The Reminiscences of Carl Schurz/Volume Two/5 The Campaign of 1860
THE Republicans of Wisconsin were very kind to me. Through their majority in the Legislature they had made me a member of the Board of Regents of the State University, which was established at Madison, and now, in the spring of 1860, their State Convention appointed me as one of their delegates to the Republican National Convention to be held at Chicago in May. That famous Chicago Convention, with its great wooden "Wigwam" that held many thousands of people, its noisy street parades, its shootings, and jostlings, and wire-pullings, has been so often and elaborately described that I need not go into detail. The Wisconsin delegation elected me its chairman, to announce its votes on the floor of the convention, to make, in its name, such statements or declarations as might become necessary, and generally to represent it whenever such representation was called for.
|From a photograph by Hessler in the possession of the Chicago Historical Society|
The great wooden structure in which was held the famous Chicago Convention that nominated Lincoln.
We Wisconsin delegates were all of one mind in strongly favoring Seward as the Republican candidate for the Presidency. By some of the Republicans in Wisconsin, who were originally from New York, Seward may have been preferred because he was a "New York man." But the large majority of the party in the State, among them the younger and most ardent element, went to Seward for reasons of a higher order. As I expressed it, in somewhat high-flown language perhaps, in a speech delivered at a ratification meeting after the convention: "It was certainly not for reasons of superior availability that Mr. Seward's name was brought forward. But we were accustomed to look up to him as the intellectual leader of the political anti-slavery movement. From him we received the battle-cry in the turmoil of the contest, for he was one of those spirits who sometimes will go ahead of public opinion instead of tamely following its footprints. He would compress into a single sentence, a single word, the whole issue of a controversy; and those words became the inscriptions on our banners, the pass-words of our combatants. His comprehensive intellect seemed to possess the peculiar power of penetrating into the interior connection and of grasping the general tendency of events and ideas, things and abstractions; he charmed our minds with panoramic views of our political and social condition and the problems to be solved; his telescopic eye seemed to pierce even the veil which covers future developments; and while all his acts and words were marked by a thoroughgoing and uncompromising consistency, they were, at the same time, adorned with the peculiar graces of superior mental culture."
WILLIAM HENRY SEWARD
From photographs in the collection of F. H. Meserve
This was the idealistic view of Seward; the impression he had made upon our susceptible minds; the picture created from it by our fervid imagination — the imagination of enthusiastic young men. Similar sentiments, a little less high-wrought, perhaps, held the best part of Seward's support together, and gave him the preference over all other anti-slavery statesmen, although Chase was very highly esteemed and would have well satisfied our demands, had not Seward stood ahead of him as the first of his class. The opposition to Seward found its main strength in the belief of many Republicans that, on account of his supposed radicalism, his nomination would frighten timid souls and imperil our success in the so-called "doubtful States," such as Indiana, Illinois, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania — which of course would rule out Chase too, as I had candidly told him at our interview at Columbus. To the young Republicans, of whom I was one, the threatened danger of defeat in the doubtful States had little terror, for we had the utmost faith in the invincible moral power of our cause, aided as this was, in addition to its intrinsic moral strength, by the bitter quarrels in the Democratic party. To call that moral power into the most effective action, the boldest course, the most resolute appeal to the love of liberty, and to the generous impulses of the popular heart, seemed to us the policy surest of success. What we feared much more than the tremor among the weak-kneed that might possibly be created by so courageous an act as the nomination of Seward, was a lowering of the standard of Republicanism by a half-hearted platform and the nomination of a candidate whose name might mean a concession to those who were only opponents of the Democratic party, but not determined anti-slavery men — and thus the possibility of another compromise. To such a concession we were sternly opposed. Such a candidate was presented in the person of Mr. Edward Bates of Missouri, a lawyer of high standing and a very worthy gentleman, but an old Whig who was supposed to be against slavery in a mild, unaggressive way. He was confessedly — at least so his advocates said — to be nominated to "conciliate" outsiders and to convince the timorous throughout the country that the Republican party in power would carefully avoid any disturbance. His principal champion was Horace Greeley, bent on defeating Seward.
On the list of candidates we also found Mr. Simon Cameron of Pennsylvania, perhaps the first aspirant to the presidency in the history of the Republic who thought he might attain to the first office within the gift of the people because he was rich and a master of shrewd, and not overscrupulous, spoils management. (He might be called the prototype of the modern State boss.) Of course, we disliked him much, but his candidacy was not taken seriously.
There was no real antagonism among us to Abraham Lincoln of Illinois. He was universally recognized as a true anti-slavery leader who had done our cause very great service. We esteemed him most highly, but we did not favor his nomination, because we were for Seward, as the current phrase then was, "first, last, and all the time."
But I must confess that my enthusiasm for Seward received a little chill, even before the convention met. Immediately after our arrival at Chicago, we from Wisconsin thought it our duty to report ourselves at the headquarters of the New York delegation to ask for suggestions as to what we might do to further the interests of our candidate. But we did not find there any of the distinguished members of that delegation whom we most wished to see — William M. Evarts, George William Curtis, Henry J. Raymond, Governor Morgan, and others. We found only the actual chief manager of the Seward interest, Mr. Thurlow Weed, and around him a crowd of men, some of whom did not strike me as desirable companions. They were New York politicians, apparently of the lower sort, whom Thurlow Weed had brought with him to aid him in doing his work. What that work consisted in I could guess from the conversations I was permitted to hear, for they talked very freely about the great services they had rendered or were going to render. They had marched in street parades with brass bands and Seward banners to produce the impression that the whole country was ablaze with enthusiasm for Seward. They had treated members of other delegations with no end of champagne and cigars, to win them for Seward, if not as their first, then at least as their second choice, to be voted for on the second or third ballot. They had hinted to this man and that man supposed to wield some influence, that if he could throw that influence for Seward, he might, in case of success, count upon proper "recognition." They had spent money freely and let everybody understand that there was a great lot more to spend. Among these men Thurlow Weed moved as the great captain, with ceaseless activity and noiseless step, receiving their reports and giving new instructions in his peculiar whisper, now and then taking one into a corner of the room for secret talk, or disappearing with another through a side door for transactions still more secret. I had heard much of Thurlow Weed as a man of mysterious powers; as a political wizard able to devise and accomplish combinations beyond the conception of ordinary mortals; as the past-master of political intrigue and stratagem; as the profoundest judge of men's abilities, virtues, and failings; as the surest calculator of political chances and results; and as the guide, superintendent, and protesting genius of William H. Seward's political career. This may sound like exaggeration, but he certainly had acquired the reputation of the most skillful political manager — others called it "wire-puller" — of his time. While everybody recognized his extraordinary ability, the opinions about his political virtue were divided. His opponents denounced him as a selfish and utterly unscrupulous trickster, while his friends emphasized the fact that he secured offices for ever so many friends, but never any for himself, except a public printer's place which was profitable in revenue, but very modest in rank. In this respect, therefore, his ambition passed as disinterested. His singular zeal for the furtherance of Seward's political welfare and the singular intimacy that existed between the two not seldom alarmed Seward's political friends, but it cannot be said that Thurlow Weed turned Seward's rise in influence and power to his own material advantage.
From photographs in the collection of F. H. Meserve
My own impression was that Mr. Weed might, indeed, not be without appreciation of the higher aims of political activity, but that his enjoyment of political contest as well as his extraordinary skill in the manipulation of persons and interests had made him cherish a party victory itself more than the fruits of that victory; that he had come to consider everything fair in politics; that thus his conscience had lost its sensitiveness in the choice of means, and that he would be capable of sacrificing the best aspirations of his party for its success and for the elevation of his favorite. I may not have been quite just to him in this opinion, but it was strengthened by the spectacle I saw before me at the moment I speak of — the tall man with his cold, impassive face and with the mysterious whisper of his high voice, giving directions to a lot of henchmen, the looks and the talk and the demeanor of many of whom made me feel exceedingly uncomfortable. I began to fear that if Mr. Seward, after such a campaign for his nomination, were elected President of the United States, he might find himself burdened with a mass of obligations incurred in his behalf which he would not be permitted to shake off, and which he would not be able to meet without dishonor to himself and without injury to the public interest. I disliked to think of Mr. Seward sitting in the presidential chair with just this Mentor behind him. The figures of Faust and Mephistopheles rose in my imagination, and I repeated to myself the words of Marguerite:
|"||Es thut mir in der Seele weh,|
|Wenn ich Dich in der Gesellschaft seh."|
|"||In my inmost soul it saddens me|
|When I see thee in that company."|
My conversation with Mr. Weed on that occasion was short. He asked me what I thought of the situation, and I told him what the reasons were which made us young Republicans of the Northwest support Mr. Seward. He replied that people who thought as I did would, of course, favor Mr. Seward; but the problem was to make people who did not think so, vote for his nomination. Still, he was quite confident of Mr. Seward's success, and he thought it good policy to exhibit that confidence in every possible way. To that end he admonished me to visit as many delegations as I could and to let them know that no candidate could possibly receive as many "German votes" as Mr. Seward. I replied that I could not well say that, for I hoped it would not prove true in case Mr. Seward should unfortunately fail to be nominated. Little more was said, and I did not see Mr. Weed again. When, a few days later, Mr. Seward was defeated in the convention, Mr. Weed is said to have been distressed beyond measure. During the Civil War he rendered very patriotic service to the Republic in various ways, which proved that he could be something more than a mere adroit party manager.
The members of the Convention and the thousands of spectators assembled in the great Wigwam presented a grand and inspiring sight. It was a free people met to consult upon their policy and to choose their chief. To me it was like the fulfillment of all the dreams of my youth. As Hay and Nicolay, the historians of Abraham Lincoln, report: "Blair, Giddings, Greeley, Evarts, Kelley, Wilmot, Schurz, and others were greeted with spontaneous applause, which, rising at some one point, grew and rolled from side to side and corner to corner of the immense building, brightening the eyes and quickening the breath of every inmate." This as well as other distinctions with which I was honored, I owed no doubt to the fact that I was looked upon as a representative and spokesman of the large number of voters of German origin whose support of the Republican cause was naturally regarded as very important. One of those distinctions came very near producing a comical effect. When Mr. Ashmun of Massachusetts had been elected permanent president of the Convention, the temporary chairman appointed United States Senator Preston King of New York and myself a "committee of two" to conduct Mr. Ashmun to the chair. Senator King was a man of rather low stature and conspicuously rotund form, while I was over six feet tall and very slender. When the Senator and I met in the aisle to walk together to Mr. Ashmun's seat, and thus to perform a function intended to be somewhat solemn, and the Senator looked up at me and I looked down on him, a broad smile overspread his jocund face, to which I could not help responding. The suggestion of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza was too striking for the assembled multitude to resist, and a titter ran over the convention which might have broken into a general guffaw had the induction of Mr. Ashmun into the chair not been over so quickly.
I was appointed a member of the Committee on Resolutions that had to draw up the Republican platform, and in that committee was permitted to write the paragraph concerning the naturalization laws so that the Republican party be washed clean of the taint of Know-nothingism. This was done in moderate but unequivocal terms, which produced an excellent effect in the campaign. I also took part in formulating the anti-slavery declarations of the platform, but there an unintentional omission occurred which led to a dramatic scene in the convention. While the platform severely denounced the policy of the Administration with regard to Kansas, repudiated all the theories upon which rested the right of the slave-holder to carry his slave property into the Territories, as well as Douglas's spurious "popular-sovereignty" doctrine, denied the authority of Congress of a Territorial Legislature, or of any individuals to give legal existence to slavery in any Territories of the United States, branded the reopening of the slave trade as "a crime against humanity, and a burning shame to our country and age," thus covering all points in actual issue, it failed to mention specifically the great principles enunciated in the Declaration of Independence as our political creed and as the moral basis of our free institutions. When the draft of the platform was read to the convention, enthusiastic applause greeted almost every sentence of it, and an impatient call for a vote followed from all parts of the vast assembly. But amid this noise arose above the heads of the multitude the venerable form of Joshua R. Giddings of Ohio. Everybody knew him as one of the veteran champions of the anti-slavery cause. He had pleaded for that cause with undaunted courage and fidelity when even in many parts of the North no one could do so without danger. It was the religion of his life. No sooner had the clamor for a vote sufficiently calmed down to let him be heard, than he expressed himself painfully surprised that the Republican platform, that solemn promulgation of its political faith to be put forth by the party of freedom, should not contain a word of recognition of the Declaration of Independence. He therefore moved to amend it by inserting in a certain place the words: "That the maintenance of the principles promulgated in the Declaration of Independence and embodied in the Federal Constitution, 'that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,' is essential to the preservation of our republican institutions."
JOSHUA R. GIDDINGS
From photographs in the collection of F. H. Meserve
There are always, in such Conventions, even those that are not controlled by machine power, many persons impatient at anything that threatens to interfere with the despatch of business as proposed by the committees; and so it was at Chicago. No sooner had Mr. Giddings stopped speaking, than the tumult of voices burst forth again with a stormy clamor for an immediate vote, and, carried away by the whirlwind, the Convention, heedlessly it may well be supposed, rejected the amendment. Then Mr. Giddings, a look of distress upon his face, his white head towering above the crowd, slowly made his way toward the door of the hall. Suddenly from among the New York delegation a young man of strikingly beautiful features leaped upon a chair and demanded to be heard. The same noisy demonstration of impatience greeted him, but he would not yield. "Gentlemen!" he said in a tone of calm determination, "this is a convention of free speech, and I have been given the floor. I have but a few words to say to you, but I shall say them, if I stand here until to-morrow morning!" Another tumultuous protest of impatience, but he firmly held his ground. At last the clamor yielded to his courage, and silence fell upon the great assembly. Then his musical voice rang out like a trumpet call. Was this, he said, the party of freedom met on the border of the free prairies to advance the cause of liberty and human rights? And would the representatives of that party dare to reject the doctrine of the Declaration of Independence affirming the equality of men's rights? After a few such sentences of almost defiant appeal, he renewed, in a parliamentary form, the amendment moved by Mr. Giddings, and with an overwhelming shout of enthusiasm the convention adopted it.
GEORGE WILLIAM CURTIS
[At the time of the Chicago Convention]
From photographs in the collection of F. H. Meserve
When the young orator sat down his name passed from mouth to mouth. It was George William Curtis. I had never seen him before. After the adjournment of that session I went to him to thank him for what he had done. He was then in the flower of youthful manhood. As he stood there in that convention, towering over the vast multitude, his beautiful face radiant with resolute fervor, his singularly melodious voice thrilling with impassioned anxiety of purpose, one might have seen in him an ideal, poetic embodiment of the best of that moral impulse and that lofty enthusiasm which aroused the people of the North to the decisive struggle against slavery. We became friends then and there, and we remained friends to the day of his death.
After the close of the Convention, Mr. Evarts is reported to have said in a tone of mournful irony: "We New Yorkers have lost our candidate, but we have at least saved the Declaration of Independence." I have often thought, in the light of later events, that what they saved was worth much more than what they lost. As the Convention progressed it became more and more evident every hour that Seward, whose support came mainly from New York, New England, and the Northwest, was not only not gaining, but rather losing, in strength. This was owing to two causes. The argument that his supposed ultra-radicalism — which really consisted more in phrase than in purpose — would greatly imperil the success of the Republican party in the "doubtful" States of Pennsylvania, Indiana, Illinois, and New Jersey, had its effect. I do not myself think that the danger was nearly as great as the managing politicians of those States and the personal enemies of Seward, led by Horace Greeley, represented it to be. I believed then, and I believe now, that the moral impetus of the campaign, aided by the internecine war in the Democratic party, would have carried Seward through triumphantly. But many earnest anti-slavery men who otherwise would have been glad to make Seward their candidate, thought it would be reckless as well as unnecessary to take what many others considered a serious risk. Such men would not have been willing, while admitting the advisability of giving up Seward, to accept a candidate whose nomination would compromise any essential Republican principle. But they were willing to accept a candidate fully representing those principles, but less likely to provoke those prejudices which stood in Mr. Seward's path. Such a candidate was found in Abraham Lincoln, upon whom all the elements of the opposition to Seward's nomination could, without much difficulty, be united. In the second place, not a few of those who had been among Seward's warmest supporters, were somewhat disenchanted — mortified might not be too strong a word — by the conspicuous appearance on the scene of the promiscuous crowd of New York politicians of the lower sort, who did but too much of the shouting for Seward, and thus forced themselves, in a somewhat repulsive manner, upon people's attention. It can hardly be doubted that Thurlow Weed's cohorts hurt Seward more than they helped him. Seward's true friends did not, indeed, abandon him on their account. But many of them felt themselves not a little embarrassed in pressing Seward's nomination in such companionship.
When on the third day of the Convention the balloting began, the contest was already decided. After the first ballot, which gave the several delegations the required opportunity for casting the complimentary votes for the "favorite sons" of their States, the opposition to Seward, obeying a common impulse, concentrated upon Abraham Lincoln, and the third ballot gave him the majority. Much has been said about the superior volume and fierceness of the shouting for Lincoln in the packed galleries and its effect upon the minds of the delegates. But that is mere reporters' talk. The historic fact is that, as the Convention would not take the risks involved in the nomination of Seward, it had no other alternative than to select Lincoln as the man who satisfied the demands of the earnest anti-slavery men without subjecting the party to the risks thought to be inseparable from the nomination of Seward. That the popular demonstrations for Lincoln in and around the Convention were, indeed, well planned and organized, is true. But they were by no means a decisive factor. Without them the result would have been the same.
When on the third ballot, Lincoln came so near a majority that his nomination appeared certain, delegates, before the result was declared, tumbled over one another to change their votes in his favor. The Wisconsin delegation did not change its vote. Together with New York, Michigan, Minnesota, and parts of other delegations, we stood solidly for Seward until Mr. Evarts, the chairman of the New York delegation, with a speech of genuine pathos and admirable temper, moved to make Mr. Lincoln's nomination unanimous. To this we heartily assented. I described our action at a ratification meeting held in Milwaukee a few days later:
"We, the delegates from Wisconsin, voted for him to the last. I may say that a few hours after my arrival at Chicago I saw that Seward's nomination was very improbable. I do not lay claim to any particular sagacity for that, for it was a plain arithmetical problem. The causes which brought about his defeat I will not detail; suffice it to say that they were not of an insignificant nature. But we stood by him, determined to carry his name as high as possible. Nor did we follow the example of those who changed their votes after the decisive ballot, before the final result was announced; not as though we had been opposed to Mr. Lincoln, than whom there is no truer man in the nation, but because we thought we owed it to our old chieftain that, if fall he must, he should withdraw with the honors of war, surounded by an unbroken column of true and devoted friends. So the delegations from New York and Wisconsin and some delegates from other States stood together to the last. Thus was this debt of honor discharged. We considered it honestly due, and it was honestly paid. I need hardly say that, when the motion was made to make Mr. Lincoln's nomination unanimous, we seconded it without any sacrifice of feeling, and when it was carried we heartily joined in the general enthusiasm. We had not gone there to have our candidate nominated or none, but with the loyal intention to subordinate our individual judgment to the judgment of the majority, provided the Convention asked of us nothing inconsistent with our consciences as anti-slavery men and the dignity of the Republican cause. And I do no hesitate to say that if Mr. Seward had not been in the field, Mr. Lincoln, unless I mistake the temper of our people, would in all probability have been the first choice of Wisconsin. Although Mr. Seward failed, Mr. Lincoln's nomination nailed the good Republican banner to the mast as boldly and defiantly as ever."
While the victory of Mr. Lincoln was being announced to the outside world by the boom of a cannon which had been placed on the roof of the Wigwam, and not only the great convention hall, but, as it appeared, the whole City of Chicago shook with triumphant cheers for Lincoln, my thoughts involuntarily turned to Chase, who, I imagined, sat in a quiet office room at Columbus with a telegraph near by clicking the news from Chicago. Not only had the prediction made to him a few months before become true, but it had become more terribly true than I myself had anticipated. Of the votes, about 670 cast in the Convention, he had never received more than 49, and even that beggarly number had dwindled down to 24½ on the last ballot. Not even his own State had given him its full strength. No doubt he had hoped, and hoped, and hoped against hope — no American afflicted with the presidential fever ever ceases to hope — and now came this disastrous crushing, humiliating defeat. I saw that magnificent man before me, writhing with the agony of his disappointment, and I sympathized with him most profoundly. I should have pitied him, had I dared to pity such a man. But would not this distressing experience teach him the wisdom of not staking the happiness of his life upon the winning of that prize? Alas, it did not. He continued to nurse that one ambition so that it became the curse of his life to his last day. It sometimes painfully distorted his judgment of things and men. It made him depreciate all the honors and powers bestowed upon him. When he was Secretary of the Treasury and, later, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the finest opportunities for enviable distinction were open to him, which, indeed, he achieved, but he restlessly looked beyond for the will-o'-the-wisp which deceitfully danced before his gaze. Many years later, when he had been touched by a slight paralytic stroke which somewhat impaired his speech and the freedom of his limbs, I saw him at an evening reception in his house, when his futile efforts to appear youthfully vigorous and agile were pathetically evident. Gossip had it that the reception was given for the very purpose of convincing the political society of Washington that he was physically as fit to be President as ever. He was indeed a great man; but, like Henry Clay and Daniel Webster, how much greater and how much more useful would he have been had he been content with his real greatness!
I had the honor of being appointed a member of the committee that was sent to Springfield to carry to Mr. Lincoln the official announcement of his nomination. At every railway station we passed in daylight we were received with demonstrations of joy. Mr. Lincoln received us in the parlor of his modest frame house — a rather bare-looking room; in the center the customary little table with a white marble top, and on it the silver-plated ice-water pitcher and the family Bible or the photograph album; and some chairs and a sofa ranged along the walls. There the Republican candidate for the Presidency stood, tall and ungainly in his black suit of apparently new but ill-fitting clothes, his long tawny neck emerging gauntly from his turn-down collar, his melancholy eyes sunken deep in his haggard face. Most of the members of the committee had never seen him before, and gazed at him with surprised curiosity. He certainly did not present the appearance of a statesman as people usually picture it in their imagination. Standing up with folded hands, he quietly, without visible embarrassment or emotion, listened to the dignified little speech addressed to him by Mr. Ashmun, the president of the Convention, and then he responded with a few appropriate, earnest, and well-shaped sentences, expressing his gratitude for the confidence reposed in him, and his doubts of his own abilities, and his trust in a helping Providence. Then followed some informal talk, partly of a jovial kind, in which the hearty simplicity of Lincoln's nature shone out, and after the usual hand-shaking the committee took its leave. One of its members, Mr. Kelley of Pennsylvania, remarked to me as we passed out of the house: "Well, we might have done a more brilliant thing, but we could hardly have done a better thing."
I heard similar utterances from other members in which, however, an undertone of resignation and of suppressed doubt was perceptible. Some of them, who were entirely unused to Western men and Western ways, and who, on this occasion, saw Mr. Lincoln for the first time, could not quite conceal their misgivings as to how this single-minded man, this child of nature, would bear himself in the contact with the great world and in the face of the large and complicated problems, for grappling with which he had apparently so scant an equipment. Indeed, a few days after the adjournment of the Chicago Convention, some symptoms of dissatisfaction and of coldness towards Mr. Lincoln became perceptible even in certain circles of Western Seward enthusiasts, who could not reconcile themselves to what they called the ignominious slaughter of the greatest Republican leader. Having myself been an ardent advocate of Seward's nomination, I thought I could address an effective appeal to the discontented, and I did so in my speech at the ratification meeting in Milwaukee in language which I may be pardoned for quoting, for it was the cry of my heart:
"I have heard, here and there, a murmur of disappointment. What! With a cause and a platform like ours? With such standard-bearers as Lincoln and Hamlin? It is hardly credible. Listen to me a single moment. Standing as we do on the threshold of great decisions, I cannot suffer my mind to be encaged in the walls of this house, or in the narrow lines of party interest and party policy, not even in the boundaries of this country. There is the wide world around us with its manifold races and nations of men, all of them for thousands of years engaged in an arduous struggle for happiness and freedom; now advancing with spasmodic force and rapidity, now falling back again exhausted and discouraged; always struggling to disentangle their feet from the treacherous coils of despotic rule, and always baffled in their efforts; so much noble blood spilled, so many noble hearts broken, so many noble aspirations turned into despair!
"And in this world of strife and anguish, there arose this Republic — a world of promise. It was the gospel of liberty translated into fact. It was to be the beacon light of humanity! But alas, the abolition of kingly rule did not work the abolition of the baser passions of human nature. But half a century elapses and this free government is ruled by a despotic interest; the Republic sinks into the mire of slavery and corruption, and the hope of humanity sinks with it. The advocates of despotism predict its downfall from day to day, and proclaim with exultation that the great experiment of human self-government has failed. It is in vain that the best men of the nation, like the prophets of old, rise up against the growing demoralization. They are sneered at and persecuted, or at best, their efforts remain isolated and apparently fruitless. Suddenly a great startling outrage is perpetrated. The slave-power with its train of corruption and demoralization shows itself in its naked deformity, and threatens to swallow down at one gulp the whole future of the country.
"Now the popular conscience wakes up. The people of the North rise to a great effort. The first attempt to rescue the development of the Republic from the grasp of that despotic power fails, but the movement grows in dimensions and intensity. We press on and on, and the day of deliverance is at hand. Oh, it comes at last! How we have longed to see it! How we have counted the minutes by the impatient throbbings of our hearts! We rally in formidable array. Every fiber of our being trembles with eagerness for the greatest of struggles. Every pulsation of our blood beats the charge. We place one of the purest, noblest, and ablest men of the nation at the head of our army. Victory is within our grasp. And now there stand some who call themselves patriots, mouthing like children that they cannot do as much as they would have done, if their particular favorite had been nominated for the presidency!
"Ah, if we ever have a right to grow impatient with our fellows, it is when we see them at the moment of a great crisis governed by small and paltry considerations.
"I do not plead the cause of party discipline. That is not one of the deities at whose shrine I worship. It never will be. But must I, born in a foreign land, speak to you of devotion to the great interests of your country? Must I entreat you to sacrifice the small whim of a personal preference to the greatest cause of this age? No, no! It cannot be! No man in whose soul glows a spark of sympathy with struggling humanity can now stand idle. No heart that ever was fired by the divine breath of liberty can now remain cold!
"Let Wisconsin stretch her hand across the great lakes and grasp that of New York. Let it be known that New York and Wisconsin, who stood together to the last for Seward in the convention, will be the first and foremost in the battle for Lincoln and Liberty!"
This appeal had much applause and was said to produce a good effect among those to whom it was addressed. But soon such invocations became entirely unnecessary, as the rising spirit of the campaign swept away every discontent in the Republican ranks. This spirit became irresistible. There has been much questioning as to what the influences were that stirred up and kept going the anti-slavery movement at the North. It was a favorite theory among Southern people — and I have heard that opinion expressed by some of them even at the present day — that, aside from the morbid notions of a few fanatical abolitionists, who were possessed by a half-insane fixed idea, and from the reckless and restless tendency of the Yankee character to meddle with other people's affairs, it was the greed of gain, the selfish desire to subject and control the South for pecuniary profit, that inspired the anti-slavery movement, and that this was in fact the decisive influence. Nothing could be further from the truth. Although there were many merchants and manufacturers on the anti-slavery side, yet it is an indisputable historic fact that, as a rule, the commercial and manufacturing interests at the North were opposed to every anti-slavery agitation, and this opposition was, at times, very bitter, and even violent. There is a very natural and obvious reason for this. Capital engaged in commercial and manufacturing enterprise is always conservative and timid. It abhors unruly disturbance of the existing order of things. Its material prosperity is usually its first, and not seldom its only consideration in determining its attitude as to public affairs, and the prosperity of a large part of the business of the North was thought to depend upon the maintenance of an orderly condition of things in the South and of friendly relations between the two sections of the country. The commercial sentiment, therefore, always anxiously favored every compromise designed to settle, or, at least, to adjourn the difficulties or conflicts springing from the slavery question. It fiercely frowned upon every attempt to shake the Compromise of 1850. If it was in any manner displeased with Douglas's Nebraska bill, it was because that bill upset the Missouri Compromise. But it would have been quite willing to accept that measure, however favorable to slavery, had it promised to secure peace and quiet. And even after Mr. Lincoln's election, it manifested a willingness to surrender the fruits of the anti-slavery victory in a new compromise in order to pacify the slave-power and to avert the impending collision. No fair-minded man can study the history of those times without convincing himself that commercial selfishness not only did not incite and stimulate the anti-slavery movement, but actually discountenanced and resisted it.
I think it can be said without exaggeration that there has never been in the history of this Republic a political movement in which the purely moral motive was so strong — indeed, so dominant and decisive. No doubt, some politicians saw in it tempting opportunities for the achievement of distinction, place, and profit. Every promising cause attracts such men; but they may be active in its behalf without determining its character. The uprising against slavery was simply the revolt of the popular conscience against what was felt to be a great wrong, and against the despotic arrogance of the slave-holding aristocracy that attempted to rule the whole Republic in its interest. This feeling resounded in endless variations through all the arguments and appeals that were addressed to the people, and it created an enthusiasm that was genuine, wholesome, and lofty. I have been active in many political campaigns, but in none in which the best impulses of human nature were so forceful and effective and aroused the masses to so high a pitch of almost religious fervor. Only a few weeks after the convention, the campaign was in full blast. I had a large number of calls to meetings in June, and spoke day after day, often more than once, until the day of the election in November, excepting two short weeks in September, which I absolutely needed for rest and recuperation. The country swarmed with orators, every one of whom on our side seemed bound to do his best, regardless of exertion and fatigue. We all were lifted up by the inspiring consciousness of being, for once, wholly right. There was nothing to apologize for, nothing to defend, nothing to explain, nothing to conceal, for, as we believed with unlimited, supreme faith, our cause was clearly, undeniably the cause of liberty, right, and justice, and our party a party of high moral aims and exalted patriotism.
The campaign was hardly opened when the whole North seemed to get into commotion. It looked as if people, especially in the smaller cities and towns and the country districts, had little else to do than to attend meetings, listen to speeches, march in processions, and carry torches after night-fall. "Wide-Awake" companies with their glazed capes and caps, the prototypes of the modern marching clubs of party organizations, sprang up all over the land as by magic. Brass bands, some of them very trying to musical ears, seemed to grow out of the earth. And all this was done without any official machinery, for the postmasters and revenue officers, and district attorneys and United States marshals with their retinues were on the Democratic side. The Republicans held only a few State and municipal offices hardly worth mentioning as political agencies. Nor was there much money used in stirring and keeping up the agitation. The funds at the disposal of the Republican National Committee were beggarly compared with the immense sums that nowadays flow into the war chests of such bodies. The State and local committees were generally in the same condition. In a large measure the campaign seemed to run itself. It was not necessary to drum up audiences for meetings by extraordinary tricks of advertising or of alluring attractions. The simplest notice sufficed to draw a crowd. Not seldom large gatherings were altogether extemporized. Of this I had myself some striking experiences. One afternoon, I think it was in July, I addressed a large open-air meeting of country people at a village not far from one of the larger cities in Indiana. This done, I thought it might be more comfortable for me to sleep in the hotel in town instead of the village tavern, and then take the train from there in the morning for my next appointment. I hoped to slip into the hotel unobserved and to have a quiet night. But I had reckoned without my host. When at supper, I was waited upon by the local committee, who informed me that the theater was full of people, who wanted me to speak to them. How was this? Had the meeting been regularly appointed? No; but I had been seen coming into the town, and some folks thought this was a good time for having a talk from me, and the brass band was set going, and now the people, men and women, had been just rushing into the theater. The Wide-Awakes were lined up in front of the hotel to escort me. What could I do but surrender? The Wide-Awakes, with a tremendous hurrah, took me like a captive to the theater, brass band ahead. The theater was crowded to suffocation, and the heat terrible. The thermometer must have been high up in the nineties. There was hardly a man in the hall who had not taken off his coat, and many of them their vests and neckties and collars. The women fanned themselves desperately. I had not spoken many minutes when I was fairly dripping with perspiration. The audience must have noticed my distress. An old man rose and begged me to stop a moment. "Mr. Schurz," said he, pronouncing my name in an indescribable way, "it's very hot, and you show it. Now, I am sure, the ladies here won't mind if you take off your coat and whatever else you like, to make yourself as comfortable as you can." This little speech was greeted with thunders of applause. The ladies waved their handkerchiefs as a sign of approval. I did as I was bidden. My coat went off first, then, after a while, my vest, my necktie, and my collar. The enthusiasm of the people was immense. After I had spoken about an hour I made an attempt to close, saying that they would certainly all wish to get out of this terrible temperature into the open air. A burst of protest came from all parts of the house: "No, no; go on; go on!" I had to go on, and spoke an hour longer, and even then the people did not seem to have enough.
Not long after this I happened to travel down the Ohio on a steamboat from one river town to another, and at one of the landing places which we touched about seven o'clock in the morning, a crowd of several hundred people, having heard that I was passing by, had gathered on the wharf. They prevailed upon the captain to stop for half an hour, and I had to speak to them from the deck of the boat. This was the earliest morning mass-meeting I ever attended.
While "stumping" in Illinois I had an appointment to address an afternoon open-air meeting in the capitol grounds in Springfield, Mr. Lincoln's place of residence. He asked me to take dinner with him at his house. At table we conversed about the course and the incidents of the campaign, and his genial and simple-hearted way of expressing himself would hardly permit me to remember that he was a great man and a candidate for the presidency of the United States. He was in the best of humor, and we laughed much. The inevitable brass band took position in front of the house and struck up a lively tune, admonishing us that the time for the business of the day had arrived. "I will go with you to the meeting," said Mr. Lincoln, "and hear what you have to say." The day was blazing hot. Mr. Lincoln expressed his regret that I had to exert myself in such a temperature, and suggested that I make myself comfortable. He indeed "made himself comfortable" in a way which surprised me not a little, but which was thoroughly characteristic of his rustic habits. When he presented himself for the march to the capitol grounds I observed that he had divested himself of his waistcoat and put on, as his sole garment, a linen duster, the back of which had been marked by repeated perspirations and looked somewhat like a rough map of the two hemispheres. On his head he wore a well-battered "stove-pipe" hat which evidently had seen several years of hard service. In this attire he marched with me behind the brass band, after us, the local campaign committee and the Wide-Awakes. Of course, he was utterly unconscious of his grotesque appearance. Nothing could have been farther from his mind than the thought that the world-conspicuous distinction bestowed upon him by his nomination for the presidency should have obliged him to "put on dignity" among his neighbors. Those neighbors who, from the windows and the sidewalks on that hot afternoon, watched and cheered him as he walked by in the procession behind the brass band, may have regarded him, the future President, with a new feeling of reverential admiration, or awe; but he appeared before and among them entirely unconcerned, as if nothing had happened, and so he nodded to his acquaintances, as he recognized them in the crowd, with a: "How are you, Dan?" or "Glad to see you, Ned!" or "How d'ye do, Bill?" and so on-just as he had been accustomed to do. Arrived at the place of meeting, he declined to sit on the platform, but took a seat in the front row of the audience. He did not join in the applause which from time to time rewarded me, but occasionally he gave me a nod and a broad smile. When I had finished, a few voices called upon Mr. Lincoln for a speech, but he simply shook his head, and the crowd instantly respected the proprieties of the situation, some even shouting: "No, no!" at which he gratefully signified his assent. Then the brass band, and the committee, and the Wide-Awakes, in the same order in which we had come, escorted us back to his house, the multitude cheering tumultuously for "Lincoln and Hamlin," or more endearingly for "Old Abe."
A large part of my work, my specialty, consisted in addressing meetings of German-born voters in their and my native language. This took me into the States of Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York — not only into the large cities, but into small country towns and villages, and sometimes into remote agricultural districts, where I found my audiences in schoolhouses and even in roomy barns or in the open air; and these were the meetings that I enjoyed most of all. It was a genuine delight to me thus to meet my countrymen who remembered the same old Fatherland that I remembered as the cradle of us all, and who had come from afar to find new homes for themselves and their children in this new land of freedom and betterment — to meet them, I say, face to face, without the noise and formality of a large assemblage, and to talk to them in a conversational, familiar way, without any attempt at oratorical flourish, about the pending questions to be decided and the duties we owed under existing circumstances to the great Republic that had received us so hospitably, and about the high value of the blessings we enjoyed and had to preserve, and how we could do no greater honor to our old Fatherland than by being conscientious and faithful citizens of the new. There they sat for an hour or two, hard-working farmers, and small tradesmen, and laborers, with earnest and thoughtful faces, some of quick perception and others of more slowly working minds, listening with strained attention, sometimes with a puzzled expression, which made me go over the same ground again and again, in clearer language and with different illustrations; they sat, often without a sign of applause except now and then a nod or a mere look of intelligent agreement — until the close of the speech, when they would throng around me for a hand-shake, and not seldom with requests for a little more elucidation of this or that point, which they thought of using in discussing the matter with their neighbors. It would happen that some German-born Democratic politician, a local office-holder perhaps, a country postmaster, or deputy sheriff, or clerk of a board of supervisors, or of a court, fearing for his revenue or his political influence, attempted to disturb such meetings by noisy conduct or by asking impertinent questions or by loudly calling upon his friends to go away. But I cannot remember one instance in which the effect of such an attempt did not turn against the intruder. The desire to learn and to understand was so general and so earnest that it would not brook any partisan interference.
As a public speaker I gathered in those meetings a very valuable experience. It is that, with such audiences as I have described — indeed with a majority of popular audiences — the desire to be informed and instructed is greater than the desire to be amusingly entertained. No doubt a joke or an anecdote with a witty point will make such hearers laugh. But there is a superior charm for them in a clear statement of an interesting subject and in lucidly logical reasoning. He who aims at making a lasting impression upon the minds and hearts of his hearers in a popular audience should take care not to undervalue their intelligence, their moral sense, and their self-respect. To carry conviction, the speaker must above all things make his hearers feel that he is himself convinced, and he cannot do that unless his argument be serious and his appeal thoroughly earnest. Persons who have never given much consideration to public matters will often begin to do so when you show them that you esteem them enough to expect that they will, and that you attach some importance to their attitude. You may sometimes create noble emotions by appealing to them as though they already existed.
At the beginning of my activity as a public speaker I made it my rule never to say anything in my speeches that I did not conscientiously believe to be true; never to hesitate to admit a mistake when I became convinced that I had made one; never to appeal to a prejudice or to a mean, narrow-minded selfish interest; to invoke only the highest order of motives — patriotism, the sense of right, justice, and honor; and never to miss an opportunity for reminding my hearers that it is the duty, the high privilege of this great American Republic to serve as the guiding-star to liberty-loving mankind as the torch-bearer of civilization, and that this great destiny can be fulfilled only by waging a relentless war against all dishonest practices or ignoble aspirations in our home politics, that may impair the blessings and injure the prestige of democratic government, and by conducting our intercourse with foreign nations on the highest principles of fairness and good will. I have, no doubt, committed many, and some serious mistakes in my public life, but now, at the close, I may say for myself that throughout it I have conscientiously observed that rule.
In the campaign of 1860 I made two speeches, which, to judge from their publication in newspapers and from the number of pamphlet copies circulated, attracted much attention. The one was delivered at St. Louis, Missouri. Although Missouri was a Slave State, the anti-slavery element in the City of St. Louis, composed in great part of the German-born population, with some energetic native Americans among its leaders, had acquired such strength that it was hoped it would serve as the nucleus for an effective emancipation movement in the State. I was invited to address a mass-meeting in support of it, and I accepted the invitation all the more eagerly as I might hope to have among my hearers some representatives of the slave-holding interest and to speak to them, face to face. This hope was gratified. The meeting was very large, and, as my friends informed me, not a few of the principal slave-holders and pro-slavery men came to listen. The speech I made to them was, I think, the best of my anti-slavery speeches. I undertook to show the Southern people the utter incompatibility of the needs and the aspirations of slavery with the essential attributes of democratic institutions of government, as well as with the natural requirements and aspirations of free-labor society, and thus to demonstrate to them the absolute downfall of slavery in the near future, whatever the Southern people might do to save it — in fact, that any effort to save it by secession would inevitably result in terrible disaster to the Southern people themselves. This was my peroration:
"Slave-holders of America, I appeal to you. Are you really in earnest when you speak of perpetuating slavery? Shall it never cease? Never? Stop and consider where you are and in what days you live.
"This is the nineteenth century. Never since mankind has recollection of times gone by has the human mind disclosed such wonderful powers. The hidden forces of nature we have torn from their mysterious concealment, and yoked them into the harness of usefulness; they carry our thoughts over slender wires to distant nations; they draw our wagons over the highways of trade; they pull the gigantic oars of our ships; they set in motion the iron fingers of our machinery; they will soon plow our fields and gather our crops. The labor of the brain has exalted to a mere bridling and controlling of natural forces the labor of the hand; and you think you can perpetuate a system which reduces man, however degraded, yet capable of development, to the level of the soulless machine?"
It might seem in the light of subsequent events that the slave-holders were not isolated, not as much without sympathy in the world, when struggling for the establishment of their independent empire, as I had predicted they would be. But it only seemed so. The apparent sympathy that was given them really sprang only from a wish cherished by foreigners that this great Republic should be disrupted and thus cease to threaten other nations with a dangerous rivalry on various fields of activity and ambition. The French Emperor, Louis Napoleon, did not in fact sympathize with the cause of slavery as such, but he hoped that the slave-holders' insurrection would succeed in breaking up the Union, and thus render it unable to interfere with his ambitious scheme to establish a vassal empire in Mexico. A large part of the ruling class in Great Britain, which befriended and encouraged the Southern Confederacy, did not do so because it sympathized with slavery as such, but because it disliked and feared the American Republic as a democracy and a rival power which it would have been glad to see stripped of its strength and prestige. The French emperor was ready to recognize the Southern Confederacy as an independent State, and to intervene in its favor by at least breaking up our blockade of the Southern ports; and many Englishmen of great influence would willingly have co-operated with him in this direction. But the fact that the war carried on by the Southern Confederacy was universally regarded as a war for the maintenance of slavery, stood in the way. Neither the French emperor nor the British aristocracy could safely venture to defy the enlightened opinion and the moral sense of civilized mankind in general, and of the best part of their own subjects or constituencies in particular, by giving open and effective support to human slavery in its struggle for existence and power. It may, therefore, after all, truly be said that it was slavery that deprived the Southern cause of the effective sympathy which otherwise might have helped it to success, and that slavery thus put it in a position of fatal isolation in the world of the nineteenth century. Of this I shall have more to say hereafter.
I have to confess, however, that I erred in the estimation I expressed in that speech of the seriousness of the threats of revolution and disunion in case of a Republican victory at the presidential election, that came constantly from the South. For the reasons already given, such an attempt seemed to me so absolutely foolish, especially as the pro-slavery Democracy, even if they lost the executive, would still control the Senate, and thereby have a veto on all anti-slavery legislation, that I could not understand how a sane mind could conceive it. I did not sufficiently consider the possibility that the Southern "fire-eaters" might have talked themselves, by their own grandiloquence, into a state of mind that was not quite sane, and that they might succeed in starting in the South a popular "craze" strong enough to sweep into its current the more sober-minded against their own inclination. This is what actually happened. It flattered Southern pride to be told, as the Southern revolutionists constantly told their people, that one Southerner could whip half a dozen Northerners; that the Northern people generally had no fighting spirit whatever, and that the South need only put on a warlike attitude to bring the Northerners to their knees, and thus to extort from them any concession that might be desired. Had the people of the South foreseen that the Northerners could and would fight for the Union even to the last ditch, it is quite probable that the sober thought would have overcome the "craze," and that the secession movement would have stopped short of the actual trial of strength. Good policy, therefore, demanded that, in order to dispel the Southern delusion as to the lack of fighting spirit in the North, the Northern spokesmen should assume a tone of defiance, challenging the Southern blusterers to come on, if they were foolish enough to dare.
On the other hand, while it was not doubted at the North that the Southern people were brave and full of fighting spirit, it was very much doubted whether they could effectively fight in a war which was, in fact, waged against slavery. It was thought that the necessity of guarding and keeping down their slaves would require a very large part of their fighting force and leave comparatively little for operations in the field against hostile armies. This opinion I candidly shared, and I expressed it in my speech at St. Louis and on various other public occasions. Subsequent events showed this to have been a grave mistake. But hardly anybody, perhaps not even a Southerner, would have dared to predict that while large Southern armies were fighting in the field to keep the slaves in bondage, a large majority of the same slaves would, without being coerced or overawed by the presence of an armed force, quietly and faithfully continue to cultivate the fields of their masters, and thus to provide them with sustenance in the struggle against their liberators. But this is what actually happened. To be sure, it could not eventually save slavery; but it did enable the South to put greater armies into the field and to continue the fearful grapple much longer than the North had anticipated.
My speech at St. Louis, while gaining some votes for Lincoln, did not produce any visible effect upon the "slave-holders of America." But one of them told me at a later period that he had listened to that speech; that he had become unwillingly convinced, then and there, that, on the whole, I was right; that he had not dared to say so openly, because it would have cost him the friendship and confidence of his class, but that it had haunted his mind all through the Civil War.
That one of my speeches which perhaps attracted most attention in the campaign of 1860 was wholly devoted to a dissection of Senator Stephen A. Douglas, the presidential candidate of the Northern wing of the Democratic party. In preparing this argument I debated with myself the question how far it was permissible to attack a political opponent personally, in the discussion of public interests. I came to the conclusion that it was entirely permissible and fair if the personality of that opponent was brought forward to give strength to his cause, and especially if that personality exercised an influence through false pretense. This, as it seemed to me, was in the highest degree the case with Senator Douglas. He posed as the "champion of free labor," while he had caused the Missouri Compromise to be repealed and slavery to be admitted into Territories until then dedicated to freedom, and while he openly sought to win the support of the Southern people by telling them that his policy of "popular sovereignty" and "non-intervention" would give them the best chance to get more Slave States. He posed as the great representative of true democracy and popular rights, while he advocated police measures to restrain all discussion adverse to slavery which might have done honor to the most despotic government of the old world. He was extolled by his partisans as "the greatest of living statesmen," while he advanced, in support of the institution of slavery, theories of government so glaringly absurd and childish that the merest schoolboy should have been ashamed of them. And he did all these things with an aggressive assurance which produced upon many people the impression that he was really a superior being who might be taken at his own valuation. He was, in my eyes, the most formidable and most dangerous demagogue in America. I thought it would be a meritorious work to prick this imposing bubble, especially as his prestige was the only thing that threatened to take from Mr. Lincoln the votes of some of the Northern States and thus to defeat his election. I went at my task with zest, summoning all I could command of power of statement, of sarcasm, fancy, and humor, and the result was an analysis of Douglas's theories and career which I could not have made more scorching, merciless, and amusing.
The speech was to be delivered in the large hall of the Cooper Institute in New York. On the evening of the meeting I dined with Governor Morgan, who was chairman of the Republican National Committee, and some prominent Republicans of New York, at the Astor House. On the way from the Astor House to the Cooper Institute, Governor Morgan, with whom I drove, asked me how long I expected to speak. I answered: "About two hours and a half." "Good heavens!" exclaimed the Governor. "No New York audience will stand a speech as long as that!" He seemed to be seriously alarmed. I explained to him that the speech I was prepared to make was a connected argument which I had to present to the public in its entirety or not at all, and that, therefore, if I could not be permitted to deliver the whole of it, some excuse must be found for my not speaking at all that evening. The Governor seemed much distressed. At last he submitted, but with the air of one who was resolved to meet an inevitable disaster with fortitude.
The great hall of the Cooper Institute was crowded to suffocation, the atmosphere of the assemblage proved thoroughly sympathetic, and I not only held my audience but achieved that night, as a "stump-speaker," the greatest success of my career. The bursts of applause and laughter were such that, now and then, I had to stop for minutes at a time. The face of Governor Morgan, who sat near me, lost its anxious gloom and grew brighter and brighter as I went on to my second and even to my third hour. On one of the seats of the front row I noticed an old gentleman with flowing white hair and large spectacles, who held an umbrella in his hand. At first he looked rather drowsy, but gradually he seemed to wake up and his face beamed with pleasure. He joined in the general applause by pounding with his umbrella on the floor, at first gently, and then with constantly increasing violence. I was not half through with my speech when the ferrule of the old gentleman's umbrella broke. But that did not disturb him in the least. In his enthusiasm he continued to pound the floor with all his strength. At last the stick of the umbrella went to pieces, so that he no longer could make any noise with it. But then, when I brought out a point which particularly stirred him, or a cheer went up whose contagion he could not resist, the old gentleman would fling up the wrecked umbrella and wave it over his head like a victorious banner, much to the amusement of the multitude. Owing to the many interruptions my speech occupied more than three hours, but Governor Morgan no longer found fault with its length. An immense number of pamphlet copies of this speech were circulated, and I was told that it cost Mr. Douglas many votes. I have to confess that of my printed speeches this has remained one of my favorites, that in later years I have now and then taken up the volume containing it to re-read certain of its liveliest passages and then to call up once more the youthful days when my combative temperament enjoyed to the full the "gaudium certaminis"; when the poetic imagination ran riot, and when the music of language seemed to tinkle all around in the air.
The campaign-committees kept me very hard at work in several States until the day of the election. I was too tired to take any part in the Republican jubilations after Abraham Lincoln's victory. But rest at my quiet Wisconsin home was soon cut short by my necessities. I found myself compelled, a week or two after the election, to set out on lecturing tours for the purpose of replenishing somewhat my drained exchequer. On my journeys East and West I met with strange experiences. The news of the success of the Republican party had hardly gone through the land when political demonstrations took place in some of the Southern States which made it appear that the threats of secession, to which of late years we had become accustomed, were, after all, something more than mere bluster and gasconade. The danger of a disunion movement, with consequences difficult to foresee, loomed up in portentous reality. A chill swept over the North. The anti-slavery enthusiasm of the campaign was suddenly hushed. The question which but yesterday had agitated men's minds and fired men's hearts, whether it was not right and just and good policy to exclude slavery from the Territories and to put that remnant of barbarism upon the course of ultimate extinction, was suddenly crowded into the background by the apparently much more pressing question: what might be done to avert the awful calamity of a great civil conflict that seemed to hang over the country like a gloomy storm-cloud. People wore very sober faces, and inquired each other's opinions with a tremor of anxiety in their voices.
The defeated Democrats, who all the while had predicted dire mischief in case of a Republican victory, were, of course, not slow to take advantage of the disturbed state of the popular mind. Some of them openly justified the secession movement under existing circumstances; others loudly demanded that the victorious party should abandon the anti-slavery principles and policy it had been contending for, and thus induce the Southern leaders to let their States stay in the Union. The supporters of Bell and Everett in the late campaign, the "Constitutional Union party," which had not carried a single State in the presidential election, but enjoyed in the country that consideration to which the high individual respectability of its leaders and many of its members entitled it, were no less zealous in the advocacy of some compromise by which the South might be "pacified." So-called "Union-meetings" were held all over the North to urge such a policy, and clamorous appeals were made to the lovers of peace as well as to those whose motives were more selfish. Southern trade came to a complete stand-still, and Northern merchants and manufacturers stood terrified at the prospect of their Southern customers refusing to pay their debts. Securities went topsy-turvy at the stock-exchange; the banks, feeling the ground shake under their feet, drew in their loans, and money became excessively stringent. General bankruptcy and ruin seemed to be impending. The nervousness of the commercial spirit lashed itself into frenzy. The agitation in favor of "concessions to the South" assumed a violent form. In the very city of Boston, a meeting of anti-slavery men was broken up by a furious crowd, among whom, as the paper reported, several of the "respectable conservative citizens" were conspicuous. Sumner was told by a Boston newspaper that it was time for him to hold his tongue, and his name was hissed at a meeting of workingmen in Boston. In Philadelphia, George William Curtis was refused a hall for a lyceum lecture because he was known as an anti-slavery man. In various other Northern cities, grave disturbances of a similar nature occurred. A cry went forth that no public expression of opinion should be permitted that might "irritate the South."
But the very violence of those demonstrations served to bring on a reaction. People began to ask whether this did not sound too much like the crack of the slave-driver's whip. Moreover, news came from the South that the instigators and leaders of the secession movement did not wish any compromise, and that to them the election of the Republican president was really not the cause, but merely a welcome opportunity for their separation from the Union and for the realization of their long-cherished ideal of an independent confederacy of Slave States. The only question still undecided was whether those leaders could carry the great mass of their people with them. The probability was that they would be able to do so, for in such cases the most extreme counsel is apt to appeal most powerfully to the popular ear. President Buchanan's message at the opening of the session of Congress was highly characteristic. He argued in substance that while no State had a constitutional right to secede from the Union, yet, if a State did so, there was nowhere any power to keep it in the Union. President Buchanan was the very personification of the political species then known as the "Northern man with Southern principles," that is, a Northern politician always ready to do the bidding of the slave-holding interest. I had been introduced to Mr. Buchanan with a multitude of other people at a White-House reception and taken a good look at him while after the hand-shaking he conversed with some Senators. He was a portly old gentleman with a white head, always slightly inclined to one side, and a cunning twinkle in his eye which seemed to say that although he might occasionally not appear to be of your opinion, yet there was a secret understanding between him and you, and that you might trust him for it. He always wore a white neckerchief like a divine. His moral weakness was of the wise-looking kind. He could pronounce the commonplace sophistries of the pro-slavery Democracy with all the impressiveness of unctuous ponderosity. He had rendered the slave-power abject service in the Kansas affair, again and again putting forth statements of fact which he could not possibly believe to be true, and constitutional doctrines that could be supported only by the most audacious shifts of logic. He was mindful of the fact that he owed the presidency to the trust of the slave-power in his fidelity to its behests. So far he had justified that trust to the full of his ability and of his opportunities. No Southern pro-slavery fanatic could have served the slave-holding interest with more zeal and — considering his position as a Northern man — with more self-denial. By forfeiting the good opinion of his neighbors he had really made himself a martyr to the cause of slavery. But when his Southern masters now went so far as to strike out for the dissolution of the Union, the destruction of the Republic itself, his situation became truly desperate. He may have prayed in his heart that now at least they might have mercy upon a poor Northern man in the presidency of the Republic. But they would use him for their purposes to the last. When he attempted to balk, his courage went only to the length of quibbling about constitutional paradoxes. Thus he satisfied neither side, but won the contempt of both. In his Cabinet he had three Secretaries — of the Treasury, of War, and of the Interior — of whom he should have known that they conspired with the secessionists. He permitted them to remain at the head of their departments until they thought they had exhausted all the resources for mischief which their official power gave them. What he really did accomplish was to encourage the promoters of the secession movement by his confession of constitutional impotency, and to give them ample time for undisturbed preparation while the National Government stood by, idle. He recoiled from active treason, but had not courage enough for active patriotism. Thus Mr. Buchanan, to whom fortune offered one of the finest chances to win a great name by simply doing his plain duty with resolution and energy, managed to make himself the most miserable presidential figure in American history.
The fifteenth president of the United States From a war-time photograph
The compromise epidemic in the country naturally infected Congress, and both Houses, at once, after the opening of the session, appointed a committee to devise some way to "conciliation and peace." While the difficulties standing in the way of an agreement upon a policy of that kind seemed well-nigh insurmountable, the agitation in favor of it had a demoralizing effect upon public sentiment in general, and upon the Republican party in particular, especially when Seward, who had been regarded as the most radical leader of that party, appeared in the front rank of the compromisers. I was one of the many anti-slavery men who were greatly puzzled by Mr. Seward's mysterious attitude, and much alarmed as to what might come of it. What we feared was not merely that the principles of our anti-slavery party might be surrendered, and the fruits of our anti-slavery victory be frittered away, but that, under the influence of a momentary panic, a step might be taken that would — to use a term current at that time — "Mexicanize" our government — that is, destroy in it that element of stability which consists in the absolute assurance that when the officers of the government are legally elected, their election is unconditionally accepted and submitted to by the minority. When that rule is broken — when the possibility is admitted that, after an election, the minority may prescribe conditions upon the fulfillment of which its acceptance of the results of the election is to depend, the stability of republican government is gone. So long as such a possibility exists, the republic will be in a state of intermittent revolution. And this rule would have been broken. We would, in order to avoid by a post-election bargain one civil conflict, have opened the way forever to many other civil conflicts. We would, in one word, have destroyed the most indispensable guarantee of stability and good order in the Republic, had we after the legal election of Abraham Lincoln to the presidency, purchased the submission of the slave-holding States to the result of that election by any compromise whatever. It was, therefore, not merely this or that concession to the slave-holding interest that was to be opposed, but it was the compromise as such, however little it might have conceded.
The profound anxiety I felt on this subject found voice in a series of letters I wrote during that winter to my intimate friend in the House of Representatives, Mr. Potter of Wisconsin, who was of the same mind. The same anxiety led me, during an interval of my lecturing engagements, to make a flying trip to Washington where I hoped to help my friend in "stiffening the backs" of some Republican members who had taken the compromise epidemic. But the panic had already much subsided, at least in Congress. Mr. Potter managed to smuggle me on the floor of the House of Representatives, and there I witnessed one day a singular spectacle. The Honorable Thomas Corwin, "old Tom Corwin of Ohio," as he was popularly called, rose to address the House. He was the chairman of the then famous "Committee of Thirty-three," which was charged with the task of devising a compromise measure to compose the differences between the North and the South. He had a distinguished career behind him. He had been a Whig with anti-slavery leanings, had opposed the Mexican War in a speech celebrated for its boldness; had been a leading member of the Whig party; Governor of Ohio; Senator; and Secretary of the Treasury under President Fillmore; and had joined the Republican party in its struggles for free Territories, and had zealously advocated the election of Mr. Lincoln. He was best known as a popular orator of great wit, genial humor, and fascinating eloquence. Interesting stories were told about him, how he could produce wonderful effects by rapid changes of his facial expression. He had been one of the great "features" of the Harrison campaign in 1840, "the log-cabin and hard-cider campaign," when people would travel far "to hear Tom Corwin." Now he was an old man, highly esteemed and much liked by all, and when, on the occasion mentioned, he rose in the House, members without distinction of party crowded eagerly around him, standing up in the aisles and between the seats, so as to catch every sound of his voice, which was much enfeebled by age. I managed to get upon one of the steps leading up to the Speaker's chair and could, looking over the heads of those in front of me, see Mr. Corwin while he spoke; but from that distance, in spite of the breathless stillness reigning in the hall, I lost many of his sentences, because he spoke only in a low murmur. There he stood, not the Tom Corwin of the stump, who made his hearers roar with laughter or shout with enthusiasm, but an anxious old patriot, the faithful disciple of the old Whig school of compromisers, his swarthy face unillumined by a single spark of his accustomed humor, its expression grave and solicitous, his gushing eloquence with nervous intensity, almost with the accents of despair, imploring his hearers to accept what he thought necessary for the salvation of his country — and, around him, all listened to the old man as if spellbound, with a sort of tender veneration. Most of them had the fixed conviction in their minds that the time of compromise was over, and that all these efforts were in vain, while many of the Southerners were ready to go home and to join the insurrection, and most of the Northern Republicans were determined that the result of the election must stand as a thing finally decided, and not a thing to be bargained for. It was a memorable scene: the last pathetic gasp of the policy of compromise.
When Mr. Corwin sat down many of the members pressed around him to shake his hand after what was, probably, the last speech of his life. I too approached him and he seemed glad to see me. He kindly remembered that we had met on the platform of a mass-meeting at Alleghany City, and he expressed a wish that I would visit him at his quarters that evening, which I was happy to do. I found him alone, and we had a quiet talk. In the course of it, I frankly expressed my opinion that it would be fatal to stable and orderly government in a republic to permit the legal result of an election to become a matter of bargain and compromise between the majority and the minority and to purchase the submission to that result by the minority by concessions. "Yes, yes!" said Mr. Corwin. "I know you young men think that way; and, for aught I know, a majority of the Republicans think that way. But you must keep your Republic first. Now you will have to fight for it. But it is useless to argue further. I think myself that all the efforts for compromise will come to nothing. I have done the best I could, but on both sides they are like bull-dogs eager for the fray. We can only pray that God may protect the right."
When I rose to leave, he said: "I want to say something personal to you. At Alleghany City I heard you speak, and I noticed that you can crack a joke and make people laugh if you try. I want to say to you, young man, if you have any such faculty, don't cultivate it. I know how great the temptation is; I have yielded to it. One of the most dangerous things to a public man is to become known as a jester. People will go to hear such a man, and then they will be disappointed if he talks to them seriously. They will hardly listen to the best things he offers them. They will want to hear the buffoon, and are dissatisfied if the buffoon talks sober sense. That has been my lot — look at my career. I am an old man now. There has always been a great deal more in Tom Corwin than he got credit for! But he did not get credit because it was always expected that Tom Corwin could make people laugh. I do not know but they expected jokes from me in the House today. That has been my curse. I have long felt it, but then it was too late to get rid of the old reputation and to build up a new one. Take my example as a warning. Good-by, and God bless you." I was deeply touched by the words of the old statesman, and made an earnest effort to convince him that the House had listened to his speech with the intensest interest and profound reverence but he answered with a melancholy laugh, and again bade me to mind his advice.
The seceders spurning every compromise because they insisted upon the establishment of an independent Southern Confederacy, and the Republican majority insisting that the result of the election must be unconditionally submitted to by the minority, the bargain policy was bound to fail; and although the temporary consequences of that failure were terrible, it is well that it did fail. The acute Civil War that followed saved the American people no end of chronic civil wars which a successful questioning and a merely conditional acceptance of the legal result of a presidential election would inevitably have drawn after it. When I left Washington it seemed certain that, whatever else might happen, the fundamental principle of republican government would remain intact.
But the election of Mr. Lincoln brought me troubles of a more personal nature. My activity as a speaker and organizer in the campaign had given me a standing in the victorious party which caused me to be regarded more than ever by many Republicans as a person of influence. My Wisconsin tribulation repeated itself. I was flooded with letters requesting recommendations for appointment to office under the incoming administration. They came in a few instances from worthy and meritorious men whom I knew and whom I should have been glad to serve. But a large majority of them bore signatures entirely new to me, and I was astonished at the number of "friends" I had in the United States. In most cases that "friendship" was based upon some casual introduction at a public meeting, or the circumstance that my friend had belonged to a company of Wide-Awakes which had escorted me somewhere, or the equally important fact that he was personally acquainted with an uncle or cousin of mine. They were all sure that the new administration owed me some big position for the services I had rendered, and that, besides, I could also do much for my friends, as the administration could not properly refuse me anything, etc., etc. I could not dispose of these requests as I had done in Wisconsin three years before. The question what I should do was now much more serious and perplexing.
My general observations had indeed convinced me of the absurdity and mischievousness of the "clean sweep" following every change of party in power. But I had not yet gained a deep enough insight into all the demoralizing influences of the "spoils system" to enable me fully to appreciate the significance of the spectacle I was then witnessing. Moreover, many of the men engaged in the anti-slavery contest, myself among the number, were so profoundly impressed with the absolute righteousness of our cause from the moral point of view, that we could hardly understand how any sensible human being could advocate the other side without being subject to some dangerous delusion, or guilty of some obliquity of moral vision that would gravely affect the fitness of a person for public trust. This was not so extravagant a notion, as it ordinarily would have been, at a time when the existence of the Republic was at stake and might depend upon the absolute fidelity of those in official position; when it was well known that all the departments of the government were stocked with "rebel sympathizers," and when some of the leading secessionists openly boasted that they were always supplied with the earliest and best inside information about what was going on in government circles. It was fair to conclude that, if ever, something like a "clean sweep" of the offices was justifiable, if not even necessary, at that particular crisis. I was, therefore, not as much shocked at the rush for patronage as I should have been under different circumstances. But the idea that I, as an upstart "man of influence," should take an active part in the distribution of the Federal offices — even of offices of great importance — for some of the letters I had received referred to such — struck me as something grotesque. However, I concluded at last to confine myself to signing petitions or making personal recommendations of applicants whom I knew to be deserving men.
But now came my own ease. During the campaign, I may candidly say, it had never occurred to me that my efforts as a public speaker should, or might, be rewarded by appointment to a Federal office. But immediately after the election, it seemed to be generally taken for granted that the new administration would, as a matter of course, give me some prominent place. I received several addresses signed by a large number of German-Americans from different parts of the country, congratulating me upon the services I had rendered, and expressing the hope that the administration would show a proper appreciation of them. Prominent Republicans of American nativity, especially members of Congress in whose districts I had spoken, wrote to me in the same sense. I have to confess that this pleased me greatly, and soon I easily permitted my friends to persuade me, or perhaps, I easily persuaded myself, that it was entirely proper for me to expect some office of importance and dignity. But when it was suggested by some members of Congress that I should frankly tell Mr. Lincoln what I might wish to have, I positively refused. As I wrote to Mr. Potter — in one of the letters whose publication surprised me forty years later — I would not ask for anything, lest I compromise my political independence, which at no price I would give up. If the President, of his own free will, offered me a position not asked for, I might take it without burdening myself with any personal obligation. Thus I "left the matter in the hands of my friends," and these friends, especially the leading Republicans of Wisconsin, were very earnest in requesting the administration to offer me a first-class foreign mission.
From the photograph made by Hessler, immediately after Lincoln's nomination
It was thought important, in view of the troublous state of things, that as large as possible a number of Republicans be present in Washington at the time of Mr. Lincoln's inauguration, and I found a great many friends, old and new, when I arrived there on March 1st. The air was still thick with rumors of "rebel plots" to assassinate Mr. Lincoln, or to capture him and carry him off before he could take hold of the reins of government. He had stolen a march upon what conspiracy there may have been, by entering the National Capital unexpected and unobserved on the morning of February 23d, and was, no doubt, well guarded. The multitude of Republicans assembled in the city were not satisfied that the danger was over, and saw treasonable designs in every scowling face observed on the streets or in the windows — of which indeed there were a good many. But the inauguration passed off without disturbance. I was favored with a place in front of the great portico of the Capitol, from which I could distinctly see and hear every part of the official function. I saw Lincoln step forward to the desk upon which the Bible lay — his rugged face, appearing above all those surrounding him, calm and sad, but so unlike any other in that distinguished assemblage that one might well have doubted how they could work together. I saw Senator Douglas standing close by him, his defeated antagonist, the "little giant" of the past period, who, only two years before, had haughtily treated Lincoln like a tall dwarf. I witnessed the remarkable scene when Lincoln, about to deliver his inaugural address, could not at once find a convenient place for his hat, and Douglas took that hat and held it like an attendant, while Lincoln was speaking. I saw the withered form of Chief Justice Taney, the author of the famous Dred Scott decision, that judicial compend of the doctrine of slavery, administer the oath of office to the first President elected on a distinct anti-slavery platform. I saw, standing by, the outgoing President, James Buchanan, with his head slightly inclined on one side, and his winking eye, and his white neck-cloth — the man who had done more than any other to degrade an demoralize the National Government and to encourage the rebellion, now to retire to an unhonored obscurity, and to the dreary task of trying to make the world believe that he was a better patriot and statesman than he appeared to be. I heard every word pronounced by Abraham Lincoln's kindly voice, of that inaugural address which was to be a message of peace and good will, but the reception of which in the South as a proclamation of war showed clearly that no offer of compromise, indeed, that nothing short of complete acceptance of their scheme of an independent slave-holding empire would have satisfied the Southern leaders. Their answer to the inaugural was increased energy in the formation of the Confederate Government, and in agitating the cause of secession in the Southern States that had not yet seceded.
While these things were going on, I saw President Lincoln repeatedly, and he always received me with great cordiality. We spoke together as freely as we had before he was President. Our conversations turned upon questions of policy and upon the qualifications and claims of applicants for office whom I had recommended. My own case was never mentioned between us until he, with evident satisfaction, announced to me that I had been nominated for the position of Minister of the United States to Spain. The Senate confirmed my nomination without unusual delay. I was curious to know whether Senator Douglas, whom I had so bitterly attacked during the campaign, had offered any objection, and I was informed that he had not. But there had been, as I learned later from Mr. Potter, some objection to my nomination on the part of Mr. Seward, the Secretary of State. He argued that, as I had been engaged in revolutionary movements in Europe at a comparatively recent period, my appearance in a diplomatic capacity at a European court might not be favorably received, and that this was of importance at a critical time when we had especial reason for conciliating the good will of foreign governments. Mr. Lincoln — as my informant told me — replied that I could be trusted to conduct myself discreetly; at any rate, that he did so trust me; that it was not for the government of this Republic to discriminate against men for having made efforts in behalf of liberty elsewhere — efforts with which every good American at heart sympathized; that it might be well for European governments to realize this fact; and finally, that the political significance of my appointment would be entitled to much consideration. He was strongly supported in this view by Mr. Chase, the Secretary of the Treasury, and Mr. Montgomery Blair, the Postmaster General. When Mr. Lincoln took so peremptory a stand, Mr. Seward at last yielded, but not with good grace. Indeed, the matter gave him occasion for a singular display of temper. One day when Mr. Potter, accompanied by another Republican member of Congress from Wisconsin, discussed the subject with Mr. Seward in his office at the State Department, and incidentally remarked that the failure to bestow such a distinction upon me would be a severe disappointment to a good many people, Mr. Seward jumped up from his chair, paced the floor excitedly, and exclaimed:
"Disappointment! You speak to me of disappointment. To me, who was justly entitled to the Republican nomination for the presidency, and who had to stand aside and see it given to a little Illinois lawyer! You speak to me of disappointment!"
These stories came to me after the matter had been finally settled, too late to have any effect upon my conduct. I believed then, and now believe them to be substantially true, as Mr. Potter told them to me, including that of Mr. Seward's outbreak. Mr. Seward permitted his feeling that the Republican party had grossly wronged him, to run away with his temper on various other well-authenticated occasions; and at that time he had, like many others, not yet arrived at a just appreciation of Mr. Lincoln's character and abilities, and looked down upon him as a person much below his level. But as to the reasons Mr. Seward urged against my being sent as American Minister to a European court at that time, he was clearly right. I think I should have judged as he did, had I been Secretary of State. It is true, his apprehensions were not justified by the event. Soon after the confirmation of my appointment by the Senate I received a visit from Señor Tassara, the Spanish Minister in Washington, who had been a journalist, and, I believe, at one time, somewhat of a revolutionary character himself. He gave me every reason to think that my appointment was quite acceptable to the Spanish Government. And in the course of time my personal relations with that government became in fact very agreeable. But it might have been otherwise, and Mr. Seward was perfectly correct in not wishing to take any superfluous risk in that respect. Whenever in later years I reflected upon that part of my career, I have inwardly reproached myself for not anticipating at that time Mr. Seward's view of the matter, although it was kept secret from me while the question was still pending. I certainly ought to have done so. But I have to confess that my pride — or I might perhaps more properly call it my vanity — was immensely flattered by the thought of returning to Europe clothed in all the dignity of a Minister Plenipotentiary and Envoy Extraordinary of the United States only a few years after having left my native land as a political refugee. When, however, I heard of the discussions that had preceded my appointment, I did not enjoy that triumph as I had thought I should. Even while receiving public and private congratulations in unexpected abundance, I was secretly troubled by a lurking doubt as to whether the office I had obtained was really one that I should hold, and whether the fact that my friends had sought it for me with my knowledge and approval, was not really equivalent to having asked for it myself. In this state of mind I left Washington for my home in Wisconsin.
I had not been there many days when the portentous news of the rebel attack on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor startled the country. The President's proclamation calling for 75,000 volunteers followed immediately, and, less that a week later, the bloody assault of a secessionist mob upon the Sixth Massachusetts Regiment passing through Baltimore. It is impossible to describe the electric effect these occurrences produced upon the popular mind in the Northern States. Until the first gun was fired upon Fort Sumter many patriotic people still entertained a lingering hope of saving the Union without a conflict of arms. Now civil war had suddenly become a certainty. The question of what might have been utterly vanished before the question of what was to be. A mighty shout arose that the Republic must be saved at any cost. It was one of those sublime moments of patriotic exaltation when everybody seems willing to do everything and to sacrifice everything for a common cause — one of those ideal sun-bursts in the history of nations.
The newspapers reported that the City of Washington had been cut off from its railroad communications through Baltimore, and was almost entirely defenseless; that a rebel force might invade it at any moment and do no end of mischief without meeting serious opposition; that the department buildings were being barricaded and the government clerks armed with muskets; and that the government needed the help of every man who could get there. I thought it my duty to hurry to Washington at once, and offer what service I could render. I put the pistols I had carried in the Kinkel affair into my hand-bag, and started off. I shall never forget the contrast between this and the preceding journey. When only a short time before I had traveled from Washington westward, a dreadful load of gloomy expectancy seemed to oppress the whole country. Passengers in the railway cars talked together in murmurs, as if afraid of the sound of their own voices. At the railroad stations stood men with anxious faces waiting for the newspapers, which they hastily opened to read the headings, and then handed the papers to one another with sighs of disappointment. Multitudes of people seemed to be perplexed not only as to what they might expect, but also as to what they wished. And now what a change! Every railroad station filled with an excited crowd hurrahing for the Union and Lincoln. The Stars and Stripes fluttering from numberless staffs. The drum and fife resounding everywhere. The cars thronged with young men hurrying to the nearest enlistment place, and anxious only lest there be no room left for them in the regiments hastily forming, or lest the regiments so formed be too late to secure Washington from a rebel "coup-de-main." To judge from the scenes I witnessed on the railroads, old party differences were forgotten. Men who had shaken their fists against one another during the political campaign, now shook hands in token of a common patriotism. Social distinctions, too, seemed to have vanished. The millionaires' sons rushed to the colors by the side of the laborers. The railroad journey was as through a continued series of recruiting camps full of noise and bustle, day and night.
When we arrived at Perryville on the Susquehanna, between Wilmington, Delaware, and Baltimore, Maryland, we found railroad communication on that line between Washington and the North still interrupted. The Maryland secessionists were reported to be in control of Baltimore. The railroad passengers for Washington had to board a steamboat at Perryville that would take them to Annapolis, where a small force of Federal troops was assembled under the command of Major General Benjamin F. Butler of Massachusetts. Introducing myself to the guard as an officer of the government on his way to Washington, I was at once admitted to the presence of the General at his headquarters. I found him clothed in a gorgeous militia uniform adorned with rich gold embroidery. His rotund form, his squinting eye, and the peculiar puff of his cheeks made him look a little grotesque. Only a person much more devoid of the sense of humor than I was, would have failed to notice that General Butler thoroughly enjoyed his position of power, which, of course, was new to him, and that he keenly appreciated its theatrical possibilities. He received me with great courtesy, and assured me at once that he would see me safe through to my destination; that he was just engaged in re-opening the railroad line from Annapolis to Annapolis Junction, on the road connecting Baltimore with Washington; that the first train would be started before nightfall; that I would be welcome to travel on that train; and that, until the time of my departure, all the conveniences of his headquarters would be at my disposal. While we were conversing, officers entered from time to time to make reports or to ask for orders. Nothing could have been more striking than the air of high authority with which the General received them, and the tone of curt peremptoriness peculiar to the military commander on the stage, with which he expressed his satisfaction or discontent, and with which he gave his instructions. And, after every such scene, he looked around with a sort of triumphant gaze, as if to assure himself that the bystanders were duly impressed. But he did expedite business, and, no doubt, he got over his theatrical fancies as the novelty of the situation wore off.
MAJOR-GENERAL BENJAMIN F. BUTLER
From a photograph in the collection of Robert Coster
Before dark the train was ready to start. One of General Butler's staff-officers told me a little story which will bear repeating, as it illustrates the character of our volunteer regiments. When our troops took possession of Annapolis, there was but one locomotive in the railroad shop, and that locomotive, had been partly taken to pieces by the "rebel sympathizers" of the place, in order to make it unfit for use. A volunteer regiment was drawn up in line, and men were called for who thought themselves able to repair a locomotive. A dozen or more privates stepped forward, and one of them exclaimed: "Why, that locomotive was built in my shop!" In a short time the locomotive was again in working order.
The General had sent a detachment of infantry ahead of the train to guard the track and to scour the woods between Annapolis and Annapolis Junction, so that we proceeded only at a snail's pace. It was past midnight when we reached the Junction. There we found Colonel Ambrose Burnside with his Rhode Island Regiment encamped in a grove of tall trees. The camp-fires were still burning brightly, the soldiers wrapped in red blankets, lying around them in picturesque groups. Colonel Burnside, the very image of soldiery beauty, was still up and doing, and received us with his peculiar heartiness. Young Governor Sprague of Rhode Island, in military attire, with a waving yellow plume on his black felt hat, was also on the ground. He would not remain behind when his people went to the front. This Rhode Island Regiment was noted as one that had a remarkable number of millionaires in its ranks.
Soon after sunrise we had a train for Washington under way, filled with soldiers and a few civilian passengers. I walked into the city while the soldiers were getting into line at the station. The streets, which a few weeks ago I had seen filled with a lively multitude, now looked deserted and gloomy. Of the few persons I met on the sidewalk, some stared at me with a scowl on their brows, as if asking me: "What do you want here?" I was afterwards told that when the first troops, that had meanwhile arrived, marched into town they were received from doors and windows by the inhabitants with jeers and curses and insulting epithets, the resident population of Washington largely sympathizing with the secessionists. As soon as possible I reported myself to Mr. Lincoln at the White House. He seemed surprised, but glad to see me. I told him why I had come, and he approved. In his quaint way he described to me the anxieties he had passed through since the rebel attack on Fort Sumter and before the first Northern troops reached Washington. He told me of an incident characteristic of the situation which I wish I could repeat in his own language. I can give only the substance. One afternoon after he had issued his call for troops, he sat alone in this room, and a feeling came over him as if he were utterly deserted and helpless. He thought any moderately strong body of secessionist troops, if there were any in the neighborhood, might come over the "long bridge" across the Potomac, and just take him and the members of the Cabinet — the whole lot of them. Then he suddenly heard a sound like the boom of a cannon. "There they are!" he said to himself. He expected every moment somebody would rush in with the report of an attack. The White House attendants, whom he interrogated, had heard nothing. But nobody came, and all remained still. Then he thought he would look after the thing himself. So he walked out, and walked, and walked, until he got to the Arsenal. There he found the doors all open and not a soul to guard them. Anybody might have gone in and helped himself to the arms. There was perfect solitude and stillness all around. Then he walked back to the White House without noticing the slightest sign of disturbance. He met a few persons on the way, some of whom he asked whether they had not heard something like the boom of a cannon. Nobody had heard anything, and so he supposed it must have been a freak of his imagination. It is probable that at least a guard was sent to the Arsenal that evening. The confusion of those days must have been somewhat like that prevailing at the time of the capture of Washington in the War of 1812.
In the course of our conversation I opened my heart to Mr. Lincoln about my troubles of conscience. I told him that since recent events had made a warlike conflict with the seceding States certain, it was much against my feelings to go to Spain as Minister and to spend my days in the ease and luxury of a diplomatic position, while the young men of the North were exposing their lives in the field, in defense of the life of the Republic; that, having helped, as a public speaker, to bring about the present condition of things, I thought I would rather bear my share of the consequences; that I had seen some little field service in the revolutionary conflicts of my native country, and had ever since made military matters a favorite subject of study, and that I should be glad to resign my mission to Spain and at once join the volunteer army.
Mr. Lincoln listened to me with attention and evident sympathy. Then, after a moment of silence, he said that he fully understood and appreciated my feelings, but that he would not advise me to give up the Spanish mission. He thought that this diplomatic position might eventually offer me a greater field of usefulness. The war might be over very soon. Many people, whose opinions were entitled to respect, thought so. Mr. Seward was speaking of sixty or ninety days. He himself was not at all as sanguine as that, but he might be wrong. However, in a few weeks we would, as to that point, see more clearly. He did not know whether it were necessary that I should start for Spain immediately. I might see Seward about that. He could probably arrange everything so as to enable me to delay my departure at least for a month or two. Accordingly I called upon Mr. Seward and told him of my conversation with the President. Mr. Seward was very complaisant. He thought that Mr. Horatio Perry, a very able and patriotic gentleman who had formerly been connected with our mission to Spain, and who, with my hearty concurrence, had recently been appointed Secretary of Legation, and was already on the ground, might temporarily act as chargé d'affaires until my arrival at Madrid, and that, therefore, I need not hurry.
I then laid before Mr. Lincoln a plan I had formed, as follows: in the impending war an efficient cavalry force would undoubtedly be needed. The formation and drilling of cavalry troops composed of raw material would require much time. But I was confident that there were in the City of New York and vicinity many hundreds of able-bodied immigrants from Germany who had served in German cavalry regiments, and who had only to be armed and put upon horses to make cavalrymen immediately fit for active service. There were also, to command them, a sufficient number of experienced cavalry officers trained in the Prussian or some other German army. I thought that I, being somewhat known among the German-born citizens of the country, was a suitable person to organize such a regiment if the government gave me proper authority. Mr. Lincoln was very much pleased with my project, and sent me at once to Mr. Cameron, the Secretary of War, to discuss with him the necessary arrangements. Mr. Cameron was also very much pleased, but thought it necessary that I should submit the matter to General Scott, the commanding general of the army, before final action were taken.
I had never seen General Scott, but had heard him described as a somewhat pompous old gentleman, not inclined to tolerate opinions on military matters in any way differing from his own. Looking forward to an interview with him on such subjects with some misgiving, I asked Mr. Cameron for a letter of introduction, setting forth as strongly as possible my claim to kind attention, so that the General might not at once put me down as a mere intruder seeking a favor for himself. Thus armed, I approached the General, who, after having read my letter, invited me to take a chair. But when I explained my scheme to him, his face assumed a look of stern and somewhat impatient authority. His question whether I had any practical experience in the organizing and drilling of mounted troops was of ill omen. When I had confessed that I had no such experience, he replied that he had concluded so from my proposition. If we were to have any war at all, he added, it would be a short one. It would be over long before any volunteer cavalry troops could be made fit for active service in the field. Moreover, the theater of that war would be Virginia, and the surface of Virginia was so cut up with fences and other obstructions as to make operations with large bodies of cavalry impracticable. The regular dragoons he had were quite sufficient for all needs.
I saw, of course, the utter uselessness of any attempt I might make further to argue the matter with such an authority. When I reported my conversation with General Scott to Mr. Lincoln and Mr. Cameron, they both agreed that the old gentleman was taking too narrow a view of present exigencies. I promptly received the desired authority for raising the regiment, and departed for the City of New York. I found the people of New York in the full blaze of the patriotic emotions excited by the firing upon Fort Sumter and the President's call for volunteers. There were recruiting stations in all parts of the town. The formation of regiments proceeded rapidly. Wealthy merchants were vying with each other in lavish contributions of money for the fitting out of troops, and numberless women of all classes of society were busy stitching garments or bandages for the soldiers, or embroidering standards. There was hardly anything else talked about in public places, in the clubs, and in family circles. The whole town constantly resounded with patriotic speeches and martial music. Party spirit seemed to be fairly lifted off its feet by the national enthusiasm. Men who but yesterday had cursed every Republican as a "rank abolitionist" and every abolitionist as an enemy of the country, and who had vociferously vowed that no armed body of men should be permitted to pass through the City of New York for the purpose of "making war upon a sovereign State," now, like Daniel E. Sickles in the East, and John A. Logan in the West, rushed to arms themselves. There were, doubtless, not a few persons in the Northern States who harbored sentiments of bitter hostility to the new administration and to the cause it represented; but that hostility, which at a later period found vent in the so-called "Copperhead" movement, was, in the spring and early summer of 1861, either awed into silence, or its utterances were at least so feeble as to be hardly audible in the roar of the patriotic storm. It was a genuine uprising of a people with all its noble inspirations. For once there was a true spirit of equality and fraternity in this great popular impulse to rescue the Republic. Social distinctions were forgotten. The rich merchant's son found it quite natural to shoulder his musket by the side of his porter, or to be drilled by his clerk who happened to have learned the manual of arms as a member of a militia company. Nor was the foreign-born citizen less zealous than the native. The Irish, although they had almost all been Democrats, were conspicuous in their warlike spirit, and it has been calculated that the Germans furnished, from first to last, a larger contingent of men in proportion to their numbers, than any other nationality.
There are interesting stories told of the tricks resorted to by some patriotic youths to smuggle themselves into the ranks as private soldiers under the first limited calls for troops. Then very many well-known instances in which the privilege of being accepted as a private soldier was not only sought with irrepressible zeal, as if it had been a most valuable office, but in which it was obtained by very questionable means, such as buying off with heavy bribes and then fraudulently personating more fortunate applicants who had actually been enrolled. Such cases came to my personal knowledge — among others, that of a well-educated youth who was rejected by the enlisting officers because he labored under some serious physical disability. He thereupon effected his enrollment by something very much like bribery and false swearing; then by acts of extraordinary bravery he won promotion to the rank of captain; although lame on one side, he was one of the most efficient and daring officers I have ever known — I speak from knowledge, as he served for a time on my staff — and he finally died a genuine hero's death while riding close into the enemy's lines for the purpose of securing to his commander some important information. He hailed from Ohio, and his name was Newcome.
When I arrived in New York on my recruiting mission, several German infantry regiments were almost completed — mainly under the leadership of Colonel Max Weber, who had been an officer in the army of the Grand Duchy of Baden, which, in 1840, went over to the revolutionists of that period; of Colonel Blenker, who had commanded part of the revolutionary forces of the Palatinate, and of Colonel von Gilsa, who had been an officer in the Prussian army. At the same time two other German revolutionary officers, Colonel von Schimmelfennig and Colonel Mahler, who in 1847 had served in the Palatinate and in Baden, were organizing German volunteer regiments in Pittsburg and in Philadelphia, while Franz Sigel and other German revolutionists were, in the same manner, active in the West. In New York Colonel Blenker attracted the most attention. He was indeed a personality of extraordinary picturesqueness. In my reminiscences of the insurrection of 1849 in the Palatinate I have described how the appearance of Colonel Blenker's martial figure on a prancing stallion at the head of some well-armed battalions revived the spirits of the retreating revolutionary forces. After the failure of the South-German insurrection, he migrated, with many thousands of companions in misfortune, to this country, and became the traveling agent of a then very popular and prosperous German weekly, the Criminalzeitung, edited by Mr. Rudolph Lexow. Whenever Blenker appeared in a town he soon had a large audience around him, attracted by his grand manner and the high-flown eloquence of his conversation. This eloquence he exerted without stint, to the amusement of many, while his honorable character was generally respected. At the outbreak of the Civil War he promptly offered his services to the government, and was eminently successful as the organizer of a volunteer regiment, the Eighth New York. Immediately upon my, arrival in New York I called upon him at his hotel, the Prescott House, and was received with magnificent cordiality. When I had accepted his invitation to drink a glass of wine and to smoke a cigar with him, he rang the bell and said to the astonished waiter: "Bring me a case of Burgundy and a box of your best Havanas!" A few days later he invited my wife, who meanwhile had joined me, and myself, to inspect his regiment, which, if I remember rightly, was camped in Terrace Garden, East 58th Street. The fine regimental band struck up as we were conducted by Colonel Blenker, in full uniform, to a little platform erected for the purpose, and the regiment passed before us in parade, whereupon the officers were assembled to be introduced to "Lady Schurz," as Colonel Blenker insisted upon calling my wife. This done, the officers were dismissed by Colonel Blenker with a wave of the hand that could not have been more imperial if Louis XIV himself had performed it. Of all the official functions that it has been my fortune to witness, none was more solemnly ceremonious than this.
In those days the marching of a newly-formed volunteer regiment down Broadway to the Battery, where it embarked for Washington, was every time an occasion for outbursts of patriotic enthusiasm on the part of the multitudes crowding the sidewalks and the doors and windows. The people seemed never to have enough of such spectacles. But when Blenker's regiment marched out, the popular demonstration passed all bounds. Not only "all Germany" of New York was on the street, but also many thousands of men and women of other nationalities, who had heard of the superb Colonel and his men. And their expectations were not disappointed. The regiment, clothed in light gray uniforms — at that period the volunteer organizations were still permitted to follow their fancy in the matter of dress — presented the finest possible appearance in point of equipment as well as of soldierly bearing. The regiment band was excellent. And at the head of the regiment marched, on foot, Colonel Blenker, with a swinging stride that astonished the natives. Nothing could have surpassed the lofty grace with which he acknowledged the boisterous acclamations of the admiring throng on the sidewalks and the waving of handkerchiefs that greeted him from the windows.
When in the course of events he had been, deservedly, promoted to a brigadier-generalship, his headquarters in the field were the wonder and envy of the whole army of the Potomac. His tent was unique in the elaborateness and taste of its appointments. Not only officers of the army but civilians from afar came to see it, and he was lavish in his hospitality. Great things were told of the reception he gave to General McClellan when that commander visited him. Our war had attracted many German officers who sought service in our army, among them noblemen of high rank. Some of these were attached to General Blenker's staff as "additional aides-de-camp." He was thus enabled to form a sort of court around him which abounded in high titles. A story was passing from mouth to mouth that General Blenker was often heard to give orders in. this wise: "Prince A., you will instruct Count B. to inspect the pickets to-night, and to take Baron S. with him."
But Blenker proved that a man can be a perfect stage-general and at the same time a very efficient soldier. He was a thoroughly brave man, an excellent organizer, and an efficient commander. The regiment he had formed was a model regiment, and the brigade commanded by him on the ill-fated day of the first battle of Bull Run stood firm as a rock, in perfect order, when the rout of our panic-stricken army seemed to sweep everything else with it. While he amused his friends by his theatrical oddities as a type, he still enjoyed their sincere respect.
In New York, I found that many of the German cavalrymen I had counted upon had already enlisted in the infantry regiments then forming. But there were enough of them left to enable me to organize several companies in a very short time, and I should certainly have completed my regiment in season for the summer campaign, had I not been cut short in my work by another call from the government. I received a letter from the Secretary of State informing me that circumstances had rendered my departure for my place at Madrid eminently desirable, and that he wished me to report myself to him at Washington as soon as possible. This was a hard blow. So I had to leave the country at that critical period and to go on my diplomatic errand after all. But hard as it was, I had to obey. I took it as a just punishment for ever having yielded to the vain thought of appearing in Europe as an American Minister Plenipotentiary. I promptly secured the transfer of my recruiting authority to Colonel McReynolds of Michigan, and left New York for Washington. My regiment was fully organized by my successor before the lapse of many weeks, and won an excellent reputation in the field as the First New York Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, commonly called the "Lincoln Cavalry." Thus it turned out that for once General Scott's military judgment was at fault. The war was not over before the volunteer cavalry could take the field, and the fences and other obstructions on the surface of Virginia did not prevent it from rendering good service.
Having reported myself to Mr. Seward, I was informed by him that, while Mr. Perry, the Secretary of Legation at Madrid, had, as chargé d'affaires, done the business of the office quite satisfactorily, and he could not too strongly recommend him to my confidence, the presence of a minister of full rank was now needed near the Spanish Court.
I hoped he would explain to me the urgencies of the situation in detail, but he simply referred me to my written instructions, which I found to be couched in rather general terms and somewhat oratorical language. In his conversations with me Mr. Seward was exceedingly amiable, but I thought I detected something like restraint in his utterances, and he alluded repeatedly to my relations with Mr. Lincoln, which, he said, seemed to be quite confidential. I did not, at that time, know anything about the divergencies of opinion existing in the Cabinet as to the policy to be followed by the government, and of the clash that had taken place between Mr. Lincoln and Mr. Seward, and which probably had greatly shaken Mr. Seward's assurance of mastery in the administration. Indeed, nobody could at that time have imagined the possibility of what had actually happened. As was revealed to the public only twenty-five years later by Ray and Nicolay in their life of Lincoln, Seward had, on the 1st of April, 1861, presented a memorandum to Mr. Lincoln, in which he virtually summoned the President to surrender the whole conduct of the policy of the government to him, the Secretary of State, and in which he sketched a program according to which the slavery question should be dropped out of sight and certain diplomatic demands be made upon Spain, France, and Russia, which are usually followed by war. And Mr. Lincoln had, in his gentle way, in his answer reminded Mr. Seward that it was the President's business and responsibility to determine the policy of the administration; and he had further intimated his disapproval of Mr. Seward's fantastic suggestions of foreign embroilment by not mentioning them at all. Thus this attempt at a sort of palace revolution had passed behind the scenes unknown to anybody except the actors in it, Mr. Lincoln keeping the secret from motives of generosity and patriotic considerations, and Mr. Seward naturally concealing a defeat which would have become fatal to his standing and his ambitions had it become public.
Thus it was left to posterity to wonder at the strange confusion of so able a mind as Seward's, which not only glaringly misjudged the mental and moral caliber of such a man as Lincoln, but conceived a scheme of policy which, if adopted, would inevitably have resulted in the ruin of the Republic. Seward's conduct on this occasion is, indeed, one of the psychological puzzles of history. On the other hand, the late revelation of this amazing incident has served only to heighten the admiration in which posterity holds the President who, in the face of so galling a provocation, was great enough to forgive the insult as a temporary aberration of the offender, and to consider only what mischief a Cabinet-crisis for such reasons might have wrought at the time, and what service such a man as Seward might still render to the Republic if wisely controlled. And thus the secret was religiously kept until the historian disclosed it.
But there was many an uneasy feeling floating about in the atmosphere of Washington in those days. According to the reports coming from the Southern States, the rebellion was rapidly organizing and strengthening itself, State after State joining the Confederacy, and the Southern people rushing to arms with an enthusiasm very much like that which fired the hearts of the people of the North — a startling spectacle: two peoples taking up arms against each other — one to maintain the integrity and lift up the character of the great Republic; the other to destroy that Republic for the purpose of preserving their home institution of slavery in an independent empire, both animated with the same consciousness of right, each inspired by the same devotion to what each considered its holy cause, and willing to fight and suffer and die for that cause, each convinced that the cause of the other was the acme of human wickedness and praying to the same God for his aid against its enemy!
As the South gathered strength, the North became impatient for action, and the administration was blamed for its slowness in getting ready for the decisive blow. Washington fairly buzzed with criticism, for the most part unjust because it did not take into account that the government did not find ready to its hand, but had to create the means by which "action" could have been made effective. But the question was frequently asked in that atmosphere of discontentment, whether Abraham Lincoln was really the man to cope with a situation bristling with problems so perplexing. This question nobody seemed at that time ready to answer. Those who visited the White House — and the White House appeared to be open to whosoever wished to enter — saw there a man of unconventional manners, who, without the slightest effort to put on dignity, treated all men alike, much like old neighbors; whose speech had not seldom a rustic flavor about it; who always seemed to have time for a homely talk and never to be in a hurry to press business, and who occasionally spoke about important affairs of State with the same nonchalance — I might almost say, irreverence — with which he might have discussed an every-day law case in his office at Springfield, Illinois. People were puzzled. Some interesting stories circulated about Lincoln's wit, his quaint sayings, and also about his kindness of heart and the sympathetic loveliness of his character; but, as to his qualities as a statesman, serious people who did not intimately know him were inclined to reserve their judgment.
I had the good fortune of coming nearer to Charles Sumner in these days. Since the members from the seceding States had left the United States Senate, the Republicans commanded a majority in that body, and Sumner was by common consent made chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations, a position for which he was unquestionably by far the fittest man among his colleagues. He knew Europe, and followed with intelligent understanding the political developments of the Old World. He showed a kind interest in my own experiences and observations and we had frequent conversations about kindred subjects. He found that he could speak to me on such things with a feeling that, having had some European experience myself, I would more easily understand him than most of those with whom he had intercourse; and thus a certain confidentiality grew up between us, which, in the course of time, was to ripen into genuine friendship.
Sumner had never seen Lincoln before he arrived in Washington. The conditions under which Lincoln had risen into prominence in the West were foreign to Sumner's acquaintance — perhaps even to his imagination. When he met Lincoln for the first time he was greatly amazed and puzzled by what he saw and heard. He confessed as much as this to me. Lincoln was utterly unlike to Sumner's ideal of a statesman. The refined New Englander, who, after having enjoyed a thorough classical education, had seen much of the great world at home and abroad, and conceived an exalted idea of the dignity of an American Senator and of a President of the great American Republic, could hardly understand this Western product of American democracy in the original shape. In the conversations he had with the President he, indeed, noticed, now and then, flashes of thought and bursts of illuminating expression which struck him as extraordinary, although, being absolutely without any sense of humor, he often lost Lincoln's keenest points. But on the whole he could not get rid of his misgivings as to how this seemingly untutored child of nature would master the tremendous task before him. He had, indeed, by Mr. Lincoln's occasional utterances, been confirmed in his belief that the President was a deeply convinced and faithful anti-slavery man; and since the destruction of slavery was uppermost in Sumner's mind as the greatest object to be accomplished, he found comfort in that assurance.
But he was much troubled by what he called the slow working of Mr. Lincoln's mind and his deplorable hesitancy in attacking the vital question. He profoundly distrusted Seward on account of his compromising attitude at the critical period between the election and Mr. Lincoln's inauguration, and also on account of the mysterious, delphic utterances Mr. Seward now occasionally gave forth. But he had great faith in Chase, whose anti-slavery principles he regarded as above all temptation, and whose influence with the President, he hoped, would neutralize Seward's.
But Chase, as I concluded from conversations I had with him, was not in a state of mind that would make the establishment of confidential relations between him and Lincoln easy. He did not give his disappointment as a defeated aspirant to the presidency so vehement an expression as Seward did, but he felt it no less keenly. Neither did he venture upon so drastic a demonstration of his underestimate of Lincoln's character and ability as Seward had done by his memorandum of April 1st; but I doubt whether his opinion of the President was much higher than Seward's had been before Lincoln's gentle but decisive victory over him. I concluded this, not from what Chase said, but rather from what he did not say when the conversation turned upon the President. This feeling only intensified Chase's natural reserve of manner, and, as became evident in the course of time, the relations between Chase and Lincoln always remained such as will exist between two men who, in their official intercourse, do not personally come near to each other and are not warmed into confidential heartiness.
When I called upon Mr. Lincoln to take leave, he received me with the old cordiality and expressed his sincere regret that, after all, I had to go away before this cruel war was over; but as Seward wanted it, I must go, of course, and he hoped it would all be for the best. We had some conversation about the state of affairs as it had developed itself since I had seen him last. He expressed the intensest gratification at the enthusiastic popular response to his call for volunteers, and at the patriotic attitude taken by so many leading Democrats. He warmly praised the patriotic action of the Germans of St. Louis in the taking of Camp Jackson. The criticism to which the administration was being subjected affected him keenly, but did not irritate him against those who exercised it. He always allowed that those who differed from us might be as honest as we were. He thought if the administration had so far "stumbled along," as was said, it had, on the whole, "stumbled along in the right direction." But he expressed great anxiety as to the attitude foreign countries, especially England and France, with regard to our troubles, and this anxiety was much increased by the British Queen's proclamation of neutrality, the news of which had recently arrived. He gave me to understand that he deplored having given so little attention to foreign affairs and being so dependent upon other people's judgment, and that he felt the necessity of "studying up" on the subject as much his opportunities permitted him. I did not know then that only a short time before he had found himself obliged very seriously to modify one of Mr. Seward's despatches to Mr. Charles Francis Adams, our Minister in England, in order to avoid complications that might have become very grave. Neither did Mr. Lincoln drop any hint of this to me, but he said that he wanted me, when in Europe, to watch public sentiment there as closely as possible, and he added: "Remember now when you are abroad, that, whenever anything occurs to you that you want to tell me personally, or that you think I ought to know, you shall write me directly." I did not anticipate then how soon I would have to do this.
Before parting I told Mr. Lincoln that I had a German brother-in-law with me in Washington, Mr. Henry Meyer, a young merchant from Hamburg, and an ardent friend of this country, who would be proud to pay his respects to the President. Could I bring him for a moment? "Certainly," said Mr. Lincoln, "bring him to-morrow about lunch time and lunch with me. I guess Mary (Mrs. Lincoln) will have something for us to eat." Accordingly the next day I brought my brother-in-law, who was greatly astonished at this unexpected invitation to lunch with the President, and much troubled about the etiquette to be observed. I found it difficult to quiet him with the assurance that in this case there was no etiquette at all. But he was still more astonished when Mr. Lincoln, instead of waiting for a ceremonious bow, shook him by the hand like an old acquaintance and said in his hearty way that he was glad to see the brother-in-law of "this young man here," and that he hoped the Americans treated him well. Mrs. Lincoln, "Mary," as the President again called her — was absent, being otherwise engaged, and there were no other guests. So we had Mr. Lincoln at the table all to ourselves. He seemed to be in excellent spirits, asked many questions about Hamburg, which my brother-in-law, who spoke English fluently, answered in an entertaining manner, and Mr. Lincoln found several occasions for inserting funny stories, at which not only we, but he himself, too, laughed most heartily. As we left the White House, my companion could hardly find words to express his puzzled admiration for the man who, having risen from the bottom of the social ladder to one of the most exalted stations in the world, had remained so perfectly natural and so absolutely unconscious of how he appeared to others — a man to whom it did not occur for a single moment that a person in his position might put on a certain dignity to be always maintained, and who bore himself with such genial sincerity and kindliness that the dignity was not missed, and that one would have regretted to see him different.
A few days later I was afloat on my way to Spain.