A Diary of the Reconstruction Period

GIDEON WELLES

I

[As the war drew to its close, General Sherman, on April 18, 1865, made his famous convention with General Johnston, whereby all Confederate armies still in the field were to disband. This agreement stipulated for the early recognition of the several states in rebellion, by the executive of the United States, and contained other important political features with which it was entirely outside of General Sherman’s authority to deal. The articles of agreement were referred to both governments for ratification.]

Friday, April 21, 1865.
Stanton called at my house about 6 P. M. and invited me to a hasty Cabinet convention at 8 p. M. on important matters requiring immediate action. When we had assembled, General Grant and Preston King were also present. Stanton briefly mentioned that General Grant had important communications from General Sherman, and requested that he would read them, which he did. It stated he had made a peace, if satisfactory, with the rebels, etc. This and everything relating to it will be spread before the world. Among the Cabinet and all present there was but one mind on this subject. The plan was rejected, and Sherman’s arrangement disapproved. Stanton and Speed were emphatic in their condemnation, though the latter expressed personal friendship for Sherman. General Grant, I was pleased to see, while disapproving what Sherman had done, and decidedly opposed to it, was tender to sensitiveness of his brother officer and abstained from censure. Stanton came charged with specified objections, four in number, counting them off on his fingers. Some of his argument was apt and well; some of it not in good taste, nor precisely pertinent.

It was decided that General Grant should immediately inform General Sherman that his course was disapproved, and that generals in the field must not take upon themselves to decide on political and civil questions, which belonged to the executive and civil service. The military commanders would press on and capture and crush out the rebels.

Monday, April 24, 1865.
On Saturday the 22d I learned that General Grant left in person to go to General Sherman instead of sending written orders. This was sensible, and will insure the work to be well and satisfactorily done. Senator Sumner called on me with inquiries which he heard in the street relative to General Sherman. As he came direct from the War Department I was satisfied that Stanton, as usual, after enjoining strict secrecy upon others, was himself communicating the facts in confidence to certain parties. One or two others spoke to me in the course of the afternoon on the same subject.

Sunday morning the papers contained the whole story of Sherman’s treaty and our proceedings, with additions, under Stanton’s signature. I was not sorry to see the facts disclosed, although the manner and some of Stanton’s matter was not particularly commendable, judicious, or correct. But the whole was characteristic, and will be likely to cause difficulty, or aggravate it with Sherman, who has behaved hastily, but I hope not, as has been insinuated, wickedly. He has shown himself a better general than diplomatist, negotiator, or politician, and we must not forget the good he has done, if he has only committed an error; and I trust and believe it is but an error, — a grave one, it may be. But this error, if it be one, had its origin, I apprehend, with President Lincoln, who was for prompt and easy terms with the rebels. Sherman’s terms were based on a liberat construction of President Lincoln’s benevolent wishes and the order to Weitzel concerning the Virginia legislature, the revocation of which S[herman] had not heard.

[Attorney-General] Speed, prompted by Stanton, who seemed frantic, but with whom he sympathized, expressed his fears that Sherman at the head of his victorious legions had designs upon the government. [Postmaster-General] Dennison, while disapproving what Sherman had done, scouted the idea that he had any unworthy aspirations. I remarked that his armies were composed of citizens like ourselves, who had homes and wives and children as well as a government that they loved.

WILD IDEAS IN THE CABINET

Tuesday, April 25, 1865.
The course and position were discussed to-day in Cabinet with some earnestness. Speed came strongly charged, and had little doubt that Sherman was designing to put himself at the head of the army. Thought he had been seduced by Breckinridge,1 and was flattering himself that he would be able to control and direct public affairs. Governor Dennison, while censuring Sherman, would not condemn him unheard, — he may have some reasons that we know not of, may have been short of ammunition or supplies.

I suggested that it might be vanity, eccentricity, an error of judgment, — the man may have thought himself to be what he is not, — that I had no fears of his misleading the army, or seducing it to promote any personal schemes of ambition, if he had such. Every regiment, and probably every company, in that army had intelligent men, fit to be legislators; they were of us and a part of us, would no more tolerate usurpation on the part of Sherman than we would.

“ Suppose,” said Speed, “ he should arrest Grant when Grant arrived at Raleigh,” etc., etc. Men will have strange phantoms. I was surprised at Speed, but he has, evidently, conversed on this subject before with one or more who have similar opinions. This apprehension which I have sometimes heard intimated has never made a serious impression on me, for I have confidence in our people, and so I have in Sherman, who believed himself to be carrying out the wishes of Mr. Lincoln and the policy of the administration. It is the result of the conference at City Point, and intended to be in furtherance of the proclamation of Weitzel, the revocation of which he has not seen.

In reflecting on this subject, I think we have permitted ourselves, amid great excitement and stirring events, to be hurried into unjust and ungenerous suspicions by the erroneous statements of the Secretary of War. Speed adopts and echoes the jealousies and wild vagaries of Stanton, who seems to have a mortal fear of the generals and the armies, although courting and flattering them. He went to Savannah to pay court to Sherman when that officer was the favored general and supposed to have eclipsed Grant; but the latter having gained the ascendant by the fall of Richmond and the capture of Lee, Stanton would now reinstate himself with Grant by prostrating [sic] Sherman.

Tuesday, May 2, 1865.
Stanton produced a paper from Judge-Advocate-General Holt, to the effect that Jeff. Davis, Jacob Thompson, Sanders, and others, were implicated in the conspiracy to assassinate President Lincoln and others. A proclamation duly prepared was submitted by Stanton with this paper of Holt, which he fully endorses, offering rewards for their apprehension. McCulloch and Hunter, whose opinions were asked, went with Stanton without a question. I, on being asked, remarked [that] if there was proof of the complicity of those men, as stated there was, they certainly ought to be arrested, and that reward was proper, but I had no facts.

THE MEANING OF NEGRO SUFFRAGE

Tuesday , May 9, 1865.
A proclamation of amnesty proposed by Speed was considered and, with some changes, agreed to.

The condition of North Carolina was taken up, and a general plan of organization intended for all the rebel states was submitted and debated. No great difference of opinion was expressed, except on the matter of suffrage. Stanton, Dennison, and Speed were for Negro suffrage,— McCulloch, Usher, and myself were opposed. It was agreed on request of Stanton, [that] we would not discuss the question, but each express his opinion without preliminary debate. After our opinions had been given, I stated I was for adhering to the rule prescribed in President Lincoln’s proclamation, which had been fully considered and matured, and besides, in all these matters I am for no further subversion of the laws, institutions, and usages of the states respectively, nor for [more] federal intermeddling in local matters than is absolutely necessary, in order to rid them of the radical error which has caused our national trouble. All laws, not inconsistent with those of the conquerors, remain to the conquered until changed, is an old rule.

This question of Negro suffrage is beset with difficulties, growing out of the conflict through which we have passed and the current of sympathy for the colored race. The demagogues will make use of it regardless of what is best for the country, and without regard for the organic law, the rights of the state, or the temples of our government. There is a fanaticism on the subject with some, who persuade themselves that the cause of liberty and the Union is with the Negro and not the white man. White men, and especially Southern white men, are tyrants. Senator Sumner is riding this one idea at top speed. There are others less sincere than Sumner, who are pressing the question for party purposes. On the other hand, there may be unjust prejudices against permitting colored persons to enjoy the elective franchise, under any circumstances; but this is not, and should not be, a federal question. No one can claim that the blacks, in the slave states especially, can exercise the elective franchise intelligently. In most of the free states they are not permitted to vote. Is it politic, and wise, or right even, when trying to restore peace and reconcile differences to make so radical a change, provided we have the authority, which I deny? To elevate the ignorant Negro who has been enslaved, mentally as well as physically, to the discharge of the highest duties of citizenship, especially when our free states will not permit the few free Negroes to vote?

The federal government has no right, and has not attempted, to dictate on the matter of suffrage to any state, and I apprehend it will not conduce to harmony to arrogate and exercise arbitrary power over the states which have been in rebellion. It was never intended by the founders of the Union that the federal government should prescribe suffrage to the states. We shall get rid of slavery by constitutional means. But conferring on the blacks civil rights is another matter. I know not the authority. The President, in the exercise of the pardoning power, may limit or make conditions, and while granting life and liberty to traitors deny them the right of holding office or of voting. While, however, he can exclude traitors, can he legitimately confer on the blacks of North Carolina the right to vote? I do not yet see how this can be done by him, or by Congress.

This whole question of suffrage is much abused. The Negro can take upon himself the duty about as intelligently, and as well for the public interest, as a considerable portion of the foreign element which comes amongst us. Each will be the tool of the demagogues. If the Negro is to vote and exercise the duties of a citizen, let him be educated to it. The measure should not, even if the government were empowered to act, be precipitated when he is stolidly ignorant and wholly unprepared. It is proposed to do it against what have been and still are the constitutions, laws, usages, and practices of the states which we wish to restore to fellowship.

Stanton has changed his position — has been converted — is now for Negro suffrage. These were not his views a short time since. But aspiring politicians will, as the current now sets, generally take that road.

The trial of the assassins is not so promptly carried into effect as Stanton declared it should be. He said it was his intention the criminals should be tried and executed before President Lincoln was buried. But the President was buried last Thursday, the 4th, and the trial has not, I believe, commenced.

I regret they are not tried by the civil court, and so expressed myself, as did McCulloch; but Stanton, who says the proof is clear and positive, was emphatic, and Speed advised a military commission, though at first, I thought, otherwise inclined. It is now rumored the trial is to be secret, which is another objectionable feature, and will be likely to meet condemnation after the event and excitement have passed off.

The rash, imperative, and arbitrary measures of Stanton are exceedingly repugnant to my notions, and I am pained to witness the acquiescence they receive. He carries others with him, sometimes against their convictions as expressed to me.

The President and Cabinet called on Mr. Seward at his house after the close of the council. He came down to meet us in his parlor. I was glad to see him so well and animated, yet a few weeks have done the work of years, apparently, with his system. Perhaps when his wounds have healed, and the fractured jaw is restored, he may recover in some degree his former looks, but I apprehend not.

His head was covered with a closefitting cap, and the appliances to his jaw entered his mouth and prevented him from articulating clearly. Still, he was disposed to talk, and we to listen. Once or twice, allusions to the weight of the great calamity affected him more deeply than I have ever seen him.

Wednesday, May 10, 1865.
Senator Sumner called on me. We had a long conversation on matters pertaining to the affairs of Fort Sumter. He has been selected to deliver an oration on Mr. Lincoln’s death, to the citizens of Boston, and desired to post himself in some respects. I told him the influence of the Blairs, and especially of the elder, had done much to strengthen Mr. Lincoln in that matter, while Seward and Scott had opposed.

Sumner assures me Chase has gone into rebeldom to promote Negro suffrage. I have no doubt that Chase has that and other schemes for presidential preferment in hand in this voyage. S[umner] says that President Johnson is aware of his [Chase’s] object in behalf of the Negroes, and favors the idea of their voting. On this point I am skeptical. He would not oppose any such movement were any state to make it. I so expressed myself to Sumner, and he assented, but intended to say the Negroes were the people.

Sunday, May 14, 1865.
Intelligence was received this morning of the capture of Jefferson Davis in Southern Georgia. I met Stanton this Sunday P. M. at Seward’s, who says Davis was taken disguised in women’s clothes. A tame and ignoble letting down of the traitor.

Saturday, May 20, 1865.
General Sherman is here. I have not yet met him, but I understand he is a little irate towards Stanton, and very mad with Halleck. This is not surprising, and yet some allowance is tobe made for them. Sherman’s motives cannot be questioned, although his acts may be. Stanton was unduly harsh and severe, and his telegram to General Dix and specifications were Stantonian. Whether the President authorized or sanctioned that’ publication I never knew, but I, and most of the members of the Cabinet, were not consulted in regard to the publication, which was not in all respects correct.

General Grant, who as unequivocally disapproved of Sherman’s armistice as any member of the administration, was nevertheless tender of General Sherman, and did not give in to the severe remarks of Stanton at the time. At a later period President Johnson assured me that Stanton’s publication was wholly unauthorized by him, — that he knew nothing of it until he saw it in the papers. We were all imposed upon by Stanton, who had a purpose. He and the radicals were opposed to the mild policy of President Lincoln on which Sherman had acted, and which Stanton opposed and was determined to defeat.

Wednesday, June 14, 1865.
At Cabinet meeting General Grant came in to press upon the government the importance of taking decisive measures in favor of the Republic of Mexico. Thought that Maximilian and the French should be warned to leave. Said the rebels were crossing the Rio Grande and entering the Imperial service. Their purpose would be to provoke differences, create animosity, and precipitate hostilities. Seward was emphatic in opposition to any movement. Said the Empire was rapidly perishing, and iflet alone Maximilian would leave in less than six months, — perhaps in sixty days, — whereas if we interfered it would prolong his stay and the Empire also. Seward acts from intelligence, Grant from impulse.

Tuesday, June 20, 1865.
Mr. Seward was absent from the Cabinet meeting. All others were present. The meetings are better and more punctually attended than under Mr. Lincoln’s administration, and measures are more generally discussed, which undoubtedly tends to better administration. Mrs. Seward lies at the point of death, which is the cause of Mr. Seward’s absence.

The subject of appointments in the Southern States — the rebel states — was discussed. A difficulty is experienced in the stringent oath passed by the last Congress. Men are required to swear they have rendered no voluntary aid to the rebellion, nor accepted or held office under the rebel government. This oath is a device to perpetuate differences, if persisted in.

I was both amused and vexed with the propositions and suggestions for evading this oath. Stanton proposed that if the appointees would not take the whole oath, [they should] swear to as much as they could. Speed was fussy and uncertain. Did not know but what it would become necessary to call Congress together to get rid of this official oath. Harlan 2 believed the oath proper, and that it should stand. Said it was carefully and deliberately framed, that it was designed, purposely, to exclude men from executive appointments. Mr. Wade and Mr. Sumner had this specially in view. Thought there was no difficulty in these appointments except judges. All other officers were temporary, judges were for life. I remarked, that did not follow. If the Senate when it convened did not choose to confirm the judicial appointments — the incumbents could only hold until the close of the next session of Congress. But above and beyond this I denied that Congress could impose limitations and restrictions on the pardoning power, and thus circumscribe the President’s prerogative. I claimed that the President could nominate, and the Senate confirm, an officer independent of that form and oath, — and if the appointee took and faithfully conformed to the constitutional oath, he could not be molested. McCulloch inclined to my views, but Stanton insisted that point had been raised and decided, and could not therefore be maintained. I claimed that no wrong decision could be binding, and I had no doubt of the wrongfulness of such a decision, denying that the constitutional rights of the Executive could be frittered away by legislation. There is partyism in all this, — not union or country.

AN ESTIMATE OF DUPONT

Friday, June 23, 1865.
Rear-Admiral Dahlgren returned this morning from Charleston. Two years since he left. Simultaneous with his return comes tidings of the death of RearAdmiral Dupont, whom he relieved, and who died this A. M. in Philadelphia. Dupont possessed ability, was a scholar rather than a hero. He was a courtier, given to intrigue; was selfish, adroit, and skillful. Most of the navy were attached to him, and considered his the leading cultured mind in the service. He nursed cliques.

There are many intelligent and excellent officers, however, who look upon him with exceeding dislike, yet Dupont had, two and three years ago, greater personal influence than any man in the service. He knew it, and intended to make it available in a controversy with the Department on the subject of the Monitor vessels, to which he took a dislike. Although very proud, he was not physically brave. Pride would have impelled him to go into action, but he had not innate daring courage. He was determined not to retain his force or any portion of it in Charleston harbor, insisted it could not be done, disobeyed orders, was relieved, and expected to rally the navy and country with him, but was disappointed. Some of his best friends condemned his course. He sought a controversy with the Department, and was not successful. Disappointed and chagrined, he has been unhappy and dissatisfied. I believe I appreciated and did justice to his good qualities, and am not conscious that I have been at any time provoked to do him wrong. He challenged me to remove him, and felt confident I would not do it. I would not have done it had he obeyed orders and been zealous for operations against Charleston. As it was, I made no haste, and only ordered Foote and Dahlgren when I got ready. Then the step was taken. Dupont was amazed, yet had no doubt the navy would be roused in his favor, and that be should overpower the Department. Months passed. He procured two or three papers to speak for him, but there was no partisanship for him in the navy, except with half a dozen young officers, whom he had petted and trained, and a few mischievous politicians.

Returning to Delaware he went into absolute retirement. None missed or called for him. This seclusion did not please him and became insupportable, but he saw no extrication. He therefore prepared a very adroit letter in the latter part of October, 1863, ostensibly an answer to a despatch of mine written the preceding June. This skilful letter I have reason to believe was prepared in concert with H. Winter Davis, and was intended to be used in an assault on me at the session of Congress then approaching. Although much engaged I immediately replied, and in such a manner as to close up Dupont. Davis, however, made his attack in Congress, but in such a way as not to draw out the correspondence. Others remedied that deficiency, and Davis got more than he asked. Dupont sank. He could rally no force, and the skill, and tact at intrigue which had distinguished him in earlier years and in lower rank, was gone. He felt that he was feeble and it annoyed him. Still, his talent was not wholly idle. False issues were put forth, and doubtless some have been deceived by them.

Tuesday, June 27, 1865.
The President still ill, and the visit to the Pawnee further postponed. No Cabinet meeting. The President is feeling the effects of intense application to his duties, and over-pressure from the crowd.

A great party demonstration is being made for Negro suffrage. It is claimed the Negro is not liberated unless he is also a voter, and to make him a voter, those who urge this doctrine would subvert the Constitution, and usurp or assume authority not granted to the federal government. While I am not inclined to throw impediments in the way of the universal, intelligent enfranchisement of all men, I cannot lend myself to beat down constitutional barriers, or to violate the reserved and undoubted rights of the states. In the discussion of this question, it is evident that intense partisanship, instead of philanthropy, is the root of the movement. When pressed by arguments which they cannot refute, they turn and say, if the Negro is not allowed to vote, the Democrats will get control of the government in each of the seceding or rebellious states, and in conjunction with the Democrats of the free states they will get the ascendancy in our political affairs. As there must and will be parties, they may as well form on this question, perhaps, as any other. It is centralization and state rights. It is curious to witness the bitterness and intolerance of the philanthropists in this matter. In their zeal for the Negro they lose sight of the fundamental law, of all constitutional rights, and of the civil regulations and organization of the government.

Friday, June 30, 1865.
The President is still indisposed, and I am unable to perfect some important business, that I wished to complete with the close of the fiscal year. There are several radical members here, and have been for some days, apparently anxious to see the President. Have met Senator Wade two or three times at the White House. Complains that the Executive has the control of the government, that Congress and the judiciary are subordinate, and mere instruments in his hands, said our form of government was on the whole a failure, that there are not three distinct and independent departments,but one great controlling one with two others as assistants.

Mentions that the late president called out 75,000 men without authority. Congress when it came together approved it. Mr. Lincoln then asked for 400,000 men and 400 millions of money. Congress gave him five of each instead of four. I asked him if he supposed or meant to say that these measures were proposed without consulting, informally, the leading members of each house. He replied that he did not, and admitted that the condition of the country required the action which was taken, that it was right and in conformity with public expectation.

Thad Stevens called on me on business and took occasion to express ultra views, and had a sarcastic hit or two but without much sting. He is not satisfied, nor is Wade, yet I think the latter is mollified and disinclined to disagree with the President. But his friend Winter Davis it is understood is intending to improve the opportunity of delivering a Fourth of July oration, to take ground distinctly antagonistic to the administration on the question of Negro suffrage.

Saturday, July 1, 1865.
I am this day sixty-three years old, have attained my grand climacteric, a critical period in man’s career. Some admonitions remind me of the frailness of human existence and of the feeble tenure I have on life. I cannot expect, at best, many returns of this anniversary, and perhaps shall never witness another.

Monday, July 10, 1865.
I read to the President two letters of Senator Sumner of the 4th and 5th of July, on the subject of Negro suffrage in the rebel states. Sumner is for imposing this upon those states, regardless of all constitutional limitations and restriction. It is evident he is organizing and drilling for that purpose, and intends to make war upon the administration policy and the administration itself. The President is not unaware of the scheming that is on foot, but I know not if he comprehends to its full extent this movement, which is intended to control him and his administration.

THE MEXICAN QUESTION

Friday , July 14, 1865.
Before we left, and after all other matters were disposed of, the President brought from the other room a letter from General Sheridan to General Grant, strongly indorsed by the latter, and both letter and indorsement strongly hostile to the French and Maximilian. Seward was astounded. McCulloch at once declared that the treasury and the country could not stand meeting the exigency which another war would produce. Harlan in a few words sustained McCulloch. Seward was garrulous. Said if we got in war and drove out the French,we could not get out ourselves. Went over our war with Mexico. Dennison inquired why the Monroe Doctrine could not be asserted. Seward said if we made the threat we must be prepared to maintain it. Dennison thought we might. “ How then,” said Seward, “will you get your own troops out of the country after driving out the French ? ” “Why, march them out,” said Dennison. Then said Steward], “ The French will return.' “We will then,” said D[ennison], “ expel them again.” I remarked [that] the country was exhausted as McCulloch stated, but the popular sentiment was strongly averse to French occupancy. If the Mexicans wanted an imperial government, no one would interfere to prevent them, though we might and would regret it, but this conduct of the French in imposing an Austrian prince upon our neighbors was very revolting. I hoped, however, we should not be compelled to take the military view of this question.

Thursday, July 20, 1865.
The President to-day in Cabinet, after current business was disposed of, brought forward the subject of Jefferson Davis’ trial, on which he desired the views of the members. Mr. Seward thought there should be no haste. The large amount of papers of the rebel government had not yet been examined, and much that would have a bearing on this question might be expected to be found among them. Whenever Davis should be brought to trial he was clear and decided that it should be before a military commission, for he had no confidence in proceeding before a civil court. He was very full of talk, and very positive that there should be delay until the rebel papers were examined, and quite emphatic and decided that a military court should try Davis. Stanton did not dissent from this, and yet was not as explicit as Seward.

McCulloch was not prepared to express an opinion, but thought no harm would result from delay.

I doubted the resort to a military commission, and thought there should be an early trial. Whether, if he was to be tried in Virginia, as it was said he might be, the country was sufficiently composed and organized might be a question; but I was for a trial before a civil not a military tribunal, and for treason not for assassination. Both Seward and Stanton interrupted me and went into a discussion of the assassination, and the impossibility of a conviction — Seward taking the lead. It was evident these two intended there should be no result at this time.

THE TRIAL OF DAVIS

Friday, July 21, 1865.
A very warm day. Thermometer 90 and upward. Chief subject at the Cabinet was the offense and the disposition of J. Davis. The President, it was evident, was for procuring a discussion or having the views of the Cabinet. Seward thought the question might as well be disposed of now as at any time. He was satisfied there could be no conviction of such a man, for any offense, before any civil tribunal, and was therefore for arraigning him for treason, murder, and other offenses before a military commission. Dennison, who sat next him, immediately followed, and thought if the proof was clear and beyond question that Davis was a party to the assassination, then he would have him by all means brought before a military tribunal, but unless the proof was clear, beyond a peradventure, he would have him tried for high treason before the highest civil court. When asked what other court there was than the circuit court, he said he did not wish him tried before the court of this District. And when further asked to be more explicit on the subject of the question of the murder or assassination, he said he would trust that matter to Judge Holt and the War Department, and, he then added, to the Attorney-General. McCulloch would prefer, if there is to be a trial, that it should be in the courts, but was decidedly against any trial at present — would postpone the whole subject.

Stanton was for a trial by the courts for treason — the highest of crimes, and by the constitution, only the courts could try him for that offense. Otherwise he would say a military commission. For all other offenses he would arraign him before the military commission. Subsequently, after examining the constitution, he retracted the remark that the constitution made it imperative that the trial for treason should be in the civil courts, yet he did not withdraw the preference he had expressed. I was emphatically for the civil court and an arraignment for treason — for an early institution of proceedings — and was willing the trial should take place in Virginia. If our laws or system were defective, it was well to bring them to a test. I had no doubt he was guilty of treason and believed he would be committed wherever tried. Harlan would not try him before a civil court unless satisfied there would be conviction. If there was a doubt he wanted a military commission. He thought it would be much better to pardon Davis at once than to have him tried and not convicted. Such a result he believed would be most calamitous. He would therefore [rather] than run that risk, prefer a military court. Speed was for a civil tribunal and for a trial for treason; but until the rebellion was entirely suppressed he doubted if there could be a trial for treason. Davis is now a prisoner of war and was entitled to all the rights of belligerents, etc., etc. I inquired if Davis was not arrested and a reward offered for him and paid by our government, as for other criminals.

The question of counsel and the institution of proceedings was discussed. In order to get the sense of each of the members, the President thought it would be well to have the matter presented in a distinct form. Seward promptly proposed that Jefferson Davis should be tried for treason, assassination, murder, conspiring to burn cities, etc., by a military commission. The question was so put, Seward and Harlan voting for it — the others against, with the exception of myself. The President asked my opinion. I told him I did not like the form in which the question was put. I would have him tried for military offenses by a military court, but for civil offenses I wanted the civil courts. I thought he should be tried for treason, and it seemed to me that the question before us should first be the crime and then the court. The others assented and the question put was, shall J. D. be tried for treason? There was a unanimous response in the affirmative. Then the question as to the court. Dennison moved a civil court — all but Seward and Harlan were in the affirmative. They were in the negative.

Stanton read a letter from Fortress Monroe saying Davis’s health had been failing for the last fortnight — that the execution of the assassins had visibly affected him.

Tuesday, August 8, 1865.
Stanton submitted a number of not material questions, yet possessed of some little interest. Before the meeting closed, the subject of army movements on the plains came up, and Stanton said there were three columns of twenty-two thousand troops moving into the Indian country, with a view to an Indian campaign. Inquiry as to the origin and authority of such a movement elicited nothing from the Secretary of War. He said he knew nothing on the subject. He had been told there was such a movement, and Meigs had informed him it was true. Grant had been written to for information, but Grant was away and he knew not when he should have a reply. The expenses of this movement could not, he said, be less than fifty millions of dollars. But he knew nothing about it.

All manifested surprise. The President however made, I observed, no inquiry or any comment. Whether this was intentional reticence, or the result of physical weariness or debility, for he was far from well, I could not determine. I thought it alarming that there should be such an imposing demonstration on the part of the military, and the administration, or executive officer of the War Department, ignorant in regard to it. If so, it is to his discredit— if not true, it is no less so. The only apology or excuse would be that the President had ordered this through General Grant, or assented to it at least. But this would be a slight upon the Secretary of War to which he would not possibly submit.

Following up this subject, Governor Dennison inquired of Stanton in relation to the recent general order dividing the country into eighteen military departments and assigning a multitude of generals to them. The question was mildly, pertinently, and appropriately put, but Stanton evinced intense feeling and acrimony. He said the Postmaster-General must address his inquiries to General Grant respecting that order, and he had no doubt General Grant would have been glad to have had Dennison’s advice and discretion on the subject. For his part he had not undertaken to instruct or advise General Grant.

There was a sneer and insolence in the manner, more offensive even than the words. I was on the point of inquiring if the civil administration of the government could not be informed on so important a subject, when Speed, who evidently saw there was feeling, hastened to introduce another topic. I was glad he did so, yet this state of things cannot endure.

I fell in with Dennison, or he with me, when taking my usual walk, and we at once got on to the subject of Stanton’s insolent replies to-day. Dennison was, with reason, irritated. Said he had forborne to reply or pursue the subject because his temper was excited and there would have been a scene. He says he has known Stanton well for twenty-five years; that he is a charlatan — and that he wanted D[ennison] to make a sharp reply on Grant, in order that he might report it to that officer and thus create a difference.

Friday, August 11, 1805.
The question of the Indian war on the plains was again brought forward. No one, it appears, has any knowledge on the question. The Secretary of War is in absolute ignorance. Says he has telegraphed to General Grant, and General G[rant] says he has not ordered it. McCulloch wanted to know the probable expense, — the numbers engaged, etc. Stanton thought McCulloch had better stale how many should be engaged, — said General Pope had command. Harlan said he considered Pope an improper man, — was extravagant and wasteful. Thought twentytwo hundred instead of twenty-two thousand men was a better and sufficient number.

This whole thing is a discredit to the War Department.

Tuesday, August 15, 1865.
Stanton says there is to be a large reduction of the force which is moving against the Indians. That by the 1st of October the force will be about 6,000. That large supplies have gone on, but they can be divided or deflected to New Mexico and other points, so that they will not be lost.

This whole proceeding is anything but commendable to the War Department. Stanton professes not to have been informed on the subject, and yet takes credit for doing something in the way of reduction. When questioned, however, he gets behind Grant or Pope or some military officer. An army of twenty-two thousand and a winter campaign, which he said would cost certainly not less than fifty million and very likely eighty or one hundred million all arranged, — a great Indian war is upon us, but the Secretary of War is, or professes to be, ignorant in regard to it, and of course every member of the administration is uninformed. If Stanton is as ignorant as he professes, it is disgraceful and ominous, and it is not less so if he is not ignorant. There are some things which make me suspicious that he is not as uninformed and ignorant as he pretends. This matter of supplies, so ruinously expensive, is popular on the frontiers, with Lane and others in Kansas. I have seen enough of Stanton to know that he is reckless of the public money in fortifying himself personally. These great contracts for supplies and transportation must have been known to him. How far Grant, whom he does not like, has acted independently of him, is a question.

Friday, August 18, 1865.
Senator Doolittle and Mr. Ford, who have been on a mission to the plains, visiting New Mexico, Colorado, etc., had an interview with the President and Cabinet of an hour and a half. Their statement in relation to the Indians and Indian affairs exhibits the folly and wickedness of the expedition, which has been gotten up by somebody without authority or the knowledge of the government.

Their strong protestations against an Indian war, and their statement of the means which they had taken to prevent it, came in very opportunely. Stanton said General Grant had already written to restrict operations; he had also sent to General Meigs. I have no doubt a check has been put on a very extraordinary and unaccountable proceeding, but I doubt if an active stop is yet put to war expenses.

Stanton is still full of apprehension and stories of plots and conspiracies. I am inclined to believe he has fears, and he evidently wishes the President to be alarmed. He had quite a story to-day, and read quite a long affidavit from some one whom I do not recall — stating he had been in communication with C. C. Clay and others in Canada — that they wanted him to be one of a party to assassinate President Lincoln and his whole Cabinet. Dennison and McCulloch and I thought the President seemed inclined to give this rigmarole some credence. I think the story, though plausibly got up, was chiefly humbug. Likely Stanton believes me stupid because I give so little heed to his sensational communications; but really a large portion of them seem to me ludicrous and puerile. He still keeps up a guard around his house, and never ventures out without a stout man to accompany him, who is ordinarily about ten feet behind him. This body-guard is, I have no doubt, paid for by the public. He urged a similar guard for me and others.

(To be continued.)

  1. J. C. Breckinridge, Confederate Secretary of War.
  2. James Harlan, of Iowa, Secretary of the Interior.