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L. E. (Lucius Eugene) Chittenden.

Recollections of President Lincoln and his administration online

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the deposit of coin required by the order ? He observed
" that it had occurred to him that, if the United States
had that amount to its credit in London, some question
of authority might arise, or Mr. Adams might otherwise
be embarrassed in complying with the condition, espe-
cially as communication with his government might
involve delay ; so that the shortest way to avoid all diffi-
culty would be for him to deposite the coin, which he
was quite prepared to do."

Had a messenger descended from the skies in a chariot
of fire, with $5,000,000 in gold in his hands, and offered
to leave it at the embassy without any security, Mr.
Adams could not have been more profoundly surprised.
He had accepted the condition as fatal to his efforts;



202 RECOLLECTIONS OF PRESIDENT LINCOLN

he had concluded that nothing short of a miracle could
prevent the departure of the vessels ; and here, if not a
miracle, was something much like one. He made no
secret of the pleasure with which he accepted the mu-
nificent offer, provided some method of securing the
liberal Englishman could be found. The latter seemed
indisposed to make any suggestions on the subject. " It
might be proper," he said, " that some obligation should
be entered into, showing that the American government
recognized the deposit as made on its account ; beyond
that he should leave the matter wholly in the hands of
Mr. Adams."

The existing premium on gold was then about sixty
per cent, in the United States. It would have been
largely increased by the departure of these iron-clads.
The "five-twenties" or "sixes" of 1861, as they were
popularly called, were then being issued, and were the
only securities upon "long time" then authorized by
Congress. The best arrangement that occurred to Mr.
Adams, and which he then proposed, was that $10,000,000,
or 2,000,000, in these bonds, to be held as collateral se-
curity for the loan of <!, 000,000 in gold, should be de-
livered to the lender, to be returned when the loan was
paid, or the order itself was discharged and the coin re-
turned to the depositor. The proposition of Mr. Adams
was satisfactory to the gentleman, but he said that to
prevent the disclosure of his name the deposit should be
made in coupon and not in registered bonds. The cou-
pons were payable to bearer; the registered were re-
quired to be inscribed on the books of the Treasury in
the owner's name. Mr. Adams then volunteered the as-
surance that these bonds, to the amount of $10,000,000,
should be transmitted to London by the first steamer
which left New York after his despatch concerning the



AND HIS ADMINISTRATION. 203

transaction was received in the State Department at
"Washington.

It was this assurance of Mr. Adams which the Presi-
dent and both of the secretaries desired should be made
good. They regarded the faith of the government as
pledged for its performance, and that faith they pro-
posed should not be violated.

All the details of this transaction were not then dis-
closed. They reached the government in private, con-
fidential despatches from Mr. Adams, some of them long
afterwards. The despatch in question was understood
to be confidential ; certainly that part of it which re-
lated to the deposit and security proposed. It was
necessarily brief, for in order to reach the steamer the
special messenger had to leave London within a very
few hours after the proposition of the deposit was made.
There was enough in it to show that an inestimable
service had been rendered to the country by some one
to whom Mr. Adams had pledged the faith of the nation
for the transmission of these bonds by the next steamer
which left New York. There was no dissent from the
conclusion that the pledge of Mr. Adams, if it were in
the power of the government, must be performed.

The transmission of the securities of the United States
to London, in large amounts, would be a very different
problem now, after the subsequent experience of the
Treasury in such transactions. Now, the blank bonds
would be taken on board an ocean steamer in the cus-
tody of officers authorized to prepare, sign, and issue
them, and the entire labor could be performed on the
voyage. In 1862, the Treasury had had no such experi-
ence, and in the brief time spared for consultation there
was no way of meeting the emergency suggested, ex-
cept the regular process of filling up, signing, and seal-



204: RECOLLECTIONS OF PRESIDENT LINCOLN

ing the bonds within the Treasury, entering them upon
the proper books, and delivering them as perfected ob-
ligations of the United States.

No time was wasted in discussion. It was suggested
as a precautionary measure that a request to delay the
sailing of the steamer should be made, and the consulta-
tion ended. It may as well be mentioned here that the
effort to secure delay was unsuccessful. It could not be
complied with except with the consent of the officers of
the company in Liverpool, and they could not be reached
by cable. The steamer would sail at twelve o'clock on
Monday.

It was next ascertained that only $7,500,000 in coupon
bonds of the denomination of $1000 had been printed.
The remaining $2,500,000 must be made up from de-
nominations of $500. This involved an increase of two
thousand five hundred, making an aggregate of twelve
thousand five hundred bonds to be signed between twelve
o'clock on Friday and four o'clock A.M. on Monday.

The theory of the statute which required a bond to be
signed by the head of the bureau from which it issued
originally was that the signature was some safeguard
against forgery, was an evidence of authenticity, and a
check against unauthorized issues. In issues of so large
amounts as were made during the war, it was found to
have a trifling if any value. But the labor imposed was
continuous and severe ; in the present instance it became
dangerous to health and life ; for there is no muscular
exertion more severe, certainly none so inexpressibly
dreary, as that of writing one's own name hour after
hour, day after day, over and over again. Such, how-
ever, was the law ; it was necessary to the legality of
the issue that all the requirements of the law should be
complied with. It will be seen in this instance at what



AND HIS ADMINISTRATION. 205

cost obedience to this provision of the statute was se-
cured.

When the bond issues of the Treasury required an
average of two or three thousand signatures daily, every
means of doing the work rapidly was necessarily em-
ployed. The signature itself was changed. If each in-
itial letter had been written separately, in the ordinary
way, the day was not long enough to finish the task.
The whole name was then written at a single movement,
without raising the pen from the paper, or once arrest-
ing its motion. The bonds were laid before the officer
in piles ; the instant the pen was raised at the end of the
name, an experienced messenger removed the bond, leav-
ing another exposed for signature. In this way it was
possible to write ten signatures in a minute. If any one
is inclined to doubt the rapidity or the exertion involved
in doing this, he is advised to try the experiment.

In the present instance the register knew from ex-
perience that serious work was before him, which would
affect his health, and might endanger his life. He en-
deavored to set about it with judgment and discretion.
He called in an experienced army surgeon, informed him
that he intended to continue to sign his name for just as
many consecutive hours as his strength would permit ;
that he was desired to remain in constant attendance,
administering such food and stimulants as would secure
endurance for the longest possible time. The necessary
supplies were procured, the arrangements perfected, and
the register was ready to begin his work at twelve
o'clock on Friday.

The first seven hours passed without any unusual
sensations. He had signed for that length of time so
frequently that it had become a custom to which the
muscles had adapted themselves, so that they worked



206 RECOLLECTIONS OF PRESIDENT LINCOLN

uncomplainingly. In these first seven hours three thou-
sand seven hundred signatures were made. But within
the first half of the eighth hour there were evidences of
great muscular discontent, which soon threatened to
break out into open rebellion. As the time slowly wore
on, in the forenoon of Saturday, every muscle on the
right side connected with the movement of the hand
and arm became inflamed, and the pain was almost be-
yond endurance. It was necessary to continue the work,
for if it should be suspended for any considerable length
of time the inflammation might become so great that
control over the motion of the arm and its further use
would become impossible. In the slight pauses which
were made, rubbing, the application of hot water, and
other remedies were resorted to, in order to alleviate
the pain and reduce the inflammation. They were com-
paratively ineffectual, and the hours dragged on without
bringing much relief.

During the course of Saturday afternoon the acute-
ness of the pain sensibly diminished. The muscles, find-
ing that resistance was unavailing, had to give up the
contest. A series of sensations followed which, though
less difficult to endure, were still more alarming. A
feeling of numbness commenced in the hand, and slowly
crept up the arm to the shoulder, producing an effect as
if the hand and arm were dead. With this came a dis-
tortion of the fingers, so that the pen, instead of being
held in the usual manner, was placed between the first
finger and the thumb. It might have been expected
that this condition of the muscles would have changed
the form of the signature. It did not to any great ex-
tent. The constant repetition of the same movements
seemed to result in their continuance, independently of
the will. The signature was still a fair one.



AND HIS ADMINISTRATION. 207

It is unnecessary to describe all the details of the de-
vices and means resorted to to prevent sleep and to con-
tinue the work. Changes of position, violent exercise,
going out into the open air and walking rapidly for ten
minutes, concentrated extracts, prepared food, stimulants
more in kind and number than can now be recalled
every imaginable means was employed during the night
of Saturday. Notwithstanding their use with a liberal
hand, it became evident that weakness was gradually
asserting itself, and that the time was approaching when
the work must cease from pure exhaustion. The surgeon
decided that within two or three hours at the latest the
strength would give out, and that the time had come
when the officer should resign, and another register be
appointed.

It is quite probable that the long-continued exertion
had to some extent influenced the mind of the register,
and that his objections to the change proposed were
more imaginary than real. The names of two registers
appearing on the same issue of bonds was an apparent
irregularity which might require explanations and in-
volve delay. Calling on the President to appoint an-
other register on Sunday was, to say the least, an im-
propriety which would excite public comment, even if
the act itself were legal, of which some doubt was enter-
tained. It was four o'clock on Sunday morning ; only
a few more than two thousand signatures would com-
plete the labor. The register determined he would
finish the task, although the surgeon earnestly advised
him that it would involve a considerable danger to his
fife.

I have not had at any time since a very accurate
memory of the events of that Sunday morning. That I
could not remain in the same position for more than a



208 RECOLLECTIONS OF PRESIDENT LINCOLN

few moments, that the bonds were carried from desk to
table and from place to place to enable me to make ten
signatures at a time, that my fingers and hand were
twisted and drawn out of their natural shape these
and other facts are faintly remembered. The memory
is more distinct that at about twelve o'clock, noon, the
last bond was reached and signed, and the work was
finished, the last hundred bonds requiring more time
than the first thousand. One fact I have special cause
to remember. This abuse of muscular energy eventu-
ally caused my resignation from the Treasury, and cost
me several years of physical pain.

After the bonds were signed I suffered more than at
any other time during the process. My nervous system
was so thoroughly shattered that during the night of
Sunday sleep was impossible. On Monday night, after
three full days and nights during which I had not lost
consciousness for a moment, I fell asleep from pure ex-
haustion. My subsequent experience can only be in-
teresting to myself; certainly not to the general reader.

The bonds reached the steamer in time, and the
promise of our minister was faithfully kept. But in
the meantime Mr. Adams had given notice to the au-
thorities of his readiness to make the deposit, and then
some disposition of the matter was made, which avoided
the necessity of making it. "What this disposition was,
I do not know ; but it was understood at the time, by
Secretary Chase, to have been made without the knowl-
edge or privity of our minister. From the published
statements at the time it appeared that no effort to de-
liver the vessels was made after the objections of the
government were made known. In fact the iron-clads
were shortly after sold to one of the Eastern powers, and
their field of operations was the Mediterranean instead



AND HIS ADMINISTRATION. 209

of the American coasts. The ability of Mr. Adams to
comply with the condition and furnish the security was
accepted as the end of the controversy. It is known
that a few months later $6,000,000 of the $10,000,000
of the bonds issued were returned to the Treasury in the
original packages, with the seals of the Treasury un-
broken. The remaining $4,000,000 were afterwards
sold for the benefit of the Treasury.

Many years elapsed before the register atoned for
this violation of natural laws, which never fail to punish
those who break them. "While he remained in office
there was no day in which he was not reminded by a
sharp rheumatic twinge of the events of that Sunday
morning. After he had left the Treasury there were
five long years in which he could never promise that he
could perform any professional labor at any fixed date
in the future.

The issue of these bonds afforded an opportunity for
some measurements, showing the great bulk of paper
used in the whole issue of $513,000,000. I did not leave
the Treasury that Sunday morning until I had seen these
measurements made. The denominations of the coupon
"five -twenties" were "fifties," "one hundreds," "five
hundreds," and " one thousands." Of the registered the
denominations were the same, with the addition of " five
thousands " and " ten thousands." Only a small fraction
of the issue was registered, and the certificates used were
ordinarily " one thousand " and under. The twelve thou-
sand five hundred bonds, representing $10,000,000 of the
present issue, were a reasonably accurate average of the
whole issue. These $10,000,000 were made into pack-
ages of $1,000,000 each, of the same length and breadth
of the bonds themselves, one bond being laid, without
folding, upon another. Each package was covered with
14



210 RECOLLECTIONS OF PRESIDENT LINCOLN

one thickness of wrapping-paper, and then bound as close
ly as possible with strong cord, rendering each package
as thin as it could be made. The ten packages were
then laid in a single pile, one above the other. They
measured six feet four inches in height. From these
data each one can compute for himself the height of the
pile of paper used in an issue of $513,000,000.

Since the publication of the foregoing facts in Harper's
Magazine for May, 1890, I have been solicited by many
correspondents to give the name of the gentleman who
offered to perform such a signal service to our country.
It must be obvious that nothing could give me greater
pleasure than to publish his name, and to secure for him
the enduring gratitude of the American people. I have,
however, a special reason for my present determination
not to disclose it, nor to permit myself to speculate upon
the consequences of the disclosure. When we were in-
formed that the emergency had passed, it became neces-
sary to make a change in the entries of this large
amount upon the books of the register. This was found
to be a difficult matter, unless a plain statement of the
issue, to the gentleman in question, and its purpose, was
made with its subsequent cancellation. This course I
proposed to Secretary Chase. He was decided in his
opinion that the value of the service would not have
been enhanced if an actual deposit of the money had
been required, and that, as the gentleman himself had
imposed the obligation, he was the only authority who
could possibly release it. "While I regarded his conclu-
sion as incontrovertible, I did suggest that our first duty
was the official one, to our own obligation to conceal
nothing, and to make our official records strictly conform
to the fact.

" We should have thought of that at the time," said



AND HIS ADMINISTRATION. 211

the secretary. "We might have declined his offer,
coupled as it was with the obligation to conceal his
name. But I do not remember that we considered that
question. Do you ?"

" No," I said. " Nothing was discussed in my pres-
ence except the possibility of compliance with his con-
ditions, to the letter."

" Then, I think, we must continue to keep his secret,
whatever the consequences may be, until he releases
us from the obligation," was the final conclusion of the
secretary.

I am, I believe, the only survivor of those to whom
this gentleman's name was known. I have hitherto de-
clined to discuss the question of his name or its dis-
closure. I depart from my practice far enough to say
that I do not believe he was interested in the price of
cotton, or that he was moved in the slightest degree by
pecuniary motives, in making his offer. More than this,
at present, I do not think I have the moral right to say.
If I should at any time hereafter see my way clear to a
different conclusion, I shall leave his name to be com-
municated to the Secretary of the Treasury, who will
determine for himself the propriety of its disclosure.



XXYI.

PRESIDENT LINCOLN'S CONNECTION WITH THE ORIGIN OF AR-
MORED VESSELS. HIS FAITH IN IRON-CLADS. THE INFLU-
ENCE OF ASSISTANT-SECRETARY FOX. HIS INTERVIEW WITH
THE PRESIDENT ON THE 7TH OF MARCH, 1862.

So many of the facts involved in the origin of armored
or iron-clad vessels are in controversy, that it is a delicate
matter now to meddle with the subject. But President
Lincoln was a factor in this, as he was in all the great
improvements made in the naval and military service
during his administration. To understand how far he
promoted the introduction of iron-clad vessels, it is nec-
essary to give some facts as they were understood and
acted upon by the President and others at the time, with-
out much regard to their bearing upon other interests or
questions.

Suggestions of the necessity of armored vessels for
harbor defence were strongly pressed by Major Robert
Anderson, very soon after he arrived in Washington from
Fort Sumter. He reported that one of the Confederate
batteries in Charleston harbor was covered with bars of
railroad iron, in such a way that the guns of the fort
made no impression upon it. Having learned from ex-
perience that a battery so protected was impregnable,
and there being no reason why like armor could not be
applied to a floating as well as to a land battery, Major
Anderson argued that the Confederates would almost
certainly undertake the construction of iron-clad ves-
sels, and if we were not provided with similar vessels






AND HIS ADMINISTRATION. 213

to resist them, they would take and hold possession of
our navigable rivers and harbors, and so inflict an irre-
mediable injury on our seaport cities and their commerce.
The action of the Confederate Congress in May, in ap-
pointing a commission to adopt plans for raising the
Merrimac, then sunk in Norfolk harbor, and her con-
version into an armored vessel, added force to the views
of Major Anderson, and produced a strong impression
upon Mr. "Welles, our Secretary of the Navy, and one at
least of his most competent subordinates. Gustavus Y.
Fox was one of the President's favorites. He had ac-
quired Mr. Lincoln's confidence by his intelligent views
relating to the proposed reinforcement of Fort Sumter,
immediately after the inauguration, and had accepted
the office of Assistant Secretary of the Navy at his spe-
cial request. He was an experienced retired naval offi-
cer, he possessed attractive personal qualities, his judg-
ment was conservative, and he was always a welcome
guest at the Executive Mansion. I was so fortunate as
to have secured his friendship, and I have made several
visits to the President in his company. On one of these
visits, in May, I heard the President ask Mr. Fox his
opinion of armored vessels, and of Major Anderson's
suggestion. Mr. Fox replied, in substance, that the sub-
ject was under active consideration in the Navy Depart-
ment, but that it was novel ; it was very important, and
though generally impressed with the practicability of
such vessels, he was not yet prepared to commit him-
self to any fixed opinion. The President, somewhat ear-
nestly, observed that " we must not let the rebels get
ahead of us in such an important matter," and asked
what Mr. Fox regarded as the principal difficulty in the
way of their use. Mr. Fox replied that naval officers
doubted their stability, and feared that an armor heavy



214 RECOLLECTIONS OF PRESIDENT LINCOLN

enough to make them effective, would sink them as soon
as they were launched. " But is not that a sum in arith-
metic ?" quickly asked the President. " On our Western
rivers we can figure just how many tons will sink a flat-
boat. Can't your clerks do the same for an armored
vessel?"

" I suppose they can," replied Mr. Fox. " But there
are other difficulties. With such a weight, a single shot,
piercing the armor, would sink the vessel so quickly that
no one could escape."

" Now, as the very object of the armor is to get some-
thing that the best projectile cannot pierce, that objec-
tion does not appear to be sound," said the President.

Mr. Fox again observed that the subject was under
active examination, and he hoped soon to be able to con-
sider it intelligently, and the conversation turned upon
other matters.

When we left the White House, Mr. Fox observed
that the President appeared to be deeply interested in
the subject of iron-clads ; that it was most important,
but it was new, and would encounter all the prejudices
of the naval service. But its importance was such that
its investigation would be pressed as fast as possible, with
a view of at least trying the experiment.

Within a few days there was a rumor that the Bureau
of Construction in the Navy Department, through the
influence of Mr. Fox, was engaged upon plans for an
iron-clad vessel. As soon as Congress met, on the 4th
of July, a bill was introduced which authorized the Sec-
retary of the Navy to appoint a Board of Construction
of three naval officers, to whom the plans for an iron-
clad vessel were to be submitted, and, if the board ap-
proved them, the secretary was authorized to contract
for its construction.



AND HIS ADMINISTRATION. 215

It was a matter of common knowledge that Cornelius
S. Bushnell, of Connecticut, a friend of the secretary's,
was the promoter of the bill, and that through his act-
ive labors the bill passed Congress and became a law in
the early days of August. The board was immediately
appointed. It consisted of Commodore Paulding, Admi-
ral Smith, and Captain Davis. The board approved the
plans ; the contract was given to Mr. Bushnell for the
first iron-clad built on the "Western Continent. She was
to be built at Mystic, Connecticut, and to be completed
as speedily as possible. She was to be called the Galena,
and as many workmen as could find room were at work
upon her hull before the ink of the signatures to the con-
tract was fairly dry.

In the autumn there was a great newspaper outcry
over the Galena. The Department, the contractor, ev-
erybody concerned, was charged with peculation and
fraud. It was asserted that the Galena would do every-
thing a good ship ought not, and nothing that such a



Online LibraryL. E. (Lucius Eugene) ChittendenRecollections of President Lincoln and his administration → online text (page 15 of 35)