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Edwin D. Morgan (1811-1883)Edwin D. Morgan was "a courageous and high-minded New York merchant who served with distinction in the legislature and as state and national party chairman," wrote historian Glyndon Van Deusen.1 "He was shrewd, austere, and cautious, but when he made up his mind, he was bold and impatient for proper execution of his ideas," wrote Roscoe Conkling biographer David M. Jordan.2 Morgan was a 19th century Horatio Alger story — rising from a humble family in Connecticut to the pinnacle of the business world in New York and the pinnacle of the political world in Washington. He was compassionate, conscientious and conservative.
Morgan was "withal the merchant in politics. As soon as he had come of age he had tasted the tempting fruits of public honor and public responsibility," wrote biographer James A. Rawley. "At the age of 38 he partially forsook the market place for the public forum. Thereafter for thirty years, indeed until his death, no political canvass seemed complete without the participation of E.D. Morgan."3 Rawley wrote: "Audacious. swift, willing to take a calculated risk, he possessed a vaulting imagination that extended his interests continent-wide and to the shore of China and the ports of Brazil. Wholesaler, shipowner, railroad promoter, land speculator, investor in public utilities, banks, and insurance companies, he participated in the principal means of building fortunes in his expansive area. What is most remarkable is that he became implicated in none of the many scandals which blackened the names of contemporaries."4 Colonel Erasmus D. Keyes, who served briefly as a military aide to Governor Morgan, said: "It was never my good luck to labor with a more agreeable company than when I was in the staff of Governor Morgan. He was a genuine patriot and a man of the kind that constitutes the true riches of a State."5
Morgan was described by contemporary journalist Noah Brooks as having "a high narrow head covered with brown, stiff hair, and wears a somewhat forbidding and morose expression. He too has a brand new of clothes, is high shouldered and sedate, and is not especially notable in appearance save in the size of his nose, which is as big and romanesque as Seward's.6 Historian William Hesseltine wrote that Governor Morgan, "able, dignified, and physically attractive, was a man to arouse confidence. His tall, well-built figure was surmounted by a magnificent head, and his handsome countenance was illumined by expressive, lustrous eyes. The inner man behind this personable exterior was also well endowed: a good mind and practical ability were combined with a moral character that had kept unblemished both his private and public life."7
From 1856-64 and 1872-1876, Morgan served as chairman of the Republican National Committee; he chaired the Republican's national campaign committee in 1860. His business career had expanded from that of a Hartford, Connecticut grocer to a prosperous New York City banker, broker, and merchant with connections to railroads and utilities. He broke into politics a Whig — serving as a New York City Alderman, president of the city's Board of Aldermen, State Senator (1850-1853) and chairman of the New York Whig Central Committee. He switched to the Republican Party in 1855 and was elected to two terms as Governor beginning in 1858 and one term as Senator in 1863. His post-Civil War political career was relatively unsuccessful. Although he chaired two more Republican conventions — in 1872 and 1876, he lost subsequent elections for Senate and Governor. Basically a conservative, Senator Morgan had joined Radical Republicans in opposing the policies of President Andrew Johnson in curtailing the rights of blacks in the South.
Biographer James A. Rawley wrote: "If Morgan brought his business gifts into public service, he brought also certain liabilities. Foremost among these lies his want of forensic ability — a severe handicap to a man who doubtless entertained the wish to be President of the Untied States. Though Morgan was not an intellectual, this can not be considered a sharp limitation in age which conferred higher honors upon lesser men. Finally, Morgan's coquetry with the Radicals [after the Civil War] exposes him briefly to a suspicion of opportunism."8
Morgan also suffered at times from this relationship with Albany political boss Thurlow Weed. Historian Sidney David Brummer wrote of the notoriously corrupt legislative session in 1860: "The Governor, Edwin D. Morgan, was somewhat better than the legislature, and used his veto with good effect; but he seems to have been without much independence where Thurlow Weed was concerned."9
If Morgan was a poor orator, he was a natural organizer. His talents were frequently put to good use in the first decade of the Republican Party. Biographer Rawley wrote that as the first Republican national chairman, he endeavored "to coalesce factions reluctant to take up an untried political instrument. Attraction of such groups involved respect for local feelings, reliance upon local leaders, avoidance of divisive secondary issues. In short, the national chairman's job was to achieve a league of voters, a confederation founded upon State's rights, rather than a rigidly organized, national dominated party."10 According to Rawley, "Morgan [in 1856] brought the virtues of the business man to the task of steering Fremont to the Executive Mansion: indefatigable energy, efficiency, ability to act quickly in emergency, a high sense of duty, the gift of cooperation, and a shrewd discernment of cardinal problems."11
Morgan had limited experience in elected office before he was nominated for Governor in 1858. But he had attributes that compensated. Fellow Republican Chauncey M. Depew recalled that at the 1858 Republican Convention, "Weed's candidate for governor was Edwin D. Morgan, a successful New York merchant, who had made a good record as a State senator. I remember one of Mr. Weed's arguments was that the Democrats were in power everywhere and could assess their office-holders, while the Republicans would have to rely for campaign funds upon voluntary contributions, which would come nowhere so freely as from Mr. Morgan and his friends. When the convention met Mr. Weed had won over a large majority of the delegates for his candidate. It was a triumph no only of his skill but of his magnetism, which were always successfully exerted upon a doubtful member."12 Weed's biographer, Thurlow Weed Barnes wrote:
In the summer of 1858 the Republicans of New York were to designate a candidate to succeed Mr. King as governor. Mr. Weed's earliest choice was Simeon Draper. Arrangements were on foot, looking to his nomination, when, a few weeks before the convention, Mr. Draper became so seriously embarrassed in business enterprises as to occasion a sudden and unexpected failure. All his time, therefore, was engrossed in the adjustment of his own affairs. The name of James M. Cook, of Saratoga, who had served creditably to himself and usefully to the State as Senator, Bank Superintendent, and Comptroller, was then hastily canvassed....
"Morgan's first administration was marked by both honesty and conservatism," wrote historian William B. Hesseltine. "He vetoed bills for granting franchises to corrupt railway companies in New York City, and he set an example of calm business judgment in the midst of sectional controversy. In January 1860 he delivered to the legislature a message that reflected the growing conservatism of Seward and Weed. Following a few short paragraphs on federal-state relations, it presented a complete balance sheet of the affairs of the commonwealth. Morgan professed his attachment to the 'strongest Republican creed.' In actual fact he embodied the most conservative interests of the party over whose councils he presided."14
Historian Reinhard H. Luthin wrote: "During the 1858 and 1859 campaigns the Democratic party split wide open over personalities, policies and patronage, but the Republican party, under the skillful leadership of Governor Edwin D. Morgan of New York, Chairman of the Republican National Committee, increased its unity and strength. Circulars were issued to the state committees, agents were sent to watch developments in Kansas, and advice was tendered to Republicans in Congress. Morgan was ably assisted by Gideon Welles, of Connecticut, member of the Committee whom Lincoln later rewarded by appointing him to his Cabinet."15
Mr. Lincoln's first acquaintance with New York Governor Edwin D. Morgan came in May 1860. It was shortly after the Republican National Convention in Chicago at which the Republican candidate for President was selected. An official delegation came to Springfield to size up the party's new standard-bearer, but to the surprise of Morgan, Mr. Lincoln chose to size up the Republican National Chairman more literally than figuratively. "It was a beautiful evening in May," later wrote Philadelphia politician William D. Kelley. "The train bearing the Committee, and a number of distinguished gentlemen who accompanied them, arrived at Springfield shortly before sunset, and after a couple of hours devoted to refreshment and such rest as might be found in the midst of so excited a people, the delegates repaired to Mr. Lincoln's home for the purpose of discharging the duty with which they had been intrusted. Having entered the room designated, the members of the Committee, and the distinguished men by whom they were accompanied, ranged themselves around three sides of the room [George Ashmun, Morgan, Francis P. Blair, Gideon Welles, David Cartter, John Andrew, William M. Evarts]...16 As Pennsylvania Congressman Kelley remembered the occasion:
Mr. Lincoln assumed his position in the back part of the room, and Mr. Ashman [sic, George Ashmun], advancing a few paces, briefly announced the purpose of our visit and delivered the letter containing the platform, etc. While Mr. Ashman spoke, Mr. Lincoln's form and features seemed to be immovable; his frame was slightly bent, and his face downcast and absolutely void of expression. It was evident that the voice which addressed him was receiving his exclusive attention. He had no eye nor ear for any other object, and as I contemplated his tall, spare figure, I remembered that of Henry Clay, to whom I noticed a more than passing resemblance; and that of General Jackson, as I had seen him in 1832, forced itself upon my memory. It was not, however, until the conclusion of Mr. Ashman's few sentences, that I beheld the being, upon whose rough casket I had been gazing. The bowed head rose as by an electric movement, the broad mouth, which had been so firmly drawn together, opened with a genial smile, and the eyes, that had been shaded, beamed with intelligence and the exhilaration of the occasion. The few words in which fitting response to Mr. Ashman's address was made, flowed in a pleasant voice, and, though without market emphasis, each syllable was uttered with perfect clearness. As in conclusion he said, 'Now I will not longer defer the pleasure of taking you, and each of you, by the hand,' Mr. Lincoln joined Mr. Ashman, and approached the Hon. E. D. Morgan, who was Governor of the Empire State, Chairman of the Republican Executive Committee, and the most commanding figure of the visiting party. Accident had placed me at the left hand of the Governor, who was not only not gifted as a conversationalist but was eminently tactiturn, and made no audible response to the cordial welcome with which he had been greeted. Mr. Lincoln, as if determined to elicit a colloquy, said, 'Pray, Governor, how tall may you be?' 'Nearly six feet three,' said the brawny and distinguished man, who relapsed into silence, and was thus likely to embarrass his eager interlocutor. But, interposing, I somewhat boisterously exclaimed: 'And pray, Mr. Lincoln, how tall may you be?' 'Six feet four' said he. At hearing which I bowed profoundly, saying: 'Pennsylvania bows humbly before New York, but still more humbly before Illinois. Mr. Lincoln, is it not curious that I, who for the last twelve years have yearned for a president to whom I might look up, should have found one here in a State where so many people believe they grow nothing but 'Little Giants?' A peal of laughter greeted this interjection. The ice was broken. A free flow of chat and chaff pervaded the room, and before the company dispersed, every guest had an opportunity for a pleasant exchange of words with the whilom rail-splitter, Abraham Lincoln.17
Helen Nicolay, daughter of presidential aide John G. Nicolay, later wrote: "There were men in the delegation to whom this westerner was a new and disconcerting type. Governor Morgan of New York, a commanding figure in every respect, was one of these. He was distinctly astonished, when, on shaking hands, Mr. Lincoln asked, rather eagerly, how tall he was. 'Six feet three,' the New Yorker replied, and lapsed into stony silence. What possible connection could there be between statesmanship and such question?"18
During the campaign, Morgan played an important role in raising and distributing funds in his role as Republican National Chairman. Morgan and the Republican presidential candidate exchanged letters about the state of political affairs in their respective states. In early June, Morgan wrote Mr. Lincoln about Republican reaction to his nomination and the Senator Stephen Douglas's prospects for the Democratic National Convention in Baltimore later in Month: "I arrived in Albany on Tuesday last remained one day and came to this city. I return to Albany tomorrow but shall visit New York again next week to take steps for a vigorous prosecution of the campaign. We anticipated some feeling of disappointment here in the event of Govr Sewards failing to receive the nomination at Chicago. It is wearing away and has not exceeded my anticipations There is a healthy feeling in our ranks as to success. A strong impression that Douglass [sic] will not be nominated at Balto, and that [James] Guthrie, [Horatio] Seymour or some new man will be. I do not think it essential as to who is put in nomination at Balto. We can whip their best man. If they have any such, of which there is some doubt this far, whoever he may be let him mark defeat upon his forehead at once."19
President Lincoln wrote Morgan in September: "In my opinion, no one thing will do us so much good in Illinois, as the carrying of Indiana at the October election[.] The whole surplus energy of the party throughout the nation, should be bent upon that object up to the close of that election. I should say the same of Pennsylvania, were it not that our assurances seem so evident of [Andrew] Curtin's election there. If I might advise, I would say, bend all your energies upon Indiana now."20
During the transition to the Lincoln presidency, Morgan demonstrated the ambivalence of many New York Republicans. Historian David M. Potter noted that "on one occasion, denouncing compromise as a surrender to South Carolina, when someone reminded him of 'our Union loving Sisters, Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Maryland.' At once he took a more patient tone, and remarked that the North would cooperate with them in any reasonable settlement."21 In his desperate search for a compromise with honor, Morgan wrote President-elect Lincoln in mid-December. 1860: "Many plans have been presented in Congress and in the newspapers for giving peace to the country. But in due time, the People will look only to the President. I therefore ask whether you have considered the propriety of a proposition to acquire Cuba by purchase. Our Democratic friends are pretty well committed to it, and would be compelled to stand by it, while it is reasonable to suppose that an Executive recommendation would carry conviction to the minds of the great body of our own friends. There are many reasons for, and some against such a step."22
On January 2, 1861, Morgan addressed the State Legislature and presented his inaugural address: "Every State can do something, and ought to do all that it can to avert the threatened danger. Let New York set the example....Let her oppose no barrier; but, on the contrary, let her representatives in the Federal Legislature give their ready support to any settlement due alike to the cherished memories of the past, the mighty interests of the present, and the myriads of the future. Let her stand in an attitude of hostility to none; but extending the hand of fellow-ship to all, and living up to the strict letter of that great fundamental law, the living and immortal bond of the union of the States, cordially unite with other members of the confederacy, in proclaiming and enforcing the determination that, the Constitution shall be honored, and union of the States shall be preserved."23
As Governor of New York, Morgan played an important role in the mobilization of New York. Immediately after the attack on Fort Sumter, the State Legislature granted to a seven-member military board authority to deal with crisis. The delegation of authority to the board rather than to the governor assured that the response to the emergency would be cumbersome. "Edwin D. Morgan acted in a triple capacity to supply the material needs of the troops. He was a member of the Military Board, which had been dowered with three million dollars to arm and equip 30,000 men. Because he shared this authority with a plural executive he was severely hampered,"wrote biographer James A. Rawley. "Secondly, he administered a fund of $50,000 appropriated in the Act of April 17 for defense of the State. A third responsibility conferred upon him and others by Lincoln made him an agent of the Federal government in the purchase of its supplies."24 Morgan had a fourth power. In order to strengthen his authority and facilitate his assistance for President Lincoln's war efforts, on September 28, 1861, Morgan received a major general's commission in the volunteer army. He held that commission until almost the end of his gubernatorial term.
Nevertheless, Morgan had trouble balancing the maze of public and private authority in New York with the bureaucratic demands and contradictory rules from Washington. On May 19, 1861, Morgan had complained to President Lincoln that "I...felt it to be my duty to do what lies in my power, both for reducing the enormous expenses of the War, and preventing as far as possible irregular and independent organizations from the control and management of the Military affairs of the State...it is very manifest to me, and to other friends, that the authority which has been given to the Union Defence Committee to send fourteen regiments from the City of New York to the Government of the United States, quite independent and irrespective of the Executive of New York, cannot fail to result in confusion and serious disaster....I may not possess authority to control men from New York, who volunteer into the service of the National Government direct, but I certainly ought to possess authority over the Military Regiments of the State, one of which left...last night and three more propose to move in the same manner immediately, assigning as a reason that they have been authorized by the Defence Committee," a private group that had taken the initiative to raise regiments for the Union Army.25 President Lincoln responded frankly the next day:
To not shirk just responsibility, I suppose I ought to admit that I had much to do with the matter of which you complain.
President Lincoln was careful to recognize the authority of northern governors like Morgan, who had authority to make military commissions below the rank of general. "To show how the division of the appointment power read this letter just arrived," narrated presidential assistant William O. Stoddard in Inside the White House in War Times. "It is from a patriotic gentleman in Central New York, inclosing one from his son, serving in the Army of the Potomac."
"It is remarkable, you say? He is only an orderly sergeant, and he has no commission, but he is actually in command of all there is left, several companies, of a fine regiment of cavalry.
"As governor, Morgan displayed the New England virtues of rectitude and economy," wrote historian William B. Hesseltine. "The New York legislature was more radical than he, and as soon as the war began it limited Morgan's activities by appointing a military board to guide his hand. The board proved a handicap, and Lincoln had to extricate Morgan from the difficulty by appointing him a major-general and erecting New York into a military district under his command."28
Morgan "found high reputation in his first term, distinction in his second," wrote biographer James A. Rawley. "New York long remembered its solemn and energetic war governor, for it was no easy task to call to arms the men of a State so disparate in its economy, its geography, its society, and its political structure. Leader of the wealthiest and most populous State in the Union, he reduced the public debt by over three million dollars during the war years, refusing to pay interest or principal in anything but coin; he placed in service nearly a quarter of a million men — one fifth the Union forces; and he stood unflecked by the scandals which in almost every State marred the hasty war preparations."29
Presidential power during this period was much more limited than some citizens thought. Presidential aide William O. Stoddard recalled an Upstate New Yorker visiting the White House in search of a promotion of his son to sergeant. "It's of no use. I cannot promote that man. His appointment must come from the Governor of the State of New York. You had better sit down and write to him." Stoddard asked: "May I say that I do so by your direction, Mr. Lincoln?" The President replied: "Yes, tell Morgan I told you to send the matter to him." Stoddard added "The several State Governors have sent many requests to the President, relating to the affairs of their regiments and their officers; but this, perhaps, is the first petition of the kind sent by the President to a Governor."30
Morgan played an important role again in the spring of 1862 in reviving military recruitment. In June 1862, Governor Morgan met with Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin and Secretary of State William H. Seward to orchestrate an appeal to the President from 17 northern Governors. According to William B. Hesseltine, "Morgan was skeptical. Without a bounty, he did not believe the troops could be raised. Seward promptly wired Stanton to ask for money. The next day Stanton agreed to advance twenty-five dollars so recruits from the hundred-dollar bounty they were to receive at the end of their service. It was illegal, said the Secretary of Warm but he would take the responsibility." So Morgan and Seward rounded up the necessary signatures.31
The other Governors followed the New Yorkers' prompting and sent a message to Mr. Lincoln to increase the size of the Union Army: "The undersigned, Governors of States of the Union, impressed with the belief that the citizens of the States which they respectively represent are of one accord in the hearty desire that the recent successes of the Federal arms may be followed up by measures which must insure the speedy restoration of the Union...."32 On July 1, Mr. Lincoln then issued a proclamation to the Governors to "call into service an additional force of 300,000 men. I suggest and recommend that the troops should be chiefly of infantry."33 President Lincoln wrote Governor Morgan: "I should not want the half of three hundred thousand new troops if I could have them now. If I had fifty thousand additional troops here now, I believe I could substantially close the war in two weeks. But time is every-thing; and if I get fifty thousand new men in a month, I shall have lost twenty thousand old ones during the same month, having gained only thirty thousand, with the difference between old and new troops still against me. The quicker you send, the fewer you will have to send. Time is everything."34
Morgan was a moderate on emancipation and declined renomination as governor in 1862 rather than fight with Radical Republicans. Another New York moderate, Henry J. Raymond, later wrote: "After the issue of the Emancipation Proclamation, Governor Morgan, of New York, was at the White House one day, when the President said: — 'I do not agree with those who say that slavery is dead. We are like whalers who have been long on a chase — we have at last got the harpoon into the monster, but we must now look how we steer, or with one 'flop' of his tail, he will yet send us all into eternity!'"35
"Perhaps as early as 1861 Morgan had determined not to seek a third term," wrote Morgan biographer Rawley. "Late in January 1862 he had told Republican boss Thurlow Weed, 'Nothing whatever is said about the fall campaign. All are too engrossed in the cases of the present hour to do that. I cannot however but feel that Genl Wadsworth will be willing, and will be far more available than any yet mentioned as my successor.' Not long after this he wrote his father,'...there is a pleasant reflection in doing my duty knowing that my 4 years service as Executive will terminate on the 31st of next December...' At almost the same time he reported to Weed, 'It is said that we are going back to Democracy in this State.'"36
Instead of reelection, Morgan sought the Republican Senate nomination in early 1863, replacing fellow Republican Preston King. According to biographer James A. Rawley, "there was slight enthusiasm for King's renomination. Speculation centered on Henry Selden of Clarkson, E.D. Morgan, William M. Evarts, Henry J. Raymond, Horace Greeley, David Dudley Field, all of New York [City] , and Charles Sedgwick of Syracuse. Thus the possible Republican nominees were divided geographically; more important they were divided politically, Morgan being in the conservative wing of the party."37 According to historian Sidney David Brummer, Morgan's appeal was that he "was not a radical; but he was not obnoxious to that wing of the party though backed by Weed. In the executive chair he had earned praise by vetoing lobby projects, by his services at the outbreak of the war, and by his labors and care during his administration in raising soldiers for the defense of the Union. The radicals now charged Morgan with being untrue to the principles of the party, and with having aided in defeating the Union ticket in 1862. However, these accusations were met by a letter from Morgan, handed around in the caucus, in which he declared himself strongly in favor of the Emancipation Proclamation and denied any failure cordially to support Wadsworth."38
Morgan's real advantage in 1863 was that he was the candidate of Republican boss Thurlow Weed. Morgan wrote Weed: "You now have full authority to act in my behalf in all respects."39 Morgan outpolled his rivals in Republican caucus votes on February 2 and 3. In the first ballot, Morgan had 25 votes — ahead of Daniel S. Dickinson's 15 votes, Preston King's 16 votes, C.B. Sedgwick's 11 votes, David Dudley Field's 7 votes and Henry J. Raymond's 6 votes. Morgan defeated Albany railroad executive Erastus Corning in the full legislative vote — after Corning defeated Congressman Fernando Wood in the Democratic caucus. After Morgan's election, Navy Secretary Gideon Welles wrote in his diary that if King "was not to be returned, Morgan was probably the best of the competitors. He will make a useful Senator if he can persistently carry out his honest convictions".40 Morgan meanwhile wrote to thank Thurlow Weed for his support: "It is difficult for me to express my personal obligations to you, for the renewed evidence of your friendship as manifested by the results of yesterday's proceedings at Albany."41
Morgan himself played a key role in President Lincoln's 1864 reelection. Historian William Frank Zornow wrote: "On February 22, the Union National Committee, which had been chosen in 1860, met at the Washington home of New York Senator Edwin D. Morgan, who was the chairman. Only seventeen members were present, the others being absent from the capital at the moment....One of the most important initial decisions of the committee was the selection of Baltimore as the site of the coming convention, which it also scheduled for June 7. There was, at the moment, a strong movement in opposition to such an early date. Many preferred to postpone the convention until later in the year in order to see what the result of the summer military campaign would abate and another candidate could be more readily substituted. The selection of June 7, therefore, was a triumph for the Lincoln supporters, who wanted to convene early enough to capitalize on the President's popularity with the voters.42
In May 1864, Morgan circulated a memo asking advice on whether to postpone the Republican National Convention scheduled for June in Baltimore. On May 11, Navy Secretary Gideon Welles wrote in his diary: "A letter from Governor Morgan asking me to name the month to which I would postpone the Union National Convention, if I desired a postponement, was received and answered by me this evening. It was a singular document and surprised me. I spoke of it to Blair, who said he had seen the circular last week. This gave me even greater surprise, for Morgan has frequently consulted and interchanged views with me, both of us concurring against postponement. It was discussed by us at our last interview."43 Two days later, Welles saw Morgan who said he "sent it out in self-defense; that while he knew I would stand by him in resisting a postponement of the convention, he was not certain that others would, should things by any possibility be adverse. He says the answers are all one way, except that of Spooner of Ohio, who is for a postponement. This is indicative of the Chase influence."44 Welles added: "To-night Governor Morgan informs me that the hall in which the convention is to meet has been hired by the malcontents, through the treachery and connivance of H. Winter Davis, in whom he confided. He called on me to advise as to the course to be pursued. Says he can get the theatre, can build a temporary structure, or he can alter the call to Philadelphia. Advised to try the theatre for the present."45
In the spring of 1864, a constitutional amendment to abolish slavery came up for a vote in Congress. Although it passed the Senate its chances in the House were problematic: "Lincoln expected its defeat and saw that the proposal for complete abolition of slavery by amendment to the Constitution would be the key issue of his campaign for reelection," wrote historian Roy P. Basler. "Even while the House was debating the resolution he called the chairman of the National Republican Committee, Senator Edwin D. Morgan of New York, to the White House, and asked him to make the keynote of his speech opening the convention a plea for the amendment, and to place the amendment as a plank in the Republican platform. Lincoln's wishes were followed, and the delegates responded with great enthusiasm."46
"When the regular Republicans met in convention the following month, Lincoln was aware of the need for winning the dissidents back to the party fold," wrote historian Richard Current. "He called to the White House the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Senator E. D. Morgan, and gave him instructions for his speech opening the convention. 'Senator Morgan,' he is reported to have said, 'I want you to mention in your speech when you call the convention to order, as its keynote, and to put into the platform as the keystone, the amendment of the Constitution abolishing and prohibiting slavery forever." Senator Morgan did as the President wished. That platform included a plank stating that slavery was the cause of the rebellion, that the President's proclamations had aimed 'a death blow at this gigantic evil,' and that a constitutional amendment was necessary to 'terminate and forever prohibit' it. Undoubtedly the delegates would have adopted such a plan whether or not Lincoln, through Senator Morgan, had urged it."47
"The convention which assembled in Baltimore June 7, 1864, was not fortunate in its presiding officers," wrote contemporary journalist Noah Brooks. "Ex-Governor E.D. Morgan of New York, as chairman of the National Committee, called the convention to order, but did not long remain in the chair, for which he had not marked aptitude."48 Having made his speech, Morgan was replaced as chairman by Robert J. Breckinridge, a Kentucky minister.
The Baltimore convention was not the only political controversy that Senator Morgan had to handle in June 1864, nor was it the most troubling. Morgan was a political power in state politics; Secretary of Treasury Salmon P. Chase offended him with two Treasury appointments in 1864 — leading to Chase's resignation at the end of June. Historian James A. Rawley wrote:
A test of Morgan's political strength came which Morgan disapproved. It began when Lincoln, acting upon Chase's recommendation, named John T. Hogeboom as appraiser at large in the New York Custom House.
"As soon as Cisco's resignation was known there was a scramble of potential aspirants. Weed, of course, began pushing hard and enlisted former governor, now Senator E. D. Morgan to challenge any appointment Chase and the radicals might make," wrote Chase biographer John Niven. "At first it seemed that all would be well. Morgan, stout, self-assured, rich in personal wealth and political experience, was ushered into Chase's office at the Treasury Department. After some initial sparring both men agreed to offer the appointment to Denning Duer, a New York banker who was acceptable to the commercial and banking fraternity in New York and who was not directly connected with Weed. Should Duer decline, Chase was to offer the post to another banker, John A. Stewart of the U.S. Trust Company, whom he deemed capable and neutral regarding the two leading Union factions in the city. Duer declined and so did Stewart."50
The two Republican leaders met again on June 27. Chase rejected Morgan's recommendations of Robert M. Blatchford, Dudley Gregory or Thomas Hill. Chase wrote in his diary: "Called on Senator Morgan to consult about Asst. Treasurer at New York—told him I had concluded to recommend Mr. Field. He thought I had better name Mr. Gregory or Mr. Blatchford. I replied that either gentleman would be entirely acceptable to me personally but I thought the public interest would on the whole be best consulted by the appointment of Mr. F. He said that Mr. [Charles] Jones of Brooklyn Chairman of the Union Committee had brought a list of clerks and officers under Mr. Cisco and that there were but some half dozen Union men among them—all the rest being democrats I replied that I thought the statement erroneous and that on fair enquiry it would be found that of the persons called democrats the largest proportion are of the same class with Andrew Johnson—but I would think the matter all over and decide today. At the Dept. Mr. Freeman Clarke called and I talked the matter over with him. He seemed to prefer Mr. Field. I told him if he would take it, I would send his name to the President at once. He said his health would not allow him to do so and even if it would he could not on other grounds. I asked him to confer with the Senators and report, telling him I must decide today. Having waited to hear from him till about four and having in the meantime conferred fully with Mr. Field, whom I found even a more decided supporter of the Admn. than Johnson was at the time of his nomination, I went to the Capitol to see him. He was neither in the House nor Senate and I then sent to the Department thinking that in the meantime he might have gone thither. The Messenger returned reporting that he had not been there and I at once sent Mr. Fields name to the President, about [?] half past four."51
The next day, June 28, the patronage controversy came to a head. The President wrote Chase: "Yours inclosing a blank nomination for Maunsell B. Field to be Assistant Treasurer at New-York was received yesterday. I can not, without much embarrassment, make this appointment, principally because of Senator Morgan's very firm opposition to it. Senator Harris has not spoken to me on the subject, though I understand he is not averse to the appointment of Mr. Field; nor yet to any one of the three named by Senator Morgan, rather preferring, of them, however, Mr. Hillhouse. Gov Morgan tells me he has mentioned the three names to you, to wit, R. M. Blatchford, Dudley S. Gregory, and Thomas Hillhouse. It will really oblige me if you will make choice among these three, or any other man that Senators Morgan and Harris will be satisfied with, and send me a nomination for him.52
Later that day, President Lincoln wrote Chase a second letter: "When I received your note this forenoon suggesting a verbal conversation in relation to the appointment of a successor to Mr. Cisco, I hesitated because the difficulty does not, in the main part, lie within the range of a conversation between you and me. As the proverb goes, no man knows so well where the shoe pinches as he who wears it. I do not think Mr. Field a very proper man for the place, but I would trust your judgment, and forego this, were the greater difficulty out of the way. Much as I personally like Mr. Barney, it has been a great burden to me to retain him in his place, when nearly all our friends in New-York, were directly or indirectly urging his removal. Then the appointment of Judge Hogeboom to be general Appraiser, brought me to and has ever since kept me at, the verge of open revolt. Now, the appointment of Mr. Field, would precipitate me in it, unless Senator Morgan and those feeling as he does, could be brought to concur in it. Strained as I already am at this point I do not think I can make this appointment in the direction of still great strain. The testimonials of Mr. Field, with your accompanying notes, were duly received, and I am now waiting to see your answer from Mr. Cisco.53
Chase replied: "I have telegraphed Mr. Cisco begging him to withdraw his resignation and serve at least another quarter. If he declines to do so I must repeat that, in my judgment, the public interests require the appointment of Mr. Field. One of the gentlemen named by Senator Morgan is over seventy & the other, I think over sixty years old, and neither has any practical knowledge of the duties of the office. They are both estimable gentlemen and were the times peaceful & the business of the office comparatively small & regular, I should gladly acquiesce in the appointment of either. But my duty to you & to the country does not permit it now. I have already after conference with Senator Morgan offered, with his concurrence, my recommendation to your consideration to three gentlemen, each admirably qualified, but each has declined. I now recommend Mr. Field because among those who will take the place I think him best qualified and only for that reason. But, this, especially in these times, should be a controlling reason..."54 Cisco telegraphed Chase: "I cannot resist your appeal & therefore consent to the temporary withdrawal of my resignation."55
Navy Secretary Gideon Welles didn't know the details of the dispute but he wrote in his diary: "The papers speak of the appointment of Field, Assistant Secretary, to be Assistant Treasurer at New York, in the place of Cisco. I doubt if any one but Chase would think of him for the place, and Chase, as usual, does not know the reason. But Field has talents and Chase takes him from association. Morgan prefers Hillhouse, and Seward wants Blatchford."56
Chase wrote in his diary on the night of June 28: "At the Department received a note from the President, saying that Senator Morgan strongly opposed the nomination of Mr. Field in place of Mr. Cisco—replied asking an interview, but received no answer. He may not wish one or what is more probably allows himself to forget the request. He asks the nomination of R.S. Blatchford or Dudley S. Gregory, neither of whom, I fear, is the proper man to take charge of the office at this critical juncture; though either would be entirely acceptable to me personally. I fear Senator Morgan desires to make a political engine of the office, and loses sight in this desire of the necessities of the service." Chase seemed to ignore that Morgan was a practical man with extensive executive experience in both private and public enterprise. He was not likely to insert someone in important public office for purely political motivations. Chase also wrote: "Telegraphed Mr. Cisco urging him to withdraw resignation and serve at least another quarter; and wrote to President what I had done and why I could not honestly, in duty to him or the country, recommend at this time either of the names he had suggested.57
Cisco's agreement to remain in office came the next morning — but so did President Lincoln's acceptance of Chase's resignation. His confrontation with Morgan had led to a confrontation with the President. Chase wrote President Lincoln on June 29:
I have just received your note and have read it with great attention. I was not aware of the extent of the embarrassment to which you refer. In recommendations for office I have sincerely sought to get the best men for the places to be filled without reference to any other classification than supporters and opponents of your administration. Of the latter I have recommended none; among the former I have desired to know no distinction except degrees of fitness.
Chase wrote in his diary that night: "Last evening I received Mr. Ciscos reply to my telegram consenting to withdraw his resignation. This morning I received the Presidents reply to my note. He says he did not accede to personal interview because useless-complaints of the difficulties occasioned by his retention of Mr. Barney and the appointment of Judge Hogeboom, both considered as of the radical side and says he cannot go further in that direction by the appointment of Mr. Field[;] desires appt. made acceptable to Gov Morgan and those who think as he does. Will await Mr. Cisco's action. I replied that I made no general distinction in appointments except friend and opponents of his administration and among the former none except degrees of fitness—that Mr. Cisco's reply relieved the present difficulty; but as I could not help feeling that my position here was not agreeable to him and there was nothing in my office making me wish to retain it. I enclosed my resignation and should feel really relieved by its acceptance. I added that I would give my successor all the aid I could for his entrance upon the duties of the office. With this note I enclosed my resignation."58
The resignation was accepted. Historian James A. Rawley wrote: "The New York squabble had provoked a cabinet crisis and effected displacement of one of the foremost radicals. Morgan was jubilant. "It is not a dark day to the country, but among the brightest we have seen for many days lately. The country will move on," he wrote a business partner."59
Ironically, Chase's successor as Secretary William P. Fessenden lasted less than nine months in office. When Fessenden sought to return to the Senate, Mr. Lincoln sought Senator Morgan to replace Fessenden at Treasury. According to historian James G. Randall, President Lincoln "called in Thurlow Weed for a consultation, and Weed recommended Senator Edwin D. Morgan, of New York, for the treasury. Morgan had no special qualifications as a financial expert, but he was thought to deserve a cabinet place on account of his political services — 'for,' as Washington gossips asked, 'was he not Chairman of the National Executive Committee that insured Mr. Lincoln's nomination by refusing to postpone the call for the National Convention?' But Morgan could not be persuaded to accept."60
Edwin D. Morgan, United States Congress
Governor Morgan and the Recruitment of the Union Army in New York State, www.albany.edu
Montgomery Blair (Mr. Lincoln and Friends)
Montgomery Blair (Mr. Lincoln's White House)
Salmon P. Chase (Mr. Lincoln's White House)
William Pitt Fessenden (Mr. Lincoln's White House)
James Harlan (Mr. Lincoln and Friends)
Edwin D. Morgan
Edwin D. Morgan (Mr. Lincoln's White House)
William H. Seward
William H. Seward (Mr. Lincoln and Friends)
William H. Seward (Mr. Lincoln's White House)
James S. Wadsworth
Thurlow Weed (Mr. Lincoln and Friends)
Thurlow Weed (Mr. Lincoln's White House)