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Chapter 22: beginning of a New era

  • Editor of Chicago Republican
  • -- Opposes policy of Andrew Johnson -- Supports Grant for presidency -- life of Grant -- failure of Chicago newspaper -- returns to New York

Having terminated his connection with the War Department, Dana sent in his resignation on July 1, 1865, and a few days later proceeded to Chicago for the purpose of becoming editor of the Daily Republican. It has been stated that he was not specially anxious at best to take up again the work of journalism, and that he had hoped on his retirement from the public service to make some business connection which would offer better inducements than editing or publishing a newspaper, but this hope was not to be realized. His talents according to the belief of his friends lay in the direction of his previous employment, and at the instance of Senator Trumbull and other prominent men of Illinois, he consented to accept the editorship of a new Republican paper which had been started a few weeks before. Its capital was fixed at five hundred thousand dollars, and this sum, had it been paid in, or even subscribed by solvent people, would have been ample, but as it turned out the enterprise was based largely upon promises that were never realized.

Dana threw himself with his accustomed vigor into the discussions of the day, and soon made his mark in the affairs of the city and State, as well as of the nation. The re-establishment of the Union, through the reconstruction [371] of the Southern States, and their readmission to the privileges and protection of the Federal government, had already become the absorbing question of the day. Dana, one of the founders of the Republican party, and perhaps as much identified as any other man with its policies, believed fully in the supremacy of the Constitution and the laws, as well as in the supremacy of the national government, but recognized the difficulty as well as the novelty of the situation with which the administration and the Congress had to deal. Naturally independent, if not radical in his views, his qualities soon began to show themselves in the character of his newspaper. He had personally but a poor opinion of Andrew Johnson, who as president at least was a creature of accident.

In common with the more conservative Republicans, Dana was loath to break with him, but as the fight developed he gradually found himself taking sides with Stanton, and favoring the radical policy of reconstruction which was brought forward by his friends in Congress. While this was by far the most important question under discussion, the issues were slow in developing themselves. Besides, however interesting they may have been, they were not a sufficient basis upon which to found a popular newspaper. Chicago, although a growing and important place, was far from being, as it is now, the second city in the Union. It was well supplied with newspapers, several of which were exceedingly able and enterprising, and this made it all the more difficult for the Republican. It was brilliant, able, independent, and interesting; but capital as well as talent was needed, and it soon became evident to Dana that capital in sufficient quantities could not be had to put it firmly on its feet. After a year of struggle and disappointment he resolved to give it up and buy or found a newspaper in New York.

On November 6, 1865, he wrote to me that he had received [372] and used certain hints that I had sent him about the condition of affairs in Georgia, that he had just learned that one of the President's private secretaries had been caught selling pardons and stealing otherwise to the amount of thirty thousand dollars; that he had been relieved from his confidential position and ordered back to to his regiment, where he would be permitted to resign in order not to scandalize the President, and that the story was not then public. It seems to be worthy of observation that it afterwards got out, and became somewhat notable as the first of a series that brought serious discredit on official life in Washington. The same letter contained a statement to the effect that

... The plan of rushing the South back into the Union, so that she may vote for a friend of ours [Andrew Johnson] in 186S won't work. The rebels are rampant, and will have to come down.

This passing remark shows an early tendency towards the course he afterwards openly adopted and strenuously supported to the end.

A few days later Dana wrote to me that while it was most desirable that the ex-Confederate “officers should go to work like honest men to earn their living,” he doubted the wisdom of trying to associate them with Northern officers in the express company which had been recently organized. He preferred a scheme for cotton raising with the help of freedmen which had been presented to him, but the fact that he could not command the necessary capital kept him out of that undertaking and probably out of bankruptcy as well. The price of cotton was high, and there ought to have been profit in raising it, but negro labor, which must have been the main dependence, was far too much unsettled by the abolition of slavery to warrant the hope of success in such a venture. [373]

Early in December Dana went to Washington on business, but before going wrote to me that the volunteers having all been discharged, the regular army would be increased to perhaps fifty thousand men, to be made up by retaining a sufficient number of the colored troops, and that the feeling was at that time against Washburne's bill to revive the grade of general, mainly because it was supposed that men who did not know General Grant as we did would think that the general himself was at the bottom of it. In the same letter he expressed his hearty approval of retaining such officers as Sickles, Robinson, T. W. Sherman, and McIntosh in the service till some other provision could be made for them, because each had lost a leg in battle.

Shortly after his return to Chicago, he acknowledged the receipt of a letter from me written at Richmond, intimating that while in Washington a few days before I had discovered signs of a change of feeling towards him at General Grant's headquarters. This appeared to give him great concern, as it made him think there might be much less sense there than he would like to believe. He added:

... As for my being unfriendly to the general, that is too absurd to be thought by any but a fool. About Lee's surrender I had my own judgment, and when it was necessary for me I expressed it. So of the bill to make Grant a general. That bill is a dreadful mistake. It exhibits a desire for rank and money that detracts from the general's greatness in a fatal way. I have never been more afflicted by any public measure than by that bill. But I refrained from saying anything against it until I was compelled to. And I tell you that it would be much better for the general's future that it should not pass. I dare say it may be got partly through Congress, owing to the cowardice and weakness of the members; possibly it may be got quite through; but there are few sensible men who approve it in their hearts. [374]

There seem to be some gentlemen who don't realize the difference between a friend and a lackey.

However, I don't suppose the general is of any such opinion as these persons. If. he were, I should be very sorry. Sorry to lose his friendship, but yet more sorry that he could withdraw it for such a cause. I think that under such circumstances his misfortune would be greater than mine. I have no objection to Rawlins and Bowers seeing what I have written.

I am glad you have asked to be mustered out. It is the right and only thing, but I fear it will keep you from coming to see me. ...

How the idea of Dana's being unfriendly to Grant at that time originated I have no means of recalling. Neither of the officers mentioned above could have suggested it. They were far too disinterested and sensible, and far too likely to share Dana's opinions on such subjects to condemn him for entertaining them. The charge of unfriendliness must have started with quite another set who disliked Dana, and took this means of neutralizing his influence with Grant. The latter was credulous and easily worked upon, especially by men whom he liked and saw daily, and who were selfish enough to appeal to his egotism without revealing their own motives. But whatever may have been its origin, there is no evidence that the alleged unfriendliness on the part of Dana had as yet produced any impression on Grant. He was slow to anger and resentment, and was far from being given to suspicion. While he was not at all likely to take sides, or judge others harshly in their personal controversies, he was by no means indifferent to his own interests. Slow enough to anger in reference to injuries done to others, he was also slow to suspect or resent insults or injuries intended for himself. But withal he was unrelenting when his anger was once thoroughly aroused. The most that can be said is that [375] some of Grant's intimates at that period were inimical to Dana, and had begun to avail themselves of such chances as they had to arouse Grant's suspicion against him. But that their efforts were so early successful can hardly be believed. This view of the case is strengthened by the fact that externally, at least, Grant and Dana remained on friendly if not intimate terms till some time after Grant had become President. This is shown not only by Dana's letters to me during that period, but by the still more important fact that when he was asked in the spring of 1868 to write a Life of Grant, and accepted on the condition that I should collaborate with him in the work, I took the precaution of writing to Rawlins for his views on the entire subject before accepting the proposition, which was that I should prepare the text, that Dana should read, revise, and amend it as far as necessary, and that the book should be published in our joint names.--To this, notwithstanding Grant's understanding with Badeau, and Badeau's strenuous objection that any one but himself connected with Grant's military career should write his life, Rawlins not only gave his hearty approval, but assured me that neither he nor Grant, with whom he had fully conferred, saw the slightest reason why I should not accept Dana's offer, or write the book separately on my own account. There was no suggestion of Dana's unfriendliness in this correspondence, and no doubt cast upon his perfect good faith. Other facts will be cited in their proper order to sustain this view of the case.

The troubles with the Chicago Republican began almost immediately after Dana's connection with it. He had scarcely got settled and begun work in earnest before the fact that enough actual capital had not been provided became apparent. I visited him in February, and found that the concern was already crippled by lack of means. The situation was both unexpected and embarrassing. [376] As Dana had been compelled to borrow money while in government employment to pay the difference between his meagre salary and his actual expenses, he counted upon the ample salary which lad been promised him to pay his debts, put his family in easy circumstances, and begin the accumulation for a rainy day, but this was not to be. On April 30, 1866, he wrote to me:

I have been worked to death since you were here, and much disturbed by difficulties in the Republican. These difficulties are serious, and how they will end I don't know.

I shall get out of the concern if I can, unless it is put on a different basis, and means are raised by the capitalists who have invested in it to carry it through in a satisfactory manner. The publisher is a bad man, and not as judicious as he is smart. That is the essence of the trouble. I am holding on to see what will turn up, and also to save too great a sacrifice in the process of extricating myself.

I conclude that the express company is all up, for I see that J. E. Johnston has been beaten in an attempt to become president of the Mobile & Ohio Railroad. Where does this leave you, and how soon will you get out of it? ... How is Rawlins?

Matters now culminated rapidly. The parties concerned could not raise the money necessary to put the newspaper on a sound footing, and there was nothing for Dana to do but to leave it. He went East in June for a conference with his friends, in consequence of which he decided to start a newspaper of his own in New York.

On July 18, 1866, he wrote me from Washington that he was there on business, and had gone over on the same train with General Grant and his family; that Porter and Badeau were in the party; that the heat and dust were stifling, and that he had seen the party the next day in much more comfortable condition. He added: [377]

... Rawlins, too, looks very well, but I notice that his cough still seems very ugly.

During this trip he was asked in the interest of General Grant to write a criticism of William Swinton's Decisive Battles, but on account of the pressure of his engagements he was forced to shift the burden to me, at the same time offering to revise my manuscript and to visit me for that purpose should it become necessary. About this time he notified me that a successor to Professor Bache as Superintendent of the Coast Survey was soon to be appointed, and that I could get the place if it suited me, but he added, the best thing for me was

... to get into the great battle of the world in some active position. ...

The next day he wrote to me from New York:

I don't believe Rawlins has made any alliance with . . . the Copperheads. The President is an obstinate, stupid man, governed by preconceived ideas, by whiskey, and by women. He means one thing to-day and another to-morrow, but the glorification of Andrew Johnson all the time. He is capable of almost any enormity, but he will be foiled and covered with even greater infamy than John Tyler.

Send along Swinton as soon as possible. I shall be here certainly till the end of next week, and possibly somewhat longer. Then I shall go to Chicago for a short time. ...

On July 27, 1866, he stopped with me in Delaware on his way to Chicago. While there he sold his house at a profit, and thus made it possible to re-establish his family in New York, although he had not yet secured all of the capital needed for his new venture, and seemed to be quite uncertain as to his ultimate success. Indeed, that project [378] proved harder to carry through than he expected. So far as could be seen, there were already enough daily newspapers in New York City, and hence, with all Dana could do, he could not complete his financial arrangements till well towards the close of 1867. Perhaps the delay was a fortunate one both for himself and for his stockholders, for on January 8, 1868, he wrote:

Thanks for your welcome letter. It finds me in the midst of business.

Just as we were about commencing our own paper, the purchase of the Sun was proposed to me and accepted. It has a circulation of from fifty to sixty thousand a day, and all among the mechanics and small merchants of this city. We pay a large sum for it-$175,000-but it gives us at once a large and profitable business. If you have a thousand dollars at leisure you had better invest it in the stock of our company, which is increased to $350,000, in order to pay for this new acquisition. Of this sum about $220,000 is invested in the Tammany Hall real estate, which is sure to be productive, independent of the business of the paper.

... Remember me cordially to Rawlins and the general. I have written to the latter, asking for the discharge from the Second Cavalry of the young German I wrote to you about last summer. His father is very anxious to get him released from his position as a private soldier. If you can put in a word for him, please do so.

Before leaving that part of Dana's life connected with the Chicago Republican, it is proper to say that the official files of that newspaper were destroyed with the office in the great fire, and, so far as I have been able to ascertain, there is no other in existence. It is therefore impossible to give either the declaration of principles which guided him, or a summary of the views which he expressed on the topics of the day. The most that can be said is that they were [379] independent and vigorous, but not at first specially hostile to Andrew Johnson or his policies. They were doubtless followed logically by the editorials of the New York Sun, and may be inferred generally from them, till the break with General Grant introduced a new era in Dana's life.

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