Still pursuing his march, Sherman arrived at Cheraw March 3, and opened communication with General Terry, who had advanced from Fort Fisher to Wilmington. Hitherto, his advance had been practically unopposed. But now he learned that General Johnston had once more been placed in command of the Confederate forces, and was collecting an army near Raleigh, North Carolina. Well knowing the ability of this general, Sherman became more prudent in his movements. But Johnston was able to gather a force of only twenty-five or thirty thousand men, of which the troops Hardee brought from Charleston formed the nucleus; and the two minor engagements on March 16 and 19 did little to impede Sherman's advance to Goldsboro, where he arrived on March 23, forming a junction with the Union army sent by sea under Schofield, that had reached the same point the previous day.
The third giant stride of Sherman's great campaign was thus happily accomplished. His capture of Atlanta, his march to the sea and capture of Savannah, his progress through the Carolinas, and the fall of Charleston, formed an aggregate expedition covering nearly a thousand miles, with military results that rendered rebellion powerless in the central States of the Southern Confederacy. Several Union cavalry raids had accomplished similar destruction of Confederate resources in Alabama and the country bordering on East Tennessee. Military affairs were plainly in a condition which justified Sherman in temporarily devolving his command on General Schofield and hurrying by sea to make a brief visit for urgent consultation with General Grant at his headquarters before Richmond and Petersburg.
Military Governors—Lincoln's Theory of Reconstruction—Congressional Election in Louisiana—Letter to Military Governors—Letter to Shepley—Amnesty Proclamation, December 8, 1863—Instructions to Banks—Banks's Action in Louisiana—Louisiana Abolishes Slavery—Arkansas Abolishes Slavery—Reconstruction in Tennessee—Missouri Emancipation—Lincoln's Letter to Drake—Missouri Abolishes Slavery—Emancipation in Maryland—Maryland Abolishes Slavery
To subdue the Confederate armies and establish order under martial law was not the only task before President Lincoln. As rapidly as rebel States or portions of States were occupied by Federal troops, it became necessary to displace usurping Confederate officials and appoint in their stead loyal State, county, and subordinate officers to restore the administration of local civil law under the authority of the United States. In western Virginia the people had spontaneously effected this reform, first by repudiating the Richmond secession ordinance and organizing a provisional State government, and, second, by adopting a new constitution and obtaining admission to the Union as the new State of West Virginia. In Missouri the State convention which refused to pass a secession ordinance effected the same object by establishing a provisional State government. In both these States the whole process of what in subsequent years was comprehensively designated "reconstruction" was carried on by popular local action, without any Federal initiative or interference other than prompt Federal recognition and substantial military support and protection.
But in other seceded States there was no such groundwork of loyal popular authority upon which to rebuild the structure of civil government. Therefore, when portions of Tennessee, Louisiana, Arkansas, and North Carolina came under Federal control, President Lincoln, during the first half of 1862, appointed military governors to begin the work of temporary civil administration. He had a clear and consistent constitutional theory under which this could be done. In his first inaugural he announced the doctrine that "the union of these States is perpetual" and "unbroken." His special message to Congress on July 4, 1861, added the supplementary declaration that "the States have their status in the Union, and they have no other legal status." The same message contained the further definition:
"The people of Virginia have thus allowed this giant insurrection to make its nest within her borders; and this government has no choice left but to deal with it where it finds it. And it has the less regret, as the loyal citizens have, in due form, claimed its protection. Those loyal citizens this government is bound to recognize and protect, as being Virginia."
The action of Congress entirely conformed to this theory. That body admitted to seats senators and representatives from the provisional State governments of West Virginia and Missouri; and also allowed Senator Andrew Johnson of Tennessee to retain his seat, and admitted Horace Maynard and Andrew J. Clements as representatives from the same State, though since their election Tennessee had undergone the usual secession usurpation, and had as yet organized no loyal provisional government.
The progress of the Union armies was so far checked during the second half of 1862, that Military Governor Phelps, appointed for Arkansas, did not assume his functions; and Military Governor Stanley wielded but slight authority in North Carolina. Senator Andrew Johnson, appointed military governor of Tennessee, established himself at Nashville, the capital, and, though Union control of Tennessee fluctuated greatly, he was able, by appointing loyal State and county officers, to control the administration of civil government in considerable districts, under substantial Federal jurisdiction.
In the State of Louisiana the process of restoring Federal authority was carried on a step farther, owing largely to the fact that the territory occupied by the Union army, though quite limited, comprising only the city of New Orleans and a few adjacent parishes, was more securely held, and its hostile frontier less disturbed. It soon became evident that considerable Union sentiment yet existed in the captured city and surrounding districts, and when some of the loyal citizens began to manifest impatience at the restraints of martial law, President Lincoln in a frank letter pointed the way to a remedy:
"The people of Louisiana," he wrote under date of July 28, 1862, "who wish protection to person and property, have but to reach forth their hands and take it. Let them in good faith reinaugurate the national authority and set up a State government conforming thereto under the Constitution. They know how to do it, and can have the protection of the army while doing it. The army will be withdrawn so soon as such State government can dispense with its presence, and the people of the State can then, upon the old constitutional terms, govern themselves to their own liking."
At about this date there occurred the serious military crisis in Virginia; and the battles of the Peninsula, of the second Bull Run, and of Antietam necessarily compelled the postponement of minor questions. But during this period the President's policy on the slavery question reached its development and solution, and when, on September 22, he issued his preliminary proclamation of emancipation, it also paved the way for a further defining of his policy of reconstruction.
That proclamation announced the penalty of military emancipation against all States in rebellion on the succeeding first day of January; but also provided that if the people thereof were represented in Congress by properly elected members, they should be deemed not in rebellion, and thereby escape the penalty. Wishing now to prove the sincerity of what he said in the Greeley letter, that his paramount object was to save the Union, and not either to save or destroy slavery, he wrote a circular letter to the military governors and commanders in Louisiana, Tennessee, and Arkansas, instructing them to permit and aid the people within the districts held by them to hold elections for members of Congress, and perhaps a legislature, State officers, and United States senators.
"In all available ways," he wrote, "give the people a chance to express their wishes at these elections. Follow forms of law as far as convenient, but at all events get the expression of the largest number of the people possible. All see how such action will connect with and affect the proclamation of September 22. Of course the men elected should be gentlemen of character, willing to swear support to the Constitution as of old, and known to be above reasonable suspicion of duplicity."
But the President wished this to be a real and not a sham proceeding, as he explained a month later in a letter to Governor Shepley:
"We do not particularly need members of Congress from there to enable us to get along with legislation here. What we do want is the conclusive evidence that respectable citizens of Louisiana are willing to be members of Congress and to swear support to the Constitution, and that other respectable citizens there are willing to vote for them and send them. To send a parcel of Northern men here as representatives, elected, as would be understood (and perhaps really so), at the point of the bayonet, would be disgraceful and outrageous; and were I a member of Congress here, I would vote against admitting any such man to a seat."
Thus instructed, Governor Shepley caused an election to be held in the first and second congressional districts of Louisiana on December 3, 1862, at which members of Congress were chosen. No Federal office-holder was a candidate, and about one half the usual vote was polled. The House of Representatives admitted them to seats after full scrutiny, the chairman of the committee declaring this "had every essential of a regular election in a time of most profound peace, with the exception of the fact that the proclamation was issued by the military instead of the civil governor of Louisiana."
Military affairs were of such importance and absorbed so much attention during the year 1863, both at Washington and at the headquarters of the various armies, that the subject of reconstruction was of necessity somewhat neglected. The military governor of Louisiana indeed ordered a registration of loyal voters, about the middle of June, for the purpose of organizing a loyal State government; but its only result was to develop an inevitable antagonism and contest between conservatives who desired that the old constitution of Louisiana prior to the rebellion should be revived, by which the institution of slavery as then existing would be maintained, and the free-State party which demanded that an entirely new constitution be framed and adopted, in which slavery should be summarily abolished. The conservatives asked President Lincoln to adopt their plan. While the President refused this, he in a letter to General Banks dated August 5, 1863, suggested the middle course of gradual emancipation.
"For my own part," he wrote, "I think I shall not, in any event, retract the emancipation proclamation; nor, as Executive, ever return to slavery any person who is freed by the terms of that proclamation, or by any of the acts of Congress. If Louisiana shall send members to Congress, their admission to seats will depend, as you know, upon the respective houses and not upon the President."
"I would be glad for her to make a new constitution recognizing the emancipation proclamation and adopting emancipation in those parts of the State to which the proclamation does not apply. And while she is at it, I think it would not be objectionable for her to adopt some practical system by which the two races could gradually live themselves out of their old relation to each other, and both come out better prepared for the new. Education for young blacks should be included in the plan. After all, the power or element of 'contract' may be sufficient for this probationary period, and by its simplicity and flexibility may be the better."
During the autumn months the President's mind dwelt more and more on the subject of reconstruction, and he matured a general plan which he laid before Congress in his annual message to that body on December 8, 1863. He issued on the same day a proclamation of amnesty, on certain conditions, to all persons in rebellion except certain specified classes, who should take a prescribed oath of allegiance. The proclamation further provided that whenever a number of persons so amnestied in any rebel State, equal to one tenth the vote cast at the presidential election of 1860, should "reestablish a State government which shall be republican, and in no wise contravening said oath," such would be recognized as the true government of the State. The annual message discussed and advocated the plan at length, but also added: "Saying that reconstruction will be accepted if presented in a specified way, it is not said it will never be accepted in any other way."
This plan of reconstructing what came to be called "ten percent States," met much opposition in Congress, and that body, reversing its action in former instances, long refused admission to members and senators from States similarly organized; but the point needs no further mention here.
A month before the amnesty proclamation the President had written to General Banks, expressing his great disappointment that the reconstruction in Louisiana had been permitted to fall in abeyance by the leading Union officials there, civil and military.
"I do, however," he wrote, "urge both you and them to lose no more time. Governor Shepley has special instructions from the War Department. I wish him—these gentlemen and others cooeperating—without waiting for more territory, to go to work and give me a tangible nucleus which the remainder of the State may rally around as fast as it can, and which I can at once recognize and sustain as the true State government."
He urged that such reconstruction should have in view a new free-State constitution, for, said he:
"If a few professedly loyal men shall draw the disloyal about them, and colorably set up a State government repudiating the emancipation proclamation and reestablishing slavery, I cannot recognize or sustain their work.... I have said, and say again, that if a new State government, acting in harmony with this government and consistently with general freedom, shall think best to adopt a reasonable temporary arrangement in relation to the landless and houseless freed people, I do not object; but my word is out to be for and not against them on the question of their permanent freedom."
General Banks in reply excused his inaction by explaining that the military governor and others had given him to understand that they were exclusively charged with the work of reconstruction in Louisiana. To this the President rejoined under date of December 24, 1863:
"I have all the while intended you to be master, as well in regard to reorganizing a State government for Louisiana as in regard to the military matters of the department, and hence my letters on reconstruction have nearly, if not quite, all been addressed to you. My error has been that it did not occur to me that Governor Shepley or any one else would set up a claim to act independently of you.... I now distinctly tell you that you are master of all, and that I wish you to take the case as you find it, and give us a free-State reorganization of Louisiana in the shortest possible time."
Under this explicit direction of the President, and basing his action on martial law as the fundamental law of the State, the general caused a governor and State officials to be elected on February 22, 1864. To override the jealousy and quarrels of both the conservative and free-State parties, he set out in his proclamation that the officials to be chosen should—
"Until others are appointed by competent authority, constitute the civil government of the State, under the constitution and laws of Louisiana, except so much of the said constitution and laws as recognize, regulate, or relate to slavery; which, being inconsistent with the present condition of public affairs, and plainly inapplicable to any class of persons now existing within its limits, must be suspended, and they are therefore and hereby declared to be inoperative and void."
The newly elected governor was inaugurated on March 4, with imposing public ceremonies, and the President also invested him "with the powers exercised hitherto by the military governor of Louisiana." General Banks further caused delegates to a State convention to be chosen, who, in a session extending from April 6 to July 25, perfected and adopted a new constitution, which was again adopted by popular vote on September 5 following. General Banks reported the constitution to be "one of the best ever penned.... It abolishes slavery in the State, and forbids the legislature to enact any law recognizing property in man. The emancipation is instantaneous and absolute, without condition or compensation, and nearly unanimous."
The State of Arkansas had been forced into rebellion by military terrorism, and remained under Confederate domination only because the Union armies could afford the latent loyal sentiment of the State no effective support until the fall of Vicksburg and the opening of the Mississippi. After that decisive victory, General Steele marched a Union column of about thirteen thousand from Helena to Little Rock, the capital, which surrendered to him on the evening of September 10, 1863. By December, eight regiments of Arkansas citizens had been formed for service in the Union army; and, following the amnesty proclamation of December 8, the reorganization of a loyal State government was speedily brought about, mainly by spontaneous popular action, of course under the direction and with the assistance of General Steele.
In response to a petition, President Lincoln sent General Steele on January 20, 1864, a letter repeating substantially the instructions he had given General Banks for Louisiana. Before these could be carried out, popular action had assembled at Little Rock on January 8, 1864, a formal delegate convention, composed of forty-four delegates who claimed to represent twenty-two out of the fifty-four counties of the State. On January 22 this convention adopted an amended constitution which declared the act of secession null and void, abolished slavery immediately and unconditionally, and wholly repudiated the Confederate debt. The convention appointed a provisional State government, and under its schedule an election was held on March 14, 1864. During the three days on which the polls were kept open, under the orders of General Steele, who by the President's suggestion adopted the convention program, a total vote of 12,179 was cast for the constitution, and only 226 against it; while the provisional governor was also elected for a new term, together with members of Congress and a legislature which in due time chose United States senators. By this time Congress had manifested its opposition to the President's plan, but Mr. Lincoln stood firm, and on June 29 wrote to General Steele:
"I understand that Congress declines to admit to seats the persons sent as senators and representatives from Arkansas. These persons apprehend that in consequence you may not support the new State government there as you otherwise would. My wish is that you give that government and the people there the same support and protection that you would if the members had been admitted, because in no event, nor in any view of the case, can this do any harm, while it will be the best you can do toward suppressing the rebellion."
While Military Governor Andrew Johnson had been the earliest to begin the restoration of loyal Federal authority in the State of Tennessee, the course of campaign and battle in that State delayed its completion to a later period than in the others. The invasion of Tennessee by the Confederate General Bragg in the summer of 1862, and the long delay of the Union General Rosecrans to begin an active campaign against him during the summer of 1863, kept civil reorganization in a very uncertain and chaotic condition. When at length Rosecrans advanced and occupied Chattanooga, President Lincoln deemed it a propitious time to vigorously begin reorganization, and under date of September 11, 1863, he wrote the military governor emphatic suggestions that:
"The reinauguration must not be such as to give control of the State and its representation in Congress to the enemies of the Union, driving its friends there into political exile.... You must have it otherwise. Let the reconstruction be the work of such men only as can be trusted for the Union. Exclude all others; and trust that your government so organized will be recognized here as being the one of republican form to be guaranteed to the State, and to be protected against invasion and domestic violence. It is something on the question of time to remember that it cannot be known who is next to occupy the position I now hold, nor what he will do. I see that you have declared in favor of emancipation in Tennessee, for which, may God bless you. Get emancipation into your new State government—constitution—and there will be no such word as fail for your case."
In another letter of September 19, the President sent the governor specific authority to execute the scheme outlined in his letter of advice; but no substantial success had yet been reached in the process of reconstruction in Tennessee during the year 1864, when the Confederate army under Hood turned northward from Atlanta to begin its third and final invasion of the State. This once more delayed all work of reconstruction until the Confederate army was routed and dispersed by the battle of Nashville on December 15, 1864. Previous popular action had called a State convention, which, taking immediate advantage of the expulsion of the enemy, met in Nashville on January 9, 1865, in which fifty-eight counties and some regiments were represented by about four hundred and sixty-seven delegates. After six days of deliberation the convention adopted a series of amendments to the constitution, the main ordinance of which provided:
"That slavery and involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, are hereby forever abolished and prohibited throughout the State."
These amendments were duly adopted at a popular election held on February 22, and the complete organization of a loyal State government under them followed in due course.
The State of Missouri needed no reconstruction. It has already been said that her local affairs were administered by a provisional State government instituted by the State convention chosen by popular election before rebellion broke out. In this State, therefore, the institution of slavery was suppressed by the direct action of the people, but not without a long and bitter conflict of party factions and military strife. There existed here two hostile currents of public opinion, one, the intolerant pro-slavery prejudices of its rural population; the other, the progressive and liberal spirit dominant in the city of St. Louis, with its heavy German population, which, as far back as 1856, had elected to Congress a candidate who boldly advocated gradual emancipation: St. Louis, with outlying cities and towns, supplying during the whole rebellion the dominating influence that held the State in the Union, and at length transformed her from a slave to a free State.
Missouri suffered severely in the war, but not through important campaigns or great battles. Persistent secession conspiracy, the Kansas episodes of border strife, and secret orders of Confederate agents from Arkansas instigating unlawful warfare, made Missouri a hotbed of guerrilla uprisings and of relentless neighborhood feuds, in which armed partizan conflict often degenerated into shocking barbarity, and the pretense of war into the malicious execution of private vengeance. President Lincoln drew a vivid picture of the chronic disorders in Missouri in reply to complaints demanding the removal of General Schofield from local military command:
"We are in civil war. In such cases there always is a main question; but in this case that question is a perplexing compound—Union and slavery. It thus becomes a question not of two sides merely, but of at least four sides, even among those who are for the Union, saying nothing of those who are against it. Thus, those who are for the Union with, but not without, slavery—those for it without, but not with—those for it with or without, but prefer it with—and those for it with or without, but prefer it without. Among these again is a subdivision of those who are for gradual but not for immediate, and those who are for immediate, but not for gradual extinction of slavery. It is easy to conceive that all these shades of opinion, and even more, may be sincerely entertained by honest and truthful men. Yet, all being for the Union, by reason of these differences each will prefer a different way of sustaining the Union. At once sincerity is questioned, and motives are assailed. Actual war coming, blood grows hot, and blood is spilled. Thought is forced from old channels into confusion. Deception breeds and thrives. Confidence dies and universal suspicion reigns. Each man feels an impulse to kill his neighbor, lest he be first killed by him. Revenge and retaliation follow. And all this, as before said, may be among honest men only. But this is not all. Every foul bird comes abroad and every dirty reptile rises up. These add crime to confusion. Strong measures deemed indispensable, but harsh at best, such men make worse by maladministration. Murders for old grudges, and murders for pelf, proceed under any cloak that will best cover for the occasion. These causes amply account for what has occurred in Missouri, without ascribing it to the weakness or wickedness of any general. The newspaper files, those chroniclers of current events, will show that the evils now complained of were quite as prevalent under Fremont, Hunter, Halleck, and Curtis, as under Schofield.... I do not feel justified to enter upon the broad field you present in regard to the political differences between radicals and conservatives. From time to time I have done and said what appeared to me proper to do and say. The public knows it all. It obliges nobody to follow me, and I trust it obliges me to follow nobody. The radicals and conservatives each agree with me in some things and disagree in others. I could wish both to agree with me in all things; for then they would agree with each other, and would be too strong for any foe from any quarter. They, however, choose to do otherwise, and I do not question their right. I, too, shall do what seems to be my duty. I hold whoever commands in Missouri, or elsewhere, responsible to me, and not to either radicals or conservatives. It is my duty to hear all; but at last I must, within my sphere, judge what to do and what to forbear."
It is some consolation to history, that out of this blood and travail grew the political regeneration of the State. Slavery and emancipation never gave each other a moment's truce. The issue was raised to an acute stage by Fremont's proclamation in August, 1861. Though that ill-advised measure was revoked by President Lincoln, the friction and irritation of war kept it alive, and in the following year a member of the Missouri State convention offered a bill to accept and apply President Lincoln's plan of compensated abolishment. Further effort was made in this direction in Congress, where in January, 1863, the House passed a bill appropriating ten million dollars, and in February, the Senate another bill appropriating fifteen million dollars to aid compensated abolishment in Missouri. But the stubborn opposition of three pro-slavery Missouri members of the House prevented action on the latter bill or any compromise.
The question, however, continually grew among the people of Missouri, and made such advance that parties, accepting the main point as already practically decided at length only divided upon the mode of procedure The conservatives wanted the work to be done by the old State convention, the radicals desired to submit it to a new convention fresh from the people. Legislative agreement having failed, the provisional governor called the old State convention together. The convention leaders who controlled that body inquired of the President whether he would sustain their action. To this he made answer in a letter to Schofield dated June 22, 1863:
"Your despatch, asking in substance whether, in case Missouri shall adopt gradual emancipation, the general government will protect slave-owners in that species of property during the short time it shall be permitted by the State to exist within it, has been received. Desirous as I am that emancipation shall be adopted by Missouri, and believing as I do that gradual can be made better than immediate for both black and white, except when military necessity changes the case, my impulse is to say that such protection would be given. I cannot know exactly what shape an act of emancipation may take. If the period from the initiation to the final end should be comparatively short, and the act should prevent persons being sold during that period into more lasting slavery, the whole would be easier. I do not wish to pledge the general government to the affirmative support of even temporary slavery beyond what can be fairly claimed under the Constitution. I suppose, however, this is not desired, but that it is desired for the military force of the United States, while in Missouri, to not be used in subverting the temporarily reserved legal rights in slaves during the progress of emancipation. This I would desire also."
Proceeding with its work, the old State convention, which had hitherto made a most honorable record, neglected a great opportunity. It indeed adopted an ordinance of gradual emancipation on July 1, 1863, but of such an uncertain and dilatory character, that public opinion in the State promptly rejected it. By the death of the provisional governor on January 31, 1864, the conservative party of Missouri lost its most trusted leader, and thereafter the radicals succeeded to the political power of the State. At the presidential election of 1864, that party chose a new State convention, which met in St. Louis on January 6, 1865, and on the sixth day of its session (January 11) formally adopted an ordinance of immediate emancipation.
Maryland, like Missouri, had no need of reconstruction. Except for the Baltimore riot and the arrest of her secession legislature during the first year of the war, her State government continued its regular functions. But a strong popular undercurrent of virulent secession sympathy among a considerable minority of her inhabitants was only held in check by the military power of the Union, and for two years emancipation found no favor in the public opinion of the State. Her representatives, like those of most other border States, coldly refused President Lincoln's earnest plea to accept compensated abolishment; and a bill in Congress to give Maryland ten million dollars for that object was at once blighted by the declaration of one of her leading representatives that Maryland did not ask for it. Nevertheless, the subject could no more be ignored there than in other States; and after the President's emancipation proclamation an emancipation party developed itself in Maryland.
There was no longer any evading the practical issue, when, by the President's direction, the Secretary of War issued a military order, early in October, 1863, regulating the raising of colored troops in certain border States, which decreed that slaves might be enlisted without consent of their owners, but provided compensation in such cases. At the November election of that year the emancipation party of Maryland elected its ticket by an overwhelming majority, and a legislature that enacted laws under which a State convention was chosen to amend the constitution. Of the delegates elected on April 6, 1864, sixty-one were emancipationists, and only thirty-five opposed.
After two months' debate this convention by nearly two thirds adopted an article:
"That hereafter in this State there shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude except in punishment of crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted; and all persons held to service or labor as slaves are hereby declared free."
The decisive test of a popular vote accepting the amended constitution as a whole, remained, however, yet to be undergone. President Lincoln willingly complied with a request to throw his official voice and influence in favor of the measure, and wrote, on October 10, 1864:
"A convention of Maryland has framed a new constitution for the State; a public meeting is called for this evening at Baltimore to aid in securing its ratification by the people; and you ask a word from me for the occasion. I presume the only feature of the instrument about which there is serious controversy is that which provides for the extinction of slavery. It needs not to be a secret, and I presume it is no secret, that I wish success to this provision. I desire it on every consideration. I wish all men to be free. I wish the material prosperity of the already free, which I feel sure the extinction of slavery would bring. I wish to see in process of disappearing that only thing which ever could bring this nation to civil war. I attempt no argument. Argument upon the question is already exhausted by the abler, better informed, and more immediately interested sons of Maryland herself. I only add that I shall be gratified exceedingly if the good people of the State shall, by their votes, ratify the new constitution."
At the election which was held on October 12 and 13, stubborn Maryland conservatism, whose roots reached far back to the colonial days, made its last desperate stand, and the constitution was ratified by a majority of only three hundred and seventy-five votes out of a total of nearly sixty thousand. But the result was accepted as decisive, and in due time the governor issued his proclamation, declaring the new constitution legally adopted.
Shaping of the Presidential Campaign—Criticisms of Mr. Lincoln—Chase's Presidential Ambitions—The Pomeroy Circular—Cleveland Convention—Attempt to Nominate Grant—Meeting of Baltimore Convention—Lincoln's Letter to Schurz—Platform of Republican Convention—Lincoln Renominated—Refuses to Indicate Preference for Vice-President—Johnson Nominated for Vice-President—Lincoln's Speech to Committee of Notification—Reference to Mexico in his Letter of Acceptance—The French in Mexico
The final shaping of the campaign, the definition of the issues, the wording of the platforms, and selection of the candidates, had grown much more out of national politics than out of mere party combination or personal intrigues. The success of the war, and fate of the Union, of course dominated every other consideration; and next to this the treatment of the slavery question became in a hundred forms almost a direct personal interest. Mere party feeling, which had utterly vanished for a few months in the first grand uprising of the North, had been once more awakened by the first Bull Run defeat, and from that time onward was heard in loud and constant criticism of Mr. Lincoln and the acts of his supporters wherever they touched the institution of slavery. The Democratic party, which had been allied with the Southern politicians in the interests of that institution through so many decades, quite naturally took up its habitual role of protest that slavery should receive no hurt or damage from the incidents of war, where, in the border States, it still had constitutional existence among loyal Union men.
On the other hand, among Republicans who had elected Mr. Lincoln, and who, as a partizan duty, indorsed and sustained his measures, Fremont's proclamation of military emancipation in the first year of the war excited the over-hasty zeal of antislavery extremists, and developed a small but very active faction which harshly denounced the President when Mr. Lincoln revoked that premature and ill-considered measure. No matter what the President subsequently did about slavery, the Democratic press and partizans always assailed him for doing too much, while the Fremont press and partizans accused him of doing too little.
Meanwhile, personal considerations were playing their minor, but not unimportant parts. When McClellan was called to Washington, and during all the hopeful promise of the great victories he was expected to win, a few shrewd New York Democratic politicians grouped themselves about him, and put him in training as the future Democratic candidate for President; and the general fell easily into their plans and ambitions. Even after he had demonstrated his military incapacity, when he had reaped defeat instead of victory, and earned humiliation instead of triumph, his partizan adherents clung to the desperate hope that though they could not win applause for him as a conqueror, they might yet create public sympathy in his behalf as a neglected and persecuted genius.
The cabinets of Presidents frequently develop rival presidential aspirants, and that of Mr. Lincoln was no exception. Considering the strong men who composed it, the only wonder is that there was so little friction among them. They disagreed constantly and heartily on minor questions, both with Mr. Lincoln and with each other, but their great devotion to the Union, coupled with his kindly forbearance, and the clear vision which assured him mastery over himself and others, kept peace and even personal affection in his strangely assorted official family.
The man who developed the most serious presidential aspirations was Salmon P. Chase, his Secretary of the Treasury, who listened to and actively encouraged the overtures of a small faction of the Republican party which rallied about him at the end of the year 1863. Pure and disinterested, and devoted with all his energies and powers to the cause of the Union, he was yet singularly ignorant of current public thought, and absolutely incapable of judging men in their true relations He regarded himself as the friend of Mr. Lincoln and made strong protestations to him and to others of this friendship, but he held so poor an opinion of the President's intellect and character, compared with his own, that he could not believe the people blind enough to prefer the President to himself. He imagined that he did not covet advancement, and was anxious only for the public good; yet, in the midst of his enormous labors found time to write letters to every part of the country, protesting his indifference to the presidency, but indicating his willingness to accept it, and painting pictures so dark of the chaotic state of affairs in the government, that the irresistible inference was that only he could save the country. From the beginning Mr. Lincoln had been aware of this quasi-candidacy, which continued all through the winter Indeed, it was impossible to remain unconscious of it, although he discouraged all conversation on the subject, and refused to read letters relating to it. He had his own opinion of the taste and judgment displayed by Mr. Chase in his criticisms of the President and his colleagues in the cabinet, but he took no note of them.
"I have determined," he said, "to shut my eyes, so far as possible, to everything of the sort. Mr. Chase makes a good secretary, and I shall keep him where he is. If he becomes President, all right. I hope we may never have a worse man."
And he went on appointing Mr. Chase's partizans and adherents to places in the government. Although his own renomination was a matter in regard to which he refused to talk much, even with intimate friends, he was perfectly aware of the true drift of things. In capacity of appreciating popular currents Chase was as a child beside him; and he allowed the opposition to himself in his own cabinet to continue, without question or remark, all the more patiently, because he knew how feeble it really was.
The movement in favor of Mr. Chase culminated in the month of February, 1864, in a secret circular signed by Senator Pomeroy of Kansas, and widely circulated through the Union; which criticised Mr. Lincoln's "tendency toward compromises and temporary expedients"; explained that even if his reelection were desirable, it was practically impossible in the face of the opposition that had developed; and lauded Chase as the statesman best fitted to rescue the country from present perils and guard it against future ills. Of course copies of this circular soon reached the White House, but Mr. Lincoln refused to look at them, and they accumulated unread in the desk of his secretary. Finally, it got into print, whereupon Mr. Chase wrote to the President to assure him he had no knowledge of the letter before seeing it in the papers. To this Mr. Lincoln replied:
"I was not shocked or surprised by the appearance of the letter, because I had had knowledge of Mr. Pomeroy's committee, and of secret issues which I supposed came from it, ... for several weeks. I have known just as little of these things as my friends have allowed me to know.... I fully concur with you that neither of us can be justly held responsible for what our respective friends may do without our instigation or countenance.... Whether you shall remain at the head of the Treasury Department is a question which I will not allow myself to consider from any standpoint other than my judgment of the public service, and, in that view, I do not perceive occasion for a change."
Even before the President wrote this letter, Mr. Chase's candidacy had passed out of sight. In fact, it never really existed save in the imagination of the Secretary of the Treasury and a narrow circle of his adherents. He was by no means the choice of the body of radicals who were discontented with Mr. Lincoln because of his deliberation in dealing with the slavery question, or of those others who thought he was going entirely too fast and too far.
Both these factions, alarmed at the multiplying signs which foretold his triumphant renomination, issued calls for a mass convention of the people, to meet at Cleveland, Ohio, on May 31, a week before the assembling of the Republican national convention at Baltimore, to unite in a last attempt to stem the tide in his favor. Democratic newspapers naturally made much of this, heralding it as a hopeless split in the Republican ranks, and printing fictitious despatches from Cleveland reporting that city thronged with influential and earnest delegates. Far from this being the case, there was no crowd and still less enthusiasm. Up to the very day of its meeting no place was provided for the sessions of the convention, which finally came together in a small hall whose limited capacity proved more than ample for both delegates and spectators. Though organization was delayed nearly two hours in the vain hope that more delegates would arrive, the men who had been counted upon to give character to the gathering remained notably absent. The delegates prudently refrained from counting their meager number, and after preliminaries of a more or less farcical nature, voted for a platform differing little from that afterward adopted at Baltimore, listened to the reading of a vehement letter from Wendell Phillips denouncing Mr. Lincoln's administration and counseling the choice of Fremont for President, nominated that general by acclamation, with General John Cochrane of New York for his running-mate, christened themselves the "Radical Democracy," and adjourned.
The press generally greeted the convention and its work with a chorus of ridicule, though certain Democratic newspapers, from motives harmlessly transparent, gave it solemn and unmeasured praise. General Fremont, taking his candidacy seriously, accepted the nomination, but three months later, finding no response from the public, withdrew from the contest.
At this fore-doomed Cleveland meeting a feeble attempt had been made by the men who considered Mr. Lincoln too radical, to nominate General Grant for President, instead of Fremont; but he had been denounced as a Lincoln hireling, and his name unceremoniously swept aside. During the same week another effort in the same direction was made in New York, though the committee having the matter in charge made no public avowal of its intention beforehand, merely calling a meeting to express the gratitude of the country to the general for his signal services; and even inviting Mr. Lincoln to take part in the proceedings. This he declined to do, but wrote:
"I approve, nevertheless, whatever may tend to strengthen and sustain General Grant and the noble armies now under his direction. My previous high estimate of General Grant has been maintained and heightened by what has occurred in the remarkable campaign he is now conducting, while the magnitude and difficulty of the task before him do not prove less than I expected. He and his brave soldiers are now in the midst of their great trial, and I trust that at your meeting you will so shape your good words that they may turn to men and guns, moving to his and their support."
With such gracious approval of the movement the meeting naturally fell into the hands of the Lincoln men. General Grant neither at this time nor at any other, gave the least countenance to the efforts which were made to array him in political opposition to the President.
These various attempts to discredit the name of Mr. Lincoln and nominate some one else in his place caused hardly a ripple on the great current of public opinion. Death alone could have prevented his choice by the Union convention. So absolute and universal was the tendency that most of the politicians made no effort to direct or guide it; they simply exerted themselves to keep in the van and not be overwhelmed. The convention met on June 7, but irregular nominations of Mr. Lincoln for President had begun as early as January 6, when the first State convention of the year was held in New Hampshire.
From one end of the country to the other such spontaneous nominations had joyously echoed his name. Only in Missouri did it fail of overwhelming adhesion, and even in the Missouri Assembly the resolution in favor of his renomination was laid upon the table by a majority of only eight. The current swept on irresistibly throughout the spring. A few opponents of Mr. Lincoln endeavored to postpone the meeting of the national convention until September, knowing that their only hope lay in some possible accident of the summer. But though supported by so powerful an influence as the New York "Tribune," the National Committee paid no attention to this appeal. Indeed, they might as well have considered the request of a committee of prominent citizens to check an impending thunderstorm.
Mr. Lincoln took no measures whatever to promote his own candidacy. While not assuming airs of reluctance or bashfulness, he discouraged on the part of strangers any suggestion as to his reelection. Among his friends he made no secret of his readiness to continue the work he was engaged in, if such should be the general wish. "A second term would be a great honor and a great labor, which together, perhaps, I would not decline if tendered," he wrote Elihu B. Washburne. He not only opposed no obstacle to the ambitions of Chase, but received warnings to beware of Grant in the same serene manner, answering tranquilly, "If he takes Richmond, let him have it." And he discouraged office-holders, civil or military, who showed any special zeal in his behalf. To General Schurz, who wrote asking permission to take an active part in the presidential campaign, he replied:
"Allow me to suggest that if you wish to remain in the military service, it is very dangerous for you to get temporarily out of it; because, with a major-general once out, it is next to impossible for even the President to get him in again.... Of course I would be very glad to have your service for the country in the approaching political canvass; but I fear we cannot properly have it without separating you from the military." And in a later letter he added: "I perceive no objection to your making a political speech when you are where one is to be made; but quite surely, speaking in the North and fighting in the South at the same time are not possible; nor could I be justified to detail any officer to the political campaign during its continuance and then return him to the army."
Not only did he firmly take this stand as to his own nomination, but enforced it even more rigidly in cases where he learned that Federal office-holders were working to defeat the return of certain Republican congressmen. In several such instances he wrote instructions of which the following is a type:
"Complaint is made to me that you are using your official power to defeat Judge Kelley's renomination to Congress.... The correct principle, I think, is that all our friends should have absolute freedom of choice among our friends. My wish, therefore, is that you will do just as you think fit with your own suffrage in the case, and not constrain any of your subordinates to do other than as he thinks fit with his."
He made, of course, no long speeches during the campaign, and in his short addresses, at Sanitary Fairs, in response to visiting delegations, or on similar occasions where custom and courtesy decreed that he must say something, preserved his mental balance undisturbed, speaking heartily and to the point, but skilfully avoiding the perils that beset the candidate who talks.
When at last the Republican convention came together on June 7, 1864, it had less to do than any other convention in our political history; for its delegates were bound by a peremptory mandate. It was opened by brief remarks from Senator Morgan of New York, whose significant statement that the convention would fall far short of accomplishing its great mission unless it declared for a Constitutional amendment prohibiting African slavery, was loudly cheered. In their speeches on taking the chair, both the temporary chairman, Rev. Robert J. Breckinridge of Kentucky, and the permanent chairman, William Dennison of Ohio, treated Mr. Lincoln's nomination as a foregone conclusion, and the applause which greeted his name showed that the delegates did not resent this disregard of customary etiquette. There were, in fact, but three tasks before the convention—to settle the status of contesting delegations, to agree upon a platform, and to nominate a candidate for Vice-President.
The platform declared in favor of crushing rebellion and maintaining the integrity of the Union, commending the government's determination to enter into no compromise with the rebels. It applauded President Lincoln's patriotism and fidelity in the discharge of his duties, and stated that only those in harmony with "these resolutions" ought to have a voice in the administration of the government. This, while intended to win support of radicals throughout the Union, was aimed particularly at Postmaster General Blair, who had made many enemies. It approved all acts directed against slavery; declared in favor of a constitutional amendment forever abolishing it; claimed full protection of the laws of war for colored troops; expressed gratitude to the soldiers and sailors of the Union; pronounced in favor of encouraging foreign immigration; of building a Pacific railway; of keeping inviolate the faith of the nation, pledged to redeem the national debt; and vigorously reaffirmed the Monroe Doctrine.
Then came the nominations. The only delay in registering the will of the convention occurred as a consequence of the attempt of members to do it by irregular and summary methods. When Mr. Delano of Ohio made the customary motion to proceed to the nomination, Simon Cameron moved as a substitute the renomination of Lincoln and Hamlin by acclamation. A long wrangle ensued on the motion to lay this substitute on the table, which was finally brought to an end by the cooler heads, who desired that whatever opposition to Mr. Lincoln there might be in the convention should have fullest opportunity of expression. The nominations, therefore, proceeded by call of States in the usual way. The interminable nominating speeches of recent years had not yet come into fashion. B.C. Cook, the chairman of the Illinois delegation, merely said:
"The State of Illinois again presents to the loyal people of this nation for President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln—God bless him!"
Others, who seconded the nomination, were equally brief. Every State gave its undivided vote for Lincoln, with the exception of Missouri, which cast its vote, under positive instructions, as the chairman stated, for Grant. But before the result was announced, John F. Hume of Missouri moved that Mr. Lincoln's nomination be declared unanimous. This could not be done until the result of the balloting was made known—four hundred and eighty-four for Lincoln, twenty-two for Grant. Missouri then changed its vote, and the secretary read the grand total of five hundred and six for Lincoln; the announcement being greeted with a storm of cheering which lasted many minutes.
The principal names mentioned for the vice-presidency were Hannibal Hamlin, the actual incumbent; Andrew Johnson of Tennessee; and Daniel S. Dickinson of New York. Besides these, General L.H. Rousseau had the vote of his own State—Kentucky. The radicals of Missouri favored General B.F. Butler, who had a few scattered votes also from New England. Among the principal candidates, however, the voters were equally enough divided to make the contest exceedingly spirited and interesting.
For several days before the convention met Mr. Lincoln had been besieged by inquiries as to his personal wishes in regard to his associate on the ticket. He had persistently refused to give the slightest intimation of such wish. His private secretary, Mr. Nicolay, who was at Baltimore in attendance at the convention, was well acquainted with this attitude; but at last, over-borne by the solicitations of the chairman of the Illinois delegation, who had been perplexed at the advocacy of Joseph Holt by Leonard Swett, one of the President's most intimate friends, Mr. Nicolay wrote to Mr. Hay, who had been left in charge of the executive office in his absence:
"Cook wants to know, confidentially, whether Swett is all right; whether in urging Holt for Vice-President he reflects the President's wishes; whether the President has any preference, either personal or on the score of policy; or whether he wishes not even to interfere by a confidential intimation.... Please get this information for me, if possible."
The letter was shown to the President, who indorsed upon it:
"Swett is unquestionably all right. Mr. Holt is a good man, but I had not heard or thought of him for V.P. Wish not to interfere about V.P. Cannot interfere about platform. Convention must judge for itself."
This positive and final instruction was sent at once to Mr. Nicolay, and by him communicated to the President's most intimate friends in the convention. It was therefore with minds absolutely untrammeled by even any knowledge of the President's wishes that the convention went about its work of selecting his associate on the ticket. It is altogether probable that the ticket of 1860 would have been nominated without a contest had it not been for the general impression, in and out of the convention, that it would be advisable to select as a candidate for the vice-presidency a war Democrat. Mr. Dickinson, while not putting himself forward as a candidate, had sanctioned the use of his name on the special ground that his candidacy might attract to the support of the Union party many Democrats who would have been unwilling to support a ticket avowedly Republican; but these considerations weighed with still greater force in favor of Mr. Johnson, who was not only a Democrat, but also a citizen of a slave State. The first ballot showed that Mr. Johnson had received two hundred votes, Mr. Hamlin one hundred and fifty, and Mr. Dickinson one hundred and eight; and before the result was announced almost the whole convention turned their votes to Johnson; whereupon his nomination was declared unanimous. The work was so quickly done that Mr. Lincoln received notice of the action of the convention only a few minutes after the telegram announcing his own renomination had reached him.
Replying next day to a committee of notification, he said in part:
"I will neither conceal my gratification nor restrain the expression of my gratitude that the Union people, through their convention, in the continued effort to save and advance the nation, have deemed me not unworthy to remain in my present position. I know no reason to doubt that I shall accept the nomination tendered and yet, perhaps I should not declare definitely before reading and considering what is called the platform. I will say now, however, I approve the declaration in favor of so amending the Constitution as to prohibit slavery throughout the nation. When the people in revolt, with a hundred days of explicit notice that they could within those days resume their allegiance without the overthrow of their institutions, and that they could not resume it afterward, elected to stand out, such amendment to the Constitution as is now proposed became a fitting and necessary conclusion to the final success of the Union cause.... In the joint names of Liberty and Union, let us labor to give it legal form and practical effect."
In his letter of June 29, formally accepting the nomination, the President observed the same wise rule of brevity which he had followed four years before. He made but one specific reference to any subject of discussion. While he accepted the convention's resolution reaffirming the Monroe Doctrine, he gave the convention and the country distinctly to understand that he stood by the action already adopted by himself and the Secretary of State. He said:
"There might be misunderstanding were I not to say that the position of the government in relation to the action of France in Mexico, as assumed through the State Department and approved and indorsed by the convention among the measures and acts of the Executive will be faithfully maintained so long as the state of facts shall leave that position pertinent and applicable."
This resolution, which was, in truth, a more vigorous assertion of the Monroe Doctrine than the author of that famous tenet ever dreamed of making, had been introduced in the convention by the radicals as a covert censure of Mr. Lincoln's attitude toward the French invasion of our sister republic; but through skilful wording of the platform had been turned by his friends into an indorsement of the administration.
And, indeed, this was most just, since from the beginning President Lincoln and Mr. Seward had done all in their power to discourage the presence of foreign troops on Mexican territory. When a joint expedition by England, France, and Spain had been agreed upon to seize certain Mexican ports in default of a money indemnity demanded by those countries for outrages against their subjects, England had invited the United States to be a party to the convention. Instead, Mr. Lincoln and Mr. Seward attempted to aid Mexico with a sufficient sum to meet these demands, and notified Great Britain of their intention to do so, and the motives which prompted them. The friendly assistance came to naught; but as the three powers vigorously disclaimed any designs against Mexico's territory or her form of government, the United States saw no necessity for further action, beyond a clear definition of its own attitude for the benefit of all the parties.
This it continued to repeat after England withdrew from the expedition, and Spain, soon recalling her troops, left Napoleon III to set the Archduke Maximilian on his shadowy throne, and to develop in the heart of America his scheme of an empire friendly to the South. At the moment the government was unable to do more, though recognizing the veiled hostility of Europe which thus manifested itself in a movement on what may be called the right flank of the republic. While giving utterance to no expressions of indignation at the aggressions, or of gratification at disaster which met the aggressor, the President and Mr. Seward continued to assert, at every proper opportunity the adherence of the American government to its traditional policy of discouraging European intervention in the affairs of the New World.
The Bogus Proclamation—The Wade-Davis Manifesto—Resignation of Mr. Chase—Fessenden Succeeds Him—The Greeley Peace Conference—Jaquess-Gilmore Mission—Letter of Raymond—Bad Outlook for the Election—Mr. Lincoln on the Issues of the Campaign—President's Secret Memorandum—Meeting of Democratic National Convention—McClellan Nominated—His Letter of Acceptance—Lincoln Reelected—His Speech on Night of Election—The Electoral Vote—Annual Message of December 6, 1864—Resignation of McClellan from the Army
The seizure of the New York "Journal of Commerce" and New York "World," in May, 1864, for publishing a forged proclamation calling for four hundred thousand more troops, had caused great excitement among the critics of Mr. Lincoln's administration. The terrible slaughter of Grant's opening campaign against Richmond rendered the country painfully sensitive to such news at the moment; and the forgery, which proved to be the work of two young Bohemians of the press, accomplished its purpose of raising the price of gold, and throwing the Stock Exchange into a temporary fever. Telegraphic announcement of the imposture soon quieted the flurry, and the quick detection of the guilty parties reduced the incident to its true rank; but the fact that the fiery Secretary of War had meanwhile issued orders for the suppression of both newspapers and the arrest of their editors was neither forgiven nor forgotten. The editors were never incarcerated, and the journals resumed publication after an interval of only two days, but the incident was vigorously employed during the entire summer as a means of attack upon the administration.
Violent opposition to Mr. Lincoln came also from those members of both Houses of Congress who disapproved his attitude on reconstruction. Though that part of his message of December 8, 1863, relating to the formation of loyal State governments in districts which had been in rebellion at first received enthusiastic commendation from both conservatives and radicals, it was soon evident that the millennium had not yet arrived, and that in a Congress composed of men of such positive convictions and vehement character, there were many who would not submit permanently to the leadership of any man, least of all to that of one so reasonable, so devoid of malice, as the President.
Henry Winter Davis at once moved that that part of the message be referred to a special committee of which he was chairman, and on February 15 reported a bill whose preamble declared the Confederate States completely out of the Union; prescribing a totally different method of reestablishing loyal State governments, one of the essentials being the prohibition of slavery. Congress rejected the preamble, but after extensive debate accepted the bill, which breathed the same spirit throughout. The measure was also finally acceded to in the Senate, and came to Mr. Lincoln for signature in the closing hours of the session. He laid it aside and went on with other business, despite the evident anxiety of several friends, who feared his failure to indorse it would lose the Republicans many votes in the Northwest. In stating his attitude to his cabinet he said:
"This bill and the position of these gentlemen seem to me, in asserting that the insurrectionary States are no longer in the Union, to make the fatal admission that States, whenever they please, may of their own motion dissolve their connection with the Union. Now we cannot survive that admission, I am convinced. If that be true, I am not President; these gentlemen are not Congress. I have laboriously endeavored to avoid that question ever since it first began to be mooted, and thus to avoid confusion and disturbance in our own councils. It was to obviate this question that I earnestly favored the movement for an amendment to the Constitution abolishing slavery, which passed the Senate and failed in the House. I thought it much better, if it were possible, to restore the Union without the necessity of a violent quarrel among its friends as to whether certain States have been in or out of the Union during the war—a merely metaphysical question and one unnecessary to be forced into discussion."
But though every member of the cabinet agreed with him, he foresaw the importance of the step he had resolved to take, and its possible disastrous consequences to himself. When some one said that the threats of the radicals were without foundation, and that the people would not bolt their ticket on a question of metaphysics, he answered:
"If they choose to make a point upon this, I do not doubt that they can do harm. They have never been friendly to me. At all events, I must keep some consciousness of being somewhere near right. I must keep some standard or principle fixed within myself."
Convinced, after fullest deliberation, that the bill was too restrictive in its provisions, and yet unwilling to reject whatever of practical good might be accomplished by it, he disregarded precedents, and acting on his lifelong rule of taking the people into his confidence, issued a proclamation on July 8, giving a copy of the bill of Congress, reciting the circumstances under which it was passed, and announcing that while he was unprepared by formal approval of the bill to be inflexibly committed to any single plan of restoration, or to set aside the free-State governments already adopted in Arkansas and Louisiana, or to declare that Congress was competent to decree the abolishment of slavery; yet he was fully satisfied with the plan as one very proper method of reconstruction, and promised executive aid to any State that might see fit to adopt it.
The great mass of Republican voters, who cared little for the "metaphysics" of the case, accepted this proclamation, as they had accepted that issued six months before, as the wisest and most practicable method of handling the question; but among those already hostile to the President, and those whose devotion to the cause of freedom was so ardent as to make them look upon him as lukewarm, the exasperation which was already excited increased. The indignation of Mr. Davis and of Mr. Wade, who had called the bill up in the Senate, at seeing their work thus brought to nothing, could not be restrained; and together they signed and published in the New York "Tribune" of August 5 the most vigorous attack ever directed against the President from his own party; insinuating that only the lowest motives dictated his action, since by refusing to sign the bill he held the electoral votes of the rebel States at his personal dictation; calling his approval of the bill of Congress as a very proper plan for any State choosing to adopt it, a "studied outrage"; and admonishing the people to "consider the remedy of these usurpations, and, having found it," to "fearlessly execute it."
Congress had already repealed the fugitive-slave law, and to the voters at large, who joyfully accepted the emancipation proclamation, it mattered very little whether the "institution" came to its inevitable end, in the fragments of territory where it yet remained, by virtue of congressional act or executive decree. This tempest over the method of reconstruction had, therefore, little bearing on the presidential campaign, and appealed more to individual critics of the President than to the mass of the people.
Mr. Chase entered in his diary: "The President pocketed the great bill.... He did not venture to veto, and so put it in his pocket. It was a condemnation of his amnesty proclamation and of his general policy of reconstruction, rejecting the idea of possible reconstruction with slavery, which neither the President nor his chief advisers have, in my opinion, abandoned." Mr. Chase was no longer one of the chief advisers. After his withdrawal from his hopeless contest for the presidency, his sentiments toward Mr. Lincoln took on a tinge of bitterness which increased until their friendly association in the public service became no longer possible; and on June 30 he sent the President his resignation, which was accepted. There is reason to believe that he did not expect such a prompt severing of their official relations, since more than once, in the months of friction which preceded this culmination, he had used a threat to resign as means to carry some point in controversy.
Mr. Lincoln, on accepting his resignation, sent the name of David Tod of Ohio to the Senate as his successor; but, receiving a telegram from Mr. Tod declining on the plea of ill health, substituted that of William Pitt Fessenden, chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, whose nomination was instantly confirmed and commanded general approval.
Horace Greeley, editor of the powerful New York "Tribune," had become one of those patriots whose discouragement and discontent led them, during the summer of 1864, to give ready hospitality to any suggestions to end the war. In July he wrote to the President, forwarding the letter of one "Wm. Cornell Jewett of Colorado," which announced the arrival in Canada of two ambassadors from Jefferson Davis with full powers to negotiate a peace. Mr. Greeley urged, in his over-fervid letter of transmittal, that the President make overtures on the following plan of adjustment: First. The Union to be restored and declared perpetual. Second. Slavery to be utterly and forever abolished. Third. A complete amnesty for all political offenses. Fourth. Payment of four hundred million dollars to the slave States, pro rata, for their slaves. Fifth. Slave States to be represented in proportion to their total population. Sixth. A national convention to be called at once.
Though Mr. Lincoln had no faith in Jewett's story, and doubted whether the embassy had any existence, he determined to take immediate action on this proposition. He felt the unreasonableness and injustice of Mr. Greeley's letter, which in effect charged his administration with a cruel disinclination to treat with the rebels, and resolved to convince him at least, and perhaps others, that there was no foundation for these reproaches. So he arranged that the witness of his willingness to listen to any overtures that might come from the South should be Mr. Greeley himself, and answering his letter at once on July 9, said:
"If you can find any person, anywhere, professing to have any proposition of Jefferson Davis in writing, for peace, embracing the restoration of the Union and abandonment of slavery, whatever else it embraces, say to him he may come to me with you, and that if he really brings such proposition he shall at the least have safe conduct with the paper (and without publicity, if he chooses) to the point where you shall have met him. The same if there be two or more persons."
This ready acquiescence evidently surprised and somewhat embarrassed Mr. Greeley, who replied by several letters of different dates, but made no motion to produce his commissioners. At last, on the fifteenth, to end a correspondence which promised to be indefinitely prolonged, the President telegraphed him: "I was not expecting you to send me a letter, but to bring me a man or men." Mr. Greeley then went to Niagara, and wrote from there to the alleged commissioners, Clement C. Clay and James P. Holcombe, offering to conduct them to Washington, but neglecting to mention the two conditions—restoration of the Union and abandonment of slavery—laid down in Mr. Lincoln's note of the ninth and repeated by him on the fifteenth. Even with this great advantage, Clay and Holcombe felt themselves too devoid of credentials to accept Mr. Greeley's offer, but replied that they could easily get credentials, or that other agents could be accredited, if they could be sent to Richmond armed with "the circumstances disclosed in this correspondence."
This, of course, meant that Mr. Lincoln should take the initiative in suing the Richmond authorities for peace on terms proposed by them. The essential impossibility of these terms was not, however, apparent to Mr. Greeley, who sent them on to Washington, soliciting fresh instructions. With unwearied patience, Mr. Lincoln drew up a final paper, "To Whom it may Concern," formally restating his position, and despatched Major Hay with it to Niagara. This ended the conference; the Confederates charging the President through the newspapers with a "sudden and entire change of views"; while Mr. Greeley, being attacked by his colleagues of the press for his action, could defend himself only by implied censure of the President, utterly overlooking the fact that his own original letter had contained the identical propositions Mr. Lincoln insisted upon.
The discussion grew so warm that both he and his assailants at last joined in a request to Mr. Lincoln to permit the publication of the correspondence. This was, of course, an excellent opportunity for the President to vindicate his own proceeding. But he rarely looked at such matters from the point of view of personal advantage, and he feared that the passionate, almost despairing appeals of the most prominent Republican editor of the North for peace at any cost, disclosed in the correspondence, would deepen the gloom in the public mind and have an injurious effect upon the Union cause. The spectacle of the veteran journalist, who was justly regarded as the leading controversial writer on the antislavery side, ready to sacrifice everything for peace, and frantically denouncing the government for refusing to surrender the contest, would have been, in its effect upon public opinion, a disaster equal to the loss of a great battle. He therefore proposed to Mr. Greeley, in case the letters were published, to omit some of the most vehement passages; and took Mr. Greeley's refusal to assent to this as a veto on their publication.
It was characteristic of him that, seeing the temper in which Mr. Greeley regarded the transaction, he dropped the matter and submitted in silence to the misrepresentations to which he was subjected by reason of it. Some thought he erred in giving any hearing to the rebels; some criticized his choice of a commissioner; and the opposition naturally made the most of his conditions of negotiation, and accused him of embarking in a war of extermination in the interests of the negro. Though making no public effort to set himself right, he was keenly alive to their attitude. To a friend he wrote:
"Saying reunion and abandonment of slavery would be considered, if offered, is not saying that nothing else or less would be considered, if offered.... Allow me to remind you that no one, having control of the rebel armies, or, in fact, having any influence whatever in the rebellion, has offered, or intimated, a willingness to a restoration of the Union, in any event, or on any condition whatever.... If Jefferson Davis wishes for himself, or for the benefit of his friends at the North, to know what I would do if he were to offer peace and reunion, saying nothing about slavery, let him try me."
If the result of Mr. Greeley's Niagara efforts left any doubt that peace was at present unattainable, the fact was demonstrated beyond question by the published report of another unofficial and volunteer negotiation which was proceeding at the same time. In May, 1863, James F. Jaquess, D.D., a Methodist clergyman of piety and religious enthusiasm, who had been appointed by Governor Yates colonel of an Illinois regiment, applied for permission to go South, urging that by virtue of his church relations he could, within ninety days, obtain acceptable terms of peace from the Confederates. The military superiors to whom he submitted the request forwarded it to Mr. Lincoln with a favorable indorsement; and the President replied, consenting that they grant him a furlough, if they saw fit, but saying:
"He cannot go with any government authority whatever. This is absolute and imperative."
Eleven days later he was back again within Union lines, claiming to have valuable "unofficial" proposals for peace. President Lincoln paid no attention to his request for an interview, and in course of time he returned to his regiment. Nothing daunted, however, a year later he applied for and received permission to repeat his visit, this time in company with J.R. Gilmore, a lecturer and writer, but, as before, expressly without instruction or authority from Mr. Lincoln. They went to Richmond, and had an extended interview with Mr. Davis, during which they proposed to him a plan of adjustment as visionary as it was unauthorized, its central feature being a general election to be held over the whole country, North and South, within sixty days, on the two propositions,—peace with disunion and Southern independence, or peace with Union, emancipation, no confiscation, and universal amnesty,—the majority vote to decide, and the governments at Washington and Richmond to be finally bound by the decision.
The interview resulted in nothing but a renewed declaration from Mr. Davis that he would fight for separation to the bitter end—a declaration which, on the whole, was of service to the Union cause, since, to a great extent, it stopped the clamor of the peace factionists during the presidential campaign. Not entirely, however. There was still criticism enough to induce Henry J. Raymond, chairman of the executive committee of the Republican party, to write a letter on August 22, suggesting to Mr. Lincoln that he ought to appoint a commission in due form to make proffers of peace to Davis on the sole condition of acknowledging the supremacy of the Constitution; all other questions to be settled in a convention of the people of all the States.
Mr. Lincoln answered this patiently and courteously, framing, to give point to his argument, an experimental draft of instructions with which he proposed, in case such proffers were made, to send Mr. Raymond himself to the rebel authorities. On seeing these in black and white, Raymond, who had come to Washington to urge his project, readily agreed with the President and Secretaries Seward, Stanton, and Fessenden, that to carry it out would be worse than losing the presidential contest: it would be ignominiously surrendering it in advance.
"Nevertheless," wrote an inmate of the White House, "the visit of himself and committee here did great good. They found the President and cabinet much better informed than themselves, and went home encouraged and cheered."
The Democratic managers had called the national convention of their party to meet on the fourth of July, 1864; but after the nomination of Fremont at Cleveland, and of Lincoln at Baltimore, it was thought prudent to postpone it to a later date, in the hope that something in the chapter of accidents might arise to the advantage of the opposition. It appeared for a while as if this manoeuver were to be successful. The military situation was far from satisfactory. The terrible fighting of Grant's army in Virginia had profoundly shocked and depressed the country; and its movement upon Petersburg, so far without decisive results, had contributed little hope or encouragement. The campaign of Sherman in Georgia gave as yet no positive assurance of the brilliant results it afterward attained. The Confederate raid into Maryland and Pennsylvania in July was the cause of great annoyance and exasperation.
This untoward state of things in the field of military operations found its exact counterpart in the political campaign. Several circumstances contributed to divide and discourage the administration party. The resignation of Mr. Chase had seemed to not a few leading Republicans a presage of disintegration in the government. Mr. Greeley's mission at Niagara Falls had unsettled and troubled the minds of many. The Democrats, not having as yet appointed a candidate or formulated a platform, were free to devote all their leisure to attacks upon the administration. The rebel emissaries in Canada, being in thorough concert with the leading peace men of the North, redoubled their efforts to disturb the public tranquility, and not without success. In the midst of these discouraging circumstances the manifesto of Wade and Davis had appeared to add its depressing influence to the general gloom.
Mr. Lincoln realized to the full the tremendous issues of the campaign. Asked in August by a friend who noted his worn looks, if he could not go away for a fortnight's rest, he replied:
"I cannot fly from my thoughts—my solicitude for this great country follows me wherever I go. I do not think it is personal vanity or ambition, though I am not free from these infirmities, but I cannot but feel that the weal or woe of this great nation will be decided in November. There is no program offered by any wing of the Democratic party, but that must result in the permanent destruction of the Union."
"But, Mr. President," his friend objected, "General McClellan is in favor of crushing out this rebellion by force. He will be the Chicago candidate."
"Sir, the slightest knowledge of arithmetic will prove to any man that the rebel armies cannot be destroyed by Democratic strategy. It would sacrifice all the white men of the North to do it. There are now in the service of the United States nearly one hundred and fifty thousand able-bodied colored men, most of them under arms, defending and acquiring Union territory. The Democratic strategy demands that these forces be disbanded, and that the masters be conciliated by restoring them to slavery.... You cannot conciliate the South if you guarantee to them ultimate success; and the experience of the present war proves their successes inevitable if you fling the compulsory labor of millions of black men into their side of the scale.... Abandon all the posts now garrisoned by black men, take one hundred and fifty thousand men from our side and put them in the battle-field or corn-field against us, and we would be compelled to abandon the war in three weeks.... My enemies pretend I am now carrying on this war for the sole purpose of abolition. So long as I am President it shall be carried on for the sole purpose of restoring the Union. But no human power can subdue this rebellion without the use of the emancipation policy and every other policy calculated to weaken the moral and physical forces of the rebellion.... Let my enemies prove to the country that the destruction of slavery is not necessary to a restoration of the Union. I will abide the issue."
The political situation grew still darker. When at last, toward the end of August, the general gloom had enveloped even the President himself, his action was most original and characteristic. Feeling that the campaign was going against him, he made up his mind deliberately as to the course he should pursue, and laid down for himself the action demanded by his conviction of duty. He wrote on August 23 the following memorandum:
"This morning, as for some days past, it seems exceedingly probable that this administration will not be reelected. Then it will be my duty to so cooeperate with the President-elect as to save the Union between the election and the inauguration, as he will have secured his election on such ground that he cannot possibly save it afterwards."
He then folded and pasted the sheet in such manner that its contents could not be read, and as the cabinet came together he handed this paper to each member successively, requesting them to write their names across the back of it. In this peculiar fashion he pledged himself and the administration to accept loyally the anticipated verdict of the people against him, and to do their utmost to save the Union in the brief remainder of his term of office. He gave no intimation to any member of his cabinet of the nature of the paper they had signed until after his reelection.
The Democratic convention was finally called to meet in Chicago on August 29. Much had been expected by the peace party from the strength and audacity of its adherents in the Northwest; and, indeed, the day of the meeting of the convention was actually the date appointed by rebel emissaries in Canada for an outbreak which should effect that revolution in the northwestern States which had long been their chimerical dream. This scheme of the American Knights, however, was discovered and guarded against through the usual treachery of some of their members; and it is doubtful if the Democrats reaped any real, permanent advantage from the delay of their convention.
On coming together, the only manner in which the peace men and war Democrats could arrive at an agreement was by mutual deception. The war Democrats, led by the delegation from New York, were working for a military candidate; while the peace Democrats, under the leadership of Vallandigham, who had returned from Canada and was allowed to remain at large through the half-contemptuous and half-calculated leniency of the government he defied, bent all their energies to a clear statement of their principles in the platform.
Both got what they desired. General McClellan was nominated on the first ballot, and Vallandigham wrote the only plank worth quoting in the platform. It asserted: "That after four years of failure to restore the Union by the experiment of war, during which ... the Constitution itself has been disregarded in every part," public welfare demands "that immediate efforts be made for a cessation of hostilities." It is altogether probable that this distinct proposition of surrender to the Confederates might have been modified or defeated in full convention if the war Democrats had had the courage of their convictions; but they were so intent upon the nomination of McClellan, that they considered the platform of secondary importance, and the fatal resolutions were adopted without debate.
Mr. Vallandigham, having thus taken possession of the convention, next adopted the candidate, and put the seal of his sinister approval on General McClellan by moving that his nomination be made unanimous, which was done amid great cheering. George H. Pendleton was nominated for Vice-President, and the convention adjourned—not sine die, as is customary, but "subject to be called at any time and place the executive national committee shall designate." The motives of this action were not avowed, but it was taken as a significant warning that the leaders of the Democratic party held themselves ready for any extraordinary measures which the exigencies of the time might provoke or invite.
The New-Yorkers, however, had the last word, for Governor Seymour, in his letter as chairman of the committee to inform McClellan of his nomination, assured him that "those for whom we speak were animated with the most earnest, devoted, and prayerful desire for the salvation of the American Union"; and the general, knowing that the poison of death was in the platform, took occasion in his letter of acceptance to renew his assurances of devotion to the Union, the Constitution, the laws, and the flag of his country. After having thus absolutely repudiated the platform upon which he was nominated, he coolly concluded:
"Believing that the views here expressed are those of the convention and the people you represent, I accept the nomination."
His only possible chance of success lay, of course, in his war record. His position as a candidate on a platform of dishonorable peace would have been no less desperate than ridiculous. But the stars in their courses fought against the Democratic candidates. Even before the convention that nominated them, Farragut had won the splendid victory of Mobile Bay; during the very hours when the streets of Chicago were blazing with Democratic torches, Hood was preparing to evacuate Atlanta; and the same newspaper that printed Vallandigham's peace platform announced Sherman's entrance into the manufacturing metropolis of Georgia. The darkest hour had passed; dawn was at hand, and amid the thanksgivings of a grateful people, and the joyful salutes of great guns, the presidential campaign began.
When the country awoke to the true significance of the Chicago platform, the successes of Sherman excited the enthusiasm of the people, and the Unionists, arousing from their midsummer languor, began to show their confidence in the Republican candidate, the hopelessness of all efforts to undermine him became evident.
The electoral contest began with the picket firing in Vermont and Maine in September, was continued in what might be called the grand guard fighting in October in the great States of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana, and the final battle took place all along the line on November 8. To Mr. Lincoln this was one of the most solemn days of his life. Assured of his personal success, and made devoutly confident by the military successes of the last few weeks that the day of peace and the reestablishment of the Union was at hand, he felt no elation, and no sense of triumph over his opponents. The thoughts that filled his mind were expressed in the closing sentences of the little speech he made in response to a group of serenaders that greeted him when, in the early morning hours, he left the War Department, where he had gone on the evening of election to receive the returns:
"I am thankful to God for this approval of the people; but, while deeply grateful for this mark of their confidence in me, if I know my heart, my gratitude is free from any taint of personal triumph. I do not impugn the motives of any one opposed to me. It is no pleasure to me to triumph over any one, but I give thanks to the Almighty for this evidence of the people's resolution to stand by free government and the rights of humanity."
Lincoln and Johnson received a popular majority of 411,281, and two hundred and twelve out of two hundred and thirty-three electoral votes, only those of New Jersey, Delaware, and Kentucky, twenty-one in all, being cast for McClellan. In his annual message to Congress, which met on December 5, President Lincoln gave the best summing up of the results of the election that has ever been written:
"The purpose of the people within the loyal States to maintain the integrity of the Union was never more firm nor more nearly unanimous than now.... No candidate for any office whatever, high or low, has ventured to seek votes on the avowal that he was for giving up the Union. There have been much impugning of motives and much heated controversy as to the proper means and best mode of advancing the Union cause; but on the distinct issue of Union or no Union the politicians have shown their instinctive knowledge that there is no diversity among the people. In affording the people the fair opportunity of showing one to another and to the world this firmness and unanimity of purpose, the election has been of vast value to the national cause."
On the day of election General McClellan resigned his commission in the army, and the place thus made vacant was filled by the appointment of General Philip H. Sheridan, a fit type and illustration of the turn in the tide of affairs, which was to sweep from that time rapidly onward to the great decisive national triumph.
The Thirteenth Amendment—The President's Speech on its Adoption—The Two Constitutional Amendments of Lincoln's Term—Lincoln on Peace and Slavery in his Annual Message of December 6, 1864—Blair's Mexican Project—The Hampton Roads Conference
A joint resolution proposing an amendment to the Constitution prohibiting slavery throughout the United States had passed the Senate on April 8, 1864, but had failed of the necessary two-thirds vote in the House. The two most vital thoughts which animated the Baltimore convention when it met in June had been the renomination of Mr. Lincoln and the success of this constitutional amendment. The first was recognized as a popular decision needing only the formality of an announcement by the convention; and the full emphasis of speech and resolution had therefore been centered on the latter as the dominant and aggressive reform upon which the party would stake its political fortunes in the presidential campaign. Mr. Lincoln had himself suggested to Mr. Morgan the wisdom of sounding that key-note in his opening speech before the convention; and the great victory gained at the polls in November not only demonstrated his sagacity, but enabled him to take up the question with confidence among his recommendations to Congress in the annual message of December 6, 1864. Relating the fate of the measure at the preceding session, he said:
"Without questioning the wisdom or patriotism of those who stood in opposition, I venture to recommend the reconsideration and passage of the measure at the present session. Of course the abstract question is not changed, but an intervening election shows, almost certainly, that the next Congress will pass the measure if this does not. Hence there is only a question of time as to when the proposed amendment will go to the States for their action. And as it is to so go at all events, may we not agree that the sooner the better? It is not claimed that the election has imposed a duty on members to change their views or their votes any further than, as an additional element to be considered, their judgment may be affected by it. It is the voice of the people, now for the first time heard upon the question. In a great national crisis like ours, unanimity of action among those seeking a common end is very desirable—almost indispensable. And yet no approach to such unanimity is attainable unless some deference shall be paid to the will of the majority, simply because it is the will of the majority. In this case the common end is the maintenance of the Union; and among the means to secure that end, such will, through the election, is most clearly declared in favor of such constitutional amendment."