Cabinet Discusses Withdrawal of John C. Frémont as Presidential Candidate

September 22, 1864

Newspapers publish General John C. Frémont’s letter withdrawing his candidacy for president: “The presidential contest has in effect been entered upon in such a way that the union of the Republican party has become a paramount necessity. The policy of the Democratic party signifies either separation or re-establishment with slavery. The Chicago platform is simply separation. General McClellan’s letter of acceptance is re-establishment with slavery. The Republican candidate is, on the contrary, pledged to the re-establishment of the Union without slavery, and however hesitating his policy may be, the pleasure of his party will, we may hope, force him to it. Between these issues I think that no man of the Liberal party can remain in doubt. I believe I am consistent with my antecedents and my principles in withdrawing – not to aid in the triumph of Mr. Lincoln, but to do my part toward preventing the election of the Democratic candidate. In respect to Mr. Lincoln, I continue to hold exactly the sentiments contained in my letter of acceptance.   I consider that his administration has been politically, militarily and financially a failure, and that its necessary continuance is a cause of regret to the country.”

Michigan Senator Zachariah Chandler and State Sen. David H. Jerome meet with President Lincoln about possible public support from Ohio Senator Benjamin F. Wade. Clearly, the price was the dismissal of Postmaster General Montgomery Blair from the Cabinet. Historian David E. Long wrote in The Jewel of Liberty:“When Chandler returned to see the president on September 22, Lincoln was in a foul mood. He had received Fremont’s letter ‘and it was a document as offensive as it was tactless.’ Though he assured Lincoln that he would support the party ticket ‘in order to assure the permanence of the Union and the emancipation of the slaves,’ his attitude toward the administration had not changed. ‘I consider that this administration has been politically, militarily, and financially a failure, and that its necessary continuance is a cause of regret to the country.’ The letter was not consistent with the spirit of the agreement, but Chandler argued that there had been no stated condition as to the form of the withdrawal. Finally Lincoln relented, and on September 23 addressed a letter to Blair: ‘You have generously said to me more than once, that whenever your resignation could be a relief to me, it was at my disposal. The time has come.’”

Historian Allan Nevins wrote in his Fremont biography:“Now that Frank Blair had been humiliated, it was the turn of the Postmaster-General. He had lately increased the number of his bitter enemies. When Early’s troops made their raid north of Washington, they burned Montgomery Blair’s beautiful home, Falkland, at Silver Spring. A friend expressed sympathy, and Blair burst out with the bitter remark: ‘Nothing better could be expected while politicians and cowards have the conduct of military affairs. Halleck heard of this and wrote a letter about it to Stanton, which Stanton angrily laid before the President. In consequence, Stanton and Blair ceased to speak. But Montgomery was now disliked in every quarter. He had been barred from the Union League; a radical committee including George S. Boutwell and John Covode had lately demanded his dismissal; Henry Wilson wrote Lincoln that his retention would cost tens of thousands of votes. Men spoke of the Blairs as ‘a nest of Maryland serpents.’”

The Cabinet is abuzz with the political developments. Navy Secretary Gideon Welles writes in his diary: “Blair tells me that Weed is manoeuvring for a change of Cabinet and Morgan so writes me. He has for that reason, B. Says, set his curs and hounds barking at my heels and is trying to prejudice the President against me. Not unlikely, but I can go into no counter-intrigues. If the President were to surrender himself into such hands,–which I do not believe,–he would be unworthy his position. He has yielded more than his own good sense would have prompted him already. For several months there has been a pretended difference between Seward and Weed; for a much longer period there has been an ostensible hostility between Weed and Sim Draper. I have never for a moment believed in the reality of these differences; but I am apprehensive the President is in a measure, or to some extent, deceived by them. He gives himself–too much, I sometimes think–into the keeping of Seward, who is not always truthful, not sensitively scrupulous, but a schemer, while Weed, his second part, and of vastly more vigor of mind, is reckless and direct, persistent and tortuous, avaricious of late, and always corrupt. We have never been intimate. I do not respect him, and he well knows it. Yet I have never treated him with disrespect, nor given him cause of enmity, except by avoiding intimacy and by declining to yield to improper schemes of himself and his friends. On one occasion, at early period of the Administration. Mr. Seward volunteered to say that he always acted in concert with Weed, –that ‘Seward’s Weed and Weed’s Seward.’ If, as Blair supposes, Weed is operating against me, Seward, Seward probably is also, and yet I have seen no evidence of it,–certainly none recently.”

Presidential aide John G. Nicolay writes President Lincoln from New York: “I found Mr. Weed absent when I arrived here, and although he was expected this morning, he has not yet returned. A friend of his telegraphed him today that I was here, and wished to see him, and he thinks he will be here tomorrow.”

President Lincoln writes General Ulysses S. Grant: “I send this as an explanation to you, and to do justice to the Secretary of War, I was induced upon pressing application, to authorize agents of one of the Districts of Pennsylvania to recruit in one of the prisoner depots in Illinois; and the thing went so far before it came to the knowledge of the Secretary of War that in my judgment it could not be abandoned without greater evil than would follow it’s going through. I did not know, at the time, that you had protested against that class of thing being done; and I now say that while this particular job must be completed, no other of the sort, will be authorized, without an understanding you, if at all. The Secretary of War is wholly free of any part in this blunder.”

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