L. E. (Lucius Eugene) Chittenden.

Recollections of President Lincoln and his administration online

. (page 24 of 35)
Online LibraryL. E. (Lucius Eugene) ChittendenRecollections of President Lincoln and his administration → online text (page 24 of 35)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

tion of certain qualities in the President's character
depends, in a great degree, upon the circumstances under
which it was told. These are in part omitted, and in
part misdescribed, in the published account. The fol-
lowing is a correct version, as I can affirm from personal
knowledge :

The colored people, from the hour of his inauguration,
regarded Mr. Lincoln as the promised saviour of their
race. Their faith in his wisdom and power was un-
bounded. It was most fully expressed in their churches
and religious services by a singular combination of rev-
erence and trust. They had no doubt whatever of his
ability to set them free, and that he would do so when-
ever it was to their advantage that the blessing of free-
dom should be bestowed. They were content to wait
until that time arrived. Their duty, as impressed by
their ministers, was to prepare themselves for the great
impending change in their condition, by learning to read
and write, and by leading good and honest lives. When-
ever Mr. Lincoln's name was mentioned, or when they


saw him or heard him speak, they exhibited much the
same reverence as we may imagine was shown by sin-
cere believers at the sight of the Saviour of men.

In May, 1862, there was a Sunday-school celebration
of the colored children of Washington. The bright
contrasts of striking colors of which the race is so fond,
with their genius for display, enabled the parents to
dress and arrange their children in a procession of a
memorable character at a small expense. The young,
black, merry faces, the simple dresses of white with a
red shawl or sash worn over them with native grace, the
girls carrying bouquets of crimson roses, and the boys
waving colored banners, arranged in a procession, with
their teachers and parents walking solemnly by their side,
all occupied in a vain effort to suppress their enthusiasm,
was a pleasant picture to behold. The procession was
a long one, and must have comprised most of the colored
children in the city. It was the season of flowers, and
the large bunches carried by the girls lent an added
brightness to the scene.

The route of the procession brought it in front of the
Executive Mansion about ten o'clock on a bright May
morning. President Lincoln stood at one of the win-
dows on the second floor, and the procession passed
within a few yards, so that every child in it had a full
view of his person. At the head of the column were
forty or fifty colored ministers and teachers, who set an
excellent example of sober dignity to their young fol-
lowers. Their injunctions of silence to the children
were emphatic and often repeated.

But it would have been no more difficult to suppress
so many explosions of powder with the match applied
than to quell the involuntary outburst of enthusiasm
which came from every child in that long procession as


he or she recognized the well-known face and figure of
Abraham Lincoln. It would be useless to attempt to
repeat their exclamations. From the boys there were
shouts of enthusiastic delight ; from the girls a more
suppressed form of reverential wonder. Boys and girls
alike wanted the fact to be known that they had seen
the President. " I seen him !" " I seen him my own
self!" " Dat's Massa Linkum !" "Look at him! Look
at him !" " Oh, don't he look just the same as the Lord !"
Every boy would swing his flag, and shout his hurrahs
as he came near the President, and each was frantic with
]oy when, as often happened, he appeared to notice him.
The girls, not so demonstrative, clasped their hands and
blessed " Massa Linkum " in every imaginable form of
expression. Scores of them tossed their bunches of roses
into the Mansion, so that the floor was carpeted with

For a full hour the President stood at the window,
giving the last child as good an opportunity to see him
as the first. There is not much of the pathetic in the
account, but there was something very touching in this
universal reverence for Abraham Lincoln. It did not
fail to affect every spectator, the President, apparently,
most of all. His sad, melancholy face could not have
been more expressive if he had felt a sense of personal
responsibility for every human being in that numerous
crowd. The scene was so touching that there were some
eyes which were not entirely dry, and I thought, at the
time, that the President's were among the number.

When the procession had passed, and the last of the
innumerable " God bless him's" had died away, without
breaking the silence which he had maintained for an
hour, Mr. Lincoln turned from the window and walked
slowly back towards the well-known little room in which


he had received so many visitors, followed by those who
had with him witnessed the exhibition. When the
President entered the room, his face wore that look of
melancholy so habitual to it ; so different from that of
any other human being.

Suddenly he stopped and turned about. In an instant
the whole aspect of the man had changed ; the melan-
choly look had disappeared, and his sad eyes sparkled
with humor. Without addressing any one in particular,
he exclaimed :

" Did you ever hear the story of Daniel Webster and
the school-master?"

No one answered. " Well," he said, " this is the
story: Daniel was a very careless, some called him a
dirty boy. His teacher had many times reproved him
for not washing his hands. He had coaxed and scolded
him, but it was useless ; Daniel would come to school
with dirty hands. Out of all patience with him, one
day he called Daniel to his desk, made him hold up his
hands in the presence of the whole school, and solemnly
warned him that if he ever came to school again with
his hands in that condition he would give him a fer-
ruling which he would long remember.

" Daniel promised better behavior, and for two or three
days there was great improvement in his appearance.
His hands looked as if they were washed daily. But
the reformation was not permanent. In a few days his
hands were as dirty as ever. The teacher's sharp eyes
detected them, and, as soon as school had opened for
the day, with a stern voice he said, ' Daniel, come
here !' the guilty culprit knew what was coming. His
palms began to tingle in anticipation. He stealthily
brought the palm of his right hand into contact with
his tongue, and, as he walked slowly towards the mas-


ter's desk, rubbed the same upon his pantaloons, in the
effort to remove some of the dirt. ( Hold out your hand,
sir !' said the master. Daniel extended his right hand
palm upward. ' Do you call that a clean hand ?' de-
manded the teacher. ' Not very, sir,' modestly replied
the offender. ' I should think not very /' said the
master. ' I promised you a f erruling ; but if you will
show a dirtier hand in this school-room, I will let you
off for this time.' ' There it is, sir !' exclaimed Daniel,
quickly extending his left hand, which had not under-
gone the summary cleansing of the right."

Mr. Lincoln seldom laughed at his own stories, but
usually left his auditors, for whose benefit they were
told, to enjoy them. But the quickness with which the
school-boy had seized upon the weak point in the mas-
ter's offer seemed to touch his keen sense of humor, and
at the conclusion of the story he laughed as heartily as
any one present. The story was a good one, but what
there had been in the procession just witnessed to bring
it to the President's mind was difficult to discover.



To those who were in almost daily intercourse with
President Lincoln, who knew his inmost thoughts, it was
surprising that the slaveholders could not see that he
wanted to be their friend. When the war was fairly be-
gun, I believe he gave up all thought that slavery could be
saved. I know that he began to formulate plans to se-
cure to the slaveholders payment for their slaves, and if
the Border states had come to his assistance there was a
time when they could have secured it. As early as Sep-
tember, 1861, 1 heard him discuss the subject frequently.
He spoke of the poverty and distress which emancipation
would bring upon the slaveholders. He hoped that Con-
gress would propose some plan of co-operation with the
Border states in abolishing slavery. Immediately after
our first military successes in the winter of 1862, and
early in March, he sent a special message to Congress,
proposing a joint resolution offering such co-operation,
and that Congress should offer at least partial payment.
In July he transmitted a bill to Congress, which provided
that bonds of the United States at a fixed rate per head,
according to the census of 1860, should be issued to any
state that abolished slavery.

This liberal proposal received considerable support at
the North. Mr. Greely advocated it in the Tribune, and


the leading Republican papers followed his lead. Mr.
Lincoln personally invited his friends to interest them-
selves in the subject.

But the proposition met with no support in the Border
states, where it ought to have been received with enthu-
siasm, and in the seceded states it was ridiculed. The
London Times scoffed at it, and in all England only the
Daily News gave it a cold support. Mr. Lincoln quite
took its failure to heart, and declared that it still re-
mained true that, whom the gods wished to destroy they
first made mad. He became discouraged almost to the
point of abandoning the project, when a suggestion was
made which attracted some attention, and promised to
acquire some strength in the Border states. The propo-
sition was not only to pay for the slaves, but to remove
them bodily to some territory which should be wholly
given up to them, and where they should try the experi-
ment of self-government.

Unfortunately the source of this suggestion gave it little
political strength. The fact that Mr. Lincoln consented
to entertain and consider it at all showed how far he
was willing to go for the protection of the slave owners,
and how unwilling he was to give up all hope of success.
The proposition seemed to his friends absurd and impos-
sible. If it were not, it was hopeless ; for no Northern
state would consent to pay for the slave property, incur
the expense of removing it, and also become responsible
for its future management. The author of the scheme
was ex-Senator Pomeroy, and its promoters were specu-
lators rather than statesmen.

It was very close to the new year of 1863 that the
suggestion was tentatively given to the newspapers, in
the form of a rumor that parties were ready to under-
take the removal of the slaves to "Western Texas. It at-


tracted but little attention, and it became evident that
some other impulse must be given to it if it was to suc-

During one of his welcome visits to my office, the
President appeared to be buried in thought over some
subject of great interest. After long reflection he ab-
ruptly exclaimed that he wanted to ask me a ques-

" Do you know any energetic contractor ?" he inquired.
" One who would be willing to take a large contract,
attended with some risk ?"

" I know New England contractors," I replied, " who
would not be frightened by the magnitude or risk of any
contract. The element of prospective profit is the only
one which would interest them. If there was a fair
prospect of profit, they would not hesitate to contract
to suppress the rebellion within ninety days !"

" There will be profit and reputation in the contract I
may propose," he said. " It is to remove the whole col-
ored race of the slave states into Texas. If you have
any acquaintance who would take that contract, I would
like to see him."

"I know a man who would take that contract and
perform it. I would be willing to put him into commu-
nication with you, so that you might form your own
opinion about him. He is so connected with my family
that I would not endorse him further than to say that
he has energy enough to remove a nation."

By the President's direction I requested John Brad-
ley, a well-known Yermonter, then temporarily in New
York, to come to Washington. He was at my office
when the Treasury opened, the morning after I sent the
telegram. I declined to give him any hint of the pur-
pose of his invitation, but took him directly to the Pres-


ident. When I presented him, I said : " Here, Mr. Pres-
ident, is the contractor whom I named to you yester-
day. Please understand that if I endorse him it must
be ' without recourse.' You must take him upon your
own judgment, if at all. His plans are too comprehen-
sive for me to make good if he should fail."

I left them together. Two hours later Mr. Bradley
returned to the Register's Office, overflowing with admi-
ration for the President and enthusiasm for his proposed
work. "The proposition is," he said, "to remove the whole
colored race into Texas, there to establish a republic of
their own. The subject has political bearings, of which
I am no judge, and upon which the President has not
yet made up his mind. But I have shown him that it is
practicable. I will undertake to remove them all within
a year."

" What do you think of the President ?" I asked.

" I think he is the greatest man of the century !" he
answered. " He has the intellect of Webster and the
hard common-sense of Silas Wright. I can understand
now his power over other men. He is thoroughly honest
and unselfish. He has sound judgment; he can com-
mand all my resources for anything he wishes to do. He
is greater than Washington, and the world will eventu-
ally so decide."

" But is not this project for the deportation of the ne-
groes rather impracticable ? Is it not an act of rashness
to favor it ?"

" He has not decided to favor it. It is the project of
Senator Pomeroy, of Kansas, and a few others. The
President has it under examination. I do not under-
stand the political questions involved in it, and I think it
is very doubtful whether President Lincoln approves it.
But if he does, it will be a success, and I shall do all in


my power to favor it. Mr. Lincoln is great, because he
is honest. The people must follow such a leader ! They
cannot do otherwise. I cannot do otherwise. If he de-
cides upon this wholesale transfer of the colored race,
they will be in Texas within a year. I would like to take
the contract for their removal. All the assistance I want
is the approval of President Lincoln."

"What is your opinion of Mr. Bradley?" I asked the
President at my next opportunity.

" He is equal to any enterprise, even the removal of a
race from one continent to another," the President an-
swered. " He poured a flood of information over the
entire subject. He had built a railroad through the state
of Texas ; he knew all about the soil, the climate, all the
conditions which control the problem. He was a verita-
ble mine of information. He was even ready to take the
contract for the deportation of the negroes at so much a
head. But he also had powerful reasons against the
project. If it is undertaken, he will have a hand in it.
Have you many such men in Vermont? "Why would
they not make great soldiers ? A dozen such men com-
bined ought to control the resources of the state."

"There is one defect in Mr. Bradley's character," I
said. " He will carry any enterprise through its diffi-
culties, but when these are overcome, the project ceases
to have any attraction for him."

" I, think I understand you. As they say in the hay-
field, he requires a good man to 'rake after him.' I
asked him if he had had any military experience. He
said that he had not, but that he could learn military
science in two months. On my word, I believe he could."

"If such men were in command, there would be a
movement at the front," he continued. " I can find men
enough who can rake after ; but the men with long arms


and broad shoulders, who swing a scythe in long sweeps,
cutting a smooth swath ten feet wide, are much more
difficult to find."

The project for the removal of the colored race was
soon after abandoned. I doubt whether it was ever
seriously entertained by the President. The plan was
favorably considered by others, and his rejection of it
serves to illustrate the practical judgment by which the
President decided every question presented for his con-



WAR is a crime against humanity. Criminals who
transgress laws made by man sometimes escape the
penalty; those who break the laws ordained of God,
never. Whether nation or individual, their punishment
is inevitable.

After the War of the Rebellion was over, and the great
wrong of slavery had been expiated in blood, there were
those who hoped that the nation might be restored to
the soundness of ante-bellum days, and escape the de-
moralizing results which have followed all wars from
that one waged in heaven by the first rebel against his
omnipotent Master. It was a thrice -vain hope. We
who lived before the war are able to compare the tone
of legislation, the purity of the judiciary, the integrity
of public officers, and the conscience which regulated
the intercourse of men in those peaceful days, with the
insane speculations, the monopolies, the thirst for office
and the greed of riches of the present day, and require
no other proofs of the extent of the national demoraliza-
tion. It is not an agreeable picture. More closely than
anything in history, it tends toward the condition of
the empire when Rome, by her conquests, had accumu-
lated, in the Eternal City, the corruptions as well as the
riches of the world.

Much of this degradation of the public morals was
the inevitable result of war. It arose from causes prob-


ably beyond human control, under the wisest of govern-
ments. Upon these causes it is useless to enter. But
there were others which might have been prevented or
suppressed. Their evils were anticipated and discussed ;
there was opportunity to employ or reject them. I will
give a short sketch of one of them, and some of the in-
cidents of its operation.

Secretary Chase was opposed upon principle to any
system of direct taxation which required a force of
revenue officers for its collection. His chief objection
was, that it would create an inquisition into the private
affairs of the people to which they were unused, and
which could not fail to become disagreeable and offen-
sive. To the cases cited of Great Britain and other
powers, where a large revenue was collected under such
a system, he replied that the revenue was obtained from
but few articles or sources ; that this kind of taxation
had been so long in use that its evils had been re-
formed; the people had become accustomed to it and
its burdens were light. Whereas here, the whole sub-
ject was novel, and the tax would necessarily be laid
upon a much larger number of articles.

But Secretary Chase had constantly before him one
controlling fact, to which the general public gave but
little attention. The Treasury was the weakest point
in the national defences and the constant source of im-
pending peril. The national credit was as necessary to
a restoration of the Union as oxygen to life. If that
became bankrupt, a divided union and a confederacy
founded upon negro slavery were as inevitable as death.

The battle of Bull Run, however, settled several open
questions. One of them was, that every practicable
means of supplying the Treasury with money must be
employed without longer delay. Customs duties must


be increased to an extent which made illicit importa-
tions immensely profitable, and all manufactured prod-
ucts, the professions, and the incomes of the people must
be taxed to an extent before uncontemplated. An in-
ternal revenue system, reaching into every village and
hamlet of the loyal states, had become an immediate

The secretary invited suggestions from a number of
gentlemen for the structure of the Internal Revenue
Statutes. These suggestions arranged themselves in two
classes. One class proceeded upon the assumption that
men were naturally dishonest, and that they would re-
gard a fraud upon the United States as an evidence of
shrewdness rather than a crime, as a credit rather than
a stigma. The other insisted that the nation was now
experiencing a grand and most creditable development
of patriotism, which led it to regard the payment of
necessary taxes as a duty, and which would no more
tolerate frauds upon the Treasury than it would any
other form of treason.

The first of these classes consequently proposed an in-
ternal revenue system which should enforce the collec-
tion of taxes by heavy fines, penalties, and forfeitures,
which should be divided with informers and spies. As
these informers would require instruction in their labors,
in order to become experts, they proposed a bureau of
detectives in the Treasury, presided over by a chief, with
such a number of subordinates as should be found neces-
sary, all to be salaried officers of the United States.

The general plan of the second class proposed con-
siderable rewards for prompt returns and payments, in
deductions from the amount of the tax. Their prin-
cipal reliance, however, was upon the honesty of a pa-
triotic people, who, if properly encouraged by the Treas-


ury, would constitute a great army of unpaid agents for
the collection of the taxes, besides paying their own,
since no man who bore his own share of the burdens of
war would permit his neighbor to escape from the same
burdens by fraud or dishonesty. This plan wholly dis-
pensed with detectives and paid informers.

I took a somewhat active part in the discussion of the
subject, and, at the request of the secretary, prepared a
written argument, in which it was claimed that the em-
ployment of an army of detectives was inconsistent with
the dignity of the government, and would exert a cor-
rupting influence upon the people. I also stated that in
my experience as a lawyer I could not remember that I
had ever met with a professional detective who could be
trusted ; that the reason was probably to be found in
the fact that a man who used deception and falsehood
as the tools of his trade became incapable of distinguish-
ing them from truth, so that he would use either, as at
the moment seemed most expedient. Such a man's mind
was not likely to be controlled by conscience, nor were
perfect candor and sincerity towards an employer to be
expected from one whose ordinary line of action in the
pursuit of a criminal must necessarily involve a constant
exercise of the opposite qualities. It was also stated that
the people, knowing that such agents were employed by
the Treasury, would infer that honesty and integrity
were no longer appreciated, and would lose all interest
in the honest execution of the laws, concluding that, as
they got no credit for fair payment of their taxes, they
might just as well evade them whenever they could.
The results would necessarily be a general demoraliza-
tion of the public service and a thorough corruption of
the public mind.

The advice of the class first mentioned finally pre-


vailed. After long hesitation the secretary decided upon
the employment of detectives, and the first internal rev-
enue act of 1862 was framed upon the theory that the
taxpayers were the natural enemies of the government,
who would avail themselves of every opportunity to de-
fraud it, and evade the payment of their taxes. The
laws for the collection of duties upon imports were
amended so as to conform to the same theory. Heavy
penalties were imposed by the internal revenue and the
tariff laws, which were to be enforced by the official
power of the United States, but the penalties, when col-
lected, were to be divided between the government and
the informers. Statutes were enacted which gave to
irresponsible detectives powers of visitation and inquisi-
tion into the business of the citizen which were intolera-
ble enough to have provoked a revolution if the country

Online LibraryL. E. (Lucius Eugene) ChittendenRecollections of President Lincoln and his administration → online text (page 24 of 35)