Resignation of Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase is Accepted; Washington Shocked

June 30, 1864

President Lincoln accepts the resignation of Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase: “Your resignation of the office of Secretary of the Treasury, sent me yesterday, is accepted. Of all I have said in commendation of your ability and fidelity, I have nothing to unsay; and yet you and I have reached a point of mutual embarrassment in our official relation which it seems can not be overcome, or longer sustained, consistently with public service.”   President Lincoln later nominates another Ohioan, former Governor David Tod, to replace Chase, but Tod declines.

Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase is himself taken aback. He writes in his diary: “While we were talking [at the Capitol] a Messenger came in to summon Mr. [William P.] Fessenden to the Senate. The Messenger said something privately and he came back to me saying ‘Have you resigned. I am called to the Senate and told that the President has sent in the nomination of your successor.[‘] I told him I had tendered my resignation but had not been informed till now of its acceptance. He expressed his surprise and disappointment and we parted–He to the Senate and I to the Department. There I found a letter from the President accepting my resignation, and putting the acceptance on the ground of the difference between us indicating a degree of embarrassment in our official relations which could not be continued or sustained consistently with the public service. I had found a good deal of embarrassment from him but what he had found from me I could not imagine, unless it has been created by my unwillingness to have offices distributed as spoils or benefits with more regard to the claims of divisions, factions, cliques and individuals, than to fitness of selection. He had never given me the active and earnest support I was entitled to and even now Congress was about to adjourn without passing sufficient tax bills, though making appropriations with lavish profusion, and he was notwithstanding my appeals taking no pains to assure a different result.

Among those who called during the day was Mr. Hooper who related a conversation with the President some days ago, in which the President expressed regret that our relations were not more free from embarrassment, saying that when I came to see him he left awkward and that I seemed constrained. At the same time expressed his esteem for me and said that he had intended in case of vacancy in the Chief Justiceship to tender it to me and would now did a vacancy exist. This he said, he remarked, to show his real sentiments toward me; for he remembered that no very long after we took charge of the Administration I had remarked one day that I preferred judicial to administrative office and would rather, if I could be Chief Justice of the United States than hold any other position that could be given me. Mr. Hooper said that he thought this was said to him in order to be repeated to me and that he had sought an opportunity of doing so but had not found one. I said it was quite possible had any such expressions of good will reached me I might, before the present difficulty arose, have gone to him and had a frank understanding which would have prevented it: but I did not now see how I could change my position.

Indeed if such were the real feelings of Mr. Lincoln he would hardly have refused a personal interview when I asked it or have required me to consult local politics in choice of an officer, whose character and qualifications were so vitally important to the Department. Beside I did not see how I could carry on the Department without more means than Congress was likely to supply and amid the embarrassments created by factious hostility within and both factious and party hostility without the Department.

So my official life closes….

Presidential aide John Hay writes in his diary about the president’s response to Chase’s resignation before and after he sent the nomination of Senator William P. Fessenden to the Senate as his choice to replace Chase: “This morning, the President sent for me saying, ‘When does the Senate meet today?’

‘Eleven o’clock.’

‘I wish you to be there when they meet. It is a big fish. Mr Chase has resigned & have accepted his resignation. I thought I could not stand it any longer.

‘Is it about the Field matter?’

‘Yes.’

‘Who is to be his successor?’

‘Dave Tod. He is my friend, with a big head full of brains.’

‘Has he the skill ad experience necessary for such a place?’

‘He made a good Governor, and has made a fortune for himself. I am willing to trust him.’

I arrived at the Senate door while the Chaplain was praying. When he ceased I delivered the message and went back to the Executive Mansion. In an hour the excitement rolled up our way. Mr Hooper came in, much excited. He feared the effect on our finances. He says it is not about the Field matter because Cisco has withdrawn his resignation. Ashmun looks at it cooly, does not think the bottom has fallen out. Washburne does. I never knew a man more stampeded. He says it is a great disaster; at this time ruinous; this time of military unsuccess, financial weakness. Congressional hesitation on question of conscription & imminent famine in the West. Chittenden came over to say that there was a movement for a general resignation in the Department; that he would stay until Tod came and got things started, although intending for some time past to resign as soon as possible.

In the afternoon I talked over the matter with the President. He said Chase was perfectly unyielding in this whole matter of Field’s appointment: that Morgan objected so earnestly to Field that he could not appoint him without embarrassment & so told the secretary, requesting him to agree to the appointment of Gregory Blatchford or Hillhouse or some other good man that would not be obnoxious to the Senators: the Secretary still insisted, but added that possibly Mr Cisco would withdraw his resignation: the President answered that he could not appoint Mr Field but wd wait   Mr Cisco’s action. Yesterday evening a letter came from the Secretary announcing first the intelligence that Mr. Cisco had withdrawn his resignation. This was most welcome news to the President. He thought the whole matter was happily disposed of. Without waiting to read further he put the letters in his pocket & went at his other work. Several hours later, wishing to write a congratulatory word to the Secretary, he took the papers from his pocket, and found his bitter disappointment the resignation of the Secretary. H made up his mind to accept it. It meant, “You have been acting very badly. Unless you say you are sorry, & ask me to stay & agree that I shall be absolute and that you shall have nothing, no matter how you beg for it, I will go.” The President thought one or the other must resign. Mr Chase elected to do so.

Hay noted that later the Senate Finance Committee, headed by Senator Fessenden, came to the White House to discuss the Treasury changes. Hay writes: “The Finance Committee, to whom was referred the nomination of Tod, came down in a body to talk to the President. He says, “Fessenden was frightened. Conness was mad, Sherman thought we could not have gotten on together much longer anyhow. Cowan & Van Winkle did not seem to care anything about it.” They not only protested against any changed but objected to Tod as too little known and experienced for the place. The President told them that he had not much personal acquaintance with Tod; had nominated him on account of the high opinion he had formed of him while Governor of Ohio: but that the Senate had the duty & responsibility of considering & passing upon the question of fitness, in which they must be entirely untrammelled. He could not in justice to himself or Tod withdraw the nomination.”

Navy Secretary Gideon Welles writes in his diary: “All were surprised to-day with the resignation of Secretary Chase and the nomination of Governor David Tod as his successor. I knew nothing of it till the fact was told me by Senator Doolittle, who came to see and advise with me, supposing I knew something of the circumstances. But I was wholly ignorant. Chase had not thought proper to consult me as to his resignation, nor had the President as to his action upon it. or the selection. My first impression was that he had consulted Seward and perhaps Blair. I learn, however, he advised with none of his Cabinet, but acted from his own impulses. I have doubts of Tod’s ability for this position, though he has good common sense and was trained in the right school, being a hard-money man. Not having seen the President since this movement took place, I do not comprehend his policy. It can hardly be his intention to reverse the action of Chase entirely without consulting those who are associated with him in the Government. And yet the selection of Tod indicates that, if there be any system in the movement. The President has given but little attention to finance and the currency, but yet he can hardly be ignorant of the fact that Chase and Tod are opposites. The selection of Tod is a move in the right direction if he has made the subject a sufficient study to wield the vast machine. On this point I have my doubts. His nomination will disturb the ‘Bubbles,’ — the paper-money men,–and the question was not acted upon but referred tot he Finance Committee, who have been with the Senate. I have no doubt their astonishment at the obtrusion of a hard-money man upon then was made manifest.

Blair and Bates both called at my house this evening and gave me to understand they were as much taken by surprise as myself. Mr. Bates says he knows nothing of T. Blair expresses more apprehensions even than myself, who have my doubts.

The retirement of Chase, so far as I hear opinions express,–and they are generally freely given–appears to give relief rather than otherwise, which surprises me. I had thought it might create a shock for a brief period, though I did not fear that it would be lasting. I look upon it as a blessing. The country could not go on a great while longer under his management, which has been one of expedients and of no fixed principles, or profound and correct financial knowledge.

It is given out that a disagreement between himself and the President in relation to the appointment of Assistant Treasurer at New York as the cause of his leaving. I think likely that was the cause of his leaving. I think likely that was the occasion of his tendering his resignation, and I have little doubt he was greatly surprised that it was accepted. He may not admit this, but it is none the less true, I apprehend. Yet there were some circumstances to favor his going,–there is a financial gulf ahead.

Attorney General Edward Bates writes in his diary: “Today about noon, I was surprised to hear that Mr. Chase, Secy. of the Treasury had resigned, and that David Tod, ex Govr. Of Ohio, was nominated to fill the vacancy. Of course, the town is full of rumors of the cause and motive of Mr. C[hase]’s resignation – One is that he and the Prest disagree as to who shall be Sub-treasurer at New York – Another is that Mr. C.[hase] hopes for the nomination by the Democratic convention to meet at Chicago, and that Fremont and his friends will waive the nomination at Cleveland, in his favor – and yet another (and [t]he most pro[ba]ble) is that his present position is very irksome, in many respects,

1. His social and political relations do not seem to be cordial with the other ministers, except perhaps Staunton [sic].

2. His scheme of finance is pretty well played out – and seems now to be generally considered a puffing machine that must soon burst by inflation – for gold is at 240 and still rising.

“I have not conversed with many; but as far as my information goes, there seems to be a vague feeling of relief from a burden, and a hope of better things.

“I should not be a bit surprised, if Stanton soon followed Chase. In that I see no public misfortune, for I think it hardly possible that the War Office could be worse administered.

“I fancy that I see in this movement another effort of the Radicals to bolt the Baltimore nomination – If they could find a feasible candidate I’m sure they would do it[.]

Mr. Lincoln, I hope, will find out, in time the danger of leaning upon that broken reed.

President Lincoln arranges for the temporary administration of the Treasury Department: “There being a vacancy in the office of Secretary of the Treasury occasioned by the resignation of the Hon Salmon P. Chase and its acceptance, George Harrington Esq Assistant Secretary is authorized to perform all and singular the duties of Secretary of the Treasury until a successor to Mr Chase shall be commissioned and qualified, or until further order.”

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