L. E. (Lucius Eugene) Chittenden.

Recollections of President Lincoln and his administration online

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because, as he said, he clearly saw that that was the
surest way to insure the defeat of General Lee. The
despatch which first announced the victory at Gettys-
burgh did not produce in him the slightest emotion. He
read it, passed it to a civil officer, and directed him to read
it to those who stood around him, with the quiet observa-
tion, " It is no more than I expected." The following
letters will show the state of his mind during Early's
invasion, and I submit them without further comment.

On the 10th of July, at 9.20 A.M., after he had received


General Wallace's telegraphic report, which stated his
defeat, and his losses much heavier than they proved
afterwards to be, for he then supposed that the Tenth
Vermont and the One Hundred and Sixth New York
were captured, the President wrote to ex-Governor
Swann, at Baltimore, as follows :

"Yours of last night is received. I have not a single soldier who
is not disposed of by the military for the best protection of all. By
latest accounts the enemy is moving on Washington. They cannot
fly to either place. Let us be vigilant, but keep cool. I hope neither
Baltimore nor Washington will be sacked. A. LINCOLN."

At two o'clock P.M. on the same 10th of July he wrote
to General Grant, at City Point, as follows :

" Your despatch to General Halleck, referring to what I may think
in the present emergency, is shown me. General Halleck says we
have absolutely no force here fit to go to the field. He thinks that
with the hundred-day men and invalids we have here we can defend
Washington, and scarcely Baltimore. Besides these, there are about

eight thousand, not very reliable, under at Harper's Perry,

with Hunter approaching that point very slowly, with what number
I suppose you know better than I.

" Wallace with some odds and ends, and part of what came up
with Ricketts, was so badly beaten yesterday at Monocacy that
what is left can attempt no more than to defend Baltimore. What
we shall get in from Pennsylvania and New York will scarcely be
worth counting, I fear.

" Now what I think is, that you should provide to retain your hold
where you are, certainly, and bring the rest with you personally, and
make a vigorous effort to destroy the enemy's force in this vicinity.
I think there is really a fair chance to do this if the movement is
prompt. This is what I think upon your suggestion, and is not an
order. A. LINCOLN."

There are some important interlineations in this letter.
Speaking of Halleck's opinion, he first wrote that the
hundred-day men and the invalids " may possibly but
not certainly defend Washington," and then erased these


words and interlined, " can defend Washington." As the
letter was finally sent it expressed his opinion that both
cities could be defended with their then present forces,
and that Early's array could be captured by a prompt
movement of General Grant. It contained no expression
of fear.

The President's next letter is dated July llth, and is
to General Grant :

" Yours of 10.30 yesterday is received, and very satisfactory. The
enemy will learn of Wright's arrival, and then the difficulty will be
to unite Wright and Hunter, south of the enemy, before he will re-
cross the Potomac. Some firing between Rockville and here now.


General "Wright with the advance of the Sixth Corps
began to arrive in the afternoon of the llth, and the
last detachment went to the front on the morning of the
12th. President Lincoln was in Fort Stevens at two
o'clock P.M., and remained there until the fighting was
over. At 11.30 A.M. of the 12th he wrote to General
Grant :

" Vague rumors have been reaching us for two or three days that
Longstreet's corps is also on its way to this vicinity. Look out for
its absence from your front. A. LINCOLN."

These letters show that while the situation was per-
fectly comprehended by the President, it did not disturb
the serenity of his mind nor excite his apprehension.
Neither on this occasion nor upon either of the Con-
federate campaigns north of the Potomac, did he have
the slightest fear of the capture of "Washington.




I CANNOT conclude this volume of disconnected
sketches more appropriately than by a brief account of
some events which exerted a powerful influence upon
Mr. Lincoln's character, and indirectly upon the fortunes
of the republic. I shall attempt no connected biography,
but confine myself strictly to an account of the events
to which I have referred.

On the 12th day of February, 1809, were born two
men who each exerted a more powerful and permanent
influence upon mankind than any of their contempora-
ries. The name of one was Charles Robert Darwin.
He came of an old English family, renowned for its con-
tributions to physical science, which was able to give to
its young representative all the advantages of wealth
and position. From the university, young Darwin went
as naturalist on board the British ship Beagle, engaged
in explorations in the Southern Ocean. Returning from
this voyage in the year 1845, he published the scientific
results of his labors, in a large illustrated volume, and
also that charming book, " The Voyage of a Naturalist,"
so well known to students of physical science. Then
for many years he was engaged in his private investiga-
tions, and cut no figure in scientific literature. But in
the year 1858 (and synonymously with the "divided-
house" speech of Mr. Lincoln) he convulsed the world
of science by the publication of his " Origin of Species."


For this publication Mr. Darwin was denounced by the
whole Christian world. He was called a heretic, a pagan,
a scoffer at the Bible, a knave or a fool, who had invented
a theory which led straight to atheism.

But Mr. Darwin lived to see his theory adopted by
the leading Christian thinkers of his time, as not irrecon-
cilable with the Bible, and when he died, " by the will
of the intelligence of the nation," he was buried in West-
minster Abbey, "the fitting resting-place," said Dean
Stanley, " and the monument of the heroes of England."

On the same 12th day of February, 1809, in one of the
new settlements of Kentucky, Abraham Lincoln was
born. With none of the advantages of wealth, educa-
tion, and position, which assisted the eminent English-
man, the young Kentuckian rose to greater eminence,
and exerted a more powerful influence upon his country
and his race, than his English contemporary. The object
of this sketch will be fully accomplished if it shall direct
the student of American history to the events and pro-
cesses by which such an extraordinary result was at-

Mr. Lincoln once wrote his own biography in these
words :

" Born, February 12th, 1809, in Hardin County, Kentucky.

" Education defective.

" Profession, a lawyer.

" Have been a captain of volunteers in the Black Hawk War.

" Postmaster at a very small office ; four times a member of the
Illinois legislature, and was a member of the lower House of Con-

If he had not survived the year 1857, he would not
have required a more extended biography. It is a singu-
lar but impressive fact that all the events which have
given him such an honorable place in American history


were comprised within the last seven years of his life.
In his youth and early manhood there was nothing very
different from the common experiences of young men
of poor parents and his position in life. He had served
through four sessions of the state legislature of Illinois,
without any taint upon his reputation he had an aver-
age position as a member of Congress in his second term ;
he may have ranked as the leading lawyer of his county,
and, what is perhaps more to his credit, he had acquired
among those who knew him most thoroughly, the name
of " Honest Abraham Lincoln." But he had done noth-
ing to distinguish himself above many of his contempo-
raries, or to give his name a place in history. Had his
life ended before the new year of 1858, he would have
left to his children a fair reputation as a lawyer, a good
name as a citizen, a small estate, and the credit of no re-
markable achievement.

x>ut in that year, when he was already past middle
life, he suddenly appeared above the political horizon,
and so strikingly challenged the public attention that
he was taken out of private life, and, without any inter-
vening step, placed in the presidential chair. This was
an extraordinary occurrence. It had not happened be-
fore, to a really able man, since the adoption of the Con-
stitution. There must exist a reason for it in some act
of his own or with which he was prominently associated.
An act which produced such a result should assist us in
the interpretation of his character, and ought to be dis-
covered without great difficulty. The inquiry for it in-
volves some recapitulation.

It appears from the story of Mr. Lincoln's youth that
his early education comprised less than a year of very
ordinary school instruction, and that the only books ac-
cessible to him were the Bible, "The Pilgrim's Prog-


ress," " Burns's Poems," and Weems's " Life of "Washing-
ton." His study of these books was very thorough, for
they were in large part committed to memory. The
mental exercise involved taught him how to think.
During his public life, all his great ideas, his sentences
that will outlive the spoken language, have been wrought
out of his own brain with few or no adventitious aids.
Thus, his first inaugural address is said by those who
know to have been composed with no assistance but the
Federal Constitution and one of Henry Clay's speeches.
But his entire public life testifies how thoroughly he
had learned the power of thought, a lesson which few
men completely master. Judged by their relations,
some of his most matured mental conclusions must be
referred to those years of quiet home life which inter-
vened between his retirement from Congress, in 1849,
and his nomination to the Senate of the United States
in the summer of 1858.

The decade which ended in the year last named cov-
ered the aggressive campaign of slavery. The original
slave states had been content to abide by the Missouri
compromise line, and made no attempt to carry their
domestic institution beyond it. But their representa-
tives in Congress, aided by Northern votes, secured the
passage of the act for the return of fugitive slaves ; and
encouraged by that act, and their short-lived victory in
the Kansas controversy, they broadly claimed the right
to carry their slave property into free territory. The
decision of the Supreme Court of the United States, in
the case of Dred Scott, very nearly confirmed their claim,
and well-nigh broke down the last geographical barrier
between freedom and slavery.

The friends of human freedom had never asserted any
right to legislate touching slavery in the slave states or


south of the compromise line. Within those limits slav-
ery was conceded to be a continuing evil, entrenched
in the Constitution. The most ultra-abolitionists had
restricted their labors to the attempted abolition of sla-
very in the District of Columbia and its exclusion from
the territories. No public man had proposed to attack
slavery within its consecrated limits. Had the advo-
cates of the institution abided by the line to which they
had for a good consideration agreed, there is no reason
to believe that it would have ever been disturbed except
by themselves. But they would not abide by it. They
charged the North with an agitation for which they
alone were responsible. They made every success the
pretext for some new aggression, until the halls of Con-
gress became the theatre of a conflict which was re-
newed with every session with increasing intensity.

In the quiet of private life Mr. Lincoln was a thought-
ful observer of this controversy. He had taken note of
the aggressions of the slave power, and he reached the
conclusion that they would continue until they became
intolerable. In the Kansas outrages they had almost
reached that point, and when the point was passed he
believed that the fate of slavery would be determined.
He hated slavery, because it was oppressive and cruel
he loved freedom, because it was the natural right of all
men, ordained by the Almighty. Freedom had been
fighting a losing battle, but it would triumph in God's
own good time. He saw where his own party had erred,
and he worked out in his own mind the lines upon which
the next battle the fight for freedom, could be won.

Mr. Lincoln's mind was not secretive, but it was his
habit not to disclose the problems upon which it was en-
gaged until all his own doubts were removed and his
conclusions settled. This peculiar quality now received


a marked illustration. On the 17th of June, 1858, the
Kepublicans of Illinois, at their state convention, in
Springfield, nominated him as their candidate for the
Senate of the United States. He anticipated the nom-
ination, and had written out his speech upon its accept-
ance. This speech seems to have been the most effective
of his life, and as momentous as was ever delivered in
this republic. Its theme was the insatiable demands of
the slave power. Upon the incontestable authority of
the Saviour of men, that " if a house be divided against
itself that house cannot stand," he avowed his own faith
in these words : " I believe this government cannot per-
manently endure, half slave and half free."

It is now more than a quarter of a century since Mr.
Lincoln himself gave an unpretending account of the oc-
casion and circumstances of this speech. He spoke of it
as an example of the thoroughness of his own convic-
tions. It wrought upon his hearers a conviction equally
thorough, that for the first time it put the issue between
freedom and slavery upon its true ground. We know
now that it made Mr. Lincoln President and drove the
bolt of death straight to the life of human slavery.

The announcement of this bold prediction almost pro-
duced a convulsion among the Republicans. It came
upon them like a burst of thunder from a cloudless sky.
His friends were shocked his party leaders were ap-
palled. They declared that it destroyed his chances of
an election ; that unless he retracted or modified it, his
defeat was inevitable. The issue, as he proposed it, they
said, involved the destruction of slavery or the govern-
ment. It was a declaration of open war. "I cannot
change the fact, nor can I escape the conclusions of my
own judgment," said Mr. Lincoln. " The statement is a
truth confirmed by all human experience. It has been


true for more than six thousand years it is still indis-
putably true. I cannot retract it without resorting to
subterfuge, and that I will not do. I would rather be
defeated, with this expression held up and discussed be-
fore the people, than to exclude it from my speech and
be victorious." And so the message went forth. It was
the result of his calm deliberation by it he would stand
or fall!

Judge Douglas was already his opposing candidate.
He seized upon what he believed to be his opportunity
to destroy Mr. Lincoln. In his reply to the prediction,
he assumed an air of lofty superiority and scornfully
declared that Mr. Lincoln's speech had been " prepared
for the occasion." " I admit the charge," said Mr. Lin-
coln. " I have not a fine education like Judge Douglas,
and I cannot discourse on dialectics as he can, but I can
be honest with the people, and tell them what I believe."
Then he challenged Judge Douglas to a public discus-
sion ; the challenge was accepted ; the debate followed,
which is now historical. Instead of destroying the Re-
publican party, it drew to it a majority of the voters of
Illinois, and left its candidate, although defeated by the
legislature, the most conspicuous of its leaders.

The influence of this debate has not yet passed away.
Men still remember and refer, as an epoch in their lives,
to the first discussion of the new issue by these two can-
didates, in the city of Chicago, on the 9th and 10th of
July, 1858. Mr. Lincoln was an auditor when Judge
Douglas, on the 9th, delivered a speech of such power
that his admirers believed it unanswerable. But on the
following evening Mr. Lincoln made an answer, in which
he established a national reputation as an orator, and the
" little giant of the West " found his peer as a logician
and his master in eloquence.


What was it which drew such crowds of plain men to
every one of the seven meetings for this debate ? Neither
speaker indulged in oratorio flights or descended to the
common level of the hustings. Mr. Lincoln even dis-
dained his ordinary anecdote and humor. Both sought
to address the sound reason of their auditors by fair
argument alone. Yet the public interest in the debate
increased as it proceeded, and was never greater than on
the evening when it closed. Mr. Douglas had not been
an ultra pro-slavery man he had opposed his own party
in the trick by which it sought to force the Lecompton
Constitution upon the people of Kansas ; he now took
very high ground. He claimed that he was the cham-
pion of constitutional rights. He declared that he would
maintain and enforce these rights for all the people, and
when these rights were recognized he said he " did not
care whether slavery was voted up or voted down."

In his reply Mr. Lincoln spurned all half-way meas-
ures and men. Was slavery right? If it was, then
Judge Douglas ought to be sustained. If it was wrong,
then Judge Douglas and his party had no claim to the
support of good men. But slavery was not right. Sla-
very was degrading it was cruel, brutal it was unjust
and wicked. Therefore it was wrong, and Judge Doug-
las and his party ought to care, and ought to vote, to
put it down. Freedom was the opposite of slavery. It
was noble, just, godlike and it was right. It was the
gift of the Almighty to all men. He would see that
his children were not robbed of their birthright. Free-
dom was truth, it " was mighty, and would prevail !"

To this plain issue of the wrong or right of slavery
Lincoln held his adversary with an inflexible hand.
Douglas plied him with questions he answered them
fully, always coming back to the wrong of slavery. He


put questions in return, which his opponent answered
evasively, and then strove to retreat under cover of the
evasion. Lincoln was the victor in every encounter.
Finally, he drove his adversary into the corner, where
there was no escape, and where he extorted from him
the admission that his party was committed to the doc-
trine that slavery was right. Then, with the earnestness
of Paul, he demanded, What true man would uphold
slavery and wrong against freedom and the right and
justice ?

The great contest was half won when it was to be
fought to its termination in the light of day on its real
issue. Slavery had declared the war. It was not in its
nature to recede or to lay down its arms until it was
victorious or defeated. It was Lincoln who had forced
the fighting to its true issue, and he, therefore, became
the natural leader of the party of freedom.

In the new departure of the " divided-house " speech,
and in his powerful demonstration of the inexcusable
wrong of slavery, lay the secret of Mr. Lincoln's power.
He was at once in great demand as a political speaker.
In the Ohio campaign of 1859 in the Cooper Institute
in New York in Connecticut, New Hampshire, Khode
Island, and in Kansas everywhere he went, he drew
large audiences. His style of speaking was changed.
He no longer told witty stories; his speeches were so
solidly argumentative that a few said they were dry,
and the same critics decided that their length made them
tiresome. But the great audiences heard them delight-
ed, and complained only of their brevity. No theme
had ever made so many permanent converts to his party
faith as his, touching the wrong of slavery no speaker
had laid it bare with the strong sense of Abraham Lin-


As the day appointed for the national nominating
convention for the presidency approached, the name of
Mr. Lincoln was mentioned as one of the candidates of
the great West. But he was not regarded as a strong
candidate in comparison with Mr. Seward, Mr. Chase,
Mr. Cameron, or Judge Bates, of Missouri. The Kepub-
lican party was under a great obligation to Mr. Seward.
His ability was conceded ; his long and brilliant services
deserved recognition. It was supposed by his friends
that he would poll the largest vote on the first, and be
nominated on the second ballot. But the convention
witnessed a demonstration in favor of Mr. Lincoln which
left no doubt of the place he had secured in the hearts of
the people. At the right moment the enthusiasm for
him was lighted, and it ran over the convention like a
prairie fire. It not only gave him the nomination, but
it secured a solid, hearty union of all the members in his

The presidential canvass of the year 1860 was unique
in our political experience. It required none of the acces-
sories of the " log-cabin " campaign of " Tippecanoe and
Tyler too." The pseudonym of " Kailsplitter " was the
gift of his enemies. The name of Abraham Lincoln was
an inspiration. Enthusiasm for his election pervaded
the country like an electric influence. It was every-
where the same. In the crowded city or at the country
cross-roads ; up in the mountain hamlets, or out on the
Western prairies ; among the fishermen of the Atlantic,
and the miners of the Pacific coast, the political orator
was heard with quiet consideration until he spoke the
name of Lincoln. At that name, cheers such as never
welcomed king or conqueror supplied his peroration.
That was the only campaign in which every voter who
deliberated voted for the same candidate, in which every


highest estimate for the successful candidate was ex-
ceeded by the counted vote.

From his nomination to his election Mr. Lincoln calm-
ly awaited events. He came and went among his neigh-
bors, received delegations and dismissed them delighted,
but ignorant of his intentions. He seemed to be less
interested in the result than his supporters he received
the news of his election without exultation. He had
promised no rewards, made no pledges, and was free to
follow whither his judgment pointed the way.

From October, when his election was assured, until
the end of February, the mind of Mr. Lincoln was de-
voted to his coming work. He laid it out with the care
of an architect planning a building. He studied the situ-
ation. He determined the general policy of his admin-
istration with the greatest care. He prepared his in-
augural address he decided upon the tenor of his
speeches to be made on his journey to Washington he
well considered the temper of mind in which he should
first meet the supporters of slavery. Nothing was left
to accident which he could possibly foresee.

His first public address was his farewell to his Spring-
field friends on his departure for the capital. That ad-
dress was the microcosm of his future. It was an
avowal of his own undoubting faith in, and purpose
to be guided by, the wisdom of the Almighty. That
faith and purpose he repeated upon every proper occa-
sion as long as he lived. In conformity with it, in all
the addresses he made upon his journey, there was no
threat, no harsh word, nothing but kindness for the whole
people. To the friends of the South he extended the
hand of affection. His inaugural address was full of
peace, kindness, and good will. On one point only he
was inflexible. He would perform his duty, enforce


obedience to the laws, and keep his oath to support the

The advent of the war was no surprise to him. He
knew that slavery was so woven into the national life
that it could not be wrenched out of it without violence
and blood as he said afterwards, that " every drop of
blood drawn by the lash must be repaid by another
drawn by the sword." But in all the pressure of public
duty and excitement of warlike preparation his mind
was engaged upon measures, not to punish, but to pro-
tect those who had brought war upon the country as

Online LibraryL. E. (Lucius Eugene) ChittendenRecollections of President Lincoln and his administration → online text (page 31 of 35)