Six Months at the White House/LV
On the 30th of June, Washington was thrown into a ferment, by the resignation of Mr. Chase as Secretary of the Treasury. The publication, some weeks before, of the "'Pomeroy' secret circular," in the interest of Mr. Chase, as a presidential candidate, had created much talk, and considerable bad feeling in the party. The President, however, took no part in the discussion, or criticism, which followed;--on the contrary, he manifested a sincere desire to preserve pleasant relations, and harmonize existing differences in the Cabinet. In proof of this, I remember his sending one day for Judge Lewis, the Commissioner of Internal Revenue, and entering into a minute explanation of a misapprehension, which he conceived the Secretary of the Treasury to be laboring under; expressing the wish that the Commissioner would mediate, on his behalf, with Mr. Chase.
Many sincere friends of Secretary Chase considered his resignation, at this juncture, unfortunate and ill-timed. The financial situation was more threatening than at any period during the war. Mr. Chase's administration of the Treasury Department, amid unparalleled difficulties, had been such as to secure the confidence and satisfaction of the masses; and his withdrawal at such a time was regarded as a public calamity, giving rise to the suspicion that he apprehended national insolvency. The resignation, however had been twice tendered before,--the third time it was accepted.
I never saw the President under so much excitement as on the day following this event. Without consultation or advice, so far as I ever could learn, he sent to the Senate, the previous afternoon, the name of Ex-Governor Todd, of Ohio, for the sucessorship. This nomination was not popular, and great relief was experienced the next morning, when it was announced that Governor Todd had declined the position. Mr. Lincoln passed an anxious night. He received the telegram from Governor Todd, declining the nomination, in the evening. Retiring, he laid awake some hours, canvassing in his mind the merits of various public men. At length he settled upon the Hon. William P. Fessenden, of Maine; and soon afterward fell asleep. The next morning he went to his office and wrote the nomination. John Hay, the assistant private secretary, had taken it from the President on his way to the Capitol, when he encountered Senator Fessenden upon the threshold of the room. As chairman of the Finance Committee, he also had passed an anxious night, and called thus early to consult with the President, and offer some suggestions. After a few moments' conversation, Mr. Lincoln turned to him with a smile, and said: "I am obliged to you, Fessenden, but the fact is, I have just sent your own name to the Senate for Secretary of the Treasury. Hay had just received the nomination from my hand as you entered." Mr. Fessenden was taken completely by surprise, and, very much agitated, protested his inability to accept the position. The state of his health, he said, if no other consideration, made it impossible. Mr. Lincoln would not accept the refusal as final. He very justly felt that with Mr. Fessenden's experience and known ability at the head of the Finance Committee, his acceptance would go far toward reestablishing a feeling of security. He said to him, very earnestly, "Fessenden, the LORD has not deserted me thus far, and He is not going to now,--you must accept!" They separated, the Senator in great anxiety of mind. Throughout the day, Mr. Lincoln urged almost all who called to go and see Mr. Fessenden, and press upon him the duty of accepting. Among these was a delegation of New York bankers, who, in the name of the banking community, expressed their satisfaction at the nomination. This was especially gratifying to the President; and, in the strongest manner, he entreated them to "see Mr. Fessenden and assure him of their support."
I am tempted, just here, to introduce a circumstance which occurred in the course of the day, in which the President and myself were the only actors. In the solitude of the state dining-room, I resumed my work, as usual, that morning; but my mind had been too distracted over night for success. Participating in the general solicitude, I also had been intently revolving the question of a successor to Mr. Chase. Unaccustomed to political currents, and rejecting all considerations of this character in a candidate, my thought fastened upon Comptroller McCulloch, as the man for the crisis. His name, at that time, singular as it may seem, had not been suggested by anyone, so far as I knew,--certainly no newspaper had advocated his merits or claims. I was at length impelled, by the force of the convictions which engaged my mind, to lay down my palette and brushes, and go upstairs and state them to the President.
Improving the first opportunity when we were left alone, I said, half playfully,--"Mr. President, would you like the opinion of a painter as to who would make a good Secretary of the Treasury?" He looked at me a moment, and said: "Yes, I think I would. What is your advice?" Said I, "Nominate Hugh McCulloch." "Why," said he, "what do you know of McCulloch?" "Mr. President," I rejoined, "you know painters are thought generally to have very little knowledge of financial matters. I admit that this is true, so far as I am concerned; but I do claim to know something of men, from the study of character as expressed in faces. Now, in my humble judgment, McCulloch is the most suitable man in the community for the position. First; his ability and integrity are unquestionable. Second; as Comptroller of the Currency, he is fully acquainted with the past, present, and proposed future policy of Secretary Chase, and the entire 'machinery' of the Department. Third; he is a practical financier. Having made finance the study of his life, it is obvious he is already educated to the position; whereas, a man taken from the political arena would have everything to learn, and then even, his judgment would be distrusted." Upon this Mr. Lincoln said, with emphasis,--"I believe McCulloch is a very good man!" I think he repeated this once or twice. My errand accomplished, I returned to my labor, satisfied that the instincts of the President could be safely trusted with this, as with other matters; and that, though he might temporarily err, he would ultimately solve the question satisfactorily.