President Lincoln Reveals Memo about Possible Defeat

November 11, 1864

Congratulations for his reelection continue to pour into President Lincoln. President aide John Hay writes in his diary about the memo that President Lincoln had written on August 23, 1864 when he anticipated losing the election: “At the meeting of the Cabinet today, the President took out a paper from his desk and said, “Gentlemen, do you remember last summer I asked you all to sign your names to the back of a paper of which I did not show you the inside? This is it. Now, Mr. Hay, see if you can get this open without tearing it?” He has pasted it up in so singular style that it required some cutting to get it open.

Executive Mansion

Washington

Aug. 23, 1864

This morning, as for some days past, it seems exceedingly probable that this Administration will not be re-elected. Then it will be my duty to so co-operate with the President elect, as to save the Union between the election and the inauguration; as he will have secured his election on such ground that he can not possibly save it afterwards.”(text of August 23 note]

Hay adds: The President said, ‘you will remember that this was written at a time (6 days before the Chicago nominating Convention) when as yet we had no adversary, and seemed to have no friends. I then solemnly resolved on the course of action indicated above. I resolved, in case of the election of General McClellan, being certain that he would be the candidate, that I would see him and talk matters over with him. I would say, ‘General, the election has demonstrated that you are stronger, have more influence with the American people than I. Now let us together, you with your influence and I with all the executive power of the Government, try to save the country. You raise as many troops as you possibly can for this final trial, and I will devote all my energies to assisting and finishing the war.’

Seward said, ‘And the General would answer you, ‘Yes, Yes;’ and the next day when you saw him again and pressed these views upon him, he would say, ‘Yes, Yes;’ & so on forever, and would have done nothing at all.”

“At least,’ added Lincoln, ‘I should have done my duty and have stood clear before my own conscience.”

Hay also writes in his diary: “Today I got a letter from [Henry J.] Raymond breathing fire an vengeance against the Custom House which came so near destroying him in his District. I read it to the President. He answered that it was the spirit of such letters as that created the faction and malignity of which Raymond complained.

“It seems utterly impossible for the President to conceive of the possibility of any good resulting from a rigorous and exemplary course of punishing political dereliction. His favorite expression, “I am in favor of short statutes of limitations in politics.”

Attorney General Edward Bates writes in diary: “Many Virginians are fleeing, to escape conscription. Robt. A. Gray…returned from the North, this morning. And during the day his brother, C. Douglas Gray and Beverly Botts came in, accompanied by Miss Rosalie Botts, and Mrs. Wager, an eldery widow….They [came] to escape conscription – the women, to buy necessaries –   I presented them to the President, who received them kindly, and granted their request.”

President Lincoln writes Admiral David G. Farragut: “An Executive order to Rear-Admiral David G. Farragut having been issued on the 9th of August last, directing that, if Andrew J. Hamilton, or any person authorized in writing by him, should come out of either of the ports of Galveston or Sabine Pass with any vessel or vessels freighted with cotton shipped to the agent of the Treasury Department at New Orleans, the passage of such person, vessels, and cargoes should not be molested or hindered, but should be permitted to pass to the hands of such consignee, the said order is from this date to be considered as revoked.”

Louisiana Governor Michael Hahn writes President Lincoln: The McClellan men in this State expressed an unwilling to go into the Presidential election, and for this and other reasons (some of which were of an economical character) your friends thought it best to elect the electors by the Legislature. This was done on Tuesday last, and seven good Lincoln men were elected. We have not yet heard any election news from the North, but we hope and pray that “all is right.”

If your new appointments for Louisiana are not yet made when this reaches you, I hope you will not neglect long in making them. I hope you have received my letter in which I recommended Col. James T. Tucker for the position of Supervising Special Agent of the Treasury Department, instead of Mr. Fisk, previously named for that office.

An effort is about being made to give certain rights to some of our colored population which have hitherto been withheld from them. Some of our friends think that the use of a letter which you wrote to me on the 13th of March 1864 (a copy of which I enclose) would prove of some service to the colored race and do you no harm. Please read, and inform me whether it would be advisable to make it public?

I hope Gen. Banks will not delay his departure for this Department. Without him, or some man of his views and character, we must breake break down in our efforts to build up a loyal State Government here. I regret to be compelled to say that Copperheadism is well represented among the highest military officials now in command here.

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