President Lincoln Hears Wade-Davis Manifesto

August 5, 1864

“The Wade-Davis manifesto appeared on August,” wrote Historian William Frank Zornow in Lincoln and the Party Divided The document was a derogatory, malevolent denunciation of the Chief Executive. It accused him of trying to control the electoral votes of the reconstructed states and called upon all loyal party men to repudiate him. Rumors were flying that these two Congressional leaders intended to follow up the protest with an appeal for Lincoln’s impeachment.   Lincoln’s friends were vehement in their denunciations of the manifesto, but Lincoln took the whole incident with his customary aplomb. ‘It is not worth fretting about,’ he reassured one of his friends. Lincoln’s sel-assurance may have been a guise to conceal his worry over the affair, but he may have sen what the politicians in Washington did not see – that the manifesto had not had its desired effect upon the public. James Garfield, for example, found it expedient to spike a rumor in his Ohio district that he had helped write it. Benjamin Wade was universally denounced throughout Ohio and his name stricken from the list of speakers in that state. Henry Davis became so unpopular in Maryland that he was later defeated for re-election.   Many years afterward Albert Riddle recalled that ‘everywhere, North, East, South, and West, the masses were with Mr. Lincoln. No President was ever more cordially sustained by the people.’ On the other hand, he recollected that ‘thinking Union men were quite unanimous in sustain Mr. Wade and Mr. Davis, as was the majority of both Houses of Congress. It seemed to be the same old story; Lincoln was supported by the people and opposed by the Unconditional political leaders.” The Manifesto stated:

‘We have read without surprise, but not without indignation, the Proclamation of the President of the 8th of July,’ it began.   Then it continued:

The President, by preventing this bill from becoming a law, holds the electoral votes of the rebel States at the dictation of his personal ambition…

A more studied outrage on the legislative authority of the people has never been perpetrated.

Congress passed a bill; the President refused to approve it, and then by proclamation puts as much of it in force as he sees fit, and proposes to execute those parts by officers unknown to the laws of the United States and not subject to the confirmation of the Senate!

The bill directed the appointment of Provisional Governors by and with the advice and consent of the Senate.

The President, after defeating the law, proposes to appoint without law, and without the advice and consent of the Senate, Military Governors for the rebel States!

He has already exercised this dictatorial usurpation in Louisiana, and he defeated the bill to prevent its limitation….

The President has great presumed on the forbearance which the supports of his Administration have so long practiced, in view of the arduous conflict in which we are engaged, and the reckless ferocity of our political opponents.

But he must understand that our support is of a cause and not of a man; that the authority of Congress is paramount and must be respected; that the whole body of the Union men in Congress will not submit to be impeached by him of rash and unconstitutional legislation; and if he wishes our support, he must confine himself to his executive duties — to obey and execute, not make the laws — to suppress by arms armed rebellion, and leave political reorganization to Congress.

If the supporters of the Government to insist on this, they become responsible for the usurpations which they fail to rebuke, and are justly liable to the indignation of the people whose rights and security, committed to their keeping, they sacrifice.

Let them consider the remedy for these usurpations, and having found it, fearlessly execute it.

At night, the Wade-Davis Manifesto is read to President Lincoln by Secretary of State Seward in evening.   He responds: “I would like to know if protestors intend openly to oppose his election — the document looks that way.”   Mr. Lincoln was helped by the stupidity and bad timing of his enemies. Historian Gerard S. Henig noted in Henry Winter Davis:“Lincoln was nevertheless hurt and angered by the ‘protest,’ especially since it came from two members of his own party. ‘To be wounded in the house of one’s friends is perhaps the most grievous affliction that can befall a man,’ he confided to Noah Brooks. But the President was first and always a masterful politician, and he was quick to realize that Wade and Davis had clearly gone too far. Commenting that he had not and did not care to read the manifesto, he told a characteristic story.

Navy Secretary Gideon Welles writes in his diary regarding the morning Cabinet meeting: “Only four of us with the President today. Mr. Fessenden has gone to Maine. Seward and Stanton were absent when the rest were there.

I was with the President on Wednesday when Governor Morgan was there, and the President produced the correspondence that had passed between himself and Chase at the time C. resigned. It was throughout characteristic. I do not think the event was wholly unexpected to either, and yet both were a little surprised. The President fully understands Chase and had made up his mind that he would not be again overridden in his own appointments. Chase, a good deal ambitious and somewhat presuming, felt he must enforce his determinations, which he had always successfully carried out. In coming to the conclusion that a separation must take place, the President was prompted by some, and sustained by all, his Cabinet without an exception. Chase’s retirement has offended nobody, and has gratified almost everybody.”

Attorney General Edward Bates writes in his diary: “Delivered to the President J.O. Broadhead’s sad letter on Mo. affairs (a fair copy of it). He read it in silence, and seemed deeply moved. But I foresee that no good will come of it. The Prest knows what is right, as well as any man, and would be glad to see it done, but, unhappily, lacks the nerve to do it.

“I had a pretty long conversation with him, about the appeal of the Govr. Pierepoint [Pierpont]) and other officers of Va. Against Gen butler’s proceedings to put down civil law in Norfolk. I was ashamed when I found that he had done nothing upon the subject – slurred it over in silence, only because he is afraid Gen B.[utler] ‘will raise a hubbub about it.’ I reminded him that it was a formal opinion of his own Atty Genl., to the effect that Genl B[utler]’s proceeding was a mere usurpation, and a grave offence. That is a case pending which must be decided – that not to revoke the order is to approve and sanction it – &c[.]

“But all in vain – He was impassive as water.”

“I will come over in a few minutes,” President Lincoln writes when informed in the morning that General Ulysses S. Grant has arrived at War Department. General Philip H. Sheridan visits the President , who has been called to Washington and ordered to join Grant at Monocacy Junction.”   Sheridan is appointed to command the Army of the Shenandoah. President Lincoln tells Sheridan that Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton “had objected to my assignment to General Hunter’s command because he thought me too young, and that he himself had concurred with the Secretary; but now, since General Grant had plowed round the difficulties of the situation by picking me out to command the boys in the field, he felt satisfied with what had been done and hoped for the best.”

President Lincoln writes Morton McMichael: “When the Philadelphia Post-Master was here on the 20th. of June last, I read to him a paper…..He promised me to strictly follow this. I am now told that, of the two or three hundred employees in the Post-Office, not one of them is openly for Judge Kelly. This, if true, is not accidental. Left tot heir free choice, there can be no doubt that a large number of them, probably as much or more than half, would be for Kelly. And if they are for him, and are not restrained, they can put it beyond question by publicly saying so. Please tell the Post-Master he must find a way to relieve me from the suspicion that he is not keeping his promise to me in good faith.” John W. Forney had written from Philadelphia: ‘The political condition of the district represented by the Hon Wm. D. Kelly is such that your immediate interposition is necessary. He is clearly the choice of the Union people…for renomination, and I greatly fear if he should be defeated, for that renomination, by the malpractice of partisans who claim to be your friends, that we may lose the elections in October next…” Postmaster Cornelius Walborn posted a notice on August 9:

To the Employees of the Philadelphia Postal District.

Whereas I am charged with coercing you to oppose the nomination of Wm D. Kelly for Congress.

Now this is to notify you that you are expected to sustain men of known loyalty only, for all offices, but you are at liberty, as far as I am concerned to exercise your own views in reference to who should be nominated for Congress, or any other office in the gift of the people…

From elsewhere in southern Pennsylvania, influential editor Alexander K. McClure writes President Lincoln: “Franklin county has lost fully $5,000,000 since the war commenced, Still, we have filled every quota of troops called for.

A draft is now pending calling for 800 men. I beg of you allow us to raise thrice the number of our quota to be confirmed by the Nat. Government, & to be paid when on drill or duty by the State; to be subject to call for border defence, & only for that. Our Industry is broken up. This would restore it & protect it; and it would be but an act of sheer justice to thus exempt them from the draft.

Can it be done? If you refer this letter to the Departments, it will not be done. Chambersburg is in ruin1 to-day solely because your Departments have turned a deaf ear to all propositions to put our border people in a position for self-defence.

I am fully advised of what has transpired; & I know that Gen Couch’s suggestions have been utterly disregarded; and the result is the plundering of the border & the burning of our town. The removal of Gen Couch would therefore be a wrong which you cannot afford to allow.

In the wake of the aborted Niagara Falls negotiations, New York Times editor Henry J. Raymond repeatedly demanded that the correspondence with his rival editor, Horace Greeley of the New York Times.   Today, Raymond writes President Lincoln:

I enclose an article from the Tribune of this morning. It seems to me that the public interest would be served – & certainly your action would be vindicated, which amounts to the same thing – by the publication of the correspondence in question.

If you concur in this opinion & see no objection to such a course I shall be very glad to receive from you a copy with authority to publish it.

The previous day Greeley wrote presidential aide John Hay: “The Times of this morning calls for the publication of my letters to the President and his replies thereto relative to the Niagara Falls matter.1 I am no keeper of letters, and have no copy of any of mine except possibly the first or longest.– If you happen to have all the correspondence, I wish you would lend it me for publication; or, if you can prepare copies to be promptly made of it all and sent me, I will pay for copying. I have no special desire to see it in print, but certainly not the least objection. Help me to give it all, and I trust good will come of it.”

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