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Chapter 54: President Grant's cabinet.—A. T. Stewart's disability.—Mr. Fish, Secretary of State.—Motley, minister to England.—the Alabama claims.—the Johnson-Clarendon convention.— the senator's speech: its reception in this country and in England.—the British proclamation of belligerency.— national claims.—instructions to Motley.—consultations with Fish.—political address in the autumn.— lecture on caste.—1869.

President Grant, as was to be expected from one whose career had been hitherto exclusively military, selected his Cabinet very much as a general selects his staff officers.1 Their names when announced suggested in most instances personal choice rather than public considerations. Two exceptions, however, were E. R. Hoar, who was called from the Supreme Court of Massachusetts to become Attorney-General; and Governor J. D. Cox of Ohio, who was appointed Secretary of the Interior. The selection of Cresswell of Maryland for Postmaster-General was well received by the country. Senators and Representatives were not consulted in these arrangements; and as all were treated alike none could take offence.2 The Cabinet, made up as it was, underwent from necessity rapid and even immediate reconstruction. The President was least fortunate in his personal surroundings. He chose for his secretaries four of his staff officers (0. E. Babcock, Adam Badeau, Horace Porter, and F. T. Dent),3 who, holding commissions in the army and drawing salaries [374] as army officers, were misplaced when assigned to civil duties. They continued to display army titles in civil correspondence. The Executive Mansion had never before, and has never since, assumed such a military aspect. Another staff officer (John A. Rawlins) became Secretary of War.

The appointment of A. T. Stewart as Secretary of the Treasury was found to be in contravention of the Act of Sept. 2, 1789, drawn by Alexasender Hamilton, which provided that ‘no person appointed to any office instituted by this Act shall directly or indirectly be concerned in carrying on the business of trade or commerce’ In order to qualify Mr. Stewart, Patterson and Sherman urged the instant repeal of this disabling provision. Sumner, when the measure was about to pass, interposed, and insisted on a preliminary consideration by a committee. A few moments later a message was received from the President, in which he asked that Mr. Stewart be exempted from the Act. When Sherman sought to have a bill at once carried to that effect, Sumner again interposed an objection to such summary action, saying that ‘the bill ought to be most profoundly considered before it is acted upon by the Senate.’4 As senators were found after reflection to be averse to making a discrimination in Mr. Stewart's favor, the President withdrew his request, and nominated Mr. Boutwell of the House to the place. The Cabinet now had two members from Massachusetts,—a circumstance which led to Judge Hoar's retirement a few months later.5

E. B. Washburne, who had sought and received his place in the Cabinet as a compliment, held it only a week, and the President was in the mean time looking for his successor.6 Hamilton Fish was in washington on the day of the inauguration. That evening he dined at Sumner's in company with John Lothrop Motley, each little thinking how their names were afterwards to [375] figure in a bitter controversy. The next evening Mr. Fish left a ‘good-by’ note, as he was to return home the morning after, in which he expressed the wish to see Sumner in New York for a talk. But he was soon called back by the offer of the vacancy in the state department. His appointment was not expected by himself or the public. He had served one term as governor of New York, and one term in each house of Congress, where his service was altogether without note, and in neither case ratified by a re-election. All he had to say in the Senate was usually comprised in a dozen lies or so,—only once or twice equalling half a column of the Congressional Globe; and this brevity was accompanied by neither wisdom nor felicity of speech. No service of a senator was ever more undistinguished; and while it continued, the representation of New York fell almost wholly on his colleague, Seward. During six years—a memorable period though it was—he did not develop a single subject, or throw on any the light of experience or study. He never rose even to the celebrity of ‘a single speech.’ He is quite unknown to the Globe's ‘Appendix,’ where the well-considered arguments made in either house appear. What he did and said in the Senate was to answer calls for the yeas and nays, present petitions, offer a few resolutions, report one or two bills, reply now and then to questions from his associates, make an inquiry, or explain some interlocutory matter,—and this was all. Not a word came from him, even during the struggle on the repeal of the Missouri Compromise, or the invasions and violence which followed in Kansas,—an historic contest in which every man who had any earnest feeling for or against slavery took part.

Outwardly Mr. Fish maintained relations with his colleague; but at heart he was antipathetic to him,7—very hostile to his antislavery position, and to his candidacy for President.8 He was utterly out of sympathy with the antislavery movement which resulted in the Republican party. He was opposed to the efforts in the State of New York in 1855 to form a Republican party, in which Preston King, John A. King, and Edwin D. Morgan co-operated; and he rejoiced over its defeat by the union of pro-slavery ‘Americans’ and ‘Silver Gray’ Whigs, [376] as likely to effect Seward's exclusion from public life. He wrote to Sumner, Nov. 8, 1855:—

“Fusion,” I believe and hope, is soundly beaten in New York; with it Seward is beaten. I cannot find tears to shed on either account. The Republican vote embraced all the Seward men, the bulk of the Abolitionists, and a large number of Whigs (anti-Sewardites), who, in “the noise and confusion” of the breaking up of an old organization, found themselves in the predicament of your illustrious predecessor, and did not know “where to go,” and from habit and association followed old leaders. The defeat of the “Fusion” ticket in New York means just exactly the rejection of Seward's abolitionism, —et id omne genus, all the isms which he and his tribe of hangers — on have endeavored to make subservient to his advancement and their opportunities of speculation and money-making.

Further on in this lengthy letter, in which he reprobates antislavery agitation and ‘the abolition platform’ of the ‘Fusion’ (Republican) convention, and objects to the denial of ‘property in slaves,’ he reviews the political distractions among the opponents of slavery, and adds:—

But to my dull comprehension the recent results suggest the deep-seated predominance of a strong, conservative, Union-loving, anti-agitation feeling, and that the cause of emancipation cannot be promoted, but has been, is, and ever will be retarded, by antislavery agitation in the free States.

Mr. Fish, hardly knowing ‘where to go,’ came, in the national election of the next year, tardily, and after ‘much embarrassment in determining the course which duty required,’ to the support of the Republican candidates, still calling himself a Whig (the name of an extinct party), and revealing his dissatisfaction with his new connection by hoping for some future organization which would ‘assume broader and more catholic grounds.’9 Naturally he did not ask for a re-election to the Senate, and was not asked to accept one; and the most representative Republican journal of the State wrote at the time that if he had desired another term he could not have expected the suffrages of a Republican legislature.10 He was thus dropped from public life with general accord, and Preston King succeeded to his seat. He went abroad shortly after his term expired, and remained in Europe the next two years. He voted with the Republicans in 1860, but was at no time prominent among them. While absent from the country, and after his [377] return, his attitude towards the Republican party and its administration was critical rather than sympathetic; in 1860 he dreaded the probability of Seward being the candidate for President, and during the Civil War he indulged rather in complaint than in praise of the Administration; and his tone as to public affairs—alike as to the action of President, Cabinet, and Congress—was uniformly querulous and pessimistic.11 He wrote to Sumner, March 19, 1861:—

Do you think that the government of the United States, under which we have lived, will ever again send abroad another batch of representatives? Soberly and candidly, I do not.

In urging Sumner to take ground publicly against the foreign appointments, he wrote, Jan. 27, 1863:—

I write as a friend who has loved you long and much. I trust that I do not offend. But I see country and government and nationality fading and passing away amid the riot of vulgarity, violence, and corruption, and under the rule of imbecility and vacillation. For God's sake, give us an eloquent outburst of honest, patriotic indignation and rebuke of the gross wrongs to which our poor country is subjected. Then, if we are to perish, let us have at least one protest in favor of honesty, of decency, and of national virtue; then history may say that the appreciation of something noble had not been wholly lost.

Such is

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