September 23, 1864
After cabinet meeting, Postmaster General Montgomery Blair tells colleagues he has been dismissed. Navy Secretary Gideon Welles writes in his diary: “No business of importance brought before the Cabinet to-day. Some newspaper rumors of peace, and of letters from Jeff Davis and others, all wholly groundless. Seward and Fessenden left early. Mr. Bates and myself came out of the Executive Mansion together and were holding a moment’s conversation, when Blair joined us, remarking as he did so, ‘I suppose you are both aware that my head is decapitated,–that I am no longer a member of the Cabinet.’ It was necessary he should repeat before I could comprehend what I heard. I inquired what it meant, and how long he had the subject submitted or suggest to him. He said never until to-day; that he came in this morning from Silver Spring and found this letter from the President for him. He took the letter form his pocket and rad the contents,–couched in friendly terms,–reminding him that he had frequently stated he was ready to leave the Cabinet when the President thought it best, etc., etc., and informing him the time had arrived. The remark that he was wiling to leave I have heard both him and Mr. Bates make more than once. It seemed to me unnecessary, for when the President desires the retirement of any one of his advisers, he would undoubtedly carry his wishes into effect. There is no Cabinet officers who would be willing to remain against the wishes or purposes of the President, whether right or wrong.”
I asked Blair what led to this step, for there must be a reason for it. He said he had no doubt he was a peace-offering to Fremont and his friends. They wanted an offering, and he was the victim whose sacrifice would propitiate them. The resignation of Fremont and Cochrane was received yesterday, and the President, commenting on it, said F. had stated ‘the Administration was a failure, politically, militarily, and financially,’ that this included the Secretaries of State, Treasury, War, and Postmaster-General, and he thought the Interior, but the Navy or the Attorney-general. As Blair and myself walked away together toward the western gate, I told him the suggestion of pacifying the partisans of Fremont might have been brought into consideration, but it was not the moving cause; that the President would never have yielded to that, except under the pressing advisement, or deceptive appeals and representations of some one to whom he had given his confidence. ‘Oh,’ said Blair,’ there is no doubt Seward was accessory to this, instigated and stimulated by Weed.’ This was the view that presented itself to my mind, the moment he informed me he was to leave, but on reflection I am not certain that Chase has not been more influential than Seward in this matter. IN parting with Blair the President parts with a true friend, and he leaves no adviser so able, bold, sagacious. Honest, truthful, and sincere, he has been wise, discriminating, and correct. Governor Dennison, who is to succeed him, is, I think, a good man, and I know of no better one to have selected.
There was unrest in the Lincoln Cabinet. Historian John Niven wrote in Gideon Welles: Lincoln’s Secretary of the Navy: “The President’s offhand remarks on the Wade-Davis letter had deceived Welles. Lincoln would not, as he said, respond to the provocation, but he was prepared to appease the radicals, especially Chase’s disgruntled following. Blair, he knew, was a prime source for the continuous bickerings and intrigues within the Cabinet. Stanton had not spoken to Blair for months. Seward distrusted and disliked him. As for Blair, he seized every opportunity to malign both of them, in public and in private. Sooner or later harmony had to be restored, if only to ease the pressure in the administration. Yet Lincoln bided his time.”
Attorney General Edward Bates writes in his diary: “To day, on coming out from C.C. I was surprised to learn the retirement of P.M. G. Blair. He shewed to Mr. Welles and me the President[‘]s letter (recd. this morning) suggesting his resignation. The letter is couched in very gentle and friendly terms – reminds Mr. B.[lair] of his often-expressed willingnes to withdraw, ehenever the Prest should think the Adm[inistration]n. Could be better or more harmoniously conducted, in his absence &c. I[t]. Declares that there has never been the slightest personal dissatisfaction &c.
Mr. Blair says he will publish the letter – having Mr. L[incoln]’s leave to do so.
“He thinks that this is the result of a compromise with the leaders of the Fremont party – the extreme Radicals. And circumstances seem to warrant the conclusion, for Fremont’s letter of declention, while it professes to oppose the McClellan democrats, and thus indirectly support L[incoln], haughtily dictates the line of policy and measures to Mr. L[incoln].
Also, it is announced the Ben F. Wade and H y Winter Davis (notwithstanding their fierce manifesto) are to take the Stump for Lincoln
The result will, probably, be to ensure Mr. L’s election over McClellan; and the Radicals, no doubt, hope that they will constitute the controlling element in the new party thus formed, and as such will continue to govern the nation. In this view it is their shrewdest policy to abandon their separate organization, for in that they were foredoomed to defeat. But perhaps their success is a melancholy defeat for their Country.
I think Mr. Lincoln could have been elected without them and in spite of them. In that event, the Country might have been governed, free from their malign influences, and more nearly in conformity to the constitution.
President Lincoln writes Montgomery 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. You very well know that this proceeds from no dissatisfaction of mine with you personally or officially. Your uniform kindness has been unsurpassed by that of any friend; and, while it is true that the war does not so greatly add to the difficulties of your Department, as to those of some others, it is yet much to say, as I most truly can, that in the three years and a half during which you have administered the General Post-Office, I remember no single complaint against you in connection therewith. “
Blair responds: “I have received your note of this date, referring to my offers to resign whenever you should deem it advisable for the public interests that I should do so and stating that in your judgment that time has now come.
I now, therefore, formally tender my resignation of the Office of Postmaster General.
I can not take leave of you without renewing the expressions of my gratitude for the uniform kindness which has marked your course towards, Yours very truly.