Election Day in Much of North

November 3, 1863

President Lincoln telegraphs Secretary of State William H. Seward in Auburn, New York with his son William. “Nothing new. Despatches up to twelve last night, from Chattanooga show all quiet and doing well. How is your son?”  Seward responds: “Thanks. William is better. Our friends reckon on (25,000) majority in the state.”

The controversy between civil and military authorities in Maryland continues.  Governor Augustus Bradford responds to President Lincoln’s letter of the previous day – pointing out that he received the letter after reading it in the newspaper: “Your letter of 2nd inst. in reply to mine of 31st ulto. reached me to-day after I had already read it in the Baltimore papers of this morning.

Your Excellency has in this respect the advantage of me; for although, following your example, I shall send a duplicate of this to the Press, the probabilities are, looking to recent events, that the military Authorities will not allow its publication.

When I wrote to you on Saturday last I had not been able to procure a Copy of the Military Order in reference to the Election and acted merely on the rumor of its character.

When I saw it, as I did for the first time on Sunday I found it even more objectionable than rumor had represented it, and when I was shown on the same day a copy of your letter to Mr. Swann, in which you say you “trust there is no just ground for the suspicion” he had expressed and declaring that you felt “mortified that there could be a doubt upon this point of your (his) enquiry” &c., which point was a suggestion by Mr Swann, that “the election about to take place will be attended with undue interference on the part of persons claiming to represent the wishes of the Government” –  I rested satisfied that I should receive from you a prompt Countermand of the Order in question. If the sending out one or more Regiments of troops distributed among several of the Counties to attend their places of Elections in defiance of the well known laws of the State prohibiting their presence; ordering Military Officers and Provost Marshalls to arrest voters guilty, in the opinion of such officers, of certain offences; menacing Judges of Election with the power of the Military Arm in case this Military order was not respected, is not an “undue interference with the freedom of elections, I confess myself unable to imagine what is.

The purport of your Excellency’s remarks in your letter to me is confined chiefly to a justification of the exclusion of disloyal voters from the Polls by means of the administration of an oath of Allegiance; without stopping to analyse the particular oath in question it may be sufficient to say that this clause of the Order is by far the least objectionable of the three. If any who were once citizens of the United States have been guilty of such conduct as justly disfranchises them, let them take the consequences. I, for one, have not interfered and shall not interfere to prevent it. But I insist that the Judges whom the State has provided are the exclusive Judges of the question of such citizenship and that they shall be allowed to exercise their own judgment upon that question, and I shall never cease to protest against any attempt of the Military power in a loyal State to control that judgment and especially against the use of any threats tending to coerce an observance by these Judges of any law which such a power shall undertake to prescribe.

The first and third Sections of the Order are the most remarkable items of the arbitrary authority it assumes; the first places all persons supposed to have given “aid and comfort or encouragement” to persons engaged in the Rebellion, and those who “do not recognize their allegiance to the United States” at the mercy of a Military Officer and Provost Marshall, and orders the latter to arrest them when “approaching the polls” &c; and the third clause intimates to the Judges of Election in very unmistakeable terms the danger they incur in case they disobey the Military authority. These sworn officers of the law have a new law prescribed to them in this Military order, and for disobedience of which they are to be reported to “these Headquarters,” and of course must take warning of the consequences that will ensue.

I am aware that your Excellency has so far modified the first of said Sections, as to substitute for it a direction to these Provost Marshalls “to prevent all disturbance or violence about the Polls” &c. and that in speaking of the terms of the original order; you admit “that these officers being of necessity the exclusive judges as to who shall be arrested, the provision is liable to abuse”; but I submit with deference that while the modification may relieve that part of the order of some of the most immoderate of its powers it still leaves these Officers the exclusive judges of who are guilty of violence or disturbances and of course who are liable to arrest therefor; and leaves them consequently the same opportunity for a similar abuse of power, — the probabilities of which you may the more readily estimate when I inform you that several of them are themselves candidates for some of our most important offices.

You refer several times in your letter, to the Missouri case, and to my approval of your course therein, and seem to think that the two States are in the same condition, and have been treated in like manner. Without pausing to compare their conditions or their respective liability to violence at the polls I propose to contrast the proceedings which have severally taken place in the two. You say “my order in Missouri which you approve and General Schenck’s order here reach precisely the same end”. The only action of yours in reference to the Missouri case of which I have expressed approval or of which I have any knowledge is as mentioned in my letter that disclosed in your letter of instructions to Gen. Schofield bearing date the 1st day of October last; and whether the instructions contained in that letter and Gen. Schenck’s order reach the same end as you suppose or not, they certainly propose to reach it by very different means. To estimate correctly this difference we must compare the course respectively taken by the Department Commanders in the two States. Gen. Schofield in his Order of 28th Sept. 18635 and to which I understand you to refer when in your letter to him above mentioned, you commence by saying “under your recent order which I have approved” &c lays down the following as the Military law for Missouri on the subject of elections: “The right” says he, “of the people peaceably to assemble for all lawful purposes and the right freely to express their will at the polls according to law are essential to civil liberty; no interference with these rights either by violence, threats or intimidation or otherwise will be tolerated.” Again in the same order he says “any Officer, Soldier or civillian who shall attempt to intimidate any qualified voter in the exercise of his right to vote or who shall attempt to prevent any qualified voter from going to the polls or voting shall be imprisoned or other punished by imprisonment or otherwise” &c.

If these provisions are compared with the first and third Sections of Gen. Schenck’s Order, the contrast rather than the similarity will, I think, be striking. In your same letter to Gen. Schofield your further say – “See that those and only those are allowed to vote who are entitled to do so by the laws of Missouri” not only thus conceding to the State laws the right to prescribe the qualification of the voter, but enjoining upon the Military Commander to see that he be allowed to enjoy that right.

Though your Excellency refers to the difference in the qualification required of voters in the two States, I can hardly suppose – especially in view of the unqualified and emphatic terms in which you recognise the control of the State laws – that you mean to place that recognition upon the ground that you approve the laws of one State and not those of the other; and besides I think we might be allowed some benefit of the consideration, that in Missouri they have recently had a Constitutional Convention which enabled them to remodel their laws on the subject of the elective franchise, an opportunity we have not yet enjoyed, and which is necessary for the purpose of such modification, though such necessity might possibly be dispensed with hereafter in view of the new power which Military Commanders claim to exercise in the premises.

The conclusion of your Excellency’s letter makes allusion to past precedents in Maryland, and is evidently designed to make the point that I should be the last to complain of such an order as it is as you say “precisely what Gen. Dix did” when I was elected Governor. If such was the case the proceeding at least does not seem to have been very effective in reducing the vote of the State, as I received fifteen thousand more votes than the highest candidate at the Presidential election in the preceding year and when a very large vote was polled in the State

But your Excellency will, I think, find that no such order as the present was ever issued by Gen. Dix. It is besides of some importance to note the difference in the condition of our State between that time and now. Her present condition requires no comment, but then, I beg leave to remind you, she was hovering upon the brink of Secession; her legislators had been arrested but a short time before to prevent them passing an Ordnance for that purpose, and at the election referred to there was an organized Secession party under the guise of a Peace Party with a nominated ticket in every Country and believed to be then actuated with the determination to carry the State into rebellion.

Under these circumstances what was the order issued by Gen. Dix? It was issued on the 1st Nov. 1861 and referring to the authority vested in him “to arrest all persons in rebellion against the United States” proceeded to direct the arrest of persons appearing at the polls “known to have been recently in Virginia bearing arms against the authority and forces of the United States and who have returned to their former homes with a view of taking part in the election” as also of other individuals lately residents of Maryland who have been engaged in similar acts of hostility or actively engaged in aiding and abetting those in arms.

The class of persons to be arrested, it will be observed, is much more distinctly marked than by the order of Gen. Schenck, and there is consequently much less margin for mistake or abuse of authority. Not only so, but the order does not seem to have applied to the proper residents of the State but only to returning rebels, and so far from being precisely what Gen. Schenck has now directed it not only contained no expressions which could by any implication be tortured into a menace of the Judges of Election, but it prescribed no oath of allegiance or any other oath to be taken by any one.

I find no allusion in your Excellency’s letter to the fact adverted to in mine that no Military intervention or test oath was ordered in either of the late important elections that have taken place in Pennsylvania and Ohio.

If your Excellency cannot as you say confidently rely even upon loyal men “whose election may have depended upon disloyal votes” and therefore cannot recognise the force of my suggestion that nearly all our candidates are loyal it is difficult to see what reliance you could have reposed on such a candidate as Mr. Vallandigham and quite as difficult for us to understand why such a discrimination has been allowed against a State whose citizens claim to be, if not as numerous, at least as loyal as those of any other.

President Lincoln telegraphs General George Meade, commander of the Army of the Potomac: “Samuel Wellers, private in Co. B. 49th. Penn Vols. writes that he is to be shot for desertion on the 6th. Inst. His own story is rather a bad one, and yet he tells it so frankly, that I am some what interested in him. Has he been a good soldier, except the desertion? About how old is he?”  President Lincoln generally refused to approve executions of soldiers under 18.   Two days later, his sentence is commuted.

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Published in: on November 3, 2013 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

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