Presidential Aide Investigates New York Political Situation

March 30, 1864

From New York, presidential aide John G. Nicolay writes back to President Lincoln about New York politics: “Mr. Weed was here at the Astor House on my arrival last Saturday morning, and I gave him the note you sent him.”

He read it over, carefully once or twice and then said he did not quite understand it.  He had written a letter to Judge [David] Davis which the Judge had probably show you, but in that he had said nothing about Custom House matters.

He said that all the solicitude he had was in your behalf.  You had told him in January last that you thought you would make a change in the Collectorship here, but that thus far it had not been done.  He had told you he himself had no personal preference as to the particular man who is to be his [the present Collector’s] successor.  He did not think Mr. Barney a bad man but thought him a weak one.  His four deputies are constantly intriguing against you.  Andrews is doing the same.  Changes are constantly being made among the subordinates in the Custom House, and men turned out, for no other reason than that they take active part in primary meetings &c. in behalf of your re-nomination.

His only solicitude he said, was for yourself.  He thought that if you were not strong enough to hold the Union men together through the next Presidential election, when it must necessarily undergo a great strain, the country was in the utmost danger of going to ruin.

His desire was to strengthen you as much as possible, and that you should strengthen yourself. You were being weakened by the impression in the popular mind that you hold with much tenacity to men once in office, although they prove themselves unworthy.  This feeling among your friends also raises the question, as to whether, if re-elected, you would change your Cabinet.  The present Cabinet is notoriously weak and inharmonious — no Cabinet at all — gives the President no support.  Welles is a cipher, Bates a fogy, and Blair at best a dangerous friend.

Something was needed to reassure the public mind and to strengthen yourself.  Chase and Fremont, while they might not succeed in making themselves successful rivals, might yet form and lead dangerous factions.  Chase was not formidable as a candidate in the field, but by the shrewd dodge of withdrawal is likely to turn up again with more strength than ever.

He had received a letter from Judge Davis, in which the Judge wrote him that he had read his (Weed’s) letter to you, but that you did not seem ready to act in the appointment of a new Collector, and that he (the Judge) thought it was because of your apprehension that you would be merely getting out of ‘one muss into another.’

A change in the Custom House was imperatively needed because one whose bureau in it had been engaged in treasonably aiding the rebellion.

The ambition of his life had been, not to get office for himself, but to assist in putting good men in the right places.  If he was good for anything, it was an outsider to give valuable suggestions to an administration that would give him its confidence.  He feared he did not have your entire confidence — that you only regarded him with a certain degree of leniency…as being not quite so great a rascal as his enemies charged him with being.

The above are substantially the points of quite a long conversation.  This morning I had another interview with Mr. Weed.  He had just received Governor Morgan’s letter informing him of the nomination of Hoogboom to fill McElrath’s place and seemed quite disheartened and disappointed. He said he did not know what to say.  He had assured your friends here that when in your own good time you became ready to make changes, the new appointments would be from among your friends; but that this promotion of one of your most active and malignant enemies left him quite powerless.  He had not yet told any one, but knew it would be received with general indigation, &c &c.

I shall remain here a day or two longer.

Nicolay writes President Lincoln:“I called on Gen Schurz on my arrival here last Saturday, and have also sen him twice since.  I found him very cordial, very friendly towards yourself, quite reasonable in his own wishes and requests, and liberal in his appreciation of the troubles and difficulties with which you have to contend.  According to his own statements there is evidently a serious misapprehension, or misunderstanding about his alleged order interrupting the transportation of troops last fall, which at least deserves investigation before permanent blame is attached to him.  I have promised to look into the matter for him when I return to Washington.  I enclose his memorandum on the subject.”

“He also sends a letter on general matters, noting some few points about which we talked, and which I will explain more fully when I return.

“He is under impression that the German movement for Fremont is earnest and will be pretty strong, and that they seriously intend to run him as a third candidate – that Pomeroy, Brown & Co have transferred their strength from the Chase movement to this, and are bent upon defeating you at all events.

The Union State Convention at Milwaukee, Wisconsin endorses reelection of President Lincoln

President Lincoln writes Congressman William Windom, head of the House Indian Affairs Committee: “Hon. Mr. Windom, please see & hear Rev. Bishop [Henry B.] Whipple, about Indians. He has much information on the subject.”

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