L. E. (Lucius Eugene) Chittenden.

Recollections of President Lincoln and his administration online

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splitter." Many " who came to scoff " did not find the
entertainment to their liking, if they did not " remain to

An experienced public man, who had travelled con-
stantly for ten consecutive days, making from one to
four addresses daily, who had just escaped a conspiracy
against his life, might have pleaded some excuse if, with-
in fifteen hours after his arrival, in his first public ap-
pearance, and before a contemptuously inimical audi-
ence, he had failed to seem entirely at his ease. But it
was soon discovered that the friends of Mr. Lincoln
might dismiss whatever anxiety they might have felt on
his account. He was able to take care of himself. The
manner in which he adjusted his conversation to repre-
sentatives of different sections and opinions was striking.
He could not have appeared more natural or unstudied
in his manner if he had been entertaining a company of
neighbors in his Western home.

Mr. Lincoln's reception of the delegates was of an en-
tirely informal character. There was no crowded ap-
proach, nor hurried disappearance ; no procession of the


members beyond where he stood. There was a point of
attraction not of repulsion. As the guests were suc-
cessively and cordially received, they gathered round him
in a circle, which enlarged and widened, until it com-
prised most of the delegates. His tall figure and ani-
mated face towered above them, the most striking in a
group of noted Americans. His words arrested the at-
tention ; his wonderful vivacity surprised every specta-
tor. He spoke apparently without premeditation, with
a singular ease of manner and facility of expression. He
had some apt observation for each person ready the mo-
ment he heard his name. " You are a smaller man than
I supposed I mean in person : every one is acquainted
with the greatness of your intellect. It is, indeed, pleas-
ant to meet one who has so honorably represented his
country in Congress and abroad." Such was his greet-
ing to William C. Rives, of Virginia, a most cultivated
and polished gentleman. " Your name is all the endorse-
ment you require," he said to James B. Clay. " From
my boyhood the name of Henry Clay has been an inspi-
ration to me." "You cannot be a disunionist, unless
your nature has changed since we met in Congress !" he
exclaimed as he recognized the strong face of Geo. W.
Summers, of Western Virginia. " Does liberty still thrive
in the mountains of Tennessee ?" he inquired as Mr. Zol-
licoffer's figure, almost as tall as his own, came into view.
After so many years, much that he said is forgotten, but
it is remembered that he had for every delegation, almost
for every man, some appropriate remark, which was forci-
ble, and apparently unstudied.

There was only one occurrence which threatened to
disturb the harmony and good humor of the reception.
In reply to a complimentary remark by Mr. Lincoln, Mr.
Rives had said that, although he had retired from public


life, he could not decline the request of the Governor of
Virginia that he should unite in this effort to save the
Union. " But," he continued, " the clouds that hang over
it are very dark. I have no longer the courage of my
younger days. I can do little you can do much. Every-
thing now depends upon you."

" I cannot agree to that," replied Mr. Lincoln. " My
course is as plain as a turnpike road. It is marked out
by the Constitution. I am in no doubt which way to go.
Suppose now we all stop discussing and try the experi-
ment of obedience to the Constitution and the laws.
Don't you think it would work ?"

"Permit me to answer that suggestion," interposed
Mr. Summers. " Yes, it will work. If the Constitution
is your light, I will follow it with you, and the people of
the South will go with us."

" It is not of your professions we complain," sharply
struck in Mr. Seddon's sepulchral voice. " It is of your
sins of omission of your failure to enforce the laws
to suppress your John Browns and your Garrisons,
who preach insurrection and make war upon our prop-
erty !"

" I believe John Brown was hung and Mr. Garrison
imprisoned," dryly remarked Mr. Lincoln. " You cannot
justly charge the North with disobedience to statutes or
with failing to enforce them. You have made some
which were very offensive, but they have been enforced,

" You do not enforce the laws," persisted Mr. Seddon.
" You refuse to execute the statute for the return of
fugitive slaves. Your leading men openly declare that
they will not assist the marshals to capture or return

" You are wrong in your facts again," said Mr. Lin-


coin. " Your slaves have been returned, yes, from the
shadow of Faneuil Hall in the heart of Boston. Our
people do not like the work, I know. They will do what
the law commands, but they will not volunteer to act as
tip-staves or bum-bailiffs. The instinct is natural to the
race. Is it not true of the South ? Would you join in
the pursuit of a fugitive slave if you could avoid it ? Is
such the work of gentlemen ?"

" Your press is incendiary !" said Mr. Seddon, chang-
ing his base. " It advocates servile insurrection, and ad-
vises our slaves to cut their masters' throats. You do
not suppress your newspapers. You encourage their

" I beg your pardon, Mr. Seddon," replied Mr. Lincoln.
" I intend no offence, but I will not suffer such a state-
ment to pass unchallenged, because it is not true. No
Northern newspaper, not the most ultra, has advocated
a slave insurrection or advised the slaves to cut their
masters' throats. A gentleman of your intelligence
should not make such assertions. We do maintain the
freedom of the press we deem it necessary to a free
government. Are we peculiar in that respect ? Is not
the same doctrine held in the South ?"

It was reserved for the delegation from New York to
call out from Mr. Lincoln his first expression touching
the great controversy of the hour. He exchanged re-
marks with ex-Governor King, Judge James, William
Curtis Noyes, and Francis Granger. William E. Dodge
had stood, awaiting his turn. As soon as his opportunity
came, he raised his voice enough to be heard by all
present, and, addressing Mr. Lincoln, declared that the
whole country in great anxiety was awaiting his inaugu-
ral address, and then added : " It is for you, sir, to say
whether the whole nation shall be plunged into bank-


ruptcy; whether the grass shall grow in the streets of
our commercial cities."

" Then I say it shall not," he answered, with a merry
twinkle of his eye. "If it depends upon me, the grass
will not grow anywhere except in the fields and the

" Then you will yield to the just demands of the South.
You will leave her to control her own institutions. You
will admit slave states into the Union on the same con-
ditions as free states. You will not go to war on account
of slavery !"

A sad but stern expression swept over Mr. Lincoln's
face. " I do not know that I understand your meaning,
Mr. Dodge," he said, without raising his voice, " nor do
I know what my acts or my opinions may be in the
future, beyond this. If I shall ever come to the great
office of President of the United States, I shall take an
oath. I shall swear that I will faithfully execute the
office of President of the United States, of all the United
States, and that I will, to the best of my ability, preserve,
protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.
This is a great and solemn duty. With the support of
the people and the assistance of the Almighty I shall
undertake to perform it. I have full faith that I shall
perform it. It is not the Constitution as I would like to
have it, but as it is, that is to be defended. The Consti-
tution will not be preserved and defended until it is en-
forced and obeyed in every part of every one of the
United States. It must be so respected, obeyed, en-
forced, and defended, let the grass grow where it may."

Not a word or a whisper broke the silence while these
words of weighty import were slowly falling from his
lips. They were so comprehensive and unstudied, they
exhibited such inherent authority, that they seemed a


statement of a sovereign decree, rather than one of fact
which admitted of debate. Comment or criticism upon
them seemed out of order. Mr. Dodge attempted no re-
ply. The faces of the Republicans wore an expression
of surprised satisfaction. Some of the more ardent South-
erners silently left the room. They were unable to com-
prehend the situation. The ignorant countryman they
had come to ridicule threatened no crime but obedience
to the Constitution. This was not the entertainment to
which they were invited, and it was uninteresting. For
the more conservative Southern delegates, the statesmen,
Mr. Lincoln seemed to offer an attraction. They re-
mained until he finally retired.

A delegate from New Jersey asked Mr. Lincoln point-
edly if the North should not make further concessions
to avoid civil war? For example, consent that the peo-
ple of a territory should determine its right to authorize
slavery when admitted into the Union ?

"It will be time to consider that question when it
arises," he replied. "Now we have other questions
which we must decide. In a choice of evils, war may
not always be the worst. Still I would do all in my
power to avert it, except to neglect a Constitutional
duty. As to slaver}'', it must be content with what it
has. The voice of the civilized world is against it ; it is
opposed to its growth or extension. Freedom is the nat-
ural condition of the human race, in which the Almighty
intended men to live. Those who fight the purposes of
the Almighty will not succeed. They always have been,
they always will be, beaten."

A general conversation followed, in which Judges
Brockenbrough and Ruffin and Mr. Summers sought
to draw from him some more definite expression of his
views concerning the seceded states. "Without exhibit-


ing the slightest desire to conceal his opinions, he gave
no further expression to them. His own duty, as defined
by the Constitution, seemed to engross his mind. The
Union must be maintained if the Constitution was to be
enforced as the supreme law of the land. If he became
President, all the executive powers of the government
would be used to enforce obedience to the supreme law.
Further than this, he had nothing to say.

After the reception several of the delegates com-
mented upon the remarks of the President-elect. Mr.
Kives expressed the change in his own opinions concern-
ing him with perfect candor. " He has been both mis-
judged and misunderstood by the Southern people," he
said. " They have looked upon him as an ignorant, self-
willed man, incapable of independent judgment, full of
prejudices, willing to be used as a tool by more able
men. This is all wrong. He will be the head of his ad-
ministration, and he will do his own thinking. He seems
to have studied the Constitution, to have adopted it as
his guide. I do not see that much fault can be found
with the views he has expressed this evening. He is
probably not so great a statesman as Mr. Madison, he
may not have the will-power of General Jackson. He
may combine the qualities of both. His will not be a
weak administration."

Judge Ruffin regarded his pronounced opinions against
concessions as a misfortune. The controversy had been
carried so far that great concessions must be made to
avoid actual conflict. Still, he could not find much
fault with Mr. Lincoln's opinions. They were evident-
ly founded upon the Constitution.

At the close of this interview Mr. Lincoln had not
been twenty-four hours in "Washington. That he had
created a profound impression, favorable to himself, was


undeniable. The Republican members of the Confer-
ence felt encouraged and strengthened by his presence.
The sympathizers with secession were correspondingly
discouraged and depressed.



THE forces which change the current of public opinion
are often remote and difficult of discovery. One of the
most unexpected of these changes, occurring within my
experience, was synchronous with Mr. Lincoln's arrival
in Washington. Before that day the growth of disunion
had been vigorous. True, it had met with some checks,
principally caused by the indiscretion of those who
should have been, and in the future would be, excluded
from the higher councils of the leaders. These checks
had compelled the postponement of the seizure of the
capital. General Dix, Judge Holt, and Mr. Stanton
had been disturbing agencies in the cabinet, and General
Scott had made trouble by his contemptuous refusal to
listen to or temporize with secession. On the other
hand, six states were already out of the Union ; others
were ready to follow, a confederacy had been formed,
its president and general officers elected ; successive del-
egations had taken leave of Congress, declaring that the
South could never be subjugated; military supplies,
money, and other national property to a large value had
been transferred from the North into the seceded states ;
the national credit had been undermined. Newspapers
and influential leaders in Northern cities had declared
against the use of force to subjugate the South; the
Peace Conference had performed its allotted service,
secession in Maryland and Virginia was ripening, and


Congress would soon adjourn, leaving a weakened gov-
ernment without means of defence or resistance. On
the whole the situation was satisfactory, the future prom-
ising, and the capture of the government on the 4th of
March assured. It could be accomplished without blood-
shed, if General Scott and "his janizaries" would not
interfere. The secessionists were confident, the friends
of the Union verging towards despondency.

A change in the situation came unexpectedly. It was
coextensive with the political horizon, it was written
upon the faces of the people of Washington and of the
strangers within her gates. It began on the morning
after Mr. Lincoln's arrival, and before evening it had
pervaded the community. Ten regiments of veterans,
coming to reinforce General Scott's handful of soldiers,
could not have more effectually annihilated the plot for
armed seizure of the capital on the morning of the day
of inauguration.

Nor was the arrival of Mr. Lincoln the only event
which occurred to darken the prospects of the disunion-
ists. They had counted upon the support of the North-
ern Democrats, and of the conservative element in the
Kepublican party. It was a common saying among
them that no regiment for the subjugation of the South
would be permitted to pass through the city of New
York. But now, the example of General Cass, the ring-
ing command of General Dix for the protection of the
flag, Mr. Stanton's bold declaration to the President that
the surrender of the forts and property in Charleston
Harbor was an indictable crime, and the far-reaching,
though more quiet, influence of that patriotic Kentuck-
ian, Judge Holt, began to call back responsive echoes
from the North and West. I cannot enumerate these,
but I must not omit to mention one of the first and most


powerful, the letter from that tried old Democrat, General
Wool. These statements proclaimed a united North :
Douglass Democrats, the numerical majority and all the
best elements of Democracy, together with Republicans
and men of no party, declared they would give short
shrift and swift execution to any who should raise the
hand of treason in the capital of the republic.

It was also quickly known that Mr. Lincoln would
call into his cabinet representative men like Senators
Seward, Chase, and Cameron, who would unite the
country if they did not constitute a united cabinet, and
that he would offer one or two places to true men from
the disloyal states. General Scott also was strengthen-
ing his defences. Several volunteer companies of the
most loyal young men in Washington had been organ-
ized, and had received their guns and ammunition. They
would be ready for service on a few moments' notice.
Another type of American now became common in the
streets of Washington. They were the young stalwart
Republicans from all sections of the North and West
who had been influential in the election of Mr. Lincoln,
and who had come to give their personal attention to
his inauguration. They became quite as numerous as
the visitors with slouched hats from the Border states,
and they had very promptly offered their services to
General Scott to act as guards, as soldiers, or as police-
men on the day of inauguration.

Whether the joint operation of these events was the
cause of the change, or whether the actual presence of
the President-elect produced it in whole or in part, the
fact of the change was beyond dispute. The precautions
were not relaxed, but the extreme solicitude, which had
previously influenced loyal men, had completely disap-
peared. Instead of the excitement anticipated, the last


days of the Peace Conference were positively dull. The
absence of David Dudley Field when the final vote
was recorded, of which an unfair advantage was taken
by some of his colleagues, and the decision of the pre-
siding officer that the vote of New York should be con-
trolled by the delegates present, and not cast as direct-
ed by the resolution adopted by a clear majority of all
the delegates from that state on the previous evening,
neutralized the vote of New York, and led to the adop-
tion of the amendments proposed by the majority of
the Conference Committee on Resolutions by the slender,
majority of one vote. Such a result carried no weight
with Congress or the country. The proposed amend-
ments were submitted to the Senate and to the House.
But it was during the last hours of the session, and
neither house would permit them to be brought before
it for action. They were offered in the Senate by way
of an amendment to the well-known Crittenden Res-
olutions, and rejected by a vote of twenty -eight to
seven. The Conference adjourned on the 27th of Feb-
ruary, having served the purpose of its originators and
done one good work for the country that of uniting
the Republicans and many Democrats in the defence of
the Union.

From Monday, the 25th of February, to Monday, the
4th of March, a kind of paralysis appeared to have fallen
upon the disunionists. They did almost nothing to at-
tract public attention. The usual arrangements with
the outgoing administration were made for the inau-
guration. The city was crowded with visitors, so that
there was a large overflow to Georgetown and Balti-
more. The event which attracted the greatest measure
of public attention was an address by Senator Seward
to a body of his constituents who called upon him in



Washington, and the chief point of interest in this was
its omission to disclose any of the purposes of the in-
coming administration, of which it was understood that
he was to become the premier.



A BEIGHT sun rose over the city of Washington on
March 4th, the day appointed by law for the inaugura-
tion of President Lincoln. It was an orderly city ; a
stranger would not have suspected that any preparations
had been made to suppress insurrection, or that the ne-
cessity for such precautions existed. The leading seces-
sionists had taken their departure. Those who remained
belonged to the reckless, disorderly class, below the aver-
age respectability of the party they served. Since the
influx of Northern Eepublicans, these roughs had be-
come less demonstrative, so that it was safe for ladies
and gentlemen to make use of the streets and sidewalks.
Some experiments had been tried in insulting and jos-
tling the recent arrivals, which had resulted disagreeably
for the assailants, who were much depressed by another
postponement of the revolution. General Scott had sta-
tioned his small force of regulars and volunteers where
they were inconspicuous, but could be made serviceable
at very short notice. His dispositions had been so qui-
etly made that surprise was expressed because so little
had apparently been done by way of preparation.

At an early hour a dense multitude occupied both
sides of the avenue from the Executive Mansion to the
foot of Capitol Hill, where it divided, surrounding the
grounds and filling the open space and the square on
the east front of the Capitol, on the steps of which a


broad platform had been erected, whence the inaugural
address was to be delivered. At all the street crossings
platforms with seats had been built, all of which were
crowded. Every window overlooking the avenue was
filled with the bright costumes of ladies and children,
while many displayed the national colors. Cables had
been stretched on either side of the carriage-way which
was kept clear by a small force of policemen, without
apparent difficulty. No shops were open; business was
suspended, and the real, and not the pretended closing
of the liquor saloons by the order of General Scott,
essentially contributed to the order of the day.

The procession set out from the Executive Mansion.
President Buchanan there entered the carriage which,
drawn by four led horses, and preceded by the Marshal
of the District with his aids on horseback, moved out of
the grounds to the avenue. Here a selected company
of the sappers and miners of the regular army, com-
manded by Captain Duane of the Engineers, who had
sought and obtained the position of a guard of honor,
formed in a hollow square, with the carriage in its cen-
tre. No body of men of finer appearance and discipline,
or more trustworthy and loyal, ever guarded the great
Frederick or a Koman emperor. With the surrounded
carriage they moved down the avenue with the unity
and precision of a machine, followed by several compa-
nies of uniformed volunteers, the whole procession com-
prising not more than five hundred men. In front of
"Willard's Hotel a halt was made. Mr. Lincoln walked
out through the crowd which civilly opened a lane to
permit him to pass, and entered the carriage. The ven-
erable form, pallid face, and perfectly white hair of Mr.
Buchanan contrasted powerfully with the tall figure,
coal-black hair, and rugged features of Mr. Lincoln, and


suggested that the exhausted energies of the old were
to be followed by the vigorous strength of the new ad-

The appearance of the President-elect was the signal
for a slight cheer of welcome and the waving of ban-
ners from the windows. It was time for me to leave
for the Capitol. As my carriage drove rapidly down
F Street, to a station where arrangements had been
made to pass invited guests through the crowd to the
platform, I heard the volume of cheers roll down the
avenue pari passu with the procession. I learned after-
wards that the tall form of Mr. Lincoln was exposed
during the whole distance, so that a shot from a con-
cealed assassin from any one of the thousand windows
would have ended his career. But not only was no as-
sault attempted, but, as I was assured by the marshal,
no word of discourtesy or insult was heard during the
progress of the procession through over a mile of the
crowded streets.

A memorable spectacle lay before our eyes, after we
had ascended the steps inside and come out upon the
platform. North and south from the ends of the great
Capitol building, the ground fell off, while on the east
were the vacant Capitol grounds, a broad square, each
side of which measured some five hundred yards, bound-
ed on the farther side by a street. All this space, includ-
ing the eastern portico, was filled by the multitude,
patiently awaiting the arrival of the President. The
people were quiet, orderly, silent. They had come to
see and hear. A few policemen were present, but the
only duties they performed appeared to be the directing
of persons holding tickets to their seats on the platform.
Not a soldier was visible. Far out on the street, in front
of the building afterwards well known as the " Old Cap-


itol Prison," was a thin line of mounted men. Had I

Online LibraryL. E. (Lucius Eugene) ChittendenRecollections of President Lincoln and his administration → online text (page 6 of 35)