L. E. (Lucius Eugene) Chittenden.

Recollections of President Lincoln and his administration online

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such an audience. The speeches were argumentative,
sensible, the best I had heard during the campaign.

The Wide-awakes attended, to close the exercises with
a torch-light procession. Coming from the city on ex-
cursion steamers, a political organization, to attend a
political meeting in the country, it may be anticipated
that, being well provided with poor whiskey, they turned
the meeting into a pandemonium, and, to use a phrase
not then invented, that they " painted the place red."
Nothing of the kind. There were oxen roasted entire,
refreshments in abundance, but no whiskey nor evidences
of whiskey. There was a grand political meeting, good,
sound, creditable speeches, an attentive, respectful audi-
ence, ending with one of the most beautiful torchlight
processions I ever witnessed ; music, songs, but not one
incident of rowdyism or disorder to mark or mar the
day or the occasion. At the very close, two pre-revolu-
tionary anvils performed duty as cannon, and made con-
siderable noise. The whole affair was a credit to the
orderly community which conducted it. Judge Nixon,


referring to it during the next session of Congress, said
its object was to stir up the community. It was at first
feared that it had not produced the effect desired. But
on election day, when he carried the county by an un-
heard-of majority, it was decided that an earthquake,
reinforced by a cyclone, could not have done the work
so thoroughly as that quiet, well-ordered meeting.

It had been arranged that I should return to Philadel-
phia by one of the steamers. I took the one said to be
least crowded, but it turned out that there were at least
two Wide-awakes for every square foot of standing-
room it afforded. "We got under way ; ran out into the
bay ; also into a fog as thick as molasses, as dark as Ere-
bus, and as cold as the shady side of an iceberg. All
that long night, until two hours after daylight, we rolled
and wallowed in the waters of the bay. The fog was so
thick that it was unsafe to run by compass, or even to
start the boat ahead. There was not a bed or a blanket
on board. In my exhausted condition, with no place to
lie or even to sit down, I suffered dreadfully. Some of
the boys finally hunted up an old sail, wrapped it around
me, and laid me away on a cushioned seat in the pilot-
house. I slept through all the racket, until we reached
the dock at Camden, where I was taken to the residence
of a hospitable [Republican, had a bath and a bed, and
slept until election morning.

That was an exciting election day. It settled the
presidential contest. Ohio and Indiana, if I rightly re-
member, then held their state elections on the same
first Monday in October. I was admitted to the rooms
of the committee. At frequent intervals during the day
reports came from many sections that the election was
very quiet, men were keeping their promises, and all
seemed to be going well. But there were no results for


comparison until evening, when the large hall was packed,
and the street in front completely blocked by an expect-
ant crowd, awaiting the announcement of victory or
defeat in the most important election since the Declara-
tion of Independence. It was arranged that the reports
from other states should come through state committees.
Those in Pennsylvania came through many sources.

The first figures were from Ohio. Names I have for-
gotten, nor are they material. Call this one Dover.
The operator read out, " Dover, Eepublican first time.
Seventy majority. Last year one hundred and ten Dem-
ocratic." Some one started a cheer; others shouted,
" Hush !" The next was from a Democratic county in
Pennsylvania. It announced a Democratic majority of,
say seventy. One who held the record of the last cor-
responding votes added instantly to the despatch, " A
Democratic loss of ninety votes." The silence was still
unbroken. Another Pennsylvania despatch : " C. beats
D. by eighty, and is elected." The reader of the record
adds, " A Republican gain of a member ; a Democratic
loss on the vote of nearly two hundred." A Republi-
can, with powerful voice, exclaimed, " That means that
Abraham Lincoln is the next President of the United
States, and Andrew Curtin the next Governor of Penn-
sylvania !" The roar of triumph that went up from that
crowd was enough to have started the roof from its fas-
tenings. It was caught up outside as the signal of vic-
tory, and the sound of human voices suppressed the sound
of cannon, which instantly commenced a salute of one
hundred guns. It might well have been impressive, for
it was Republican notice to the world that the people
had decreed, in the words of Washington, that " the
Union must be preserved !"

The announcement was accidental ; it was dangerously


premature. Prudent men were very anxious lest it might
be necessary to recall it. But the despatches came in
rapid succession as fast as the operator could read
them faster than the vote could be compared with that
of preceding years. Their tenor was constant Republi-
can gains, Democratic losses ! "When the returns upon
the state ticket began to come in, the average improved.
It was nearly ten o'clock, and not until we knew that
Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Indiana, and probably Illinois,
had gone Republican, that some remote little precinct,
far up the Alleghany Mountains, reported the first tri-
fling Democratic gain. There was a howl of derision,
when some one said, " I know that place. It's where
they are still voting for Jefferson and Burr."

As soon as it was known to a certainty that we had
carried these four states, I quietly elbowed my way
through the crowd to my hotel, with a thankful heart
for the victory. The mighty crowd was celebrating it
without the least evidence of rioting or disorder. There
was but little sleep that night ; all this noise and crowd
was directly underneath my window. But I was so
weary that a battery of artillery, engaged in target-prac-
tice in the next room, would not have kept me awake.
I was asleep within a minute after my head rested on
the pillow, and for ten hours nothing disturbed me. It
was eight o'clock next morning when a delegation from
the committee called, to ascertain what disposition I had
made of myself, and, as it happened, to give me iny first
lesson in " Practical Politics."

" How many city members of Congress do the Repub-
licans elect?" I asked. "When I left you last night
almost everything else was settled; but the Congres-
sional vote was the last counted, and no complete returns
were in from any district. Is Judge Kelley defeated?"


" I should think not !" replied one of my visitors.
" We have swept the decks. We have elected four con-
gressmen from this city, sure. When I left the commit-
tee-rooms they were debating whether they should per-
mit the Democrats to count in the other. It hadn't been

" Counting in," I exclaimed " what do you mean by
** counting in a member ?" " You poor, unsophisticated
Vermonter," he said, " you pretend you don't know what
* counting in ' means ! You must have played the count-
ing-out games of children ! This is the same thing, only
it works the other way."

Young men will better comprehend the progress back-
ward of politics within a little more than a fourth of a
century when I say that my guilelessness was not at all
assumed. I was born in a community in which the casting
of a ballot was regarded as a solemn and serious duty. In
my boyhood, election meetings were opened with prayer,
and until the vote was counted there was no act unbefit-
ting the church in which the elections were always held.
I had never heard of " counting out " or " counting in " a
candidate. The suggestion dawned upon me like a sug-
gestion of a crime. Such remarks make no impression
now. I have become too familiar with the practice, pro-
fessionally and otherwise. The person referred to after-
wards became a Democratic leader. I still occasionally
meet him, but never without recalling this observation
with a sensation which is neither creditable to him nor
agreeable to myself.



THE October elections decided the presidential contest.
Pennsylvania was the keystone. " As goes Pennsylva-
nia, so goes the Union !" was the slogan of all the politi-
cal clans. The praises which were the reward of my
services in Pennsylvania naturally increased my estimate
of the value of those services, so that when I returned to
my law office I looked about to see what office would
suitably reward me. I had been treading out corn for a
month the Kepublicans would not muzzle the ox that
treadeth out the corn the laborer was worthy of his re-
ward, and I did not doubt that I should be strongly sup-
ported as a candidate for any place in my own state for
which I might apply. The collectorship of the port
would, as I thought, just suit me the salary was not
large under two thousand dollars, but it was the largest
in the state in the gift of the President, and therefore
best worthy of my attention.

Mindful of the success of the traditional early bird, I
would take time by the forelock and secure the support
of my Republican friends before any other candidate
started in the race. I would not even wait for the elec-
tion. I would begin now. I prepared letters to leading
Republicans in all parts of the state. I am sure they
were models. I put the whole responsibility upon my
friends. Personally, I said, I was rather disinclined to


take the office but my friends were so persistent they
insisted that I ought to receive some substantial reward
that my appointment would do credit to the state, to
myself, and the party. I had decided to take their ad-
vice. If the gentleman addressed agreed with them,
would he kindly furnish me with his written- recommen-
dation to the President for my appointment ?

The result was a trifle disappointing in two respects.
My friends, "all with one consent, began to make ex-
cuse." Every one had pledged himself months before
to some one else. Candidates were as numerous as the
counties. A few answered that they would stand by me
if I said so, although it would embarrass them to recede
from their pledges. The general tenor of the correspond-
ence might be poetically expressed in the solemn words,
" Too late ! Too late ! Ye cannot enter now."

October, November, December passed; Lincoln and
Hamlin were known to be elected. What power was it
that closed our eyes to current events and their conse-
quences ? The people of the South were infatuated of
the North, blind ! blind ! Was it one of those mysterious
ways in which the Almighty works his sovereign will,
which led to the sealing up of Northern eyes ? Day after
day we saw the funds of the United States transferred to
Southern depositories ; cannon, small-arms, and military
supplies transferred to Southern arsenals ; Southern lead-
ers seizing upon and appropriating moneys which the
United States held in trust for wards of the nation.
South Carolina called a convention which passed an or-
dinance of secession, without one dissenting vote. Her
representatives and senators in Congress shook the dust
of Washington from their feet and left the capital, with
insult and contumely for the Union on their lips ; every
Southern state engaged openly in preparations for the


destruction of the Union ; and while all this was going
on the people of the North went, one to his cattle, an-
other to his merchandise, and if they cast a glance at the
angry clouds gathering in the Southern sky, declared
that they might result in a sprinkle, but that we should
not have much of a shower after all ! To us the Union
was the ark of our covenant, men might rage and bluster
and threaten, but to touch it with unhallowed hands in-
volved a measure of depravity of which we believed no
American capable.

That fine old merchant, manufacturer, and patriot,
Erastus Fairbanks, was then Governor of Vermont. On
Saturday, the second day of February, late in the day, he
telegraphed me that he wished me to lay aside all busi-
ness, and leave Burlington that evening for Washington
that I was appointed a member of a delegation my
associates would meet me on the train one of his aids
would bring us our commissions, with the few suggestions
he thought proper to make to us. I obeyed his injunction.
When the train reached Troy, there were on board of
it Gen. H. H. Baxter, ex-Governor Hall, Messrs. Un-
derwood, Harris, and myself. There, a letter from
the governor was handed us, stating that we were dele-
gates appointed to represent Vermont in a Peace Confer-
ence called by Governor Letcher, of Virginia, to be held
in Washington on the 4th of February, only two days
later. Governor Fairbanks bound us by no instructions,
made but one brief recommendation. It was that we
should consult with our delegation in Congress, and then
represent Vermont in the conference according to her
principles and her traditions, witholding nothing that
ought to be surrendered, submitting to nothing that was
wrong, unjust, or inconsistent with Republican principles.

We reached Washington on time ; other delegates


boarding the train as it passed through New York, New
Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland. We went to Willard's,
then the principal hotel, owned by two young Yermont-
ers, who informed us that the city was crowded with
strangers, principally from the South.

With a brief delay to clear ourselves from the dust of
travel, we drove to the Capitol. Senator Foot was the
only member of the Yermont delegation we found there.
We knew him at home as a prudent, cautious, rather re-
tiring statesman, very conservative in his views, and
eminently cautious in his expressions, in short, a typical
Yermonter in whom all Yermonters had unlimited con-
fidence. He met us with his usual cordiality, but the first
mention of the Peace Conference appeared to enrage him.

" It is a fraud, a trick, a deception," he exclaimed, " a
device of traitors and conspirators again to cheat the
North and to gain time to ripen their conspiracy. I at
first hoped Governor Fairbanks would pay no attention
to it. I am now glad that he has sent delegates. At
home they do not believe we are living here in a nest
of traitors. You will be able to see and judge for your-
selves I"

Ex-Governor Hall, one of the most amiable of men, was
shocked by the senator's violence. " You do not mean,
senator," he said, " that we are on the eve of rebellion
that there is danger ?"

" That is precisely what I do mean," he said ; " the plot
to seize the Capitol and prevent the inauguration of
Lincoln is already formed they will prevent the count-
ing of the votes, if they dare. Their chief present diffi-
culty is want of time. That time you are to assist them
in gaining by useless debates in a misnamed Peace Con-
ference. But you have no need to take my word for it.
Keep your eyes open and judge for yourselves !"


" "We are here for consultation," continued Governor
Hall ; " we have decided to do nothing except upon con-
sultation and the advice of our delegation in Congress."

"I think you are wise in that," said the senator.
" There are no divided counsels in the delegation. We all
think alike, but possibly I express my opinions with the
least reserve."

As we were about to withdraw the senator observed :
"There is one subject in addition which I ought to
mention. I should speak plainly, possibly to your sur-
prise. The city is overrun with Southerners. A few of
them are gentlemen, but the large majority are roughs
and adventurers, who profess great contempt for what
they call the cowardice of Northern men. They are all
armed they believe that Northern men will run rather
than fight that they may be insulted with impunity.
They will probably insult you. I believe street fights
would be common if these fellows were not ruled with
an iron hand by their leaders, who do not want any
fighting until they are prepared. Northern men now
carry arms who never carried them before, and are pre-
pared to defend themselves. I think each individual
must determine such matters for himself. I have de-
cided that, so long as I represent Vermont as one of her
senators, I shall express my opinions touching her in-
terests upon all proper occasions in such language as I
deem consistent with the dignity and position of a sena-
tor. If assaulted or insulted for such expressions, I
shall undertake to defend the honor of Vermont. I do
not believe in fighting, nor in submitting to the charge
of cowardice. These men are traitors, conspirators,
rebels, leagued together for the destruction of the Union.
I do not hesitate to tell them so to their faces !"

"Senator!" exclaimed one of our number, astounded


at these expressions from one ordinarily so prudent and
self-controlled. " Do you advise us to prepare for street
fights ? to carry pistols ? If I had a loaded pistol in my
pocket I should feel as if I were preparing to commit a

" I advise nothing," he responded, " I am merely put-
ting you upon your guard. You are Vermonters ; you
know how to defend your state and yourselves. After
you have been here a few days you will judge for your-
selves whether it will be wise for you to carry arms."



I DO not aspire to the dignity of a historian. I am not
writing a history of the Peace Conference. I may, how-
ever, venture to hope that the incidents I shall describe
may be of use to future historians. They concern the
very origin of the rebellion. The Peace Conference was
a prelude to the bloody drama which followed it, and its
record must be read and understood by those who would
comprehend in their chronological order the events
which ended all hope of a peaceful solution of the long-
pending controversy between freedom and slavery by
the opening gun against Fort Sumter.

Willard's great hotel, like a parasitic plant, had grad-
ually grown around and taken in an old "Washington
church, which was then called Willard's Hall. Here the
members of the Conference were notified to assemble.
They found that its self-appointed managers had attend-
ed to all the preliminary work. Without any effort to
ascertain who were commissioned as members, a tempo-
rary chairman and secretary were elected, and a Com-
mittee on Kules and Organization was appointed. An
uninstructed member then moved the admission of re-
porters for the press, a large number of whom were
then waiting at the door, directed, as the member said, to
make public the proceedings of the most important con-
ference which had been held since the adoption of the
Federal Constitution.


Mr. James A. Seddon, of Virginia, who assumed the
duties of managing director of the Conference, objected.
He did not see that any good could possibly come of giv-
ing publicity to its proceedings. Wide differences of
opinion would be found to exist at the outset; these
were to be harmonized by mutual concessions and com-
promises. The interference and criticisms of the press,
he said, would destroy every hope of success. Members
would not have the courage to consent to necessary
compromises if they were subjected to the daily attacks
of the newspapers. If the Conference was to produce
any good results, it must transact its business behind
closed doors. The motion to admit the reporters, to use
the Southern phrase, " passed in the negative."

The programme arranged for tjie three following days
was followed without the slightest change. The Repub-
licans contented themselves by looking on, without any
interference with the harmony of the proceedings. Ex-
President John Tyler was made permanent president, a
series of rules was reported by the committee and
adopted ; a Committee on Credentials was then appoint-
ed and made an immediate report ; a Committee on
Resolutions, consisting of one member from each state
represented, to which all resolutions and propositions for
the adjustment of existing difficulties between states
were to be referred without debate, was appointed by
the president.

After some informal consultations among themselves,
the Republican members decided that the time had ar-
rived for them to take a more active part in the exer-
cises. One of them, after remarking that a record of the
resolutions introduced and disposed of should be pre-
served for future use, moved the appointment of a re-
cording secretary. Another insisting that every mem-


ber should be accurately reported, and should be able to
show to his constituents what he had said as well as how
he had voted, moved the appointment of an official
stenographer, who should take notes of the debates and
hold them subject to the order of the Conference. Both
motions were promptly rejected.

I obtained the bad distinction of casting the first fire-
brand into the inflammable materials of the Conference.
I introduced a formal resolution for the appointment of
a stenographer, which was laid on the table. I then ob-
served that it was a part of my duty to make an accu-
rate report of all that transpired in the Conference to
the Executive of Yermont ; that I was no stenographer,
and did not crave the labor I was about to undertake ;
that, after the votes declining to make any record or to
preserve the materials from which a record might after-
wards be made, I intended openly to take notes and
make the best report of the debates and record of the
proceedings I could, and to make such use of them as I
thought proper.

Then there was trouble. The Southerners and their
Northern allies were furious. No member, they said,
had a right to disregard the vote of the Conference.
One demanded that the Committee on Rules should im-
mediately report a vote of censure ; another demanded
my expulsion, unless I would promise obedience. Mr.
Seddon called up an amendment he had offered to the
report of the Committee on Rules, prohibiting any com-
munication of the proceedings except by members to
the states they represented, and called for a vote upon it.

There was great confusion. A dozen Southerners, each
offering different remedies, were all trying to speak at
the same time. There was but one remark from a
Northern delegate William Curtis Noyes, with a quiet


emphasis which cut like a finely tempered sabre, said
that there was a considerable body of delegates on that
floor who intended to secure the rights of every indi-
vidual delegate. President Tyler, whose discretion never
deserted him, saw that the time for his interference had
come. He sternly commanded and restored order. He
announced peremptorily that the proposed attempt to
control the individual conduct of an orderly member, and
to interfere with his communications to his constituents,
was unparliamentary and out of order. The amend-
ment of Mr. Seddon, by the rule already adopted, must
be referred to the Committee. Order was restored, the
storm passed, and the skies were clear again.

Among the singular people at that time collected in
Washington, perhaps the most extraordinary person was
Adam Gurowski. I came to know him intimately after-
wards, but neither myself nor any one else, so far as I
could ascertain, ever knew anything of his previous
history or of what country he was a native. He was a
fine scholar and writer, with an excellent command of
language ; a brilliant conversationalist in all the modern
European tongues. He claimed acquaintance with sev-
eral crowned heads and many of the statesmen of Eu-
rope, was perfectly familiar with diplomatic usages, a
gentleman in dress and carriage. "Without any very
definite knowledge, I formed the conclusion that he was
a Russian, who had been connected with the diplomatic
service, but compelled to leave Europe on account of
opinions which were somewhat erratic, if they were not
revolutionary and socialistic. He was unobtrusive, yet
he managed to form the acquaintance of everybody
of any note, and usually to secure their good opinion.
Diplomatists, cabinet officers, senators, and members of

Online LibraryL. E. (Lucius Eugene) ChittendenRecollections of President Lincoln and his administration → online text (page 2 of 35)