The Life of Abraham Lincoln (Arnold)/Chapter XXIII
|←Chapter XXII||The Life of Abraham Lincoln by
|Chapter XXIII. The Second Term.
Lincoln Renominated and Re-Elected.-- His Administration.-- Peace Conference.-- Greeley and the Rebel Emissaries.-- Blair's Visit to Richmond.-- Hampton Roads Conference.-- Second Inauguration.
In the meanwhile, time and tide, and Presidential elections, wait for no man. Lincoln's first term was approaching its end, and the people began to prepare for the election.
There was not only an active, hostile party organization against the President, eager to obtain power, ready to seize upon and magnify the faults and errors of the administration, but there were also many ambitious men in the Union party, who, with their friends and followers, believed the best interests of the republic required a change. There were candidates for the Presidency among the generals, whom the President had been compelled by his sense of duty to relieve of command, and even in his Cabinet was an eager aspirant for the White House. The attention of all the world was directed to this approaching election.
Occurring in the midst of this tremendous civil war, it was regarded as the most fearful ordeal to which our institutions could be subjected. Many candid and intelligent men did not believe we could pass through its dangers without anarchy and revolution. There were also elements of danger in secret and factious organizations which bold, ambitious, and unscrupulous men, sympathizing with the rebels, were ready to use for dangerous purposes. All thoughtful observers know that in time of war, and especially civil war, the passions, prejudices, and convictions of men become strongly excited and difficult to control. The people are easily led to throw off the restraints of law, and to adopt questionable means to secure their ends. There was danger, grave danger, in this election.
The safety and triumph of law, order, and the Constitution were largely due to the forbearance, the patriotism, and the personal character of the President. He was so modest, so calm, so just, so truthful, so magnanimous to others, so sincerely honest, and so clearly and obviously unselfish and patriotic, that faction and personal hostility were calmed and quieted. With "malice towards none, and charity for all," he could not be provoked to do any act of personal injury or wrong; and faction stood disarmed by his transparent truth, and honest desire to do right. He would not be provoked into personal controversy. The great mass of the people stood firmly by him. They trusted him fully, and while the politicians, a majority of both Houses of Congress, and the great leaders of the press in the great cities, were not favorable to his re-election, the people, with the instinctive good sense which characterized them during the war, were almost universally in his favor. The prominent men who opposed him in Congress, and out of it, could get no following. In vain Mr. Horace Greeley, through the New York Tribune, and under his hand in the Independent, opposed the renomination. In vain an organization was gotten up at Washington in opposition to him, composed of a large number of able, eloquent, and influential senators and members of Congress, and in vain were secret circulars issued, and speeches made opposing him. The people would not respond to their appeals. They said: "We know and trust Lincoln, and we will not change pilots in the midst of the storm." To use his own homely but expressive illustration, they said: "We will not swap horses while fording the stream."
The opposition to him was divided in its preferences. Some were for General Fremont, and more for Salmon P. Chase, the Secretary of the Treasury. He had been a trusted leader in the anti-slavery movement, a distinguished senator, an able secretary, but he had the fault of many great men; he was ambitious, he wished to be President. And, while holding a position in Mr. Lincoln's Cabinet, he not only permitted, but encouraged his friends to seek his elevation over the man in whose political family he held a position so confidential. He was not loyal to his chief. He used the power which the President gave him to place his own partisans in office. They did not scruple to use this power to pull Lincoln down and set Chase up. The President was fully conscious of this, but permitted it to go on, saying: "It will all come out right in the end." But when Ohio, Mr. Chase's own state, declared for Mr. Lincoln, he withdrew from the canvass. Lincoln was so magnanimous that a short time thereafter, when a vacancy occurred in the great office of Chief Justice of the United States, he appointed Mr. Chase to that high position.
The people were satisfied with the President, and they were so engrossed with the contest for national existence, and the overthrow of slavery, that they were impatient of divisions and controversies among the Union leaders. So much so, that the opposition to Mr. Lincoln, talented, eloquent, zealous, and active, and supported by many of the leading journals of the country, produced hardly a ripple upon the wave of public sentiment, which rolled on in favor of his renomination. The voters at home, and the soldiers in the field, had learned to trust him fully and absolutely. They knew his hands were clean, and that his heart was thoroughly honest; that he was bold and sagacious. They knew that there was no bribe big enough, no temptation of wealth or power sufficient to seduce his integrity. Hence their instinctive sagacity settled the presidential question, and the politicians and the editors, after vain efforts to turn the tide, acquiesced.
The convention was called to meet at Baltimore, on the 8th of June, 1864. The opposition to Mr. Lincoln made a great effort to have it postponed until autumn, but failed. A few disappointed members of the party met at Cleveland, Ohio, and nominated General Fremont for President, but this nomination was so obviously without popular support that Fremont withdrew, and his friends generally voted for Lincoln. An attempt was made to bring out General Grant as a candidate, but the people saw that he was more useful at the head of their armies. General Grant himself, with the good sense, fidelity, and integrity which marked his career, refused to have his name used to divide the Union party. Mr. Lincoln said to a friend in regard to this movement: "If General Grant could be more useful as President in putting down the rebellion, I would be content. He is pledged to our policy of emancipation and the employment of negro soldiers, and if this policy is carried out, it won't make much difference who is President."
The national convention met on the 8th of June, and was organized by the election of the Rev. Robert J. Breckenridge, of Kentucky, as temporary chairman. He was a stern old Presbyterian clergyman, and, although the uncle of General John C. Breckenridge of the rebel army, a determined Unionist and an emancipationist. In a bold and fervid speech, and amidst the applause of the convention, he declared slavery to be "contrary to the spirit of the Christian religion, and incompatible with the natural rights of man," and he continued: "I fervently pray God that the day may come when throughout the whole land every man may be as free as you are, and as capable of enjoying regulated liberty."
Ex-Governor William Dennison, of Ohio, was made President. After endorsing the administration, and approving the anti-slavery acts of Congress and the Executive, and especially the proclamation of emancipation, the convention declared in favor of amending the Constitution so as to abolish and prohibit slavery forever throughout the republic. Lincoln was unanimously nominated for President, and Andrew Johnson, of Tennessee, for Vice-President. Hannibal Hamlin, the incumbent, an able man of unquestionable integrity, and in every way unexceptionable, was dropped, and from motives of policy, Johnson was nominated in his place. Johnson's heroic fidelity to the Union, as senator from Tennessee, when so many of his associates proved faithless, his bold and stern denunciation of traitors and treason on the floor of the Senate, had secured for him the admiration of the loyal people, and by many it was thought expedient to take one who was a war democrat for the position of Vice-President.
Among the members of Mr. Lincoln's Cabinet, Montgomery Blair, the Postmaster General, was especially noted as his personal and political friend. The Blair family had made a bitter war upon Fremont, and Francis P. Blair had made a severe attack upon him in the House of Representatives. The hostility between the Blairs and Fremont and his friends was mutual. The latter sought by every means in their power to get Montgomery Blair out of the Cabinet. Finally, after the Presidential nominations had been made, Fremont's friends made the removal or retirement of Montgomery Blair a condition of Fremont's declining the Cleveland nomination for the Presidency. They induced the Union national committee, or a part of it, to agree that if Fremont would decline, the Postmaster General should resign. They succeeded in making the committee believe that Fremont would so divide the Union vote in some of the states as to endanger the success of the Union party. They tried in vain to induce the President to ask Mr. Blair to retire. The President was satisfied with Blair as a member of his Cabinet; did not believe there was any serious danger of defeat; and consequently refused, but finally, the national committee sent for Judge Ebenezer Peck, of Illinois, a warm friend of the Blairs, and devoted to Mr. Lincoln, to visit Washington. He went, and said to the President: "Your reelection is necessary to save the Union, and no man must stand in the way of that success. Mr. Blair himself," continued Judge Peck, "will gladly retire to strengthen the ticket." By these arguments, Judge Peck and others finally induced the President to ask the resignation of Mr. Blair, which he did in a note of great kindness and friendship. Mr. Blair promptly sent his resignation, and Governor William Dennison, of Ohio, was appointed his successor.
Mr. Lincoln gratefully and modestly accepted the nomination, saying: "I view this call to a second term as in no wise more flattering to myself than as an expression of the public judgment, that I may better finish a difficult work than could anyone less severely schooled to the task." In relation to the great question of the impending Constitutional amendment, he said: "Such an amendment as is now proposed becomes a fitting and necessary conclusion to the final success of the Union cause. Such alone can meet all cavils. The unconditional Union men, North and South, perceive its importance, and embrace it. In the joint names of Liberty and Union let us labor to give it legal form and practical effect."
The democratic convention met at Chicago, on the 20th of August, and nominated George B. McClellan for President, and George H. Pendleton, of Ohio, for Vice-President. Clement C. Vallandigham, having returned to Ohio from the rebel lines to which he had been sent in pursuance of the sentence of a court-martial, was an active and prominent member, and chairman of the committee on resolutions. The second resolution declared "that after four years of failure to restore the Union by war... immediate efforts should be made for a cessation of hostilities with a view to an ultimate convention of the states or other practicable means, to the end that peace may be restored on the basis of the Federal Union of the states."
The issue was thus distinctly presented. The union republican party declared for the most vigorous prosecution of the war to the complete suppression of the rebellion, the utter and complete extinction of slavery--approving of the anti-slavery measures of Congress and the Executive, and the pending anti-slavery amendment to the Constitution. The democratic convention denounced the action of Congress and the Executive, declared the war "a failure," and that peace should be sought through a national convention, or other feasible means.
A most exciting canvass followed. The people longed for peace, but they believed peace could only be secured by successful war. In the language of Mr. Lincoln, they "hoped it would come soon, and come to stay, and so come as to be worth keeping in all future time." The President looked for it, and the people expected it, from some great battle-field in Virginia, a field in which the hosts of the rebellious slaveholders would be crushed and overthrown. They believed that the path which it should take was through Richmond, and that the best agents to bring it were not Vallandigham, nor Seymour, nor McClellan, but Grant and Sherman, Sheridan, Thomas, and Farragut. Such a peace as they would bring would be based on union and a restored nationality; liberty for all and a continental republic. It would harmonize and mould into one homogeneous people, a territory stretching from sunrise to sunset, from where the water never thaws to where it never freezes. The brilliant successes of Sherman and Schofield in the West, of. Sheridan under Grant in the East, and of Farragut at Mobile in the summer and autumn of 1864, rendered certain the success of the Union ticket in November, and indicated an early triumph of the Union cause.
Early in July, Mr. Chase resigned the position of the Secretary of the Treasury, and William Pitt Fessenden, the very able Chairman of the Committee of Finance of the Senate, was appointed his successor. Mr. Chase had been a very able secretary, and in his management of the finances during his administration had rendered great service to the country. Senator Fessenden was reluctant to accept the position, and he expressed this reluctance very frankly to the President. Mr. Lincoln would not excuse him, and playfully said to him: "Fessenden, it is your duty to accept, and if you don't, I'll send you to Fort Lafayette as a prisoner."
During the canvass made by the friends of the President for his nomination and election, he never used his power or his patronage to secure success.
The closing paragraph refers to his own nomination for the Presidency. Indeed, such was his scrupulous delicacy on this point, that Preston King, Senator from New York, was sent by the New York politicians to enquire, as King himself humorously said, "whether Lincoln intended to support the ticket nominated at Baltimore."
Lincoln was re-elected almost by acclamation, receiving every electoral vote, except those of New Jersey, Delaware, and Kentucky. His majority of the popular vote was nearly half a million, a majority greater than has been given before or since for any presidential candidate. Those who feared the ordeal of a popular election amidst the excitement and passion of civil war, were compelled to acknowledge the calmness, the sobriety, the wisdom and dignity with which the people passed through the crisis.
As soon as the result was known, General Grant telegraphed from City Point his congratulations, and added that "the election having passed off quietly... is a victory worth more to the country than a battle won." At a late hour on the evening of the election, Mr. Lincoln, in response to a serenade, said: "I am thankful to God for this approval of the people. But while deeply grateful for this mark of their confidence in me, if I know my own heart, my gratitude is free from any taint of personal triumph... It is not in my nature to triumph over anyone, but I give thanks to Almighty God for this evidence of the people's resolution to stand by free government and the rights of humanity."
The autumn of 1864 and winter of 1865 were eventful, and changes were rapid. The success of the national armies, the undiminished ability of the government to carry on the war, and its unflinching determination to do so until its objects were fully accomplished, inspired a constantly increasing confidence in the loyal people, and the rebels became more and more desperate and disheartened. Loyal state governments, with constitutions securing freedom to all, had been organized in Arkansas and Louisiana, and movements in the same direction were in progress, and soon to be successful, in Missouri, Kentucky, and Tennessee. Maryland was at peace under a free government.
Chief Justice Taney, who will go down to posterity as the author of the decision of the Supreme Court pronounced in favor of slavery in the notable Dred Scott case, died October 12th, 1864. Salmon P. Chase was immediately suggested as his successor, but the hostility of his friends to Mr. Lincoln's renomination, and his abrupt retirement from the Cabinet, led those who did not know Lincoln's magnanimity to believe that he would not be nominated. The President himself, however, declared that he early determined to nominate Mr. Chase, and had never changed that determination. His only hesitation arose from a conviction that Mr. Chase, even after he had taken a seat on the bench, would not abandon his aspirations for the Presidency. Salmon P. Chase, the abolitionist, as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and the successor of Roger B. Taney, marked the completion of the revolution on the subject of slavery.
Meanwhile the cause of the insurgents was growing more and more desperate. They had no credit. They could not fill up their armies. They were discussing the project of arming their negroes, and giving them liberty as the reward of military service. And, as their cause became more and more dark and uncertain, schemes of desperation, involving the burning of Northern cities, murder, robbery, and assassination, were being discussed and organized by the desperate men who began to despair of success in civilized warfare.
The emissaries of the rebels, in the summer of 1864, succeeded in creating the conviction in the mind of that good but credulous and sometimes indiscreet man, Horace Greeley, that certain Southern agents in Canada were anxious for peace, and that it would be wise for the President to confer with them. On the 7th of July, 1864, Greeley wrote to the President a letter, in which he said: "I venture to remind you that our bleeding, bankrupt, almost dying country also longs for peace--shudders at the prospect of fresh conscriptions, of future wholesale devastations, and of rivers of human blood... I fear, Mr. President, you do not realize how intensely the people desire any peace consistent with national integrity and honor." He begged Mr. Lincoln to extend safe conduct to certain rebel agents then at Niagara, that they might submit their propositions. The President was in a position to know, and did know, far better than Mr. Greeley or any private individual, the views of the insurgents. Their object, especially of the emissaries in behalf of whom Greeley wrote, was to aid the democratic party to divide the loyal states, and they made a dupe of good Mr. Greeley. The President knew that the best means of securing peace was to destroy the rebel armies, and that Grant and Sherman and Farragut were doing more to bring it than any negotiations. He doubted whether these agents had any authority. But as Mr. Greeley was a prominent editor, and a man of the best and purest motives, Lincoln, with his usual sagacity, determined to convince him, not only of his own desire for peace, but to expose what he believed to be the deceptive character of these agents. In reply to Mr. Greeley, he said: "If you can find any person anywhere, professing to have any proposition of Jefferson Davis, in writing, for peace, embracing the restoration of the Union and abandonment of slavery, whatever else it embraces, say to him he may come to me with you." In another letter, the President said to Mr. Greeley: "I not only intend a sincere effort for peace, but you shall be a personal witness that it is made."
Messrs. Clay, Thompson, and Holcombe, the persons alluded to by Mr. Greeley, had no authority whatever to treat for peace; they declared that they were in the confidential employment of their government, but for what purpose they were discreetly silent. They asked for a safe conduct to and from Washington, which Mr. Greeley urged the President to give. This application was met by the following passport, or safe conduct, under the hand of the President:
"July 18th, 1864.
"To whom it may concern:
"Any proposition which embraces the restoration of peace, the integrity of the whole Union, and the abandonment of slavery, and which comes by and with the authority that can control the armies now at war against the United States, will be received and considered by the Executive Government of the United States, and will be met by liberal terms on other substantial and collateral points, and the bearer or bearers thereof shall have safe conduct both ways."ABRAHAM LINCOLN."
This put an end to the intrigues with which these men, Clay and his associates, had entrapped Mr. Greeley.
Another prominent editor from the West visited Washington soon after the November election, to urge upon the Executive that he should make peace. He said, in substance:
"Assuming that Grant is baffled and delayed in his efforts to take Richmond, will it not be better to accept peace on favorable terms, than to prolong the war? Have not nearly four years of war demonstrated that, as against a divided North, a united South can make a successful defence? The South is a unit, made so, it is conceded, by despotic power. We of the North cannot afford to secure unity by giving up our constitutional government; we cannot secure unity without despotism... The rebels will fill up their exhausted armies by three hundred thousand negroes; these negroes, under the training and discipline of white officers, and with freedom as their reward, will fight for them. The Union armies will be very greatly reduced next year by the expiration of the term of service of many of the men. How will you fill up the ranks? The people are divided; one-third or more, as the election shows, are positively and unalterably for carrying it on until the rebellion is thoroughly subjugated; the remainder of the people, when the clouds gather black and threatening again, when another draft comes, and increased taxation, the peace men, and the timid, facile, doubtful men, will go over to the opposition, and make it a majority. You can now secure any terms you please, by granting to the rebels recognition. You can fix your own boundary. You can hold all within your own lines--the Mississippi River, and all west of it, and Louisiana. You can retain Maryland, West Virginia, and Tennessee. Take this--make peace. Is not this as much territory, which was formerly slave territory, as the republic can digest, and assimilate to freedom at once. Make this a homogeneous country--make it free, and then improve and develop the mighty empire you have left. If you succeed in subduing the entire territory in rebellion, can the nation assimilate and make it homogeneous? Are the people in the Gulf states sufficiently intelligent to make freedom a blessing? You can people, educate, and bring up to the capability of self-government, the territory you have within your lines. But taking it all--with its people accustomed to slavery, with the ignorance and vice resulting therefrom, is it clear that it is worth the blood and treasure it may cost?"
The President was unmoved by these representations. His reply was brief and emphatic. "There are," said he, "just two indispensable conditions to peace--national unity and national liberty. The national authority must be restored through all the states, and I will never recede from the position I have taken on the slavery question. The people have the courage, the self-denial, the persistence, to go through, and before another year goes by, it is reasonably certain, we shall bring all the rebel territory within our lines. We are neither exhausted nor in process of exhaustion. We are really stronger than when we began the war. The purpose of the people to maintain the integrity of the republic has never been shaken."
For the purpose of learning the views of the Confederate leaders, Francis P. Blair, a private citizen, but a man of large political experience and great influence with many family and personal friends among the rebels, on the 28th day of December, 1864, obtained from the President permission to pass through the military lines South, and return. The President was informed that he intended to use the pass as a means of getting to Richmond, but no authority to speak or act for the government was conferred upon him. On his return, he brought Mr. Lincoln a letter from Jefferson Davis, addressed to himself, the contents of which he had been authorized by Davis to communicate to the President, and in which Davis stated that he was now, as he had always been, willing to send commissioners or receive them, and "to enter into a conference with a view to secure peace to the two countries." Thereupon, the President addressed a note to Mr. Blair, dated January 18th, 1865, in which, after stating that he had read the note of Davis, he said he had been, was now, and should continue, ready to receive any agent whom Davis, or other influential person resisting the national authority, might informally send to him, with a view of securing peace to the people of "our common country." This note was delivered by Mr. Blair to Jefferson Davis. The visit of Mr. Blair resulted in the appointment by Davis, of Alexander H. Stephens, R.M.T. Hunter, and John A. Campbell, to confer with the President on the subject of peace, on the basis of his letter to Mr. Blair. When their arrival at the camp of General Grant was announced, Secretary Seward was charged by the President with representing the government at the proposed informal conference. With the frankness which was characteristic of Mr. Lincoln, he instructed Mr. Seward to make known to Messrs. Stephens, Hunter, and Campbell, that three things were indispensable, to-wit:
First, The restoration of the national authority throughout all the states.
Second, No receding by the Executive of the United States, on the slavery question, from the position assumed thereon in the late annual message to Congress, and in preceding documents.
Third, No cessation of hostilities, short of an end of the war, and the disbanding of all forces hostile to the government.
He was further instructed to inform them that all propositions of theirs not inconsistent with the above, would be considered and passed upon in a spirit of sincere liberality. He was further instructed "to hear and report, but not to consummate anything."
Before any conference was held, however, the President joined Secretary Seward at Fortress Monroe, and, on the 3rd of February, Messrs. Stephens, Hunter, and Campbell came on board the steamer of the President, and had an interview of several hours with him. The conditions contained in the President's instructions to Mr. Seward were stated and insisted upon. Those conditions, it will be observed, contained an explicit statement that the Executive would not recede from the emancipation proclamation, nor from any of the positions which he had taken in regard to the abolition of slavery. The agents of Davis were also informed that Congress had, by a constitutional majority, adopted the joint resolution, submitting to the states the proposition to abolish slavery throughout the Union, and that there was every reason to believe it would be adopted by three-fourths of the states, so as to become a part of the Constitution. The rebel agents earnestly desired a temporary cessation of hostilities, and a postponement of the questions, but to this the President would not listen. So far from it, Mr. Lincoln said to General Grant: "Let nothing that is transpiring change, hinder, or delay your military movements or plans." The conference ended without accomplishing anything.
In their extremity, General Lee was, on the 2d of February, 1865, made commander of all the rebel forces, and in their desperate fortunes, the rebel authorities resolved to call upon their negroes for aid. Judah P. Benjamin, their Secretary of State, in a public meeting after the Hampton Roads conference, said that the Confederates had six hundred and eighty thousand black men, and expressed regret that they had not been called into service as soldiers. He added: "Let us now say to every negro who wishes to go into the ranks on condition of being free: 'Go and fight; you are free.'" "My own negroes," continued he, "have been to me and said: 'Master, set us free, and we will fight for you.' You must make up your mind to try this or see your army withdrawn from before your town... I know not where white men can be found." General Lee had long before recommended this policy. But it was too late, if indeed it could ever have been successful.
Meanwhile the ides of March had come, the term of the Thirty-eighth Congress expired, and Mr. Lincoln, on the eve of final triumph, was to be inaugurated President. The morning of the 4th of March was stormy and cloudy, but as the hour of twelve approached, the rain ceased, the clouds disappeared, and the sun came forth in all its splendor. Crowds of people, the best, the noblest, the most patriotic, those who had given time and means and offered life to save the republic, gathered at the Capitol to witness the second inauguration of a man now recognized as the savior of his country. As the great procession started from the White House for the Capitol, a brilliant star made its appearance in the sky, and was by many regarded as an omen of approaching peace. The two houses of Congress had adjourned at twelve, but a special session of the Senate had been called, at which Andrew Johnson, the Vice-President, appeared, took the oath of office, and became presiding officer of that august and dignified body. Mr. Lincoln was attended by the judges of the Supreme Court in their official robes, by the diplomatic corps, brilliant in the court costumes of the nations they represented, and by a crowd of distinguished officers of the army and navy in full uniform, prominent citizens, scholars, statesmen, governors, judges, editors, clergy, from all parts of the Union. The galleries were filled with ladies, and with soldiers who had come in from the camp and hospitals around Washington to witness the inauguration of their beloved chief. Striking was the contrast between this audience and that which had greeted him four years before at his first inauguration.
As the President, followed by the brilliant assembly from the Senate, was conducted to the eastern portico of the Capitol, the vast crowd met him in front of the colonnade; a crowd of citizens and soldiers who would willingly have died for their Chief Magistrate. It was touching to see the long lines of invalid and wounded soldiers in the national blue, some on crutches, some who had lost limbs, many pale from unhealed wounds, who had sought permission to witness the scene. As the President reached the platform, and his tall form, high above his associates, was recognized, cheers and shouts of welcome filled the air; and not until he raised his arm in token that he would speak, could they be hushed. He paused a moment, and, looking over the brilliant scene, still hesitated. What thronging memories passed through his mind! Here, four years ago, he had stood on this colonnade, pleading earnestly with his "dissatisfied fellow countrymen" for peace, but they would not heed him. He had there solemnly told them that in their hands, and not in his was the momentous issue of civil war. He had told them they could have no conflict without being themselves the "aggressors"; and even while he was pleading for peace, they had taken up the sword and compelled him to "accept war." Now, four long, weary years of wretched, desolating, cruel war had passed; those who had made that war were everywhere being overthrown; that cruel institution which had caused the war had been destroyed, and the dawn of peace was already brightening the sky behind the clouds of the storm.
Chief Justice Chase administered the oath. Then, with a clear but at times saddened voice, President Lincoln pronounced his second and last inaugural.
"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 very 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 avoid 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 with war, seeking to dissolve the Union, and divide the 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 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 prayer 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 these 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 this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern there 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 bondsman'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 by the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said, that 'the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.'"With malice towards none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us 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 orphans, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and a lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."
Since the days of Christ's sermon on the mount, where is the speech of emperor, king, or ruler, which can compare with this? May we not, without irreverence, say that passages of this address are worthy of that holy book which daily he read, and from which, during his long days of trial, he had drawn inspiration and guidance? Where else, but from the teachings of the Son of God, could he have drawn that Christian charity which pervades the last sentence, in which he so unconsciously describes his own moral nature: "With malice towards none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right." No other state paper in American annals, not even Washington's farewell address, has made so deep an impression upon the people as this.
A distinguished divine, coming down from the Capitol, said: "The President's inaugural is the finest state paper in all history." A distinguished statesman from New York said in reply: "Yes, and as Washington's name grows brighter with time, so it will be with Lincoln's. A century from to-day that inaugural will be read as one of the most sublime utterances ever spoken by man. Washington is the great man of the era of the Revolution. So will Lincoln be of this, but Lincoln will reach the higher position in history." This paper, in its solemn recognition of the justice of Almighty God, reminds us of the words of the old Hebrew prophets. The paper was read in Europe with the most profound attention, and from this time all thinking men recognized the intellectual and moral greatness of its author.
- See Letter of Horace Greeley in The Independent of February 25th, 1864. See also New York Daily Tribune, February 13th, 1864, and other issues during the winter and spring of that year.
- See Secret Circular issued by Senator Pomeroy and others. As an illustration of the opinion of Congress, the following incident is recalled. A prominent editor from the interior of Pennsylvania, a warm friend of the President, came to Washington in the winter of 1864, and, going to the Congressional leader, Mr. Thaddeus Stevens, said: "Introduce me to some member of Congress friendly to Mr. Lincoln's renomination." "Come with me," replied Stevens. They came to the seat of the member from the Chicago District in Illinois. Addressing him, Mr. Stevens said: "Here is a man who wants to find a Lincoln member of Congress. You are the only one I know, and I have come over to introduce my friend to you." "Thank you," said the member. "I know a good many such, and I will present your friend to them, and I wish you, Mr. Stevens, were with us."
But Stevens was quite right in supposing a large majority to be opposed to the President. In January, 1865, Mr. Stevens said: "If the question could be submitted to the people of the United States, whom they would elect for the next President, A majority would vote for General Butler." Cong. Globe, 2nd Session 38th Congress, part 1, p. 400.
- The following letter will show the manner in which the President's friends met this effort, and the spirit of the canvass.
"To the Editors of the Evening Post:
"I have received a printed circular to which several distinguished names are attached, urging the postponement of the national convention.
"Believing that such postponement would be most unwise and dangerous to the loyal cause, I ask the privilege, through the columns of the Evening Post, very briefly to give my reasons for such belief.
"I concur most fully with the gentlemen who signed the paper referred to, that it is very important that all parties friendly to the government should be united in support of a single candidate (for President), and that when a selection shall be made it shall be acquiesced in by all sections of the country, and all branches of the loyal party.
"I am perfectly convinced that the best means of securing a result so essential to success is an early convention, and that nothing would be more likely to prevent such union than its postponement.
"The postponement would be the signal for the organization of the friends of the various aspirants for the Presidency, and for the most earnest and zealous canvass of the claims, merits, and demerits of those candidates.
"If the time should be changed to September, we should see the most violent controversy within the Union ranks known in the history of politics.
"Is such a controversy desirable, and shall we encourage and stimulate it by postponing the convention?
"I think I am fully warranted in stating that up to this time there has been no considerable difference of opinion among the people on the Presidential question. It is a most significant fact that, notwithstanding the efforts made in this city and elsewhere in behalf of prominent and able men in military and civilian life; notwithstanding a thoroughly organized, able, ardent, and zealous opposition to President Lincoln here, embodying great abilities and abundant means; with the co-operation of some of the great leading newspapers of the Union, and with the aid of some of the distinguished names of trusted national leaders attached to your petition; yet all this has produced no perceptible effect upon public opinion. The minds of the people are fixed upon the great contest for national existence, and are impatient of quarrels and controversies among ourselves. The opposition to the President in our own party, talented, eloquent, zealous, and active as it is, has scarcely produced a ripple on the wave of public sentiment which is so strongly running in favor of Mr. Lincoln's re-election.
"There is no organization among the friends of the President, they are doing nothing; but this action of the people is spontaneous, unprompted, earnest, and sincere. State after state holds its convention, appoints its delegates, and without a dissenting voice instructs them to vote for Mr. Lincoln. This popularity of the President, this unanimity of the people, is confined to no section, but East as well as West, middle state and border state, they all speak one voice, 'Let us have Lincoln for our candidate.' Do I exaggerate? Maine speaks for him on the Atlantic, and her voice is echoed by California from the Pacific, New Hampshire and Kansas, Connecticut and Minnesota, Wisconsin and West Virginia, and now comes the great state of Pennsylvania, seconding Maryland; one after another, all declare for the re-election of the President. Is it not wiser to recognize and accept this great fact than to struggle against it?
"The truth is, the masses of the people, and the soldiers everywhere, trust and love the President. They know his hands are clean and his heart is honest and pure. They know that the devil has no bribe big enough, no temptation of wealth or power, which can seduce the integrity of Abraham Lincoln.
"Hence the people--the brave, honest, self-denying people--the people who have furnished the men, and who are ready to pay the taxes necessary to crush the rebellion, and who are determined to establish national unity based on liberty--they are more wise, less factious, and more disinterested than the politicians. Their instinctive sagacity and good sense have already settled the Presidential question. It cannot be unsettled without a convulsion which will endanger the Union cause. A postponement of the convention would not prevent Mr. Lincoln's renomination; it might possibly endanger his election.
"Acquiescence, union, and harmony will follow the June convention. Delay encourages faction, controversy, and division. I say harmony will follow the June convention. I say this because I believe General Fremont and his friends are loyal to liberty and will not endanger its triumph by dividing the friends of freedom. I say this because I believe the radical Germans who support Fremont, who have done so much in this contest to sustain free institutions, cannot be induced by their enthusiasm for a man to desert or endanger the triumph of their principles.
"The hour is critical. We approach the very crisis of our fate as a nation. With union and harmony our success is certain.
"The Presidential election rapidly approaches. We cannot divert attention from it by postponing the convention. We cannot safely change our leaders in the midst of the storm raging around us.
"The people have no time for the discussions which must precede and follow such a change.
"I repeat, we cannot safely or wisely change our leader in the midst of the great events which will not wait for conventions. Such is the instinctive, nearly universal judgment of the people. Let, then, the convention meet and ratify the choice which the people have already so clearly indicated.
"I am, very truly and respectfully yours,
"ISAAC N. ARNOLD.
"Washington, May 2, 1864."
- McPherson's History of the Rebellion, p. 505.
- Judge Peck to the author.
- Lincoln's response to the committee, which announced his renomination. McPherson's History of the Rebellion, p. 408.
- The following is the resolution:
"Resolved, That this convention explicitly declare, as the sense of the American people, that after four years of failure to restore the Union by the experiment of war, during which, under the pretense of a military necessity, or war power higher than the Constitution, the Constitution itself has been disregarded in every part, and public liberty and public right alike trodden down, and the material prosperity of the country essentially impaired; justice, humanity, liberty, and the public welfare demand that immediate efforts be made for a cessation of hostilities, with a view to an ultimate convention of the states, or other peaceful means, to the end that at the earliest practicable moment peace may be restored on the basis of the Federal Union of the states."
- The following note, written in behalf of a friend in Illinois to an officeholder who was charged with using his power against his friend, will illustrate the views of the President:
"Executive Mansion, Washington, July 4th, 1864.
"To ------- Esq.
"Dear Sir: Complaint is made to me that you are using your official power to defeat Mr. -------'s nomination to Congress. I am well satisfied with Mr. -------, as a member of Congress, and I do not know that the man who might supplant him would be as satisfactory. But 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 he thinks fit with his. This is precisely the rule I inculcated and adhered to on my part, when a certain other nomination now recently made was being canvassed for.
"Yours very truly,
- Mr. Stephens is stated by a Georgia paper to have repeated the following characteristic anecdote of what occurred during the interview: "The three Southern gentlemen met Mr. Lincoln and Mr. Seward, and after some preliminary remarks, the subject of peace was opened. Mr. Stephens, well aware that one who asks much may get more than he who confesses to humble wishes at the outset, urged the claims of his section with that skill and address for which the Northern papers have given him credit. Mr. Lincoln, holding the vantage ground of conscious power, was, however, perfectly frank, and submitted his views almost in the form of an argument... Davis had, on this occasion, as on that of Mr. Stephens's visit to Washington, made it a condition that no conference should be had, unless his rank as Commander or President should first be recognized. Mr. Lincoln declared that the only ground on which he could rest the justice of war--either with his own people, or with foreign powers--was that it was not a war for conquest, for that the states had never been separated from the Union. Consequently, he could not recognize another government inside of the one of which he alone was President; nor admit the separate independence of states that were yet a part of the Union. 'That,' said he, 'would be doing what you have so long asked Europe to do in vain, and be resigning the only thing the armies of the Union have been fighting for.'
"Mr. Hunter made a long reply to this, insisting that the recognition of Davis's power to make a treaty was the first and indispensable step to peace, and referred to the correspondence between King Charles I. and his Parliament, as a trustworthy precedent of a constitutional ruler treating with rebels. Mr. Lincoln's face then wore that indescribable expression which generally preceded his hardest hits, and he remarked: 'Upon questions of history I must refer you to Mr. Seward, for he is posted in such things, and I don't pretend to be bright. My only distinct recollection of the matter is that Charles lost his head.' That settled Mr. Hunter for a while."
- Two or three days after the inauguration, the author called at the White House, and Mrs. Lincoln showed him the Bible used by the Chief Justice in administering the oath to the President. The 27th and the 28th verses of the 5th chapter of Isaiah were marked as the verses which the lips of Mr. Lincoln touched in kissing the book. She seemed to think the text admonished him to be on his guard, and not to relax at all in his efforts. The words marked are these:
"None shall be weary, nor stumble among them; none shall slumber nor sleep; neither shall the girdle of their loins be loosed, nor the latchet of their shoes be broken.
"Whose arrows are sharp, and all their bows bent, their horses' hoofs shall be counted like flint, their wheels like a whirlwind."
Chief Justice Chase had given this Bible to Mrs. Lincoln so marked.