President Lincoln Watches Morse Code Demonstration

August 24, 1864

Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner writes Governor John Andrew after unrest in the Republican Party over President Lincoln’s nomination: “You know well that I have always regretted that the Republican Convention was called at so early a day. Its action seemed to me ill-considered & unreasonable[.] If it were regarded as merely temporary, then its errors might be corrected by another Convention, which, with the concurrence of Mr Lincoln, might nominate a candidate who would surely be elected.”

President Lincoln writes New York Times Editor Henry J. Raymond a set of instructions which he decides later not to issue: “You will proceed forthwith and obtain, if possible, a conference for peace with hon. Jefferson Davis, or any person by him authorized for that purpose.

You will address him in entirely respectful terms, at all events, and in any that my be indispensable to secure the conference.

At said conference you will propose, on behalf this government, that upon the restoration of the Union and the national authority, the war shall cease at once, al remaining questions to be left for adjustment by peaceful modes. If this be accepted hostilities to cease at once.

If it is not accepted, you will then request to be informed what terms, if any embracing the restoration of the Union, would be accepted. If any such be presented you in answer, you will forthwith report the same to this government, and await further instructions.

If the presentation of any terms embracing the restoration of the Union be declined, you will then request to be informed what terms of peace would, be accepted; and on receiving any answer, report the same to this government, and await further instructions.

Raymond had written Lincoln: “I am in active correspondence with your staunchest friends in every state and from them all I hear but one report. The Tide is setting strongly against us. Hon. E. B. Washburne writes that ‘were an election to be held now in in Illinois we should be beaten.’ Mr. Cameron writes that Pennsylvania is against us. Gov. Morton writes that nothing but the most strenuous efforts can carry Indiana. This State (new York), according to the best information I can get, would go 50,000 against us to-morrow. And so of the rest.

Two special causes are assigned for this great reaction in public sentiment — the want of military successes, and the impression in some minds, the fear and suspicion in others, that we are not to have peace in any event under this administration until Slavery is abandoned. In some way or other the suspicion is widely diffused that we can have peace with Union if we would.

It is idle to reason with this belief — still more idle to denounce it. It can only be expelled by some authoritative act, at once bold enough to fix attention and distinct enough to defy incredulity & challenge respect.

Secretary of the Interior John Palmer Usher writes President Lincoln: “I have the honor herewith to submit for your signature, should you approve the same, a form of Proclamation of sales of the lands in Minnesota, within the late Winnebago Indian Reservation, pursuant to provisions of the act of Congress. Approved February 21, 1863.1

The accompanying report of the Commissioner of the General Land Office, will explain the reasons for adopting the present form of Proclamation and date of sales, instead of those which were before you with my letter of the 14th July, last.2

As a measure of economy in advertising, I cordially recommend the substitution of the present form of Proclamation for sales of these lands.

President Lincoln spends the night at the Soldiers Home, where he watches a demonstration of communication. War Department Telegrapher Homer Bates recalled: “At that time Lincoln, with his family, lived in one of the cottages at the Soldiers Home, and so it was arranged that there should be an exhibition (for his special benefit) of Morse signaling to and from the Smithsonian, and on the evening of August 24, 1864, Major Eckert and I went to the Soldiers Home with suitable instruments, our comrades, Chandler and Dwight, having gone to the Smithsonian Institute, with a similar equipment. My diary records that there were present on the tower of the Soldiers Home, besides the operators the President, RearAdmiral Davis of the Navy Department, Colonel Nicodemus of the Signal Corps and Colonel Dimmick of the army. We were able to send Morse signals to the roof of the Smithsonian and receive responses from Chandler and Dwight. Professor Joseph Henry was present and witnessed our experiments. Mr. Lincoln was greatly interested in this exhibition and expressed the opinion that the signal system of both the army and navy could and would be improved so as to become of immense value to the Government. This has, in fact been done, and our efforts of over forty years ago now appear rudimentary.”

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