President Lincoln Addresses New York Draft Quotas

February 27, 1864

President Lincoln writes Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton: “You ask some instruction from me in relation to the Report of a Special Commission, constituted by an order of the War Department, dated Dec. 5 1863, ‘to revise the enrolment & quotas of the City & State of New-York, & report whether there be any & what errors, or irregularities therein, and what corrections, if any should be made.’  [The aspect of this case, as presented by this order and report, is entirely new to me, I having personally known nothing of the order, commission, or report, until now presented for my consideration.]  In the correspondence between the Governor of New-York and myself last summer, I understood him to complain that the enrolments in several of the Districts of that State had been neither accurately nor honestly made; and, in view of this I for the draft then immediately ensuing, ordered an arbitrary reduction of the quotas in several of the Districts, wherein they seemed to large, [for the draft then immediately ensuing,] and said ‘After this drawing these four Districts and also the seventeenth and twentyninth shall be carefully re-enrolled, and, if you please, agents of yours may witness every step of the process’  In a subsequent letter I believe some additional Districts were put into the list of those to be re-enrolled.  My idea was to do the work over, according to the law, in presence of the complaining party, and thereby to correct anything which might be found amiss.  The Commission, whose work I am considering, seem to have proceeded upon a totally different idea.  Not going forth to find men at all, they have proceeded altogether upon paper examinations and mental processes.  One of their conclusions, as I understand is, that as the law stands, and attempting to follow it, the e[n]rolling officers could not have made the enrolments much more accurately than they did.  The report, on this point, might be useful to Congress.

The Commission conclude that the quotas for the draft should be based upon entire population, and they proceed upon this basis to give a table for the State of New-York, in which some districts are reduced, and some increased;  and let them be reduced according to the table, in the others.  This to be no precedent for subsequent action; but as I think this report may, on full consideration, be shown to have much that is valuable in it, I suggest that such consideration be given it; and that it be especially considered whether it’s suggestion can be conformed to without an alteration of the law.

Elsewhere in Washington, attention is on presidential politics. Missouri Congressman Frank Blair, on leave from his army post,  delivers first speech against Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase. “‘A more profligate administration of the Treasury Department never existed under any Government…’ Frank said.  The whole Mississippi valley, he charged, ‘is rank and fetid with the fraud and corruptions practiced there by his agents… ‘Permits’ to buy cotton are just as much a marketable commodity as the cotton itself…The practice of taking bribes on the part of these Treasury agents for permits to trade, and for conniving at violations of law, is so common that it has almost ceased to attract attention or excite comment.  It is the most corrupting and demoralizing system that ever was invented, and has become a public scandal.’  No wonder, Frank raged, that General Grant said, ‘No honest man could do business under such a system.’

Congressman Henry T. Blow had attacked Blair for the introduction of that resolution, but Blair replied that:

‘A more profligate administration of the Treasury Department never existed under any Government; that the whole Mississippi is rank and fetid with the fraud and corruptions practiced there by his agents; that ‘permits’ to buy cotton are just as much a marketable commodity as the cotton itself; that these permits to buy cotton are brought to St. Louis and other western cities by politicians and favorites from distant parts of the country, and sold on ‘change to the highest bidder, whether he be a secessionists or not, and that, too, at a time when the best Union men in these cities are refused permits. That is equally true of the ‘trade stores,’ as they are called – monopolies of trae in certain districts or cities in the South.  These ‘trade stores’ are given to political partisans and favorites, who share the profits with other men who furnish the capital, Mr. Chase furnishing capital to his friends and partisans in the shape of a permit or privilege to monopolize the trade of a certain city or district; and furthermore, ti can be established that the practice of taking bribes on the part of these Treasury agents for permits to trade, and for conniving at violations of law, is so common that it has almost ceased to attract attention or excite comment.  It is the most corrupting and demoralizing system that ever was invented, and has become a public scandal.’  No wonder, Frank raged, that General Grant said, ‘No honest man could do business under such a system.’

Blair’s brother, Postmaster General Montgomery Blair, begins sending the incendiary speech to other Republicans – just as Chase’s friends had sent around the Pomeroy Circular.

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Published in: on February 27, 2014 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

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