L. E. (Lucius Eugene) Chittenden.

Recollections of President Lincoln and his administration online

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ployment had been, he answered, without the slight-
est hesitation, that he had been the steward of Major

H 's gambling-house, until the war broke out, when,

all the gentlemen having gone South, business was dull,
and the house had been closed. He was, therefore, out
of employment, had no money, and, if I would give him
a place, he would serve me very faithfully.

" But, Lewis," I said, " if I secure you a place in the
Treasury, your work would be carrying money, bonds,
and securities, in large amounts, from one room or office
to another. Do you think it would be safe to put a man
in such a position whose last employment was in a gam-
bling-house ?"

An expression passed over his face that touched me.
It was pitiful. His voice trembled, and his eyes filled


with tears as he said, " I wish you would only try me,
master ! 1 never gambled ; I never drink liquor ; I don't
think I am any worse for working in a gambling-house.
If I had had any choice about it, it might have been dif-
ferent. But I never had any choice of employment in
my life. I have had to go where my master hired me
out, and do what I was told to do. Seems a little hard,
master, that I can't have one trial !"

" It is hard, Lewis !" I said, " and you shall have one
trial. Come here to-morrow, and your name shall be
placed on the roll. But the first time you go wrong
you will probably go to prison ; and you must drop that
word 'master,' which you have used so many times.
Every man in this bureau who does his duty and obeys
the rules is his own master, and will have no other."

" But, master," he exclaimed, " I can't help it. I kind
of forget myself. I was never spoken to so before. No!
no white man ever treated me like you do. I should
like to call you master. Seems like I must do some-
thing to show you how grateful I am."

Lewis's name was borne on the pay-roll of the register's
office for many years after I left it ; until, indeed, his hair
was white, and he had accumulated a modest competence.
He married, and became in time one of the leading citi-
zens of his race in Washington. When I left the Treasury
I was of the opinion that, in the three or four past years,
Lewis had handled more money and securities than any
other person in that department or outside of it. He
was a model of industry, gratitude, and integrity. I
never could break him of the use of the word " master."

Long after his appointment I noticed that, whenever
I met Lewis in one of the halls of the Treasury, he would
invariably cross over to the other side, and pass me as
far away as possible. This was so often repeated that I


saw it was intentional, and I insisted upon an explana-
tion. I said thai his conduct indicated that he was afraid
of me.

" Oh, no, master," he exclaimed, " I am not afraid of
you, the best friend I ever had ! I will tell you about
it. If I lost one of these bundles, or anybody got one
away from me, I would be ruined ; you would think I
was dishonest. When I first began to carry money, I
said to myself, ' Now, if I never let anybody get within
ten feet of me when I am carrying a Treasury bundle,
I will be sure that nobody gets that bundle.' So I just
made a little rule, only for myself, you see, and it is this :
'Walker, when you have a Treasury bundle in your
hands, never let anybody, not your best friend, not the
register, come within ten feet of you, until you have put
that bundle where it belongs !' "

It would have been to the profit of many treasuries
if other messengers had adopted the Walker Lewis rule.

There was, at the corner of Eleventh and K Streets, a
colored church, the oldest, I believe, in Washington. I
passed it every day on my way to the Treasury, and fre-
quently attended its meetings. At first, minister and
members were reserved in my presence, and I saw little
which might not have taken place in the churches of
Drs. Gurley and Sunderland. But on one occasion it was
my fortune to listen to a plain discussion of my charac-
ter and relations to the colored race, which ended in an
expression of confidence, and a conclusion that, since I had
recommended colored men to office, and was the friend
of Massa Linkum, there was no reason why I should not
be admitted to their most secret councils. Afterwards
their services were conducted without any apparent no-
tice of my presence.

Meetings were held in this church almost every even-


ing. Once or twice a week discussions were held of
public questions in which the colored people were inter-
ested. The debates were usually opened by the pastor,
but participated in by members of the church of both
sexes. When it is remembered that the pastor was a
slave, who worked for his master six days in the week,
and that the members, with few exceptions, were born
in slavery, and had no knowledge of freedom save the
hope of it in the future, through the influence of " Massa
Linkum," my readers will not wonder at the interest I
felt in these debates, nor at my surprise at the manner
in which they were conducted.

I was once invited to act as umpire, or judge, at one
of these discussions. The question was, " What makes
the white man the superior of the colored man ?" I ex-
cused myself on the ground that I was interested in the
question, and could not trust my own impartiality. But
I did not fail to attend the meeting at which the subject
was to be discussed.

The principal remarks were made by the minister.
The report is deprived of much of its interest, and all of
its genuine pathos, by my inability to give the dialect
of the speakers. I shall only attempt to show by a few
extracts the good sense which was a prominent feature
of the discussion, the accuracy with which these peo-
ple, whom we called ignorant, appreciated the situation,
and the intelligence with which they set about preparing
themselves for the coming change in their condition.

The white man, the pastor said, was their superior.
This must be so, or he would not have been able to keep
them for generations in slavery, and he would not now
be able to live upon their labor. " He makes the world
believe that we are a careless, thriftless race ; that, like
the grasshopper, we will not lay up anything for the


future, and would starve when winter comes, if he did
not take care of us. We know this is not true. How
many men can I count in this congregation who are sup-
porting the families of their white masters with the wages
of their labor, besides taking care of their own wives and
children ? I am doing it, for one, and I do not know of
any income which my master has had for a long time
except the earnings of his slaves. If we support our-
selves and our masters while we are slaves, we can surely
take care of ourselves when we are free.

"Brethren, the great God has been very kind and
merciful to us and our generation. Just like as he saved
Moses from the crocodiles, and raised him up to lead his
people out of the land of Egypt and out of the house of
bondage ; just like as he saved the dear Lord from the
butchers of old wicked Herod, and bred him up to give
every sinful black or white man or woman one chance
to repent and escape out of the hands of old Satan, so
he has now raised up Massa Linkum, and preserved his
life, so that he might give us freedom. If we don't do
our part towards getting ready for freedom, we don't
deserve to be set free. One thing that we must do in
getting ready is, to show the world that we can take
care of ourselves, and that the superiority of the white
man is not given him by the Almighty, and that he
cannot hold it, if we do our duty.

" For the power and control of the white man over us
comes from his education. He can make books and
newspapers, and he can use them for his advantage.
He can read history, and profit by it ; he can carry on
trade, make bargains, and use us to build houses and
railroads, because he is educated, and can read and write
and make figures. We cannot do all that he does, be-
cause we cannot read and write. What can he do with


his arms and hands that we cannot do ? And, if we had
his education, why could we not do all these other things
as well as he ? Brethren, this is not a question. A ques-
tion has two sides to it this has got only one. You
know that an ignorant white man is a poorer creature
than an ignorant colored man. A poor white in the
South is lower down than any slave. Who supports the
rum-shops in this city ? Is it the ignorant whites or the
ignorant colored men? Yet these white men go every
week from the grog-shops to the penitentiary, claiming
how much better they are than the ' niggers,' with whom
they are too respectable to associate !

" Oh, my dear brethren, I have only just now learned
to read. Until we heard that Massa Liukum was elect-
ed I never had a spelling-book or learned my letters. I
was sixty-five years old before I knew the difference be-
tween A and B. I thank the Lord that now I can read
the news ; that I can read the Bible. I am learning ev-
ery day. Every hour that I can save from my work I
give to my Reader, Geography, and Arithmetic. I want
to see every colored man and woman, and every colored
child, with a spelling-book or a primer or some other
book always in their hands. Pretty soon now we shall
have our freedom. I don't know just when, but the
Lord and Massa Linkum knows, and they will tell us in
their own good time. Freedom will come before we are
ready. Let us get ready as fast as we can. Getting
ready means learning to read and write, and make fig-
ures. When we all learn to do these things when we
educate ourselves and our children, we shall be the equals
of any white race on the face of the earth ; we shall be-
come a credit to our race, to the country, and to that
great and good man who has been raised up by the Lord
to give us freedom. The Bible is all full of directions to


get wisdom, to get education. It tells how one poor
man saved a city when a great king, with a mighty
army, tried to take it, because he had wisdom."

Suddenly the old man dropped upon his knees, and,
raising his clasped hands in the most unstudied attitude
of supplication, exclaimed, " Oh, Lord, teach my people !
teach my people !" I never heard a more earnest and
touching prayer. Every person in the crowded church
was kneeling, and spontaneously their musical voices,
pitched to the same key, swelled a mighty refrain
" Hear him, good Lord ! hear him 1" A single voice
sang, " Praise God !" and with an effect almost inde-
scribable the old doxology rang through the church
from floor to roof-tree. I came away while the influ-
ence of the scene was upon me, humbled and abashed
by the lesson which the old colored preacher had taught
me of the injustice of my race, and deeply impressed by
the earnest simplicity of this effort of a simple-minded
man to prepare his people for emancipation.

At this period observing men could not have failed to
notice that many colored men had become students of
the spelling-book and primer. Porters at the hotels were
poring over the well-thumbed pages whenever they had
a moment of spare time. One of the laborers in my
office, an old, white-haired man, had arranged to per-
form his service with promptness, and then to be called
whenever he should be wanted. His mysterious disap-
pearances led me to make inquiry, and, through a clerk,
I soon discovered the old man's occupation during the
intervals of work. The files-room of the register was
in the basement of the Treasury. In a recess, formed
by a window at the farther end of the room, was a space
large enough to seat four persons. It was a corner sel-
dom visited, and far away from the hall or passage.


Here four colored employes of the Treasury had im-
provised a school-room. Not one of them was under
sixty-five years of age ; the man employed in the Regis-
ter's Office must have been fully threescore and ten.
They had arranged narrow seats facing each other, and
at the time of my entrance their teacher, a colored boy
of about ten years, was hearing their lessons. My old
laborer, through an enormous pair of horn spectacles,
was reading out his lesson in words of three letters.
He attacked his task with great earnestness, shaking his
white, woolly head as he came to a hard place in it, but
finally spelled out, without assistance, " The-dog-can-run."
His teacher praised his improvement, and said he should
soon put him in words of four letters. His old, wrinkled
face beamed with delight as he asked, " Do you t'ink I
can manage 'em, sonny? Dey're drefful hard!" The
teacher assured him that he could, and that before very
long he would be able to read the newspaper, which ap-
peared to be the universal desideratum.

The colored people frequently had the latest and fresh-
est news. How they got it I never ascertained. When
armies were fighting, they used to assemble in parties
of a dozen or twenty, when one would read aloud to
the others all the news from the morning journals.
They had other sources of information of which we
knew nothing. Several times my colored messengers
brought me intelligence in advance of the press. It
had been decided to issue the Emancipation Proclama-
tion before the battle of Antietam. I was first informed
of its intended postponement by one of these messen-
gers, who said that the President would not issue it un-
til we had gained a victory ; that, if issued at that time,
it might be regarded as a desperate act, resorted to be-
cause we despaired of success in the field. His inf orma-


tion was perfectly accurate. To my inquiry whether
the delay would not prove a disappointment to the ne-
gro race, he made the answer which was so frequently
repeated, and which illustrated their absolute confidence
in the President, " Why, no, sir ! Of course Massa Lin-
kum knows best !"



THE circumstances which led to the resignation of the
"War Department by Secretary Cameron, and the selec-
tion of Mr. Stanton as his successor, have never been
fairly presented to the public. They form a complicated
chapter of our war history ; they are numerous and de-
serve greater space than I can afford to give them. I
have long felt that the general estimate entertained by
the American people of the character and services of Mr.
Stanton was much less favorable than it should be. Some
of the facts within my knowledge may tend to a more
correct appreciation of the great War Secretary, and to
remove public misapprehensions, which but for his strong
peculiarities Mr. Stanton would have himself rendered

In December, 1861, our republic was passing through
a very trying period of its existence. There had been
no successes in the field to compensate for the disaster
of Bull Run. The country was putting forth a mighty
effort to raise and organize an army, under a young and
untried general ; the Confederates, united and defiant,
had suppressed every expression of loyalty in the revolt-
ed states, and their sympathizers in the North were hold-
ing conventions and resolving that the war was a fail-
ure. Just at this time Great Britain had found in the


"Trent affair" an excuse to deal us a blow which we
had not the strength to return, and the Treasury, taxed
to its utmost capacity, and struggling under its burdens,
had reached a point where it must be relieved from the
demands with which it was flooded from the " Depart-
ment of the West," or publicly confess its inability to
carry them.

Secretary Cameron, as the result of his own experi-
ence, had decided that the "War Department required
the services of a more energetic secretary. No friend of
the Union doubted the loyalty or the patriotism of this
eminent Pennsylvanian. His long connection with, and
administration of, large corporations gave him most ex-
cellent business qualifications for the War Office. Then,
as now, the Pennsylvania Railroad Company was gen-
erally accepted as a model for the business management
of a great institution. Colonel Thomas A. Scott was
credited with originating its business system. He was
then in the prime of life, and, with his corps of lieuten-
ants in the railroad service, followed his old chief into
the War Department. So far as its business manage-
ment was concerned, this Department was supposed to
be better equipped than any other in the government.
And so it was. The quick perception and energy of
Colonel Scott, in which his aides participated, rapidly re-
vealed the time-sanctified obstructions, and so cleared
away the dead-wood of the office that it was brought
to the highest state of efficiency.

But Colonel Scott encountered one obstruction which
he could not overcome. It was the contempt of the offi-
cers of the regular army for the appointments from civil
life. At that time every head of a bureau in the War
Office was an officer of the regular army, with a very
limited experience in the field. They sincerely believed


that all good things came out of "West Point, and that four
years there, followed by twenty-five years of theoretical
service in the army, were the indispensable qualifications
of a bureau officer. These men never openly opposed
efforts at improvement. They were always apparently
ready to correct abuses, avoid procrastination, and co-
operate in making the Department a model of business

But, somehow, it always happened that when it was
proposed to carry a new rule into practice, and cut off
some venerable excrescence, it could not be done. No
one openly objected the difficulties arose spontane-
ously. If the change was pressed, objections multiplied,
and the endeavor was sure to encounter the opposition
of every employe, reinforced by whatever outside influ-
ence he could control. That the existing system was
perfection itself was the principal article of faith of the
bureau clerk. The result commonly was, that the en-
thusiasm for reform waned, as objections multiplied, and,
after continuing the contest for a few weeks without ac-
complishing any good result, the advocate for improve-
ment gave it up, and the bureau settled down into its
former quiet inefficiency, much to the comfort of the
official in command and his subordinates. It is true
that public indignation eventually interfered, but how
many lives were lost, what an aggregate of suffering
and waste of money were entailed, by the hostility of
the regular service to anything proposed by civilians
cannot readily be estimated.

The custom of the heads of some military depart-
ments to make contracts without regard to the ability
of the Treasury to meet their payments more than once
brought the Treasury to the verge of bankruptcy. A
very brief experience satisfied Colonel Scott of the im-


minence of this danger, and the total lack of necessi-
ty for the same. He proposed a change, which would
still have left to such commander a limited discretion,
but would have restricted his powers within safe lim-
its. He met with the united resistance of the whole
Department. It was declared an insult to military
officers to subject them to such rules. Had these
bureau officers seconded the wise proposals of Colonel
Scott an enormous waste of money would have been
avoided and the necessity for a change of secretaries
would not have arisen. Finding that all his efforts
at reform only served to excite opposition, and as his
wish to assist his old chief had been his only reason for
coming into the Department, Colonel Scott left it, and
returned to his railroad, whither all his lieutenants fol-
lowed him.

In June, 1861, General Fremont, just returned from
abroad, was appointed to the command of the " Depart-
ment of the West," with his headquarters at St. Louis.
Missouri had been saved to the Union by the vigorous
loyalty of her citizens. There was, therefore, some ex-
cuse for giving to General Fremont powers in addition
to those usually vested in the head of a military depart-
ment. He was authorized to purchase or construct ves-
sels for use upon the Western rivers ; in effect to create
a navy.

During April and May there had been much looseness
in the allowance of claims upon the national Treasury
from St. Louis and its vicinity; the War Department
had assumed some claims created by citizens without
previous authority. The apology for this gross irregu-
larity, if any such apology existed, was that the govern-
ment property could not be otherwise protected. The
consequences were not slow in making their appearance.


Men are apt to be liberal with the money of others, and
the loyal citizens of Missouri were much like other men.
As soon as the precedent was established, these claims
increased to a frightful aggregate, which led to the crea-
tion of the Department of the West, and an order, that
thereafter all the moneys of the United States must be
disbursed by the regularly appointed officers of the gov-

This order produced no diminution in the claims. To
every remonstrance General Fremont replied that the

; claims originated before his appointment, and that he
was not responsible for them. During the summer and
autumn they reached an amount which it was difficult
for the Treasury to meet, and some disposition must be
made of them, or their continued payment be openly re-
fused. Suspicions of their honesty began to arise. For
example, an account for army blankets of a well-known
description had been allowed, and a warrant drawn for
its payment. The register caused the list to be copied,
without the prices, and submitted to two "Washington
dealers, who were requested to name the prices at which
they would furnish five or ten pairs of like blankets to
the Treasury. Both named the same price, which was
only 32 per cent, of that paid at St. Louis. The facts
were communicated immediately to Secretary Chase.
The subject was considered in Cabinet meeting, where
it was determined that payment of all claims against
the Military Department of the West which originated
prior to the appointment of General Fremont should be
suspended until they were examined by a commission
which should report the facts, with its opinion upon
the amount equitably due. The order first applied
only to " unsettled claims," but before its labors finally
terminated the commission's jurisdiction was extended


to claims which had been approved by the accounting

Towards the end of October the President appointed
David Davis, of Illinois, Joseph Holt, of Kentucky, and
Hugh Campbell, of Missouri, members of this commis-
sion. These gentlemen were eminently fitted for the
stern duties they were required to perform. They were
just men, who would as readily reduce to its true value
the claim of the most influential citizen as of the most
insignificant person.

Before this commission was appointed, General Fre-
mont had involved himself in complications which seri-
ously interfered with his efficiency. He had issued a
proclamation manumitting the slaves of rebels, which
President Lincoln found it necessary to modify. A man
of great amiability of character, he had too great con-
fidence in the statements of others, and thus was easily
influenced by designing men. His personal integrity
was unquestioned, but his amiable weaknesses were so
well known that the President had been unwilling to
place him in command of such an important depart-
ment, and had only been induced to do so by the per-
sistence of the general's influential relatives and friends.
His appointment was the signal for the gathering at St.
Louis of the clans of the speculative, the unprincipled,
and the dishonest. These men applauded him in the
newspapers and extolled him to his face. They lost no
opportunity of assuring him that he was the greatest
military leader, the most distinguished statesman of his
generation ; in short, that the finger of destiny pointed
to him as the coming President, the inevitable successor
of Mr. Lincoln. There are few men, and General Fre-

Online LibraryL. E. (Lucius Eugene) ChittendenRecollections of President Lincoln and his administration → online text (page 12 of 35)