Republicans Seek a Lincoln Alternative

August 18, 1864

A longtime Lincoln friend, Illinois attorney Leonard Swett, meets with Lincoln to report that New York Republicans believe that Lincoln’s defeat was certain.   Swett later wrote his wife: “I told Mr. Lincoln that his re-election was an impossibility.” He added: “Mr. Raymond thinks commissioners should be immediately sent t, to Richmond, offering to treat for Peace on the basis of Union. That something should be done and promptly done, to give the Administration a chance for its life, is certain.’”

In New York, many Republican leaders seek an alternative to Lincoln. Historian William Frank Zornow wrote: “In compliance with the appeals being voiced on every hand for a new convention, a group of malcontents arranged a meeting at the home of New York Mayor George Opdyke on August 18. The Opdyke meeting was propelled by such journalistic leaders as Greeley, Parke Godwin of the Evening Post, Theodore Tilton, and George Wilkes; and such political luminaries as Wade, Davis, Governor John A. Andrew of Massachusetts, Charles Sumner, and David D. Field. Altogether about twenty-five men were present at this conference.”   Historian Robert S. Harper wrote: “Horace Greeley was unable to attend the first meeting of the committee, held at the Opdyke home, but he sent his regrets in a letter dated August 18, 1864, saying:

I must go out of town tomorrow evening and cannot attend the meeting at your house. Allow me to say a word.

Mr. Lincoln is already beaten. He cannot be elected. And we must have another ticket to save us from utter overthrow. If we had such a ticket as could be made by naming Grant, Butler, or Sherman for President, and Farragut as Vice, we could make a fight yet. And such a ticket we ought to have anyhow, with or without a convention.

As politicians panick, the commander-in-chief remains calm. President Lincoln addresses the 164th Ohio Regiment on its way home: “You are about to return to your homes and your friends, after having, as I learn, performed in camp a comparatively short term of duty in this great contest. I am greatly obliged to you, and to all who have come forward at the call of their country. I wish it might be more generally and universally understood what the country is now engaged in. We have, as all will agree, a free Government, where every man has a right to be equal with every other man. In this great struggle, this form of Government and every form of human right is endangered if our enemies succeed. There is more involved in this contest than is realized by every one. There is involved in this struggle the question whether your children and my children shall enjoy the privileges we have enjoyed. I say this in order to impress upon you, if you are not already so impressed, that no small matter should divert us from our great purpose. There may be some irregularities in the practical application of our system. It is fair that each man shall pay taxes in exact proportion to the value of his property; but if we should wait before collecting a tax to adjust the taxes upon each man in exact proportion with every other man, we should never collect any tax at all. There may be mistakes made sometimes; things may be done wrong while the officers of the Government do all they can to prevent mistakes. But I beg of you, as citizens of this great Republic, not to let your minds be carried off from the great work we have before us. This struggle is too large for you to be diverted from it by any small matter. When you return to your homes rise up to the height of a generation of men worthy of a free Government, and we will carry out the great work we have commenced. I return to you my sincere thanks, soldiers, for the honor you have done me this afternoon.

President Lincoln writes to General James G. Blunt regarding his command in Kansas: “Yours of July 31st is received. Governor Carney did leave some papers with me concerning you; but they made no great impression upon me; and I believe they are not altogether such as you seem to think. As I am not proposing to act upon them, I do not now take the time to re-examine them.

I regret to find you denouncing so many persons as liars, scoundrels, fools, thieves, and persecutors of yourself. Your military position looks critical, but did any body force you into it? Have you been ordered to confront and fight ten thousand men, with three thousand men? The Government cannot make men; and it is very easy, when a man has been given the highest commission, for him to turn on those who gave it and vilify them for not giving him a command according to his rank.

My appointment of you first as Brigadier, and then a Major General, was evidence of my appreciation of your service; and I have no since marked but one thing in connection with you, with which to be dissatisfied. The sending a military order twenty five miles outside of your lines, and all military lines, to take men charged with offence against the military, out of the hands of the courts, to be turned over to a mob to be hanged, can find no precedent or principle to justify it. Judge Lynch sometimes takes jurisdiction of cases which prove too strong for the courts; but this is the first case within my knowledge, wherein the court being able to maintain jurisdiction against Judge Lynch, the military has come to the assistance of the latter. I take the facts of this case as you state them yourself, and not from any report of Governor Carney, or other person.

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