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Chapter 21: Missouri-continued

Here follows an extract from the published proceedings of the National Republican Convention of 1864, in which Mr. Lincoln was renominated.

When that State [Missouri] was called, Mr. J. F. Hume addressed the convention as follows:

It is a matter of great regret that we differ from the majority of the convention that has been so kind to the Radicals of Missouri, but we came here instructed. We represent those who are behind us at home, and we recognize the right of instruction and intend to obey our instruction; but, in doing so, we declare emphatically that we are with the Union party of the nation, and we intend to fight the battle through to the end with it, and assist in carrying it to victory. We will support your nominees be they whom they may. I will read the resolution adopted by the convention that sent us here.

[Here resolution of instruction was read.]

Mr. President, in the spirit of that resolution I cast the twenty-two votes of Missouri for them an who stands at the head of the fighting Radicals of the nation --General U. S. Grant.

The contention between the Missouri Radical and Conservative delegations was thrashed out before [175] the committee on delegates, at an evening session. Judge Samuel M. Breckenridge, of St. Louis, sustained the cause of the Conservatives in a very ingenious argument, while the writer spoke for the Radicals. The result was very satisfactory to the latter, being, with the exception of one vote for compromise, a unanimous decision in their favor. That decision was sustained by the convention in its next day's session by a vote of four hundred and forty to four.

Anticipating that the subject would be discussed on the floor of the convention,--which was not the case, however,--I asked a very eloquent St. Louis lawyer to take my place as chairman of the Radical delegation and conduct the debate on the Radical side. He declined. I then went to three or four Congressmen who were members of the Radical delegation and made the same appeal to each one of them. All declined. I suspected at the time that apprehension that a vote for anybody else would be hissed by Lincoln's friends, had something to do with their reticence. I had no such apprehension. I did not believe there was anybody in that convention who would dare to hiss the name of Grant. If Grant had been a candidate before the convention he would have been nominated.

When, as chairman of my delegation, I pronounced his name as Missouri's choice I remained on my feet for fully a minute while a dead silence prevailed. Meanwhile all eyes were turned upon me. Then came a clap from a single pair of hands, being the expression of a Missouri delegate. Others followed, both inside and outside of the delegation, [176] increasing until there was quite a demonstration. When the clamor had subsided I made the next move according to the programme agreed upon, and the incident was closed.

And here it can do no harm to state that General Grant knew that he was to receive the vote of the Missouri Radicals if they were admitted to the convention — the newspapers having generally published the fact-and did not decline the intended compliment. Grant lived in Missouri for a considerable period, married there, and was on most friendly terms with the Radical leaders, many of whom he generously remembered when he got to be President. For their action in voting for Grant, the Missouri Radical delegates were sharply criticised at the time, on the alleged ground that they secured admission to the convention from Lincoln's supporters by concealing the fact-or at least not revealing it-that they intended to vote for somebody else. The fact, however, is that there was not a person in the convention who did not from the first understand where they stood, and exactly what they intended to do. Their Conservative contestants had distributed a leaflet, intended as an appeal to the Lincoln men, setting forth the instructions to both delegations. Instead of the openly avowed opposition of the Radicals to Mr. Lincoln's nomination being an impediment in their way, it strengthened them with the convention, which, notwithstanding its seeming harmony in his support, contained many delegates who would very much have preferred nominating somebody else; but who, for lack of organized opposition, were compelled to vote for him. A sufficient [177] evidence of that fact was the presence in the convention of a large number of Congressmen whose antagonism to the President was notorious. An incident that strikingly illustrated Congressional sentiment toward the President at that time, is given in the Life of Lincoln, by Isaac N. Arnold, then a member of Congress from Illinois. A Pennsylvanian asked Thaddeus Stevens, the Republican Congressional leader, to introduce him to “a member of Congress who was friendly to Mr. Lincoln's renomination.” Thereupon Stevens took him to Arnold, saying: “Here is a man who wants to find a Lincoln member of Congress, and as you are the only one I know of I bring him to you.”

The same feeling largely prevailed among leading Republicans outside of Congress. Henry J. Raymond, of the New York Times, in his Life of Lincoln, says that at that time “nearly all the original Abolitionists and many of the more decidedly Anti-Slavery members of the Republican party were dissatisfied with the President.” More explicit testimony is the statement, in his Political Recollections, of George W. Julian, for many years a leading member of Congress from Indiana. He says:

The nomination of Mr. Lincoln was nearly unanimous, only the State of Missouri opposing him, but of the more earnest and thoroughgoing Republicans in both Houses of Congress, probably not more than one in ten really favored it. It was not only very distasteful to a large majority of Congress, but to many of the more prominent men of the party throughout the country.

The writer had an opportunity of witnessing a [178] peculiar manifestation of the feeling that has just been spoken of. He attended a conference of radical Anti-Slavery people that was held in a parlor of one of the old Pennsylvania Avenue hotels in Washington, a few months before the nominating convention. A number of well-known politicians were present, but probably the most prominent was Horace Greeley. The writer had never before seen the great editor, and was considerably amused by his unconventional independence on that occasion. He occupied an easy chair with a high back. Having given his views at considerable length, he laid his head back on its support and peacefully went to sleep; but the half-hour lost in slumber did not prevent him from joining vigorously in the discussion that was going on as soon as he awoke.

There seemed to be but one sentiment on that occasion. All entertained the opinion that, owing to Mr. Lincoln's peculiar views on reconstruction, and especially his manifest inclination to postpone actual freedom for the negro to remote periods, and other “unhappy idiosyncrasies,” as one of the speakers expressed it, his re-election involved the danger of a compromise that would leave the root of slavery in the soil, and hence his nomination by the Republicans should be opposed. Chase was clearly the choice of those present, but no one had a plan to propose, and, while some committees were appointed, I never heard anything more of the matter. Two or three of those present on that occasion were in the nominating convention and quietly voted with the majority for Mr. Lincoln. The writer was [179] the only one in both gatherings that maintained his consistency.

All this, it is well enough to remember, was long after the President's Emancipation Proclamation had appeared.

There was, however, another manifestation of the antagonism spoken of which the public, for some reason, never seemed to “get on to,” that at one time threatened very serious consequences, and which, if it had gone a little farther, might have materially changed the history of the country. That was a movement, after Mr. Lincoln's nomination, to compel him to retire from the ticket, or to confront him with a strong independent Republican candidate. According to Messrs. Nicolay and Hay, Mr. Lincoln's private secretaries and his biographers, the movement started in New York City and had its ramifications in many parts of the country. One meeting was held at the residence of David Dudley Field, and was attended by such men as George William Curtis, Noyes, Wilkes, Opdyke, Horace Greeley, and some twenty-five others. In the movement were such prominent people as Charles Sumner, of Massachusetts, and Benjamin F. Wade, of Ohio. One of the men favorable to the proposition was Governor Andrew of Massachusetts. “He,” says his biographer, Peleg W. Chandler, “was very busy in the movement in 1864 to displace the President.” “The secrecy,” he adds, “with which this branch of the Republican politics of that year has been ever since enveloped is something marvelous; there were so many concerned in it. When it all comes out, if it ever does, [180] it will make a curious page in the history of the time.” The signal for the abandonment of the movement, according to Mr. Chandler, was given by Mr. Chase.

Almost at the beginning of the movement the Missouri Democrat, doubtless because of its supposed opposition to Mr. Lincoln, was approached on the subject. If the statements made to it were anywhere near correct, the conspiracy, as it might be called, had the countenance of a surprisingly great number of weighty Republicans. The Democrat declined to become a party to the proposed insurrection. It held that after what had occurred in the Baltimore convention, it could not consistently and honorably do so.

There was another reason why it stood aloof. Before the nomination it was, naturally enough, looking out for some one who might be urged as a suitable competitor for Mr. Lincoln's place. Andrew Johnson, of Tennessee, was then quite popular with a good many people of radical views. The writer prepared an article discussing his availability as presidential timber and suggested him as a good man for the nomination. The article appeared as a leader in the Democrat, and was followed by others in the same vein. The suggestion attracted attention and led to a good deal of newspaper discussion. Herein we have, according to the writer's opinion, the leading cause of Johnson's nomination for the Vice-Presidency. At all events, he was on the ticket with Lincoln, and the Democrat could not very well go back on its own man.

The new departure, as the proposition for another [181] Republican candidate in case Mr. Lincoln resolved to stick might be called, that appeared so formidable at one time, faded away without the public knowing anything of its existence. The reason was that it had no candidate. It had relied on Chase, knowing the unfriendliness there was between him and the President, but Chase said “No,” and that was the end of it.

The nomination of Mr. Chase for the Chief Justiceship has always been regarded as an act of great magnanimity on Mr. Lincoln's part, as well as a clear perception of merit. It was doubtless all that, but the actions of the two men at this time certainly make out a case of striking coincidence. Such things rarely come by accident.

From what has been stated, it will be seen that the Missouri Radicals were by no means alone in their opposition to the President's nomination, for which they are so sharply taken to task by some of his biographers and eulogists. They had plenty of company, the only difference being that they stood out in the open while the others acted covertly.

The Missouri Germans, who mostly approved the candidature of Fremont, and some of whom refused to vote for Lincoln, have been particularly assailed. Messrs. Nicolay and Hay, in their Lincoln biography, even go so far as to attack them on the ground of their religious, or rather anti-religious, beliefs, calling them “materialist Missourians,” “Missouri agnostics,” etc., etc.

Now, after having lived among the Missouri Germans at the time of our civil troubles, the writer is impelled to say a few words in their behalf. He [182] does not hesitate to say that, in his opinion, there was no body of men of equal numerical strength in this country to whom, at that crisis, the Government and country had cause to feel under greater obligation, and justice would require its acknowledgment at this time. But for them the enemies of the Union would have captured the city of St. Louis with its great Government arsenal, and with the arms and ammunition thus secured would have overrun both the States of Missouri and Kansas. A large preponderance of the American-born citizens of St. Louis were Rebels. The Union people of that city who saved the day, were principally the “Dutch,” as they were called.

A large army was needed at that point to protect the Governnment's interests, when it had practically no available forces. There was no law under which it could be organized on the spot. No man could be made to serve. No pay for service was assured, or even promised. The army, however, was created by the voluntary and patriotic action of its members. Nearly a dozen full regiments were organized and equipped. Nine tenths of their members were Germans. They did not wait for hostilities to begin. Foreseeing the emergency near at hand, they organized into companies and regiments, and put themselves on a war footing before a blow had been struck or a shot had been fired. They met by night to drill in factory lofts, in recreation halls, and in whatever other places were most available, the words of command being generally delivered in German. The writer has a lively recollection of the difficulties involved in trying to learn military evolutions [183] from instructors speaking a language he did not understand.

Many of the Germans of Missouri had seen service in the Old World. They had served under Sigel in the struggle of 1848. They found themselves under Sigel again. It was with the step and bearing of veterans that they marched (the writer was an eyewitness) in May of 1861, only a few days after Sumter had been fired on, to open the military ball in the West at Camp Jackson, near St. Louis.

The same people went with Lyon to the State capital, from which the Rebel officials were driven, never to return. They were with Lyon at Wilson's Creek, and with him many of them laid down their lives on that bloody field. They were wherever hard fighting was to be done in that part of the country. The writer believes he is correct in saying they furnished more men to the Government's service than any other numerically equal body of citizens. So large was their representation in the Union's forces in that region, that the Rebels were accustomed to speak of the Union soldiers as “the Dutch.”

The fact that the Germans were fighting for an adopted government makes their loyalty more conspicuous. What they did was not from a love of war, but because they were Abolitionists. They were opposed to slavery. They owned no slaves. They wanted the Government sustained, because they believed that meant the end of slaveholding. They supported Fremont largely because of his freedom proclamation. [184]

And here the writer, before closing his work, wants to say something about Fremont. He believes no man in this country was made the victim of greater injustice than he was.

It has always been the opinion of the writer that, if Fremont had been permitted to take his own way in his Western command a little longer, he would have achieved a brilliant military success. He was a weak man in some respects, being over fond of dress parade. The financial management of his department was bad, or, rather, very careless. Of these shortcomings, which were considerably misrepresented and exaggerated, Fremont's enemies took advantage, and succeeded in effecting his overthrow in the Western Department. But, notwithstanding his admitted failings, he gave evidence of military ability. He showed that he possessed both physical and moral courage, and he knew how to plan a campaign. He undoubtedly formulated the movement that resulted in the capture of Forts Donelson and Henry in Tennessee, taking the initial steps, but of which Halleck got the credit. He was removed from command when in the field, and almost on the eve of battle. He had an enthusiastic army and the prospect of a decisive victory. His recall gave up nearly the whole of Missouri to the enemy, and was one of the causes of complaint that the Missouri Unionists had against the National Administration.

Not long afterwards, with no more than even chances, Fremont defeated Stonewall Jackson in Virginia-at Cross Keys — which was more than any of the other Union generals then in that department [185] could do. His prompt removal made it sure that he should not do it again.

It was the misfortune of Fremont that his independence caused him to clash with selfish interests, and he was sacrificed. He was selected for the Trans-Mississippi command by the Blairs, evidently with the expectation that he would bend to their wishes. He soon showed that he was his own master, and the trouble began. The Union people of his department were mostly with him, but the Blairs had control of the administration in Washington.

As for his freedom proclamation, it was, to a certain extent, an act of insubordination, but it was right in principle and sound in policy. Its adoption by the General Government would have saved four years of contention and turmoil in Missouri, spent in upholding a tottering institution that was doomed from the first shot of the Rebellion. The President, however, for reasons elsewhere explained, did not at that time want slavery interfered with.

The story of Fremont's fall is best told by Whittier in four lines:

Thy error, Fremont, simply was to act
A brave man's part without the statesman's tact,
And, taking counsel but of common-sense,
To strike at cause as well as consequence.

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