The Diary of Gideon Welles
THE CABAL AGAINST SEWARD, AND THE EMANCIPATION PROCLAMATION
Wednesday, December 3, 1862. A CHANGE of the commander of the Army of the Potomac has taken place. Stanton is gratified. McClellan is ordered to Trenton, and Burnside succeeds him. Burnside will doubtless do his best, is patriotic and amiable, and had he greater powers and grasp would make an acceptable and popular, if not a great, General. I hope the War Department will sustain him more earnestly than it did McClellan. Of the change I knew nothing, and wished to know nothing when it was made. I had expected it might take place earlier, when McClellan seemed testing the forbearance of the government, and not one good word was said for him (it seemed there could not be); but after he commenced to move, I was less prepared to see him displaced, and the announcement came with a shock.
Thursday, December 4, 1862.
The Members of Congress from Minnesota are urging the President vehemently to give his assent to the execution of three hundred Indian captives, but they will not succeed. Undoubtedly the savage wretches have been guilty of great atrocities; and I have as little doubt the stories of their barbarities, bad enough in themselves, are greatly exaggerated. What may have been the aggressions and provocations which led the Indians on, is not told us. When the intelligent representatives of a State can deliberately besiege the government to take the lives of these ignorant barbarians by wholesale, after they have surrendered themselves prisoners, it would seem the sentiments of the representatives were but slightly removed from the barbarians whom they would execute. The Minnesotans are greatly exasperated, and threaten the administration if it shows clemency.
Some of the Members of Congress begin early to manifest a perverse and bad spirit. Foremost as regards the Navy, of which he should be the friend and organ, is John P. Hale, Chairman of the Senate Naval Committee. He is censorious to all the administration, but especially to the Navy Department, which, instead of supporting, he omits no opportunity to assail and embarrass. Calvert of the House is equally virulent.
Friday , December 12, 1862.
Some conversation in Cabinet respecting the proposed new State of West Virginia. The bill has not yet reached the President, who thinks the creation of this new State at this time of doubtful expediency.
[The change in commanders of the Army of the Potomac meant fighting. On the 13th of December, Burnside, who five weeks previously had, much against his will, been appointed to the command, attacked Lee’s army intrenched along the heights of Fredericksburg. His defeat was one of the worst disasters of the war.]
Sunday, December 14, 1862.
There has been fighting for two or three days at Fredericksburg, and OUR troops were said to have crossed the river. The rumor at the War Department —and I get only rumors — is that our troops have done well; that Burnside and our generals are in good spirits. But there is something unsatisfactory or not entirely satisfactory in this intelligence, or in the method of communicating it. When I get nothing clear and explicit at the War Department I have my apprehensions. They fear to admit disastrous truths. Adverse tidings are suppressed with a deal of fuss and mystery, — a shuffling over of papers and maps, and a far-reaching vacant gaze at something undefined and indescribable.
Burnside is on trial. I have my fears that he has not sufficient grasp and power for the position given him, or the ability to handle so large a force, but he is patriotic, and his aims are right. It appears to me a mistake to fight the enemy in so strong a position. They have selected their own ground, and we meet them there. Halleck is General in Chief, but no one appears to have any confidence in his military management or thinks him able to advise Burnside.
Monday, December 15, 1862.
No news from Fredericksburg, and no news at this time I fear is not good news.
Secretary Smith2 called on me to unburden his mind. He dislikes Seward’s management, and the general course pursued in Cabinet and between the members generally. Thinks Seward the chief cause of the unfortunate state of things.
THE CABAL AGAINST SEWARD
[In the early days of Lincoln’s administration, Mr. Seward and Mr. Chase became representatives respectively of the conservative and radical elements of the Republican party. Their political differences were intensified by Chase’s ambition and by his disloyalty to the President. In the Senate a marked hostility had begun by this time to manifest itself toward the Secretary of State, who was supposed to encourage the irresolution of the President, and who, as Chase put it, “ adhered too tenaciously to men who proved themselves unworthy and dangerous, like McClellan; ” or, in Lincoln’s phrase, “ While they seem to believe in my honesty, they also appear to think that when I have in me any good purpose, Seward contrives to suck it out of me unperceived.” A Republican caucus determined that Mr. Seward should be eliminated, and a committee was appointed to wait on the President. Seward’s old friend, Senator Preston King of New York, was the first messenger of the tidings.]
Friday, December 19, 1862.
Soon after reaching the Department this A. M. I received a note from Nicolay, the President’s Secretary, requesting me to attend a special Cabinet meeting at half-past ten. All the members were punctually there, except Seward.
The President desired that what he had to communicate should not be the subject of conversation elsewhere, and proceeded to inform us that on Wednesday evening, about six o’clock, Senator Preston King and F. W. Seward 3 came into his room, each bearing a communication. That which Mr. King presented was the resignation of the Secretary of State, and Mr. F. W. Seward handed in his own.
Mr. King then informed the President that at a Republican caucus held that day, a pointed and positive opposition had shown itself against the Secretary of State which terminated in a unanimous expression, with one exception, against him and a wish for his removal. The feeling finally shaped itself into resolutions of a general character, and the appointment of a committee of nine to bear them to the President, and to communicate to him the sentiments of the Republican Senators. Mr. King, the former colleague and the personal friend of Mr. Seward, being also from the same state, felt it to be a duty to inform the Secretary at once of what had occurred. On receiving this information, which was wholly a surprise, Mr. Seward immediately wrote and by Mr. King tendered his resignation. Mr. King suggested it would be well for the committee to wait upon the President at an early moment, and the President agreeing with him, Mr. King on Wednesday morning notified Judge Collamer, the chairman, who sent word to the President that they would call at the Executive Mansion at any hour after six that evening, and the President sent word he would receive them at seven.
The committee came at the time specified, and the President says that the evening was spent in a pretty free and animated conversation. No opposition was manifested towards any other member of the Cabinet than Mr. Seward. Some not very friendly feelings were shown towards one or two others, but no wish that any one should leave but the Secretary of State. Him they charged, if not with infidelity, with indifference, with want of earnestness in the war, with want of sympathy with the country in this great struggle, and with many things objectionable, and especially with a too great ascendancy and control of the President and measures of administration. This, he said, was the point and pith of their complaint.
The President says that, in reply to the committee, he stated how this movement had shocked and grieved him. That he had selected the Cabinet in view of impending difficulties and of all the responsibilities upon himself; that he and the members had gone on harmoniously, whatever had been the previous feelings and associations; that there had never been serious disagreements, though there had been differences; that in the overwhelming troubles of the country, which had borne heavily upon him, he had been sustained and consoled by the good feeling and the mutual and unselfish confidence and zeal that pervaded the Cabinet.
He expressed a hope that there would be no combined movement on the part of other members of the Cabinet to resist this assault, whatever might be the termination; said this movement was uncalled-for; that, admitting all that was said, there was no such charge as should break up or overthrow a Cabinet; nor was it possible for him to go on with a total abandonment of old friends.
Mr. Bates4 stated the difference between our system and that of England, where a change of majority involved a new election, dissolution of Parliament, &c. Three or four of the members of the Cabinet said they had heard of the resignation: Blair5 the day preceding; Stanton through the President, on whom he had made a business call; Mr. Bates, when coming to the meeting.
The President requested that we should, with him, meet the committee. This did not receive the approval of Mr. Chase, who said he had no knowledge whatever of the movement, or the resignation, until since he had entered the room.
Mr. Bates knew of no good that would come of an interview. I stated that I could see no harm in it, and if the President wished it I thought it a duty for us to attend; the proceeding was of an extraordinary character. Mr. Blair thought it would be well for us to be present, and finally all acquiesced. The President named half-past seven this evening.
A CRITICAL MEETING
Saturday, December 20, 1862.
At the meeting last evening there were present, of the Committee, Senators Collamer, Fessenden, Harris, Trumbull, Grimes, Howard, Sumner, and Pomeroy. Wade was absent. The President and all the Cabinet but Seward were present. The subject was opened by the President, who read the resolutions and told the substance of his interviews with the Committee — their object and purpose. He spoke of the unity of his Cabinet, who though they could not be expected to think and speak alike on all subjects — all had acquiesced in measures when once decided. The necessities of the times, he said, had prevented frequent and long sessions of the Cabinet, and the submission of every question at the meetings.
Secretary Chase endorsed the President’s statement, fully and entirely, but regretted that there was not a more full and thorough consideration and canvass of important measures in open Cabinet.
Senator Collamer, the Chairman of the Committee, succeeded the President, and calmly and fairly presented the views of the Committee and of those whom they represented. [The Cabinet] wanted united counsels, combined wisdom, and energetic action. If there is truth in the maxim that in a multitude of counsellors there is safety, it might be well that those advisers who were near the President, and selected by him, and all of whom were more or less responsible, should be consulted on the great questions which affected the national welfare, and that the ear of the Executive should be open to all, and that he should have the minds of all.
Senator Fessenden was pretty skillful, but a little tart. He felt more than he had the courage to say, wanted the whole Cabinet to consider and decide questions, spoke of a remark which he had heard from J. Q. Adams, on the floor of Congress, in regard to a measure of his administration. Mr. Adams said the measure was adopted against his wishes and opinion, but that he was outvoted by Mr. Clay and others. He wished an administration so conducted.
Grimes, Sumner, and Trumbull were pointed, emphatic, and unequivocal in their opposition to Mr. Seward, whose zeal and sincerity in this conflict they doubted. Each was unrelenting and unforgiving.
Blair spoke earnestly and well. Sustained the President, and dissented most decidedly from the idea of a plural Executive; claimed that the President was accountable for his administration, might ask opinions or not of as many as he pleased, of either all or none of his Cabinet. Mr. Bates took much the same view.
The President managed his own case, speaking freely, and showed great tact, shrewdness, and ability, provided such a subject were a proper one for such a meeting and discussion. I have no doubt he considered it most judicious to conciliate the Senators with respectful deference, whatever may have been his opinion of their interference. When he closed his remarks, he said it would be a gratification to him if each member of the Committee would state whether he now thought it advisable to dismiss Mr. Seward, and whether his exclusion would strengthen or weaken the administration, and the Union cause, in their respective states.
Grimes, Trumbull, and Sumner, who had expressed themselves decidedly against the continuance of Mr. Seward in the Cabinet, indicated no change of opinion. Collamore and Fessenden declined committing themselves on the subject. [They said they] had in their action the welfare of the whole country in view, and were not prepared to answer the questions. Senator Harris 6 felt it a duty to say that while many of the friends of the administration would be gratified, others would feel deeply wounded, and the effect of Mr. Seward’s retirement would on the whole be calamitous in the State of New York. Pomeroy of Kansas said, personally, he believed the withdrawal of Mr. Seward would be a good movement, and he sincerely wished it might take place. Howard of Michigan declined answering the question.
During the discussion, the volume of diplomatic correspondence, recently published, was alluded to, some letters denounced as unwise and impolitic were specified, one of which, a confidential despatch to Mr. Adams, was read. If it was unwise to write, it was certainly injudicious and indiscreet to publish, such a document. Mr. Seward has genius and talent, no one better knows it than himself, but for one in his place he is often wanting in careful discrimination, true wisdom, sound judgment, and discreet statesmanship. The Committee believe he thinks more of the glorification of Seward than the welfare of the country. He wishes the glorification of both, and believes he is the man to accomplish it, but has unwittingly and unwarily begotten and brought upon himself a vast amount of distrust and hostility on the part of Senators, by his endeavors to impress them and others with the belief that he is the administration. It is a mistake, the Senators dislike it. [They] have measured and know him.
AN ADMINISTRATIVE CRISIS
It was nearly midnight when we left the President; and it could not be otherwise than that all my wakeful moments should be absorbed with a subject, which, time and circumstances considered, was of grave importance to the Administration and the country. A Senatorial combination to dictate to the President in regard to his political family, in the height of a civil war which threatens the existence of the republic, cannot be permitted to succeed even if the person to whom they object were as obnoxious as they represent, — but Seward’s foibles are not serious failings. After fully canvassing the subject in all its phases, my mind was clear as to the course which it was my duty to pursue, and what I believed was the President’s duty also.
My first movement this morning was to call on the President as soon as I supposed he could have breakfasted. Governor Robertson of Kentucky was with him when I went in, but soon left.
I informed the President, I had pondered the events of yesterday and last evening, and felt it incumbent on me to advise him not to accept the resignation of Mr. Seward; that if there were objections, real or imaginary, against Mr. Seward — the time, manner and circumstances, the occasion and the method of presenting what the Senators considered objections, were all inappropriate and wrong; that no party or faction should be permitted to dictate to the President in regard to his Cabinet; that it would be of evil example and fraught with incalculable injury to the government and country; that neither the legislative department, nor the Senate branch of it, should be allowed to encroach on the Executive prerogatives and rights; that it devolved on him, and was his duty, to assert and maintain the rights and independence of the Executive; that he ought not, against his own convictions, to yield one iota of the authority entrusted to him, on the demand of either branch of Congress or of both combined, or to any party whatever might be its views and intentions; that Mr. Seward had his infirmities and errors, but they were venial; that he and I differed on many things, as did other members of the Cabinet; that he was sometimes disposed to step beyond his own legitimate bounds, and not duly respect the rights of his associates, but these were matters that did not call for Senatorial interference. In short, I considered it for the true interest of the country, now as in the future, that this scheme should be defeated — that so believing, I had, at the earliest moment, given him my conclusions.
The President was much gratified. [He] said that the whole thing had struck him as it had me, and if carried out as the Senators prescribed, the whole government would cave in. It could not stand. Could not hold water; — the bottom would be out.
I added that having expressed my wish that he would not accept Mr. Seward’s resignation, I thought it important that Mr. Seward should not press its acceptance, nor did I suppose he would. In this he also concurred, and asked if I had seen Seward. I replied I had not, my first duty was with him, and having ascertained that we agreed, I would now go over and see Seward. He earnestly desired me to do so.
WELLES’S MISSION TO SEWARD
I went immediately to Seward’s house. Stanton was with him. Seward was excited; talking vehemently to Stanton of the course pursued, and the results that must follow if the scheme succeeded; told Stanton he, Stanton, would be the next victim; that there was a call for a meeting at the Cooper Institute this evening. Stanton said he had seen it. I had not. Seward got the Herald, [asked] me to read it, but Stanton seized the paper, as Seward and myself entered into conversation. [Seward] related what the President had already communicated; how Preston King had come to him; how he wrote his resignation at once, and so did Fred,7 &c., &c. In the mean time Stanton rose and remarked he had much to do, and as Governor S[eward] had been over this matter with him he would leave.
I then stated my interview with the President, my advice that, the President must not accept, nor he press, his resignation. Seward was greatly pleased with my views; said he had but one course before him when the doings of the Senators were communicated, but that if the President and country required of him any duty in this emergency he did not feel at liberty to refuse it. He spoke of his long political experience, dwelt on his own sagacity and his great services; feels deeply this movement, which was wholly unexpected; tries to suppress any exhibition of personal grievance or disappointment, but is painfully wounded, mortified, and chagrined.
I told him I should return and report to the President our interview and that he acquiesced in my suggestions. He said he had no objections, but he thought the subject should be disposed of one way or the other at once. He is disappointed, I see, that the President did not promptly refuse to consider his resignation, and dismiss, or refuse to parley with, the committee.
When I returned to the White House, Chase and Stanton were in the President’s office, but he was absent. A few words were interchanged on the great topic in hand. I was very emphatic in my opposition to the acceptance of Seward’s resignation. Neither gave me a direct answer, nor did either express an opinion on the subject, though I think both wished to be understood as acquiescing.
LINCOLN CUTS THE KNOT
When the President came in, which was in a few moments, his first address was to me, asking if I “ had seen the man.” I replied that I had, and that he assented to my views. He then turned to Chase and said, “ I sent for you, for this matter is giving me great trouble.”
Chase said he had been painfully affected by the meeting last evening, which was a total surprise to him, and, after some not very explicit remarks as to how he was affected, informed the President he had prepared his resignation of the office of Secretary of the Treasury.
“ Where is it ? ” said the President quickly, his eye lighting up in a moment. “ I brought it with me,” said Chase, taking the paper from his pocket, “ I wrote it this morning.” “ Let me have it,” said the President, — reaching his long arm and fingers towards Chase, who held on, seemingly reluctant to part with the letter, which was sealed, and which he apparently hesitated to surrender. Something farther he wished to say, but the President was eager and did not perceive it, but took and hastily opened the letter.
“ This,” said he, looking at me with a triumphal laugh, “cuts the Gordian knot.” An air of satisfaction spread over his countenance, such as I have not seen for some time. “ I can dispose of this subject now without difficulty,” he added, as he turned on his chair. “ I see my way clear.”
Chase sat by Stanton, fronting the fire, the President beside the fire, his face towards them, Stanton nearest him. I was on the sofa near the east window. While the President was reading the note, which was brief, Chase turned round and looked towards me a little perplexed. He would, I think, have been better satisfied could this interview with the President have been without the presence of others, or at least if I was away. The President was so delighted that he saw not how others were affected.
“ Mr. President,” said Stanton with solemnity, “ I informed you day before yesterday that I was ready to tender you my resignation. I wish you, sir, to consider my resignation at this time in your possession.”
“ You may go to the Department,” said the President, “ I don’t want yours. This [holding out Chase’s letter] is all I want. This relieves me. My way is clear. The trouble is ended. I will detain neither of you longer.” We all rose to leave, but Stanton lingered and held back as we reached the door. Chase and myself came down stairs together. He was moody and taciturn. Some one stopped him on the lower stairs and I passed on, but C[hase] was not a minute behind me, and before I reached the Department Stanton came staving along.
Preston King called at my house this evening and gave me particulars of what had been said and done at the caucuses of the Republican Senators, of the surprise he felt when he found the hostility so universal against Seward, and [that] some of the Cabinet [as well as] some of the calmest and most considerate Senators were the most decided; stated the course pursued by himself, which was frank, friendly, and manly. He was greatly pleased with my course, of which he had been informed by Seward and the President in part, and I gave him some facts which they did not. Blair tells me that his father’s8 views correspond with mine, and the approval of F. P. Blair and Preston King gives me assurance that I am right.
[“ The untrained diplomatist of Illinois,” say Nicolay and Hay, “ had thus met and conjured away with unsurpassed courage and skill one of the severest crises that ever threatened the integrity of the administration. ... By his bold and original expedient of confronting the Senators with the Cabinet, and having them discuss their mutual misunderstandings under his own eye, he cleared up many dangerous misconceptions. . . . By placing Mr. Chase in such an attitude that his resignation became necessary to his own sense of dignity, he made himself absolute master of the situation; by treating the resignation and the return to the Cabinet of both ministers as one and the same transaction, he saved for the nation the invaluable services of both, and preserved his own position of entire impartiality between the two wings of the Union party.”]
DID STANTON SHARE IN THE INTRIGUE
Montgomery Blair 9 is confident that Stanton has been instrumental in getting up this movement against Seward, to screen himself and turn attention from the War Department. There may be something in this surmise of Blair; but I am inclined to think that Chase, Stanton and Caleb Smith have each, but without concert, participated, if not directly, by expressions of discontent to their senatorial intimates. Chase and Smith, I know, are a good deal dissatisfied with Seward, and they have not hesitated to make known their feelings in some quarters, though I apprehend not to the President.
With Stanton I have little intimacy. He came into the Cabinet under Seward’s wing, and he knows it; but Stanton is, by nature, an intriguer, courts favor, is not faithful in his friendships, is given to secret underhand combinations. His obligations to Seward are great, but would not deter him from raising a breeze against Seward to favor himself. Chase and Seward entered the Cabinet as rivals, and in cold courtesy have so continued. There was an effort by Seward’s friends to exclude Chase from the Treasury (the President did not yield to it), but it is obvious that Seward’s more pleasant nature and consummate skill have enabled him to get to windward of Chase in administrative management, and the latter, who has but little tact, feels it. Transactions take place of a general character, not unfrequently, of which Chase and others are not advised until they are made public; often the fact reaches them through the papers. Seward has not exhibited strategy in this, [though] it may have afforded him a temporary triumph as regarded Chase. He doubtless flatters himself that it strengthens a belief, which he desires should prevail, that he is the “ power behind the throne greater than the throne itself,” that he is the real executive. The result of all this has been the alienation of a portion of his old friends without getting new ones, and finally in this appointment of a committee which asks his removal. The objections urged are, I notice, the points on which Chase is most sensitive.
For two or three months Stanton has evinced a growing indifference to Seward, with whom he was, at first, intimate, and to whom he was much devoted. I have observed that, as he became alienated towards Seward, his friendship for Chase increased.
My differences with Seward I have endeavored to settle with him on the day and time of their occurrence. They have not been many, but they have been troublesome and annoying because they were meddlesome and disturbing. He gets behind me, tampers with my subordinates, and interferes injuriously and ignorantly in naval matters, not so much from wrong purpose, but as a busybody by nature. I have not made these matters subject of complaint outside, and think it partly the result of usage and practice at Albany.
Tuesday, December 23, 1862.
It was announced yesterday morning that the President had requested Mr. Seward and Mr. Chase to withdraw their resignations and resume their duties. This took the public by surprise. Chase’s resignation was scarcely known, and his friends, particularly those in the late movement, were a little disgusted when they found that he and Seward were in the same category.
Seward’s influence has often been anything but salutary. Not that he was evil inclined, but he is meddlesome, fussy, has no fixed principles or policy. Chase has chafed under Seward’s management, yet has tried to conceal any exhibition of irritated feelings. Seward, assuming to be helmsman, has, while affecting and believing in his own superiority, tried to be patronizing to all, especially soothing and conciliating to Chase, who sees and is annoyed by it. The President feels that he is under obligations to each, and that both are serviceable. He is friendly to both; he is fond of Seward, who is affable; he respects Chase, who is clumsy. Seward comforts him; Chase, he deems a necessity.
On important questions Blair is as potent with the President as either, and sometimes I think equal to both. With some egotism, Blair has great good sense, a better knowledge and estimate of military men than either or both the others, and I think is possessed of more solid, reliable administrative ability.
All the members were at the Cabinet meeting to-day. Seward was feeling very happy, Chase was pale, said he was ill — had been for weeks. The subject principally discussed was the proposed division of Virginia and the creation of a new state to be called Western Virginia. Chase is strongly for it, Blair and Bates against it, the latter, however, declining to discuss it or give his reasons except in writing. Stanton is with Chase. Seward does not show his hand. My impressions are, under the existing state of things, decidedly adverse. It is a disturbance that might be avoided at this time, and has constitutional difficulties.
Friday, December 26, 1862.
Some talk in Cabinet of Thayer’s scheme of emigration to Florida.
Blair read his opinion of the proposition for making a new state of Western Virginia. His views correspond with mine, but are abler and more elaborately stated. Mr. Bates read a portion of his opinion on the constitutional point, which appeared to me decisive and conclusive.
The President has called for opinions from each of his Cabinet. I had the first rough draft of mine in my pocket, though not entirely copied. Chase said his was completed, but he had not brought it with him. Seward said he was wholly unprepared. Stanton assured the President he would be ready with his in season. The President said it would answer his purpose if the opinions of each were handed in on or before Tuesday.
Monday, December 29, 1862.
We had yesterday a telegram that the British pirate craft Alabama captured the Ariel, one of the Aspinwall steamers, on her passage from New York to Aspinwall, off the coast of Cuba. Abuse of the Navy Department will follow.
The six members of the Cabinet (Smith 10 absent) to-day handed in their respective opinions on the question of dividing the Old Commonwealth of Virginia, and carving out and admitting a new state. As Stanton and myself returned from the Cabinet meeting to the Departments, he expressed surprise that I should oppose division, for he thought it politic and wise to plant a free state south of the Ohio. I thought our duties were constitutional, not experimental, that we should observe and preserve the landmarks, and that mere expediency should not override constitutional obligations. This action was not predicated on the consent of the people of Virginia, legitimately expressed; was arbitrary and without proper authority; was such a departure from and undermining of our system that I could not approve it, and feared it was the beginning of the end. As regarded a free state south of the Ohio, I told him the probabilities were that pretty much all of them would be free by Tuesday when the Proclamation emancipating slaves would be published.
THE FINAL DRAFT OF THE EMANCIPATION PROCLAMATION
[“ It will be remembered,” say Nicolay and Hay, “ that when the President proposed emancipation on the 22nd of July, and again when he announced emancipation on the 22nd of September, he informed his Cabinet that he had decided the main matter for himself, and asked their advice only upon subordinate parts. In now looking up the matter for the third and final review, there was neither doubt nor hesitation in regard to the actual policy and act about to be consummated. But there were several minor questions upon which he wished the advice of his Cabinet.”]
At the meeting to-day, the President read the draft of his Emancipation Proclamation, invited criticism, and finally directed that copies should be furnished to each. It is a good and well-prepared paper, but I suggested that a part of the sentence marked in pencil be omitted. Chase advises that fractional parts of states ought not to be exempted. In this I think he is right, and so stated. Practically there would be difficulty in freeing parts of states, and not freeing others, a clashing between central and local authorities.
Wednesday, December 31, 1862.
We had an early and special Cabinet meeting convened by 10 A. M. The subject was the Proclamation of to-morrow to emancipate the slaves in the rebel states. Seward proposed two amendments. One included mine, and one enjoining upon, instead of appealing to, those emancipated to forbear from tumult. Blair, like Seward and myself, had proposed the omission of a part of a sentence and made other suggestions, which I thought improvements. Chase made some good criticisms and proposed a felicitous closing sentence.11 The President took the suggestions, written in order, and said he would complete the document.
The year closes less favorably than I had hoped and expected, yet some progress has been made. It is not to be denied, however, that the national ailment seems more chronic. The disease is deepseated. Energetic measures are necessary, and I hope we may have them. None of us appear to do enough, and yet I am surprised that we have done so much. We have had some misfortunes, and a lurking malevolence exists towards us among nations that could not have been anticipated. Worse than this, the envenomed relentless and unpatriotic spirit of party paralyzes and weakens the hand of the government and country.
Thursday, January 1, 1863.
The New Year opens with a bright and brilliant day. Exchanged congratulations at the Executive Mansion with the President and colleagues, at 11 this morning. The usual formalities. Officers of the army and navy came in at half-past eleven. I left before twelve.
The Emancipation Proclamation is published in this evening’s Star. This is a broad step, and will be a land-mark in history. The immediate effect will not be all its friends anticipate, or its opponents apprehend. Passing events are steadily accomplishing what is here proclaimed.
Saturday, January 3, 1863.
We have, yesterday and to-day, broken accounts of a great fight for three days and not yet terminated at Murfreesborough, Tenn. All statements say we have the best; that we shall beat the rebels; that we have pierced their centre; that we are driving them through Murfreesborough, &c. I hope to hear we “ have done,” instead of we “shall do.” None of our army fights have been finished, but are drawn battles — worrying, exhausting, but never completed. Of Rosecrans I have thought better and hope a good account of his work, but the best sometimes fail, and he may not be the best.
[Although the fighting about Murfreesboro amounted to a drawn battle between Rosecrans and Bragg, its effects were those of a Union victory, for thenceforward Kentucky and Western Tennessee were never again seriously menaced by the Confederate power.]
THE DESTRUCTION OF THE MONITOR AND HER HISTORY
A word by telegraph that the Monitor has foundered and over twenty of her crew, including some officers, are lost. The fate of this vessel affects me in other respects. She is a primary representative of a class identified with my administration of the Navy. Her novel construction and qualities I adopted, and she was built amidst obloquy and ridicule. Such a change in the character of a fighting vessel, few naval men, or any Secretary under their influence, would have taken the responsibility of adopting. But Admiral Smith and, finally, all the Board which I appointed, seconded my views, and were willing, Davis somewhat reluctantly, to recommend the experiment if I would insure the risk and responsibility. Her success with the Merrimac directly after she went into commission relieved me of odium and anxiety, and men who were preparing to ridicule were left to admire.
When Bushnell of New Haven brought me the first model and plan I was favorably impressed. I was then in Hartford proposing to remove my family, but sent him at once to Washington, following myself within a day or two. Understanding that Ericsson the inventor was sensitive, in consequence of supposed slight and neglect by the Navy Department or this government, some years ago, I made it a point to speak to Admiral Smith, Chairman of the Board, and specially request that he should be treated tenderly, and opportunity given him for full and deliberate hearing. I found Admiral Smith well disposed. The plan was adopted, and the test of her fighting and resisting power was [dispensed with] by an arrangement between Admiral Smith and myself, without communication with any other, that she should, when completed, go at once up Elizabeth River to Norfolk Navy Yard, and destroy the Merrimac while in the dry dock, and the dock itself. Had she been completed within the contract time, one hundred days, this purpose would have been accomplished, but there was delay and disappointment, and her prowess was exhibited in a conflict with her huge antagonist under much more formidable circumstances. Her career since the time she first entered Hampton Roads is public history, but her origin and everything in relation to her, from the inception, have been, since her success, designedly misrepresented.
It is due to Admiral Smith to say that he is deserving of credit, if credit be due to any one connected with the Navy Department, for this vessel. Had she been a failure, he, more than any one but the Secretary, would have been blamed, and was fully aware that he would have to share with me the odium and the responsibility. Let him therefore have the credit that is justly his.
Monday, January 5, 1863.
Commander Bankhead arrived this morning and brings particulars of the loss of the Monitor. Her weakness was in herself, where we had apprehended, and not in an antagonist. This has been in some degree remedied in the new boats we are now constructing.
For months I have been berated and abused because I had not more vessels of the Monitor class under contract. Her success with the Merrimac when she was under the trial as an experiment made men wild, and they censured me for not having built a fleet when she was constructed; now that she is lost the same persons will be likely to assail me for expending money on such a craft.
Tuesday, January 13, 1863.
Received this A. M. from Admiral Dupont an intercepted mail captured off Charleston. Reed Saunders, who had the mail in charge, threw it overboard as he supposed, [but the] Master of the vessel, once a volunteer Acting Master in our service, whom I had dismissed for drunkenness, practiced a deception, and Saunders threw over something else than the mail (which the Master secretly retained and delivered, and thereby saved his bacon). The mail was not forwarded to its destination, as Seward directed it should be, but opened. Numerous and important despatches from Mallory, Memminger, Benjamin12 &c., &c. disclose important facts. Took some of the more interesting to Cabinet council.
Thursday, January 15, 1863.
Have been interested for the last two or three days in reading, when I had time, letters that were taken from the intercepted mail. Most of them are from intelligent writers in the best circles at Richmond. In these communications, freely written in friendly confidence, there ekes out a latent feeling of hope for peace and restoration of once happier days. There is distress and privation, — the spirit of hate engendered by strife is there, but no happiness nor inward satisfaction over the desolation which active hostilities have caused. Strange that so many intelligent beings should be so madly influenced !
Saturday, January 24, 1863.
There is a change of commander of the Army of the Potomac. Burnside relinquishes to Hooker. I hope the change may be beneficial; but have apprehensions.
The President asked me, about the time of the second battle of Bull Run, when Pope was to leave and McClellan was out of favor: “ Who can take command of this army ? Who is there among all these Generals ? ” The address to me was unexpected, and without much consideration I named Hooker. The President looked approvingly but said, “ I think as much as you or any man of Hooker, but I fear he gets — excited,” looking around as he spoke. Blair, who was present, said he was too great a friend of John Barleycorn.
I had mingled but little in the social or convivial gatherings of the military men, have attended fewer of the parades than any member of the Cabinet, and have known less of their habits. What I had seen and observed of Hooker had impressed me favorably, but our interviews had been chiefly business-wise and in the matter of duty, but there was a promptness, frankness, and intelligence about him that compared favorably with some others. I remarked if his habits are bad, if he ever permits himself to get intoxicated, he ought not to be trusted with such a command, and withdrew my recommendation. From what I have heard since, I fear his habits are not such as to commend him — that, at least, he indulges in the free use of whiskey — gets excited and is fond of play. This is the result of my enquiries, and with this reputation I am surprised at his selection, — though, aside from the infirmities alluded to, he doubtless has good points as an officer.
January 28, 1863.
Get as yet no official report of the disaster at Galveston. Farragut has prompt, energetic, excellent qualities, but no fondness for written details of self-laudation; does but one thing at a time, but does that strongly and well; is better fitted to lead an expedition through danger and difficulty than to command an extensive blockade. Is a good officer in a great emergency — will more willingly take great risks in order to obtain great results than any officer high in either navy or army, and, unlike most of them, prefers that others should tell the story of his well-doing rather than relate it himself.
SEWARD IS WEED, AND WEED IS SEWARD
Thurlow Weed13 retires from the Evening Journal. Is this an actual or pretended retirement ? I always distrust him. He is strong and cunning. Has a vigorous but not an ingenuous mind. Being a life-long partizan, he cannot abandon party even for the country’s welfare though he may strive to have them assimilate. It grieved him that so many of his old party opponents should have been invited to the Cabinet and identified with the administration. The President quietly laughs at Weed’s intrigues to exclude Chase and myself. This was in the interest of Seward, his alter ego. I remember that Seward on one occasion remarked in Cabinet, “ Weed is Seward, and Seward is Weed; each approves what the other says and does.” It was not a pleasant remark to some of us, and Chase said he did not recognize the identity; while he would yield a point as a matter of favor to Mr. Seward, he would not to Weed. [Weed’s] ostensible reason for abandoning the field of active politics at this time, and leaving the Journal, is because he cannot act with his friends and support the administration. There is intrigue, insincerity, and scheming in all this. I have no confidence in him, and he doubtless knows it.
The organization of the New York Legislature has been finally accomplished.
If Weed does not go for Seward for the Senate, which is at the bottom of this movement, he will prop Morgan.14 [Preston] King, their best man, is to be sacrificed. I do not think Weed is moving for the Senatorship for himself, yet it is so charged. He has professedly left his old friends, but he is to carry as many as possible with him into a new combination where he and Seward will have Dix, whom they have captured and whom they are using while D[ix] supposes they are earnest for him.
Friday, January 30, 1863.
But little at the Cabinet. Chase is quite dejected, and manifested some rather suppressed irritation towards Blair and Seward as he sat beside me. Neither of them saw it — I was glad they did not.
Thursday^ February 2, 1863.
Seward sent me this morning a scary despatch, which he proposed to give each of the foreign ministers, in relation to the blockade at Galveston, which he, unwisely, improperly, and without knowledge of the facts, admits has been raised but which he informs them will be again immediately enforced. I was exceedingly annoyed that he should propose to issue such a document under any circumstances, — and especially without consultation. It is one of those unfortunate assumptions, pregnant, with error, in which he sometimes indulges. I toned and softened his paper down in several respects, — but told the clerk to give Mr. Seward my compliments and say to him, I totally objected to his sending out such a paper.
Friday, February 6, 1863.
Nothing of special importance at the Cabinet . Seward was absent, and I therefore called on him respecting his circular despatch concerning the blockade at Galveston. His Chief Clerk, Mr. Hunter, was coy and shy. Neither he nor Mr. Seward were certain it had been sent. Seward said he had made all the alterations, but the clerk had not done his errand properly; did not tell him I objected, &c., &c. Hunter watched Seward closely and could recollect only what Seward recollected. When I touched on the principles involved, I found Seward inexcusably ignorant of the subject of the blockade. He admitted he had not looked into the books, had not studied the subject, had relied on Hunter.
Hunter said he had very little knowledge, and no practical experience, on these matters except what took place during the Mexican blockade. Made Seward send for Wheaton; read to him a few passages. He seemed perplexed, but thought his circular despatch as modified could do little harm. I am apprehensive that he has, in his ostentatious selfassuming way, committed himself in conversation, and knows not how to get out of the difficulty. He says Fox 15 told him the blockade was raised at Galveston. It is one of those cases where the Secretary of State has written a hasty letter without proper enquiry or knowledge of facts, and my fears are that he has made unwarranted admissions. After firing off his gun he learns his mistake—has “ gone off half-cocked.”
Thursday, February 19, 1863.
A special Cabinet meeting. The President desired a consultation as to the expediency of an extra session of the Senate. Chase favored; Seward opposed. No very decided opinion expressed by the others. I was disinclined to it.
The President has been invited to preside at a meeting for religious Christian purposes on Sunday evening. Chase favored it. All the others opposed it but Usher, who had a lingering, hesitating, half-favorable inclination to favor it. Has been probably talked with and committed to some extent; so with Chase.
The President on Tuesday expressed a wish that Captain Dahlgren should be made an Admiral, and I to-day presented both his and Davis’s 16 name.
Sunday, February 22, 1863.
A severe snow storm. Did not venture abroad. Had a call from Dahlgren, who is very grateful that he is named for Admiral. Told him to thank the President who had made it a specialty; that I did not advise it. He called with reference to a written promise the President had given one Dillon for $150,000 provided a newly invented gunpowder should prove effective.
I warned Dahlgren that these irregular proceedings would involve himself and others in difficulty; that the President had no authority for it; that there was no appropriation in our Department from which this sum could be paid; that he ought certainly to know, and the President should understand, that we could not divert funds from their legitimate appropriation. I cautioned him, as I have occasion to do repeatedly, against encouraging the President in these well-intentioned but irregular proceedings. He assures me he does restrain the President as far as respect will permit, but his “ restraints ” are impotent, valueless. He is no check on the President, who has a propensity to engage in matters of this kind. Finding the heads of Departments opposed to these schemes, the President goes often behind them, as in this instance; and subordinates, flattered by his notice, encourage him. In this instance, Dahlgren says it is the President’s act; that he is responsible.
SEWARD’S INTIMACY WITH MCCLELLAN
Wednesday, February 25, 1863.
Had a brief call from General McClellan this p. M. He looks in good health but is evidently uncomfortable in mind. Our conversation was general; of the little progress made, the censoriousness of the public, of the dissatisfaction towards both of us, &e., &c. The letter of General Scott of the 4th of October 1861, complaining of his disrespect and wanting obedience, is just brought out.
I well remember an interview between these two officers about the period that letter was written, the President, myself, and two or three others being present. It was in General Scott’s rooms, opposite the War Office. In the course of conversation, which related to military operations, a question arose as to the number of troops there were in and about Washington. Cameron2 could not answer the question, McClellan did not. General Scott said no reports were made to him. The President was disturbed. At this moment, Seward stated the several commands, how many regiments had reported in a few days, and the aggregate at the time of the whole force. The statement was made from a small paper and [Seward] appealing to McClellan, that officer replied that the statement approximated the truth.
General Scott’s countenance showed great displeasure. “ This,” said the veteran warrior, “ is a remarkable state of things. I am in command of the armies of the United States, but have been wholly unable to get any reports, any statement of the actual forces. But here is the Secretary of State, a civilian, for whom I have great respect, but who is not a military man nor conversant with military affairs, though his abilities are great — this civilian is possessed of facts which are withheld from me. Military reports are made, not to these Head Quarters, but to the State Department. Am I, Mr. President, to apply to the Secretary of State for the necessary military information to discharge my duties? ”
Mr. Seward explained that he had got his information by vigilance and attention, keeping account of the daily arrival of regiments, etc. There was a grim smile on the face of the old soldier [as he said], “And you, without report, probably ascertained where each regiment was ordered. Your labors and industry, Mr. Secretary of State, I know are very arduous, but I did not before know the whole of them. If you, in that way, can get accurate information, the rebels can also, though I cannot.”
Cameron here broke in, half in earnest and half ironical, and said we all knew Seward was meddlesome — interfering in all the departments with what was none of his business. He thought we had better go to our duties. It was a pleasant way of breaking up an unpleasant interview, and we rose to leave. McClellan was near the open door and General Scott addressed him by name. “ You,” said the aged hero, “ were called here by my advice. The times require vigilance and activity. I am not active, and never shall be again. When I proposed that you should come here to aid, not supersede me, you had my friendship and confidence. You still have my confidence.”
I had, in the early stages of the war, disapproved of the policy of General Scott, which was purely defensive — nonintercourse with the insurgents, shut them out from the world by blockade and military frontier lines, but not to invade their territory. The anaconda policy was, I then thought and still think, unwise for the country. The policy of General McClellan has not been essentially different, but he was called here with the assent, if not by the recommendation, of General Scott. It was evident from what transpired at the interview here mentioned that Mr. Seward, who had been in close intimacy with the veteran commander at first, had transferred his intimacy to the junior General, and the former felt it, saw that he was becoming neglected, and his pride was wounded.
That Seward kept himself well informed in the way he stated, I think was true, and he likely had his information con6rmed by McClellan, with whom he almost daily compared notes and of whom lie made inquiries. But McClellan is by nature reticent; in many respects, a good quality. Seward has great industry and an enquiring mind, and loves to possess himself of everything that transpires; has an unfortunate inclination to run to subordinates for information; has in Meigs 17 a willing assistant, and others who think it a compliment to be consulted by the Secretary of State, and are ready to impart to him all they know of the doings and intentions of their superiors. He has by his practice encouraged the President to do likewise and get at facts indiscreetly, but the President does this because he feels a delicacy in intruding, especially in business hours, on the Heads of Departments. Seward has no such delicacy, but a craving desire to be familiar with the transactions of each Department.
(To be continued.)
- Copyright, 1909, by EDGAR T. WELLES.↩
- Caleb B. Smith, Secretary of the Interior.↩
- 2 Son of the Secretary of State, and assistant in his department.↩
- Edward Bates, Attorney General.↩
- Montgomery Blair, Postmaster General.↩
- Of New York.↩
- Frederick W. Seward.↩
- Frank Preston Blair, editor and politician, father of F. P. Blair, afterwards Senator from Missouri, and of Montgomery Blair, Postmaster General.↩
- Blair and Stanton were declared enemies before they joined Mr. Lincoln’s Cabinet.↩
- Caleb B. Smith had just retired from the Department of the Interior. His successor, John P. Usher, was not appointed till later.↩
- “ And upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice warranted by the Constitution, and of duty demanded by the circumstances of the country, I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind and the gracious favor of Almighty God.”↩
- Heads respectively of the Navy, Treasury, and State Departments in the Confederate Government.↩
- Thurlow Weed had made the Albany Evening Journal a power. With Seward and Greeley, he had once been a member of the Republican Triumvirate in New York. His influence had been east on the side of the administration.↩
- Edwin D. Morgan, former Governor and, next, Senator, of New York.↩
- Gustavus V. Fox, Assistant Secretary of the Navy.↩
- Charles Henry Davis, who had defeated the Confederate fleet off Fort Pillow, and captured Memphis.↩
- Simon Cameron, predecessor of Stanton as Secretary of War.↩
- General Meigs, Quartermaster-General of the Army.↩