False Proclamation Excites New York and Agitates Washington

May 18, 1864

“AL orders arrest of editors and publishers of New York ‘World’ and ‘Journal of Commerce’ for printing spurious proclamation purporting to be 3signed by President. Publication of newspapers suspended.

President Lincoln goes to the War Department to deal with a fraudulent proclamation on the war that two New York newspapers – New York World and Journal of Commerce – had published. He meets with Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton and Secretary of State William H. Seward. Seward later tells Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles that “a forged proclamation had been published by sundry papers in New York, among others by the World and Journal of Commerce, imposing a fast on account of the failures of Grant and calling for a draft of 300,000 men. Seward said he at once sent on contradicting it and had ordered the English steamer to be delayed. He then had called on Stanton to know whether such a document had passed over the regular telegraph. Stanton said there had not. He (S.) then ordered that the other line should be at once seized, which was done. Seward then asked if the World and Journal of Commerce had been shut up. Stanton said he knew of their course only a minute before. Seward said the papers had been published a minute too long; and Stanton said if he and the President directed, they should be suspended. Seward thought there should be no delay. Gold, under the excitement, has gone up ten per cent, and the cotton loan will advance on the arrival of the steamer at Liverpool with the tidings. It seems to have been a cunningly devised scheme, — probably by the Rebels and the gold speculators, as they are called, who are in sympathy with them.”

Historian Frank A. Flowerwrites in Edwin McMasters Stanton“On the morning of May 18, 1864, the World and the Journal of Commerce of New York contained what purported to be a proclamation by President Lincoln setting aside the 26th of the moth as a ‘day of fasting humiliation, and prayer,’ and calling for four hundred thousand more troops to be furnished before June 15, following, or raised by a ‘peremptory draft.’ The document, although subsequently proven to be spurious, was in Lincoln’s style, and created excitement akin to panic in New York City. The substance of it was telegraphed to Stanton, who instantly ordered General [John A.] Dix (commanding at New York) to seize and close the offices and arrest the editors of the newspapers publishing the proclamation and seize the offices of the telegraph line which was supposed to have transmitted the forgery from Washington to New York.

“Having telegraphed this order ‘confidentially’ to Dix, Stanton proceeded to the White House and asked Lincoln to issue a proclamation authorizing what he himself had already directed to be done. Dix acted decisively, closing the several offices mentioned and arresting editors, managers, telegraph operators, and other employees as rapidly as they could be apprehended. On the 20th he arrested Joseph Howard, formerly private secretary to Henry Ward Beecher, who confessed authorship of the forgery and was sent to Fort Lafayette. In his confession Howard exonerated the editors of the offending papers, which fact was reported to Stanton, who replied by telegraph to Dix:

Your telegram respecting the arrest of Howard has been received and submitted to the President. He directs me to say that while, in his opinion, the editors, proprietors, and publishers of the World and the Journal of Commerce are responsible for whatever appears in their papers injurious to the public service, and have no right to shield themselves behind a pleas of ignorance or want of criminal intent; he is not disposed to visit them with vindictive punishment; and, hoping they will exercise more caution and regard for the public welfare in the future, he authorizes you to restore to them their respective establishments.

The pseudo-proclamation had declared: “In all seasons of exigency, it becomes a nation carefully to scrutinize its line of conduct, humbly to approach the Throne of Grace, and meekly to implore forgiveness, wisdom, and guidance.

For reasons known only to Him, it has been decreed that this country should be the scene of unparalleled outrage, and this nation the monumental sufferer of the Nineteenth Century. With a heavy heart, but an undiminished confidence in our cause

Shelby Foote wrote in The Civil War: “Only two papers, the New York World and the Journal of Commerce, were on the street with the story before the forgery was detected; bulletins of denial promptly quashed its effect on the gold market, defeating the scheme. With Lincoln’s approval, Stanton moved swiftly in reprisal. padlocking the offices of both papers and clapping their editors into military arrest, along with Howard, who was soon sniffed out. With three days the editors were released and their papers resumed publication, even Howard was freed within about three months, on the plea that he was ‘the only spotted child of a large family’ and had been guilty of nothing worse than ‘the hope of making some money.’ No real harm was done, except to increase the public’s impression of Stanton – and, inferentially, his chief – as a tyrant, an enemy of free speech and the press. One witness declared, however, that the affair ‘angered Lincoln more than almost any other occurrence of the war period.’ His ire was aroused in part by the fac that the country’s reaction to the bogus proclamation obliged him to defer issuing an order he had prepared only the day before, calling, in far less doleful words, for the draft of 300,000 additional troops.”

President Lincoln writes General John A. Dix in New York City: “Whereas, there has been wickedly and traitorously printed and published this morning, in the “New York World” and New York ‘Journal of Commerce‘ newspapers printed and published in the city of New York,–a false and spurious proclamation, purporting to be signed by the President, and to be countersigned by the Secretary of State, which publication is of a treasonable nature, designed to give aid and comfort to the enemies of the United States, and to the rebels now at war against the Government, and their aiders and abettors: you are therefore hereby commanded forthwith to arrest and imprison in any fort or military prison in you r command, the editors, proprietors and published of the aforesaid newspapers, and all such persons as, after public notice has been given of the falsehood of said publication, print and publish the same, with intent to give aid and comfort to the enemy;–and you will hold the persons so arrested, in close custody, until they can be brought to trial before a military commission, for their offense. You will also take possession by military force, of the printing establishments of the ‘New York World‘ and ‘Journal of Commerce,’ and hold the same until further order, and prevent any further publication therefrom.

President Lincoln responded to a Methodist delegation visiting the White House: “In response to your address, allow me to attest the accuracy of it’s historical statements; indorse the sentiments it expresses; and thank you, in the nation’s name, for the sure promise it gives.

Nobly sustained as the government has been by all the churches, I would utter nothing which might, in the least, appear invidious against any. Yet, without this, it may fairly be said that the Methodist Episcopal Church, not less devoted than the best, is, by it’s greater number, the most important of all. It is no fault in others that the Methodist Church sends more soldiers to the field, more nurses to the hospital, and more prayers to Heaven than any. God bless the Methodist Church–bless all the churches–and blessed be God, Who, in this our great trial, giveth us the churches.

President Lincoln speaks at the termination of a fund-raising fair sponsored by the U.S. Sanitary Commission in Washington: “I appear to say but a word. This extraordinary war in which we are engaged falls heavily upon all classes of people, but the most heavily upon the soldier. For it has been said, all that a man hath he given for his life; and while all contribute of their substance the soldier puts his life at stake, and often yields it up in his country’s cause. The highest merit, then, is due to the soldier. [Cheers.]

In this extraordinary war extraordinary developments have manifested themselves, such as have not been seen in former wars; and amongst these manifestations nothing has been more remarkable than these fairs for the relief of suffering soldiers and their families. And the chief agents in these fairs are the women of America. [Cheers.]

I am not accustomed to the use of language of eulogy; I have never studied the art of paying compliments to women; but I must say that if all that has been said by orators and poets since the creation of the world in praise of woman were applied to the women of America, it would not do them justice for their conduct during this war. I will close by saying God bless the women of America! [Great applause.]

President Lincoln writes Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton: “I am so pressed in regard to prisoners of war in our custody, whose homes are within our lines, and who wish to not be exchanged, but to take the oath and be discharged, that I hope you will pardon me for again calling up the subject. My impression is that we will not ever force the exchange of any of this class; that taking the oath, and being discharged, none of them will again go the rebellion, but the rebellion again coming to them, a considerable per centage of them, probably not a majority, would rejoin it; that by a cautious discrimination the number so discharged would not be large enough to do any considerable mischief in any event; would give me some relief from an intolerable pressure. I shall be glad therefore to have your cheerful assent to the discharge of those whose names I may send, which I will only do with circumspection.”

In using the strong hand, as now compelled to do, the government has a difficult duty to perform. At the very best, it will be turns do both too little and too much. It can properly have not motive of revenge, no purpose to punish merely for punishment’s sake. While we must, by all available means, prevent the overthrow of the government, we should avoid planting and cultivating too many thorns in the bosom of society. These general remarks apply to several classes of cases, on each of which I wish to say a word.

First, the dismissal of officers when neither incompetency, nor intentional wrong, nor real injury to the service, is imputed. In such cases it is both cruel and impolitic, to crush the man, and make him and his friends permanent enemies to the administration him and his friends permanent enemies to the administration if not to the government itself. I think of two instances. One wherein a Surgeon, for the benefit of patients in his charge, needed some lumber, and could only get it by making a false certificate wherein the lumber was denominated ‘butter & eggs’ and he was dismissed for the false certificate. The other a Surgeon by the name Owen who served from the beginning of the war till recently, with two servants, and without objection, when upon discovery that the servants were his own sons, he was dismissed.

Another class consists of those who are known or strongly suspected, to be in sympathy with rebellion. An instance of this is the family of Southern, who killed a recruiting office last autumn, in Maryland. He fled, and his family are driven from their home, without a shelter or crumb, except when got by burtherning our friends more than our enemies. Southern had no justification to kill the officer; and yet he would not have been killed if he had proceeded in the temper and manner agreed upon by yourself and Gov. Bradford. But this is past. What is to be done with the family? Why can they not occupy their old home, and excite much less opposition to the government than the manifestation of their distress is now doing? If the house is really needed for the public service; or if it has been regularly confiscated and the title transferred, the case is different.

Again, the cases of persons, mostly women, wishing to pass our lines, one way or the other. We have, in some cases, been apparantly, if not really, inconsistent upon this subject–that is, we have forced some to go wished to stay, and forced others to stay who wished to go. Suppose we allow all females, with ungrown children of either sex, to go South, if they desire, upon absolute prohibition against returning during the war; and all to come North upon the same condition of not returning during the war, and the additional condition of taking the oath.

I wish to mention two special cases–both of which you well remember. The first is that of Yocum. He was unquestionably guilty. No one asking for his pardon pretends the contrary. What he did, however, was perfectly lawful, only a short while before, and the change making it unlawful had not, even then been fully accepted in the public mind. It is doubtful whether Yocum did not suppose it was really lawful to return a slave to a loyal owner, though it is certain he did the thing secretly, in the belief that his superiors would not allow it if known to  them. But the great point with me that the severe punishment of five years at hard labor in the Penitentiary is not at all necessary to prevent the repetition of the crime by himself or by others. If the offence was one of frequent recurrence, the case would be different; but this case of Yocum is the single instance which has come to my knowledge. I think that for all public purposes, and for all proper purposes, he has suffered enough.

The case of Smithson is troublesome. His wife and children are quartered mostly on our friends, and exciting a great deal of sympathy, which will soon tell against us. What think you of sending him and his family South, holding the sentence over him to be re-inforced if he returns during the war.

 

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