Lincoln's Personal Life by Nathaniel Wright Stephenson - HTML preview

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"Father Abraham"


The key-notes of Lincoln's course with the Executive Committee, his refusal to do anything that appeared to him to be futile, his firmness not to cast about and experiment after a policy, his basing of all his plans on the vision in his own mind of their sure fruitage--these continued to be his key-notes throughout the campaign. They ruled his action in a difficult matter with which he was quickly forced to deal.

Montgomery Blair, the Postmaster General, was widely and bitterly disliked. Originally a radical Republican, he had quarreled with that wing of the party. In 1863 the Union League of Philadelphia, which elected all the rest of the Cabinet honorary members of its organization, omitted Blair. A reference to the Cabinet in the Union platform of 1864 was supposed to be a hint that the Postmaster General would serve his country, if he resigned. During the dark days of the summer of 1864, the President's mail was filled with supplications for the dismissal of Blair.[1] He was described as an incubus that might cause the defeat of the Administration.

If the President's secretaries were not prejudiced witnesses, Blair had worn out his welcome in the Cabinet. He had grown suspicious. He tried to make Lincoln believe that Seward was plotting with the Copperheads. Nevertheless, Lincoln turned a deaf ear to the clamor against him. Merely personal considerations were not compelling. If it was true, as for a while he believed it was, that his election was already lost, he did not propose to throw Blair over as a mere experiment. True to his principles he would not become a juggler with futility.

The turn of the tide in his favor put the matter in a new light. All the enemies of Blair renewed their attack on a slightly different line. One of those powerful New Englanders who had come to Lincoln's aid at such an opportune moment led off. On the second day following the news of Atlanta, Henry Wilson wrote to him, "Blair, every one hates. Tens of thousands of men will be lost to you, or will give you a reluctant vote because of the Blairs."[2]

If this was really true, the selfless man would not hesitate to' require of Blair the same sort of sacrifice he would, in other conditions, require of himself. Lincoln debated this in his own mind nearly three weeks.

Meanwhile, various other politicians joined the hue and cry. An old friend of Lincoln's, Ebenezer Peck, came east from Illinois to work upon him against Blair.[3] Chandler, who like Wade was eager to get out of the wrong ship, appeared at Washington as a friend of the Administration and an enemy of Blair.[4] But still Lincoln did not respond. After all, was it certain that one of these votes would change if Blair did not resign? Would anything be accomplished, should Lincoln require his resignation, except the humiliation of a friend, the gratification of a pack of malcontents? And then some one thought of a mode for giving definite political value to Blair's removal. Who did it? The anonymous author of the only biography of Chandler claims this doubtful honor for the great Jacobin. Lincoln's secretaries, including Colonel Stoddard who had charge of his correspondence, are ignorant on the subject.[5] It may well have been Chandler who negotiated a bargain with Fremont, if the story is to be trusted, which concerned Blair. A long-standing, relentless quarrel separated these two. That Fremont as a candidate was nobody had long been apparent; and yet it was worth while to get rid of him. Chandler, or another, extracted a promise from Fremont that if Blair were removed, he would resign. On the strength of this promise, a last appeal was made to Lincoln. Such is the legend. The known fact is that on September twenty-second Fremont withdrew his candidacy. The next day Lincoln sent this note to Blair:

"You have generously said to me more than once that whenever your resignation could be a relief to me, it was at my disposal. The time has come. You very well know that this proceeds from no dissatisfaction of mine, with you personally or officially. Your uniform kindness has been unsurpassed by that of any friend."[6]

No incident displays more clearly the hold which Lincoln had acquired on the confidence and the affection of his immediate associates. Blair at once tendered his resignation: "I can not take leave of you," said he, "without renewing the expression of my gratitude for the uniform kindness which has marked your course with regard to myself."[7] That he was not perfunctory, that his great chief had acquired over him an ascendency which was superior to any strain, was demonstrated a few days later in New York. On the twentyseventh, Cooper Institute was filled with an enthusiastic Lincoln meeting. Blair was a speaker. He was received with loud cheers and took occasion to touch upon his relations with the President. "I retired," said he, "on the recommendation of my own father. My father has passed that period of life when its honors or its rewards, or its glories have any charm for him. He looks backward only, and forward only, to the grandeur of this nation and the happiness of this great people who have grown up under the prosperous condition of the Union; and he would not permit a son of his to stand in the way of the glorious and patriotic President who leads us on to success and to the final triumph that is in store for us."[8]

It was characteristic of this ultimate Lincoln that he offered no explanations, even in terminating the career of a minister; that he gave no confidences. Gently inexorable, he imposed his will in apparent unconsciousness that it might be questioned. Along with his overmastering kindness, he had something of the objectivity of a natural force. It was the mood attained by a few extraordinary men who have reached a point where, without becoming egoists, they no longer distinguish between themselves and circumstance; the mood of those creative artists who have lost themselves, in the strange way which the dreamers have, who have also found themselves.

Even in the new fascination of the probable turn of the tide, Lincoln did not waver in his fixed purpose to give all his best energies, and the country's best energies, to the war. In October, there was a new panic over the draft. Cameron implored him to suspend it in Pennsylvania until after the presidential election. An Ohio committee went to Washington with the same request. Why should not the arguments that had prevailed with him, or were supposed to have prevailed with him, for the removal of a minister, prevail also in the way of a brief flagging of military preparation? But Lincoln would not look upon the two cases in the same spirit. "What is the Presidency worth to me," he asked the Ohio committee, "if I have no country ?"[9]

 From the active campaign he held himself aloof. He made no political speeches. He wrote no political letters. The army received his constant detailed attention. In his letters to Grant, he besought him to be unwavering in a relentless persistency.

As Hay records, he was aging rapidly. The immense strain of his labor was beginning to tell both in his features and his expression. He was moving in a shadow. But his old habit of merriment had not left him; though it was now, more often, a surface merriment. On the night of the October elections, Lincoln sat in the telegraph room of the War Office while the reports were coming in. "The President in a lull of despatches, took from his pocket the Naseby Papers and read several chapters of the Saint and Martyr, Petroleum V. They were immensely amusing. Stanton and Dana enjoyed them scarcely less than the President, who read on, con amore, until nine o'clock."[10]

The presidential election was held on the eighth of November. That night, Lincoln with his Secretary was again in the War Office. The early returns showed that the whole North was turning to him in enormous majorities. He showed no exultation. When the Assistant Secretary of the Navy spoke sharply of the complete effacement politically of Henry Winter Davis against whom he had a grudge, Lincoln said, "You have more of that feeling of personal resentment than I. Perhaps I have too little of it; but I never thought it paid. A man has no time to spend half his life in quarrels. if any man ceases to attack me I never remember the past against him."[11]

"Towards midnight," says Hay in his diary, "we had supper. The President went awkwardly and hospitably to work shovelling out the fried oysters. He was most agreeable and genial all the evening. . . . Captain Thomas came up with a band about half-past two and made some music. The President answered from a window with rather unusual dignity and effect, and we came home."[12]

"I am thankful to God," Lincoln said, in response to the serenade, "for this approval of the people; but while grateful for this mark of their confidence in me, if I know my heart, my gratitude is free from any taint of personal triumph. I do not impugn the motives of any one opposed to me. It is no pleasure to me to triumph over any one, but I give thanks to the Almighty for this evidence of the people's resolution to stand by free government and the rights of humanity."[13]

During the next few days a torrent of congratulations came pouring in. What most impressed the secretaries was his complete freedom from elation. "He seemed to deprecate his own triumph and sympathize rather with the beaten than the victorious party." His formal recognition of the event was a prepared reply to a serenade on the night of November tenth. A great crowd filled the space in front of the north portico of the White House. Lincoln appeared at a window. A secretary stood at his side holding a lighted candle while he read from a manuscript. The brief address is justly ranked among his ablest occasional utterances. As to the mode of the deliverance, he said to Hay, "Not very graceful, but I am growing old enough not to care much for the manner of doing things."[14]