Lincoln's Personal Life HTML version

The August Conspiracy
Though the Vindictives kept a stealthy silence during July, they were sharpening their
claws and preparing for a tiger spring whenever the psychological moment should arrive.
Those two who had had charge of the Reconstruction Bill prepared a paper, in some ways
the most singular paper of the war period, which has established itself in our history as
the Wade-Davis Manifesto. This was to be the deadly shot that should unmask the
Vindictive batteries, bring their war upon the President out of the shadows into the open.
Greeley's fiasco and Greeley's mortification both played into their hands. The fiasco
contributed to depress still more the despairing North. By this time, there was general
appreciation of the immensity of Grant's failure, not only at Cold Harbor, but in the
subsequent slaughter of the futile assault upon Petersburg. We have the word of a
member of the Committee that the despair over Grant translated itself into blame of the
Administration.[1] The Draft Proclamation; the swiftly traveling report that the
government had wilfully brought the peace negotiations to a stand-still; the continued cry
that the war was hopeless; all these produced, about the first of August, an emotional
crisis--just the sort of occasion for which Lincoln's enemies were waiting.
Then, too, there was Greeley's mortification. The Administration papers made him a
target for sarcasm. The Times set the pace with scornful demands for "No more back
door diplomacy."[2] Greeley answered in a rage. He permitted himself to imply that the
President originated the Niagara negotiation and that Greeley "reluctantly" became a
party to it. That "reluctantly" was the truth, in a sense, but how falsely true! Wade and
Davis had him where they wanted him. On the fifth of August, The Tribune printed their
manifesto. It was an appeal to "the supporters of the Administration . . . to check the
encroachment of the Executive on the authority of Congress, and to require it to confine
itself to its proper sphere." It insinuated the basest motives for the President's interest in
reconstruction, and for rejecting their own bill. "The President by preventing this bill
from becoming a law, holds the electoral votes of the Rebel States at the dictation of his
personal ambition. . . . If electors for President be allowed to be chosen in either of those
States, a sinister light will be cast on the motives which induced the President to 'hold for
naught' the will of Congress rather than his government in Louisiana and Arkansas."
After a long discussion of his whole course with regard to reconstruction, having heaped
abuse upon him with shocking liberality, the Manifesto concluded:
"Such are the fruits of this rash and fatal act of the President--a blow at the friends of the
Administration, at the rights of humanity, and at the principles of Republican government
The President has greatly presumed on the forbearance which the supporters of his
Administration have so long practised in view of the arduous conflict in which we are
engaged, and the reckless ferocity of our political opponents. But he must understand that
our support is of a 'cause' and not of a man; that the authority of Congress is paramount
and must be respected; that the whole body of the Union men in Congress will not submit
to be impeached by him of rash and unconstitutional legislation; and if he wishes our
support he must confine him-self to his executive duties--to obey and execute, not make
the laws--to suppress by arms, armed rebellion, and leave political reorganization to
Congress. If the supporters of the government fail to insist on this they become