Union League Delegates Meet in Baltimore

June 6, 1864

Baltimore is jammed by delegates to the Union League and Republican National Conventions. A series of communications to and from the White House result as aide John G. Nicolay keeps colleague John informed about maneuvers to choose a different vice presidential candidate than incumbent Hannibal Hamlin Hay writes in his diary: “Got a letter from Nicolay at Baltimore — answered by mail & telegraph. The President positively refuses to give even a confidential suggestion in regard to Vice Prest, platform or organization.”

“Everybody comes back from Convention tired but sober. Nicolay says it was a very quiet Convention. Little drinking — little quarreling–an earnest intention to simply register the expressed will of the people and go home. They were intolerant of speeches–remorselessly coughed down the crack orators of the party.”

Hay reads John Nicolay’s letters about Baltimore preparations to President Lincoln, who writes: “Swett is unquestionably all right. Mr. Holt is a good man, but I had not heard or thought of him for V.P. Wish not to interfere about V.P. Can not interfere about platform. Convention must judge for itself.” Hay writes of the Republican nomination for vice president: “The President wishes not to interfere in the nomination even by a confidential suggestion. He also declines suggesting anything in regard to platform or the organization of the Convention. The Convention must be guided in these matters by their own views of justice & propriety.”

Although Lincoln loyalists dominated the convention, there was some dissent noted William Frank Zornow in Lincoln & the Party Divided: at the Union League affair: “At the meeting Lincoln’s friends, most notably Senator James Lane of Kansas, defended him against the threadbare accusations of malfeasance, tyranny, corruption, favoritism, and frivolity leveled against him by his enemies. At length the Unconditional opposition to Lincoln subsided before Lane’s eloquent appeal and a resolution was adopted recommending his renomination. Other resolutions were approved which anticipated to a large extent those which would comprise the party’s platform. Having blown off one last head of steam against Lincoln’s renomination, the National Grand Council of the Union League of America adjourned its session.”’‘’

Writing of the Union League meeting in Baltimore that began the day before the Republican Convention, another presidential aide, William O. Stoddard, observed: “…listen to the eloquent, powerful arraignment of Abraham Lincoln’s administration, by the Senator who is speaking in opposition to the formal resolution proposing to nominate him for a second term. Hear his story of malfeasance, of tyranny, of corruption, of illegal acts, of abused power, of misused advantages, of favoritism, fraud, timidity, sluggish inertness, local wrong and oppression, willful neglect of suffering and willful refusal to hear the cry of the down trodden. Mark the keenness of his personal thrusts, and the subtlety with which he keeps in the foreground the President’s alleged frivolity and unfeeling jocoseness, in close companionship with a suggestion of selfish ambition instead of devotion to duty.

He is an able speaker, and so is this Congressman who follows him in the same path, repeating, adding to and enforcing the counts of the long and shameful indictment.

‘Another and another, all on the same side! Has Lincoln no friends left? Or are they too bowed with shame to speak? Surely the resolution of approval and renomination is hopelessly lost, so far as can be judged from the platform. Beyond a doubt it is, and if a vote were called for at this moment it would be adverse to Mr. Lincoln.’

‘Mr. President — Gentlemen of the Grand Council.’

That is Jim Lane, who assailed the President so bitterly in the Grand Council a year ago at Washington. You saw him at the White House yesterday. He had quite a talk with Mr. Lincoln, and then he came over and talked with you, but he did not tell you exactly what he meant to do here.

He is making an uncommonly long pause, and he seems to be looking all along the benches, as if he peered into face after face, studying its meaning. His own glance is peculiarly searching at any time, and his voice as he begins would go through a wall.

‘For a man to stir up sore and wounded hearts to bitterness requires no skill, no power of oratory. For a man to address the minds of men sickened by disaster, wearied by long trial, heated by passion, bewildered by uncertainty, heavy with grief, and cunningly to turn them into one vindictive channel, into one blind rush of senseless fury — that requires to great power of oratory. It may be the mere trick of a charlatan.’

Jim Lane has a peculiar faculty for saying an offensive, insolent thing in the most gallingly offensive and insolent manner, and he has rehearsed his first point with so positively brutal a harshness that a hundred faces blaze with wrath.

‘For a man to address himself to an assembly like this, goaded almost to madness by long suffering, sorrow, disaster, humiliation, perplexity, and now aroused by venomous art to an all but unanimous condemnation of the innocent, and to turn them in their tracks and force them to go the other way — that would indeed be a feat of transcendent oratorical power. I am no orator at all, but that is the very thing I am now about to do.’

Whether it is oratory, or the power of faith, or the hidden force of inspiration — he is doing it, sentence after sentence, as he pulls to pieces the indictment, and paints in many-colored fire the truth concerning Lincoln’s work and that of his assailants. Men lean forward and listen, while they more or less rapidly are swept into the tide of conviction and are made to believe, with him, that any other nomination than that of Lincoln to-morrow is equivalent to the nomination of McClellan by the Republican Convention and his election by the Republican party; that is would sunder the Union, make permanent the Confederacy, reshackle the slaves, dishonor the dead and disgrace the living.

There is no need for another speech on our side of the question, and in the tempest which follows Jim Lane’s fierce closing shout, the resolution is adopted, with a mere handful of dissenting votes, and Abraham Lincoln is renominated. The gathering in the Wigwam to-morrow will seem all unanimity and enthusiasm. There is hardly steam left in the opposition boiler to blow one last, hoarse whistle of a perfunctory vote for a candidate named Grant, who is, however, thereby put on the list as the first name to be considered by the next National Convention of the Republican party.

John G. Nicolay writes of preparations for the Union National Convention on Tuesday: “Things are going off in best possible style. There is not even a shadow of opposition to the President outside the Mo. Radical delegation, and I think even they if they get seats will go for him. Blow is understood to say that he will not take his seat in the Convention but will support Mr. Lincoln if nominated.

“Hamlin will in all probability be nominated V.P. New York does not want the nominee – hence neither Dix nor Dickinson have any backers. Andy Johnson seems to have no strength whatever; even Dr Breckenridge and the Kentuckians oppose him. Cameron received no encouragement outside of Pennsylvania, and he is evidently too shrewd to bear an empty bush. The disposition of al the delegates was to take any war Democrat, provided he would add strength to the ticket. None of the names suggested seemed to meet this requirement, and the feeling therefore is to avoid any weakness. It strikes everybody that Hamlin fills this bill, and Pennsylvania has this afternoon broken ground on the subject by resolving, on Cameron’s own motion to cast her vote for him. New York will probably follow suit tonight, which will virtually decide the contest[.]

“The delegations being to unanimous for Lincoln are in a great measure indifferent about the other matters. All the day, everybody has been asking advice – nobody making suggestions. The Convention is almost too passive to be interesting – certainly it is not at all [as] exciting as it was at Chicago…”

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