L. E. (Lucius Eugene) Chittenden.

Recollections of President Lincoln and his administration online

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and my attention was directed to its proceedings. First,
a message was ordered to be sent by the House to the
Senate, informing senators that the House was in ses-
sion, awaiting their presence, so that in a joint assem-
bly the electoral votes for President and Yice-President
might be opened and counted.

There was a gathering of Southern members on the
floor below me, which a young member from Virginia
(whose name is omitted, because he is now, I have no
doubt, an earnest friend of the Union) was addressing
with much gesticulation. He was urging that then was
"the best time to give them some music, before the
Senate came in." At that moment the Senate of the
United States was announced, and, preceded by Yice-
President Breckinridge, the officers leading the way,
the senators entered. The members of the House arose
and remained standing, while the senators took their
seats in a semicircle arranged for them in front of the


clerk's desk. The Vice-President was conducted to the
chair. Senator Trumbull, and Messrs. Washburn and
Phelps of the House, who had been appointed tellers,
were shown to seats at the clerk's desk. Absolute
silence prevailed throughout the hall.

Yice-President Breckinridge rose, and in tones no
louder than those of an ordinary conversation, but which
were heard in the most distant corner of the gallery,
announced that the two Houses were assembled, pur-
suant to the Constitution, in order that the electoral
votes might be counted for President and Yice-Presi-
dent, for the term commencing on the fourth day of
March, 1861. " It is my duty," he said, " to open the
certificates of election in the presence of the two Houses,
and I now proceed to the performance of that duty."

There is an unmeasured, latent energy in the per-
sonal presence of a strong man. If he could be remem-
bered only for his services on that day, Yice-President
Breckinridge would fill a high place in the gallery of
American statesmen, and merit the permanent gratitude
of the American people. He knew that the day was
one of peril to the republic that he was presiding
over what appeared to be a joint meeting of two delib-
erative bodies, but which, beneath the surface, was a
caldron of inflammable materials, heated almost to the
point of explosion. But he had determined that the re-
sult of the count should be declared, and his purpose was
manifested in every word and gesture. Jupiter never
ruled a council on Olympus with a firmer hand. It was
gloved, but there was iron beneath the glove.

One member rose " Except questions of order, no
motion can be entertained," said the presiding officer.
The member exclaimed that he wished to raise a point
of order. " Was the count of the electoral vote to pro-


ceed under menace? Should members be required to
perform a constitutional duty before the janizaries of
Scott were withdrawn from the hall ?" " The point of
order is not sustained," was the decision which sup-
pressed the member, more by its emphasis than by its
words. The presiding officer opened the envelope con-
taining the electoral vote of Maine, handed it to Senator
Trumbull, who read out the long certificate. The vote of
Maine was announced for Lincoln and Hamlin. There
was a slight ripple of applause which was instantly sup-
pressed. Several other states followed, the reading of
each record occupying some minutes. Senator Douglas
suggested that the reading of the formal parts of the re-
maining certificates be omitted. There was no objection,
and the announcement and record of the votes proceeded
rapidly to the end. The only interruption was an ex-
pression of mingled contempt, respect, ridicule, and ven-
eration when the vote of South Carolina was declared.

In a silence absolutely profound, the Yice-President
arose from his seat, and, standing erect, possibly the
most dignified and imposing person in that presence,
declared :

" That Abraham Lincoln, of Illinois, having received
a majority of the whole number of electoral votes, is
duly elected President of the United States for the four
years beginning on the fourth day of March, 1861 ; and
Hannibal Hamlin, of Maine, having received a majority
of the whole number of electoral votes, is duly elected
Vice -President of the United States for the same term."

The work of the joint meeting was completed. The
Senate retired to its own chamber. The fuse was fired,
the outbreak attempted, but the hoped-for explosion did
not take place. Its object had failed ; the election of
Abraham Lincoln by the people of the United States


had been proclaimed to the world. A dozen angry,
disappointed men were on their feet before the door had
closed upon the last senator, clamoring for recognition
by the speaker. For a few minutes the tumult was so
great that it was impossible to restore order. The con-
centrated venom of the secessionists was ejected upon
the General of the Army. There were jeers for the
"rail-splitter," sharp and fierce shouts for "cheers for
Jeff. Davis," and "cheers for South Carolina." But
hard names and curses for " old Scott " broke out every-
where on the floor and in the gallery of the crowded hall.
The quiet spectators seemed in a moment turned to mad-
men. " Superannuated old dotard !" " Traitor to the
state of his birth !" " Coward !" " Free-state pimp !" and
any number of similar epithets were showered upon
him. Members called on the old traitor to remove his
" minions," his " janizaries," his " hirelings," his " blue-
coated slaves," from the Capitol. I glanced around me.
The seat next me was empty ; my military friend, and
the quiet gentlemen I had noticed near by, had van-
ished where and for what purpose I knew only too
well. For a few moments I thought they would offi-
ciate in a revolution.

It was, however, " vox et prceterea nihiir The power
of the human lung is limited, and howling quickly ex-
hausts it. The speaker soon pounded the House back
to order, and the danger inside had passed. I went out
at the north front of the Capitol, and, entering the first
carriage I found, I ordered the colored driver to take
me to my hotel. He drove through the crowd on that
side without difficulty. It was orderly and undemon-
strative, for just beyond the Square was the old Capitol,
and along the street in front of it were two batteries of
artillery, quiet themselves, but none the less causes of


the quiet around them. The avenue in the direction
of the Treasury was choked with a howling, angry mob.
We escaped through one of the cross streets to F Street,
and reached the rear entrance of Willard's Hotel.

The mob had possession of the avenue far into the
night. Reputable people kept in -doors, and left the
patriots who were so injured by the election of Mr.
Lincoln to consume bad whiskey and cheer for Jeff.
Davis undisturbed. There was much street-fighting,
many arrests by the police, but no revolution.

I believed at that time, and I have never since doubt-
ed, that the country was indebted for the peaceful count
of the electoral vote, the proclamation of the election
of Mr. Lincoln, and the suppression of an attempted
revolution on that day, to the joint influence of Major-
General Winfield Scott and Vice -President Breckin-
ridge. A perfect understanding existed between them.
General Scott knew that he could rely upon the prom-
ised assistance of the Vice-President, who had repeat-
edly declared that until the end of his term he should
perform the duties of his office, under the sanction of
his oath. Faithfully, without evasion or paltering with
his conscience, after the manner of Cobb and Floyd, he
kept his pledge. General Scott defined his purposes
upon all proper occasions, especially to the apologists
for secession, with emphasis, and if he was not misrep-
resented, sometimes with an approach to profanity.
When challenged by Wigfall, whether he would dare
to arrest a senator of the United States for an overt
act of treason, he was reported to have answered, " No !
I will blow him to h 1 !" These two men, both South-
ern-born, on the 13th of February conducted the repub-
lic safely through one of the most imminent perils that
ever threatened its existence.



ANOTHER incident of the same 13th of February illus-
trates the rapidity with which the spirit of national
patriotism was overcoming the ties of party, and driv-
ing good men into their true relations to the coming
contest. Hon. David A. Smalley, of Vermont, had, in
the nominating convention, powerfully contributed to,
if he had not caused, the nomination of Mr. Buchanan.
He was chairman of the Democratic National Commit-
tee which conducted the successful campaign, and he
had been rewarded by Mr. Buchanan with the appoint-
ment of Judge of the Federal Court for the District of
Vermont. The appointment was political, and few sup-
posed that he would exhibit any sympathies of a higher
type than those for his party.

He proved a national disappointment, especially to
those who imagined that he would carry his politics
upon the bench, or that he would not interfere with
treasonable practices, because indulged in by Southern

Judge Smalley held the January term of the Federal
Court in the Southern District of New York. In his
charge to the grand jury he had defined in vigorous
terms the elements of the crime of treason, and the
duty of grand juries to make inquest and present every
guilty person. He was the first Federal judge who


mentioned the subject, and on that account and because
of its energetic language the charge attracted wide
attention, and one result of its influence was the seizure
by the police of New York City of a consignment of
arms to the state of Georgia, only a few days after the
charge was delivered. This seizure was denounced in
severe terms by Mayor Fernando Wood, in a corre-
spondence with Senator Toombs of Georgia, as an unjus-
tifiable and illegal interference with private property,
for which the city of New York ought not to be held
responsible, because the mayor, most unfortunately, had
no control over the police, or he would have summarily
punished such an outrage. This semi-proclamation of
the mayor of New York had given great comfort to our
Southern brethren in Washington, who regarded it as
a guarantee against further interference with such ship-
ments, and a sure indication that the commercial cities
of the North, particularly New York, warmly sympa-
thized with secession, and rejected the views of Judge

Nor was this conclusion of the active agents of seces-
sion so remarkable as it may appear to the present gen-
eration. Some weeks before Judge Smalley hurled his
judicial bolt against Northern traitors, South Carolina
had defined treason to consist in adhering to the enemies
of that commonwealth, and giving them aid and com-
fort ; a crime to be punished with death and an added
penalty, supposed to be especially severe where Chris-
tian observances were so universal, death without benefit
of clergy ! A leading newspaper in Alabama had an-
nounced that Mr. Lincoln's life would not be worth a
week's purchase after a single gun had been fired against
Fort Sumter. Mr. Benjamin had taken leave of the
Senate in what he called " a conciliatory speech," in


which he prophesied that the South could never be sub-
jugated, a prediction received by the packed galleries
with uproarious shouts of applause. When, after such
expressions, the mayor of New York declared that inter-
ference with the shipment of guns into the South, to be
used against the government, was a lawless interference
with private rights of property, it is not singular that
inexperienced traitors deemed it safe to continue their
treasonable commerce in contempt of Judge Smalley's

The announcement of the election of Mr. Lincoln was
not the only act of oppression which the 13th of Feb-
ruary imposed upon the persecuted agents of secession.
They had shipped another consignment from New York,
this time of fixed ammunition, on a steamer bound for
the port of Charleston, and the incorrigible police, not
having the fear of the mayor before their eyes, had
seized and carried it away. Instead of ordering the
ammunition to be released without notice and without
delay, Judge Smalley had returned the papers to the
lawyer who made the application, with an expression
of his regret that the police "had not also seized the
rascals who made the shipment." This seizure was the
subject of extended comment in Washington, and among
the secessionists the opinion was almost universal that
they could not remain in a Union where such tyranny
was tolerated.



THE Northern delegates so conducted themselves as to
secure the respect of the gentlemen from the South, and
were careful to avoid contact with the rougher classes.
In the good-natured discussions, which sometimes oc-
curred, of the relative fighting qualities of the represen-
tatives of the two sections, the Northerners generally
admitted (at all events they did not deny) that they were
not fighting men, and held with Falstaff that discretion
was the better part of valor. An incident occurred in
the Conference, however, which may be worth relating,
for it produced an impression that some Northern men,
notwithstanding their protestations, were not altogether
destitute of personal courage.

Two days after the peaceable election of Mr. Lincoln
had been proclaimed, and before the heated brains of
many Southern visitors to the capital were reduced to
their normal temperature, the Committee on [Resolutions
made a majority and minority report to the Conference.
That of the minority may be dismissed as unimportant ;
that of the majority recommended amendments to the
Federal Constitution, which should assert the right of
the owner to transport his slave through any state or
territory and into any state or territory south of lati-
tude 36 30' ; the admission of new states north or south
of that parallel with or without slavery, as the people of


the new state might determine ; that slavery in the Dis-
trict of Columbia should not be abolished without the
consent of Maryland ; and that, when these amendments
were adopted, they, with certain other articles of the
Constitution, should not be changed without the consent
of all the states.

These propositions were not prolix, but they were a
comprehensive abandonment of the vital principles upon
which the people had just passed final, decisive judgment
in the election of Mr. Lincoln. It may appear incredi-
ble, after the lapse of time, but it is the fact that many
delegates from the free states four out of the nine from
the state, and one of them from the city of New York
were ready and voted to accept these drastic measures,
solely to avoid a civil war, without any pledge that one
of the six states which had then seceded would return to
the Union. While the majority of the Committee claimed
that their report presented fair terms of compromise,
which all the states ought to accept as conditions of per-
petual union, Mr. Seddon, of Virginia, objected to them,
because they did not contain sufficient guarantees; in
fact, because they did not render the humiliation of the
free states sufficiently abject.

The general debate was opened by Mr. Seddon. He
was the most conspicuous and active member of his dele-
gation, which comprised several distinguished men. His
personal appearance was extraordinary. His frame was
fleshless as that of John Eandolph, and he was equally
with that statesman intense in his hatred of all forms of
Northern life from the statesman of New England to
the sheep that fed upon her hillsides. The pallor of his
face, his narrow chest, sunken eyes, and attenuated frame
indicated the last stages of consumption. His voice,
husky at first, cleared with the excitement of debate, in




which he became eloquent. Notwithstanding his spec-
tral appearance, he survived to become Secretary of TVar
in the Confederacy. He was the most powerful debater
of the Conference, skilful, adroit, cunning, the soul of
the plot which the Conference was intended to execute.
His speech was an arraignment of the free states for
offences of which they were not guilty, a picture of the
moral beauties of the domestic institution, an attempted
demonstration of the equity of the demands of Virginia.
He had no word of condemnation for secession, of hope
for the return of South Carolina and the five other states
which by that time had seceded. He struck the key-note
of the debate for slavery, and many Southern speeches
followed in the same key. Instead of arguing in favor
of the report of the majority, the position of the speak-
ers appeared to be opposition to any compromise which
did not involve the complete humiliation of the North.

The effective answer to the speech of Mr. Seddon from
a Northern Kepublican came from Maine, a state repre-
sented in the Conference by her Congressional delega-
tion. It was made by Lot M. Morrill, one of her sena-
tors. His age was about sixty years, his figure rather
slight, his manner retiring, and his general appearance
somewhat effeminate. There was not a trace of the
bully in his composition, not the slightest suspicion of
aggressiveness in his character. On the contrary, he
would have been selected as almost the last man in the
Conference to become involved in a personal controversy
as one naturally disposed to concession, who would
yield much for the sake of peace. He was never an abo-
litionist of the extreme type, but he was an early free-
soiler, and a good representative of his state in her
steadfast opposition to the extension of the territory
or the political influence of slavery. His quiet, peaceful


nature was deceptive to strangers ; for at the bottom lay
a stratum of resolution which would have carried him to
the stake before he would surrender a natural right or
abandon an important principle. His ideas were clear
and decided. He possessed great facility in expression
and a command of language which qualified him for the
discussion of great questions with a power and force sel-
dom excelled in any legislative body.

Commodore Stockton was one of the delegates from
New Jersey. Imperious and overbearing by nature, his
long service in the navy had accustomed him to com-
mand, and rendered him intolerant of opposition, or any
contradiction of the opinions which he entertained. His
age must have been above seventy years ; he stood six
feet high. His physique was powerful and his manner
authoritative. He was a Northern man with Southern
principles. He had a lofty admiration for the Southern
character, and entertained pro-slavery views of a more
pronounced type than those of the delegates from the
Border slave-states. He would have been selected as the
most fiery, Senator Morrill as the least combative, mem-
ber of the Conference.

Although the Kepublicans had abandoned all expecta-
tion of any beneficial results from the Conference, and
were not very attentive to the debate, Senator Morrill
had not been many minutes on his feet before he had a
large body of interested auditors. His voice, at first low
and quiet, gathered volume as he proceeded, until, as he
approached the real points in controversy, his lucid argu-
ments cut like a Damascus blade.

" You tell us," he said, " that our multiplied offences
are more than you can endure ; that our unfriendly criti-
cisms of slavery, our obstructions to the surrender of the
fugitive slaves, our opposition to the admission of Kan-


sas with a constitution which tolerates slavery, justify
extreme measures on your part; that, although some
have left the Union, the states here represented will con-
done our offences by one more compromise. But only
upon one condition: that we consent to write it into the
fundamental law that slavery is to be perpetual in the
republic, and that any territory with sufficient popula-
tion, wherever situated, shall, if its people so vote, come
into the Union as a slave state, and its status once fixed,
shall be forever unchangeable.

" I shall not now debate the issues of the past ; I look
to the future. I agree with you that the time has come
to settle for all future 'time the grave questions which
have disturbed our peace. You say that there is but one
way to settle them. That the North must accept what
you term another compromise, or the Union must perish.

" We have made compromises before, not one of which
was ever broken by the North, by every one of which
the South ultimately refused to abide. You proposed
the Missouri Compromise. You solemnly agreed that
all the states north of 36 30' should be free. How you
kept the faith let Kansas answer ! You demanded the
Fugitive Slave Act as a condition of preserving the
Union. Your demand was conceded, and your slaves
have been returned to you by Northern hands from under
the shadow of Bunker Hill. Now you demand another
compromise which changes a free republic into slave
territory. You say the North must make the conces-
sion as the price of union. Must is a word which does
not promote a settlement founded upon compromise. If
we must, what then ? There is in your propositions of
amendment no pledge, no promise on the part of the
South. What does the South propose to do? If we
assent to the terms, will South Carolina will the Gulf


states return to the Union? Or will the South repeat
her history? do as she has always done before? perform
her agreement as long as it will serve her interests, and
then violate "

" Silence, sir !" shouted a voice from a gigantic form,
which rushed towards Senator Morrill with violent and
angry gesticulations. " We will not permit our South-
ern friends to be charged with bad faith, and with vio-
lating an agreement ! No black Kepublican shall "

The sentence was never completed. In a moment, by
a common impulse, twenty or thirty ^Republicans were
on the floor, and had surrounded Senator Morrill like a
living wall. " Back to your seat, you bully !" exclaimed
a stalwart Vermonter, the equal of Commodore Stockton
in size and his superior in strength and activity. The
Southerners rushed to the assistance of their volunteer
defender. They could not check the impetus of his com-
pulsory retreat, until he was forced into his seat. For an
instant many believed an armed encounter was unavoid-
able. It was prevented by the prompt intervention of
President Tyler.

" Order !" he shouted. " Shame upon the delegate
who would dishonor this Conference by violence !" His
command was obeyed ; the danger passed as suddenly as
it had arisen.

None of the actors in this scene were proud of their
participation. Still, its influence was excellent. It would
have surprised no one if a gentleman of Senator Merrill's
delicate organization had exhibited some excitement or
discomposure under such an aggressive attack, supported
by an angry crowd which was restrained from bloodshed
only by the effective interference of one of their num-
ber. But the senator's face was not flushed, nor his cir-
culation apparently quickened by so much as one pulsa-


tion. Without a tremor in his voice, as soon as order
was restored, he continued :

" As I was inquiring, Mr. President, is it the purpose
of the representatives of the slave-power to force this
compromise upon us, and then to violate it, as they have
violated all former compromises ? You are wasting your
time, gentlemen. Until some one, having authority, will
pledge the South, including the seceded states, to accept
your proposed amendments as a finality, and henceforth
to abide in the Union, the North will never consider the
subject of their acceptance ! Never! Never!"

Yery soon afterwards, possibly on the following even-
ing, in a mixed company of moderate Northern and
Southern men, this occurrence was adverted to. An able
and courteous Kentuckian, addressing an ex-governor of

Online LibraryL. E. (Lucius Eugene) ChittendenRecollections of President Lincoln and his administration → online text (page 4 of 35)