President Lincoln Considers the Fate of a French Surgeon

October 27, 1864

President Lincoln meets with former Illinois Senator Orville H. Browning, who writes in his diary about his attempt to get release for a French citizen: “Breakfasted at Metropolitan with Mr La Forge of New York — We went with him to the President to get permission for a young Frenchman by the name of Shiff, who had been a Surgeon in the confederate service — captured at the Wilderness in May – brot to old capitol prison, and then paroled — to with draw an oath of Allegegiance which he took to this government when paroled.   Shiff was tired of the rebellion and did not intend to take an oath of allegiance to this government, and alleges that he was not fully aware of what he was doing, but supposed only what would entitle him to be paroled.

“His father, who is now dead, once lived in New Orleans and had invested in Southern stocks, and loaned money on mortgages, and there is a large indebtedness from the rebels to the family, who are now in Paris.   Shiff himself is in Paris with his mother. She is afraid if the reels find out that her son has taken the oath of allegiance to this government they will confiscate her large interests in the South, and that she will be unable to collect any portion of the debts due the family there, and therefore, desires leave for him to withdraw the oath.

The President was very amiable, and seemed inclined to grant the request, but said he would consult Secy Seward, and see what his views were.   He sent for Seward — We waited a half hour, and he did not come. The President then asked me to go over and see him. I took Mr La Forge with me and started over.   When we got near the State Department we met Seward on his way to the Presidents. We turned back and we all went into the State Department. I stated the case to him and showed him the oath of allegiance Signed by Shiff.   He read it over and then said there was no power on earth that could release him from it, and that it should not be done if it could. Mr La Forge asked if Shiff, being a Surgeon, and non combatant was not entitled to be paroled without taking the oath — that he thought Surgeons and Chaplains were regarded as non combatants, and not retained as prisoners of war as those in arms were.

Mr Seward got very much excited, and said no, they were not non combatants but d m d rebel belligerents who were trying to destroy this government — that Shiff had no right to be paroled — that we had a right to have taken his head off, and that he ought to be thankful that he was allowed to go away with it on his shoulders &c.

I suggest that being a Frenchman the oath of allegiance could not make him a citizen over whom we could claim jurisdiction, and I did not perceive that with drawing the oath could do us any harm, and that if the old lady was disturbed by it, and thought it put her property in danger of confiscation by the rebels, I could see no objection to granting the permission asked.

He replied that the oath he had taken did not make him a citizen, and that he was not a French man, but a dmd rebel belligerant trying to overthrow this government, and that it was an insult to this government to assume that the rebels could confiscate property — they could do no such thing, and that this government intended to protect all persons in their property and rights, and the rebels could not confiscate anything &c &c

He became very much excited and was boisterous and profane to Mr La Forge —

We left him, of course, without having accomplished anything. In the afternoon Mr La Forge called at my room, and we went again to the Presidents, but did not get an interview

From New York, William O. Bartlett, a close friend of New York Herald owner James Bennett, writes to update President Lincoln on his efforts: “Permit me to call your attention to the Herald of this date as a model paper for our side.

Mr. Bennett told me yesterday that he had accomplished more for you than he could have done any other way, because he had carried his readers along with him.

Please read his leader of to-day, calling on Gen. McClellan2 for a more definite avowal of his policy, and at the same time distinctly accepting you as satisfactory.

The enclosed article was written at my suggestion. Mr. Bennet said that it would benefit you more than anything else that could be said

From Illinois, Congressman Elihu B. Washburne writes President Lincoln: Genl. Jack Logan sends word to me that he wants to go to Washington after the election to see you about certain matters that he does not wish to write about. He wishes me to obtain the permission, which I know you will most gladly grant. Please send to me such permission and I will see it reaches him.

We are all hard at work in this state and the prospects for our success are good provided we get a reasonable number of the soldiers home. Logan is carrying all before him in Egypt. I have just got a letter from Cairo and our friends feel quite confident of beating Josh Allen. My majority in this district will not be less than 4,500.

From Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Congressman William D. Kelley writes President Lincoln: “I would gladly have seen you for a few moments on Tuesday and given you the reason for my conviction that we will carry the state in Nov. by not less than 10,000 on the Home vote.1

The League furnished the State Com with 280000 posters and documents prior to the Oct election These unhappily were not properly distributed. The percentage that were circulated was merely nominal. The enclosed circular will show you how systematically that work is now being done. Since that election the League have mailed 306000 pamphlets and posters Its issues number more than 750000, and in addition to all this it fills a column in the Ledger daily– This is our penny paper which publishes 65,000 copies daily.

That these and other agencies now using will more than accomplish the result I predict I am sure

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