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says of secession for the purpose of preserving the institution of
slavery:

"You complain that under the government of the United States your
slaves have from time to time escaped across your borders and have
not been returned to you. Their value as property has been lessened
by the fact that adjoining your Slave States were certain States
inhabited by people who did not believe in your institution. How is
this condition going to be changed by war even under the assumption
that the war may be successful in securing your independence? Your
slave territory will still adjoin territory inhabited by free men
who are inimical to your institution; but these men will no longer
be bound by any of the restrictions which have obtained under the
Constitution. They will not have to give consideration to the rights
of slave-owners who are fellow-citizens. Your slaves will escape as
before and you will have no measure of redress. Your indignation may
produce further wars, but the wars can but have the same result
until finally, after indefinite loss of life and of resources, the
institution will have been hammered out of existence by the
inevitable conditions of existing civilisation."

Lincoln points out further in this same address the difference between
his responsibilities and those of the Southern leaders who are
organising for war. "You," he says, "have no oath registered in Heaven
to destroy this government, while I have the most solemn oath to
preserve, direct, and defend it."

"It was not necessary," says Lincoln, "for the Constitution to
contain any provision expressly forbidding the disintegration of the
state; perpetuity and the right to maintain self-existence will be
considered as a fundamental law of all national government. If the
theory be accepted that the United States was an association or
federation of communities, the creation or continued existence of
such federation must rest upon contract; and before such contract
can be rescinded, the consent is required of both or of all of the
parties assenting to it."

He closes with the famous invocation to the fellow Americans of the
South against whom throughout the whole message there had not been one
word of bitterness or rancour: "We are not enemies but friends. We must
not be enemies. Though passion may have strained our relations, it must
not break our bonds of affection."

It was, however, too late for argument, and too late for invocations of
friendship. The issue had been forced by the South and the war for which
the leaders of the South had for months, if not for years, been making
preparation was now to be begun by Southern action. It remained to make
clear to the North, where the people up to the last moment had been
unwilling to believe in the possibility of civil war, that the nation
could be preserved only by fighting for its existence. It remained to
organise the men of the North into armies which should be competent to
carry out this tremendous task of maintaining the nation's existence.

It was just after the great inaugural and when his head must have been
full of cares and his hands of work, that Lincoln took time to write a
touching little note that I find in his correspondence. It was addressed
to a boy who had evidently spoken with natural pride of having met the
President and whose word had been questioned:

"The White House, March 18, 1861.

"I did see and talk in May last at Springfield, Illinois, with
Master George Edward Patten."

With the beginning of the work of the administration, came trouble with
the members of the Cabinet. The several secretaries were, in form at
least, the choice of the President, but as must always be the case in
the shaping of a Cabinet, and as was particularly necessary at a time
when it was of first importance to bring into harmonious relations all
of the political groups of the North which were prepared to be loyal to
the government, the men who took office in the first Cabinet of Lincoln
represented not any personal preference of the President, but political
or national requirements. The Secretary of State, Mr. Seward, had, as we
know, been Lincoln's leading opponent for the Presidential nomination
and had expressed with some freedom of criticism his disappointment that
he, the natural leader of the party, should be put to one side for an
uncultivated, inexperienced Westerner. Mr. Seward possessed both
experience and culture; more than this, he was a scholar, and came of a
long line of gentlefolk. He had public spirit, courage, legitimate
political ambition, and some of the qualities of leadership. His nature
was, however, not quite large enough to stand the pressure of political
disappointment nor quite elastic enough to develop rapidly under the
tremendous urgency of absolutely new requirements. It is in evidence
that more than once in the management of the complex and serious
difficulties of the State Department during the years of war, Seward
lost his head. It is also on record that the wise-minded and fair-minded
President was able to supply certain serious gaps and deficiencies in
the direction of the work of the Department, and further that his
service was so rendered as to save the dignity and the repute of the
Secretary. Seward's subjectivity, not to say vanity, was great, and it
took some little time before he was able to realise that his was not the
first mind or the strongest will-power in the new administration. On the
first of April, 1861, less than thirty days after the organisation of
the Cabinet, Seward writes to Lincoln complaining that the "government
had as yet no policy; that its action seemed to be simply drifting";
that there was a lack of any clear-minded control in the direction of
affairs within the Cabinet, in the presentation to the people of the
purposes of the government, and in the shaping of the all-important
relations with foreign states. "Who," said Seward, "is to control the
national policy?" The letter goes on to suggest that Mr. Seward is
willing to take the responsibility, leaving, if needs be, the credit to
the nominal chief. The letter was a curious example of the weakness and
of the bumptiousness of the man, while it gave evidence also, it is fair
to say, of a real public-spirited desire that things should go right and
that the nation should be saved. It was evident that he had as yet no
adequate faith in the capacity of the President.

Lincoln's answer was characteristic of the man. There was no irritation
with the bumptiousness, no annoyance at the lack of confidence on the
part of his associate. He states simply: "There must, of course, be
control and the responsibility for this control must rest with me." He
points out further that the general policy of the administration had
been outlined in the inaugural, that no action since taken had been
inconsistent with this. The necessary preparations for the defence of
the government were in train and, as the President trusted, were being
energetically pushed forward by the several department heads. "I have a
right," said Lincoln, "to expect loyal co-operation from my associates
in the Cabinet. I need their counsel and the nation needs the best
service that can be secured from our united wisdom." The letter of
Seward was put away and appears never to have been referred to between
the two men. It saw the light only after the President's death. If he
had lived it might possibly have been suppressed altogether. A month
later, Seward said to a friend, "There is in the Cabinet but one vote
and that is cast by the President."

The post next in importance under the existing war conditions was that
of Secretary of War. The first man to hold this post was Simon Cameron
of Pennsylvania. Cameron was very far from being a friend of Lincoln's.
The two men had had no personal relations and what Lincoln knew of him
he liked not at all. The appointment had been made under the pressure of
the Republicans of Pennsylvania, a State whose support was, of course,
all important for the administration. It was not the first nor the last
time that the Republicans of this great State, whose Republicanism seems
to be much safer than its judgment, have committed themselves to
unworthy and undesirable representatives, men who were not fitted to
stand for Pennsylvania and who were neither willing nor able to be of
any service to the country. The appointment of Cameron had, as appears
from the later history, been promised to Pennsylvania by Judge Davis in
return for the support of the Pennsylvania delegation for the nomination
of Lincoln. Lincoln knew nothing of the promise and was able to say with
truth, and to prove, that he had authorised no promises and no
engagements whatsoever. He had, in fact, absolutely prohibited Davis and
the one or two other men who were supposed to have some right to speak
for him in the convention, from the acceptance of any engagements or
obligations whatsoever. Davis made the promise to Pennsylvania on his
own responsibility and at his own risk; Lincoln felt under too much
obligation to Davis for personal service and for friendly loyalty to be
willing, when the claim was finally pressed, to put it to one side as
unwarranted. The appointment of Cameron was made and proved to be
expensive for the efficiency of the War Department and for the repute of
the administration. It became necessary within a comparatively short
period to secure his resignation. It was in evidence that he was
trafficking in appointments and in contracts. He was replaced by Edwin
M. Stanton, who was known later as "the Carnot of the War." Stanton's
career as a lawyer had given him no direct experience of army affairs.
He showed, however, exceptional ability, great will power, and an
enormous capacity for work. He was ambitious, self-willed, and most
arbitrary in deed and in speech. The difficulty with Stanton was that he
was as likely to insult and to browbeat some loyal supporter of the
government as to bring to book, and, when necessary, to crush, greedy
speculators and disloyal tricksters. His judgment in regard to men was
in fact very often at fault. He came into early and unnecessary conflict
with his chief and he found there a will stronger than his own. The
respect of the two men for each other grew into a cordial regard. Each
recognised the loyalty of purpose and the patriotism by which the
actions of both were influenced. Lincoln was able to some extent to
soften and to modify the needless truculency of the great War Secretary,
and notwithstanding a good deal of troublesome friction, armies were
organised and the troops were sent to the front.

The management of the Treasury, a responsibility hardly less in
importance under the war conditions than that of the organisation of the
armies, was placed in the hands of Senator Chase. He received from his
precursor an empty treasury while from the administration came demands
for immediate and rapidly increasing weekly supplies of funds. The task
came upon him first of establishing a national credit and secondly of
utilising this credit for loans such as the civilised world had not
before known. The expenditures extended by leaps and bounds until by the
middle of 1864 they had reached the sum of $2,000,000 a day. Blunders
were made in large matters and in small, but, under the circumstances,
blunders were not to be avoided and the chief purpose was carried out. A
sufficient credit was established, first with the citizens at home and
later with investors abroad, to make a market for the millions of bonds
in the two great issues, the so-called seven-thirties and
five-twenties. The sales of these bonds, together with a wide-reaching
and, in fact, unduly complex system of taxation, secured the funds
necessary for the support of the army and the navy. At the close of the
War, the government, after meeting this expenditure, had a national war
debt of something over four thousand millions of dollars. The gross
indebtedness resulting from the War was of course, however, much larger
because each State had incurred war expenditures and counties as well as
States had issued bonds for the payment of bounties, etc. The criticism
was made at the time by the opponents of the financial system which was
shaped by the Committee of Ways and Means in co-operation with the
Secretary, a criticism that has often been repeated since, that the War
expenditure would have been much less if the amounts needed beyond what
could be secured by present taxation had been supplied entirely by the
proceeds of bonds. In addition, however, to the issues of bonds, the
government issued currency to a large amount, which was made legal
tender and which on the face of it was not made subject to redemption.

In addition to the bills ranging in denomination from one dollar to one
thousand, the government brought into distribution what was called
"postal currency." I landed in New York in August, 1862, having returned
from a University in Germany for the purpose of enlisting in the army. I
was amused to see my father make payment in the restaurant for my first
lunch in postage stamps. He picked the requisite number, or the number
that he believed would be requisite, from a ball of stamps which had,
under the influence of the summer heat, stuck together so closely as to
be very difficult to handle. Many of the stamps were in fact practically
destroyed and were unavailable. Some question arose between the
restaurant keeper and my father as to the availability of one or two of
the stamps that had been handed over. My father explained to me that
immediately after the outbreak of the War, specie, including even the
nickels and copper pennies, had disappeared from circulation, and the
people had been utilising for the small change necessary for current
operations the postage stamps, a use which, in connection with the large
percentage of destruction, was profitable to the government, but
extravagant for the community. A little later, the postal department was
considerate enough to bring into print a series of postage stamps
without any gum on the back. These could, of course, be handled more
easily, but were still seriously perishable. Towards the close of the
year, the Treasury department printed from artistically engraved plates
a baby currency in notes of about two and a half inches long by one and
a half inches wide. The denominations comprised ten cents, fifteen
cents, twenty-five cents, fifty cents, and seventy-five cents. The
fifteen cents and the seventy-five cents were not much called for, and
were probably not printed more than once. They would now be scarce as
curiosities. The postal currency was well printed on substantial paper,
but in connection with the large requirement for handling that is always
placed upon small currency, these little paper notes became very dirty
and were easily used up. The government must have made a large profit
from the percentage that was destroyed. The necessary effect of this
distribution of government "I.O.U.'s," based not upon any redemption
fund of gold but merely upon the general credit of the government, was
to appreciate the value of gold. In June, 1863, just before the battle
of Gettysburg, the depreciation of this paper currency, which
represented of course the appreciation of gold, was in the ratio of 100
to 290. It happened that the number 290, which marked the highest price
reached by gold during the War, was the number that had been given in
Laird's ship-yard (on the Mersey) to the Confederate cruiser _Alabama_.

Chase was not only a hard-working Secretary of the Treasury but an
ambitious, active-minded, and intriguing politician. He represented in
the administration the more extreme anti-slavery group. He was one of
those who favoured from the beginning immediate action on the part of
the government in regard to the slaves in the territory that was still
controlled by the government. It is doubtless the case that he held
these anti-slavery views as a matter of honest conviction. It is in
evidence also from his correspondence that he connected with these views
the hope and the expectation of becoming President. His scheming for the
nomination for 1864 was carried on with the machinery that he had at his
disposal as Secretary of the Treasury. The issues between Chase and
Seward and between Chase and Stanton were many and bitter. The pressure
on the part of the conservative Republicans to get Chase out of the
Cabinet was considerable. Lincoln, believing that his service was
valuable, refused to be influenced by any feeling of personal antagonism
or personal rivalry. He held on to the Secretary until the last year of
the War, when deciding that the Cabinet could then work more smoothly
without him, he accepted his resignation. Even then, however, although
he had had placed in his hands a note indicating a measure of what might
be called personal disloyalty on the part of Chase, Lincoln was
unwilling to lose his service for the country and appointed him as Chief
Justice.

Montgomery Blair was put into the Cabinet as Postmaster-General more
particularly as the representative of the loyalists of the Border
States. His father was a leader in politics in Missouri, in which the
family had long been of importance. His brother, Frank P. Blair, served
with credit in the army, reaching the rank of Major-General. The Blair
family was quite ready to fight for the Union, but was very unwilling to
do any fighting for the black man. They wanted the Union restored as it
had been, Missouri Compromise and all. It was Blair who had occasion
from time to time to point out, and with perfect truth, that if, through
the influence of Chase and of the men back of Chase in Massachusetts and
northern Ohio, immediate action should be taken to abolish slavery in
the Border States, fifty thousand men who had marched out of those
States to the support of the Union might be and probably would be
recalled. "By a stroke of the pen," said Blair, "Missouri, eastern
Tennessee, western Maryland, loyal Kentucky, now loyally supporting the
cause of the nation, will be thrown into the arms of the Confederacy."
During the first two years of the War, and in fact up to September,
1863, the views of Blair and his associates prevailed, and with the
fuller history before us, we may conclude that it was best that they
should have prevailed. This was, at least, the conclusion of Lincoln,
the one man who knew no sectional prejudices, who had before him all the
information and all the arguments, and who had upon him the pressure
from all quarters. It was not easy under the circumstances to keep peace
between Blair and Chase. Probably no man but Lincoln could have met the
requirement.

The Secretary of the Navy, Gideon Welles, of Connecticut, while not a
man of brilliancy or of great initiative, appears to have done his part
quietly and effectively in the great work of the building and organising
of a new fleet. He contributed nothing to the friction of the Cabinet
and he was from the beginning a loyal supporter of the President. What
we know now about the issues that arose between the different members
of the Cabinet family comes to us chiefly through the Diary of Welles,
who has described with apparent impartiality the idiosyncrasies of each
of the secretaries and whose references to the tact, patience, and
gracefully exercised will-power of the President are fully in line with
the best estimates of Lincoln's character.

One of the first and most difficult tasks confronting the President and
his secretaries in the organisation of the army and of the navy was in
the matter of the higher appointments. The army had always been a
favourite provision for the men from the South. The representatives of
Southern families were, as a rule, averse to trade and there were, in
fact, under the more restricted conditions of business in the Southern
States, comparatively few openings for trading on the larger or
mercantile scale. As a result of this preference, the cadetships in West
Point and the commissions in the army had been held in much larger
proportion (according to the population) by men of Southern birth. This
was less the case in the navy because the marine interests of New
England and of the Middle States had educated a larger number of
Northern men for naval interests. When the war began, a very
considerable number of the best trained and most valuable officers in
the army resigned to take part with their States. The army lost the
service of men like Lee, Johnston, Beauregard, and many others. A few
good Southerners, such as Thomas of Virginia and Anderson of Kentucky,
took the ground that their duty to the Union and to the flag was greater
than their obligation to their State. In the navy, Maury, Semmes,
Buchanan, and other men of ability resigned their commissions and
devoted themselves to the (by no means easy) task of building up a navy
for the South; but Farragut of Tennessee remained with the navy to carry
the flag of his country to New Orleans and to Mobile.

It was easy and natural during the heat of 1861 to characterise as
traitors the men who went with their States to fight against the flag of
their country. Looking at the matter now, forty-seven years later, we
are better able to estimate the character and the integrity of the
motives by which they were actuated. We do not need to-day to use the
term traitors for men like Lee and Johnston. It was not at all unnatural
that with their understanding of the government of the States in which
they had been born, and with their belief that these States had a right
to take action for themselves, they should have decided that their
obligation lay to the State rather than to what they had persisted in
thinking of not as a nation but as a mere confederation. We may rather
believe that Lee was as honest in his way as Thomas and Farragut in
theirs, but the view that the United States is a nation has been
maintained through the loyal services of the men who held with Thomas
and with Farragut.




V

THE BEGINNING OF THE CIVIL WAR


On April 12, 1861, came with the bombardment of Fort Sumter the actual
beginning of the War. The foreseeing shrewdness of Lincoln had resisted
all suggestions for any such immediate action on the part of the
government as would place upon the North the responsibility for the
opening of hostilities. Shortly after the fall of Sumter, a despatch was
drafted by Seward for the guidance of American ministers abroad. The
first reports in regard to the probable action of European governments
gave the impression that the sympathy of these governments was largely
with the South. In France and England, expressions had been used by
leading officials which appeared to foreshadow an early recognition of
the Confederacy. Seward's despatch as first drafted was unwisely angry
and truculent in tone. If brought into publication, it would probably
have increased the antagonism of the men who were ruling England. It
appeared in fact to foreshadow war with England. Seward had assumed that
England was going to take active part with the South and was at once
throwing down the gauntlet of defiance. It was Lincoln who insisted that
this was no time, whatever might be the provocation, for the United
States to be shaking its fist at Europe. The despatch was reworded and
the harsh and angry expressions were eliminated. The right claimed by
the United States, in common with all nations, to maintain its own
existence was set forth with full force, while it was also made clear
that the nation was strong enough to maintain its rights against all
foes whether within or without its boundaries. It is rather strange to
recall that throughout the relations of the two men, it was the trained
and scholarly statesman of the East who had to be repressed for unwise
truculency and that the repression was done under the direction of the
comparatively inexperienced representative of the West, the man who had
been dreaded by the conservative Republicans of New York as likely to
introduce into the national policy "wild and woolly" notions.

In Lincoln's first message to Congress, he asks the following question:
"Must a government be of necessity too strong for the liberties of its
own people or too weak to maintain its own existence? Is there in all
republics this inherent weakness?" The people of the United States were
able under the wise leadership of Lincoln to answer this question "no."
Lincoln begins at once with the public utterances of the first year of


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Online LibraryGeorge Haven PutnamAbraham Lincoln → online text (page 4 of 16)