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Chapter 34.

  • Blair
  • -- Chase chief justice -- Speed Succeeds Bates -- McCulloch Succeeds Fessenden -- resignation of Mr. Usher -- Lincoln's offer of $400,000,000 -- the second inaugural -- Lincoln's literary rank -- his last speech
    The principal concession in the Baltimore platform made by the friends of the administration to their opponents, the radicals, was the resolution which called for harmony in the cabinet. The President at first took no notice, either publicly or privately, of this resolution, which was in effect a recommendation that he dismiss those members of his council who were stigmatized as conservatives; and the first cabinet change which actually took place after the adjournment of the convention filled the radical body of his supporters with dismay, since they had looked upon Mr. Chase as their special representative in the government. The publication of the Wade-Davis manifesto still further increased their restlessness, and brought upon Mr. Lincoln a powerful pressure from every quarter to satisfy radical demands by dismissing Montgomery Blair, his Postmaster-General. Mr. Blair had been one of the founders of the Republican party, and in the very forefront of opposition to slavery extension, but had gradually attracted to himself the hostility of all the radical Republicans in the country. The immediate cause of this estrangement was the bitter quarrel that developed between his family and General Fremont in Missouri: a quarrel in which the Blairs were undoubtedly right in the beginning, but which broadened [488] and extended until it landed them finally in the Democratic party.

    The President considered the dispute one of form rather than substance, and having a deep regard, not only for the Postmaster-General, but for his brother, General Frank Blair, and for his distinguished father, was most reluctant to take action against him. Even in the bosom of the government, however, a strong hostility to Mr. Blair manifested itself. As long as Chase remained in the cabinet there was smoldering hostility between them, and his attitude toward Seward and Stanton was one of increasing enmity. General Halleck, incensed at some caustic remarks Blair was reported to have made about the defenders of the capital after Early's raid, during which the family estate near Washington had suffered, sent an angry note to the War Department, wishing to know if such “wholesale denouncement” had the President's sanction; adding that either the names of the officers accused should be stricken from the rolls, or the “slanderer dismissed from the cabinet.” Mr. Stanton sent the letter to the President without comment. This was too much; and the Secretary received an answer on the very same day, written in Mr. Lincoln's most masterful manner:

    Whether the remarks were really made I do not know, nor do I suppose such knowledge is necessary to a correct response. If they were made, I do not approve them; and yet, under the circumstances, I would not dismiss a member of the cabinet therefor. I do not consider what may have been hastily said in a moment of vexation at so severe a loss is sufficient ground for so grave a step. . . . I propose continuing to be myself the judge as to when a member of the cabinet shall be dismissed.


    Not content with this, the President, when the cabinet came together, read them this impressive little lecture:

    I must myself be the judge how long to retain in and when to remove any of you from his position. It would greatly pain me to discover any of you endeavoring to procure another's removal, or in any way to prejudice him before the public. Such endeavor would be a wrong to me, and, much worse, a wrong to the country. My wish is that on this subject no remark be made nor question asked by any of you, here or elsewhere, now or hereafter.

    This is one of the most remarkable speeches ever made by a President. The tone of authority is unmistakable. Washington was never more dignified; Jackson was never more peremptory.

    The feeling against Mr. Blair and the pressure upon the President for his removal increased throughout the summer. All through the period of gloom and discouragement he refused to act, even when he believed the verdict of the country likely to go against him, and was assured on every side that such a concession to the radical spirit might be greatly — to his advantage. But after the turn had come, and the prospective triumph of the Union cause became evident, he felt that he ought no longer to retain in his cabinet a member who, whatever his personal merits, had lost the confidence of the great body of Republicans; and on September 9 wrote him a kindly note, requesting his resignation.

    Mr. Blair accepted his dismissal in a manner to be expected from his manly and generous character, not pretending to be pleased, but assuming that the President had good reason for his action; and, on turning over his office to his successor, ex-Governor William [490] Dennison of Ohio, went at once to Maryland and entered into the campaign, working heartily for Mr. Lincoln's reelection.

    After the death of Judge Taney in October, Mr. Blair for a while indulged the hope that he might be appointed chief justice, a position for which his natural abilities and legal acquirements eminently fitted him. But Mr. Chase was chosen, to the bitter disappointment of Mr. Blair's family, though even this did not shake their steadfast loyalty to the Union cause or their personal friendship for the President. Immediately after his second inauguration, Mr. Lincoln offered Montgomery Blair his choice of the Spanish or the Austrian mission, an offer which he peremptorily though respectfully declined.

    The appointment of Mr. Chase as chief justice had probably been decided on in Mr. Lincoln's own mind from the first, though he gave no public intimation of his decision before sending the nomination to the Senate on December 6. Mr. Chase's partizans claimed that the President had already virtually promised him the place; his opponents counted upon the ex-secretary's attitude of criticism to work against his appointment. But Mr. Lincoln sternly checked all presentations of this personal argument; nor were the prayers of those who urged him to overlook the harsh and indecorous things Mr. Chase had said of him at all necessary. To one who spoke in this latter strain the President replied:

    Oh, as to that I care nothing. Of Mr. Chase's ability, and of his soundness on the general issues of the war, there is, of course, no question. I have only one doubt about his appointment. He is a man of unbounded ambition, and has been working all his life to become President. That he can never be; and I fear [491] that if I make him chief justice he will simply become more restless and uneasy and neglect the place in his strife and intrigue to make himself President. If I were sure that he would go on the bench and give up his aspirations, and do nothing but make himself a great judge, I would not hesitate a moment.”

    He wrote out Mr. Chase's nomination with his own hand, and sent it to the Senate the day after Congress came together. It was confirmed at once, without reference to a committee, and Mr. Chase, on learning of his new dignity, sent the President a cordial note, thanking him for the manner of his appointment, and adding: “I prize your confidence and good will more than any nomination to office.” But Mr. Lincoln's fears were better founded than his hopes. Though Mr. Chase took his place on the bench with a conscientious desire to do his whole duty in his great office, he could not dismiss the political affairs of the country from his mind, and still considered himself called upon to counteract the mischievous tendencies of the President toward conciliation and hasty reconstruction.

    The reorganization of the cabinet went on by gradual disintegration rather than by any brusque or even voluntary action on the part of Mr. Lincoln. Mr. Bates, the attorney-general, growing weary of the labors of his official position, resigned toward the end of November. Mr. Lincoln, on whom the claim of localities always had great weight, unable to decide upon another Missourian fitted for the place, offered it to Joseph Holt of Kentucky, who declined, and then to James Speed, also a Kentuckian of high professional and social standing, the brother of his early friend Joshua F. Speed. Soon after the opening of the new year, Mr. Fessenden, having been again elected to the Senate from Maine, resigned his office as Secretary [492] of the Treasury. The place thus vacated instantly excited a wide and spirited competition of recommendations. The President wished to appoint Governor Morgan of New York, who declined, and the choice finally fell upon Hugh McCulloch of Indiana, who had made a favorable record as comptroller of the currency. Thus only two of Mr. Lincoln's original cabinet, Mr. Seward and Mr. Welles, were in office at the date of his second inauguration; and still another change was in contemplation. Mr. Usher of Indiana, who had for some time discharged the duties of Secretary of the Interior, desiring, as he said, to relieve the President from any possible embarrassment which might arise from the fact that two of his cabinet were from the same State, sent in his resignation, which Mr. Lincoln indorsed “To take effect May 15, 1865.”

    The tragic events of the future were mercifully hidden. Mr. Lincoln, looking forward to four years more of personal leadership, was planning yet another generous offer to shorten the period of conflict. His talk with the commissioners at Hampton Roads had probably revealed to him the undercurrent of their hopelessness and anxiety; and he had told them that personally he would be in favor of the government paying a liberal indemnity for the loss of slave property, on absolute cessation of the war and the voluntary abolition of slavery by the Southern States.

    This was indeed going to the extreme of magnanimity; but Mr. Lincoln remembered that the rebels, notwithstanding all their offenses and errors, were yet American citizens, members of the same nation, brothers of the same blood. He remembered,--too, that the object of the war, equally with peace and freedom, was the maintenance of one government and the perpetuation of one Union. Not only must hostilities [493] cease, but dissension, suspicion, and estrangement be eradicated. Filled with such thoughts and purposes, he spent the day after his return from Hampton Roads in considering and perfecting a new proposal, designed as a peace offering to the States in rebellion. On the evening of February 5, 1865, he called his cabinet together, and read to them the draft of a joint resolution and proclamation embodying this idea, offering the Southern States four hundred million dollars, or a sum equal to the cost of the war for two hundred days, on condition that hostilities cease by the first of April, 1865; to be paid in six per cent. government bonds, pro rata on their slave populations as shown by the census of 1860-one half on April I, the other half only upon condition that the Thirteenth Amendment be ratified by a requisite number of States before July I, 1865.

    It turned out that he was more humane and liberal than his constitutional advisers. The indorsement in his own handwriting on the manuscript draft records the result of his appeal and suggestion:

    February 5, 1865.
    To-day, these papers, which explain themselves, were drawn up and submitted to the cabinet, and unanimously disapproved by them.

    A. Lincoln.

    With the words, “You are all opposed to me,” sadly uttered, the President folded up the paper and ceased the discussion.

    The formal inauguration of Mr. Lincoln for his second presidential term took place at the appointed time, March 4, 1865. There is little variation in the simple but impressive pageantry with which the official ceremony is celebrated. The principal novelty commented [494] upon by the newspapers was the share which the hitherto enslaved race had for the first time in this public and political drama. Civic associations of negro citizens joined in the procession, and a battalion of negro soldiers formed part of the military escort. The weather was sufficiently favorable to allow the ceremonies to take place on the eastern portico of the Capitol, in view of a vast throng of spectators. The central act of the occasion was President Lincoln's second inaugural address, which enriched the political literature of the Union with another masterpiece, and deserves to be quoted in full. He said:

    Fellow-Countrymen: At this second appearing to take the oath of the presidential office, there is less occasion for an extended address than there was at the first. Then, a statement, somewhat in detail, of a course to be pursued, seemed fitting and proper. Now, at the expiration of four years, during which public declarations have been constantly called forth on every point and phase of the great contest which still absorbs the attention and engrosses the energies of the nation, little that is new could be presented. The progress of our arms, upon which all else chiefly depends, is as well known to the public as to myself; and it is, I trust, reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to all. With high hope for the future, no prediction in regard to it is ventured.

    On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago, all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil war. All dreaded it-all sought to avert it. While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, insurgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war-seeking to dissolve the [495] Union, and divide effects, by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war; but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive; and the other would accept war rather than let it perish. And the war came.

    One eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the Southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was, somehow, the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union, even by war; while the government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with, or even before, the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes his aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces; but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered — that of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has his own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offenses! for it must needs be that offenses come; but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.” If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through his appointed time, he now wills to remove, and that he gives to both North and South [496] this terrible war, as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to him? Fondly do we hope-fervently do we pray — that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said, “The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

    With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan — to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves, and with all nations.

    The address being concluded, Chief-Justice Chase administered the oath of office; and listeners who heard Abraham Lincoln for the second time repeat, “I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States,” went from the impressive scene to their several homes with thankfulness and with confidence that the destiny of the country and the liberty of the citizen were in safe keeping. “The fiery trial” through which he had hitherto walked showed him possessed of the capacity, the courage, and the will to keep the promise of his oath.

    Among the many criticisms passed by writers and thinkers upon the second inaugural, none will so interest [497] the reader as that of Mr. Lincoln himself, written about ten days after its delivery, in the following letter to a friend:

    Dear Mr. Weed: Every one likes a compliment. Thank you for yours on my little notification speech, and on the recent inaugural address. I expect the latter to wear as well as, perhaps better than, anything I have produced; but I believe it is not immediately popular. Men are not flattered by being shown that there has been a difference of purpose between the Almighty and them. To deny it, however, in this case, is to deny that there is a God governing the world. It is a truth which I thought needed to be told, and, as whatever of humiliation there is in it falls most directly on myself, I thought others might afford for me to tell it.

    Nothing would have more amazed Mr. Lincoln than to hear himself called a man of letters; but this age has produced few greater writers. Emerson ranks him with Aesop; Montalembert commends his style as a model for the imitation of princes. It is true that in his writings the range of subjects is not great. He was chiefly concerned with the political problems of the time, and the moral considerations involved in them. But the range of treatment is remarkably wide, running from the wit, the gay humor, the florid eloquence of his stump speeches, to the marvelous sententiousness and brevity of the address at Gettysburg, and the sustained and lofty grandeur of his second inaugural; while many of his phrases have already passed into the daily speech of mankind.

    A careful student of Mr. Lincoln's character will find this inaugural address instinct with another meaning, which, very naturally, the President's own cornment [498] did not touch. The eternal law of compensation, which it declares and applies to the sin and fall of American slavery, in a diction rivaling the fire and dignity of the old Hebrew prophecies, may, without violent inference, be interpreted to foreshadow an intention to renew at a fitting moment the brotherly good — will gift to the South which has already been treated of. Such an inference finds strong corroboration in the sentences which closed the last public address he ever made. On Tuesday evening, April 11, a considerable assemblage of citizens of Washington gathered at the Executive Mansion to celebrate the victory of Grant over Lee. The rather long and careful speech which Mr. Lincoln made on that occasion was, however, less about the past than the future. It discussed the subject of reconstruction as illustrated in the case of Louisiana, showing also how that issue was related to the questions of emancipation, the condition of the freedmen, the welfare of the South, and the ratification of the constitutional amendment.

    “So new and unprecedented is the whole case,” he concluded, “that no exclusive and inflexible plan can safely be prescribed as to details and collaterals. Such exclusive and inflexible plan would surely become a new entanglement. Important principles may and must be inflexible. In the present situation, as the phrase goes, it may be my duty to make some new announcement to the people of the South. I am considering, and shall not fail to act when satisfied that action will be proper.”

    Can any one doubt that this “new announcement” which was taking shape in his mind would again have embraced and combined justice to the blacks and generosity to the whites of the South, with Union and liberty for the whole country?

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