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How We Elected Lincoln

A.J. Dittenhoefer


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THE renomination of Mr. Lincoln in 1864 was not accomplished with ease. The difficulties did not all show upon the surface, because some of the President's closest associates were secretly conspiring against him. Open and frank opposition came from such influential Republicans as Henry Winter Davis, of Maryland, Benjamin F. Wade, of Ohio, and Horace Greeley, of New York, who believed his re-election impossible. But the opposition of Salmon P. Chase, of Ohio, was secret, as he had been scheming for the nomination himself. Chase, while regarding himself as Mr. Lincoln's friend and constantly protesting his friendship to the President, held a condescending opinion of Mr. Lincoln's intellect. He could not believe the people so blind as to prefer Abraham Lincoln to Salmon Chase. He vigorously protested, both verbally and in letters written to every part of the country, his indifference to the Presidency, at the same time painting pessimistic-

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ally the dreadful state of government affairs, and indicating, not always subtly, his willingness to accept the nomination.

As to Chase's candidacy, Lincoln once said, according to Nicolay: "I have determined to shut my eyes as far as possible to everything of the sort. Mr. Chase makes a good secretary and I shall keep him where he is." Then with characteristic magnanimity, he added: "If Chase becomes President, all right. I hope we may never have a worse man." But as Joseph Medill, editor of the Chicago Tribune, wrote in December, 1863:

I presume it is true that Mr. Chase's friends are making for his nomination, but it is all lost labor; Old Abe has the inside track so completely that he will be nominated by acclamation when the convention meets.

A reference here to the activities of Chase's brilliant daughter, Kate Chase Sprague, in the Tilden and Hayes contest many years later, may be pardoned. It is well known that through her potent influence the contest was finally decided in favor of Rutherford B. Hayes, and against Samuel J. Tilden. This influence, it has been said, was used in a spirit of revenge against Mr. Tilden for defeating her father for the Democratic nomination in 1868. Col. A. K. 1IcClure agrees with me in this, as will be shown by the following quotation from his book, Our Presidents and How We Make Them:

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The Democratic National Convention met in New York on the 4th of July, 1868. There was a strong sentiment among the delegates favorable to the -nomination of a liberal Republican for President, but Chief-Justice Chase, who was an old-time Democrat and who had won a very large measure of Democratic confidence by his ruling in the impeachment case of President Johnson, was a favorite with a very powerful circle of friends who had quietly, but very thoroughly, as they believed, organized to have him nominated by a spontaneous tidal wave after a protracted deadlock between the leading candidates. Chase would have been nominated at the time Seymour was chosen, and in like manner, had it not been for the carefully laid plan of Samuel J. Tilden to prevent the success of Chase. Tilden was a master leader, subtle as he was able, and he thoroughly organized the plan to nominate Seymour , not so much that he desired Seymour , but because he was implacable in his hostility to Chase.

It was well known by Chase and his friends that Tilden crucified Chase in the Democratic convention of 1868, and this act of Tilden's had an impressive sequel eight years later when the election of Tilden hung in the balance in the Senate, and when Kate Chase Sprague, the accomplished daughter of Chase, decided the battle against Tilden.

While Charles Sumner was openly for Lincoln , he privately criticized him, even after the promulgation of the Emancipation Proclamation which had freed the slaves of the South.

I have always believed that Lincoln did not consult with Sumner as to that message, and that that was the cause of his ill-feeling. Thaddeus Stevens, the great Free Soil representative of

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Pennsylvania, was dissatisfied because the President was unwilling to confiscate all the property of the secessionists and to inflict other punishments upon them: he was openly hostile to Lincoln.

For the following hitherto unpublished letter, from Horace Greeley to Mark Howard, a prominent Connecticut Republican, I am indebted to the latter's daughter, Mrs. Graves. It throws an interesting light upon the fears and uncertainties of the period, and indicates Greeley's lack of confidence in Lincoln as the strong man of the nation. The letter is dated ten months before the second election, and Greeley's opposition to Mr. Lincoln's renomination became the more undisguised and intense as time went on.

NEW YORK, Jan. 10, 1864.

DEAR SIR,I mean to keep the Presidency in the background until we see whether we cannot close up the war. I am terribly afraid of letting the war run into the next Presidential term; I fear it will prove disastrous to go to the ballot-boxes with the war still pending. Let us have peace first, then we can see into the future.


      Hartford, Conn.

Horace Greeley gave open expression to his opposition in the New York Tribune, Friday, April 29, 1864.

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In this issue Mr. Greeley, referring to the statement of the President, "I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have controlled me," declared that "had he been a little more docile to their teaching and prompt to apprehend their bearing we should have been saved many disasters and rivers of precious blood. May we hope that with regard to the murder of our soldiers who have surrendered, and other questions of the hour, he will have learned something from the sore experience of the past?"

Other newspapers joined the Tribune in opposing Lincoln's renomination, as witness these excerpts from the New York Herald, August 6, 1864:

Senator Wade, of Ohio, and Representative Davis, of Maryland, Chairman of the Senate and House Committees on the rebellious States prepared and presented in their official capacity an indictment against Abraham Lincoln, the executive head of the nation, and the nominee of his party for another term of office, charging him with arrogance, ignorance, usurpation, knavery, and a host of other deadly sins including that of hostility to the rights of humanity and to the principles of republican government.

Mr. Lincoln has been frequently represented as entertaining and expressing an ardent wish that he could slip of his shoulders the anxieties and labors belonging to his present position and place upon them the musket and knapsack of a Union volunteer. The opportunity of realizing that wish now presents itself. The country would be overjoyed to see it realized, and all the people would say "Amen" to it. Let him make up his mind to join the quota which his town

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of Springfield, Ill., will next be called on to furnish. He is said to have done well as railsplitter, and we have no doubt that he will do equally well as a soldier. As a President of the United States he must have sense enough to see and acknowledge he has been an egregious failure. The best thing he can do now for himself, his party, and his country is to retire from the high position to which, in an evil hour, he was exalted.

One thing must be self-evident to him, and that is that under no circumstances can he hope to be the next President of the United States, and if he will only make a virtue of necessity and withdraw from the Presidential campaign...

In the New York Tribune, August 24, 1864, under the heading, "Copperhead Treason," the Daily News is quoted as referring to President Lincoln as "our intriguing chief magistrate."

Finally, there was general disaffection, centering largely in New York and St. Louis, and a so-called convention of opponents of Lincoln gathered at Cleveland in May, and indulged in denunciation of Lincoln , which included a bitter letter from Wendell Phillips. This self-styled "radical Democracy" adopted a platform, nominated Fremont, and practically disappeared.

The patriotic and self-sacrificing people of the North were almost a unit in sustaining President Lincoln, and, by sheer force of numbers, swept aside the ungrateful or designing Republican leaders who would have defeated the great emancipator.

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During the days that immediately preceded his renomination, Mr. Lincoln gave way to despondency, and, although he never said so in words, one could clearly see by the anxiety he manifested that he was sorely perplexed to account for the animus of certain men against him. He appeared to be especially anxious about New York , and to fear that the enmity of Seward's old friends and the hostility of Mr. Greeley might cause him to lose the delegation from the Empire State. I was in Washington at that time on professional business, and was able to impart to him positive information regarding his strength in various parts of the State. To his inquiry about the situation in New York, I told him that, while Greeley was still in the sulks, yet I thought Seward and Weed were coming around to him (Lincoln) handsomely, and that their action would undoubtedly influence the Seward partisans. I added that in my opinion Greeley would before long forget his disappointment and fall into line. Mr. Lincoln listened attentively and nodded assent. "That's good news," he said, heartily, seemingly well pleased with my prognostications.

Col. A. K. McClure, of Pennsylvania , stood very close to the President at this time and did not disguise from him the treachery of several Republican leaders.

Anxiety had become an obsession with the

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President. This seemed due to a physical and mental reaction after three years of incessant worry and strain. And yet at this hour General Grant appeared to be smashing his way through the Wilderness, toward Richmond; General Sherman had left Chattanooga on his march to the sea by which the Confederacy was cut in two; the dashing Sheridan was harassing the enemy in the Shenandoah Valley , and the collapse of the rebellion was foreshadowed.

I am sure Mr. Lincoln cared but little for his own political future, but he was most desirous of carrying out his plans regarding reconstruction, and the frankness with which he had spoken his views on the subject made enemies of such men as Greeley, Sumner, and Stevens. Had he dissembled, concealing his sympathies for the suffering civilian population in the South who had taken no active part in the rebellion, until such time as he could properly lay his plans before Congress and explain them, hostility against him would have been confined to a few politicians actuated by envy or personal ambition.

But Mr. Lincoln made no secret of his desire for the prompt reorganization of the seceded States, immediately peace was attained; and for their readmission into the Union, with representation in both Houses of Congress, thus carrying out the thought always uppermost in his mind of

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the restoration of the Union . And yet his sorrows, worriments, and perplexities could not drown his sense of humor, as the following occurrence shows:

A conference was held on shipboard in Hampton Roads about the time that the collapse of the Confederacy seemed imminent, the consultants including the Vice-President of the Confederacy, Alexander H. Stevens, and R. M. T. Hunter and J. A. Campbell, on the one side, and Mr. Lincoln and Mr. Seward on the other.

Mr. Hunter, to enforce his contentions, referred to the correspondence between Charles the First, of England, and Parliament.

"Mr. Lincoln's face," it is reported, "wore the inscrutable expression which generally preceded his hardest hits," as he replied: "Upon questions of history I must refer you to Mr. Seward, for he is posted in such things, and I do not profess to be; my only distinct recollection of the matter is that Charles lost his head."

Under the reconstruction policy planned by the great President and carried out by his successor, President Johnson, the rebel States were taken back in the Union with the same representation in Congress they had before they started on the war of secession.

To obviate the danger which would arise from the control of the Southern States by the unrepentant rebels, and to minimize the danger that

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might result from the large number of members they would have in Congress, it was deemed necessary to give the illiterate and shiftless negroes, just emerging from slavery, and who constituted a majority of the voters in many of the Southern States, the right to vote.

This resulted in the detestable State governments composed of negroes and "carpet-bag" whites, no less corrupt than the negroes. The whites were called "carpet-baggers," because they came from the North, with no intention of remaining permanently; they only wanted to exploit the South for their own profit; and they generally traveled in light marching order, with all their worldly possessions packed in the familiar carpet-bag of the period.

Sumner, Stevens, and Winter Davis opposed this reconstruction policy, contending that the rebel States should be held as conquered territory until a new generation should arrive on the scene.

I did not hesitate to say at the time that they were right. Had their policy been adopted the terrible evils of the "carpet-bag" governments would have been avoided.

In the last conversation I had with Mr. Lincoln on the subject of his renomination, about ten days before the convention of 1864, I tried to convince him that his doubts and fears were unwarranted, but I did not succeed in lightening the

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gloom. He probably thought me too young a man to form an accurate opinion, but I had investigated for myself, as well as advised with the best-informed Republicans in my State. It seemed as though he could not forget that previous miraculous nomination by a convention in which two-thirds of the delegates favored another candidate; he feared lest now the boot might be on the other leg.

The Republican National Convention assembled at Baltimore on June 7, 1864, the aged Rev. Dr. Robert J. Breckinridge, of Kentucky, being temporary chairman, and ex-Governor William Dennison, of Ohio, permanent presiding offer.

All opposition melted away when the platform was read and adopted. The third plank therein denounced "slavery as the cause of the rebellion, always and everywhere hostile to principles of republican government; therefore, national safety demands its utter and complete extirpation from the soil of the Republic."

Mr. Lincoln was renominated on the first ballot, receiving the unanimous vote of every State, with the exception of Missouri, the delegation from which State was instructed for General Grant. The Missouri vote was at once changed to Lincoln, making the nomination unanimous.

At that convention I circulated among the rep-

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resentatives from other States, and overheard many mutterings of dissatisfaction at the inevitability of the choice, but not a hostile word was spoken from the rostrum. I joined with delegates from my State in addressing a message of congratulation to Mr. Lincoln at Washington.

Greeley, of course, was obliged to come around to support Lincoln 's re-election, but he could not refrain from damning him with faint praise.

Under the caption of "Opening the Presidential Campaign," Mr. Greeley, in the Tribune of February 23, 1864, thus indicated his change of front toward Mr. Lincoln:

He has been patriotic, honest, and faithful. He has done his utmost to serve and save the country... He is not infallible, not a genius, not one of those rare, great men who mould their age into the similitude of their own high character, massive abilities, and lofty aims. But, considering his antecedents and his experience of public affairs we are sure the verdict of history in his case will be "well done, thou good and faithful servant." The luster of his good deeds will far outlive the memory of his mistakes and faults.

Perhaps Greeley stood too close to his subject, but surely these condescending words may be considered a masterpiece of ineptitude. Nor was Mr. Greeley averse to reprinting hostile criticisms from outside sources, as the following excerpts will witness:

In the New York Tribune, June 21, 1864, under

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the heading, "Rebel Views of our NominationA Railsplitter and a Tailor," the Richmond Examiner is quoted as saying:

The Convention of Black Republicans in Baltimore have nominated for President of their country Abraham Lincoln, the Illinois railsplitter.

The great army of contractors and office-holders-in short, those who live by war and on the country-have succeeded, at least, in starting Lincoln fairly for another race. It amounts to a declaration that those conventioneers desire to sec four years more in all respects like unto the last four years.

Another extract from the Richmond Examiner also appears in the Tribune at about the same date:

The only merit we can discover in this Baltimore ticket is the merit of consistency; it is all of a piece; the tail does not shame the head, nor the head shame the tail. A railsplitting bufoon and a boorish tailor, both from the backwoods. Both growing up in uncouth ignorance, they would afford a grotesque subject for a satiric poet.

I had known from the President's own lips, at my last interview, that he desired the selection of Andrew Johnson, a Tennessean, whose steadfast support of the Federal cause in these troublesome times had attracted attention. I was not in sympathy with that plan, because I thought that Johnson would cost the party many votes among the radicals in New England.

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Nobody could forecast at that time with reasonable certainty the Democratic candidates, and there was considerable fear that General Grant might be named. He was popularly believed to be bringing the rebellion to an early finish; if he succeeded in forcing the capitulation of General Lee before the Democratic convention met in Chicago at the end of August, the opposition party might' seize upon him and could probably elect him. Grant had been an old-line Democrat and, so far as known, had voted for Douglas in 1860. There was no political reason why Grant could not accept such a nomination.

In June, General McClellan's name had not been seriously considered. He was a man with a grievance, for he had been removed from the command of the Federal Army after a long endurance of his procrastinating policy by the administration. The universal affection felt for McClelan throughout the Northern Army, especially the Army of the Potomac, seems difficult of explanation.


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