line for some time the president’s whole manner underwent change.  It seemed as if he had been intent upon drawing us out.  When satisfied that he fully understood us and had measured the strength of our purpose, the depth of our feeling, he took up the address as if anew.  He handled the various grievances in a most serious manner.  He gave us the impression that he was disposed to regard them with as much concern as we did.  After a while the conversation became colloquial between the president and the members of the delegation — more informal and more sympathetic.  The change of tone made us feel that were going to get consideration.

WHAT INSIRED THAT ASSERTION IN THE ADDRESS THAT THE PRESIDENT HAD SPOKEN OF THE TROUBLE IN MISSOURI AS A ‘FACTIONAL QUARREL’?

It was based on a letter President Lincoln had written to Gen. Schofield some time previously.  A copy of that letter was before us when we drew up the address. Apparently, for the purose of informing Gen. Schofield of his view of affairs in Missouri, Mr. Lincoln had written to him in this way: ‘I did not relieve Gen. Curtis because of my full conviction that he had done wrong by commission or omission.  I did it because of a voncition in my mind that the Union men of Missouri, constituting, when united, a vast majority of the whole people, have entered into a pestilent factional quarrel among themselves. Gen. Curtis, perhaps not of choice, being the head of one faction and Gov. Gamble that of the other.  After months of labor to reconcile the difficulty, it seemed to grow worse and worse until I felt it my duty to break it up somehow, and, as I could not remove Gov. Gamble, I had to remove gen. Curtis.’  This letter had found its way to the public and was made the basis of what our address said by way of vindication of the Radical Union men.

DID THE PRESIDENT MAKE ANY REFERENCE TO THAT PART OF THE ADDRESS ABOUT THE ‘FACTIONAL QUARREL’?

Yes, he did.  And it was bout the only thing he said it had a touch of humor in that long conversation.  In the course of his reply to us he took up that grievance.  ‘Why,’ he said, ‘you are a long way behind the times in complaining of what I said upon that point.  Gov. Gamble was ahead of you.  There came to me some time ago a letter complaining because I had said that he was a party to a factional quarrel, and I answered that letter without reading it.  Well, I’ll tell you. My private secretary told me such a letter had been received and I saw down and wrote to Gov. Gamble in about these words: I understand that a letter has been received from you complaining that I said you were a party to a factional quarrel in Missouri.  I have not read that letter, and, what is more, I never will.’  With that Mr. Lincoln dismissed our grievance about having been called parties to a factional quarrel.  He left us to draw our inference from what he said, as he had left Gov. Gamble to construe the letter without help.

DID THE CONFERENCE PROGRESS TO SATISFACTORY CONCLUSIONS AFTER THE PRESIDENT’S MANNER CHANGED?

We did not receive specific promises, but I think we felt much better toward the close than we had felt in the first hour.  The president spoke generally of his purposes rather than with reference to conditions in Missouri.  Toward the close of the conference he went on to speak of his great office, of its burdens, of its responsibilities and duties.  Among other things he said that in the administration of the government he wanted to be the president of the whole people and of no section.  He thought we, possibly, failed to comprehend the enormous stress that rested upon him.  ‘It is my ambition and desire,’ he said with considerable feeling, ‘to so administer the affairs of the government while I remain president that if at the end I shall have lost every other friend on earth I shall at least have one friend remaining and that one shall be down inside me.’

HOW LONG DID THE CONFERENCE CONTINUE

Three hours.  It was nearly noon when the president said what I have just quoted.  That seemed to be the signal to end the conference.  Mr. Drake stepped forward and, addressing the president, who was standing, said, with deliberation and emphasis.  ‘The hour has come when we can no longer trespass upon your attention.  Having submitted to you in a formal way a statement of our grievances, we will take leave of you, asking the privilege that each member of the delegation may take you by the hand.  But, in taking leave of you, Mr. President, let me say to you many of these gentlemen return to a border state filled with disloyal sentiment.  If upon their return there the military policies of your administration shall subject them to risk of life in the defense of the government and their blood shall be shed — le me tell you, Mr. President, that their blood shall be upon your garments and not upon ours.’

HOW DID THE PRESIDENT RECEIVE THAT?

With great emotion.  Tears trickled down his face, as we filed by shaking his hand.

President Lincoln writes General John M. Schofield, commander of the Union Army in Missouri: “Governor Gamble having authorized Colonel Moss, [3] of Liberty, Mo., to arm the men in Platte and Clinton counties, he has armed mostly the returned Rebel soldiers and men under bonds. Moss’ men are now driving the Union men out of Missouri. Over one hundred families crossed the river to-day. Many of the wives of our Union soldiers have been compelled to leave. Four or five Union men have been murdered by Colonel Moss’ men. Please look to this; and if true, in whole or part put a stop to it.”  Schofield responded “that the report from Leavenworth . . . is a gross misrepresentation and exaggeration. A few men who claim to be loyal, but who have been engaged in murder, robbery, and arson, have been driven out….It is a base attempt of my enemies to influence your action.”


1  Michael Burlingame and John R. Turner Ettlinger, editors, Inside Lincoln’s White House: The Complete Civil War Diary of John Hay, p. 124. (December 10, 1863).

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