George Oberkirsh Seilhamer.

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George W. Summers, in much the same way that he was coquetting
with the Southern Confederacy through Justice Campbell. He sought
to make Lincoln a participant, without making him a confidant.
Summers was invited to Washington for a conference, but, pleading-
important business, he sent John B. Baldwin in his place. Baldwin
came with empty hands, and he came too late. While Seward was
giving assurances to Campbell, Lincoln made no pledges to Baldwin.
The President would have been willing to order the evacuation of
Fort Sumter if the Virginia Convention could have been induced to
adjourn without delay. After Baldwin's mission had failed, John
Minor Botts offered to submit the propositions that Seward had so
much at heart, but the President would not consent. A secret expedi-
tion, advised by Seward, was sent to re-enforce and defend Fort Pick-
ens and the other Gulf forts, while the President, wearied at last
with Seward's tortuous recommendations and Quixotic projects, had
learned that he must be President in fact as well as in name, if the
authority of the United States was to be asserted and maintained.

Secretary Seward's course during the first month of President Lin-
coln's administration was a series of the most extraordinary assump-
tions in the history of Constitutional Government. Mr. Seward was
the Pooh Bah of the period the first in peace and the first in war,
and, he was prone to believe, the first in the hearts of his countrymen.


His intrigues with the Southern conspirators, through Southern
Whigs like Campbell and Summers and Baldwin and Botts, re-
sulted in nothing, except the subsequent charge that the Government
had failed to keep faith with the conspiracy. In what he attempted
to do, as well as in what he insisted should not be done, his acts were
as inconsistent as his arguments were illogical. He was urgent for
conciliation, for delay, for the exercise of his own matchless powers
in crushing out conspiracy by finesse. There is no reason to doubt
the sincerity of his belief in himself, in his mission, in his ultimate
triumph. " I have built up the Republican party," was the thought
that dominated him; " I have brought it to triumph; I must save the
party and save the Government. To do this war must be averted;
the negro question must be dropped; the irrepressible conflict ig-
nored, and a Union party to embrace the border slave States created."
He had no doubt of his ability to dominate the President by his tact,
his prestige, the support he would be able to command. Lincoln was
to be a mere puppet in his hands; the other members of the Cabinet
were to be treated as nonentities, who could neither help nor hurt.
Relying on Lincoln's simplicity and inexperience, he sought to
strengthen his influence over the President by a pretended refusal to
accept the State Department. He declined on the 2d of March, and
consented to withdraw his declination on the morning of the 5th.
Lincoln met Seward's craft by a craft subtler than that with which
he was dealing. He made no immediate response, keeping Seward
in doubt from Saturday until Monday, and when he finally wrote his
reply he remarked, " I can't afford to let Seward take the first trick."
He was willing to have Seward stay or go, but he was not willing to
let Seward dictate his Cabinet at the eleventh hour. " Judd," he
said, when he was asked if Winter Davis was to be nominated instead
of Blair, " when the slate breaks again it will break at the top."

It was Blair who was the first to antagonize Seward's peace policy
in the Cabinet. But Seward's policy ruled the hour. Seward was for
publicly proclaiming surrender at Charleston, and secretly preparing
for war at Pensacola and in Texas. He felt himself fully able to di-
rect the operations by land and sea to become, as it were, the gen-
eral of the army and the admiral of the fleet. On the 29th of March,
with the question whether Sumter should be provisioned or evacu-
ated still undecided, the President ordered an expedition to be made
ready at New York, to sail on the 6th of April. Although the Secre-
tary of War and the Secretary of the Navy were directed to co-operate
in preparing the expedition, neither was informed of its object or
designation. The Secretary of State, however, was determined that
it should be his expedition. W T hile Lincoln was made to seem to act



Seward acted. On the same day that the order for the secret expedi-
tion was made he took Captain M. C. Meigs, an engineer officer in
charge of the new wings of the Capitol, to the White House. On the
way he explained his wish that Su niter should be evacuated, but
Pickens defended. His object was to secure the appointment of Meigs
as military commander of the expedition. The President asked Cap-
tain Meigs if Fort Pickens could be held. " Certainly, if the navy
would do its duty," was the answer. Lincoln then asked Meigs if he
would go down there and take command, but Meigs, with the true
instincts of a soldier, pointed out that there was a number of majors
already there, and he was only a captain. " I understand how that is,"
said Seward, decisively; " Captain Meigs must be promoted." As
this was impracticable, Colonel Keyes, General Scott's military secre-
tary, was associated with Seward's
plans. On Sunday, March 31, the
Secretary accompanied the two offi-
cers in a call upon General Scott, in
further pursuance of the great
scheme of military and naval ad-
venture. " General Scott," Seward
said, " you have formally reported
to the President your advice to
evacuate Port Pickens ; notwith-
standing this, I now come to bring
you his order, as Commander-in-
Chief of the Army and Navy, to re-en-
force and hold it to the last extrem-
ity." " Sir," replied the old soldier,
drawing himself up to his full
height, " the great Frederick used
to say ' When the King commands all things are possible.' '

As a naval expert, young and daring, Lieutenant David D. Porter
was ordered to join Keyes and Meigs in preparing and executing the
Seward scheme. The expedition originally ordered by the President
was, in fact, intended for the relief of Sumter. As neither the Secre-
tary of War nor the Secretary of the Navy was taken into the confi-
dence of the astute Secretary of State, the two expeditions naturally
came into conflict. One fine morning the Commandant of the Brook-
lyn Navy Yard received two orders " to fit out the i Powhatan' to go to
sea at the earliest possible moment." These orders seemed identical,
although one was signed by President Lincoln and the other by Secre-
tary Welles. The President intended the " Powhatan " for the Pickens
expedition, and the Navy Department destined her for the relief of



Sumter. But this was not the extent of Seward's intermeddling. On
the same day that Mr. Lincoln signed the order for the "Powhatan,"he
signed other orders, at Mr. Reward's request, that were still more re-
markable. One of them detached Captain Stringham for service at
Pensacola, and the other contemplated the sending of Captain Pen-
dergrast to Vera Cruz, on account of u important complications in our
foreign relations." When the orders reached the Navy Department
in duplicate the gentle Welles was indignant, and he hastened to the
President with fire in his eyes. " What have I done wrong? " Lincoln
asked, playfully, when Welles entered. He had signed them without
reading or understanding them, and he recalled them, but without
giving Welles his confidence in regard to their significance. Mr.
Seward had also submitted to Mr. Lincoln " Some Thoughts for the
President's Consideration." It was in this remarkable paper that he
proposed to change the issue from the impending domestic to an un-
necessary foreign war, and virtually invited the President to abdicate
in his favor. The Don Quixote of American statecraft had reached
the limit of his madness. To his suggestion that either the President
must direct the preposterous policy he proposed " himself, and be all
the time active in it, or devolve it on some member of his Cabinet,"
Mr. Lincoln answered, " If this must be done I must do it." After this
Seward, like his Spanish prototype, was restored to his right mind,
and it was not until after his death that the world learned how acute
had been his aberration.

While the Meigs expedition rendered Fort Pickens secure and saved
Key West and the Tortugas, the attempt to relieve Fort Sumter pre-
cipitated the attack, and compelled the call to arms. With the be-
ginning of the war the political questions that were so important in
Mr. Seward's mind disappeared in the uprising of the nation. It is
unnecessary in this work to follow the fortunes of the struggle in
their military aspects, or to concern ourselves with the routine of
business legislation in Congress. The called session lasted only
twenty-nine working days. In that time seventy-six public acts were
passed, all of them, except four, relating to the military and naval
forces of the Union and the needs of the Government. Only one polit-
ical resolution was adopted a resolution declaring the objects of
the war, in which the purpose not to interfere with slavery in the
States where it existed, that had so often been asserted in vain, was
again reiterated. The act in which provision was made for the for-
feiture of all claim to slaves employed in the military or naval service
against the United States can not be fairly classed as political. Mr.
Lincoln regarded the passage of this act as untimely, and he would,
perhaps, have disapproved of it had it not been that to veto it would


have been equivalent to an admission that the Confederate States
might have the full benefit of the slaves for military purposes.
Secretary Cameron was in advance of both the President and Con-
gress in dealing with slavery in its relations to the war. General
Butler declared the negroes that came into his lines in the Virginia
peninsula " contraband " the origin of the name " Contrabands "
for runaway or captured slaves and as early as May, 1861, Cameron
instructed him not to surrender slaves that came within his lines to
their masters, but to " employ them in the services to which they
may be best adapted." He was not disposed to deal harshly with
General Fremont because of the order, issued in August of the same
year, declaring free the slaves owned by men in the Confederate serv-
ice. This order was annulled by the President. In his first annual
report Cameron advocated arming the slaves for military service, but
was compelled to modify the report by an order of President Lincoln.
Cameron's forced retirement from the Cabinet a few weeks later was
not directly due to this report, but it had its effect in inducing the
President to yield to the strong pressure for his removal.

Lincoln was not disposed to antagonize the powerful element in
the North that was declaiming against a war against slavery, or the
obtrusive sentiment in the army that found so many mouthpieces to
proclaim they were " not fighting for the niggers." But the issue was
one that could not be smothered. It came up in Congress in the win-
ter of 1861-62 in the demand for the abolition of slavery in the District
of Columbia, and notwithstanding the opposition of the border slave
States the bill was passed. In a special message, March 6, 1862, Mr.
Lincoln recommended the passage of a joint resolution looking to co-
operation with States consenting to abolish slavery, with compensa-
tion for the loss of the slaves. At this time Mr. Lincoln would have
consented to the outlay of the vast sum of |400,000,000, if it had suf-
ficed to purchase peace without the disturbing element that had
caused the war. A few months later he became convinced that only
emancipation would render the complete restoration of the Union
possible, and from that time he never wavered from the declared
intentions of his Provisional Proclamation of September 22, 1862, and
the epochal Proclamation of Emancipation of January 1, 1863.

There always was a peace party in the loyal States from the firing on
Sumter until the surrender at Appomattox. In the main the peace
advocates were Democrats, but a few erratic Eepublicans, of whom
Horace Greeley was a type, at times took the same ground. These
two elements reached identical conclusions from diverse premises.
The Peace Democrats wanted slavery preserved the Peace Repub-
licans sought its destruction. These Democrats were willing to pre-


serve slavery without the Union, while the Republicans were willing
to surrender the Union to slavery in order to form a Free Republic.
Both were noisy, but the Peace Democrats were dangerous, while the
Peace Republicans were only amusing. In the elections of 1861 the
peace party w r as not seriously felt. The great body of the Douglas
Democracy united with the Republicans in the autumn elections for a
vigorous prosecution of the war, and the administration was sustained
against the futile efforts of the pro-Slavery Democracy. But in 1862
the outlook was discouraging. The Democracy became aggressive
against an "abolition war," and for a time it seemed as if the Repub-
licans would be routed in every part of the country. In Maine the
majority for Governor was reduced from an absolute majority of
26,694 for Lincoln in 1860 over the combined opposition to a little
over 4,000. This was before the Preliminary Proclamation of Eman-
cipation was issued. In Vermont, on the contrary, the administration
majority greatly exceeded expectations. The October elections were
discouraging. In Ohio the popular majority against the administra-
tion was about seven thousand, and the Democrats elected fourteen
of the nineteen Congressmen. In Indiana the reverse was overwhelm-
ing, the Republicans carrying only three of the eleven Congress Dis-
tricts. In Pennsylvania the Democrats had a majority of four thou-
sand, and one-half of the Representatives in Congress. A Democratic
Legislature was chosen, and Charles R. Buckalew, a Democrat, was
sent to the United States Senate. In New York, in November, Ho-
ratio Seymour was elected Governor over General James S. Wads-
worth, by a majority of nearly ten thousand. New Jersey elected a
Democratic Governor, Joel Parker, while the Republicans carried
only one Congress District. Illinois chose a Democratic Legislature,
and sent William A. Richardson, the Lecompton leader in the
35th Congress, to the United States Senate. In Michigan the reaction
was marked, although not so complete as in Ohio, Indiana, and Illi-
nois. In Massachusetts Governor Andrew was re-elected over Gen-
eral Charles Devens, a Union soldier, who ran as a coalition candidate
against the emancipation policy of the administration; and Iowa,
Kansas, and Minnesota sent unanimous Republican delegations to
the 38th Congress. California and Oregon also proved firm. These
successes, however, failed to counterbalance the disasters in the other
States, and if it had not been for the border slave States the President
would have been confronted by a hostile House of Representatives in
the closing years of the war. Delaware chose a Republican Repre-
sentative, Missouri contributed a majority of its members to the sup-
port of the administration, and in the ensuing year Maryland. West,
Virginia, and Kentucky finally assured a working majority of twenty
in the House.


The defeats in the field were the real causes of the reverses in the
elections. From Bull Run to Antietam the Army of the Potomac had
met with disaster after disaster. With Richmond in sight McClellan
had been driven back in the Seven Days' Fights, and compelled to
.abandon an enterprise that was expected to end the war. Pope was
beaten on the unfortunate battle-ground at Manassas Junction, w T here
the confident Unionists had been so terribly routed the year before.
Lee had boldly thrown the army of Northern Virginia into Maryland,
and had again met McClellan with undaunted courage. It was
doubtful whether the battle of Antietam had been lost or won, but
if it was a victory it was as much a triumph for " Little Mac " and the
Democrats as for Lincoln and the Republicans. As a Republican
victory it contributed nothing to Republican success in the ensuing-
elections, while McCIellan's removal gave deep offense to every man
who still called himself a Democrat, whether citizen or soldier. Even
the " soldier vote " w r as cast against the War party with surprising-
force, and when the 37th Congress met to begin its last session it
looked as if Confederate success was assured, and that a Democratic
House would crown the triumph w T ith terms of surrender that would
meet all the demands of the South.

Still another defeat, as disastrous and humiliating as any that had
gone before it, was to intervene between the elections of 1862 and the
formal promulgation of the Proclamation of Emancipation the utter
discomfiture of Burnside at Fredericksburg. Hooker's failure fol-
lowed when the military campaign opened in the spring of 1803, and
Lee, confident of bringing the war to a close, now again crossed
the Potomac and entered Pennsylvania. In the Southwest Grant
was beleaguering Pemberton at Vicksburg, but the country had not
yet learned to expect much from Grant. Of Meade it knew as little,
and it cared nothing for either. But with the capture of Vicksburg,
and defeat of Lee at Gettysburg, the war was only beginning in its
military aspects, and from that time it meant a complete political
revolution, as well as hard fighting and the destruction of the Con-

When President Lincoln was contemplating the Emancipation
Proclamation he was alike embarrassed by the inconsiderate demands
of the Radicals and the plaintive entreaties of the Conservatives in the
Republican party. The one man who had been a thorn in Lincoln's
side ever since his election was Greeley. Greeley was a great man,
but not a wise one. He was the first to embarrass Lincoln by making
a proposition for which even Buchanan was scarcely then prepared.
" Whenever a considerable section of our Union," he said in the New
York Tribune, only three days after the election of 1860, " shall delib-



erately resolve to get out we shall resist all coercive measures de-
signed to keep it in. We hope never to live in a Eepublic whereof
one section is pinned to another by bayonets." This cry was con-
tinued until the assault on Fort Sumter made coercion no longer an
issue. Then came the " On to Richmond " cry, which ended in dis-
aster and humiliation. Wrong in 1860, and wrong again in 1861,
Greeley was urgent to do the right thing at the wrong time in 1862.
While Lincoln was busy with the Emancipation Proclamation, con-
sulting his Cabinet, and considering it in all its aspects and bearings,
Greeley precipitated himself upon the President in an " Open Letter,"
in which he denounced the Executive for failing to enforce the Con-
fiscation Act of 1861 in " mistaken deference to rebel slavery," and he
accused Lincoln of bowing to " cer-
tain fossil politicians hailing from
the border States," and to army
officers, who " evinced far more so
licitude to uphold slavery than to
put down the rebellion." This let-
ter brought out Lincoln's famous
reply, in which he said that if he
could save the Union without free-
ing any slaves he would do it; that
if he could save it by freeing all
the slaves he would do it; and that
if he could save it by freeing some
and leaving others he would do
that; adding, "What I do about
slavery and the colored race I do
because I believe it helps to save
the Union, and what I forbear I
forbear because I do not believe
it would help to save the Union."

The appeals for Emancipation came from many quarters, and the
pressure was very great, but the opposition was not less strenuous
and determined. The Cabinet was divided. Stanton and Bates were
for its immediate promulgation a month before Greeley's waspish
letter was written, and when Greeley had no knowledge of what was
in the President's mind. Chase was for arming the slaves, and de-
volving the duty of proclaiming emancipation upon the commanding
officers of the army. Seward was for postponement until some im-
portant military success afforded a favorable opportunity. Blair,
with the instincts of a politician, saw in it the loss of the elections.
The politicians almost to a man took sides with the views of the



Postmaster-General when they were able to get Lincoln's ear. The
best statement of the case as it was made from the political stand-
point is that of Alexander K. McClure.

" The most earnest discussions I ever had with Lincoln," he wrote,
" were on the subject of his Emancipation Proclamation. I knew
the extraordinary pressure that came from the more radical element
of the Republican party, embracing a number of its ablest leaders,
such as Sunmer, Chase, Wade, Chandler, and others, but I did not
know, and few were permitted to know, the importance of an Eman-
cipation policy in restraining the recognition of the Confederacy by
France and England. I was earnestly opposed to an Emancipation
Proclamation by the President. For some weeks before it was issued
I saw Lincoln frequently, and in several instances sat with him for
hours at a time after the routine business of the day had been disposed
of and the doors of the White House were closed. I viewed the issue
solely from a political standpoint, and certainly had the best of
reasons for the views I pressed upon Lincoln, assuming that political
expediency should control his action. I reminded him that the
proclamation would not liberate a single slave; that the Southern
armies must be overthrown, and that the territory held by them must
be conquered by military success before it could be made effective.
To this Lincoln answered : ' It seems like the Pope's bull against the
comet '; but that was the most he ever said in any of his conversa-
tions to indicate that he might not issue it. I appealed to him to
issue a military order, as Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy,
proclaiming that every slave of a rebellious owner should be forever
free when brought within our lines. Looking simply to practical re-
sults, that would have accomplished everything that the Emancipa-
tion Proclamation achieved; but it was evident during all these dis-
cussions that Lincoln viewed the question from a very much higher
standpoint than I did, although, as usual, he said but little and gave no
clew to the bent of his mind on the subject. I reminded Lincoln that
political defeat would be inevitable in the great States of the Union
in the elections soon to follow if he issued the Emancipation Procla-
mation; that New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana,
and Illinois would undoubtedly vote Democratic and elect Demo-
cratic delegations to the next Congress. He did not dispute my judg-
ment as to the political effect of the proclamation, but I never left
him with any reasonable hope that I had seriously impressed him on
the subject."

It is a fitting acknowledgment that Mr. McClure made after many
years that Lincoln rose to the sublimest duty of his life while he
(McClure) " was pleading the mere expedient of a day against a


record for human freedom that must be immortal while liberty has
worshipers in any land or clime."

While President Lincoln was anxiously considering the question
of emancipation, the utterances of the Democratic conventions in
many of the States were peculiarly bitter and rancorous. In Penn-
sylvania, in 1862, the Democratic State Convention described the Re-
publicans as " the party of fanaticism, or crime, whichever it may be
called." After more than a year of war, opposition to slavery was still
more criminal than secession and disunion for slavery. The hysterical
declarations of that time, that " the party of fanaticism or crime,
whichever it may be called, that seeks to turn loose the slaves of the
Southern States to overrun the North and enter into competition with
the white laboring masses, thus degrading their manhood by placing
them on an equality with negroes," was " insulting to our race "; that
" this is a government of white men and was established exclusively
for the w T hite race "; and that " the negroes are not entitled to and

Online LibraryGeorge Oberkirsh SeilhamerHistory of the Republican party (Volume 1) → online text (page 13 of 61)