Six Months at the White House/XLIII

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Six Months at the White House by Francis Bicknell Carpenter
XLIII.
XLIII.

One of Mr. Lincoln's biographers, speaking of the relations which existed between the President and his Cabinet, says:--

"He always maintained that the proper duty of each Secretary was to direct the details of everything done within his own department, and to tender such suggestions, information, and advice to the President, as he might solicit at his hands. But the duty and responsibility of deciding what line of policy should be pursued, or what steps should be taken in any specific case, in his judgment, belonged exclusively to the President; and he was always willing and ready to assume it."[1]

The suppression of a portion of Secretary Cameron's official report for 1861, is a case in point. A number of printed copies of the report had left Washington before the "incendiary" passage was observed by Mr. Lincoln. The New York "Tribune" published it as originally written. Late in the evening of the day that these were sent, the government printer took a copy to the President; saying he thought he ought to look it over and see if it was satisfactory. He stated, also, that a number of copies of the report had been already ordered from the printing-office. Mr. Lincoln glanced over the copy placed in his hands, and his eye rested upon the passage in question, which had reference to arming the slaves. Instantly he was aroused. "This will never do!" said he. "Gen. Cameron must take no such responsibility. That is a question which belongs exclusively to me!" Then, with a pencil, he struck out the objectionable clause, and ordered measures to be taken at once to suppress the copies already issued. This decided action created considerable excitement at the time, as the President's policy in reference to slavery had not then been indicated. In the light of subsequent history, it will be regarded as striking evidence of the caution with which he felt his way on this intricate and momentous question. In his own language, in the letter to Col. Hodges, he objected, because the indispensable necessity had not then arrived. To Simon Cameron, however, the honor will ever belong of being the first man connected with the Administration to strike an official blow at the great cause of the war.

Some time after the first battle of Bull Run, General Patterson, who had been severely censured for his action, or want of action, on that occasion, called upon Secretary Cameron, and demanded an investigation of the causes of the failure of the campaign. After listening to his statement, the Secretary said that he would like the President to see the orders and correspondence, and an interview was accordingly arranged for the same evening. The result is given in General Patterson's own words:--

"I called at the hour named, was most kindly received, and read the papers, to which the President attentively listened. When I had finished, Mr. Lincoln said, in substance, 'General, I have never found fault with you nor censured you; I have never been able to see that you could have done anything else than you did do. You obeyed orders, and I am satisfied with your conduct.' This was said with a manner so frank, candid, and manly as to secure my respect, confidence, and good-will. I expressed my gratification with and sincere thanks for his fairness toward me, and his courtesy in hearing my case,--giving me some five hours of his time. I said that so far as he and the War Department were concerned I was satisfied; but that I must have a trial by my peers, to have a public approval, and to stop the abuse daily lavished upon me. The President replied that he would cheerfully accede to any practicable measure to do me justice, but that I need not expect to escape abuse as long as I was of any importance or value to the community; adding that he received infinitely more abuse than I did, but that he had ceased to regard it, "and I must learn to do the same."

Although the friendly relations which existed between the President and Secretary Cameron were not interrupted by the retirement of the latter from the War Office, so important a change in the Administration could not of course take place without the irrepressible "story" from Mr. Lincoln. Shortly after this event some gentlemen called upon the President, and expressing much satisfaction at the change, intimated that in their judgment the interests of the country required an entire reconstruction of the Cabinet. Mr. Lincoln heard them through, and then shaking his head dubiously, replied, with his peculiar smile: "Gentlemen, when I was a young man I used to know very well one Joe Wilson, who built himself a log-cabin not far from where I lived. Joe was very fond of eggs and chickens, and be took a good deal of pains in fitting up a poultry shed. Having at length got together a choice lot of young fowls,--of which he was very proud,--he began to be much annoyed by the depredations of those little black and white spotted animals, which it is not necessary to name. One night Joe was awakened by an unusual cackling and fluttering among his chickens. Getting up, he crept out to see what was going on. It was a bright moonlight night, and he soon caught sight of half a dozen of the little pests, which with their dam were running in and out of the shadow of the shed. Very wrathy, Joe put a double charge into his old musket, and thought he would 'clean' out the whole tribe at one shot. Somehow he only killed one, and the balance scampered off across the field. In telling the story, Joe would always pause here, and. hold his nose. 'Why didn't you follow them up, and kill the rest?' inquired the neighbors. 'Blast it,' said Joe, ' why, it was eleven weeks before I got over killin' one. If you want any more skirmishing in that line you can just do it yourselves!'"

  1. Hon. H.J. Raymond.