David Dudley Field
President Lincoln recalled late August 1864 as a time “when as yet we had no adversary, and seemed to have no friends.”1 Everyone in the Republican Party seemed unhappy. Republicans who backed Mr. Lincoln were convinced he was headed for defeat. Republicans who didn’t back Mr. Lincoln were convinced a replacement needed to be found. Mr. Lincoln himself seemed to fall victim to this cloud of gloom and doom.
What transpired against Mr. Lincoln during August, however, was the product of months of irritation and conspiracy — among leading Republican editors and elected officials. “As early as the spring of 1863 Greeley and other malcontents, especially radicals in Congress, began, quietly at first, to look about for a likely candidate,” wrote Horace Greeley biographer Harlan Hoyt Horner. “Largely at Greeley’s suggestion they hit upon General William Starke Rosecrans. Greeley arranged to have James R. Gilmore, then on the Tribune staff, visit Rosecrans at his headquarters at the Murfreesborough, Tennessee, to tell him that his friends were thinking of him as the Republican candidate for the presidency in 1864 and to sound him out on his disposition to enter the campaign. Gilmore made this journey in May, 1863, spent some time with Rosecrans, decided that he would be an eligible candidate, and finally opened up the question with him. As near as he could recall the exact words of Rosecrans half an hour after they were spoken, Gilmore recorded:
The good opinion of those gentlemen is exceedingly gratifying to me, and so is yours, but I assure you that I have not had the remotest suspicion that you were here for any such purpose. I have supposed you were merely gathering literary material; but, my good friend, it cannot be. My place is here. The country gave me my education, and so has a right to my military services; and it educated me for precisely this emergency. So this, and not the presidency, is my post of duty, and I cannot, without violating my conscience leave it. But let me tell you, and I wish you would tell your friends who are moving in this matter, that you are mistaken about Mr. Lincoln. He is in his right place. I am in a position to know, and if you live you will see that I am right about him.2
At times the search for a Republican successor to President Lincoln assumed almost comic aspects. His enemies looked for a candidate with a positive military record. Eventually, Rosecrans’ mediocre showing on the battlefield ruled him out. Other possibilities included General Ulysses S. Grant, whose capture of Vicksburg in July 1863 boosted his public profile and General Benjamin Butler, a onetime Democrat whose strong hand in dealing with rebels brought him radical admirers. But while politicians were checking out the possibilities, Mr. Lincoln also seemed to use trusted allies to check out Grant and Butler — to make sure that their political ambitions wouldn’t interfere with their military duties.
John Waugh wrote in Reelecting Lincoln:
“Many radicals besides Wade, Stevens, Greeley, and Phillips also liked Butler. They liked his style. They liked it that he didn’t hesitate ‘to take advanced steps,’ as Lincoln did. They expected he would be ‘a vigorous ruler,’ not afraid to hurt rebels, as Lincoln seemed to be. Butler wouldn’t be afraid to ‘hang traitors, confiscate their property, do justice to loyal men, and retaliate the wrongs even of negroes.’
In March 1864, Simon Cameron, the Republican political boss of Pennsylvania, visited this traitor-hanging politician at Fort Monroe. Some say Lincoln sent him.”3
Butler later recalled that Cameron visited by a representative of Simon in the later winter of 1864, “ostensibly upon some official business. After that was finished, the actual object of his visit was disclosed.” Cameron quizzed Butler on presidential politics and his availability to run for Vice President on a ticket with Chase. Butler declined, but recalled that three weeks later, former Secretary of War Simon Cameron came on a similar mission on behalf of Mr. Lincoln. Again, Butler declined, saying, “Tell him that I said laughingly that with the prospects of a campaign before me I would not quit the field to be Vice-President even with himself as President, unless he would give me bond in sureties in the full sum of his four years’ salary that within three months after his inauguration he will die unresigned.”4 At the time, Cameron wrote President Lincoln about the political intelligence he had received:
I had a letter this morning from a very intelligent politician, of much influence, in N. York, urging me to consent to a postponement of the convention till Sept. Some time ago, a committee called on me to urge the same matter.
These things and others that have come to my view, convince me that it will be vigorously urged and that if it is not vigorously resisted, it will succeed.
In connection with this, it is well known that Mr. [William H.] Seward has never ceased to think he will succeed you, and that his faithful manager hopes to carry him into the Presidency next March, by his skill, aided perhaps by the millions made in N. York, by army & navy contracts.
Another, and I think a wiser party, look to the election of Gnl. Dix.2 The least failure this summer, some now think, will ensure your defeat, by bringing forward a negative man, with a cultivated character such as [General John A.] Dix has acquired by avoiding all responsibility, & always obtaining with every party in power, a high position.
I am against all postponements, as I presume you are, but I look upon this moment as being so formidable that I should like to have a full & free conversation with you, concerning it & the campaign.— There are many points which would probably enable me to do some service, — & as I am in the contest, with no wish saving your success — and with little business to interfere, I desire to guard against all surprizes.— You are always so much employed when I am in Washington, that I have hesitated to occupy your time, — and but, if you will drop me a line saying when I can come to your house, with the chance of an hours uninterrupted talk, I will obey it.
I come from Ft. Monroe yesterday after spending three days there, during which time, I had much pleasant conversation with Gnl. Butler — part of which I would like to communicate to you.5
A few weeks later, abolitionists and radicals sought to put together an alternative to the Republican ticket. One potential candidate was General John C. Frémont, the 1856 Republican presidential candidate whose two experiences at military command in the Civil War had been dismal failures. Historian Allan Nevins wrote: “The first token of the way the wind was veering appeared on March 19th, when radical and old-school Abolitionists of New York came together at Cooper Union in an earnest Fremont meeting,’ of which Fremont knew nothing in advance. The men in charge were for the most part obscure. Under the blazing gas jets in Room 20 the erudite Friedrich Kapp declaimed, with a marked accent, upon the need for a change of government. A Mr. Whipple gained the floor, and launched into personal abuse of Lincoln. He had himself seen, he said, the bad effects of liquor and the evil influence of slavery. A platform calling for ‘vigorous, consistent, concentrated prosecution of the war’ was read amid cheers. Then there was a stir at the door, a sudden clapping of hands, and everybody arose as the loose, ill-clad figure of Greeley shuffled in. The editor’s remarks, as reported by his own journal, were confused, but he squeakily made three facts clear. First, that he thought it would have been well to postpone all nominations and campaigning until people could se what Grant would do in the summer campaigns; second, that he advocated a single term for Presidents; and third, that while he expected to support the regular nominee of the Republican Convention, he believed that ‘the people of New York were in favor of putting down the rebellion and its cause, and sustaining Freedom, and he believed that John C. Frémont would carry out such views.'”6
Almost ten weeks later on May 1864, a motley group of radicals met in Cleveland. Frémont, who was living in New York at the time, was chosen at the presidential nominee. John Cochrane, a former Democratic congressman from New York, was chosen at the vice presidential nominee. Few politicians of any stature showed up for the event. Historian Wayne C. Tremont noted that a “warm political friend informed the President that only about four hundred persons attended this opposition convention. Immediately, Lincoln picked up his Bible and turned to I Samuel 22:2 and read: ‘And every one that was in distress, and every one that was in debt, and every one that was discontented, gathered themselves unto him; and he became a captain over them; and there were with him about four hundred men.'”7 Historian
William Frank Zornow wrote:
Among the more prominent men who arrived before the opening of the convention must be included General John Cochrane; Edward Gilbert, president of the Fremont Club of New York; Colonel Charles Moss of Missouri; former Senators Colvin and Carroll of New York; and some members of Fremont’s military staff. Many who had been prominent in arranging the meeting were conspicuously absent: Wendell Phillips, Horace Greeley, and Frederick Douglass among them.
Before the convocation of the regular meeting a group of twenty-seven Germans, representing ten states and the District of Columbia, assembled and drafted resolutions favoring the creation of a new party to be known as the ‘Liberty party.’ The rest of the resolutions adopted were similar to those drafted the preceding year and foreshadowed those to be adopted at the regular meeting.
The first session of the regular convention opened in Chapin Hall on May 31. The president of the New York Fremont Club called the meeting to order and asked for the nomination of a temporary chairman. Former Governor William Johnston of Pennsylvania was selected. The formal organization resulted in John Cochrane’s being chosen presiding officer, with vice-presidents selected from several states.8
About a week later, the “Union” or Republican National Convention was held in Baltimore. President Lincoln was renominated with only a few dissenting votes from Missouri. The major battles occurred during the convention over the vice presidential nomination and after the convention in the newspaper columns of Republican newspapers in New York. Historian Sidney David Brummer wrote:
The national convention was followed by a controversy more bitter than ever before between Thurlow Weed and his opponents. The immediate occasion was an editorial in the New York Evening Post, wherein two of the resolutions adopted at Baltimore were spoken of as ‘a blow right between the eyes of the Secretary of State.’ Further, the editorial said: ‘By their cavalier treatment of the school of Weed, Cameron and the like, they [the convention] told him [Lincoln] pretty plainly to keep away from such fellows in the future; and we hope he will heed the warning.” Weed replied in the Albany Evening Journal. After rebuking the Post for its criticisms of the President — and the Post, it must be admitted, had passed judgment on Lincoln in rather outrageous terms, considering that it avowed itself a supporter of the administration — Weed went on to defend Seward. ‘Why this persistent persecution, blood hound tracking of an able, patriotic, unselfish, upright statesman?’ he asked. And he concluded with the assertion that ‘the wicked, homicidal slavery leaders would have failed to consummate their treason but for the aid received from their ‘best friends,’ the abolitionists of the North,…”
Of course, the Post retorted, assailing Weed as father of the lobby at Albany and as a gridiron-railroad bill manager, and insinuating that he had acted corruptly at the beginning of the war in the chartering of the steamer ‘Catiline‘ for the use of the government, a transaction which had created a scandal. In reply, Weed, not only defended the ‘Catiline‘ business, but declared that he was entirely disconnected with the affair. However, it appeared from his own statement that he had endorsed notes for John E. Develin, with which the latter had advanced money to the person who purchased the ‘Cataline‘ after it had been verbally chartered by the government agent; but, according to Develin, Weed did not know the object for which the notes were drawn.
Weed was apparently wrought up by these charges. He struck back at each of his enemies. He accused an editor of the Post of being a prominent member of the Albany lobby, and affirmed that one of the Post‘s proprietors, [Isaac] Henderson, was guilty of corruption in the office of naval agent. This last allegation had some basis of truth, it seems; for not long after, Henderson was dismissed from office and arrested. Then Weed turned upon ex-Mayor [George] Opdyke. ‘This man,’ said Weed, ‘has made more money by secret partnerships in army cloth, blankets, clothing, and gun contracts than any fifty sharpers…in the city of New York. He declared that Opdyke had denied all interest in a claim arising out of the destruction of a gun factory during the draft riot, that he might sit officially on the board which passed upon such matters, and subsequently, afer an allowance of $190,000 had been made and paid by the City, a suit arose in the course of which Opdyke affirmed that he was part owner of the property. Then Weed discussed at length the financial dealings of Opdyke and David Dudley Field with General Fremont in the formation of the Mariposa mining company. And he concluded with an attack upon his most persistent and powerful adversary, the Tribune, by asserting that while that paper was falsely accusing him, the Tribune associates and correspondents were themselves making money out of government contracts, supplying the enemy through the New York custom-house an incidental thrust at such anti-Weed men as Hiram Barney and Rufus Andrews), and engaging in cotton speculation.9
With Tribune, Weed exchanged charges and rebuttals. Greeley himself wrote a letter to Weed’s paper, the Albany Evening Journal, in which he said that “good and true men whom I love and honor have appealed to me not to distract the Union party by persisting in personal feuds with Mr. Weed. Years ago, T. W. And I were daily associates and (as I thought) friends. We have since separated, simply and only because one of us has come to believe and practise systematically using legislators and legislation to advance personal interests and promote private ends.”10
From Opdyke, Weed received both a denial and a lawsuit. This was just one of several severe unpleasantries with which Lincoln had to deal in June, July and August. He also had to confront the failure of the Union Army to score a decisive victory over Confederates in Virginia, the invasion of Washington by a strong Confederate force, the failure of the peace negotiations in Niagara Falls initiated by Tribune editor Horace Greeley, and the protest initiated by his pocket veto of the Wade-Davis Reconstruction Bill at the end of the July session of Congress. Republican Senator Benjamin Wade of Ohio and Congressman Henry Winter Davis of Maryland responded with a vitriolic attack on President Lincoln — the Wade-Davis Manifesto — that was published in the New York Tribune on August 6. It was a trying time for the country’s President.
“Lincoln’s veto of the Wade-Davis bill also rekindled an intra-party feud over the party Presidential nomination which had been smoldering since the beginning of 1864. At that time the radicals had begun looking for a candidate to replace Lincoln, but none of those anxious to run enjoyed their confidence. To make matters worse, none met their qualifications possessed any political appeal,” wrote historian George H. Mayer.11 “The inability of the opposition to unite on a candidate was a tribute to Lincoln’s popularity with the rank and file, as well as a demonstration of skill in political management.”12 It was also a tribute to his sense of humor, according to artist Francis B. Carpenter:
When he had thought profoundly, however, upon certain measures, and felt sure of his ground, criticism, either public or private, did not disturb him. Upon the appearance of what was known as the ‘Wade and Davis manifesto,’ subsequent to his renomination, an intimate friend and supporter, who was very indignant that such a document should have been put forth just previous to the presidential election, took occasion to animadvert very severely upon the course that prompted it. ‘It is not worth fretting about,’ said the President; ‘it reminds me of an old acquaintance, who, having a son of a scientific turn, bought him a microscpe. The boy went around, experimenting with his glass upon everything that came in his way. One day, at the dinner-table, his father took up a piece of cheese. ‘Don’t eat that, father,’ said the boy; ‘it is full of wrigglers.’ ‘My son,’ replied the old gentleman, taking, at the same time, a huge bite, ‘let ’em wriggle; I can stand it if they can.’13
The Tribune‘s Greeley was upset with President Lincoln over the embarrassment he suffered in Niagara Falls. The Evening Post‘s William Cullen Bryant was angry over the arrest of his newspaper partner, Isaac Henderson, on charges of corruption. Friends of Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase were annoyed by his dismissal from the Cabinet. “The leaders of both the conservative and the radical elements in the Republican party, Mr. Weed, on the one hand, and Mr. Greeley, on the other, frankly told the president that he could not be re elected, and his intimate friend, Congressman Elihu B. Washburne, after a canvass of the country, gave him the same information,” recalled New York Secretary of State Chauncey M. Depew.14
By mid-August, the seeds for a political insurgency had been sown — especially in the fields of New York. “The insurrection had a far more formidable sponsorship than such an insane proceeding would seem to have deserved. Its leader was David Dudley Field of New York, whose brother, Stephen J. Field, Lincoln had a short time before appointed to the United States Supreme Court; and his most active co-worker was….George Opdyke [who was] one of the chieftains of the anti-Seward-Weed contingent in New York,” wrote historian Burton J. Hendrick.15 Both Field and Opdyke were active merchants. The group they pulled together had a broad base and included attorneys like Field, politicians like Opdyke and Maryland Congressman Henry Winter Davis, editors like Parke Godwin of the New York Evening Post and Theodore Tilton of the Independent, and intellectuals like Francis Lieber. “Among other schemers were three outstanding Massachusetts politicians: Senator Sumner, Governor [John] Andrew, and General [Benjamin] Butler. Chase was expected to co-operate, and so were Seward’s friend Weed and Lincoln’s campaign manager Raymond. As the project attracted both numbers and respectability, it developed into something far more serious than a mere gesture of Lincoln haters and party irresponsibles,” wrote historian James G. Randall.16
On August 14, representatives of the conspiracy met at David Dudley Field’s home. Congressman Henry Winter Davis, still angry about President Lincoln’s pocket veto of his reconstruction bill, was in attendance. “Altogether about twenty-five men were present at this conference,” wrote historian William Frank Zornow. “Convinced that ‘none of the Candidates for the President already presented can command the united confidence and support of all loyal and patriotic men,’ they urged all who agreed with this conviction to attend a convention at Cincinnati on September 28 ‘to concentrate the Union strength on some one candidate s who commands the confidence of the country even by a new nomination if necessary.’ Each man who attended this meeting was given a stack of these calls with instructions to send them to prominent men throughout the country, who in turn were to be instructed to send their replies to John Austin Stevens, Jr., so that arrangements could be made for a second meeting at the home of David Dudley Field on August 30.”17
As often happened in the Civil War era, newspaper editors were heavily involved in this political enterprise. Greeley biographer James M. Trietsch wrote that “Greeley was a close friend to David Dudley Field and a political associate of Opdyke. Consequently, he represented the Tribune in this important sabotage, assisting in preparing, printing, sending forth, and tabulating the questionnaires to the northern governors and planning with Field and others for the new September convention in which, it was believed, Lincoln could be replaced by another nominee. What Greeley privately thought of this whole intrigue may be seen in a letter which he wrote to George Opdyke some few days after the August 14 session in Field’s New York home:
Mr. Lincoln is already beaten….And we must have another ticket to save us….If we had such a ticket as could be made by naming Grant, Butler, or Sherman for President, and Farragut for Vice, we could make a fight yet. And such at ticket we ought to have anyhow, with or without a convention.18
According to Greeley biographer William Harlan Hale, “The insiders agreed that a new national convention should be called for late September. ‘Mr. Lincoln is already beaten,’ Greeley told Mayor Opdyke; ‘he cannot be elected. We must have another ticket to save us from utter overthrow.’ He proposed Grant, William T. Sherman, or General Benjamin F. Butler for President, with Admiral Farragut — fresh from Mobile Bay — as running mate. Chase, Sumner, Wade and many others of the Radical bloc joined in the conversations. Even Thurlow Weed was heard to tell President Lincoln that his popular appeal had grown small.”19
One difficulty for the conspirators was that it is a political truism that you can’t beat somebody with nobody. They needed a candidate — and the logical one was former Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase who had spent much of the summer grumbling through New England. According to historian Zornow, “The Opdyke meeting may have been engineered primarily in the interest of Chase. The former Secretary’s interest in the Presidency seemed as yet to be very much alive; there were many observers who reported this to be the case. He had a representative at the Opdyke meeting. Many of the men who were most active in New York and who attended the meeting were treasury agents or very good friends, including Opdyke and John Stevens. The fact that they chose Cincinnati, Chase’s home town, seems to be somewhat significant; and the two earlier calls emanating from Butler County, Ohio, where Cincinnati is located, were both signed by L.D. Campbell, who was a Chase supporter. By the process of elimination he seems to be the only possible candidate they could have endorsed. Both Lincoln and Frémont were out of the question, and Butler probably was, too, in view of the fact that John Andrew, who was one of the most influential men at the meeting and, according to Shafer, the author of the call, was a political opponent of Butler’s for many years. Thus only Chase and Grant were left as possible Union nominees, and the latter’s commitments in Virginia and his oft repeated assertions that he would not run for political office during the war, seemed to leave Chase as the only many who was willing and able to run.”20
Historian David Donald wrote: “For many reasons the plan to replace Lincoln did not work out. Some Republican supported the project only on the condition that Lincoln should first voluntarily withdraw from the race. This the President showed no indication of doing. Instead, he increased his control over the party machinery, and, after elaborate negotiations, during which the Conservative Montgomery Blair resigned from the Conservative Montgomery Blair resigned from the cabinet and the Radical Frémont withdrew his independent candidacy, even such Radicals as Zachariah Chandler fell into line behind the President. Another blow at the New York junto was the action of the Democratic National Convention, which nominated General George B. McClellan on a platform condemning the war as a failure and calling for peace. To many loyal Northerners, the Democratic program meant disunion, and a reaction in Lincoln’s favor set in. Finally, and most influential of all, in early September Sherman’s army occupied Atlanta, and suddenly it seemed silly to talk about the hopelessness of the war or the imbecility of Lincoln’s administration.”21
A variety of moves were underway in August to change the political dynamics between the Republican and Democratic Parties. Historian William Frank Zornow wrote: “While the calls for the new convention were being distributed, steps were taken to secure the withdrawal of Lincoln and Fremont so that all obstacles in the way of a new convention would be removed. About August 20 a group of abolitionists in Boston addressed a letter to Fremont concerning the possibility of his withdrawal. Fremont’s reply indicated that he could not take this step without consulting the party which had nominated him, but he assured them he was ready to do whatever seemed best and would abide by the decision of a new convention. Lincoln made no formal statement concerning his willingness to withdraw and permit a new convention to meet.”22
Republican State Chairman Henry J. Raymond convinced that the Lincoln Administration needed to attempt to open peace negotiations with the Davis Administration — in order to demonstrate the Confederates did not want such negotiations. “When the National Committee met at the Astor House on August 22, Raymond could report only gloom and despair in every quarter. He canvassed the situation with the other members, then sat down to tell Lincoln that ‘the tide is setting strongly against us. Hon. E. B. Washburne writes that ‘were an election to be held now in Illinois we should be beaten.’ Mr. Cameron writes that Pennsylvania is against us. Gov. Morton writes that nothing but the most strenuous efforts can carry Indiana. This State, according to the best information I can get, would go 50,000 against us tomorrow. And so of the rest.” Brown called the missive which Raymond sent the President that day “one of the frankest letters he ever wrote Lincoln”:23
I feel compelled to drop you a line concerning the political condition of the Country as it strikes me. I am in active correspondence with your staunchest friends in every State and from them all I hear but one report. The tide is strongly against us. Hon. E. B. Washburne writes that “were an election to be held now in Illinois we should be beaten”. Mr. Cameron writes that Pennsylvania is against us. Gov. [Oliver H. P.] Morton writes that nothing but the most stren[u]ous efforts can carry Indiana. This State, according to the best information I can get, would go 50.000 against us to morrow. And so of the rest.
Nothing but the most resolute and decided action, on the part of the Government and its friends, can save the country from falling into hostile hands.
Two special causes are assigned for this great reaction in public sentiment, — the want of military successes, and the impression in some minds, the fear and suspicion in others, that we are not to have peace in any event under this Administration until Slavery is abandoned. In some way or other the suspicion is widely diffused that we can have peace with Union if we would. It is idle to reason with this belief — still more idle to denounce it. It can only be expelled by some authoritative act, at once bold enough to fix attention and distinct enough to defy incredulity & challenge respect.
Why would it not be wise, under these circumstances, to appoint a Commission, in due form, to make distinct proffers of peace to [Jefferson] Davis, as the head of the rebel armies, on the sole condition of acknowledging the supremacy of the Constitution, — all other questions to be settled in convention of the people of all the States? The making of such an offer would require no armistice, no suspension of active war, no abandonment of positions, no sacrifice of consistency.
If the proffer were accepted (which I presume it would not be,) the country would never consent to place the practical execution of its details in any but loyal hands, and in those we should be safe.
If it should be rejected, (as it would be,) it would plant seeds of disaffection in the South, dispel all the peace delusions about peace that previal [sic] in the North, silence the clamorous & damaging falsehoods of the opposition, take the wind completely out of the sails of the Chicago craft, reconcile public sentiment to the War, the draft, & the tax as inevitable necessities, and unite the North as nothing since firing on Fort Sumter has hitherto done.
I cannot conceive of any answer which Davis could give to such a proposition which would not strengthen you & the Union cause everywhere. Even your radical friends could not fail to applaud it when they should see the practical strength it would bring to the Union common cause.
I beg you to excuse the earnestness with which I have pressed this matter upon your attention. It seems to me calculated to do good — & incapable of doing harm. It will turn the tide of public sentiment & avert impending evils of the gravest character. It will raise & concentrate the loyalty of the country &, unless I am greatly mistaken, give us an early & a fruitful victory.
Permit me to add that if done at all I think this should be done at once, — as your own spontaneous act. In advance of the Chicago Convention it might render the action of that body, of very little consequence.
I have canvassed this subject very fully with Mr. [Leonard] Swett of Illinois who first suggested it to me & who will seek an opportunity to converse with you upon it.24
Even President Lincoln’s supporters were despondent. Thurlow Weed wrote William H. Seward on August 22: “When, ten or eleven days since, I told Mr[.] Lincoln that his re election was an impossibility, I also told him that the information would soon come to him through other channels. It has doubtless, ere this, reached him. At any rate, nobody here doubts it; nor do I see any body from other States who authorises the slightest hope of success.” He added: “The People are wild for Peace. They are told that the President will only listen to terms of Peace on condition Slavery be ‘abandoned.'”25
The nadir of President Lincoln’s presidency may have come on August 23 when Mr. Lincoln asked Cabinet members to sign their names on a memo he had written. The memo anticipated that a Democratic candidate might be elected President: “This morning, as for some days past, it seems exceedingly probably that this Administration will not be re elected. Then it will by my duty to so cooperate with the President elect, as to save the Union between the Election and the inauguration; as he will have secured his election on such ground that he cannot possibly save it afterwards.”26
There was a characteristic fatalism about Mr. Lincoln that emerged in August, according to Francis B. Carpenter: “A friend, the private secretary of one of the cabinet ministers, who spent a few days in New York at this juncture, returned to Washington with so discouraging an account of the political situation, that after hearing it, the Secretary told him to go over to the White House and repeat it to the President. My friend said that he found Mr. Lincoln alone, looking more than usually careworn and sad. Upon hearing the statement, he walked two or three times across the floor in silence. Returning, he said with grim earnestness of tone and manner: ‘Well, I cannot run the political machine; I have enough on my hands without that. It is the people‘s business, — the election is in their hands. If they turn their backs to the fire, and get scorched in the rear, they’ll find they have got to ‘sit‘ on the ‘blister’!”27
It was a busy political period for President Lincoln. On August 23, he also met with New York Congressman Reuben Fenton about his campaign for the prospects of his campaign for governor. The next day, President Lincoln drafted a letter to Times editor Raymond authorizing him to undertake his peace mission. The President wrote:
You will proceed forthwith and obtain, if possible, a conference for peace with Hon. Jefferson Davis, or any person by him authorized for that purpose.
You will address him in entirely respectful terms, at all events, and in any that my be indispensable to secure the conference.
At said conference you will propose, on behalf this government, that upon the restoration of the Union and the national authority, the war shall cease at once, al remaining questions to be left for adjustment by peaceful modes. If this be accepted hostilities to cease at once.
If it is not accepted, you will then request to be informed what terms, if any embracing the restoration of the Union, would be accepted. If any such be presented you in answer, you will forthwith report the same to this government, and await further instructions.
If the presentation of any terms embracing the restoration of the Union be declined, you will then request to be informed what terms of peace would, be accepted; and on receiving any answer, report the same to this government, and await further instructions.28
On the morning of August 25, President Lincoln convened a meeting with Secretary of State William H. Seward, Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton and Secretary of the Treasury William Pitt Fessenden about Raymond’s proposal for a peace mission to Richmond. They came to the conclusion that such a mission would be counterproductive. Historian David E. Long, wrote “by August 25, when Raymond arrived at the White House, Lincoln had finally rejected the plan. The president had discussed the proposition with Seward, Stanton, and William Pitt Fessenden of Maine….They had decided to send a peace commission to Richmond would be worse than losing the presidential contest; it would amount to an ignominious surrender. We will never know how seriously Lincoln considered the idea. In their history of the Lincoln presidency, Nicolay and Hay claimed that he wrote the draft of instructions solely to facilitate examination and discussion of the question. Lincoln was well aware of Raymond’s importance and would have given his suggestion serious consideration. Or, the draft written on August 24 may simply have been Lincoln again playing devil’s advocate with himself regarding a difficult question.”29
Raymond biographer Francis Brown wrote: “That day, August 25, the National Committeemen met in Washington amid rumors that they were going to win the Administration to a policy of peace. They arrived, Lincoln’s secretaries recalled, in ‘depression and panic.’ Lincoln, however, persuaded them that the outlook was not so dark as they supposed. For one thing, the Wade-Davis Manifesto had not won the support that its authors had expected. Moreover, there was still chance for victory in the field: Sherman was close to Atlanta, and the country had taken heart from the recent destruction of the famed Confederate raiser Alabama and the naval successes in Mobile Bay. In the end, ‘encouraged and cheered,’ the committee issued an optimistic statement of confidence in Lincoln’s reelection (though the President himself thought reelection unlikely), and the Times next day denied that the Government had had any thought of peace negotiations. ‘Its sole and undivided purpose is to prosecute the war until the rebellion is quelled.”30
The political tide was turning though it was not obvious at the time. “Hell is to pay. The N.Y. politicians have got a stampede on that is about to swamp everything Presidential aide John G. Nicolay wrote his colleague John Hay on August 25: “Everything is darkness and doubt and discouragement. Our men see giants in the airy and insubstantial shadows of the opposition and are about to surrender without a fight. I think that today and here is the turning-point in our crisis. If the President can infect R[aymond]. and his committee with some of his own patience and pluck, we are saved. If our friends will only rub their eyes and shake themselves, and become convinced that they themselves are not dead we shall win the fight overwhelmingly.”31
John Waugh observed in Reelecting Lincoln, “J.W. Shaffer, Ben Butler’s chief of staff, wrote his boss from New York that nearly everybody he had talked with agreed that there was but one course: a call for new convention, including war Democrats, if the Chicago Convention nominated a peace man or adopted a peace platform.”32 Cincinnati attorney Richard Corwine wrote Commissioner of Indian Affairs William P. Dole on August 26. He reported to Dole — who gave the letter to President Lincoln that one of General Benjamin Butler’s aides was in New York City to try to arrange for Butler to replace Mr. Lincoln. Butler’s aide “disclosed much of their plan with the view of intrusting me in the movement. He premised by saying that Weed & Raymond would urge Lincoln to withdraw and that they had assurances of success because Seward had said, and Lincoln had concurred in it, that the latter had no prospect of being elected. Dudley Field, Winter Davis &c are interested in the movement and he said that Gov [John] Andrew & all New England were united in the effort to nominate Butler & compell [sic] the President to withdraw[.] It is proposed to issue a circular calling a Convention to assemble in this City the last of September, the call to issue immediately after the Chicago Convention. This aid wants to get the names of some influential Republicans to that paper. He is the same gentleman who came here last fall to effectuate the same thing, viz. the nomination of Butler. I frankly told him that I should regard any change of nominee now as being attended with the greatest possible danger to our ticket success, even if there seemed to be any necessity for a change, which I could not see. That I regarded the grumbling among the people in this, and a few other localities, as the result of the same bad influences that were at work to defeat the President’s nomination, and that they would be as short lived now as they were then. That the nominations at Chicago would dissipate all such opposition or dissatisfaction with the same celerity and unanimity that did the firing upon Fort Sumpter silence the loud spoken sympathisers with the rebbles of the South at that time. That this opposition to the President sprang from the same source, deluding many good men, who will not fail to see and understand the movement soon enough. The disappointed politicians, who are at the head of the movement, will turn to the support of the President in due time because they will stare into their own political graves, which will be gaping to receive them, if they fail to come to his support.”33
Another session of the conspirators was scheduled for August 30 but the nomination of George B. McClellan as the Democratic candidate for President on a peace platform the day before doomed its mission. Former Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase tried to manipulate the movement, noted historian Burton J. Hendrick, but even he bowed to political reality. By the end of September, virtually all New York Republicans had fallen into line behind Mr. Lincoln. “One September 27, 1 great meeting assembled in Cooper Union in New York over which Chase’s accredited spokesman William Curtis Noyes, presided and at which many of the leaders of the ‘Lincoln withdrawal movement’ sat conspicuously on the platform, all in admiration of the candidate they had sought to displace.”34
McClellan was nominated by the Democratic National Convention meeting in Chicago on August 31. That night, Navy Secretary Gideon Welles worried into his diary: “Whether certain Republican leaders in Congress, who have been assailing and deceiving the Administration, and the faultfinding journals of New York have, or will, become conscious of their folly, we shall soon know. They have done all that was in their power to destroy confidence in the President and injure those with whom they were associated. If, therefore the reelection of Mr. Lincoln is not defeated, it will not be owing to them.” Welles added: “Possibly the New York editors may be perverse a few weeks longer, sufficiently so to give that city overwhelmingly to the opposition, and perhaps lose the State. Seward will, unintentionally, help them by over-refined intrigues and assumptions and blunders. It has sometimes seemed to me that he was almost in complicity with his enemies, and that they were using him. I am not certain that the latter is not true.”35
Tribune Editor Greeley did not immediately admit defeat. He wrote George Opdyke on September 2, 1864, “Yours of the 25th inst. arrived here during my absence in Chicago, which must excuse my tardy reply. That which I could do in the direction you indicate has been done in inducing the [Cincinnati]Gazette to come out for Mr. Lincoln’s withdrawal. The article has been telegraphed east, and I hope has done some good…”36 On behalf of fellow editors Greeley and Godwin, Theodore Tilton sent “private and confidential” letters the same day to Republican governors. According to historian Robert S. Harper, “”Three questions were propounded to the governors; whether they thought the reelection of Lincoln was a probability; whether Lincoln could carry ‘your state’; whether the interests of the Union party required a substitute candidate.”37
Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner had been at the periphery of efforts to replace President Lincoln, whose positions on reconstruction were not sufficiently radical for Sumner’s taste. But he was careful not to create too much distance between himself and Mr. Lincoln. At the end of September, Sumner wrote a friend in England:
Before the Chicago Convention, Mr Lincoln’s case seemed almost hopeless. There was a profound discontent in his own party & especially among those who have been in the way of knowing him most. There was a distrust of his capacity. It is a general impression that with a Presdt. of ordinary vigor & practical sense, this was would have been ended long ago. But the Chicago platform was to [bad?]. Greeley who had stood out at once came in; so did Bryant. Wade & others have followed.
From the beginning I declined to have any thing to do with any adversary proceeding, partly on the ground of my personal relations with the Presdt but more because I was satisfied that it would only endanger the result. I should have been satisfied that it would only endanger the result. I should have been satisfied with any of 100 names — with any one of half the Senate, & I think any such person, if nominated with the good will of the Presdt could have been elected. But our candidate long ago set his heart on a re-election, & he will have it. Perhaps it is useless to go into reasons or details.
Chase at first was very bitter & went so far as to doubt the Presdt’s loyalty to the Anti-Slavery cause. I never have so far as he understands it. But he does not know how to help or is not moved to help. For instance, I do not remember that I have had any help from him in any questions which I have conducted — although a word from him in certain quarters would have saved me much trouble. It is hard to tug at questions day after day, when go[vernmen]t. support might supersede all labor. But he has no instinct or inspiration.38
A key presidential assistant took a similar perspective in his diary entry two days later. “Things looked very blue a month ago,” wrote John Hay on September 29. “A meeting was held in New York…of Union men opposed to Lincoln & it was resolved that he should be requested to withdraw from the canvass. But Atlanta & the response of the country to Chicago infamy set matters. Weed says they sent for him to come & join them. He replied that his only objection to Mr. Lincoln was his favor to such fellows as they & that he shd. Not join them against him. He also says that Ben. Butler in his last visit to New York spent several hours with him trying to get him to go in for (Butler) on a new Buffalo or Cincinnati supplementary convention ticket. W. told him the question lay between Lincoln and McClellan.”39
It was the Democrats who were suddenly on the defensive. The Republicans were moving forward. “After the Chicago convention, the political situation in New York was stirred up; and from September on, very large meetings with abundant enthusiasm on both sides were reported from all over the State. McClellan’s nomination was received with joy by the great majority of New York Democrats. In New York City a large ratification meeting under Tammany’s auspices was held in City Hall Park immediately upon the arrival of reliable news of the action of the convention; Tammany Hall was brilliantly illuminated and decorated; while along the East and North Rivers, bonfires around which crowds gathered were lighted. In Albany two salutes of two hundred guns each were fired, a procession formed, fireworks set off, and a meeting held on the steps of the Capitol. Similar demonstrations took place at Utica, Syracuse, Rochester, Ogdensburg, Buffalo, Poughkeepsie, Kingston, Lockport, Troy, and many smaller places in the State. All this had a reactive effect upon McClellan’s opponents. The Chicago resolutions especially braced up the Unionists. Fremont withdraw, and soon both the radicals and their journals heartily supported Lincoln. Thereafter with the exception of a very vicious attack upon Lincoln delivered by Wendell Phillips before a great Cooper Institute audience a week before the election, there were no discordant voices in the Union ranks in New York State,” wrote historian Sidney David Brummer.40
Historian Brummer wrote: “The most cogent arguments for the Union ticket, however, were the military victories of the North during the autumn. Nor were the efforts of some Democrats to convince the public that the truth was being concealed and that in reality more reverses had been suffered of avail. The names of Grant, Sherman, Sheridan, and Farragut were constantly used by Unionist speakers with a certainty of evoking enthusiasm.”41
- Benjamin F. Butler, Butler’s Book, Volume II, p. 632-634.
- Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Transcribed and Annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College. Galesburg, Illinois. (Letter from Simon Cameron to Abraham Lincoln, March 29, 1864).
- Allan Nevins, Fremont, Pathmarker of the West, p. 571.
- Wayne C. Tremont, Abraham Lincoln: From Skeptic to Prophet, p. 138.
- William Frank Zornow, Lincoln & the Party Divided, p. 78-79.
- Sidney David Brummer, Political History of New York State During the Period of the Civil War, p. 384-386.
- Sidney David Brummer, Political History of New York State During the Period of the Civil War, p. 387-388.
- George H. Mayer, The Republican Party, 1854-1964, p. 115.
- George H. Mayer, The Republican Party, 1854-1964, p. 117.
- Francis B. Carpenter, The Inner Life of Abraham Lincoln: Six Months at the White House, p. 145.
- Chauncey M. Depew, My Memories of Eighty Years, p. 63.
- Burton J. Hendrick, Lincoln’s War Cabinet, p. 454.
- James G. Randall, Lincoln the President: Last Full Measure, p. 211.
- William Frank Zornow, Lincoln & the Party Divided, p. 114-116.
- James M. Trietsch, The Printer and the Prince, p. 276.
- William Harlan Hale, Horace Greeley: Voice of the People, p. 287-288.
- William Frank Zornow, Lincoln & the Party Divided, p. 115-116.
- David Donald, editor, Inside Lincoln’s Cabinet: The Civil War Diaries of Salmon P. Chase, p. 238.
- William Frank Zornow, Lincoln & the Party Divided, p. 116.
- Francis Brown, Raymond of the Times, p. 260.
- Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Transcribed and Annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College. Galesburg, Illinois. (Letter from Henry J. Raymond to Abraham Lincoln, August 22, 1864).
- Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Transcribed and Annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College. Galesburg, Illinois. (Letter from Thurlow Weed to William H. Seward, August 22, 1864).
- Roy P. Basler, editor, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume VII, p. 514 (August 23, 1864).
- Francis B. Carpenter, The Inner Life of Abraham Lincoln: Six Months at the White House, p. 275.
- Roy P. Basler, editor, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume VII, p. 517 (Letter to Henry J. Raymond, August 24. 1864).
- David E. Long, The Jewel of Liberty, p. 192.
- Francis Brown, Raymond of the Times, p. 261.
- Michael Burlingame, editor, With Lincoln in the White House: Letters, Memoranda, and Other Writings of John G. Nicolay, 1860-1865, p. 152 (Letter from John G. Nicolay to John Hay, August 25, 1864).
- John Waugh, Reelecting Lincoln, p. 270.
- Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Transcribed and Annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College. Galesburg, Illinois. (Letter from Richard M. Corwine to William P. Dole, August 26, 1864).
- Burton J. Hendrick, Lincoln’s War Cabinet, p. 456-457.
- Gideon Welles, Diary of Gideon Welles, Volume II, p. 131 (August 31, 1864).
- Robert S. Harper, Lincoln and the Press, p. 309.
- Robert S. Harper, Lincoln and the Press, p. 314.
- Charles Sumner, The Selected Letters of Charles Sumner, Volume II, p. 253 (Letter from Charles Sumner to John Bright, September 27, 1864).
- Michael Burlingame and John R. Turner Ettlinger, editor, Inside Lincoln’s White House: The Complete Civil War Diary of John Hay, p. 234 (September 29, 1864).
- Sidney David Brummer, Political History of New York State During the Period of the Civil War, p. 420-421.
- Sidney David Brummer, Political History of New York State During the Period of the Civil War, p. 431.
- Michael Burlingame and John R. Turner Ettlinger, editor, Inside Lincoln’s White House: The Complete Civil War Diary of John Hay, p. 248 (November 11, 1864).
- Harlan Hoyt Horner, Lincoln and Greeley, p. 332.
- John Waugh, Reelecting Lincoln, p. 162-163.