Republican Campaign Conflict between Seward and Lincoln, James Watson Webb is Featured on the Bow
1860 Republican Convention, Chicago
The Republican National Convention was chaired by New Yorker Edwin D. Morgan — who called the Convention to order in Chicago in on May 16, 1861, “before the largest, most brilliant, and most enthusiastic party gathering yet seen in the country,” according to historian Allan Nevins.1 Governor Morgan began with an attack on the Democratic Party: “While part of the adherents of the national Administration area endeavoring to insert a slave code into the party platform, another portion expresses its readiness to accomplish the same result through the action of the Supreme Court of the United States, willing by indirection to do that which, if done directly, would bring a blush even to the cheek of modern Democracy. While these and other stupendous wrongs, absolutely shocking to the moral sentiment of the country, are to be fastened upon the people by the party in power, if its leaders are able to bring the factious elements that compose it into any degree of unanimity, there seems left no ray of hope except in the good sense of this Convention. Let met then invoke you to at in a spirit of harmony, that, through the dignity, the wisdom, and the patriotism displayed here, you may be enabled to enlist the hearts of the people, and strengthen them in the facts that yours is the Constitutional party of the country, and the only Constitutional party, that you are actuated by principle, and that you will be guided by the light and by the example of the Father s of the Republic.”2
The 70-member New York delegation was chaired by attorney William M. Evarts. The delegates rode a special train out to Chicago. According to the New York Herald: “Moses H. Grinnell and Tom Hyer, Matthias Green and William Evarts, outsiders and insiders, all ate the same luxuriant sandwich, swallowed the same quart of dust, were singed with the same cinders, enjoyed the same festive doughnut, nibbled the same African cracker, gnawed the juicy railway-station beef, hung in epicurean delight over the delicious pie, and exerted their imaginative faculties upon the rural coffee and provincial whiskey. All your famous equalizers — dirt and politics, hunger and thirst — did the work of fraternization, and extremes touched.”3 Historian Glyndon Van Deusen noted that “Men like Governor [John A.] King, [Richard] Blatchford, Moses H. Grinnell, [John L.] Schoolcraft, and William M. Evarts lent dignity to the group, but others were politicians of a rougher sort. This gentry, heartened by the music of the famous Dodsworth’s band, drank everybody’s whisky, slapped backs, boasted that New York had oceans of cash to spend on the campaign, and made vociferous complaint about that ‘damned old ass’ Horace Greeley when they were not rending air with shouts for ‘Old Irrepressible.”4
New York’s Republican delegation was led in reality by political boss Thurlow Weed, who came to Chicago prepared to overwhelm all opposition. “Weed, surrounded by New York followers and the band hired to play the triumphal march, roared in on a special train to fix up matters. His lieutenants headed like homing pigeons to the nearest bars, to influence voters,” wrote historian Jeter Allen Isely. 5 According to Albert Shaw: “Mr. Weed was reputed to have ample money at his disposal, the better to facilitate his efforts on behalf of Seward, and he was in a position, also, to make pledges and compromises looking to appointive posts. The New York delegates, therefore, with Weed as Seward’s personal representative went to Chicago with complete confidence in the success that awaited them.”6 Ohio Senator Salmon P. Chase had his supporters, but they ended up defecting to Abraham Lincoln.
Even Thurlow Weed had occasional doubts, according to historian Glyndon Van Deusen: “Just after the New York State election of 1859, when it looked as though the entire Republican slate had been elected, he said jubilantly to Richard M. Blatchford, ‘Blatch, I consider now that Seward’s nomination and election are sure.’ A few days later, when it developed that the Republican candidate for secretary of state and two others had been defeated, he was not so certain, and there were times as the convention drew near when he spoke in gloomy tones of the fight for the nomination.”7
“Ostensibly the convention devoted Wednesday and Thursday to problems of organization and the platform, but behind the scenes the managers of the various candidates had been bidding for delegates from the doubtful states. On Wednesday night there was a festive atmosphere in the Seward headquarters at Richmond House. Champagne flowed freely, and the New York delegates boastfully informed visitors that the nomination of Seward was assured.”8Weed was indefatigable. He “visited one delegation after another, exerting all his persuasive powers. He promised lavish financial support for Andrew G. Curtin and Henry S. Lane, the gubernatorial candidates in Pennsylvania and Indiana, if they would swing their states to Seward; he helped to ward off the two-thirds rules in the choice of candidates,” wrote Seward biographer Glyndon Van Deusen.9
But Seward’s opponents, including some New Yorkers, were hard at work making sure that his nomination was far from sure. According to Chase biographer Frederic J. Blue: “New York supporters [Hiram] Barney, David Dudley Field, and George C. Opdyke, all of whom had worked for Chase, at the last minute felt themselves ‘under necessity to effect combinations on Lincoln to defeat Seward. A desire to go with an apparent winner thus took precedence over support of Chase.”10 On May 17, Ohio journalist Murat Halstead wrote:
The Seward men made a demonstration this morning in the form of a procession. The scene at the Richmond House as they formed and marched away after their band of music — the band in splendid uniform and the Sewardites wearing badges — was exceedingly animating and somewhat picturesque. The band was giving, with a vast volume of melody, ‘O isn’t he a darling?’ — the procession was four abreast, filing away in a cloud of dust — and one of their orators, mounted upon a door-step, with hat and cane in his hands, was haranguing them as a captain might address his soldiers marching to battle. The Seward procession was heedless of the dust as regular soldiers, and strode on with gay elasticity and jaunty bearing.
As they passed the Tremont House where the many masses of the opponents of ‘Old Irrepressible’ were congregated, they gave three throat-tearing cheers for Seward. It will be a clear case if he is not nominated, that the failure cannot be charged to his friends. Few men had had friends who would cleave unto them as the Sewardites to their great man here.”11
Seward’s name was placed in nomination by New York attorney William M. Evarts, who first asked: “As the convention has decided by its vote to proceed to ballot, you may be assured that I do not rise for the purpose of making a speech. I rise simply to ask, Sir, whether it is in order to present names in nomination.” When the Convention chair replied in the affirmative, Evarts gave a simple nominating speech: “In the order of business before the convention, Sir, I take the liberty to name as a candidate to be nominated by this convention for the office of President of the United States, William H. Seward.” After the appropriate eruption of applause and cheering, Mr. Lincoln’s name was placed in nomination by Illinois Republican Chairman Norman B. Judd: “I desire, on behalf of the delegation from Illinois, to put in nomination, as a candidate for President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln of Illinois.”12 Ohio journalist Murat Halstead described the war of sound that followed
The only names that produced ‘tremendous applause,’ were those of Seward and Lincoln. Every body felt that the fight was between them, and yelled accordingly.
The applause, when Mr. Evarts named Seward, was enthusiastic. When Mr. Judd named Lincoln, the response was prodigious, rising and raging far beyond the Seward shriek. Presently, upon Caleb B. Smith seconding the nomination of Lincoln, the response was absolutely terrific. It now became the Seward men to make another effort, and when Blair of Michigan seconded his nomination.
“At once there rose so wild a yell,
Within that dark and narrow dell;
As all the fiends from heaven that fell
Had pealed the banner cry of hell.
The effect was startling. Hundreds of persons stopped their ears in pain. The shouting was absolutely frantic, shrill and wild. No Comanches, no panthers ever struck a higher note, or gave screams with more infernal intensity. Looking from the stage over the vast amphitheatre, nothing was to be seen below but thousands of hats — a black, mighty swarm of hats — flying with the velocity of hornets over a mass of human heads, most of the mouths of which were open. Above, all around the galleries, hats and handkerchiefs were flying in the tempest together. The wonder of the thing was, that the Seward outside pressure should so far from New York, be powerful.
Now the Lincoln men had to try it again, and as Mr. Delano of Ohio, on behalf ‘of a portion of the delegation of that State,’ seconded the nomination of Lincoln, the uproar was beyond description. Imagine all the hogs ever slaughtered in Cincinnati giving their death squeals together, a score of big steam whistles going (steam at 160 lbs per inch), and you conceive something of the same nature. I thought the Seward yell could not be surpassed; but the Lincoln boys were clearly ahead, and feeling their victory, as there was a lull in the storm, took deep breaths all round, and gave a concentrated shriek that was positively awful, and accompanied it with stamping that made very plank and pillar in the building quiver. 13
Seward was out-yelled at the convention, but deeper issues undermined his candidacy. Ironically, Lincoln’s nomination was secured in part because of the “radical” reputation of Seward on slavery issues. “The first day’s session had not ended when the convention divided into Seward and anti-Seward parties, into ‘irrepressibles’ and ‘conservatives,’ as they were then called. This practically eliminated, before the balloting began, all of Seward’s rivals except Lincoln and Bates,” wrote Seward biographer Frederic Bancroft.14 “The natural tendency of Seward’s prominence was to cause the delegates in favor of other candidates to cooperate in opposition to him.”15
Lincoln was a relatively fresh face in national politics; Seward’s face had been prominent since he first became Governor of New York in 1839. “Seward had many powerful enemies at the convention,” wrote historian Oliver Carlson. “Most potent of all, was a moon-faced, apple-cheeked, white-haired individual of middle age bearing a credential from far-off Oregon. In his heavy boots, broad-brimmed hat, and crumpled suit, he looked every inch a farmer. This was Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune, the man who had sworn years earlier to have his revenge on Seward.”16 Greeley, who backed Missouri attorney Edward Bates, made the rounds of delegations. He was a failure in advancing the candidacy of Bates but a success in helping torpedo fellow New Yorker Seward. Illinois attorney Leonard Swett, who was one of Mr. Lincoln’s organizers, wrote:
Of course, the first question was whether or not Mr. Weed, who was confessedly in the leadership of the Seward movement, could carry off the nomination by main strength and on the first ballot. If it should prove that he could not, then we had hopes, for we believed Mr. Lincoln could concentrate forces, as against Chase, Cameron, or Bates. The efforts of his friends, therefore, were directed to getting for Mr. Lincoln the strength of these men, after their personal hopes should be abandoned. Everybody who knows politicians knows that what they worship is the god of success. The friends of Mr. Lincoln knew this, and saw their chances in securing, upon the failure of Mr. Seward affirmatively to carry the convention, a great demonstration of strength as between Mr. Lincoln and the other candidates.
The chance lay in Pennsylvania, which had, as I remember, fifty-four votes. The Seward men were laboring with delegates from that State, and so were friends of Mr. Lincoln, and both were hopeful; but in the small hours of Friday morning, in a room of the Tremont House, two of Mr. Lincoln’s friends and two of Mr. Cameron’s being present, our arguments prevailed, and the Cameron men agreed to come to us on the second ballot. They did so right nobly and gave us forty-eight votes. This, with other accessions, was a blow in the centre which disorganized the forces of our great opponent and revealed the coming man. Thousands in the wigwam catching the inspiration, he was immediately nominated….
After the joy of the occasion had subsided, and the convention adjourned, a Mr. Humphreys, who was a member of the New York delegation, and who had formerly lived in Bloomington, Ill., came to me and said Mr. Weed was feeling badly at the result, and some of us ought to call upon him. I asked him to go and introduce us; but, because, as I remember, he did not known him personally, he declined, and Judge Davis and I went alone. This was the first time either of us had met him, and I shall always remember the interview.
Mr. Weed did not talk angrily as to the result, nor did he complain of any one. I remember the substance of his words, as with much feeling, and confessing to the great disappointment of his life, he said, ‘I hoped to make my friend, Mr. Seward, President, and I thought I could serve my country in so doing.’ He was a larger man intellectually than I anticipated, and of finer fibre. There was in him an element of gentleness and a large humanity which won me, and I was pleased no less than surprised. We urged upon him the propriety of making Mr. Lincoln’s acquaintance before he returned. He was going for some purpose to Iowa, and we finally arranged that he should telegraph us at Bloomington what day he could be in Springfield upon his return, as we had offered, if he would do so, to meet him there and introduce him. We did meet him, according to his despatch, and were present at the interview, which was of a general character, upon the prospects of the campaign and the condition of the country….17
Albert Shaw wrote in Abraham Lincoln: The Year of His Election: “Seward’s defeat at Chicago, as Greeley remarked some time afterwards, turned upon one essential question — which candidate ‘could obtain more electoral votes than any of his competitors.’ And Greeley went on to say that this reason ‘rarely or never fails in a national convention.'”18 According to historian Chester L. Barrows, Seward’s defeat “was a crushing blow to the Seward men. Weed burst into tears. Evarts gamely rose to his feet, quicker than a score of others who sought recognition, and made his way forward. Mounting the secretary’s table, with evidence of great emotion, his lip quivering, his face said, he said: ‘The State of New York by a full delegation, with complete unanimity of purpose at home, came to this convention and presented for its choice one of its citizens, who served the State from boyhood up, who labored for it and loved it. We came from a great State, with, as we thought, a great statesman, and our love for the great Republican, from which we are all delegates, the great American Union, and our love for our statesman and candidate, made us think that we did our duty to our country and the whole country in expressing our love and preference for him. For, gentleman, it was from Governor Seward that most of us learned to love Republican principles and the Republican party. His fidelity to the country, the Constitution and the laws; his fidelity to the party and the principle that the majority governs; his interest in the advancement of our party to its victory, that our country may rise to its true glory, induces me to speak his sentiments, as I do, indeed the opinion of our whole delegation, when I now move you, as I now do, that the nomination of Abraham Lincoln of Illinois, as Republican candidate for the office of Chief Magistrate of the American Union, be made unanimous.”19
“One of the striking features of this convention was the fact that Seward was sincerely regarded by the scheming politicians, the general public, a very large portion of the truest antislavery men, and the most cultured Republicans, as their best representative,” wrote Seward biographer Frederic Bancroft. “Seward’s sudden and unexpected overthrow — which nearly every one believed would be the end of his chances for the presidency — filled his intimate friends with a profound sorrow. They felt that he had been sacrificed on account of his brilliant qualities and because his services had been so great and well known.”20 Bancroft was echoing words written by Ohio journalist Murat Halstead, who covered the Republican convention: “The fact of the convention was the defeat of Seward rather than the nomination of Lincoln. It was the triumph of a presumption of availability over pre-eminence in intellect and unrivaled fame — a success of the ruder qualities of manhood and the more homely attributes of popularity, over the arts of a consummate politician, and the splendor of accomplished statesmanship.”21
New York Republicans were distraught. “When it became evident that Seward was to be sacrificed tears flowed like water among the vast throng. I never saw a scene so truly affecting,” wrote one non-New York Republican. “The white livered old cuss was jubilant.”22 Back in New York a relatively apolitical attorney wrote: “Thy Nose, O W.H. Seward, is out of joint! The Chicago Convention nominates Lincoln and Hamlin. They will be beat, unless the South perpetrate some special act of idiocy, arrogance, or brutality before next fall.,” The New York lawyer, George Templeton Strong, wrote in his diary on May 19. “Lincoln will be strong in the Western states. He is unknown here. The Tribune and other papers commend him to popular favor as having had but six months’ schooling in his whole life; and because he cut a great many rails, and worked on a flatboat in early youth; all which is somehow presumptive evidence of his statesmanship. The watchword of the campaign is already indicated. It is to be ‘Honest Abe’ (our candidate being a namesake of the Father of the Faithful). Mass-meeting and conventions and committees are to become enthusiastic and vociferous whenever an orator says Abe. But that monosyllable does not seem to me likely to prove a word of power. ‘Honest Abe’ sounds less efficient than ‘Frémont and Jessie,’ and that failed four years ago.”23
Weed grandson Thurlow Weed Barnes later wrote: “Up to the time when the Chicago convention was held, Mr. Weed’s authority in the Whig and Republican parties was exercised almost without dissent. He was known to be as impartial as he was judicious, and a general disposition existed to leave the settlement of important political questions in hi s hands. But when the Republican party was formed it was necessary to fuse into its membership elements which were to a certain degree incongruous. Lucius Robinson, Hiram Barney, and David Dudley Field were not likely to act in perfect accord with Mr. Weed, however easy it may have been for them, on various occasions to affiliate with Mr. Bryant and Mr. Greeley. The dangers of the new alliance were recognized by the men who had ruled the Whigs, but instead of instituting a proscriptive policy, intended to keep the minority in subjection, Mr. Weed was inclined to show them rather more recognition than was really justified by their stock in trade. George Opdyke and David Dudley Field were among those representing the anti-Weed element who intimated a desire to be chosen delegates to the national Republican convention of 1860. As public sentiment ran strongly in favor of Mr. Seward, their aspirations in this respect were not gratified. When the convention met, however, both appeared at Chicago in a private capacity, and with Mr. Bryant, Mr. Barney, and Mr. Greeley, constituted a New York basis of opposition to the New York candidate. The result of the convention was, of course, a great source of encouragement to these politicians.”24
There was one more act in the convention drama for New York Republicans. Mr. Lincoln’s supporters thought that New York was owed the Vice Presidential nomination. But New York was not about to be appeased by the number two spot. That Seward’s New York supporters were embittered is clear from the testimony of Alexander K. McClure, a Pennsylvania Republican leader close to Andrew Curtin, who was the Republican candidate for Governor.
Until after the nomination of Lincoln little attention had been given to the contest for Vice-President . Had Seward been nominated, Lincoln would have been unanimously tendered the second place on the ticket, but with Lincoln nominated for the first place the leading friends of Lincoln at once suggested to the friends of Seward that they should name the candidate for Vice-Presidency. Mr. Greeley was sent to Governor Morgan to proffer the nomination to him if he would accept it, or in case of his refusal to ask him to name some man who would be acceptable to the friends of Seward. Governor Morgan not only declined to accept it himself, but he declined to suggest any one of Seward’s friends for the place. Not only Governor Morgan, but Mr. Evarts and Mr. Weed, all refused to be consulted on the subject of the Vice-Presidency, and they did it in a temper that indicated contempt for the action of the convention. Hamlin was nominated, but because Seward desired it, for New York gave him a bar majority on the first ballot, but because he was then the most prominent of the Democratic-Republicans in the East. The contest was really between Hamlin and Cassius M. Clay. Clay was supported chiefly because he was a resident of a Southern State and to relieve the party from the charge of presenting a sectional ticket; but as there were no Southern electoral votes to be fought for, Hamlin was wisely preferred; and he was nominated on the second ballot by a vote of 367 to 86 for Clay. Notwithstanding Governor Morgan’s keen disappointment at the defeat of Seward, he was easily prevailed upon to remain at the head of the National Committee, thus charging him with the management of the national campaign.
I called on Thurlow Weed at his headquarters during the evening after the nominations had been made, expecting that, with all his disappointment, he would be ready to co-operate for the success of the ticket. I found him sullen and offensive in both manner and expression. He refused even to talk about the contest, and intimated very broadly that Pennsylvania, having defeated Seward, could not elect Curtin and Lincoln. Governor Curtin also visited Mr. Weed before he left Chicago, but received no word of encouragement from the disappointed Seward leader. Weed had been defeated in his greatest effort, and the one great dream of his life had perished. He never forgave Governor Curtin until the day of his death, nor did Seward maintain any more than severely civil relations with Curtin during the whole time that he was at the head of the State Department. 25
McClure wrote that the bitterness extended to New York Governor Morgan, whose support was critical to raising funds for the presidential campaign. McClure said Curtin wrote: “I called on Morgan the night after the nomination was made. He treated me civilly, but with marked coolness, and I then called on Weed, who was very rude indeed. He said to me, ‘You have defeated the man who of all others was most revered by the people and wanted as President. You and Lane want to be elected, and to elect Lincoln you must elect yourselves.'”26
- Allan Nevins, The Emergence of Lincoln: Prologue to Civil War, 1859-1861, Volume II, p. 251.
- James A. Rawley, Edwin D. Morgan, 1811-1883: Merchant in Politics, p. 107-108.
- Chester L. Barrows, William M. Evarts: Lawyer, Diplomat, Statesman, p. 90.
- Glyndon Van Deusen, William Henry Seward, p. 222.
- Jeter Allen Isely, Horace Greeley and the Republican Party, 1863-1861: A Study of the New York Tribune, p. 282.
- Albert Shaw, Abraham Lincoln: The Year of His Election, Volume II, p. 53.
- Glyndon Van Deusen, William Henry Seward, p. 216.
- George H. Mayer, The Republican Party, 1854-1964, p. 68.
- Glyndon Van Deusen, William Henry Seward, p. 223.
- Frederick J. Blue, Salmon P. Chase: A Life in Politics, p. 126.
- Paul M. Angle and Earl Schenck Miers, editor, Fire the Salute, p. 15-16.
- Albert Shaw, Abraham Lincoln: The Year of His Election, Volume II, p. 44-45.
- Paul M. Angle and Earl Schenck Miers, editor, Fire the Salute, p. 36-37.
- Frederic Bancroft, The Life of William H. Seward, Volume I, p. 534.
- Frederic Bancroft, The Life of William H. Seward, Volume I, p. 536.
- Oliver Carlson, The Man Who Made News: James Gordon Bennett, p. 299.
- Thurlow Weed Barnes, editor, Memoir of Thurlow Weed, Volume II, p. 291-293 (Leonard Swett’s comments originally in letter to the editor of theChicago Tribune, July 13, 1880).
- Albert Shaw, Abraham Lincoln: The Year of His Election, Volume II, p. 56.
- Chester L. Barrows, William M. Evarts: Lawyer, Diplomat, Statesman, p. 93.
- Frederic Bancroft, The Life of William H. Seward, Volume I, p. 539.
- Paul M. Angle and Earl Schenck Miers, editor, Fire the Salute, p. 52.
- Jeter Allen Isely, Horace Greeley and the Republican Party, 1863-1861: A Study of the New York Tribune, p. 283-284 (Letter from C.C. Washburne to Elihu Washburne, May 19, 1860).
- Allan Nevins, editor, Diary of the Civil War, 1860-1865: George Templeton Strong, p. 28 (May 19, 1860).
- Thurlow Weed Barnes, editor, Memoir of Thurlow Weed, Volume II, p. 321.
- Alexander K. McClure, Abraham Lincoln and Men of War-Times, p. 40-41.
- Alexander K. McClure, Abraham Lincoln and Men of War-Times, p. 41.