Charles Gordon Ames.

Stand by the President! online

. (page 1 of 2)
Online LibraryCharles Gordon AmesStand by the President! → online text (page 1 of 2)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook







c:f cx±<5-<DX±^i<rj^T:

MARCH 6. 1'863.



•' Ltit it alwafyg he remembered to your praise, and as an instructive example in our annals, that under
ftreumstaniesirCtehichthe ramom, agitated in every direction, were liable to mislead, amidst appearances
fometimesthibiow, vicisitiivdes of fortune often discouragino, in fituations in which not tnifreiiuently want of
fticcets has cowiiennnced the spirit of criticism, the ccnstancy of your support teas the essential prop of the
tforls, and a guaranty of the plans by which they were effected."— Washington's Farewell Address.





" As Commander in Chief of the Army and Wauy^ in time of
vjar^ 1 suppose J have a right to take any measure which. 7nay
"best subdue the enetnyP — Abraham Lincoln, God bless him !

"And the hands of the President, tlie chosen aud only head of
the nation, must be strengthened by the people. He is striving in
this hour of peril, Avith all his strength to save the country. Let the
people pledge to him their most generous confidence and support

and not turn from him in coldness or palsy his efforts with a

feble and half confidence. Pledge, then, to the President, the lives
and fortunes of an united people. Let him be sustained and carried
in triumph through the struggle. His patriotism and self-sacriiice
deserve it — our duty demands it." — " Call " for a Convention of
Massachusetts Conservatives, Sept. 1862.


My Countrymen and Brothees: — I desire to speak to you a
word of encouragement. I believe there is no good reason to
despair of the Republic. To be sure, the war has lain bare our
weak points, and lias disclosed an uncalculated amount of corrup-
tion among our people ; but it has also developed a sterling
bravery and patriotism, and given us a marvellous consciousness
of power. We are learning wisdom from our own folly ; learning
success fiom our own failures, even as children learn to walk by
stumbling. And the furnace-fires of our great trial are slowly
purifying us of our silly selfishness and partisan bitterness.

We have at last touched bottom. We know the depth of our
difficulties; we have measured the extent of our dangers. We
have found out the magnitude of the Rebellion : it is great, but it
can never be greater, and it is already perceptibly shrivelling.
We have taken the gauge of its pow^er ; we know what work is
before us; we can fully count the cost; and we may as well settle
down to the war as a man goes to a day's work.

We were never so strong as to-day. We have found no limit to
our resources, nor to our recuperative power under disaster. We
have money ; we have munitions ; we have men ; and, above all,
thank God we have a righteous cause. We are the appointed
guardians of Liberty and Law; we are the trustees of the natural
rights of mankind ; we are the body-guard of Christian civilization ;
and, for these high and holy services, we hold a commission from

And I trust v:e are getting our eyes open, so that we see the
folly of wasting, in quarrels Avith each other and with our rulers,
that strength which is needed for the common cause — for the
overthrow of murderous treason, and the establishment of rightful
authority. The true base for the operations of our armies is in
the hearts of the people ; and we can serve the country, or we can
betray it, through the newspapers, in legislative halls, in our public
meetings, and on the streets, as really as in field or Cabinet. ^ A
man can help to save his country at home ; and he can be a traitor,
too, without going South. The available force of the Rebellion
comprises all who sympathize with it, wherever found; just as
the army of the Union comprises all the loyal souls in the Union.
For our safety and success, v\^e must, like our brave brothers in
arms, stand shoulder to shoulder, heart to heart, seconding and
supporting our leaders by every righteous means in our power.

Let us not delude ourselves with the distracting and pernicious
foolery which teaches that the country is to be saved, or can be
saved, in some other way than by co-operating with the existing
administration in the work of subduing the Rebellion. There
must be unity of action : ^and we can have no rallying center for

that unity except the constitutional authorities of the country.
There must be a head ; and we can have no other head but the
nation's Chief Magistrate and commander. An army must tight
under its general, whoever he may be, or not fight at all. There
can be disgraceful surrender; there can be bloody mutiny; there
can be cowardly desertion ; "But there can be no victory, except
through cordial co-operation with those in authority, and loyal
obedience to orders.

And I hold that the President of the United States, as Com-
mander-in-Chief of the armies and navies of the nation, has a
rightful authority over us all, and a just claim upon our generous
and hearty support in the fearful task which Providence and the
people have assigned him, of restoring the national sovereignty
over the last scjuare inch of the national domain. When he lifted
his manly right hand, and solemnly swore, before earth and
heaven, that he would preserve, protect and defend the Constitu-
tion of these States, he became the representative of us all ; he
consented to eml)ody, in his sole person, the highest magistracy
and executive power of the nation — the collected sovereignty of
the whole people. He swore for us, and on our behalf; and be-
tween us and him there is a covenant of God, to which we form a
party. If there is any meaning in American citizenship, we all
stand pledged, by all that is sacred in loyalty and in honor, to
sustain him in the discharge of his public duties, and in the ad;
ministration of his mighty trust.

The President is no despot ; he is simply a public servant. But
he is clothed with vast authority, not the less ; and this authority,
though delegated by the people for their own use and benefit, is
as real as that of any anointed and crowned monarch ; and is as
much more worthy ot our respect as our popular government is
superior to kingly rule. Disrespect to the authority of the Pres-
ident, therefore, is disrespect to the Constitution which creates his
office ; it is also disrespect to tile people who created that Con-
stitution, and who reaffirmed it in the very act of voting for a
President. We are not living together as a mere debating club ;
we constitute a government ; and every attempt to abridge or
bring into contempt the rightful powers of those who are charged
with executing the functions of that government, or to embarrass
them in the preservation and defense of that government, is an
ofiense against the peace and dignity of the nation, which should
be branded as infamous and punished as criminal.

The right of impeaching a traitorous and perjured President is
uncjucstioncd and unquestionable, as it ought to be ; but we have
no right to exact or expect an impossible perfection in any of our
public servants. An officer keeps good faith with the people —
keeps the spirit and meaning of his oath — when he does the best
he can ; when he performs his duties as he understands them.
Most ofHcers are sworn to discharge their duties " to the best of
their ability"' — a clause which recognizes this just limit of their
obligation and excuses their inevitable and unintentional mistakes.
Men do not become all-wise and all-mighty as soon as we elect
them to public station. Chosen from among ourselves, they are

men of like paasiona and infirmities with ourselves. They are
what we should be, if we had been so unfortunate as to be in their
places : subject to inadvertency, error, the bias of outside influ-
ences and the limitations of all human wisdom and practical know-
ledge. From Washington down, we have never had a perfect
administration and never shall have one.* We have never had a
President who was noc charged by his political enemies with
violating the Coastitutiou; and we never can have, until we all
understand that instrument alike. And yet, probably no nation
was ever blessed with sixteen successive adaiinistratioas which
were, on the whole, so free from deserved reproach, as those of
our sixteen American Presidents. I think nearly all of them have
kept the inaugural oath in good faith and with a good conscience.
(Of course, we must always except the man who was incapable of
good faith, and wlio never had a conscience 1)

Bat I do not think any one of them all was more thoroughly
true and trusty — more loyal and faithful to the Constitution
and to the rights of the people — than ABSAHAii Lincoln. [Deafen-
ing and long continued applause.] I think, also, the impartial
Future — if he can afford to wait for its verdict — will award him
the praise of a practical ability an I a wise sratesmaaship, which
the ungenerous Present denies. Probably we have had but one
or two Presidents who could have navigated the Republio through
this stormy sea of difficulties with a steadier hand than the man
who now sits at the helm.

Mr. Lincoln has serious faults for a Chief Magistrate in troublous
limes. He is over-amiable toward offenders ; else he would have
unhorsed that man McClellan at the beginning of his shameful
career of disobedience to superior orders. He does not read men
well ; else he would never have entrusted important positions to
men of doubtful loyalty. He is sometimes too slow for an emerg-
ency, and so lets the enemy steal a march upon him. And he has
doubtless made serious mistakes, both of omission and commission,
in general policy. Bai^ conceding all this and much more, he ia
nevertheless a great man, a strong, wise, sagacious statesman, an
incarnaricm of patriotism ; of unimpeachable integrity ; of un-
bending hrmness, when once convinced ; of industrious devotion
to duty ; of broad views, taking in the vast future as well as the
present, and the interests of the whole country as well as of the loyal
North. A man less careful in action might have fallen into more
hurtful errors.

No partisan prompting bids me speak in vindication of the ad-
ministration. Nor can it be vindicated from any partisan stand-
point, as it has refused to be guided by partisan considerations.
To advocate its claims upon our confidence and support in the
present struggle has ceased, long ago, to be a partisan matter, aud
has become a part ot patriotism. More deeply than I can toll you,
do 1 feel that the triumph of the nation's cause, and the security

• Joha A'iiEUi called TVaAijgtoa a "d/U." J^:Ti.-sja cbjir^^ed him with ileji^us againut publio
libarcy. Wasbiugion himi«lf, ui hia FarawcU A'Xdctaa, tbaalLs the Americau p^^^ple lur judgiug so
kindly of the imp>:neo:igai 01 nii publie s-jrvio^i, aud adiaits that ''aot uairaqiuudy, \f*ai ol 8U<>wm
ooBQWiMttted th4 fyint of criti«i<m."

of its very life, depend largely on the degree of confidence which
the people repose in their rulers and leaders. An enemy has been
sowing tares among us ; and we have unwittingly hurt our own
cause and given aid and comfort to the rebel conspirators, by a
groundless, wrongful distrust of the Federal Administration — by
a heedless habit of scolding about the President, the Cabinet, and
Congress, as though they were the real conspirators ! — by an un-
generous and unjust way of criticising our public servants, who,
amid untold embarrassments and ever-multiplj'ing difficulties,
have been doing their honest best to work out the country's

We should be candid enough, at least, to make allowance for
these difficulties; difficulties which the administration did not
create, and for the magnitude and multitude of which it is in no
sense responsible. The purest and best government possible to
mankind could be broken down and destroyed, if its own friends
would credit the slanders of its enemies, and join in their accusa-
tions, denunciations and assaults, as we Jiave been foolish enough
to do — magnifying every error and blinding ourselves, by passion
and pre-judgment, to every excellence. Even if the administra-
tion were absolutely faultless in all respects, it would have been
simply impossilvle for it to please such a whimsical and distracted •
people as we are. In the rush and excitement of a stormy time,
w^e have become unreasonable, ^\''hat could be more unreasona-
ble than to charge the disorders of the country upon those who are
doing their utmost to heal them ' So we have let our own hys-
terics disqualify us for judging justly of either men or measures.
The more I study our public affairs, and the more I ponder
over our recent history, the deeper is my conviction that the
present administration has suffered the greatest injustice at the
hands of the people, both for what it has done and for what it has
not done. Let me recall to your minds the circumstances under
which this administration took possession and charge of the
machinery of government.

When Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated — two years and two
days ago — secession had already commenced; and the policy of
letting the Union go to pieces without attempting to maintain the
federal authority — the policy of letting the rebels have every thing
their own way, and even of helping them to seize the guns of the
Union and turn them against the Union — was already the estab-
lislied order, or disorder, of things ; the fatal precedent having
been fixed upon us through the weakness and wickedness of a
man who was not ashamed to call himself " the last President of
the United States." Northern Democratic leaders and presses —
deeply embittered by their recent political defeat, and half ready
to disavow allegiance to a President whom their party did not
elect — were openlj'- and violently opposed to all attempts at co-
ercing seceded States. The Southern planting interest might
combine to coerce the Soutliern loyalists- -might rob, and imprison,
and slioot, and stab, and hang and burn all who bore true and
faithful allegiance to the Constitution of their country — might
seize the national property, drive out the federal judges, and pro-

claim beforehand its intention to capture and hold the federal
capital and dictate terms to the remaining States— but there mus^
be no coercion used in maintaining the federal authority! And
6ome of these men declared that if troops were raised in the North
for such a purpose, such troops should never reach MaRon and
Dixon's line ^vithout marching over dead bodies! The rebels
were thus encouraged to believe that nearly half the people of the
North would justify, if not assist them, in throwing off the author-
ity of the new President, and asserting themselves the masters of
American destiny. And the weakness, cowardice and treachery
of the Buchanan dynasty had disheartened us all. There was
little spirit, courage, hope, or energy in the North. Men's hearts
failed for fear, in looking after the things that were coming upon
the land. The conspirators alone w^ere bold and defiant ; their
reign of terror not only suffocated the Union men of the South,
but also overshadowed the continent.

Barely escaping assassination, the new President sat down
gloomily in the empty mansion, with an empty treasury, a swarm
of traitors in all offices, spies about his very person, the atmos-
phere of Washington hissing with venomous secession serpents.
His first work was to organize his administration — a work always
difficult and delicate, now doubly so on account of the general
distraction and dangers. Before he had time to complete the
appointments, the thunder of rebel cannon startled the whole
nation. Seventy devoted men, shut up in Fort Sumter, besieged
by seven thousand rebels, and by starvation, were forced to sur-

Thus war began by the act of the South. That sovereignty
which the President had sworn to protect and defend was assailed
by force of arms. But his hands v\^ere tied. The nation owned
forty-two ships of war: all but six of them had been purposely
sent beyond his reach, cruising in the Mediterranean and other
distant waters. The nation had a small standing army of some
twenty regiments. They were away to the Kocky Mountains and
beyond. Washington itself was menaced on every side, and the
Plug Ugiies of Baltimore needed but a word to stir them to deeds
of horror.

What if Abraham Lincoln had been a coward then ?

He calmly appealed to the loyal masses of the country, saying,
"This is your government as much as mine. I have sworn to
defend it,' and I shall try. Give me men and means!" Then
came that sublimest scene in our annals, which a friendly French-
man has called ''• The uprising of a Great People." O it was a
spectacle for the ages! There were heroic periods of Roman and
Grecian history, and there have been stirring events in the life of
many another nation ; but you and I have lived, and are still living,
in a peerless time !

The President committed the safety and honor of the IvepubUc
to the people; and the cold, dying embers of hope in their hearts,
swept by tiie breath of patriotism, glowed like living coals of fire.
The men of the North rushed to arms, and to the rescue, with a


unanimity which seemed to indicate that political animosities and
old party fends were buried and foro'otten. The cowardly sympa-
thizers with treason in these free States were awed into silence,
and not a dog wagged his tongue except to give in a professed
adhesion to tlie loyal cause with well dissembled insincerity. I
never trusted these men; I always felt that they were as snakes in
the grass ; I continually expected just what has since taken place : —
a cunning, sneaking, hypocritical, diabolical attempt to assasinate
the government by stabbing it in the back, while the bolder, man-
lier foe should strike in front. But alas ! I did not dream that
such multitudes of loyal men would be hoodwinked into aliance
and dalliance with them ; nor that so many of us would ever be
found foolishly playing into their hands, by slandering our own
rulers out of the confidence of the people.

But from that day to this, the administration has steadil}-,
honestly, and earnestly, pursued its original purpose of putting-
down the rebellion and restoring the federal authority. And,
with all our complaining, it has moved far on in the path toward
ultimate euccesB. See Vvdiat has been accomplished! Beginning
without an army — Vv'ithout guns, accoutrements, means of trans-
portation, tents, or comm.issariat, and, what was worse, beginning
without experience in any of these matters, imd with much of the
best educated military talent arrayed on the rebel side ; it has
raised, equipped, mobilized, and found means of sustaining an
aggregate of nearly a million soldiers, who, with all their just and
grievous grounds of complaint in many cases, have been better
paid, belter fed, better clothed, and better cared for when sick and
wounded, than was ever an army of similar dimensions before
since the world was made.

Beginning with so small a fleet, it has created a navy of more
than four hundred vessels, including an iron-clad flotilla outnum-
bering all the wooden war-ships we had two years ago, so that
America " rules the waves" — the wonder and dread of all unfriend-
ly nations.

Beginning tvith a people of no military habits or tastes — with a
people who never felt the burden of government, and who hardly
knew that they had a country — a people chiefly devoted to the
dollar and far more intent on private advantages than on the
public welfare — it has made us a nation of soldiers, capable of
giving and taking the hardest blows of war; and it has put us
well on the way to become also a nation of Spartan patriots.

"True," says an objector, "the administration has got together a
multitude of soldiers; but it has made miserable work of organ-
izing and managing tiiem." I answer, this was an unavoidable
consequence, considering the material with which the government
had to deah In officering so large an army, and in organizing it
by joint action with the governors of twenty states, was it to be
expected that no unworthy men would receive commissions?
There might have been wiser selections ; but only through the
terrible trial by battle could real merit be discovered: only thus
could cowardice and incompetence be made manifest. Slowly
and at terrible cost, we are finding out and weeding out the un-
worthy officers. The process is exceedingly delicate and diflicult ;


and it is not unattended with danger that worse ones may be put
in their places ; but the path of imprOTement is now fairly
entered upon, and every day adds something to the efficiency of
onr legions.

There is an apolog}^ for the appointment of unworthy men to
both civil and military positions, which it shames me to present.
Commissions are given to men because they show good recom-
mendations. How should a Presitlent or governor know that the
applicant is unworthy, when prominent and respectable citizens
are his vouchers ? And if a knave or a fool get a commission on
the s.rength of your testimonials or mine, who is most to blame?
Two conditions are necessary to secure an honest administration
of onr government, viz., An honest President, and an honest peo-
ple. Gentlemen, we have the honest, President; but do not tell
me the people are honest, so long as they knowingly help unwor-
thy men into places of power and trust.

There is laxity and disorder in the army ; there is recklessness,
waste and fraud in the civil departments ; and I am ready to say
it is a shame that the President doesn't " strike somebod}''" for
these things, and insist on a purib'cation and a straightening.
But then I am compelled to consider the enormous weight of
cares which press upon him ; the prodigious multiplicity of details
involved in carrying forward such complicated operations over so
wide an extent of territory ; the chances that in employing so
many agents to perform such various business there will be some
unlit and some unfaithful. The remedy is partly with the Pres-
ident, partly with the heads of departments, partly with the field
commanders, still more with tiie people. When we become intel-
ligent and virtuous, matters will move more smoothly. Till then
no power out of heaven can save us, and no power in heaven
save us, from jars and jargons, disorders and disasters. As
for the President, poor man 1 he has never learned to split rails
without beetle and wedges ; and with knotty, gnarly, cross-grained
timber and bad tools, the work must go slowly, and the rails, when
split, must be as crooked and unhandsome as himself.

Consider in another aspect the kind of material with which the
administration has be^n obliged to deal, and you will see good
cause to think gently of its errors, and to speak well of its work.
Perhaps no man was ever endowed with a higher or more active
sense of general justice than Mr. Lincoln. He could never be
the President of a party nor of a section ; and those who so con-
sider him have surely mistaken their own prejudices for proofs.
He is perpetually conscious of his obligation to the whole coun-
try and to all classes of its people ; and he respects and wishes to
serve every community and every man — every local and separate
interest, as well as the general mass. This is one of the strongest
points in his character. There are a few dozen "born democrats"
in the country; and he is one of the intensest kind. He reverences
the rights of all, and wishes to promote the welfare of all, so far
as circumstances will permit, i wish he had more of that kind
of individuality and Jacksonian independence which would enable
him to impress himself upon the nation's character and life, so


that we could all look to him as a fountain of both policy and
power; but no! his own sense of justice forbids, because this
would then be his oovernment and not ours. It is in his very
nature and his conscience to look to the people, and to ask what
is their will, that he may be their servant. So he consents to
consult those who hold every phase of opinion, with a view to
conciliate and gratify tliem so far as possible. Not from timidity ;
not from weakness, or want of will ; not because he has no mind
of his own; not because he is easily influenced, as some wrongly


Online LibraryCharles Gordon AmesStand by the President! → online text (page 1 of 2)