President Lincoln Rejects Resignation by Treasury Secretary Chase

February 29, 1864

President Lincoln responds to a resignation letter by Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase: “I would have taken time to answer yours of the 22nd. sooner, only that I did not suppose any evil could result from the delay, especially as, by a note, I promptly acknowled[ged] the receipt of yours, and promised a fuller answer. Now, on consideration, I find there is really very little to say. My knowledge of Mr. Pomeroy’s letter having been made public came to me only the day you wrote; but I had, in spite of myself, known of it’s existence several days before. I have not yet read it, and I think I shall not. I was not shocked, or surprised by the appearance of the letter, because I had had knowledge of Mr. Pomeroy’s Committee, and of secret issues which I supposed came from it, and of secret agents who I supposed were sent out by it, for several weeks. I have known just as little of these things as my own friends have allowed me to know. They bring the documents to me, but I do not read them—they tell me what they think fit to tell me, but I do not inquire for more. I fully concur with you that neither of us can be justly held responsible for what our respective friends may do without our instigation or countenance; and I assure you, as you have assured me, that no assault has been made upon you by my instigation, or with my countenance.

Whether you shall remain at the head of the Treasury Department is a question which I will not allow myself to consider from any stand-point other than my judgment of the public service; and, in that view, I do not perceive occasion for a change

Meanwhile, Ohio friends of Chase visit the White House to determine if the president knew of or approved General Frank Blair’s attack on the House floor.  Former Ohio Congressman Albert Riddle recalled: “My successor in the House, R. P. Spalding, the personal and confidential friend nearest the Secretary, was absent in Ohio, but was expected back on Sunday night. He came on Monday. I had an interview with him, and heard that he had met Mr. Chase at Baltimore and had found him in a very unpleasant state of mind.

I was alarmed by the fear of a threatened defection of the Chase men at the coming convention, and more particularly in the campaign and at the polls. It was of the utmost importance that every possible vote should be secured for Mr. Lincoln. To me, it seemed possible that the resignation of Mr. Chase for reasons reflecting on Mr. Lincoln, might defeat him. Mr. Chase’s resignation would be made to appear to them as solely due to the President.

Spalding fully adopted my views, and at my request accompanied me to meet the President, toward whom he had never been cordial, though he was never among his detractors.

Mr. Lincoln received us politely but with no pretence of cordiality. After brief salutations he passed around to the other side of the long wide table and sat down by a bundle of papers, grimly awaiting my assault.

” Mr. President,” I said, ” I am one of the personal and political friends of Mr. Chase, who believes that the safety of the Union cause requires that you should be unanimously nominated at the June Convention, and should receive in November the eagerly cast ballot of every man devoted to our country. It is this conviction which brings me here to remove, if I can, a most seriously disturbing cause which threatens to render this consummation impossible.

” As you are aware, on last Saturday, General Frank Blair, a Republican representative from Missouri, repeated on the floor of the House his attack of the early part of the session upon the Secretary of the Treasury, and this with added acrimony. You are aware of the unfortunate occurrence between General Blair and the Executive, in reference to the resumption by Mr. Blair of this Government’s commission and his assignment to one of the highest commands in the army, and you are also aware of his departure, following immediately upon the close of the speech. These events, coincident with his attack, seemed as if planned for dramatic effect, as parts of a conspiracy against a most important member of the Cabinet and Administration. The always alert, jealous, and somewhat exacting abolitionists, forgetting how impossible it is that you can be guilty of an attack upon your Secretary upon your own administration, believe that Blair must have had at least your countenance in this wretched business, and they demand the instant resignation of Mr. Chase. It is only by the strenuous exertions of one or two persons that this has been delayed.

” Mr. President, Mr. Chase’s abrupt resignation now would be equal in its effects to a severe set-back of the army under Grant. It would foretell the defection of his friends at Baltimore, equal in effect to the defeat of that army in a pitched battle. Their defection in November might be the destruction of our cause.

President Lincoln responded: “Gentlemen, I am glad to meet you, glad for your mission, and especially for your way of executing it. It makes my statement easier than I expected.

I nevertheless will say about what I intended. Your frankness and cordiality shall be fully responded to.”  He then showed them his response to Chase.

White House aide William O. Stoddard writes in an anonymous newspaper dispatch: “It is a war and spring-like day, with a promise of rain in the murky and heavy sky, and the air which comes in at my open windows might be that of May.  The crocuses are in full bloom in the public gardens, and here and there other early plants are beginning to be confident that winter is almost gone.”   He added: “In the political circles of the Capital, an increase of activity is clearly discernible.  The unfortunate ‘secret circular,’ issued by a more zealous than discreet friend of Secretary [Salmon P.] Chase, has turned all eyes upon him more than ever, as the most prominent opponent of the reelection pf President Lincoln, and as his wiser supporters seem to think, very unfortunately for him.  Our people, as a general thing, has a prejudice against ‘secret circulars.’  Other candidates are mentioned, and even the Vice-Presidency is seriously talked of among the class of men out of whom it has heretofore been our practice to select that very honorable but very powerless office.”

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Published in: on February 28, 2014 at 12:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

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