Lincoln's Personal Life HTML version

Gambling In Generals
On July 22, 1862, there was a meeting of the Cabinet. The sessions of Lincoln's Council
were the last word for informality. The President and the Ministers interspersed their
great affairs with mere talk, story-telling, gossip. With one exception they were all lovers
of their own voices, especially in the telling of tales. Stanton was the exception. Gloomy,
often in ill-health, innocent of humor, he glowered when the others laughed. When the
President, instead of proceeding at once to business, would pull out of his pocket the
latest volume of Artemus Ward, the irate War Minister felt that the overthrow of the
nation was impending. But in this respect, the President was incorrigible. He had been
known to stop the line of his guests at a public levee, while he talked for some five
minutes in a whisper to an important personage; and though all the room thought that
jupiter was imparting state secrets, in point of fact, he was making sure of a good story
the great man had told him a few days previous.[1] His Cabinet meetings were equally
careless of social form. The Reverend Robert Collyer was witness to this fact in a curious
way. Strolling through the White House grounds, "his attention was suddenly arrested by
the apparition of three pairs of feet resting on the ledge of an open window in one of the
apartments of the second story and plainly visible from below." He asked a gardener for
an explanation. The brusk reply was: "Why, you old fool, that's the Cabinet that is a-
settin', and them thar big feet are ole Abe's."[2]
When the Ministers assembled on July twenty-second they had no intimation that this
was to be a record session. Imagine the astonishment when, in his usual casual way,
though with none of that hesitancy to which they had grown accustomed, Lincoln
announced his new policy, adding that he "wished it understood that the question was
settled in his own mind; that he had decreed emancipation in a certain contingency and
the responsibility of the measure was his."[3] President and Cabinet talked it over in their
customary offhand way, and Seward made a suggestion that instantly riveted Lincoln's
attention. Seward thought the moment was ill-chosen. "If the Proclamation were issued
now, it would be received and considered as a despairing cry--a shriek from and for the
Administration, rather than for freedom."[4] He added the picturesque phrase, "The
government stretching forth its hands to Ethiopia, instead of Ethiopia stretching forth her
hands to the government." This idea struck Lincoln with very great force. It was an aspect
of the case "which he had entirely overlooked."[5] He accepted Seward's advice, laid
aside the proclamation he had drafted and turned again with all his energies to the
organization of victory.
The next day Halleck arrived at Washington. He was one of Lincoln's mistakes.
However, in his new mood, Lincoln was resolved to act on his own opinion of the
evidence before him, especially in estimating men. It is just possible that this epoch of his
audacities began in a reaction; that after too much self-distrust, he went briefly to the
other extreme, indulging in too much self-confidence. Be that as it may, he had formed
exaggerated opinions of both these Western generals, Halleck and Pope. Somehow, in the
brilliant actions along the Mississippi they had absorbed far more than their fair share of
credit. Particularly, Lincoln went astray with regard to Pope. Doubtless a main reason
why he accepted the plan of campaign suggested by Halleck was the opportunity which it
offered to Pope. Perhaps, too, the fatality in McClellan's character turned the scale. He
begged to be left where he was with his base on James River, and to be allowed to renew