President Lincoln Spends First Day Back in the Office after a Long Illness

December 15, 1863

“The President has recovered his health so as to go out. He was at the theater four nights this week to see Hacket as Falstaff, and received the usual formal call of the Justices of the Supreme Court yesterday.  While he had the varioloid he said that he at last had something that he could give all his friends — the disease…”

Presidential aide John Hay writes that “the President took Swett, Nicolay & me to Ford’s with him to see Falstaff in Henry IV.  Dixon came in after a while.  Hackett was most admirable.  The President criticized H.’s reading of a passage where Hackett said, “Mainly thrust at me,” the President thinking it should read “Mainly thrust at me.” I told the Prest  tho’t he was wrong, that ‘mainly’ merely meant ‘strongly,’ fiercely.”  Aide William O. Stoddard sometimes accompanied the President to the theater and observed his fascination with the problems of Shakespeare’s lead characters like Lady Macbeth and Othello.  “His strong love of humor made Falstaff a great favorite with him, and he expressed a great desire to see [Shakespearean actor James Hackett] in that character,” wrote Stoddard.  “I was with him the first night [of Hackett’s engagement], and expected to see him give himself up to the merriment of the hour, although I knew that his mind was very much preoccupied by other things.  To my surprise, however, he appeared even gloomy, although intent upon the play, and it was only a few times during the whole performance that he went so far as to laugh at all, and then no heartily.  He seemed for once to be studying the character and its rendering critically, as if to ascertain the correctness of his own conception as compared with that of the professional artist.”

Presidential John G. Nicolay writes that Ohio Senator Benjamin F. “Wade rode down with me in my carriage to his lodgings today – and the conversation turning on Chase’s aspirations to the Presidency, by way of illustrating how long he had been planning and working for it, told me that at the beginning of the war when the new regiments were being officered, he (Wade) had got several second lieutenants appointed, but not paying further attention to them, he found that Chase got the commissions and forwarded them with letters claiming the merit of having attained the appointments.”  Wade was often a sharp critic of President Lincoln.

President Lincoln is trying to jump-start reconstruction in Louisiana.  He writes Dr. Thomas Cottman, a Louisiana planter with whom he had met: “You were so kind as to say this morning that you desire to return to Louisiana, and to be guided by my wishes, to some extent, in the part you may take in bringing that state to resume here rightful relation to the general government.

My wishes are in a general way expressed as well as I can express them, in the Proclamation issued on the 8th of the present month, and in that part of the annual message which relates to that proclamation.  It there appears that I deem the sustaining of the emancipation proclamation, where it applies, as indispensable; and I add here that I would esteem it fortunate, if the people of Louisiana should themselves place the remainder of the state upon the same footing, and then, if in their discretion it should appear best, make some temporary provision for the whole of the freed people, substantially as suggested in the last proclamation.  I have not put forth the plan in that proclamation, as a Procrustean bed, to which exact conformity is to be indispensable; and in Louisiana particularly, I wish that labor already done, which varies from that plan in no important particular, may not be thrown away.

The strongest wish I have, not already publicly expressed, is that in Louisiana and elsewhere, all sincere Union men would stoutly eschew cliqueism, and, each yielding something in minor matters, all work together.  Nothing is likely to be so baleful in the great work before us, as stepping aside of the main object to consider who will get the offices if a small matter shall go thus, and who else will get them, if it shall go otherwise.  It is a time now for real patriots to rise above all this.  As to the particulars of what I may think best to be done in any state, I have publicly stated certain points, which I have thought indispensable to the reestablishment and maintenance of the national authority; and I go further than this because I wish to avoid both the substance and the appearance of dictation.

Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner writes to British statesman John Bright:”The Presdt’s proposition of reconstruction has two essential features — (1) The irreversibility of Emancipation, — making it the ‘corner-stone’ of the new order of things, (2) the reconstruction or revival of the States by preliminary process before they take their place in the Union. –I doubt if the details will be remembered a fortnight from now.”

“Any plan which fastens Emancipation beyond recall will suit me.  All that I have proposed has been simply to secure this result.  And thank God! this will be done.  The most determined Abolitionists now are in the slave-states– & naturally for with them it is a death-grapple!–But how great & glorious will be this country when it fully redeemed, & stands before the world without a slave–an example of Emancipation!  Pardon my exultation!

President Lincoln takes “Swett Nicolay & me to Fords with him to see Falstaff in Henry IV,” writes John Hay in his diary.  “Dixon came in after a while.  Hackett was most admirable.  The President criticized H’s reading of a passage where Hackett said, ‘Mainly thrust at me” the President thinking it should read ‘mainly thrust at me.’  I told the Presdt. I tho’t he was wrong, that ‘mainly’ merely meant ‘strongly’ ‘fiercely.’

The Presdt, thinks the dying speech of Hotspur an unnatural and unworthy thing – as who does not.

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