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Chapter 12.

  • Lincoln's cabinet program
  • -- members from the South -- questions and answers -- correspondence with Stephens -- action of Congress -- peace convention -- preparation of the inaugural -- Lincoln's farewell address -- the journey to Washington -- Lincoln's midnight journey
    During the long presidential campaign of 1860, between the Chicago convention in the middle of May and the election at the beginning of November, Mr. Lincoln, relieved from all other duties, had watched political developments with very close attention, not merely to discern the progress of his own chances, but, doubtless, also, much more seriously to deliberate upon the future in case he should be elected. But it was only when, on the night of November 6, he sat in the telegraph office at Springfield, from which all but himself and the operators were excluded, and read the telegrams as they fell from the wires, that little by little the accumulating Republican majorities reported from all directions convinced him of the certainty of his success; and with that conviction there fell upon him the overwhelming, almost crushing weight of his coming duties and responsibilities. He afterward related that in that supreme hour, grappling resolutely with the mighty problem before him, he practically completed the first essential act of his administration, [162] the selection of his future cabinet-the choice of the men who were to aid him.

    From what afterward occurred, we may easily infer the general principle which guided his choice. One of his strongest characteristics, as his speeches abundantly show, was his belief in the power of public opinion, and his respect for the popular will. That was to be found and to be wielded by the leaders of public sentiment. In the present instance there were no truer representatives of that will than the men who had been prominently supported by the delegates to the Chicago convention for the presidential nominations. Of these he would take at least three, perhaps four, to compose one half of his cabinet. In selecting Seward, Chase, Bates, and Cameron, he could also satisfy two other points of the representative principle, the claims of locality, and the elements of former party divisions now joined in the newly organized Republican party. With Seward from New York, Cameron from Pennsylvania, Chase from Ohio, and himself from Illinois, the four leading free States had each a representative. With Bates from Missouri, the South could not complain of being wholly excluded from the cabinet. New England was properly represented by Vice-President Hamlin. When, after the inauguration, Smith from Indiana, Welles from Connecticut, and Blair from Maryland were added to make up the seven cabinet members, the local distribution between East and West, North and South, was in no wise disturbed. It was, indeed, complained that in this arrangement there were four former Democrats, and only three former Whigs; to which Lincoln laughingly replied that he had been a Whig, and would be there to make the number even.

    It is not likely that this exact list was in Lincoln's mind on the night of the November election, but only [163] the principal names in it; and much delay and some friction occurred before its completion.. The post of Secretary of State was offered to Seward on December 8.

    “Rumors have got into the newspapers,” wrote Lincoln, “to the effect that the department named above would be tendered you as a compliment, and with the expectation that you would decline it. I beg you to be assured that I have said nothing to justify these rumors. On the contrary, it has been my purpose, from the day of the nomination at Chicago, to assign you, by your leave, this place in the administration.”

    Seward asked a few days for reflection, and then cordially accepted. Bates was tendered the Attorney-Generalship on December 15, while making a personal visit to Springfield. Word had been meanwhile sent to Smith that he would probably be included. The assignment of places to Chase and Cameron worked less smoothly. Lincoln wrote Cameron a note on January 3, saying he would nominate him for either Secretary of the Treasury or Secretary of War, he had not yet decided which; and on the same day, in an interview with Chase, whom he had invited to Springfield, said to him:

    I have done with you what I would not perhaps have ventured to do with any other man in the country --sent for you. to ask whether you will accept the appointment of Secretary of the Treasury, without, however, being exactly prepared to offer it to you.”

    They discussed the situation very fully, but without reaching a definite conclusion, agreeing to await the advice of friends. Meanwhile, the rumor that Cameron was to go into the cabinet excited such hot opposition that Lincoln felt obliged to recall his tender in a confidential letter; and asked him to write a public letter [164] declining the place. Instead of doing this, Cameron fortified himself with recommendations from prominent Pennsylvanians, and demonstrated that in his own State he had at least three advocates to one opponent.

    Pending the delay which this contest consumed, another cabinet complication found its solution. It had been warmly urged by conservatives that, in addition to Bates, another cabinet member should be taken from one of the Southern States. The difficulty of doing this had been clearly foreshadowed by Mr. Lincoln in a little editorial which he wrote for the Springfield Journal on December 12:

    First. Is it known that any such gentleman of character would accept a place in the cabinet?

    Second. If yea, on what terms does he surrender to Mr. Lincoln, or Mr. Lincoln to him, on the political differences between them, or do they enter upon the administration in open opposition to each other?

    It was very soon demonstrated that these differences were insurmountable. Through Mr. Seward, who was attending his senatorial duties at ¥Washington, Mr. Lincoln tentatively offered a cabinet appointment successively to Gilmer of North Carolina, Hunt of Louisiana, and Scott of Virginia, no one of whom had the courage to accept.

    Toward the end of the recent canvass, and still more since the election, Mr. Lincoln had received urgent letters to make some public declaration to reassure and pacify the South, especially the cotton States, which were manifesting a constantly growing spirit of rebellion. Most of such letters remained unanswered, but in a number of strictly confidential replies he explained the reasons for his refusal.

    “I appreciate your motive,” he wrote October 23, “when you suggest the propriety of my writing for [165] the public something disclaiming all intention to interfere with slaves or slavery in the States; but, in my judgment, it would do no good. I have already done this many, many times; and. it is in print, and open to all who will read. Those who will not read or heed what I have already publicly said, would not read or heed a repetition of it. ‘If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead.’ ”

    To the editor of the Louisville Journal he wrote October 29:

    For the good men of the South-and I regard the majority of them as such — I have no objection to repeat seventy and seven times. But I have bad men to deal with, both North and South; men who are eager for something new upon which to base new misrepresentations; men who would like to frighten me, or at least to fix upon me the character of timidity and cowardice.

    Alexander H. Stephens of Georgia, who afterward became Confederate Vice-President, made a strong speech against secession in that State on November 14; and Mr. Lincoln wrote him a few lines asking for a revised copy of it. In the brief correspondence which ensued, Mr. Lincoln again wrote him under date of December 22:

    I fully appreciate the present peril the country is in, and the weight of responsibility on me. Do the people of the South really entertain fears that a Republican administration would, directly or indirectly, interfere with the slaves, or with them about the slaves? If they do, I wish to assure you, as once a friend, and still, I hope, not an enemy, that there is no cause for such fears. The South would be in no more danger in this respect than it was in the days of Washington. I suppose, [166] however, this does not meet the case. You think slavery is right and ought to be extended, while we think it is wrong and ought to be restricted. That, I suppose, is the rub. It certainly is the only substantial difference between us.

    So, also, replying a few days earlier in a long letter to Hon. John A. Gilmer of North Carolina, to whom, as already stated, he offered a cabinet appointment, he said:

    On the territorial question I am inflexible, as you see my position in the book. On that there is a difference between you and us; and it is the only substantial difference. You think slavery is right and ought to be extended; we think it is wrong and ought to be restricted. For this neither has any just occasion to be angry with the other. As to the State laws, mentioned in your sixth question, I really know very little of them. I never have read one. If any of them are in conflict with the fugitive-slave clause, or any other part of the Constitution, I certainly shall be glad of their repeal; but I could hardly be justified, as a citizen of Illinois, or as President of the United States, to recommend the repeal of a statute of Vermont or South Carolina.

    Through his intimate correspondence with Mr. Seward and personal friends in Congress, Mr. Lincoln was kept somewhat informed of the hostile temper of the Southern leaders, and that a tremendous pressure was being brought upon that body by timid conservatives and the commercial interests in the North to bring about some kind of compromise which would stay the progress of disunion; and on this point he sent an emphatic monition to Representative Washburne on December 13:

    Your long letter received. Prevent as far as possible [167] any of our friends from demoralizing themselves and their cause by entertaining propositions for compromise of any sort on slavery extension. There is no possible compromise upon it but what puts us under again, and all our work to do over again. Whether it be a Missouri line or Eli Thayer's popular sovereignty, it is all the same. Let either be done, and immediately filibustering and extending slavery recommences. On that point hold firm as a chain of steel.

    Between the day when a President is elected by popular vote and that on which he is officially inaugurated there exists an interim of four long months, during which he has no more direct power in the affairs of government than any private citizen. However anxiously Mr. Lincoln might watch the development of public events at Washington and in the cotton States; whatever appeals might come to him through interviews or correspondence, no positive action of any kind was within his power, beyond an occasional word of advice or suggestion. The position of the Republican leaders in Congress was not much better. Until the actual secession of States, and the departure of their representatives, they were in a minority in the Senate; while the so-called South Americans and Anti-Lecompton Democrats held the balance of power in the House. The session was mainly consumed in excited, profitless discussion. Both the Senate and House appointed compromise committees, which met and labored, but could find no common ground of agreement. A peace convention met and deliberated at Washington, with no practical result, except to waste the powder for a salute of one hundred guns over a sham report to which nobody paid the least attention.

    Throughout this period Mr. Lincoln was by no means idle. Besides the many difficulties he had to [168] overcome in completing his cabinet, he devoted himself to writing his inaugural address. Withdrawing himself some hours each day from his ordinary receptions, he went to a quiet room on the second floor of the store occupied by his brother-in-law, on the south side of the public square in Springfield, where he could think and write in undisturbed privacy. When, after abundant reflection and revision, he had finished the document, he placed it in the hands of Mr. William H. Bailhache, one of the editors of the “Illinois State Journal,” who locked himself and a single compositor into the composing-room of the “Journal.” Here, in Mr. Bailhache's presence, it was set up, proof taken and read, and a dozen copies printed; after which the types were again immediately distributed. The alert newspaper correspondents in Springfield, who saw Mr. Lincoln every day as usual, did not obtain the slightest hint of what was going on.

    Having completed his arrangements, Mr. Lincoln started on his journey to Washington on February I, 1861, on a special train, accompanied by Mrs. Lincoln and their three children, his two private secretaries, and a suite of about a dozen personal friends. Mr. Seward had suggested that in view of the feverish condition of public affairs, he should come a week earlier; but Mr. Lincoln allowed himself only time enough comfortably to fill the appointments he had made to visit the capitals and principal cities of the States on his route, in accordance with non-partizan invitations from their legislatures and mayors, which he had accepted. Standing on the front platform of the car, as the conductor was about to pull the bell-rope, Mr. Lincoln made the following brief and pathetic address of farewell to his friends and neighbors of Springfield-the last time his voice was ever to be heard in the city which had been his home for so many years: [169]

    “my friends: No one, not in my situation, can appreciate my feeling of sadness at this parting. To this place, and the kindness of these people, I owe everything. Here I have lived a quarter of a century, and have passed from a young to an old man. Here my children have been born, and one is buried. I now leave, not knowing when or whether ever I may return, with a task before me greater than that which rested upon Washington. Without the assistance of that Divine Being who ever attended him, I cannot succeed. With that assistance, I cannot fail. Trusting in Him who can go with me, and remain with you, and be everywhere for good, let us confidently hope that all will yet be well. To His care commending you, as I hope in your prayers you will commend me, I bid you an affectionate farewell.”

    It was the beginning of a memorable journey. On the whole route from Springfield to Washington, at almost every station, even the smallest, was gathered a crowd of people in hope to catch a glimpse of the face of the President-elect, or, at least, to see the flying train. At the larger stopping-places these gatherings were swelled to thousands, and in the great cities into almost unmanageable assemblages. Everywhere there were vociferous calls for Mr. Lincoln, and, if he showed himself, for a speech. Whenever there was sufficient time, he would step to the rear platform of the car and bow his acknowledgments as the train was moving away, and sometimes utter a few words of thanks and greeting. At the capitals of Indiana, Ohio, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, as also in the cities of Cincinnati, Cleveland, Buffalo, New York, and Philadelphia, a halt was made for one or two days, and a program was carried out of a formal visit and brief address to each house of the legislature, street processions, large receptions in the evening, and other similar [170] ceremonies; and in each of them there was an unprecedented outpouring of the people to take advantage of every opportunity to see and to hear the future Chief Magistrate of the Union.

    Party foes as well as party friends made up these expectant crowds. The public suspense was at a degree of tension which rendered every eye and ear eager to catch even the slightest indication of the thoughts or intentions of the man who was to be the official guide of the nation in a crisis the course and end of which even the wisest dared not predict. In the twenty or thirty brief addresses delivered by Mr. Lincoln on this journey, he observed the utmost caution of utterance and reticence of declaration; yet the shades of meaning in his carefully chosen sentences were enough to show how alive he was to the trials and dangers confronting his administration, and to inspire hope and confidence in his judgment. He repeated that he regarded the public demonstrations not as belonging to himself, but to the high office with which the people had clothed him; and that if he failed, they could four years later substitute a better man in his place; and in his very first address, at Indianapolis, he thus emphasized their reciprocal duties:

    If the union of these States and the liberties of this people shall be lost, it is but little to any one man of fifty-two years of age, but a great deal to the thirty millions of people who inhabit these United States, and to their posterity in all coming time. It is your business to rise up and preserve the Union and liberty for yourselves, and not for me. . . . I appeal to you again to constantly bear in mind that not with politicians, not with Presidents, not with office-seekers, but with you, is the question, Shall the Union and shall the liberties of this country be preserved to the latest generations?


    Many salient and interesting quotations could be made from his other addresses, but a comparatively few sentences will be sufficient to enable the reader to infer what was likely to be his ultimate conclusion and action. In his second speech at Indianapolis he asked the question:

    On what rightful principle may a State, being not more than one-fiftieth part of the nation in soil and population, break up the nation, and then coerce a proportionally larger subdivision of itself in the most arbitrary way?

    At Steubenville:

    If the majority should not rule, who would be the judge? Where is such a judge to be found? We should all be bound by the majority of the American people — if not, then the minority must control. Would that be right?

    At Trenton:

    I shall do all that may be in my power to promote a peaceful settlement of all our difficulties. The man does not live who is more devoted to peace than I am, none who would do more to preserve it, but it may be necessary to put the foot down firmly.

    At Harrisburg:

    While I am exceedingly gratified to see the manifestation upon your streets of your military force here, and exceedingly gratified at your promise to use that force upon a proper emergency-while I make these acknowledgments, I desire to repeat, in order to preclude any possible misconstruction, that I do most sincerely hope that we shall have no use for them; that it will never become their duty to shed blood, and most especially never to shed fraternal blood. I promise that so far as I may have wisdom to direct, if so painful a result shall in any wise be brought about, it shall be through no fault of mine.


    While Mr. Lincoln was yet at Philadelphia, he was met by Mr. Frederick W. Seward, son of Senator Seward, who brought him an important communication from his father and General Scott at Washington. About the beginning of the year serious apprehension had been felt lest a sudden uprising of the secessionists in Virginia and Maryland might endeavor to gain possession of the national capital. An investigation by a committee of Congress found no active military preparation to exist for such a purpose, but considerable traces of disaffection and local conspiracy in Baltimore; and, to guard against such an outbreak, President Buchanan had permitted his Secretary of War, Mr. Holt, to call General Scott to Washington and charge him with the safety of the city, not only at that moment, but also during the counting of the presidential returns in February, and the coming inauguration of Mr. Lincoln. For this purpose General Scott had concentrated at Washington a few companies from the regular army, and also, in addition, had organized and armed about nine hundred men of the militia of the District of Columbia.

    In connection with these precautions, Colonel Stone, who commanded these forces, had kept himself informed about the disaffection in Baltimore, through the agency of the New York police department. The communication brought by young Mr. Seward contained, besides notes from his father and General Scott, a short report from Colonel Stone, stating that there had arisen within the past few days imminent danger of violence to and the assassination of Mr. Lincoln in his passage through Baltimore, should the time of that passage be known.

    “All risk,” he suggested, “might be easily avoided by a change in the traveling arrangements which would [173] bring Mr. Lincoln and a portion of his party through Baltimore by a night train without previous notice.”

    The seriousness of this information was doubled by the fact that Mr. Lincoln had, that same day, held an interview with a prominent Chicago detective who had been for some weeks employed by the president of the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore railway to investigate the danger to their property and trains from the Baltimore secessionists. The investigations of this detective, a Mr. Pinkerton, had been carried on without the knowledge of the New York detective, and he reported not identical, but almost similar, conditions of insurrectionary feeling and danger, and recommended the same precaution.

    Mr. Lincoln very earnestly debated the situation with his intimate personal friend, Hon. N. B. Judd of Chicago, perhaps the most active and influential member of his suite, who advised him to proceed to Washington that same evening on the eleven-o'clock train. “I cannot go to-night,” replied Mr. Lincoln; “I have promised to raise the flag over Independence Hall tomorrow morning, and to visit the legislature at Harrisburg. Beyond that I have no engagements.”

    The railroad schedule by which Mr. Lincoln had hitherto been traveling included a direct trip from Harrisburg, through Baltimore, to Washington on Saturday, February 23. When the Harrisburg ceremonies had been concluded on the afternoon of the 22d, the danger and the proposed change of program were for the first time fully laid before a confidential meeting of the prominent members of Mr. Lincoln's suite. Reasons were strongly urged both for and against the plan; but Mr. Lincoln finally decided and explained that while he himself was not afraid he would be assassinated, nevertheless, since the possibility of danger [174] had been made known from two entirely independent sources, and officially communicated to him by his future prime minister and the general of the American armies, he was no longer at liberty to disregard it; that it was not the question of his private life, but the regular and orderly transmission of the authority of the government of the United States in the face of threatened revolution, which he had no right to put in the slightest jeopardy. He would, therefore, carry out the plan, the full details of which had been arranged with the railroad officials.

    Accordingly, that same evening, he, with a single companion, Colonel W. H. Lamon, took a car from Harrisburg back to Philadelphia, at which place, about midnight, they boarded the through train from New York to Washington, and without recognition or any untoward incident passed quietly through Baltimore, and reached the capital about daylight on the morning of February 23, where they were met by Mr. Seward and Representative Washburne of Illinois, and conducted to Willard's Hotel.

    When Mr. Lincoln's departure from Harrisburg became known, a reckless newspaper correspondent telegraphed to New York the ridiculous invention that he traveled disguised in a Scotch cap and long military cloak. There was not one word of truth in the absurd statement. Mr. Lincoln's family and suite proceeded to Washington by the originally arranged train and schedule, and witnessed great crowds in the streets of Baltimore, but encountered neither turbulence nor incivility of any kind. There was now, of course, no occasion for any, since the telegraph had definitely announced that the President-elect was already in Washington.

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