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Manton Marble (1834-1917)

Manton Marble
New York World
Robert S. Harper described the New York World as the “recognized leader of the radical opposition to Lincoln.”1 The World was edited by Manton Marble and directed by the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, August Belmont. The newspaper was in effect the journalistic arm of the Democratic Party.
Belmont biographer Irving Katz wrote: “The World had been established in 1860 by ‘several Christian gentlemen’ who desired to make available to New Yorkers a wholesome, two-cent family newspaper. In 1861 its financial condition forced a merger with another small daily, The Courier and the Enquirer, which had also been losing money. The joint enterprise failed, however, to show a profit and was placed on the block. The World‘s night editor, twenty-seven-year-old Manton Malone Marble, had considerable journalistic experience and believed he could make it a successful paper if funds to reorganize it were found.”2 Manton had worked in Boston and New York for journals like the New York Evening Post and Harper’s Magazine. The World, however, was Marble’s chance to play in the big leagues of journalism as the manager of his own newspaper, a role which he played well until he retired from journalism in 1876.
“In April, 1862, Marble got a six-month mortgage on the World‘s property, assembled an able, experienced staff, and assumed sole proprietorship. By September Marble realized he would be unable to pay off the note. A Democrat of the [August] Belmont persuasion, he also saw the need for a party voice in the press. He approached a group of prominent Democrats, including [August] Belmont, [Samuel L.M.] Barlow, and [Samuel J.] Tilden, and effected a marriage of mutual convenience by selling them shares in his newspaper. The World‘s circulation under its new auspices climbed immediately, so that it soon ranked fifth among the more than twenty metropolitan dailies,” wrote Belmont biographer Irving Katz.3 In taking up his new partners, Marble gave up managerial and editorial independence but gained political clout.
“Marble preferred to remain independent in politics as ardently as he preferred to retain financial control of the paper through which he hoped to wield his influence; but in September 1862, he accepted the inevitable, and having been repulsed by the Republicans, he returned for aid to the Democrats,” wrote Manton biographer Mary Cortona Phelan, “The alliance he made at this time with some of the leading Democrats of New York would seem, then, to have been motivated by simple expediency. Many of his friends deprecated the move, and several staff members resigned in protest. On the other hand, the determination of the editor of The World to enter the arena of partisan politics was applauded by many among whom was one who was delighted that New York had, at last, ‘an acknowledged organ of the party and a leader of the Democratic press in the State to give it tone and direction.”4
Irving Katz wrote: “Until Marble’s retirement in 1876, he and Belmont worked closely together and succeeded in making the World the lead Democratic organ in the country. The perennial joke among Gotham’s newspapermen and politicians — that Belmont, Barlow, and Tilden ran the World with a little assistance from Marble — probably contained more truth in it than the banker-politician was willing publicly to concede. Careful scrutiny of the Belmont-Marble correspondence reveals innumerable instances where the national chairman provided Marble with ideas for both editorial policy and operational management. In turn, Marble became a confidant of and sounding board for many of Belmont’s fledgling ideas.”5
Indeed, Belmont tended to use the World as his personal political printing press. After Belmont founded the Society for the Diffusion of Political Knowledge in February 1863, wrote historians Edward G. Burrows and Mike Wallace, Belmont put his newspaper to work for the committee. “Pamphleteers attacked the rising war debt, the government’s military strategy, and the Republican Party’s centralizing project and agitated for a negotiated peace and a revocation of emancipation. Belmont also promoted these ideas in the New York World,” wrote Burrows and Wallace.6
Manton was a strong opponent of both emancipation and a strong proponent of limitations on civil liberties such as the suspension of habeas corpus. Although a Democratic house organ, the World stayed mostly clear of the more inflammatory rhetoric of the New York Daily News until the spring of 1864. “Marble deliberately strove to shape The World into an organ outstanding for its critical judgment of the political and military decisions which emanated from Republican councils. In so doing, he exposed himself to accusations ranging from demagoguery to treason. According to his own admission he had been warned against too vigorous an opposition to administrative measures.”7
On May 18, 1864, the World was published a fraudulent presidential proclamation which called for an additional draft of 400,000 soldiers — driving up the price of gold. The proclamation was also published in the Journal of Commerce. According to Robert S. Harper in Lincoln and the Press, “Excitement in the [Wall] Street mounted. A crowd of traders and brokers assembled at the office of the Journal of Commerce, Wall and Water Streets, and called on the newspaper to affirm or deny the proclamation.”8
The World had been duped by a fraudulent dispatch which appeared to come from the Associated Press. Lincoln Administration officials reacted strongly. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton may have acted rashly. His biographer, Frank Abial Flower, wrote: “On the morning of May 18, 1864, the World and the Journal of Commerce of New York contained what purported to be a proclamation by President Lincoln setting aside the 26th of the month as a ‘day of fasting humiliation, and prayer,’ and calling for four hundred thousand more troops to be furnished before June 15, following, or raised by a ‘peremptory draft.’ The document, although subsequently proven to be spurious, was in Lincoln’s style, and created excitement akin to panic in New York City. The substance of it was telegraphed to Stanton, who instantly ordered General [John A.] Dix (commanding at New York) to seize and close the offices and arrest the editors of the newspapers publishing the proclamation and seize the offices of the telegraph line which was supposed to have transmitted the forgery from Washington to New York.”9
Historian Ernest A. McKay wrote: “The night editor at the Times was more alert. About three-thirty in the morning, he received the proclamation, allegedly from the Associated Press. It looked like the usual AP copy, but the handwriting was different and his suspicions were aroused. When the editor checked around the office, he learned that the story had not come in an AP envelope and the delivery boy had left at once. The editor sent the manuscript to the AP office with an inquiry about its origin. A reply soon came back: ‘The ‘Proclamation’ is false as hell and not promulgated through this office. The handwriting is not familiar.”10
One contemporary historian, Augustus Maverick, wrote that “nothing worse was ever done for purposes of speculation- all the circumstances of the time being considered — than the spurious Proclamation, purporting to have been issued by President Lincoln, which appeared in three morning papers in New York on the 18th of May, 1864. It was published at a critical period in the War, when foreign intervention was continually feared, and when the government needed the cordial aid of every loyal press and every loyal man. The Times and Tribune, with editors shrewdly suspicious, refused to print it. Yet the manner in which this hoax found its way into print lent it the color of truth. It was furnished to all the morning papers in New York at a late hour of the night, written upon the thin sheets of oiled tissue-paper used in the office of the Associated Press, and known to newspaper men as ‘manifold.’ It apparently came through the regular channels, and the night editors of three newspapers, deceived by its air of genuineness, accepted it without question, and published it.”11 The faux proclamation read:
In all seasons of exigency, it becomes a nation carefully to scrutinize its line of conduct, humbly to approach the Throne of Grace, and meekly to implore forgiveness, wisdom, and guidance.
For reasons known only to Him, it has been decreed that this country should be the scene of unparalleled outrage, and this nation the monumental sufferer of the Nineteenth Century. With a heavy heart, but an undiminished confidence in our cause, I approach the performance of a duty rendered imperative by my sense of weakness before [the] almighty, and of justice to the people.
‘It is necessary that I should tell you that the first Virginia campaign under Lieut. Gen. Grant, in whom I have every confidence, and in whose courage and fidelity the people do well to honor, is virtually closed. He has conducted his great enterprise with discreet ability. He has crippled their strength and defeated their plans.
In view, however, of the situation in Virginia, the disaster at Red River, the delay at Charleston, and the general state of the country, I, Abraham Lincoln, do hereby recommend that Thursday, the 26th day of May, A.D., 1864, be solemnly set apart throughout these United States as a day of fasting humiliation and prayer.
Deeming furthermore that the present condition of public affairs present as an extraordinary occasion, and in view of the pending expiration of the service of (100,000) one hundred thousand of our troops, I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, by virtue of the power vested in me by the Constitution and the laws, have thought fit to call forth, and hereby do call forth the citizens of the United States, between the ages of (18) eighteen and (45) forty-five years, to the aggregate number of (400,000) four hundred thousand, in order to suppress the exiting rebellious combinations, and to cause the due execution of the laws…. 12
“Manton Marble was routed of bed, rushed to his office, and stopped the sale of papers over the counter,” wroteRobert S. Harper in Lincoln and the Press. “He called back the bundles marked for the Scotia, the steamer preparing to sail, and made the purser surrender his free copy.”13
“It is at least probable that it was under the stress of such external circumstances that the Lincoln government took immediate steps to suppress the papers which had been deceived into printing the fraudulent document,” wrote Marble biographer Mary Cortona Phelan. “It further issued orders for the arrest and imprisonment at Fort Lafayette of both Manton Marble and the editor of the Journal of Commerce, William C. Prime. The orders for arrest were rescinded immediately, owing, it was supposed, to the explanation rendered by General John A. Dix, commander of the Department of the East, United States Army, but the suppression order remained in force, and there was no issue of The World until May 22, 1864.”14 Robert S. Harper wrote:
President Lincoln’s reconsideration of that portion of the order which called for arrest of the editors probably was taken upon the advice of Dix, who had the case in hand from the start. The early arrest he promised may have been accomplished a few hours after the forgery appeared, although it was not until two days later that the New York Tribune heard a suspect was in Fort Lafayette. On Saturday morning, May 21, the Tribune said it ‘understood’ that Joseph Howard ‘one of the editors’ of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, had been arrested.
The Tribune ‘understood’ correctly. Howard, city editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, was in a cell at Fort Lafayette, the confessed forger of the proclamation. Also in Fort Lafayette was a reporter for the Eagle, Francis A. Mallison, who admitted he participated in the hoax. Mallison was arrested by two detectives on Saturday morning, May 21, while on his way to a precinct house to report for the army draft.”15
Historian Allan Nevins wrote that “a sinister interpretation was placed on the government’s impetuous suppression of two New York newspapers, the World and Journal of Commerce, on what turned out to be no grounds at all.”16 Nevins wrote: “A dispatch boat that was hurried down New York Bay caught the Scotia before she cleared the Narrows for Europe with the forgery. Although in the temporary excitement gold shot up ten percent, little real harm was done. The suppression was indefensibly abrupt and hard. Democratic spokesmen wildly asserted that civil liberties were dead, and lamented that the United States had no Thiers who dared denounce its despot.”17 Other New York editors — from the New York Tribune, New York Herald, and New York Express and New York Sun came to the defense of the suppressed newspapers, telegraphing President Lincoln on the night of May 18:
The undersigned Editors and publishers of a portion of the daily press of the City of New York respectfully represent that the leading daily Journals of this City sustain very extended telegraphic news arrangements under an organization established in 1848 & known as the N[ew] York Associated Press which is controlled by its members acting through an executive committee a general Agent in this city & Assistant agents immediately responsible to the association at every important news centre throughout this country & Europe. Under the above named organization the rule has always been to transmit by telegraph all intelligence to the Office of the General Agent in this City & by him the same is properly prepared for publication & then written out by manifold process on tissue Paper & a copy of the same is sent simultaneously in sealed envelopes to each of the editors who are entitled to receive the same. From foregoing statement of facts your excellency will readily perceive that an ingenious rogue knowing the manner in which the editors were supplied with much of their telegraphic news could by selecting his time & opportunity easily impose upon editors or compositors the most wicked & fraudulent reports. On Wednesday morning at about three oclock a messenger who well counterfeited the regular messenger of the Associated Press presented himself at all save one of the editorial rooms of the Papers connected with the Associated Press and delivered to the foreman in the absence of the night editors sealed envelopes containing manifold Paper similar in all respects to that used by the association upon which was written a fraudulent Proclamation purporting to be signed by your excellency and countersigned by the honorable Secy of State. The very late hour at which the fraud was perpetrated left no time for consideration as to the authenticity or genuineness of the document & the copy in most of the offices was at once cut up into small pieces and given into the hands of the compositors & in two cases the fraud was not discovered or suspected even till after the whole morning edition of the Papers were printed off & distributed. The undersigned beg to state to your excellency that the fraud which succeeded with the world and the Journal of Commerce was one which from the circumstances attending it & the practices of the Associated Press was extremely natural and very liable to have succeeded in any daily newspaper establishment in this city & inasmuch as in the judgement of the undersigned the editors and proprietors of the Journal of Commerce & the world were innocent of any knowledge of wrong in the publication of the fraudulent document and also in view of the fact that the suspension by your excellencys orders of two Papers last evening has had the effect to awaken editors & publishers and news Agents telegraph Companies etc to the propriety of increased vigilance in their several duties the undersigned respectfully request that your excellency will be pleased to rescind the order under which the World and the Journal of Commerce were suppressed”18
Still other New York journalists including James Gordon Bennett, Horace Greeley, and Henry J. Raymond came to Manton’s defense. In Washington, Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton leaped into action and wired order to General John A. Dix to shutter the offending newspapers and arrest key personnel. Then, Stanton asked President Lincoln to authorize Dix’s actions. “A conference was called in the War Department office, and President Lincoln directed Secretary Seward to draw up an explanation to the public. The statement as written by Seward declared the proclamation ‘an absolute forgery’ and that no paper of that kind had either been proposed or written by the head of any department of the government. Copies were went to New York newspapers and mailed to the American ministers in London and Paris,” wrote Robert S. Harper.19 The President’s proclamation read:
Whereas, there has been wickedly and traitorously printed and published this morning, in the “New York World” and New York ‘Journal of Commerce‘ newspapers printed and published in the city of New York,—a false and spurious proclamation, purporting to be signed by the President, and to be countersigned by the Secretary of State, which publication is of a treasonable nature, designed to give aid and comfort to the enemies of the United States, and to the rebels now at war against the Government, and their aiders and abettors: you are therefore hereby commanded forthwith to arrest and imprison in any fort or military prison in you r command, the editors, proprietors and published of the aforesaid newspapers, and all such persons as, after public notice has been given of the falsehood of said publication, print and publish the same, with intent to give aid and comfort to the enemy;—and you will hold the persons so arrested, in close custody, until they can be brought to trial before a military commission, for their offense. You will also take possession by military force, of the printing establishments of the ‘New York World‘ and ‘Journal of Commerce,’ and hold the same until further order, and prevent any further publication therefrom.20
Historian George Milton Fort wrote: “Stanton was furious over the blunder, charged that the papers were deliberately inciting treason and insurrection, and demanded of Lincoln that they be suppressed at once. The War Secretary prepared an executive Order, directing the commanding general of the Military Department of the East to stop their publication The President and the Secretary of State signed it, and Major General John A. Dix ‘reluctantly executed’ it. Soldiers occupied the two printing establishments for three days.”21 There was also an order to arrest Manton and the editor of the Journal of Commerce.
Stanton biographer Frank Abial Flower wrote that on May 20 General Dix “arrested Joseph Howard, formerly private secretary to Henry Ward Beecher, who confessed authorship of the forgery and was sent to Fort Lafayette. In his confession Howard exonerated the editors of the offending papers, which fact was reported to Stanton, who replied by telegraph to Dix: “Your telegram respecting the arrest of Howard has been received and submitted to the President. He directs me to say that while, in his opinion, the editors, proprietors, and publishers of the World and the Journal of Commerce are responsible for whatever appears in their papers injurious to the public service, and have no right to shield themselves behind a pleas of ignorance or want of criminal intent; he is not disposed to visit them with vindictive punishment; and, hoping they will exercise more caution and regard for the public welfare in the future, he authorizes you to restore to them their respective establishments.22
Howard’s goal had been to make a quick buck on the gold market, not to undermine the Lincoln Administration. He managed to destabilize political in a completely unexpected way. Historian Allan Nevins wrote: “The editors of the two injured newspapers, when these dailies were restored to their owners on May 22, were left boiling with anger, and denouncing the Administration for both its arbitrary action and its tardiness of release. Gideon Welles agreed that the suppression, for which he correctly blamed Seward and Stanton, had been ‘hasty, rash, inconsiderate and wrong.”23 Belmont biographer David M. Black wrote: “The gagging of the World hurt the administration worse than the false story had. Even pro-administration newspapers objected. And there were rumors that the forgery had been the work of Republicans who were trying to destroy the opposition press before the presidential campaign.”24
The counter-reaction from Marble was as strong as the reaction from the Lincoln Administration. Marble published a long explanation of the events and excoriation of President Lincoln, whom he thought had exercised bias in suppressing The World‘s publication: “That proclamation was a forgery, written by a person who, ever since your departure from Springfield for Washington in 1861, has enjoyed private as well as public opportunities for learning to counterfeit the peculiarities of your speech and style, and whose service for years as a city editor of the New York Times and the New York Tribune acquainted him with the entire newspaper machinery of the city and enabled him to insert his clever forgery into the regular channels by which we received news.”25
Marble trumpeted: “Not until today has The World been free to speak. But to those who have ears to hear, its absence has been more eloquent than its columns could ever be….Had the Tribune and the Times published the forgery…would you, Sir, have suppressed the Tribune and the Times as you suppressed the World and the Journal of Commerce? You know you would not. If not, why not? If there a different law for your opponents and for your supporters? Can you, whose eyes discern equality under every complexion, be blinded by the hue of partisanship.”26
Biographer Phelan noted: “Marble’s letter went on to place full responsibility on Lincoln for violating the Constitution in the matter of silencing a free press and seizing private property. In a strongly worded protest Marble accused Lincoln of acting ‘for the purpose of gratifying an ignoble partisan resentment’ and of attempting to crush the organs of free discussion, thereby making free elections impossible and breaking down all the safeguards of representative government.”27 New York attorney George Templeton Strong wrote in his diary on May 23: “The martyred newspapers, the World and Journal of Commerce, have been ungagged, and the former vomits acid bile most copiously. Two or three of its editorial columns are occupied by a letter to the President, full of protest and fury, signed Manton Marble (the name of a mercenary renegade; suggesting, inter alia, a parallel between Uncle Abe Lincoln and Charles the First! One might as well compare dirty little penny-lining Marble with Catiline [sic].”28
Manton found several other outlets for his anger. He sought legal redress through Governor Horatio Seymour but the cautious Seymour declined to act until after President Lincoln had lifted the newspapers’ suppression. And when a grand jury was impanelled to investigate, it declined to take any action against General Dix.
A second outlet for Manton’s vengeance was the campaign to unseat President Lincoln. Manton was one of the more frequent correspondents of Democratic candidate George B. McClellan — both before and after his nomination at the end of August 1864. Marble wrote McClellan in mid-September, suggesting that McClellan “keep up a diligent friendly correspondence with all your old friends in the Army. You know how the platform hurts us there, & how confidently Mr. Lincoln counts upon the ambition of the Army officers & the votes of the soldiers to assist in his re-election.”29 McClellan sent some letters for Manton’s use: “Pretty much all the letters I receive are in one direction,” wrote the general. “I got an indignant protest from some Maryland secessionists!!”30
Marble was appointed by Democratic National Chairman Belmont to the 1864 Democratic national campaign committee. Belmont and Dean Richmond put him in charge of publicity and publications. According to Katz, “Belmont charged the [Democratic campaign] committee with the publication and distribution of documents and pamphlets designed to bring about an electoral triumph. Within a week after McClellan’s acceptance letter, the committee, through the offices of Marble’s World, prepared twenty-seven campaign documents. They ranged from former New York University Professor Samuel F. B. Morse’s Ethical position of Slavery in the Social System, which attacked Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, to Union General Franz Sigel’s Why I Won’t Stump for Old Abe, a critical appraisal of administration policies designed ostensibly for German-American voters.”31 Historian Allan Nevins praised the “manly activities” of Democratic editors like Marble, “undaunted champions of civil liberties and political moderation, suffered heavy damage from wild party associates.”32
As the journalistic arm of Belmont, Marble took an important role in the campaign. He was one of McClellan’s chief cheerleaders — greeting McClellan’s letter of acceptance of the Democratic nomination with a joyful editorial: “Thank God for a purified, regenerated, disenthralled, Democratic party! Thank God that every burden is lifted from its back, every impediment from its victorious path! The men who have been the curse of the party have gone out of the party. Close up the ranks!…Now we go into the November fight without a flaw in our armor….”33
The World found much to criticize in the Lincoln Administration. It claimed that “in an unparalleled display of nepotism [President Lincoln ] has appointed his whole family to government posts.” Mrs. Lincoln thought these allegations “villainous” since Mr. Lincoln had few living relatives and all the jobs had gone to her side of the family.34 On June 20, 1864, the New York World published an article — supposedly reprinted from the Essex Statesman, charging Mr. Lincoln asked Marshal Lamon “for the negro song of ‘Picayune Butler.'” According to Robert S. Harper: “The history of The World under Manton Marble’s direction makes it easy to believe that the story was prepared in his office and made to appear as reprinted to give it added interest. Whatever the source of the story, it was a grand success from Marble’s point of view. It set the country to talking, and it hurt Lincoln deeply, perhaps more than any slur published about him.” Both Ward Hill Lamon and the President were considerably disturbed by the article’s misrepresentation of events and the publicity it received. Mr. Lincoln even dictated a response under Lamon’s signature but declined to let it be sent. “Day after day, The World made reference to the Antietam tale, working it into fresh stories about the administration,” wrote Harper.35 Lamon later told his version of the story in his memoirs:
In the autumn of 1862 I chanced to be associated with Mr. Lincoln in a transaction which, though innocent and commonplace in itself, was blown by rumor and surmise into a revolting and deplorable scandal. A conjectural life, although mean, misshapen, and very small at its birth, grew at length into a tempest of defamation, whose last echoes were not heard until its noble victim had yielded his life to a form of assassination only a trifle more deadly.
Mr. Lincoln was painted as the prime mover in a scene of fiendish levity more atrocious than the world had ever witnessed since human nature was shamed and degraded by the capers of Nero and Commodus. I refer to what is known as the Antietam song-singing; and I propose to show that the popular construction put upon that incident was wholly destitute of truth.
Mr. Lincoln persistently declined to read the harsh comments of the newspaper press and the fierce mouthings of platform orators; and under his advice I as persistently refuted to make any public statement concerning that ill-judged affair. He believed with Sir Walter Scott, that, if a cause of action is good, it needs no vindication from the actor’s motives; if bad, it can derive none. When I suggested to him that the slander ought to be refused,—that a word form him would silence his defamers,—Mr. Lincoln replied with great earnestness: ‘No, Hill; There has already been too much said about this falsehood. Let the thing alone. If I have not established character enough to give the lie to this charge, I can only say that I am mistaken in my own estimate of myself. In politics, every man must skin his own skunk. These fellows are welcome to the hide of this one. Its body has already given forth its unsavory odor.’
The newspapers and the stump-speakers went on ‘stuffing the ears of men with false reports’ until the fall of 1864, when I showed Mr. Lincoln a letter, of which the following is a copy. It is far sample of hundreds of letters received by me about that time, the Antietam incident being then discussed with increased virulence and new accessions of false coloring.

PHILADELPHIA, Sept. 10, 1864.

Dear Sir,—Enclosed is an extract from the New York ‘World‘ of Sept. 9, 1864:—-
‘ONE OF MR. LINCOLN’S JOKES.—The second verse of our campaign song published on this page was probably suggested by an incident which occurred on the battle-field of Antietam a few days after the fight. While the President was driving over the field in an ambulance, accompanied by Marshal Lamon, General McClellan, and another officer, heavy details of men were engaged in the task of burying the dead. The ambulance had just reached the neighborhood of the old stone bridge, where the dead were piled highest, when Mr. Lincoln, suddenly slapping Marshal Lamon on the knee, exclaimed: ‘Com, Lamon, give us that song about Picayune Butler: McClellan has never heard it.’ ‘Not now, if you please,’ said General McClellan, with a shudder; ‘I would prefer to hear it some other place and time.”
This story has been repeated in the New York ‘World‘ almost daily for the last three months. Until now it would have been useless to demand its authority. By this article it limits the inquiry to three persons as its authority,—Marshal Lamon, another officer, and General McClellan. That is a damaging story, if believed, cannot be disputed. That it is believed by some, or that they pretend to believe it, is evident by the accompanying verse from the doggerel, in which allusion is made to it:—
‘Abe may crack his jolly jokes
O’er bloody fields of stricken battle,
While yet the ebbing life-tide smokes
From men that die like butchered cattle;
He, ere yet the guns grow cold,
To pimps and pets may crack his stories,’ etc.
I wish to ask you, sir, in behalf of others as well as myself, whether any such occurrence took place; or if it did not take place, please to state who that ‘other officer’ was, if there was any such, in the ambulance in which the President ‘was driving over the field [of Antietam] whilst details of men were engaged in the task of burying the dead.’ You will confer a great favor by an immediate reply.
Most respectfully your obedient servant,


Along with the above I submitted to Mr. Lincoln my own draft of what I conceived to be a suitable reply. The brutal directness and falsity of the ‘World‘s’ charge, and the still more brutal and insulting character of the doggerel with which it was garnished, impelled me to season my reply to Mr. Perkin’s letter with a large infusion of ‘vinegar and gall.’ After carefully reading both letters, Mr. Lincoln shook his head. ‘No, Lamon,’ said he, ‘I would not publish this reply; it is too belligerent in tone for so grave a matter. There is a heap of cussedness’ mixed up with your usual amiability, and you are at times too fond of a fight. If you were, I would simply state the facts as they were. I would give the statement as you have here, without the pepper and salt. Let me try my hand at it.’ He then took up a pen and wrote the following. It was to be copied by me and forwarded to Mr. Perkins as my refutation of the slander.
The President has known me intimately for nearly twenty years, and has often heard me sing little ditties. The battle of Antietam was fought on the 17th day of September, 1862. On the first day of October, just two weeks after the battle, the President, with some others including myself, started from Washington to visit the Army, reaching Harper’s Ferry at noon of that day. In a short while General McClellan came from his headquarters near the battle-ground, joined the President, and with him reviewed the troops at Bolivar Heights that afternoon, and at night returned to his headquarters, leaving the President at Harper’s Ferry. On the morning of the second the President, with General Sumner, reviewed the troops respectively at Loudon Heights and Maryland Heights, and at about noon started to General McClellan’s headquarters, reaching there only in time to see every little before night. On the morning of the third all started on a review of the third corps and the cavalry, in the vicinity of the Antietam battle-ground. After getting through with General McClellan he and the President left their horses to be led, and went into an ambulance or ambulances to go to General Fitz John Porter’s corps, which was two or three miles distant. I am not sure whether the President and General McClellan were in the same ambulance, or in different ones; but myself and some others were in the same with the President. On the way, and on no part of the battleground, and on what suggestions I do not remember, the President asked me to sing the little sad song that follows, which he had often heard me sing, and had always seemed to like very much. I sang it. After it was over, some one of the party (I do not think it was the President) asked me to sing something else; and I sang two or three little comic things, of which ‘Picayune Butler’ was one. Porter’s corps was reached and reviewed; then the battle-ground was passed over, and the most noted parts examined; then, in succession, the cavalry and Franklin’s corps were reviewed, and the President and party returned to General McClellan’s headquarters at the end of a very hard, hot, and dusty day’s work. Next day, the 4th, the President and General McClellan visited such of the wounded as still remained in the vicinity, including the now lamented General [Israel B.] Richardson; then proceeded to and examined the South-Mountain battleground, at which point they parted,—General McClellan returning to his camp, and the President returning to Washington, seeing, on the way, General [George L. Hartsuff], who lay wounded at Frederick.
This is the whole story of the singing and its surroundings. Neither General McClellan nor any one else made any objections to the singing; the place was not on the battlefield; the time was sixteen days after the battle; no dead body was seen during the whole time the President was absent from Washington, nor even a grave that had not been rained on since it was made.
This perfectly truthful statement was written by Mr. Lincoln about the 12th of September, 1864, less than two years after the occurrence of the events therein described. It was done slowly, and with great deliberation and care. The statement, however, was never made public. Mr. Lincoln said to me: ‘You know, Hill, that this is the truth and the whole truth about that affair; but I dislike to appear as an apologist for an act of my own which I know was right. Keep this paper, and we will see about it.’ The momentous and all-engrossing events of the war caused the Antietam episode to be forgotten by the President for a time; the statement was not given to the press, but has remained in my possession until this day.
Mark how simple the explanation is! Mr. Lincoln did not ask me to sing ‘Picayune Butler.’ No song was sung on the battlefield. The singing occurred on the way from Burnside’s corps to Fitz John Porter’s corps, some distance from the battle-ground, and sixteen days after the battle. Moreover, Mr. Lincoln had said to me, ‘Lamon, sing one of your little sad songs,’—and thereby hangs a tale which is well worth the telling, as it illustrates a striking phase of Mr. Lincoln’s character which has never been fully revealed.
I knew well what Mr. Lincoln meant by ‘the little sad songs.’ The sentiment that prompted him to call for such a song had its history, and one of deep and touching interest to me. One ‘little sad song’—a simple ballad entitled ‘Twenty Years Ago’—was, above all others, his favorite. He had no special fondness for operatic music; he loved simple ballads and ditties, such as the common people sing, whether of the comic or pathetic kind; but no one in the list touched his great heart as did the song of ‘Twenty Years Ago.’ Many a time, in the old days of our familiar friendship on the Illinois circuit, and often at the White House when he and I were alone, have I seen him in tears while I was rendering, in my poor way, that homely melody. The late Judge David Davis, the Hon. Leonard Swett, and Judge Corydon Beckwith were equally partial to the same ballad. Often have I seen those great men overcome by the peculiar charm they seemed to find in the sentiment and melody of that simple song. The following verses seemed to affect Mr. Lincoln more deeply than any of the others:—
I’ve wandered to the village, Tom; I’ve sat beneath the tree
Upon the schoolhouse play-ground, that sheltered you and me:
But none were left to greet me, Tom, and few were left to know
Who played with us upon the green, some twenty years ago.
Near by the spring, upon the elm you know I cut your name,
Your sweetheart’s just beneath it, Tom; and you did mine the same.
Some heartless wretch has peeled the bark,—’t was dying sure but slow,
Just as she died whose name you cut, some twenty years ago.
My lids have long been dry, Tom, but tears came to my eyes;
I thought of her I loved so well, those early broken ties:
I visited the old churchyard, and took some flowers to strew
Upon the graves of those we loved, some twenty years ago.
This is the song Mr. Lincoln called for, and the one I sang to him in the vicinity of Antietam. He was at the time weary and sad. As I well knew it would, the song only deepened his sadness. I then did what I had done many times before: I startled him from his melancholy by striking up a comic air, singing also a snatch from ‘Picayune butler,’ which broke the spell of ‘the little sad song,’ and restored somewhat his accustomed easy humor. It was not the first time I had pushed hilarity—simulated though it was—to an extreme for his sake. I had often recalled him from a pit of melancholy into which he was prone to descend, by a jest, a comic song, or a provoking sally of a startling kind; and Mr. Lincoln always thanked me afterward for my well-timed rudeness ‘of kind intent.'”‘36
The Antietam tale was not the only bogus story in which World employees were involved during the election. Earlier in the year, two World staffers, David Goodman Croly and George Wakeman wrote an anonymous, pamphlet entitled “Miscegenation: The Theory of the Blending of the Races, Applied to the White Man and the Negro.” The authors sought to create mischief by attempting to link Republicans to support for miscegenation and mailed copies of the pamphlet to anti-slavery leaders seeking comment. According to John Waugh in Reelecting Lincoln, “From everything it said, all who read it assumed it was a philippic from the pen of a fire-eating abolitionist, quite likely a miscegenationist himself. Nobody suspected it was from the artful pens of two Democratic racists on the staff of the New York World, aiming to stir up political trouble. That wouldn’t be suspected until after the election, and neither Croly nor Wakeman would ever admit to its authorship.”37
Historian Allan Nevins wrote that “Manton Marble’s New York World and other Copperhead publications took immediate pains to republish McClellan’s letter to Lincoln in June, 1862 from Harrison’s Landing. They repeated, as being still his views, his protests against attacks upon slavery, and against any confiscations of property, any territorial reorganization of States, or any military arrests outside the area of actual hostilities. They readvertised his belief of 1862 that any declaration of attitudes toward slavery would ‘rapidly disintegrate’ the Union armies.”38 McClellan wrote Marble after the election: “I cannot fail to appreciate the noble course of such true friends as Barlow & yourself, & to thank you for it. You have done nothing that I regret — much that I admire & am grateful for.”39
The World maintained its criticism of President Lincoln until his death. Its April 13,1865 edition complained that “Mr. Lincoln gropes in his speech, like a traveler in an unknown country without a map.”40


  1. Mary Cortona Phelan, Manton Marble of the New York World, p. 31.
  2. Robert S. Harper, Lincoln and the Press, p. 291.
  3. Frank Abial Flower, Edwin McMasters Stanton, p. 212-213.
  4. Ernest A. McKay, New York in the Civil War, p. 248.
  5. Augustus Maverick, Henry J. Raymond and the New York Press for Thirty Years, p. 320.
  6. Roy P. Basler, editor, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume VII, p. 347-349.
  7. Robert S. Harper, Lincoln and the Press, p. 292.
  8. Mary Cortona Phelan, Manton Marble of the New York World, p. 32-33.
  9. Robert S. Harper, Lincoln and the Press, p. 295.
  10. Allan Nevins, The War for the Union, The Organized War to Victory, 1864-1865, p. 68.
  11. Allan Nevins, The War for the Union, The Organized War to Victory, 1864-1865, p. 69.
  12. Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Transcribed and Annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College. Galesburg, Illinois. (Letter from Sydney H. Gay et al. to Abraham Lincoln1, May 19, 1864).
  13. Robert S. Harper, Lincoln and the Press, p. 294.
  14. Roy P. Basler, editor, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume VII, p. 347-348 (May 18, 1864).
  15. George Milton Fort, Abraham Lincoln and the Fifth Column, p. 221.
  16. Frank Abial Flower, Edwin McMasters Stanton, p. 212-213.
  17. Allan Nevins, The War for the Union, The Organized War to Victory, 1864-1865, p. 69.
  18. David M. Black, The King of Fifth Avenue, p. 243.
  19. Robert S. Harper, Lincoln and the Press, p. 299-300 (The World, May 23, 1864).
  20. Robert S. Harper, Lincoln and the Press, p. 300 (The World, May 23, 1864).
  21. Mary Cortona Phelan, Manton Marble of the New York World, p. 36-37.
  22. Allan Nevins, editor, Diary of the Civil War, 1860-1865: George Templeton Strong, p. 451 (May 23, 1864).
  23. Stephen W. Sears, editor, The Civil War Papers of George B. McClellan: Selected Correspondence, 1860-1865, p. 599 (Letter from Manton M. Marble to George B. McClellan, September 12, 1864).
  24. Stephen W. Sears, editor, The Civil War Papers of George B. McClellan: Selected Correspondence, 1860-1865, p. 599 (Letter from George B. McClellan to Manton M. Marble, September 17, 1864).
  25. Irving Katz, August Belmont: A Political Biography, p. 136.
  26. Allan Nevins, The War for the Union: The Organized War to Victory, 1864-1865, p. 112.
  27. Sidney David Brummer, Political History of New York State During the Period of the Civil War, p. 421 (New York World, September 12, 1864).
  28. Jean H. Baker, Mary Todd Lincoln: A Biography, p. 203 (New York World, September 22, 1864).
  29. Robert S. Harper, Lincoln and the Press, p. 307.
  30. Ward Hill Lamon, Recollections of Abraham Lincoln, p. 144-148.
  31. John Waugh, Reelecting Lincoln, p. 318-319.
  32. Allan Nevins, The War for the Union: The Organized War to Victory, 1864-1865, p. 100-101.
  33. Stephen W. Sears, editor, The Civil War Papers of George B. McClellan: Selected Correspondence, 1860-1865, p. 624 (Letter from George B. McClellan to Manton M. Marble, November 28, 1864).
  34. Herbert Mitgang, editor, Lincoln as They Saw Him, p. 455.
  35. Robert S. Harper, Lincoln and the Press, p. 289.
  36. Irving Katz, August Belmont: A Political Biography, p. 116-117.
  37. Irving Katz, August Belmont: A Political Biography, p. 116-117.
  38. Mary Cortona Phelan, Manton Marble of the New York World, p. 24-25.
  39. Irving Katz, August Belmont: A Political Biography, p. 118.
  40. Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace, Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898, p. 886.