Lincoln Cabinet Meeting Held on Fort Sumter

Saturday, March 9, 1861

Cabinet meeting on Fort Sumter at night as concern mounts over its fate. Navy Secretary Gideon Welles maintains that a relief exposition could be successful without first destroying the Charleston forts. General Winfield Scott disagrees.

Attorney General Edward Bates writes in his diary: “I was astonished to be informed that Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor must be evacuated and that gen. Scott, Gen. Totten, and Major Anderson concur in opinion that, as the place has but 28 days provisions, it must be relieved, if at all, in that time; and that it will take a force of 20,000 men, at least, and a bloody battle, to relieve it!’


Lincoln Holds First White House Reception

Elizabeth Todd Grimsley

Friday, March 8, 1861

The Lincolns are overwhelmed in their first White House reception for what Attorney General Edward Bates calls “a motley crowd” that required President Lincoln to shake hands for two and a half hours. Lincoln aide John G. Nicolay writes: “For over two hours the crowd poured in as rapidly as the door would admit them, and many climbed in at the windows. It was withal more ‘ton’-ish than such things usually are. Of course in such a crowd crinoline suffered, and at least fifty men have been swearing worse than ‘our army in Flanders,’ ever since they home that evening, over the loss of new hats and valuable overcoats.”

“And what a crush and jam it was!,” recalled Elizabeth Todd Grimsley, Mrs. Lincoln’s cousin. “But the young private Secretaries Nicolay and Hay managed the introductions to the President and the receiving party wonderfully well. The hand shaking was a thing long to be remember by the President, and while it was gratifying, we must confess to a sigh of relief when we heard the marine Band strike up ‘Yankee Doodle’, the signal for retiring. The President took me on his arm and we made the circuit of the East room, a custom as old as the house itself, I believe, and a silly one, in that the wife of the President is relegated tot he escort of another gentleman.”
“We were amused at the many remarks we overheard — such as, ‘The President bears himself well, and does not seem the least embarrassed’. ‘How much alike the President and Mrs. Grimsley are!’ ‘Yes! Brother and sister. They must belong to a very tall family.’
“And so ended that memorable reception, the last in which north and south would mingle for many years.”

Charles Francis Adams, soon to be the U.S. ambassador to England, wrote: “Such a crush was, I imagine, never seen in the White House before, on a similar, or any other, occasion. After two vain attempts to get into the reception room, Dexter and I resolutely set ourselves in the main current, and were pushed and squeezed along. It was a motley crowd. There they were — the sovereigns; some in evening dress, others in morning suits; with gloves and without gloves; clean and dirty; all pressing in the same direction, and all behaving with perfect propriety. There was no ill temper; no vulgarity or noise; no rudeness; in spire of the crowd and discomfort, everything was respectful and decorous. The sight was one not pleasant to see, and even less pleasant to participate in; but still good of its kind. Here, as everywhere, the people governed themselves. At last, after the breath was nearly out of our bodies, Dexter and I came in sight of the President — the tall, rapidly bobbing head of the good ‘Abe,’ as he shook hands with his guests, and quickly passed them along. The vastly greater number he hurried by him; but, when any one he knew came along, he bent himself down to the necessary level, and seemed to whisper a few words in the ear, in pleasant, homely fashion; though not exactly in one becoming our President. I hurried by as quickly as I could, and retreated into the rear of the room, there to observe. I stayed about an hour and a half, meeting Mr. Sumner, Mr. and Mrs. S.A. Douglas and others, and subsequently, leaving by the south front, reached home with ‘tir’d eye-lids upon tir’d eyes.’”

Lincoln Makes Two Cabinet Appointments

Thursday, January 17, 1861

President-elect Lincoln announces the selection of Secretary of State William H. Seward and Attorney General Edward Bates.
Mary Todd Lincoln writes Illinois Judge David Davis, long a Lincoln intimate to oppose the nomination of Chicago attorney Norman B. Judd to the Cabinet. “Doubtless you will be surprised, to receive a note from me, when I explain the cause, of my writing, I believe your honest, noble heart, will sympathise with me, otherwise I am assured, you will not mention it. Perhaps you will think it is no affair of mine, yet I see it, almost daily mentioned in the Herald, that Judd & some few Northern friends, are urging the former’s claims to a cabinet appointment. Judd would cause trouble & dissatisfaction, & if Wall Street testifies correctly, his business transactions, have not always borne inspection. I heard the report, discussed at the table this morning, by persons who did not know, who was near, a party of gentlemen, evidently strong Republicans, they were laughing at the idea of Judd, being any way, connected with the Cabinet in these times, when honesty in high places is so important. Mr. Lincoln’s great attachment for you, is my present reason for writing. I know, a word from you, will have much effect, for the good of the country, and Mr Lincoln’s future reputation, I believe you will speak to him on this subject & urge him not to give him so responsible a place. It is strange, how little delicacy those Chicago men have. I know, I can rely on what I have written to you, to be kept private. If you consider me intrusive, please excuse me, our country, just now, is above all.”
Chicago Tribune editor Charles H. Ray writes to Massachusetts Gov. John A. Andrew that the nomination of Simon Cameron has been “arrested” but he admits little other knowledge: “I have told you all I know about what is in the line of Mr. Lincoln’s intentions, but let me say that this little does not come directly from Mr. Lincoln himself. I have hardly changed a dozen words with him about his appointments; and I am sure that no friend in Illinois was consulted about the invitation to Cameron. Of late, he is most communicative; and now that his eyes are opened to the fatal character of the mistake that he was about to make, I hope that he will more frequently call to his aid the men who have not his responsibilities and anxieties.
Ray continued: “Every day the man’s purity of intention shines out with new lustre. He has only one desire; and that to so govern the country that its prosperity and happiness may be secured which our great cause is advancing. If he fails, his dislike to say no to friends upon whose judgment he would like to rely and of whose affection, he feels sure will be chargeable with the misfortune. That he is patriotic and honest, and that he will bravely carry forward our flag, I cannot doubt; but more now would do him no harm.”

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Lincoln Discusses Cabinet Appointments

Monday, December 31, 1860

Lincoln again meets with Edward Bates – but alone. Bates writes in his diary: “Had two long conversations with L[incoln] in the forenoon and afternoon, in the course of which he showed me a number of letters from eminent Republicans at the East, and I was surprised to find that some of those [came from men] whom I had thought the most ultra – Among the letters were several from Mr. Seward. He goes as far as any one I have yet seen, in liberality in the filling of the Cabinet. He recommends that two or three Bell men be taken, and gives the names of some that would be acceptable to him viz Scott of Va., [William A.] Graham, [John A.]Gilmer (and another, whose name I have forgotten) and one in Tenn: perhaps [Thomas A.R.] Nelson –

“I knew that Mr. L. felt himself under a sort of necessity to offer Mr. Seward the State Department, and suppose that he did it in the hope that Mr. S[eward] wd. decline. But Mr. S. in a brief note says that after consultation with and advice of friends, he accepts. I [think] this is unfortunate, and [that it] will complicate Mr. L[incoln]’s difficulties. Not that Mr. Seward personally, is not, eminently qualified for the place, in talents, Knowledge, experience and urbanity of manners; but, at the South, whether justly or unjustly, there is a bitter prejudice against him; they consider him the embodiment of all they deem odious in the Republican party. And at the North and in the N.[orth] W.[est] there is a powerful fraction of the Repu[ublica]n. party that fears and almost hates him – especially in N.Y.

Bates wrote: “Seeing Mr. L[incoln]’s difficulties in filling his cabinet, I told him, most candidly, that I was ready to relieve him, as far as possible – that I had not agreed to take office, except as a painful duty, and that if he could fill the places without me, it would be a relief rather than a disappointment. He answered promptly – ‘No I cant [sic] do better than that – that State cant [sic] be pulled up.’:

Lincoln writes a letter to Simon Cameron which he will soon come to regret and attempt to retract: “I think fit to notify you now, that by your permission, I shall, at the proper time, nominate you to the U.S. Senate, for confirmation as Secretary of the Treasury, or as Secretary of War — which of the two, I have not yet definitely decided.”

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Lincoln Meets Bates & Cameron

Sunday, December 30, 1860

President Lincoln had invited both Simon Cameron and Edward Bates to meet with him. After dinner, Bates ran into Lincoln and Cameron at Cameron’s hotel room “ and had a sort of general conversation for some two hours,” wrote Bates in his diary. “I did not find out what brought Senator Cameron to Springfield. It is generally surmised however, that he is a strong candidate of [for] Sec.y. of the Treasury. I found him pleasant enough in conversation, but rather reticent about politics and parties. There was nothing private or confidential between us, and I suppose he did not wish me to know the object of his visit – our meeting there was accidental.”

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Bates Decides to Accept

Sunday, December 16, 1860

“Got home this morning to breakfast…from a hasty visit to Springfield, to see Mr. Lincoln, for the first time since his election,” wrote Edward Bates the day after his meeting with the president-elect. “I found him free in his communications and candid in his manner. He assured me that from the time of his nomination, his determination was, in case of success, to invite me into the Cabinet – and, in fact was so complimentary as to say that my participation in the administration, he considered necessary to its complete success.

“He did not attempt to disguise the difficulties in the way of forming a Cabinet, so as at once to be satisfactory to himself, acceptable to his party, and not specially offensive to the more conservative of his party adversaries. He is troubled about Mr. Seward; feeling that he is under moral, or at least party duress, to tender to Mr. S[eward] the first place in the Cabinet. By position he seems to be entitled to it, and if refused, that would excite bad feeling, and lead to a dangerous if not fatal rupture of the party …

“He said that if this difficulty were out of the way, he would at once offer me the State Department – but failing that, eh woudl offer me the Atty. generalship, and urge my acceptance.

“He did not state, and I did not choose to press him to state, who would probably fill the other Departments, or any of them. Inde[e]d, I suppose he does not yet know – so much depends on Mr. Seward’s position, and upon the daily-changing phases of political affairs.
“He assured me however, that I am the only man that he desired in the Cabinet, to whom he has yet spoke a [or] write a word, about their own appointments[.]

“I told Mr. with all frankness, that if peace and order prevailed in the country, and the Government could be carried on quietly, I would decline a place in the Cabinet, as I did in 1850 – and for the same reasons. But now, I am not at liberty to consult my own interests and wishes…And that, therefore, and as matter of duty, I accepted his invitation, and in that view, would take either office in which he might think I would be most useful.

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Bates Meets Lincoln about Becoming Attorney General

Edward Bates

Saturday, December 15, 1860

Future Attorney General Edward Bates of Missouri visits President-elect Lincoln in Springfield. Lincoln’s secretary noted that Bates ” came to Mr. Lincoln’s room at about 9 A.M. entering with very profuse civilities and apologies for having come before Mr. Lincoln’s hour. (He had not yet come from home.) He said that when Mr. Blair informed him that Mr. Lincoln designed visiting him, he had at once replied that he would not think of permitting that to be done, but that it was his duty to wait upon the President-elect, etc. etc. (His flow of words in conversation is very genial and easy, seeming at first to verge upon extreme politeness, but soon becoming very attractive.” Secretary John G. Nicolay recorded: “Their meeting (they had an acquaintance of eight years’ standing) was very cordial; and the ordinary conversation being over, Mr. Lincoln entered at once upon the important subject matter of the interview.”

“Without further prelude Mr. Lincoln went on to tell him that he had desired this interview to say to him that since the day of the Chicago nomination it had been his purpose, in case of success, unless something should meantime occur which would make it necessary to change his decision, to tender him (Bates) one of the places in the Cabinet. Nothing having occurred to make a change of purpose necessary (he had waited thus long to be enabled to act with caution, and in view of all the circumstances of the case) he now offered him the appointment.

“He said in doing this, he did not desire to burden him with one of the drudgery offices. Some of Mr. Bates

“He had not yet communicated with Mr. Seward, and did not know whether he would accept the appointment, as there had been some doubts expressed about his doing so. He would probably know in a few days. He therefore could not now offer him (Bates) the State Department, but would offer him what he supposed would be most congenial, and for which he was certainly in every way qualified – the Attorney Generalship.

“Mr. Bates replied by saying that until a very few days ago he had received no word or hint even, that any of his friends had made any such application in his behalf. He expressed himself highly gratified at the confidence which Mr. Lincoln manifested in him by the offer just made. He alluded to the fact that ten years ago he had declined a similar offer made by Mr. Fillmore. Were the country in the same condition in which it was then – were things going along in quiet and smoothness – no inducement would tempt him to assume the duties of such a position. But the case was different. The country was in trouble and danger, and he felt it his duty to sacrifice his personal inclinations, and, if he could, to contribute his labor and influence to the restoration of peace in, and the preservation of, his country.

“Mr. Lincoln expressed himself highly gratified at his determination.

“Much further conversation was had both during the morning and in the afternoon when Mr. Lincoln called on him again at the hotel. Their views were very frankly and fully exchanged.

“Mr. Bates’s conversation shows him to be inflexibly opposed to secession and strongly in favor of maintaining the Government by force if necessary. He forcibly illustrated his temper by saying that he is a man of peace and will defer fighting as long as possible; but that if forced to do so against his will, he has made it a rule never to fire blank cartridges.’

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