L. E. (Lucius Eugene) Chittenden.

Recollections of President Lincoln and his administration online

. (page 3 of 35)
Online LibraryL. E. (Lucius Eugene) ChittendenRecollections of President Lincoln and his administration → online text (page 3 of 35)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

the House everybody was accessible to him and re-


ceived him on a familiar footing. He was the firm
friend of the North, and entertained an inveterate hatred
of slavery and its influence. I mention him here, be-
cause I afterwards learned that his ability to obtain re-
liable information of important facts was phenomenal.
His conclusions were usually accurate, though probably
in great part the result of intuition. Within a week
after our arrival in Washington, we found ourselves con-
versing with Gurowski upon the footing of an acquaint-
ance, and I believe he had made himself known to
every Northern member of the Conference.

On the evening of the day of our first flurry in the
Conference, Gurowski called at the rooms where the
Northern members were accustomed to confer.

" Do I intrude ?" he asked. " I felt it my duty to call
at once and congratulate you. You are beginning to
experience the maternal cares of the ' mother of the
presidents,' ' even as a hen gathereth her chickens un-
der her wing,' etc. How do you Northern gentlemen
like the experience ?"

We denied his knowledge of what had been done in
the Conference. He related its action, the substance of
the speeches, the president's decision, with perfect ac-

" You will make a mess of it between you," he said.
" These conspirators do not know how to conspire, and
you Republicans ! I don't know how to take you. Are
you lambs to be eaten up unresistingly by the wolves of
secession ? Or are you fishes with blood so cold that it
cannot be stirred to action? Don't you know the de-
tails of the plot ? I can give them to you to the dotting
of every i and the crossing of every t from the first
capital to the final period. If you knew them as I do,
you would not be wasting your time in Washington."


I shall give Gurowski's version, not because I think it
should be accepted upon his evidence, but because it pre-
sents in a compact form a plan of which subsequent
events furnished strong confirmatory proof.

" Mr. Lincoln's election," he said, " decided the ques-
tion of secession. The leaders agreed that the electoral
vote should not be counted, that his election should not
be officially declared. General Cass was to be quarrelled
out of the Cabinet. Mr. Buchanan, naturally infirm of
purpose and weakened by age, could be controlled by
the remaining members, while as much as possible of
the national property was transferred into the Southern
states. South Carolina was to secede at once other
states to follow as fast as possible "Washington was to
be packed with fighting Southerners, and on the 13th of
February, during the count of the electoral vote, a riot
was to be started in the House, the Capitol and the de-
partments seized, and a new confederacy proclaimed
with Jefferson Davis as President ad interim.

" Floyd and Cobb had upset the entire plan by their
premature and criminal acts, which drove them from the
Cabinet, and brought in General Dix and Mr. Stanton.
General Cass had been driven out as they intended, but
in a brief spasm of resolution Mr. Buchanan had insisted
upon putting Judge Black in his place, and Judge Black
could not be trusted by the South. General Scott also
had made an unexpected difficulty. Old and rheumatic
as he was, he had declined to submit to temptation or
control; he had smelt the danger, collected such regu-
lars from the army as he could in Washington, and had
given the plotters notice that the first one that laid a
hand of force on the government should be shot down
without trial, mercy, or delay. When Congress convened
in December, the plot to prevent the count of the elec-


toral vote was a failure. There had been too many
rogues and fools admitted into the counsels of the con-

" Then a new conspiracy had to be formed. It was
agreed that Jefferson Davis should be its head and gen-
eral manager. Special work might be assigned by him
to individuals, but he alone should determine how far
others should be admitted to a knowledge of its details.
It dated from the day, or rather the night, of the 5th of
January, when Judah Benjamin, Slidell, Mallory, and
Mason met at the house of Mr. Davis in Washington.
It was then agreed that the electoral vote should be
counted and the result declared. All the senators and
representatives should remain in Congress, drawing their
pay, until their respective states had seceded. South
Carolina was already out of the Union. In the Gulf
states, secession should be hastened as much as possible.
Slidell and Mallory were to prepare a plan for the con-
federacy and to call a convention of the seceded states
to adopt it at Montgomery, Alabama, not later than the
middle of February. The Border states could not be
voted out of the Union in time, but they were nearest
"Washington, and could provide the men to seize the
government on the 4th of March, to which date the
rebellion was now postponed.

" Here," exclaimed Gurowski, " comes in the most dis-
reputable part of the conspiracy. The people of the
free states, their representatives in Congress, were to be
played with like children. They were to be entertained
by the hope of an arrangement, of some peaceful settle-
ment of the controversy, which, at the fall election,
passed irrevocably beyond the limits of peaceful settle-
ment. This part of the plot was committed to Mr.
Mason. Virginia, the home of Washington, the mother


of the presidents, should apparently intervene to save
the Union. Her legislature was in session ; her governor
should invite the states to send delegates to a conference
to be held in Washington, to agree upon terms of com-
promise and peace. The North would respond, the con-
ference would occupy the time until March 4th, and so
long as such a conference existed the North would
sleep on undisturbed, doing nothing in the way of prep-
aration until awakened by the sound of revolutionary
cannon on the morning appointed for Mr. Lincoln's in-

" The rest you know," he continued. " Here you are
permitting yourselves to be used as the instruments of a
treasonable conspiracy, when you ought to be at home,
organizing and drilling your regiments, preparing to de-
fend the only government worth living under left upon
the face of the earth.

" Adieu, gentlemen," said the old man, politely taking
his leave ; " I have made my little speech. I have told
you plain truths, because I love this republic, how well
you will never know until you have passed through my
experiences, from which may the Almighty Father pro-
tect and preserve you."

There was present one of the noblest men ever pro-
duced by this or any country, who afterwards laid down
his life for the Union he was the model of an Amer-
ican gentleman James S. Wadsworth, of New York.

" I suppose that man is a crazy foreigner," said Mr.
Wadsworth, " but I do wish there were not so much
method nor quite so much intelligence in his madness.
If he is half right, our position here deserves the con-
tempt of the world. Yet we cannot deny that, with few
exceptions, the Northern press hailed the invitation of
Virginia to this Conference with favor and commen-


dation. It urged the Northern states to accept it, to
send as delegates their most conservative and compro-
mising men. It gives me a chill to think how carefully
the state of New York has made up her delegation.
Subtract one member from it, and the South to-day
controls one half that delegation. I begin to think it is
time we held a caucus, and found how many members
we have upon whom we could absolutely rely."

There was swift assent to Mr. Wadsworth's sugges-
tion. Different members undertook to notify a caucus
to be held the following evening. Mr. Clay, of Ken-
tucky, George W. Summers, of Virginia, and other
Southern members came in, and there was no opportu-
nity for further consultation.



THERE was but little for the Conference to do until the
Committee had reported their propositions for the amend-
ment of the Constitution. President Tyler, on the 7th of
February, announced that an official call upon the Presi-
dent was a manifest duty of the Conference, that he
had made the necessary arrangements, and the President
would receive us immediately upon the adjournment.
This call was so clearly a part of the programme that
no objection was made to it. Preceded by the Vir-
ginia delegation, with President Tyler at its head, we
marched to the Executive Mansion with the solemnity
of a funeral procession.

It was to the Northern members a memorable call. It
would be more agreeable to omit any account of it, as I
should certainly do, were it not that the Executive was
a factor in the existing situation which cannot be com-
prehended unless the measure of his influence is under-
stood. We went to the White House, believing that the
President, the sworn defender of the Constitution, the
head of the army and the navy, held in his own hands
the power to command all the resources of the republic
for the crushing of secession and the suppression of
treason. We came away convinced that, so far as the
defence of the Union depended upon him, the barrier
against secession was so frail that a breath would blow
it away.


"We found the venerable President advanced in years,
shaken in body, and uncertain in mind. He exhibited
every symptom of an old man worn out by worry. No
one doubted his personal fidelity to his country, but
every action, all his conversation with the delegates, in-
dicated that his mind was completely unsettled by appre-
hension and anxiety. He received every person presented
with effusion, with uncontrollable emotion. His thoughts
ran exclusively upon compromise and concession. It was
very painful to see him throw his arms around the neck
of one stranger after another, and, with streaming eyes,
beg of him to yield anything to save his country from
" bloody, fratricidal war." This appeared to be his favor-
ite phrase. He used it many, many times. He had not
one word of condemnation for disunion, secession, or
treason. He appeared to look upon the South as a
deeply injured party, to which the North owed apology
and promise of better conduct in future. It was natural
that the South should resent assaults upon her domestic
institutions, he said, and that she should demand, if not
indemnity for the past, at least security for the future.
That security the Conference could give. By consent-
ing to the amendments to the Constitution which the
South demanded, because they were indispensable to sat-
isfy the Southern people, the Conference could give peace
to a distracted country, and save the Union ! What a
noble object ! What a patriotic work ! How could we
stop to measure concessions which would produce such
grand results ?

His remarks were noticeable for what they did not,
as well as for what they did, comprise. They were so
nearly identical with those of the Secession delegates as
to suggest consultation. They did not contain the slight-
est reference to his successor or to his incoming adminis-


tration. When a delegate suggested that, by the elec-
tion of Mr. Lincoln, the people had pronounced judgment
upon the important claims now made by the South, and
that the Conference had no power to reverse that judg-
ment, there was an immediate interference in the con-
versation by several of the Southern delegates, and a
diversion to other topics. Such a reference was evi-
dently inconsistent with the preconcerted harmony of
the visit.

" What do you think of it ?" said one Northern dele-
gate to another, after witnessing a number of repetitions
of the emotional conduct of the President as different
members were presented to him.

" These views are not original with President Buchan-
an," he said. " They are the doctrines of Sir Boyle
Roche, the inimitable maker of Irish bulls. He de-
clared emphatically that he would give up a part, and,
if necessary, the whole of the Constitution, to preserve the
remainder /"

This call upon the President produced an impression
very different from that anticipated by those who
brought it about. It was well known that disagree-
ments in the Cabinet had arisen. General Cass had been
compelled to resign. The position of Secretary Stanton
was not, at that time, known to us. The despatch of
General Dix to Hemphill Jones, "If any man hauls
down the American flag, shoot him on the spot !" had
sent a thrill through the North, showing that there was
one member of the Cabinet who was true to his country.
Now, it was plain to the delegates that a disorganized
and divided Cabinet, with its President thus broken in
mind and body, formed an Executive Department in no
condition to cope with the adroit, energetic agents of
secession. The dangers of the situation became appar-


ent. Months of debate could not have united the North-
ern delegates together so firmly as the insensible influ-
ence of this formal call. Even before they left the White
House, many had decided that loyal men of all shades of
political opinion must now stand together in a firm pur-
pose to maintain the integrity of an unbroken Union,
and to resist all further aggressions of the slave power.
That evening a caucus was held, attended by nearly
every Republican delegate who had supported Mr. Lin-
coln. Mr. Chase was made its permanent chairman. A
resolution was adopted to the effect that no action
should be taken in the Conference which the Republi-
cans could delay, until it had been first considered in
the caucus. Since probably none but national ques-
tions would arise in the Conference, upon which there
would be only slight differences in Northern opinion, it
was decided that the co-operation of all loyal Democrats
should be cordially invited. From that time the Repub-
lican delegates acted as a compactly united body.



THE 13th of February, the day appointed by law for
counting the electoral vote, was rapidly approaching.
The impression was almost universal that the count
would not be interrupted that the project of seizing
the government by force was postponed to the 4th of
March, the day of inauguration. Still, there were many
indications, very troublesome to patriotic minds. The
influx of Southerners into Washington increased. Every
available room in the hotels, boarding or private houses,
was crowded with guests. They took full possession of
all the saloons and places where liquor was sold. One
of their favorite pastimes was to collect in front of the
liquor saloons and jostle or crowd the " white-livered,
black Republicans" and women into the street. The
Northern visitors to the capital were careful to avoid all
collision with them.

The air was filled with rumors. Few Northern men in
the city doubted that a conspiracy to seize the govern-
ment existed among the trusted leaders of secession;
that the force to execute it was organized, armed, and to
be furnished by the adjacent states of Maryland and
Virginia ; and that the brutal horde which at that time
infested the streets of Washington was a part of that
force. Whether any adequate preparations had been
made for the defence of the city against such a force, we


did not know. There was, consequently, a general feel-
ing of uneasiness ; and if a revolution had broken out at
any time, it would not have caused much surprise. I
should have mentioned that the argument for excluding
the public from the debates of the Conference which had
the most force with the Eepublicans was that the trait-
ors might seize upon any confusion or disorder that
should arise as an excuse for a riot, or an armed attack
upon the officers employed to enforce order, and thus
give the signal for open rebellion.

On the 8th of February, after a brief session of the
Conference, filled with this feeling of anxious uncertainty,
I determined, somewhat impulsively, to call upon Gen-
eral Scott, and learn whether any preparations had been
made to secure the undisturbed counting of the electoral
vote, and declaration of the result on the following
Wednesday, only five days later. His headquarters
were then in Winder's Building, opposite the old War
Department, which at that time was under the control
of Judge Holt, the loyal successor of the criminal Floyd.
I sent in my card with my address written upon it, and
without the least delay was shown by Colonel Townsend,
one of his aides, into the private room of the lieutenant-
general. The grand old man lay upon a sofa. He
raised his gigantic frame to a sitting posture. There
was infirmity in the movements of his body, but it
was forgotten the moment he spoke, for there was no
suspicion of weakness in his mind.

" A Chittenden of Vermont !" he said. " Why, that
was a good name when Ethan Allen took Ticonderoga !
I know the Vermonters I have commanded them in
battle. Well, Yermont must be as true to-day as she
has always been. What can the commander of the
army do for Vermont ?"


" Very little, at present," I answered. " I called to
pay you my personal respects. You may, however, do
me and some others a favor. In common with many
loyal men, I am anxious about the count of the electoral
vote on next "Wednesday. Many fear that the vote will
not be counted nor the result declared."

" Pray tell me why it will not be counted ?" he asked,
without any apparent effort, but with a voice which rang
like an order through a clear-toned trumpet. " There
have been threats on that subject," he continued, " but I
have heard nothing of them recently. I supposed I had
suppressed that infamy. Has it been resuscitated? I
have said that any man who attempted by force or un-
parliamentary disorder to obstruct or interfere with the
lawful count of the electoral vote for President and Vice-
President of the United States should be lashed to the
muzzle of a twelve-pounder and fired out of a window
of the Capitol. I would manure the hills of Arlington
with fragments of his body, were he a senator or chief
magistrate of my native state ! It is my duty to sup-
press insurrection my duty /"

It had been upon my lips to ask him whether he had
any adequate force to stamp out a revolution in the
capital ; but it was awkward to do so. He spoke of his
duty as something inevitable ; its performance was not
to be doubted. Accordingly, I said :

" Permit me to express my gratitude, general. There
is relief, encouragement, satisfaction in your assurance.
The Vermont delegation will sleep more quietly to-night
when they hear it.''

" I will say further," he continued, " that I do not be-
lieve there is any immediate danger of revolution. That
there has been, I know. But the leaders of secession are
doubtful about the result. They are satisfied that some-


body would get hurt. I have the assurance of the Yice-
President of the United States that he will announce the
election of the President and Vice-President, and that
no appeal to force will be attempted. His word is reli-
able. A few drunken ro wdies may risk and lose their
lives ; there will be nothing which deserves the name of
a revolution. But no promises relieve me from my duty.
"While I command the army there will be no revolution
in the city of "Washington !"

I made no secret of this interview with General Scott.
It soon became known that, although he was suffering
intensely from disease, he was always to be found at
his quarters, and that he was the most accessible public
man in Washington. His visitors were numerous. Every
loyal man left his presence with his hopes for the future
strengthened, his faith renewed, his confidence in the
General of the Army absolute, his principal regret be-
ing that such a tried and true patriot could not exert a
more powerful influence upon the administration. There
was an energy in the emphatic declarations of this loyal
veteran which compelled belief, even in the hearts of
traitors, that he understood his duty, and had accurately
estimated his own ability to insure its performance.



ALL governments have their crises. Our republic
never escaped one more alarming than that of February
13th, 1861. It was the day appointed for the seizure of
Washington. Preparations had been made ; armed bod-
ies of men had been enlisted and drilled, and many of
them had reported in the city pursuant to orders. When
the managers were compelled to postpone the rebellion,
these recruits declined to accept the necessity or to put
off the opening drama. They had assembled for a revo-
lution with its natural consequences booty and plun-
der ; any delay was felt to be a personal injury to each

The sun rose in a cloudless sky on the morning of
Wednesday, February 13th, the day appointed by law
for counting the electoral vote and declaring the result.
Train after train from the South, the West, and the
North poured its volume of passengers into the streets
of an already overcrowded city. As early as eight
o'clock in the morning crowds began to climb the sides
of Capitol Hill, every individual intent on securing a
comfortable seat in the gallery of the hall in which the
two Houses of Congress were to meet in joint assembly.
They were doomed to disappointment. At every en-
trance to the building stood a guard of civil but inflex-
ible soldiers, sternly barring admission. Prayers, bribes,


entreaties, oaths, objurgations, were alike unavailing.
No one could pass except senators and representatives,
and those who had the written ticket of admission
signed by the Speaker of the House or the Vice-Presi-
dent, the presiding officer of the Senate. Even mem-
bers could not pass in their friends. Consequently the
amount of profanity launched forth against the guards
would have completely annihilated them if words could
kill. The result was that, although solid humanity out-
side could have been measured by the acre, the inside
of the building was less crowded than usual, and there
was no difficulty in passing from room to room in all
parts of the Capitol.

The members of the Conference had been, by vote,
admitted to the floor of the House of Representatives.
My certificate of membership enabled me to pass the
guard without difficulty, and by the courtesy of a door-
keeper I secured a seat in the gallery, where my view
of the hall was unobstructed.

By twelve o'clock the galleries were comfortably
filled, and all the seats and standing-room in the hall
were occupied, except the seats reserved for members of
the two Houses. The Southerners were a vast major-
ity ; in fact, except the members, there were very few
persons present from the Northern states. To one who
knew nothing of the hot treason which was seething
beneath the quiet exterior of the spectators, the exer-
cises would have appeared to be tame and uninter-

Except the guards at the entrances, there were no sol-
diers visible. None were supposed to be present. A
friend who resided in the city recognized me and took
a seat by my side. Aware that he had organized a
selected body of loyal men into a regiment, of which he


was colonel, more than a month previously, I expressed
my surprise at his presence in citizen's dress, and said,
"I supposed you would be on duty to-day with your
regiment." He smilingly replied, " We are minute men,
you know ; that is, we enter a room as private citizens,
and come out of it a minute afterwards, a regiment,
armed with loaded repeating-rifles. Such a thing might
happen here to-day, if the necessity arose. My men
are within easy call, and their rifles are not far away.
Some men get excited on election day, and require con-
trol. However, I think this is to be a very quiet elec-

Two large connecting committee-rooms, on the north
side of the hall, were, as I had noticed, inaccessible to
all persons. This observation of the colonel explained
the reason why. The House was now called to order,

Online LibraryL. E. (Lucius Eugene) ChittendenRecollections of President Lincoln and his administration → online text (page 3 of 35)