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Chapter 31.

  • Shaping of the presidential campaign
  • -- criticisms of Mr. Lincoln -- Chase's presidential 4ambitions -- 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 [438] 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 m an.

    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 Mc- Clellan 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 [439] 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 [440] 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 [441] 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 [442] 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 [443] 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. [444]

    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 [445] 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. [446]

    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; [447] 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 [448] 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, overborne 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 [449] 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: [450]

    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 [451] 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 [452] 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.

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