Six Months at the White House/LXIII
The letter of General Fremont withdrawing from the presidential canvass of 1864, after having accepted the nomination of the Cleveland Convention, was an unfortunate one for his political reputation, whatever may have been thought of the military career of that once popular leader. Without attempting any discussion of the merits of the controversy between him and the Government, I think it cannot be denied that Mr. Lincoln ever bore toward General Fremont the sincerest good will, though for reasons perhaps not yet fairly estimated, as a commander he had failed to realize the public expectation.
Some months subsequent to Fremont's removal from the Western Department, one of his personal friends, Mr. Henry C. Bowen, of Brooklyn, happened to be in Washington. Passing the Executive Chamber, on his way to the private secretary's office one day, he observed the door ajar, and the President standing near it, in the act of taking down a book from the bookcase. Catching a glimpse of him, Mr. Lincoln said, "Come in; you are the very man I want to see." Mr. Bowen entered the office, and the President, laying aside other business, said: "I have been thinking a great deal lately about Fremont; and I want to ask you, as an old friend of his, what is thought about his continuing inactive?" "Mr. President," returned Mr. Bowen, "I will say to you frankly, that a large class of people feel that General Fremont has been badly treated, and nothing would give more satisfaction, both to him and to his friends, than his re-appointment to a command commensurate, in some degree, with his rank and ability." "Do you think he would accept an inferior position to that he occupied in Missouri?" asked the President. "I have that confidence in General Fremont's patriotism, that I venture to promise for him in advance," was the earnest reply. "Well," rejoined Mr. Lincoln, thoughtfully, "I have had it on my mind for some time that Fremont should be given a chance to redeem himself. The great hue and cry about him has been concerning his expenditure of the public money. I have looked into the matter a little, and I can't see as he has done any worse or any more, in that line, than our Eastern commanders. At any rate, he shall have another trial!" The result, close upon this interview, was the appointment of Fremont to the "Mountain Department of Western Virginia."
While Mr. Bowen was in Washington, he drove out, by invitation one evening, with one or two friends, to the Soldier's Home, where the President spent the nights of midsummer. More at leisure there than at the "shop," as he was in the habit of calling his official chamber at the White House, Mr. Lincoln sat down with the party for a leisurely conversation. "I know," he said to Mr. Bowen, "that you are a great admirer of Mr. Chase and Mr. Seward. Now, I will tell you a circumstance that may please you. Before sunset of election-day, in 1860, I was pretty sure, from the despatches I received, that I was elected. The very first thing that I settled in my mind, after reaching this conclusion, was that these two great leaders of the party should occupy the two first places in my cabinet."