As a group, the Republican Radicals in Congress lacked the sense of a humor that Abraham Lincoln had in abundance. Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner was especially humorless and obstinate. Wisconsin Republican Carl Schurz observed that "Mr. Lincoln was a constant puzzle to him. He frequently told me of profound and wise things Mr. Lincoln had said, and then again of other sayings which were unintelligible to him and seemed to him inconsistent with a serious appreciation of the tasks before us. Being entirely devoid of the sense of humor himself, Mr. Sumner frequently - I might say almost always - failed to see the point of the quaint anecdotes or illustration with which Lincoln was fond of elucidating his argument, as with a flashlight. Mr. Sumner not seldom quoted such Lincolnisms to me, and asked me with an air of innocent bewilderment, whether I could guess what the President could possible have meant. To Sumner's mind the paramount object of the war was the abolition of slavery. He had all his life been a peace man in the widest sense....Thus in order to support the government in the Civil War he had to compromise with his own conscience, and he did this on the ground that it was a war for the abolition of that slavery, which, to him, was the sum of all iniquities." 1
Sumner's moral clarity was greater than his political wisdom. He was a prophet of judgment, not a practitioner of compromise. When New York Senator William H. Seward asked Sumner for a political favor before the war, Sumner told Seward that he had not been sent to the Senate to help reelect Seward. "Sumner, you're a damned fool," said Seward. The exchange was pointless because Sumner voted for the bill in question. Historian Eric Foner wrote: "After the Civil War, Nathaniel Banks said of Charles Sumner that he was 'not a harmonizer.' This was true of all the radicals, for they rejected a cardinal principles of American politics, that of compromise."2
But President Lincoln tried to adjust his behavior to accommodate the Radicals' zealotry. President Lincoln made the most effort to cultivate the brilliant but childish Charles Sumner. Illinois politician Shelby M. Cullom observed: "Mr. Lincoln was the only man living who ever managed Charles Sumner or could use him for his purpose."3 It could not have been easy. Journalist Noah Brooks noted "Senator Sumner was one of those who received the President's [reconstruction] message of 1863 with undisguised impatience, and who subsequently found fault with his reconstruction speech made in answer to a serenade at the end of the war. Although it has been said that Mr. Sumner was not displeased with that message, it is certain that he expressed himself to his friends with some warmth, descanting on the President's omission to say whether the rebel States were in or out of the Union. While the message was being read, Sumner listened attentively until he saw its drift, and then he apparently withdrew his attention from the reading, and in a boyish and petulant manner slammed his books and documents about his desk and upon the floor, and generally exhibited his ill-temper to an astonished and admiring gallery."4
The imperious Sumner could be intimidating - even for the President. Union Army chaplain John Eaton often visited the White House. He recalled: "On one of my visits to President Lincoln during the war, we were talking together in the most informal fashion. The President was sitting, I remember, with one leg over the arm of his reclining chair, and his long, lean body twisted into a grotesque position of comfort and relaxation. A few public men were allowed to approach Mr. Lincoln at all times and without ceremony. Senator Sumner was one of these. It may perhaps be remembered that the great Senator was in the habit of carrying a walking-stick with a handle at right angles to the stick itself. He had a peculiar way of walking, throwing this cane vigorously forward with every step. As the President and I were chatting together, the door was suddenly opened by a messenger, and the rising end of a walking stick appeared on the threshold. There was not the faintest doubt as to who was behind that stick. As quick as thought Mr. Lincoln had untangled himself and was upon his feet, returning with the utmost dignity the courteous bow with which Mr. Sumner greeted him. The usual salutations were exchanged. Mr. Lincoln reported the latest news from the armies, referring as he talked to the maps which were within reach on his table and on which the engineers marked the movements of special divisions of the armies as such movements occurred. Presently Mr Sumner said, "I have thought over the matter of that consulship, and have come to say that I think - [giving the name] is the man for the place." Mr. Lincoln thanked him heartily for his attention, and they separated with most considerate good-bys."
On the appearance of Mr. Sumner, I had discreetly retired to the other end of the room, and took a seat near the door which led into the room of the President's secretary. When the Senator had gone, Mr. Lincoln relaxed once more and returned to his chair. 'Come up, Eaton,' he said in his peculiar voice - which was loud - 'When with the Romans, we must do as the Romans do!' Impressed with what had occurred, I had curiosity enough to watch the papers for the notice of the appointment to that particular consulship. The man appointed was not the man Senator Sumner had suggested. For some good reason, no doubt, the President had seen fit to make another appointment, yet he retained by his tact and cordiality the good-will and admiration of the Senator."5
Wisconsin Republican Carl Schurz wrote in his memoirs that he was "more conversant than Sumner was with the easy-going, unconventional way in which Western men, especially the self-educated among them, were wont to express their thoughts and sentiments. I was less disturbed by what Sumner sometimes interpreted as a lack of seriousness, an inclination to make light of grave things, in Lincoln's utterances. Thus Sumner's confidence in Lincoln's character and principles found itself often more heavily taxed than mine."6 But it was hard for congressional Radicals like Sumner to understand President Lincoln's deft use of irony. Historian Michael Burlingame wrote: "The president had been nettled by Sumner's brusque manner and impatient rhetoric, but, as Carl Schurz observed, though 'it required all his fortitude to bear Sumner's intractable insistence, Lincoln did not at all deprecate Sumner's public agitation for an immediate emancipation policy, even though it did reflect upon the course of the administration.' To the contrary, 'he rather welcomed everything that would prepared the public mind for the approaching development.'"7 As ornery and irritable as Sumner was, President Lincoln was determined to use him to advance his purposes.
Sumner's Massachusetts colleague Henry Wilson similarly had little tolerance for President Lincoln's brand of humor.8 But the impatient Wilson was easier for Lincoln to manipulate. Biographer Ernest A. McKay wrote: "Impetuous by nature, Wilson fumed over Lincoln's patience, and since he always wore his heart on his sleeve, he made many rash statements around town. It seemed to him that he was always pressing the president on military, antislavery, and party matters that he believed required immediate attention, and when the action was not forthcoming he would fret over the lackadaisical ways of the administration. Many of his complaints were genuinely felt, but they were of short duration."9
As a group, the Radicals were too zealous to understand Lincoln's humor simply for its gentler purposes. Pennsylvania Congressman Thaddeus Stevens certainly understood biting sarcasm, but not Mr. Lincoln's style of humor. Historian Fawn Brodie wrote: "Temperamentally the two men were alien. John W. Corney, editor of the Philadelphia Press, pointed out that 'no two men, perhaps, so entirely different in character, ever threw off more spontaneous jokes.' But where Stevens used his stories as a weapon, Lincoln loved story-telling for its own sake, finding in it relief from tension as well as the chance to make a political parable. 'Were it not for these stories, I should die,' he once confided, 'they are vents through which my sadness, my gloom and melancholy scrape.'" Brodie commented: "Where Lincoln's wit was usually droll and kindly, Stevens' was sardonic, sharp, and earthy."10 Stevens' tongue was an ever more formidable and scarey weapon to opponents than was Sumner's more considered invective.
Another prominent Radical was Ohio Congressman James Ashley. He recalled visiting the White House in 1862 after one of the Union's military disasters. Ashley interrupted Mr. Lincoln's attempt to tell a story by saying: "Mr. President, I did not come here this morning to hear stories; it is too serious a time." Mr. Lincoln's mood shifted instantly: "Ashley, sit down! I respect you as an earnest, sincere man. You cannot be more anxious than I have been constantly since the beginning of the war; and I say to you now, that were it not for this occasional vent, I should die."11 Nevertheless, President Lincoln recognized that his sense of humor did not endear himself to Radical leaders. Illinois friend Ward Hill Lamon wrote that one day:
The President remarked, as I came in, "I fear I have made Senator Wade, of Ohio, my enemy for life." "How?" I asked. "Well," continued the President, "Wade was here just now urging me to dismiss Grant, and, in response to something he said, I remarked, "Senator, that reminds me of a story." "What did Wade say?" I inquired of the President. "'He said, in a petulant way,' the President responded, "It is with you, sir, all story, story! You are the father of every military blunder that has been made during the war. You are on your road to hell, sir, with this government, by your obstinacy, and you are not a mile off this minute." "What did you say then?" "I good-naturedly said to him," the President replied, "Senator, that is just about from here to the Capitol, is it not?" He was very angry, grabbed up his hat and cane, and went away."12
In the spring of 1862 when the Union Army was stalled on the Virginia Peninsula, Wade told the President: "Go on as you seem to be going. Give up fortress after fortress, and Jeff Davis will have you as prisoner of war in less than thirty days!'" Lincoln laughed off the attack.13 Wade did not appreciate being laughed off. Historian Allan Nevins criticized Lincoln's disdain for congressional Radicals: "The Radical opposition to Lincoln might have been less formidable if he had treated members of Congress, who now included more than the usual proportion of vain, jealous, and fanatical men, with greater tact. He never concealed his contempt for 'politicians' and their 'sophisms.' In conversation, he sometimes gave the names, with biting comment, of men he thought foolish or rascally. He took pains, to be sure, to maintain his friendship with Charles Sumner, Thaddeus Stevens, Henry Wilson, Lot M. Morrill, James W. Grimes, Galusha Grow, and other influential figures. He tried to handle a few men he really despised, such as coarse Ben Wade and serpentine Henry Winter Davis, with gloves."14 Wade and Davis, however, were consistently irritating. Historian Eric Foner noted that Lincoln sought to mollify critics visiting his office. "Regardless of their position on the political spectrum, most came away persuaded that Lincoln was on their side. [Historian] George Bancroft reported that Lincoln told him during a conversation in early December 1861 that slavery had already 'received a mortal wound.'"15 The President needed to preserve the loyalty and backing of Radicals while he brought the rest of the country to a point where they would accept their positions on issues like slavery.
The Radicals could be so earnest, so self-righteous and so downright obnoxious, however, that Lincoln had trouble maintaining his equanimity with men like Senator Wade and Congressman Davis. Talking to Attorney General Edward Bates in February 1864, Mr. Lincoln described Radical leaders as "almost fiendish. He is also fully aware that they would strike him at once, if they durst; but they fear that the blow would be ineffectual, and so they would fall under his power, as beaten enemies; and, for that only reason the hypcrit[e]s try to occupy equivocal ground - so that, when the fail, as enemies, they may still pretend to be friends."16 The radicals could be a cantankerous bunch, sometimes deliberately so. Although a Lincoln appointee, the loyalty of Judge David Cartter of Ohio was primarily to congressional Radicals like fellow Ohioan Wade. "Well, let's go up and swear at Lincoln a while," Cartter would sometimes say in order to get a group of Radicals to meet at the home of Michigan Senator Zachariah Chandler. 17
The Radicals were also self-righteous and self-important. In July 1861, wrote historian Michael Burlingame: "Senator Henry Wilson called at the White House with a delegation of Radicals and told the president, 'we saved you from an attack by the secessionists, but you are menaced by an even greater danger from the North. One retrograde step or even a moment's hesitation and you will be lost.' The Republican congressional caucus narrowly defeated Lyman Trumbull's resolution that the army seize Richmond before July 21. At that meeting, Ohio Senator Ben Wade 'was loud, furious and impudent, denouncing everybody civil & military as incompetent or treacherous."18 Radicals may have been wrong on many occasions but they were never in doubt. Lincoln had to deal with them in several crises that they helped inspire during the course of the Civil War:
1. The dilatory conduct of and ultimate dismissal of General George B. McClellan in late 1861 and most of 1862.
2. Pressure to emancipate slaves from the summer of 1861 until the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment in January 1865 - but most concerted in the summer of 1862.
3. The Cabinet crisis of December 1862, precipitated by Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase.
4. The continuing conflict between military and civilian administrations and Radical and Conservative factions in Missouri that culminated in a White House meeting with Radicals at the end of September 1863.
5. Conflict over executive control of reconstruction, culminating in Lincoln's veto of the Wade-Davis Act in July 1864.
6. Attempts during 1864 to replace Lincoln as the Republican nominee for President - both before and after the Republican National Convention that June.
7. Continuing conflict from 1862 onward over the conduct of reconstruction in Louisiana and the recognition of elected Louisiana representatives to Congress.
Balancing the Wings
The Republican Party was an amalgamation of several political groups: former Whigs, anti-slavery Democrats, and anti-immigration Know-Nothings. From the beginning of the Civil War, there was considerable division in the Republicans ranks in Congress on their approach to military affairs, slavery and economic policy. The self-righteousness and self-certainty of the Radicals annoyed many fellow Republicans. Historian Allan G. Bogue wrote: "In December of 1861, Timothy Howe, the junior Republican senator from Wisconsin, analyzed the situation in Washington for his niece in the Badger State. 'Everything about us portends the coming of a rupture in the ranks of the war party and if so, a fierce struggle between the two factions. The organization of a party designing either to rule the administration or to supplant it has I think already commenced Emancipation - the utter extinction of slavery will be the watchword and the effort of one faction. Where the other faction will plant itself is not so certain.' In the most literal sense, Howe's prophecy was never fulfilled during the course of the Civil War: complete rupture of the Republican party did not occur. But there is much evidence that shows persistent differences within the administration party at Washington."19
Historian David H. Donald wrote: "The Radical Republicans were only one of the many factions that pulled for control of the Lincoln administration. Because they were noisy and conspicuous, their historical importance has been overrated. Beyond simple antislavery zeal, they held few ideas in common."20 Presidential aide William O. Stoddard recalled: "It was curious to observe how invariably each party in every case accused [the President] of being under the undue personal influence of some opposing leader. In one week I culled from leading papers the several assertions, backed up with bitter phrases, that Seward, Blair, Stanton, Halleck, McClellan, Trumbull and those terrible but undefined fellows the 'radical abolitionists' were severally managing the Presidential machine and had the Chief Magistrate under their separate or collective thumbs. The truth is that history has given us few names of men so ready and willing to listen to all, and patiently to hear and weigh the arguments of every side, and at the same time so steadily firm in forming and following their own conclusions as was Abraham Lincoln."21
Two very different interpretations of Radical influence on President Lincoln were offered by historian David H. Donald and T. Harry Williams. Williams portrayed the Radicals as running Congress and alienating Lincoln. "The conservatives were reasonable, able men, but their very virtues rendered them incapable of coping with the determined radicals in a revolutionary period."22 Williams wrote that the Radicals "forced the adoption of emancipation as one of the objectives of the war. They pushed through measures providing for the employment of Negro soldiers and for the confiscation of the property of 'rebels.' They drove the Democratic generals from the army and weakened conservative influence in the Cabinet. They defeated Lincoln's attempt to control the process of reconstruction by refusing congressional recognition for his state governments in the South."23
Historian David H. Donald was kinder to the Radicals and less inclined to emphasis a split between Lincoln and the Radicals. He wrote that President Lincoln "was a party man, and he tried to keep his party united. Far from breaking with the Radical Republicans, he tried to win their support. He worked with these men politically, and he got along with most of them personally, If antislavery zealots never gave Lincoln their full confidence, it was nevertheless the Radicals like Sumner, Stevens, and Chase who stayed behind his administration."24
Patronage matters sometimes clouded and sometimes undermined relations with the President. Judge David Davis complained to Secretary of War Simon Cameron that "I do not believe that Judge Trumbull & the men he represents wish well to the administration. If I am correctly advised their talk is not of a character to inspire confidence in the administration."25 Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles wrote: "I well remember that early in the Administration Trumbull had pressed the appointment of his brother-in-law [William Jayne] to that [Dakota] Territory, against the wishes and convictions of the President. It appeared to me that Trumbull was unreasonable, but he then succeeded. His brother-in-law had just previously been elected to the Illinois Senate by seven votes in a district that was usually Democratic; his appointment compelled him to resign and a candidate of opposite politics was elected."26
Among the causes for Radical irritation was Mr. Lincoln's insistence on maintaining cordial relations with both wings of his party. That could be particularly difficult in states like Missouri where the splits between radicals "Charcoals" and more conservative "Claybanks" were continuing sources of irritation for President Lincoln. Lincoln scholar John Waugh wrote: "For most conservatives in his party, the radicals were anathema. Frank Blair viewed them as simple partisan plunderers....But Lincoln could not bring himself to dislike them, despite their antipathy to him. Musing one day with Hay about the ones from Missouri, he said, 'They are nearer to me than the other side, in thought and sentiment, though bitterly hostile personally. They are utterly lawless - the unhandiest devils in the world to deal with - but after all their faces are set Zionwards."27
Historian James G. Randall maintained that "these men who opposed Lincoln were 'radical' in the sense of being drastic or violent, not in the sense of being liberal. To combat such men was in truth a mark of liberalism. In Lincoln's case particularly it should be so understood, from earlier stages of rampant sectionalism, on through the wartime days of radical intrigue, and down to the ugly and menacing deadlock by which the vindictives wrecked Lincoln's program for the postwar years."28 Historian Stephen B. Oates wrote of Sumner, Wade and Chandler that "the three Senators belong to a loose faction inaccurately categorized as 'radicals,' a misnomer that has persisted through the years. These 'more advanced Republicans,' as the Detroit Post and Tribune called them, were really progressive, nineteenth-century liberals who felt a powerful kinship with English liberals like John Bright and Richard Cobden. What advanced Republicans wanted as to reform the American System - to bring their nation into line with the Declaration's premise - by ridding it of slavery and the South's ruling planter class."29
Lincoln aide John Hay noted that for some Republicans accustomed to being in opposition to President Buchanan, the switch to the Lincoln Administration was a difficult transition. Writing of New Hampshire Senator John P. Hale, Hay observed: "All the reputation he has ever gained in Congress has been through his ceaseless and merciless attacks upon the party in power. Given an Administration measure, you are sure to have a witty, caustic and unavailing speech from the New Hampshire Senator against it."30 As head of the Senate committee on naval operations, Hale specialized in aggravating the Department of the Navy and Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles.
Mr. Lincoln was concerned with keeping support from less radical Republicans were probably more numerous but less vocal than Sumner or Stevens. Historian Herman Belz wrote: "In the case of Civil War Republicans, the decisive consideration in charting a course of action often became identification with or support of the Lincoln administration. Since the fairly even division between the parties required Lincoln to avoid extreme positions in order to build a broad base of support, the administration position invariably appeared conservative compared to the views of the militant antislavery wing of the party. Accordingly politicians who looked to the administration for assistance, as in the distribution of patronage, appeared as moderates or conservatives, while those who opposed them appeared as radicals."31 Historian Michael Les Benedict distinguished between political and legislative radicals in Congress. Politics was often as much a matter of convenience as conviction. "The two facets of racialism were often closely related," wrote Benedict. However, "radicalism must be understood as a potent political weapon in the hands of bitter personal and political enemies within the Republican party."32
Thomas Brown, biographer of Massachusetts Congressman George S. Boutwell, wrote, that the "Radicals were a small but quite vocal group of reform-minded Republicans whose common denominator was their intense antagonism toward the 'peculiar institution.' [of slavery] This intense antagonism aside, men like James M. Ashley [Ohio], George S. Boutwell [Mass.] Benjamin F. Butler [Mass.], Robert C. Schenk [Ohio], Thaddeus Stevens [Penn.], Charles Sumner [Mass.]. Benjamin F. Wade [Ohio], and Henry Wilson [Mass.] had little ideologically in common. They even differed on the techniques of rooting out slavery. Although most Radicals were disdainful of abolitionists as more harmful to their cause than helpful, Boutwell never hid his relationships with abolitionists..."33
Secretary of the Interior Caleb Smith and his successor, John Palmer Usher, were critical of the Radicals. Usher wrote that the President "has to the neglect of his true friends tried to propitiate and oblige this class of men and they never will be satisfied. Of all the acts of his administration they had the least cause & reason to assail him."34 Lincoln needed a viable coalition to wage the war. When War Democrats turned into Lincoln critics, Lincoln naturally turned more toward the Radicals. Historian Michael Burlingame noted that Washington Democrat T. J. Barnett wrote in July 1863 that Democratic criticism of Lincoln drove him into the arms of the Radicals: "I want the conservatives, on the simple issue of the conduct of the war, of the probable terms of peace, and all such questions, to offer the President a fair chance to stand on a platform more moderate than [the one] that he occupies."35
Publicly, Lincoln lagged behind the Radicals on issues like slavery. He was constrained by both the Constitution and public opinion. Historian Richard N. Current wrote: "If Lincoln lagged behind the Radicals, if they had to pull him along, it must be remembered that he, in his position, could not afford to be so far advanced or so singleminded. He had to hold the North together and direct the war effort so as to achieve a victory that would reunite the nation. He had to act as the president of the Conservatives, as well as the Radicals, the Democrats as well as the Republicans, the Southerners as well as the Northerners. None of the Radicals represented any such broad constituency."36 Historian Michael Burlingame wrote: "Lincoln was hard-pressed to keep the Republican coalition intact. Some Radicals, led by Charles Sumner, argued that each rebellious state had committed suicide, reverting to territorial status, and therefore could be regulated by Congress. They also wished to emancipate all slaves, confiscate Rebel property, and deny political rights to most Confederates. Understandably fearing that such measures might alienate Unionists in the border States and the Confederacy as well as Northern Democrats and conservative Republicans, Lincoln took charge of wartime Reconstruction as federal forces occupied more and more Southern territory."37
The Radicals often saw conservative demons like William H. Seward or Montgomery Blair behind President Lincoln's actions. Historian David E. Long wrote: "The Radicals credited Lincoln with limited political courage, and whenever he refused to accommodate them, they assumed it was because of conservative advice."458 Historian Fawn Brodie wrote: "The distinction between the Conservative and Radical wings of the party was real and vital. It had something to do with timing and something to do with compassion. It had a great deal to do with the difference between devotion to principle and surrender to principle....[Thaddeus] Stevens was an agitator, delighting in the prickly and unpleasant truth, careless of personal popularity, reckless of his own reputation and capacity for vote-getting, compulsively intent on a political and social ideal. He understood thoroughly the revolutionary dynamics of the war."38 Ultimately, like Lincoln, Stevens understood the need for persuasion.
Biographer Fawn Brodie wrote: "Stevens was the pioneer who was ever in advance of the government in every movement for the suppression of the rebellion, whether by military or civil measures....Lincoln possessed the sagacity to await the fulness of time for all things, and thus failed in nothing.'"39 Stevens' militant criticism had its uses for the President, argued biographer James Albert Woodburn: "If it be said that such anti-slavery criticisms as Stevens indulged in embarrassed an ever-faithful and overburdened President who was merely biding his time while waiting on public opinion, it may be asked, upon the other hand, how public opinion was ever to be brought to a higher plane, so that the great emancipator might be enabled to do what he desired. His desire was to lead on to that good time when all men might be in the enjoyment of freedom. Could that good time have come at all if the insurgent and radical anti-slavery men had all kept still, or had uttered nothing but pleasant and honeyed words for Lincoln and his Cabinet?"40 The prickly Stevens was no sycophant. Brodie observed: "Stevens and Lincoln were neither friends nor enemies. There was a guarded mutual respect but no affection and very little personal communication."41 She quoted Pennsylvania Republican, Alexander K. McClure, who observed: "Stevens never saw Lincoln during the war except when necessity required it. It was not his custom to fawn upon power or flatter authority, and his free and incisive criticism of public men generally prevented him from being in sympathetic touch with most of the officials connected with the administration.'"42
The Joint Committee and George M. McClellan
Soon after the First Battle of Bull Run in July 1861, Radicals began asserting their opinions about the country's military leadership. Radicals defended John C. FrĂ©mont in the late summer and fall of 1861 against pressure to dismiss him after he issued his own emancipation proclamation in Missouri. President Lincoln was caught in a crossfire among Republicans. Once a close friend of the Blair family, Fremont had become their bitter enemy. Historian Michael Burlingame wrote that the Radicals "warned him that if he removed FrĂ©mont, 'you displease millions of western men, but if you feel it to be your duty to do it, go ahead, but remember one thing - the western people will insist that the same rule be as rigidly applied to incompetent generals in this vicinity. It will never do to remove Fremont for incompetency and retain generals here whose names we can mention if they are also open to the same charge!'"43 "Gen. FrĂ©mont, upon taking the command, was clothed with the most ample authority, and the exigencies of the Department were such that much should be pardoned in one compelled to act so promptly, and so little at this command," concluded a report by the Committee on the Conduct of the War in 1862. "Whatever opinion may be entertained in referenced to the time when the policy of Emancipation should have been inaugurated, or by whose authority it should have been promulgated, there can be no doubt that Gen. FrĂ©mont at that early day rightly judged in regard to the most effective means of subduing this Rebellion."44
General George B. McClellan was enthusiastically received when he replaced Irvin McDowell as commander of the Army of the Potomac in August 1861. McClellan began losing the support of congressional Radicals in the fall of 1861 when he failed to act aggressively against the Confederate army in Virginia. Their impatience strengthened during the winter as the Little Napoleon continued to stall. The vehicle for much Radical criticism of the Lincoln Administration was the creation in December 1861 of the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War. The general cause for its creation was dissatisfaction with McClellan's military leadership; the proximate cause was the Union defeat at Ball's Bluff in October. Historian William Whatley Pierson, Jr. wrote that there were other reasons that contributed to the committee's formation - including resentment by Republicans of the prominent positions held by Democratic generals.45 The seven-member committee initially included Senators Wade, Chandler and Andrew Johnson and four members of the House: Daniel W. Gooch, John Covode, George W. Julian and Moses F. Odell.
None of the committee members had military baclgrounds, but military oversight was their responsibility. The committee saw its mission as "endeavoring to obtain such information in respect to the conduct of the war as would best enable them to advise what mistakes had been made in the past and the proper course to be pursued in the future; to obtain such information as the many and laborious duties of the President and his cabinet prevented them from acquiring, and to lay it before them with such recommendations and suggestions as seemed to be most imperatively demanded."46 Historian Bruce Tap wrote: "Lacking military knowledge, the committee members tended to reinforce amateurish and naive opinions about warfare through their actions...The committee continued to promote offensive warfare - forward movement and frontal assault - with no regard for the appropriateness of such maneuvers."47 Historian Phillip S. Paludan wrote that the committee's "greatest efforts were directed at pushing the government toward a more energetic prosecution of the war - toward emancipation, the use of black soldiers, and the appointment of fighting generals."48
Presidential aides John G. Nicolay and John Hay called the committee members "earnest, patriotic, and honest." They were also pushy and irritating in their relations with the more prudent President. Nicolay and Hay observed: "Even before this committee was appointed...Senators Chandler and Wade, representing the more ardent and eager spirits in Congress, had repeatedly press upon the Government the necessity of employing the Army of the Potomac in active operations; and now that they felt themselves formally intrusted with a mandate from the people to that effect, were still more urgent and persistent."49 Bruce Tap wrote: "From the standpoint of generating useful military knowledge, the committee's work was largely irrelevant. There were few startling revelations, hardly surprising, given the members lack of military background....it did exert influence in a number of other areas, three in particular where it affected the northern war effort. In each of these cases, however, its influence was negative. First, in the area of military appointments, it often recommended generals, such as Fremont, who were subpar from a military standpoint. Moreover, it contributed to (although it did not create) an unhealthy practice in Washington of allowing political considerations to influence military appointments. Second, the committee's investigations, its leaks to press, and its use of secret testimony to discredit generals such as McClellan certainly were instrumental in creating hostility between the army's West Point officers and the nation's civilian leaders."50
When the Committee on the Conduct of the War came to the White House on the last day of 1861, its chairman Benjamin Wade told Lincoln: "Mr. President, you are murdering your country by inches in consequence of the inactivity of the military and the want of a distinct policy in regard to slavery." Lincoln downplayed their unhappiness in a letter to a sick McClellan on January 1, 1862: "I hear that the doings of an Investigating Committee, give you some uneasiness. You may be entirely relieved on this point. The gentlemen of the Committee were with me an hour and a half last night, and I found them in a perfectly good mood. As their investigation brings them acquainted with facts, they are rapidly coming to think of the whole case as all sensible men would."51
Other Union generals were angling for McClellan's job - including his predecessor as commander of the Army of the Potomac, Irvin McDowell. Historian William Marvel wrote: "McDowell had cultivated an ardent following among Radical Republicans."52 Historian Michael Burlingame wrote: "On January 6, Wade's committee met with Lincoln and the cabinet to recommend that McDowell be given command of the Army of the Potomac and to insist that the war be prosecuted vigorously. The members were surprised that both the president and the secretaries knew little about McClellan's plans or his reasons for delay. Even more surprising was Lincoln's assumption that he had no right to know about them because his lack of a military background led him to defer to Little Mac."53 Lincoln and the Radicals both wanted action. McClellan wanted to plan and to keep his plans secret.
Criticism from Radicals mounted while Lincoln strove to push McClellan to move while striving to push back the Radicals. President Lincoln was caught between the different leadership models of the Jacobins and soldiers in the field. The Committee on the Conduct of the War was like a spear - constantly poking the President. Indiana Congressman George Julian recalled: "During the months of January and February , the committee made repeated visits to the President for the purpose of urging the division of the Army of the Potomac and its organization into army corps. We insisted upon this on the strength of the earnest recommendations of our chief commanders. And with a view to greater military efficiency; but the President said General McClellan was opposed to it, and would, he believed, resign his command in the alternative of being required to do it."54
When in early March 1862, President Lincoln met with McClellan one morning, he revealed that there was criticism that "Little Napoleon" might be stalling because of Confederate sympathies. McClellan reacted angrily, asserting that he "could permit no one to couple the word treason with my name." Lincoln's tactics, however, seemed to propel McClellan into unusual action. He polled his generals at a war council later that day whether they endorsed his plan to move the army to Urbanna on the Virginia Peninsula. Historian Stephen W. Sears wrote: "McClellan's gamble of calling a war council had paid off handsomely, and he could mark the date - March 8, 1862 - as the official birth of the Peninsula campaign. To be sure, circumstances would soon enough force him to alter his plan, yet its basic concept would remain intact."55 By an 8-4 margin the generals backed Little Mac's plan. Lincoln, however, issued War Order # 3: "that no change of the base of operations of the Army of the Potomac shall be made without leaving in, and about Washington, such a force as, in the opinion of the General-in-chief, and the commanders of all the Army corps, shall leave said City entirely secure.
That not more than two Army corps, (about fifty thousand troops) of said Army of the Potomac, shall be moved en route for a new base of operations until the navigation of the Potomac, from Washington to the Chesapeake bay shall be freed from enemies batteries and other obstructions, or, until the President shall hereafter give express permission.
That any movement, as aforesaid, en route for a new base of operations, which may be ordered by the General-in-chief, & which may be intended to move upon the Chesapeake bay shall begin to move upon the bay as early as the 18th. day of March Inst.; and the General-in-chief shall be responsible that it so move as early as that day.
Ordered that the Army and Navy co-operate in an immediate effort to capture the enemies batteries upon the Potomac between Washington and the Chesapeake-bay.56
On March 11, Lincoln issued another order which left McClellan as head of the Army of the Potomac but relieved him of overall command of the army. Congressman Julian recalled: "Mr. Lincoln said he dreaded 'the moral effect of this'; but in the latter part of February, he began to lose his faith in the General, and finally, after nearly two months of perseverance by the committee, he gave his order early in March, which General McClellan obeyed with evident hesitation and very great reluctance. A few days later the long tried patience of the President became perfectly exhausted. He surprised and delighted the committee by completely losing his temper, and on the 11th relieved General McClellan, from the command of all our forces except the Army of the Potomac. The rebels, in the meantime, had evacuated their works at Centreville and Manassas, and retreated with their munitions in safety. A majority of the committee at this time strongly suspected that General McClellan was a traitor, and they felt strengthened in this suspicion by what they afterward saw for themselves at Centreville and Manassas, which they visited on the thirteenth of March. They were certain, at all events, that his heart was not in the work. He had disregarded the President's general order of the nineteenth of January, for a movement of all our armies, which resulted in the series of victories of Fort Henry, Fort Donelson, etc., which so electrified the country. He had protested against the President's order of the thirty-first of January, directing an expedition for the purpose of seizing a point upon the railroad southwest of Manassas Junction. He had opposed all forward movements of the Army of the Potomac, and resolutely set his face against the division of our forces into army corps, as urged by all our chief commanders. And he had again and again refused to co-operate with the navy in breaking up the blockade of the Potomac, while his order to move in the direction of the enemy at Centreville and Manassas was given after the evacuation of these points."57
Radicals became more public in their displeasure. Lincoln chronicler John C. Waugh noted: "Angry Senate Radicals brought a resolution to the floor calling for McClellan's dismissal. It was blocked, however by a parliamentary maneuver."58 Once on the Virginia Peninsula, McClellan again stalled. Lincoln and the Radicals were both impatient for action. On April 3, presidential aide John Hay reported that McClellan "is in danger. Not in front but in rear. The President is making up his mind to give him a peremptory order to march. It is disgraceful to think how the little squad at Yorktown keeps him at bay."59
The Radicals needed a military "hero" and McClellan clearly wasn't it. General John C. FrĂ©mont's emancipation proclamation in Missouri in August 1861 had given him that stature. In late March, 1862, Lincoln aide John Hay wrote a newspaper column in which he maligned the Radicals without precisely naming them: "'We elected this man,' said they, 'and now he ignores our existence. We put him where he is now, expecting to find in him a pliant tool for our own purposes, and now he takes the reins into his own hands and cooly orders us out of the way. And now we begin to find out that we are not to rule the nation after all, and that the loaves and fishes are not to flow into our hands. We are tired of this man,' said they, 'and we want another in his place. We put him up, and we will pull him down.' Thenceforth the President and his Cabinet were black-balled with the foulest charges, the vilest insinuations, the most malicious aspersions -- attacked in open field, or from some sly ambuscade by this disappointed clique. Then came Fremont's famous Missouri splurge, in the shape of a proclamation. Eureka! The malcontents had found a man after their own hearts. The proclamation came just in the nick of time. To be sure it was not very judicious as a war measure just at that particular time. But what matter? It was a grand political hit, and showed in what particular province its originator was most likely to win laurels; and the clique of malcontents, hitherto nameless, organized themselves as Fremont men." Hay charged that the Radicals wanted to put pressure on Lincoln to replace McClellan with Fremont. Hay proclaimed: "The President has said very plainly and unequivocally that he is not of them, and that he will 'none of them.' But they do not yet despair of so working upon the people by false representation as to bring to bear upon the Administration so strong a pressure as shall induce it to oust McClellan and put a man of their choosing in his place."60 Hay gave the Radicals a nickname: the "Jacobins."
Questions persisted for the Radicals about McClellan's loyalty. Historian Richard N. Current noted after McClellan began the Peninsula campaign, "The Radicals complained that McClellan had left too few troops behind to garrison the capital. They insinuated that he had done so deliberately and treacherously - to let the rebels take Washington at will. Yielding to the Radical pressure, Lincoln...cut McClellan's army, holding back a division, and then a whole corps, for the defense of Washington."61 Radicals continued to press for McClellan's replacement. When Benjamin Wade pushed for a new commander, Lincoln asked whom he would suggest. "Why, anybody!" said Wade. Responded the president: "Wade, anybody will do for you, but not for me. I must have somebody."62
Winston Churchill wrote that the Radicals "suspected him [McClellan] of tender feelings for the South and a desire for a negotiated peace. They also feared that the General would prove to be a potent Democratic candidate for the Presidency. Lincoln allowed himself to be persuaded by the Radical Republicans that McClellan had become a liability to his Government. He had long stood up for his commander against the attacks and whisperings of the politicians. Now he felt he must give way. But it was without animosity, for that viper was never harboured in Lincoln's breast."63 Lincoln did not need to be persuaded by the Radicals. He knew that McClellan didn't have the heart for the kind of aggressive military tactics the war required.
McClellan's actions and words were effectively insubordinate. He telegraphed Secretary of War Stanton on June 28 charging that "the Govt has not sustained this Army. If you do not do so now the game is lost. If I save this Army now I tell you plainly that I owe no thanks to you or any other person in Washington - you have done your best to sacrifice this Army."64 McClellan had actually sabotage himself. He was almost constitutionally averse to violence and death. 'When he had to lose lives, he was almost undone," wrote military historian T. Harry Williams. "The 'sickening sight' of the battlefield, he told his wife after Fair Oaks, took all the charms from victory."65
The Joint Committee investigated battles but targeted generals, especially commanding ones. Historian James G. Randall said: "In the name of promoting military efficiency, injecting energy into the service, exposing military mistakes and 'obtaining information for the President'...[it] conducted elaborate inquisitions, took generals and war officials away from their proper duties, stirred the country with misplaced publicity, ruined the reputation of able generals while building up their own military pets, worried Lincoln, bandied unproved charges of treasons and created dissension and distrust within the lines."66 Historian Bruce Tap wrote: "In attacking McClellan, the committee did not distinguish between the strategy of the Peninsula campaign and the way in which that strategy was implemented. As some historians have argued, one must make the distinction. A slightly more aggressive general might have brought the proposed turning movement to a victorious conclusion. Yet in the eyes of many northerners, the entire peninsula strategy had been discredited."67
A critical view of the Joint Committee's work was reflected by journalist Ben Perley Poore, who wrote: "The Congressional Committee on the Conduct of the War was a mischievous organization, which assumed dictatorial powers. Summoning generals before them, and having a phonographer to record every word uttered, they would propound very comprehensive questions. The first question put by them was generally about identical with that which the militia captain, who fell into the cellar-way after an arduous attempt to drill his company, asked a benevolent Quaker lady who rushed forward to express her sympathy, as he struggled to extricate himself: 'What do you know about war?' If the general in hand was a political brigadier or major-general, who had been in the habit before the war of saving his country on the stump, he would proceed to discuss the origin and cure of the Rebellion, greatly to the satisfaction of the Committee, and they would ascertain at once that so far as his principles were concerned, he ought to have commanded the Army of the Potomac. If the general called and questioned happened to be one of the numerous class who had formed the acquaintance of the green-eyed monster, he entertained the Committee with shocking stories of his superior officers. He scolded and carped and criticised and caviled, told half truths and solid lies, and the August and astute Committee listened with open ears, and the phonographer dotted down every word. So the meanest gossip and slang of the camp was raked into a heap and preserved in official form."68 Often, the committee seemed more concerned with political correctness than military effectiveness. Tap summarized the committee's thinking: "To ensure military victory, northern troops had to be properly motivated. In order to achieve high morale, the Republican political program and war ideals had to be implemented. Once these goals were achieved, the Union soldiers, led by right-thinking generals, would overwhelm southern armies."69
Lincoln chronicler Ron Soodalter wrote: "There was no aspect of the military that they didn't scrutinize. On the positive side, the heavily partisan committee found flagrant examples of fraud, bungling, and general corruption in the areas of contracting and purchasing. Their research into the maltreatment of Union prisoners in the Southern camps led directly to reform measures and brought more public support for the war effort."70 "Fiercely attacked when it first began to take testimony, the committee has generally been treated critically ever since," wrote historian Hans L. Trefousse. "Contemporaries... characterized it as a 'mischievous organization which assumed dictatorial powers.' More recent observers have made similar charges. They have accused it of having 'arrogated the right to make affirmative decisions,' have criticized it for wielding 'inquisitorial powers,' and have charged it with the loss 'of thousands of lives' because of unwarranted interference with the military."71 The committee was much better at giving criticism than at constructing alternatives. Historian Bruce Tap wrote that "the committee's view on military affairs reflected popular prejudices against an educated, professional soldiery."72 Tap wrote: "Wade, Chandler and Julian did frequently express opinions that revealed simplistic, amateurish and unrealistic views on warfare."73
Radical disaffection with Mr. Lincoln grew during the summer of 1862 as military calamities befell the Union army and President Lincoln resisted pressure to issue an emancipation proclamation. National Intelligencer editor James C. Welling wrote that "Radical Republicans...supposed the President at this juncture to be a nose of wax in the hands of what they called 'the proslavery faction.' As late at the 10th of September, ten days before the preliminary Proclamation of Emancipation was issued, we find Mr. Chase lamenting in his diary that the President 'had yielded so much to Border State and negrophobic counsels that he now finds it difficult to arrest his own descent to the most fatal concessions.'"74 The Radicals' suspicions concerning McClellan were intense and exaggerated. His failure to come to the aid of General John Pope at the Second Battle of Bull Run in late August heightened their concerns. In early September 1862, Navy Secretary Gideon Welles wrote in his diary: "Senator Wilson, who is by nature suspicious and sensational, tells me there is a conspiracy on foot among certain generals for a revolution and the establishment of a provisional national government. Has obtained important information from one of McC.'s staff. Wilson is doubtless sincere in all this, but, being on the military committee, is influenced by Stanton, who is mad with the army and officers who stand by McClellan."75 For a time McClellan's victory at the Battle of Antietam on September 17 quieted Radical criticism, but he failed to follow up aggressively on that victory.
Exposing mistakes did not always help Union morale. Bruce Tap wrote: "To the committee's credit, a number of its investigations exposed corruption, financial mismanagement, and crimes against humanity. The committee deserves praise not only for exposing these abuses but also for using such disclosures to invigorate northern public opinion and bolster the resolve to continue the war. Had the committee's work always been modeled on these investigations, there would be little debate about its positive, albeit minor contribution to the Union war effort." He noted: "The CCW uncovered problems in examining First Bull Run, Ball's Bluff, the peninsula campaign, the Red River expedition, and the attempt to take Fort Fisher. Yet it never offered any practical advice on how to avoid the repetition of such mistakes." In some ways, noted Tap, the committee's work was deleterious - including overemphasis on the political backgrounds of officers and on causing friction between military and civilian authorities.76 William W. Pierson wrote that "the committee succeed in their aims; that they brought speed and energy into the conduct of the war; that they ferret out abuses and put their fingers down heavily upon governmental inefficiency; and that they labored, for a time at least, to preserve balance and effect a co-operation between the legislative and executive departments....They were partizans, but they were men of energy; they were often rash and impetuous, but their hearts were in the struggle."77
Eventually in the fall of 1862, McClellan exhausted the patience of President Lincoln. Historian Stephen R. Taaffe wrote: "Lincoln visited the Army of the Potomac in early October, and although he pledged to protect McClellan from his domestic political enemies, there were plenty of signs in the following weeks that the president's continued support depended upon McClellan's aggressive prosecution of the war. A few days later, Lincoln peremptorily ordered the Army of the Potomac to advance, but McClellan responded with his usual litany of excuses. On 13 October, Lincoln admonished McClellan for his excessive timidity in a private letter designed to spur him on, but this tactic proved no more fruitful than his more direct approach the previous weeks. Instead, McClellan continued to demand more equipment, supplies, and men."78 Shortly after the November 1862 elections, Lincoln replaced McClellan with General Ambrose Burnside.
The work of the Joint Committee reflected a constitutional tug of war in the country. The Civil War not only defined the powers of the Union. It also defined the powers of the three branches of government. The Radicals pushed and the President pushed back. Senator Charles Sumner argued forcefully that Congress shared with the President certain war powers: "The President, it is said,...may seize, confiscate and liberate under the Rights of War but Congress cannot direct these things to be done. Pray, Sir, where is the limitation upon Congress? Read the...Constitution and you will find the powers vast as all the requirement of war. Confiscation and liberation are other War powers of Congress incident to the general grant of power, which it remains for us to employ. So important are they, that without them I fear all the rest will be in vain. Yes Sir, in vain do we gather mighty armies and in vain do we tax our people unless we are ready to grasp these other means through which the war can be carried to the homes of the Rebellion."79 The Joint Committee was one expression of legislative oversight. Historian Pierson wrote: "During the first years after the creation of the committee, it was in more or less constant communication with the executive. This co-operation was rendered less friendly by the dismissal of Hooker, and was practically discontinued after the presentation of the President's message of December 1863."80
Slavery and Emancipation
In 1861-62,Lincoln differed with the Radicals regarding primarily on questions of speed and timing of emancipation. Historian John David Smith wrote that after secession, Lincoln "began a series of deliberate steps that culminated in his emancipating and arming African Americans. Lincoln was not merely reacting to events; he was shaping them. The president used the idea of contingency as a rhetorical device to make his radical project more palatable to white northerners."81 The key irritant for Radicals was the speed with which Mr. Lincoln dealt with slavery. Historian David E. Long wrote: "When the war began, Lincoln did little the Radicals considered timely or efficient. Even before Congress convened in July 1861, certain members began lobbying for a statement defining slavery as the cause of the war and for using the insurrection as a means of abolishing slavery in the Confederacy."446
Historian James A. Rawley wrote that the Committee on the Conduct of the War "only slightly ahead of the deliberate, politically sensitive president, a vanguard for racial justice, or as Lincoln said of the zealous Missouri Radicals, 'devils facing Zionwards.'"82
Lincoln understood that slavery policy split the Republicans ranks in Congress and even more split Republicans from Border States leaders and War Democrats. Lincoln was determined to maintain issues regarding emancipation in his own hands. When Secretary of War Simon Cameron proposed emancipation and recruitment of black slaves in his annual report in late November 1861, Radicals cheered and Lincoln demurred. Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin wrote: "Determined to protect his position, Cameron sought to ingratiate himself with the increasingly powerful radical Republicans in Congress...Though known as a conservative on the issue of slavery, Cameron began by degrees to embrace the radical's contention that the central purpose of the war was to bring the institution of human bondage to an end."83 The Radicals embraced the idea and President Lincoln rejected it.
But the differences between Lincoln and the Radicals must be placed in context. Historian Michael Burlingame wrote: "Often portrayed as antagonists, Lincoln and the Radicals were actually united in their desire for emancipation and for a vigorous prosecution of the war. They differed only in temperament and in tactics. Lincoln was no reluctant emancipator; he welcomed the liberation of slaves as enthusiastically as any abolitionist. In discussing the Emancipation Proclamation with Joshua Speed, he said: 'I believe that in this measure my fondest hopes will be realized.'"84 Scholar Jacques Barzun argued that Lincoln possessed a wider perspective than his Radical Republican critics. He wrote that when Radicals urged emancipation, President Lincoln "had to take in another consideration: how do you free persons who are in the power of your enemy, an enemy you haven't yet defeated, and which on the contrary is invading your territory? Isn't it ridiculous - doesn't it look like desperation and impotence to declare this freedom in the blue, with no results?"85
Historian Mark M. Krug wrote: "Those who insist on portraying Lincoln as patiently suffering the wrath, vilification, and pressure of the Radical extremists must find an answer to a number of perplexing questions. Is it not a fact that President Lincoln received excellent co-operation from the 37th Congress, which was supposedly dominated by the 'Jacobins'? Is it not a fact that the 37th Congress, in its long session between December 4, 1861, and July 17, 1862, passed a very impressive list of legislative acts, including appropriation bills for the army and navy, an income tax law, a new tariff law, the Homestead Act, the Morrill Land-Grant College Act, and the act abolishing slavery in the District of Columbia?" After citing additional accomplishments, Krug wrote: "This impressive legislative record, of which any President would be very proud, could not have been accomplished without the active co-operation of this band of so-called 'Jacobins.'"86
Historian Robert D. Ilisevich wrote: "No sooner had Congress convened [in July 1861] than [Galusha] Grow and a dozen other radicals, including Stevens, Bingham, and Morrill, caucused to determine what strategies were to be pursued with respect to antislavery and emancipation bills. It was a brain trust similar to that which had directed anti-Nebraskans to the election of [Nathaniel] Banks in the Thirty-fourth Congress. Fearing that the sharp differences over slavery between them and the more conservative wing might widen, this inner group did not bother to invite all members of the party But they soon learned they could not have everything they wanted. Eventually the caucus agreed on a middle course of freeing the slaves of rebels as a war measure."87
Among those who wanted tougher action on slavery and slave states was Illinois Senator Lyman Trumbull, who had defeated Lincoln for the Senate in 1855. "At first glance nothing seemed more improbable than that the quiet scholarly Lyman Trumbull would collaborate with noisy partisans like Wade and Chandler. But appearances were deceiving, and Trumbull succumbed to periodic fits of irritation that clouded his judgment," wrote historian George H. Mayer. "The special session found him angry at the Southerners and ready to strike back at them...even though he had never before shown any sympathy for the Negro. Trumbull's vindictive attitude was also aimed at Lincoln, whose only offense had been to win the Presidency. Jealousy did not normally influence Trumbull's behavior, but the old rivalry of the two men in Illinois made comparisons inevitable, and Lincoln's good fortune had annoyed him. The ensuing crisis over Sumter and the irresolute response of the President brought all of Trumbull's resentment to the surface."88
Lincoln used differences between Conservatives and Radicals as useful counters in pursuing his own policy. Lincoln aide John Hay wrote in April 1862 regarding slavery: "The President has clearly enough defined his position, and there is not enough of reckless radicalism in Congress to override his wishes or nullify his acts."89 Historian Russell F. Weigley wrote that "Lincoln steered his way carefully to avoid either imprisonment by the Radicals, as he feared would result if he sacrificed Seward in favor of Chase, or outright collision with them. If he became their prisoner, he would be left with inadequate partisan support, because the number of categorical Radicals in the Republican Party across the nation and even in Congress, notwithstanding the actions of the caucus, was too small to sustain Lincoln's government through the multiple pressures of war and forthcoming elections."90
The Constitution limited what President Lincoln thought he could do regarding slavery. John Hay wrote in a newspaper column in March 1862 that President Lincoln "planted himself with his back to the rock of the Constitution, and for the last year has fought bravely and successfully against the whole crowd of radicals. But through Congress and the abolition press, they are becoming masters of the position, by climbing and stealing behind him, and sooner or later he must succumb. When that time comes, God help us; for without such aid, the country will be ruined for a generation to come."91 After President Lincoln signed the emancipation bill for the District of Columbia, Henry Ward Beecher, a Brooklyn minister allied with the Radicals, said: "It is worth living for a lifetime to see the capital of our government redeemed from the stigma and shame of being a slave mart. We have found by experience that though Abraham Lincoln is sure, he is slow; and that though he is slow, he is sure!"92
Both Lincoln and Congress began to act in earnest on slavery question in March 1862. "An amendment to the Articles of War prohibited officers from returning, even to loyal masters, fugitives who came within army lines. Lincoln refused to communicate the amended article to Union commanders, but his defiant attitude only played into the hands of the radicals. In quick succession they rammed through Congress bills for compensated emancipation in the District of Columbia, for the prohibition of slavery in the territories, and for the repeal of the Fugitive Slave Law," wrote historian George H. Mayer. "Lincoln signed all three measures, because they did not directly raise constitutional issues regarding the status of slave property."93 In considering whether or not to sign the Second Confiscation Act in July 1862, Lincoln was advised by Senator Orville H. Browning that "he had reached the culminating point in his administration, and his course upon this bill was to determine whether he was to control the abolitionists and radicals, or whether they were to control him."94
Lincoln managed the Radicals as he managed the issues of slavery. Historian William E. Gienapp wrote that "Lincoln undercut the Radicals by signing the First and then the Second Confiscation Acts. After signing the second act, which provided for the emancipation of any slave owned by a disloyal master, Lincoln ignored the law and continued to pursue his policy of compensated emancipation under state auspices."95 Lincoln's reaction to congressional Confiscation Acts of 1861 and 1862 demonstrated his concern about the limits of power. Frank J. Williams noted: "Nothing in the Constitution authorized the Congress or the president to confiscate property without compensation."96 Historian Richard N. Current wrote of the Confiscations Acts, "While hesitating to enforce these laws, Lincoln responded in his own way to the rising sentiment in favor of emancipation."97
Radicals had taken the initiative by conceiving the First Confiscation Act of 1861 and the Second Confiscation Act of 1862 that authorized the seizure of Confederate property. Historian Matthew Pinsker wrote that "The legislation was actually more complicated than it appeared. The bill provided access to the federal courts and a series of vaguely outlined legal procedures to help resolve contested cases. Yet there were no 'personal liberty' safeguards written into the statute - necessary to help freed blacks avoid kidnapping or reenslavement - despite lengthy debates about the need for such measures. Legislators did encourage the president to employ suitable ex-slaves in the Union army, but they also set aside funds for colonization experiments abroad. In this manner, they failed to settle the question of whether slaves were legally defined as people or property, content to leave that fundamental ambiguity unresolved. They also created confusion by establishing a sixty-day window from the date of some unspecified 'public warning' by the president before the next law would take full effect."98 Historian Michael Burlingame wrote: "Though almost no Confederate property was seized under the provisions of the Second Confiscation Act, its passage was significant, for it helped pave the way for the Emancipation Proclamation. It showed Lincoln that issuing such a proclamation would not be as politically risky as it had earlier seemed, and the lengthy congressional debates helped undermine the notion that blacks were property. As Senator John Sherman noted, the statue 'was more useful as a declaration of policy than as an act to be enforced."99
Mr. Lincoln was willing to accommodate the Radicals when he felt their ideas were right and the time was propitious. Congressman George W. Julian later wrote: "Notwithstanding Mr. Lincoln's proverbial caution and diplomacy in dealing with difficult problems he was completely armed with the courage of his convictions, after his conclusions had been carefully matured. No man was more ready to take the responsibility when his sense of duty commanded him. This was strikingly illustrated in the summer of 1862, when he refused to sign the confiscation act of the 17th of July, without a modification first made exempting the free of rebel land-owners from its operation. Congress was obliged to make the modification required as the only means of securing the important advantages of other feature of the measure; but the action of the president was inexpressibly provoking to a large majority of Congress. It was bitterly denounced as an anti-Republican discrimination between real and personal property, when the nation was struggling for its life against a rebellious aristocracy founded on the monopoly of land and the ownership of negroes. The President was charged with thus prolonging the war and aggravating its cost by paralyzing one of the most potent means of putting down the rebellion, and purposely leaving the owners of large estates in full possession of their lands at the end of the struggle. He was arraigned as the deliberate betrayer of the freedmen and poor whites, who had been friendly to the Union, while the confiscation of life-estates as a war measure could prove of no practical advantage to the government or disadvantage to the enemy."
The popular hostility to the President at this time cannot be described, and was wholly without precedent, and the opposition to him in Congress was still more intense. But Mr. Lincoln accepted the situation, and patiently abode his time.100
Lincoln acted on emancipation on his own timetable - based on the Constitution and public opinion. During the spring and summer of 1862, Radicals pushed him to act faster but Lincoln maintained his own pace. Historian Mark M. Krug wrote: "What of the assertion of some historians that Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in response to an unbearable pressure put on him by the Radicals. One of our colleagues had suggested that 'the wily Lincoln surrendered to the conquering Jacobins in every controversy before they could publicly inflict upon him a damaging reverse.' One wonders how this sweeping statement of Lincoln's abject surrender to the so-called Jacobins could be squared with his rescinding of FrĂ©mont's and Hunter's proclamations, his refusal to fire Seward, his taking the decision to dismiss McClellan only after he himself became convinced of the necessity for the steps." 101
After Lincoln issued the Draft Emancipation Proclamation in September 1862, John Hay wrote: "There has probably never been a ruler who in times of such deep public excitement, has so long and successfully maintained an attitude of dignified reticence as has Abraham Lincoln, in the two years that have elapsed since his election. Especially for the last six months, he has been alternately the target of extremists from the North and the border, each charging him with faithlessness to principles and a weak subservience to the influence of the other. He has been equally unmoved by the eloquent fury of the inspired maniac, Wendell Phillips, and the impotent malignity that oozed from the withered lips of Gov. [Charles] Wickliffe. Thaddeus Stevens might speak bitterness and disappointment, in his place in the House of Representatives, and the President would never allude to itâ€¦.The Progressive Friends might attack him in force, blazing upon him in the gorgeous costume of the shad bellied dandies, but he only told them that he had thought of that subject more than they, and they must wait his time and the Lord's." Hay added that the President "knew that any declaration of opinion which he might publicly make would be rendered obsolete by the progress of events before it had reached the newer States. Secondly, his utterances would instantly form an issue upon which would divide and fiercely fight those were now most strongly united in the defense of the Union. While the contest could be better carried on without an executive pronunciamento, the President thought best to keep silent."102
With the draft Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln gave the South 100 days to avoid emancipation. Predictably, Lincoln was ignored by the South. Radicals attempted to stiffen Lincoln's resolve as the time for issuing the Final Emancipation Proclamation approached in late 1862. Historian Michael Burlingame wrote: "A few abolitionists who had been disappointed by the Preliminary Proclamation underwent a change of heart as Emancipation Day drew near. Lydia Maria Child said apropos of Lincoln's delay: 'it would not be fair to blame the President for moving so slowly. The people were not prepared to sustain him in any such measure; they had become too generally demoralized by long subservience to the Slave Power.'"103
Lincoln needed to have majority opinion - not just moral opinion - behind emancipation Historian Philip Shaw Paludan wrote: "Lincoln needed to place the emancipation of blacks in a package that whites would accept. The Union was the almost universal ideal of northerners; everything that anyone did in the course of fighting the war was going to be to save the Union, Lincoln was preaching to the choir here, but it was a big choir, and he had to rally and reassure them that the very dramatic act of freeing other people's slaves would be in service of the very conservative goal of saving their union."104 Lincoln was the balance wheel. Historian Michael Burlingame wrote: "Lincoln did not please all militant opponents of slavery; they wanted every slave of disloyal owners freed, even if those slaves were not being used directly to support the Confederate military. The abolitionists George Luther Stearns told Charles Sumner that he 'could hope for nothing good from the imbecility in Washington.'"105 Sumner himself pushed relentlessly, but he came to understand the President's resolve. Sumner biographer Frederick J. Blue wrote: "The specific process of emancipation was not as important to Sumner as freedom itself. While preferring that Congress take the lead in advancing his goal, he readily accepted whatever steps Lincoln might take."106 Sumner served as a conduit of information to and from the President. On December 25, Senator Sumner wrote: "I returned from an interview with the President, where much had been said about the Proclamation. He is now considering how to proclaim on 1st January. It will be done. He says of himself that he is hard to be moved from any position which he has taken....He seemed much in earnest."107
Lincoln clearly confided his intentions to Sumner - while hiding those intentions from others. Senator Sumner called on President Lincoln on December 27 and presented him with several communications, newspaper clippings advocating the proclamation, and the letter from the electors. Sumner reported: "The President says that he could not stop the Proclamation if he would, and he would not if he could....I find Stanton unusually sanguine and confident. He says that he shall have 200,000 negroes under arms before June, holding the Mississippi River and garrisoning the ports, so that our white soldiers can go elsewhere. The President accepts this idea."108 On January 1, 1863, Lincoln issued the Final Emancipation Proclamation.
Although impatient with the President's slow moves toward emancipation during much of 1862, Sumner found them politically useful in dealing with Republican opponents back home. "This group, led by [Richard] Dana, had claimed that Massachusetts radicals like Sumner and Governor [Rufus] Andrew were hurting the war effort by forcing the president to take drastic actions that alienated northern moderates. There was even talk of organizing a 'People's party' to block Sumner's reelection when the legislature balloted in early 1863," wrote Frederick J. Blue. "But with the president and the senator coming to apparent harmony on emancipation and the latter using his patronage power adroitly, Sumner was able to seize the initiative."109 The Republican revolt against the Massachusetts senator collapsed.
Radicals doubted the emancipation proclamation on more than stylistic grounds. Michael Burlingame wrote that "many other Radicals agreed with Massachusetts Governor John A. Andrew's conclusion that it was 'a mighty act' through a poor document, 'slow, somewhat halting, wrong in its delay till January, but gand sublime after all.'"110 Historian Richard N. Current wrote the President "pulled out the proclamation as his trump. In issuing it he did not really yield to the Radicals. Rather, he outfoxed them....Having announced in September that he would make a final proclamation the first of the following year, Lincoln had an excuse for disregarding the laws about confiscation and Negro troops throughout the intervening months."111 In effect, Lincoln bought himself time. Massachusetts Senator Henry Wilson wrote that President Lincoln "has struck another great blow. Tell him for me, God bless him."112
Many conservatives objected to the Emancipation Proclamation and Lincoln needed to court them as well as Radicals. North Carolina's military governor, for example, vocally challenged Lincoln's draft emancipation. Edward Stanly claimed Mr. Lincoln told him "that the proclamation had become a civil necessity to prevent the Radicals from openly embarrassing the government in the conduct of the war. The President expressed the belief that without the proclamation for which they had been clamoring, the Radicals would take the extreme step in Congress of withholding supplies for carrying on the war, leaving the whole land in anarchy."113
Radicals vocally objected to Stanly's objections. Historian Michael Burlingame wrote: "The demand for Stanly's ouster was rooted in a fundamental policy disagreement between Lincoln and the Radicals. The president believed that Southern Unionism could be mobilized to restore Confederate states and help speed the end of the war. With good reason Radicals thought Lincoln overestimated the depth of Southern Unionism and misguidedly tailored his policies to accommodate it."114 Stanly eventually resigned in a dispute over the proclamation.
Cabinet Crisis of December 1862
Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase was the titular leader of the Radicals, but he lacked the firm mental discipline which allowed President Lincoln to stay in control in the most vexing conditions. George S. Boutwell, a Treasury Department official who became a Radical member of Congress member, wrote: "At the time of the disaster to Pope and McClellan [in August-September 1862], Mr. Chase was demoralized completely. He said to me: 'We have only to wait for the end.'" According to Boutwell, Chase took me to the President, and said that he could take no part in the appointments. In that period Mr. Chase was very bitter in his criticisms of the President. He thought him slow in regard to emancipation. Of this opinion there was a formidable knot around Washington, Mr. Chase and Mr. Sumner being at the head. Indeed, their opinion in that particular was shared by many, myself among them, but I never lost confidence in the purposes of Mr. Lincoln, and I well knew that the way of safety was to maintain the closest relations with him. No one who knew him had any ground to doubt his good intentions." "115
The Union defeat at Fredericksburg in December 1862 spurred Senate Republicans to demand a Cabinet change. Radical despair was reflected in a diary entry after the battle by Ohio Congressman William P. Cutler: "We are at sea & [have] no pilot or captain. God alone can take care of us & all his ways seem to be against us & to favor the reels & their allies - the Democrats. Truly it is a "day of darkness and of gloominess."116 Republican senators voted to take their concerns directly to the president, who deftly maneuvered Chase into a denial of the allegations he had been making to the Radical senators. He ended up with the resignations of both Chase and Secretary of State Seward - which he pocketed. The proposed Cabinet reorganization was a fizzle.
"The failure of the raid on the Cabinet depressed and enraged the Jacobins," wrote historian T. Harry Williams. "The future looked blacker than before, and their hopes that Lincoln would stand by the emancipation proclamation fell with an audible thud. Congressman Sedgwick gloomily summed up the results of the fiasco: 'So the Senate is snubbed, Seward is more powerful than ever, Chase's radical friends are disgusted that he has been used to save Seward from his folly, and the great chasm into which the administration was to fall is bridged.' Fessenden, in a bitter mood toward Chase, thought the affair had accomplished nothing except 'to unmask some selfish cowards and perhaps frighten them into good behavior.' Nevertheless, despite their blighted prospects, the radicals were still determined to force a reform of the Cabinet."117 118
Missouri Radicals in 1863
With the Final Emancipation Proclamation issued and the recruitment of black soldiers commenced in 1863, the focus of Radical conflict with President Lincoln shifted westward. During 1863, Missouri became the stage for conflicts between conservative and Radical Republicans - and the attempts of the fractious Missourians to draw President Lincoln into their disputes. The conflict dated back to General John C. FrĂ©mont's command of the army there in 1861 when he alienated the powerful Blair family and those who objected to his proclamation of emancipation - which President Lincoln forced him to withdraw.
Although conflicts with military authorities was one element of Unionist splits, the conduct of the civilian government also caused a split. Historian William E. Parrish wrote: "Six days after FrĂ©mont's arrival in St. Louis, Hamilton R. Gamble became provisional governor of Missouri. During the next one hundred days his administration received its 'baptism under fire.' Gamble was determined to stand upon his constitutional rights and do whatever he felt was necessary to bring peace to Missouri. As the Governor saw it, loyal Missourians could keep order in their state better than outsiders. But the impetuous and ambitious FrĂ©mont had little intention of allowing the Governor much authority in his new domain....In the end, FrĂ©mont departed and Gamble stayed, establishing a pattern of change in Missouri's military command and stability in its civil leadership which four years would not alter."119
Historian Mark Neely wrote: "Gamble's crisis government had become a self-perpetuating government that shunned the test of election. By the time Lincoln acted to restore constitutional liberties in Missouri, no political faction in the state likely to cooperate with the Republican administration in Washington enjoyed a consistent adherence to constitutionalism. Perhaps for that reason, Lincoln did not choose to pitch his plan for ending martial law in Missouri in terms of constitutional rectitude. He chose a different rhetoric, one of community, which Lincoln was beginning to develop in his letter to Grenville Dodge early in 1865, with its talk of peace and quiet and prosperity."120
The split between radical and conservative wings of the Missouri Republican Party had been growing for most of the war. It came to a head in the first half of 1863. Historian Dennis K. Bowan: "By the end of the legislative session of the Twenty-second General Assembly, in mid-March 1863, a permanent break occurred between the two wings of the Republican Party. Despite their attempts to reunite in April for the city commission election in St. Louis, the radicals and moderates discovered little common ground upon which a compromise and cooperation might be forged."121 Missourian James Taussig wrote of a May 1863 meeting: "The President said that the Union men in Missouri who are in favor of gradual emancipation represented his views better than those who are in favor of immediate emancipation. In explanation of his views on the subject, the President said that in his speeches, he had frequently used as an illustration, the case of a man who had an excrescence on the back of his neck, the removal of which, in one operation, would result in the life....The President announced clearly that, as far as he was at present advised, the Radicals of Missouri had no right to consider themselves the exponents of his views on the subject of emancipation in that State."122
Governor Gamble launched his criticisms of General Samuel Curtis soon after his appointment in September 1862 replacing General John Schofield as Missouri's military commander. Gamble wrote Montgomery Blair: "How on earth did he come to be appointed to this Department?"123 Blair picked up the case against Curtis and presented it to President Lincoln, who then solicited a response from General Curtis. Curtis's use of martial order alienated Gamble even further while Curtis defended its use as necessary to civil order. They also conflicted on assessments which had been issued against disloyal residents. A meeting in January 1863 failed to resolve their conflicts and Gamble pressed the case for the replacement of Curtis. Schofield, meanwhile, found opportunities to undermine Curtis, who was his superior and who had refused to approve his transfer out of his Missouri district. The June 1863 convention first voted to call for November elections for governor and then when Gamble took offense, voted to continue the provisional government in office until 1864.
Historian Michael Burlingame wrote: "Each faction sought to drag Lincoln into the quarrel. In January 1863, as the newly elected Missouri Legislature was choosing a senator, the Radical candidate, B. Gratz Brown, a hot-tempered former editor of the St. Louis Missouri Democrat asked the president: 'Does the Administration desire my defeat[?] if not why are its appointees here working for that end?' Lincoln patiently explained that his administration 'takes no part between it's friends in Mo, of whom, I at least, consider you one; and I have never before had an intimation that appointees there, were interfering, or were inclined to interfere.' The legislature deadlocked, leaving in office the incumbent senators, who had been appointed months earlier to replace their pro-Confederate predecessors."124
Lincoln spent much of July trying to placate an obstreperous Gamble. Then he turned his attention to the Radicals. Historian Michael Burlingame wrote that Lincoln "was particularly disturbed by one of Charles D. Drake's speeches accusing him of tyrannical behavior. Lincoln reasonably concluded that the visitors were not friendly to the administration, their protestations to the contrary notwithstanding."125
Speaking to the Missouri Radicals on September 30, 1863, Lincoln replied to the Radical "assertion that 'We are your friends and the Conservatives are not." He said: "These so called Conservatives will avoid, as a general thing, votes, or any action, which will in any way interfere with or imperil, the success of their party. For instance they will vote for supplies, and such other measures as are absolutely necessary to sustain the Government. They will do this selfishly. They do not wish that the Government should fall, for they expect to obtain possession of it. At the same time their support will not be hearty: their votes are not equal to those of the real friends of the Administration. They do not give so much strength. They are not worth so much. My Radical friends will therefore see that I understand and appreciate their position. Still you appear to come before me as my friends if I agree with you, but not otherwise. I do not here speak here of mere personal friendship, as between man and man, - when I speak of my friends I mean those who are friendly to my measures, to the policy of the government."126 Lincoln said: "You must not call yourselves my friends, if you are only so while I agree with you. According to that, if you differ with me you are not my friends."127 Lincoln clearly and forcefully asserted his authority. Several days later, Lincoln wrote one Missouri Radical about criticisms of his policies: "It is my duty to hear all; but at last, I must, within my sphere, judge what to do, and what to forbear."128
Historian Michael Burlingame wrote: "The eyes of the North focused on the White House meeting, with Radicals everywhere regarding the Missourians as their surrogates. Not since the cabinet imbroglio of the previous December had factionalism so seriously threatened to tear the Republican coalition The utmost tact and diplomacy were required to damp down Radical discontent without alienating Moderates and Conservatives."129 Lincoln told John Hay that the Missouri radicals "are nearer to me than the other side, in thought and sentiment, though bitterly hostile personally. They are utterly lawless - the unhandiest devils in the world to deal with - but after all their faces are set Zionwards."130
The Missouri Radicals were a bellwether for the 1864 Republican presidential nomination. About the time that Missouri Radicals visited the White House, journalist Noah Brooks, who was close to the White House, wrote of "the widening breach between the Conservatives and the Radicals of the Union or Republican party. Radicalism and Conservatism are now the opposing forces which besiege the President, which are entering into an adjustment of all the great issues from the settlement of the rebellion, and which will divide the combatants in the contest for the next nomination, now narrowed down, as far as the Unionists are concerned, to two candidates, Lincoln, as standard bearer for the Conservatives, and Chase, as the champion of the Radicals. It is evident that Lincoln will have to fall back upon his own conservative policy, as laid down by his own Administration, and become the candidate of a People's Union party."131
Usually, the Radicals did not elicit Lincoln's temper, but they did get under his skin. Union army chaplain John Eaton wrote: "Of a well-known abolitionist and orator he once exclaimed in one of his rare moments of impatience, 'He's a thistle! I don't see why God lets him live!' And of a certain Senator for whose principles and methods he was without mercy he once said, 'He's too crooked to lie still!' The vision invoked of the uneasy politician was irresistibly vivid."132
1864 & Reelection
Anna Elizabeth Dickinson was a precocious critic of the President's policies and a popular radical speaker for the Union cause. She visited the White House in January 1864 after delivering an insulting speech about the President's policies in the House of Representatives. She continued her criticisms during her visit to the Executive Mansion. Mr. Lincoln listened to her objections to his Louisiana policy, but dismissed them by saying: "If the Radicals want me to lead, let them get out of the way and let me lead."133 The Radicals, however, were looking for an alternative leader. Fortunately, they were not effective in promoting one. Their chosen standard bearer, Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase, was sufficiently ambitious but insufficiently skilled in politics. Historian Louis S. Gerteis wrote: "As treasury secretary from 1861 to 1864, Chase alone represented the Radical point of view in Abraham Lincoln's cabinet. Firmly convinced that the success of abolitionist goals required political means, Chase was dedicated to the task of developing slogans and defining issues capable of providing focus and direction to the North's latent antislavery mood."134
Historian Michael Burlingame wrote: "Lincoln's remarkable ability to harmonize factions helped assure his reelection and Northern victory in the war. To Leonard Swett, he remarked: 'I may not have made as great a President as some other men, but I believe I have kept these discordant elements together as well as anyone could.'"135 T. Harry Williams wrote of Chase: "As early as 1862 he began to make plans to take over Lincoln's work, and his friends started to construction an organization."136 Lincoln biographer Ida Tarbell wrote: "Lincoln had known for many months of Mr. Chase's anxiety for the nomination, but he had studiously ignored it. He could not be persuaded by anybody to do anything to interrupt Mr. Chase's electioneering."137 In February 1864, noted John Hay, "the treasury rats are busy night and day and becoming more and more unscrupulous and malicious....Corruption, intrigue and malice are doing their worst, but I do not think it is in the cards to beat the Tycoon."138
Senator Samuel C. Pomeroy's maladroit handling of Chase's campaign contributed to its short life. The Kansas senator commissioned a memo designed for private distribution which quickly became public and boomeranged against Chase in February 1864. Lincoln proved to be a far more adept political manager than his Radical foes. He even controlled the Republican convention that met in Chase's home state of Ohio. Ida Tarbell wrote: "Mr. Chase was free, as far as Lincoln was concerned, to conduct his presidential campaign from his seat in the cabinet. But the Republicans of his State were not willing that he should do so, and three days after the Pomeroy circular first appeared in print, the Union members of the legislature demanded, in the name of the people and the soldiers of Ohio, that Lincoln be renominated. There was nothing to do then but for Mr. Chase to withdraw."139
Historian Brooks D. Simpson wrote: "Republican critics of the president were of two minds regarding his exercise of presidential power. They questioned the use of executive power in reconstruction, insisting on a partnership with Congress if not legislative supremacy, yet they empowered him to strike at the roots of southern society. In legislation concerning fugitive slaves in military zones, confiscation of property, emancipation, and the enlistment of blacks in military service, Congress staked out radical positions yet called on the president to implement them. In attacking Lincoln's exercise of executive power, these critics were seeking institutional grounds upon which to attack his policy."140 Attorney General Edward Bates wrote in February 1864: "My chief fear is that the President's easy good nature will enable [the radicals] to commit him to too many of their extreme measures, so that the wall of separation between them will be too thin to stop the fire of their bad principles, and save the constitution and laws, from the universal conflagration, which their measures plainly portend."141
Failing to promote Chase for the Republican nomination in June, some Radicals sought an alternative candidate for president - General John C. FrĂ©mont, who no longer had a field command. By April 1864, Lincoln aide John G. Nicolay reported: "A few discontented Radicals in New York are agitating in Fremont's behalf, but they are a skeleton organization and have no public sentiment at their back. In this city, a few original Chase men, chagrined that their favorite gave out so early in the Presidential race, still live in hope that something may turn up to their advantage in the Baltimore Convention, and to this end also echo and magnify the mutterings of the Fremonters."142 The Radicals met in Cleveland, Ohio in late May and nominated FrĂ©mont for president and former New York Congressman John Cochrane for vice president. Shelby Foote wrote: "FrĂ©mont was something of a joke as an opponent, though not as a siphon....for drawing off the Radical votes that would be needed if Lincoln was to prevail against the Democrats."143
On one key issue, Lincoln and the Radicals were agreed. Lincoln had attempted to encourage a constitutional amendment abolishing slavery - working through Missouri's conservative Senator B. John Henderson early in 1864 - rather than the more likely Radical advocates. Historian Philip S. Paludan said: "Although clear evidence is lacking, it would not be surprising if Lincoln had put him up to it, for the president continued to believe that border-state challenges to slavery would deal a heavy blow to the rebellion."144 New York Times editor Henry J. Raymond wrote that Henderson's "advocacy of the measure surprised even its friends, and was a striking proof of the progress of anti-slavery sentiment in the Border States."145 Historian Roy M. Basler noted: "On January 11, 1864, Henderson introduced a Joint Resolution into the Senate proposing 'that slavery shall not exist in the United States.' Senator Sumner of Massachusetts, however, preferred different language and introduced his own Joint Resolution on February 8, providing that 'everywhere within the limits of the United States, and of each State or Territory thereof, all persons are equal before the law, so that no person can hold another as a slave.' The phrase 'all persons are equal before the law,' taken from the Constitution of Revolutionary France, was particularly dear to Sumner."146
The Radicals were focused on another pressing issue - reconstruction of the South. Historian Michael Vorenberg wrote: "Radical Republicans in Congress were pleased that the president had maintained his commitment against slavery, but they pushed harder than Lincoln to ensure that emancipation would be universal, immediate, and legally secure. To reach these goals, congressional Republicans worked on two distinct but related types of legislation: a bill outlining the terms by which seceded states would rejoin the Union, and a constitutional amendment abolishing slavery everywhere, including the Border States."147 President Lincoln's views on reconstruction were evolving. Congressman George Julian recalled that in 1864 "when the fortunes of the war and his own reflections had wrought a change in his opinion, his frankness and courage in avowing it were as creditable to him as had been his firmness in facing a hostile public. Having heard of this change, I called to see him on the 2d of July, 1864, and asked him if I might say to the people that what I had learned on this subject was true, assuring him that I would make a far better fight for our cause if he would permit me to do so. He replied that when he prepared his veto of our [Second Confiscation] law on the subject two years before he had not examined the matter thoroughly, but that on further reflection, and on reading Solicitor [William] Whiting's law argument, he had changed his view, and would now sign a bill striking at the feet of rebel land-holders, if we would send it to him. I was much gratified by this statement, which was of a great service to the cause in the canvas; but, unfortunately, constitutional scruples respecting such legislation had gained ground, and although both houses of Congress at different times endorsed the measure, it never became a law, owing to unavoidable differences between the President and Congress on the question of reconstruction. 148
Lincoln wanted to maintain power over reconstruction in the hands of the executive branch and to develop his reconstruction liberally and experientially. Radicals, however, wanted tougher standards imposed on state governments seeking rehabilitation within the Union. Historian Allan G. Bogue wrote: "if Lincoln hoped that his [moderate] rhetoric would rally the members of Congress behind him, he was less than successful. These men were more inclined to use a harsher rhetoric of traitorous conspiracy and apocalyptic revenge. But taken with Lincoln's humanity, his stubbornness, his courage, and the other elements of a unique personal style, his ideas and arguments apparently won the confidence of a sufficient number in the Union public so that state-level politicians, skillfully recruited and marshaled by his friends and supporters, were able to procure for him the second-term nomination that a majority of the congressmen probably would have preferred to go elsewhere."149 Lincoln was nevertheless determined to control the reconstruction process. In a cabinet discussion concerning reconstruction in Louisiana and the failure of Congress to seat two Louisiana representatives, Interior Secretary John Palmer Usher remembered: "Mr. Lincoln rose from his seat, apparently irritated, and walked rapidly back and forth, across the room. Looking over his shoulder at Mr. Chase, he said: 'There it is sir. I am to be bullied by Congress, am I? If I do I'll be durned.'"150
All spring, Congress labored on reconstruction - right up to its recess in July. President Lincoln's relations with Radicals reached their nadir in the summer of 1864 after he vetoed the Wade-Davis bill on reconstruction and then issued a memorandum outlining its deficiencies. Lincoln had been pressing Louisiana's reconstruction as a test case. The state had held election and worked on a new constitution while Congress did its own work in Washington. Historian Michael Les Benedict wrote: "After seven months of discussion and confusion, Congress finally passed a Reconstruction bill, which historians have described as the measure through which radicals 'openly challenged Lincoln to battle on the issue of reconstruction. In particular, they have argued that it was the radical response to Lincoln's conservative policy of Reconstruction as manifested in Louisiana."
Several facts militate against such an interpretation, however. The situation in Louisiana was not all that clear in the spring of 1864, as Congress considered the bill. All that most congressmen knew at this time was that Nathaniel Banks, Lincoln's commanding general in Louisiana, had organized elections for civil officers in the state and also for delegates to a constitutional convention."151
Michael Les Benedict wrote of the Wade-Davis bill that "practical legal considerations had far more to do with the nearly unanimous support Republicans gave it that partisan anti-Lincoln politics. In fact, the nearly universal conviction that some congressional enactment on Reconstruction, almost any enactment, was a legal and practical necessity far overshadowed any controversy over its actual provisions."152 Historian Herman Belz wrote that "although usually considered a thoroughly radical measure, the Wade-Davis Bill was considerably less radical than the reconstruction proposals of [James] Ashley and other Republicans in the Thirty-seventh Congress. It did not provide for confiscation and Negro suffrage, and it eschewed territorialization as a basis of reconstruction but was in favor of the clause guaranteeing republican government. By terms of the bill the rebel states were in a sense still in the Union, though they lacked constitutional governments which the United States could recognize. The bill was thus a compromise that those who considered the states still in the Union could support, as well as those who held that the rebellion had changed the condition of the states."153
Lincoln pocket-vetoed the bill after Congress adjourned, but he nevertheless crafted a veto message explaining his objections. Herman Belz wrote: "Lincoln vetoed the Wade-Davis Bill in part because it seemed to be unconstitutional, but mainly because it contradicted his reconstruction policy in Louisiana and Arkansas. The anti-slavery sections of the bill he questioned on constitutional grounds."154 According to Belz: "It is clear that Lincoln, on the other hand, saw reconstruction as an executive responsibility and wanted, in order to prevent radical change as well as weaken the rebellion, to reorganize loyal state governments as soon as possible. This did not mean that he thought no other plan feasible, but that he did not wish to be restricted in his approach to the problem, as he said in his proclamation on reconstruction in July."155
Lincoln's failure to sign the bill caused consternation in Congress. Journalist Brooks reported: "The last days of a congressional session are characterized by confusion which would turn the head of any one unused to this fantastic turmoil; and the end of that particular session was unusually noisy and chaotic. Many bills of importance were pitchforked into shape at the last moment, and were tossed between the Senate and the House even to the latest hour of the session. Both branches of Congress had agreed to adjourn at twelve o'clock on July fourth; but the Senate, which was inextricably mixed up with important and unfinished business, importuned the House to extend the session ten minutes. This was done three times, so that the final hour of adjournment did not arrive until half-past twelve o'clock on that day."156
Noah Brooks wrote: "Ten minutes before the hour of adjournment had arrived, pages darted to and fro with messages and bills, and engrossing clerks rushed madly about with sheets of parchment for the signatures of Speaker and clerk. Cabinet ministers were numerous on the floor of the House, and lobbyists in the general disorder slipped in through the doors and buttonholed members, while the mill of legislation slowly ground out its last grist. The President was signing bills in the room set apart for his use in the Senate wing of the Capitol, being attended from time to time during the morning by members of his cabinet. As the hands of the clock drew near the fateful hour of adjournment, it was suddenly whispered about the House that the President had so far failed to sign the Wade-Davis Reconstruction Bill. Men held their breath at this unexpected turn of affairs, and asked 'Will he send in a veto message, or will he pocket it?" It was, of course, too late to think of a veto message, and the general opinion of those who believed that the bill would not receive his sanction was that he would give it a pocket veto. Now for the first time men who had not seriously opposed the passage of the reconstruction bill began to wish that it had never gone to the President; but all was uncertainty, and although it was the supreme moment, the reading clerk was droning forth in occasional fragments the Declaration of Independence, which somebody had demanded should be read. Most of the members and Senators appeared to forget their petty jobs and schemes in the all-absorbing question, 'What will the President do with the reconstruction bill? Finally messages from the Senate and from the President informed the House that no further communications were to be expected from them, and Speaker Colfax, in a few pleasant words, dismissed the members to their homes, and declared the session ended. In the disorder which followed, Davis standing at his desk, pale with wrath, his bush hair tousled, and wildly brandishing his arms, denounced the President in good set terms. It was known at last that the bill had failed to receive the President's signature, congress had adjourned, leaving the great scheme of Wade, Davis, and their co-laborers a mass of ruins."157
Neither sponsor - Ohio Senator Benjamin F Wade or Maryland Congressman Henry Winter Davis - was on good or friendly terms with President Lincoln. Relations with Wade had long been bad. After the Committee on the Conduct of the War met with the President December 31, 1861, the ill-tempered Wade had written: "You are murdering your country by inches in consequence of the inactivity of the military and want of a distinct policy in regard to slavery."158
Wade biographer Hans L. Trefousse wrote; "The disagreements between Lincoln and Wade were no secret in Washington. For three years, the Senator had continually cajoled the President and denounced him, and, while the Executive had permitted himself gradually to be drawn toward a somewhat more radical program, he had hardly gained much respect for the impetuous Ohioan who never seemed satisfied."159
Presidential aide John Hay wrote in his diary on the day of Lincoln's pocket veto: "After we left the Capitol I said I did not think Chandler, man of the people and personally popular as he was had any definite comprehension of popular currents and influence - that he was out of the way now especially - that I did not think people would bolt their ticket on a question of metaphysics." President Lincoln replied: "If they choose to make a point upon this I do not doubt that they can do harm. They have never been friendly to me & I don't know that this will make any special difference as to that. At all events, I must keep some consciousness of being somewhere near right: I must keep some standard of principle fixed within myself."160
Stevens biographer Fawn M. Brodie observed that Congressman Stevens "wanted a fixed blueprint for Reconstruction, had nothing but contempt for Lincoln's seeming lack of policy. Though he had himself opposed the Wade-Davis Bill because it was not harsh enough - he had hoped for a severe confiscation measure - he was furious at Lincoln's veto. "What an infamous proclamation,' he wrote to Edward McPherson. 'The idea of pocketing a bill and then issuing a proclamation as to how far he will conform to it....How little of the rights of war and the law of nations our Prest. knows! But what are we to do? Condemn privately and applaud publicly."161
In response to the Lincoln veto, Congressman Henry Winter Davis penned a vitriolic attack on the president which was published under his signature and that of his Senate co-sponsor, Ohio Senator Wade. Davis biographer Bernard C. Steiner: "When he had finished it, he read it to his friend and admirer, John T. Graham, who was to copy it out fair for publication. Graham was so thrilled with it that he said: 'Mr. Davis, don't show what you have written to anyone else, but send it just as you have written it,' fearing if other Republican leaders in Maryland...saw the document, they would soften and modify its expressions."162 However, noted Trefousse, the Wade-Davis Manifesto went "too far. In his anxiety to displace Lincoln, he had come dangerously close to reading himself out of the party."163
The unsettled state of the Union war effort further combined with Wade's sense of the uncertain future of the Republican presidential ticket. Trefousse wrote: "Lincoln's prospects looked so bad that summer that many Republicans were despairing of success. Wade, who had never been able to appreciate the Emancipator's greatness felt that Lincoln and Lincoln alone was responsible for all the country's difficulties, and he decided to make common cause with those radicals who were making an all-out effort to supplant the party's nominee."164 Wade had to backpedal to place himself in political sync with the Republican mainstream. Lincoln himself admitted to be hurt: "To be wounded in the house of one's friends is perhaps the most grievous affliction that can befall a man."165
Republicans already had enough trouble as they prepared for the fall elections - without the kind of party split that the Wade-Davis Manifesto suggested. T. Harry Williams wrote: "An overwhelming majority of the Republican newspapers denounced the authors as wreckers of party unity, and repudiated the sentiments in the manifesto. The great organ of radicalism in the West, the Chicago Tribune, condemned them bitterly. So did the Detroit Journal which had been Chandler's staunchest supporter in Michigan politics. Led by the Corney papers, the conservative Eastern press rallied to the president."166 According to historian William C. Harris, "The shrillness and obvious political purpose of their protest caused most Republicans either to ignore or repudiate it and criticize its authors. Lincoln privately expressed outrage, and, according to a report, wondered aloud if Wade and Davis 'intend openly to oppose my election - the document looks that way.'"167 President Lincoln is also reported to have said: "As to those who, like Wade and the rest, see fit to depreciate my policy and cavil at my official acts, I shall not complain of them. I accord them the utmost freedom of speech and liberty of the press, but shall not change the policy I have adopted in the full belief that I am right." He said: "I feel on this subject as an old Illinois farmer once expressed himself while eating cheese. He was interrupted in the midst of his repast by the entrance of his son, who exclaimed, 'Hold on, dad! there's skippers [bugs] in that cheese you're eating!' 'Never mind, Tom,' said he, as he kept on munching his cheese, 'if they can stand it I can.'"168
President Lincoln was constrained not to respond to the manifesto in a way that would further split the Republican Party and endanger his reelection. Historian Michael Burlingame wrote: "Lincoln was...eager to have Wade, Davis, and other Radicals rejoin the fold."169 Without any movement by Union armies in Virginia, voters were getting anxious about Union prospects for victory. Republicans were getting worried about Lincoln's prospects for reelection. The unsettled state of the Union war effort further combined with Wade's sense of the uncertain future of the Republican presidential ticket. Historian Hans Trefousse wrote: "Wade, who had never been able to appreciate the Emancipator's greatness felt that Lincoln and Lincoln alone was responsible for all the country's difficulties, and he decided to make common cause with those radicals who were making an all-out effort to supplant the party's nominee."170 Congressman James Ashley took the lead in seeking an alternative to President Lincoln in the summer of 1864, writing General Benjamin Butler that Republican colleagues "all agree with singular unanimity that such a movement as we talked of ought to be made at once....I did not say to any of them that I knew your views on the subject, but suggested to them that it was probably you and your friends would go into such a movement."171 Sensibly, Butler declined to get involved. Ashley opposed New York Tribune editor Horace's Greeley's peace mission in July. Burlingame wrote: "When James Ashley protested Greeley's mission, Lincoln said: 'Don't worry; nothing will come of it.' The Tribune editor, said Lincoln, 'means right' but 'makes me almost as much trouble as the whole Southern Confederacy.'"172 But Greeley and Ashley were on the same side when it came to seeking a Lincoln alternative.
For a year, much of the Radical criticism of President Lincoln focused on Postmaster General Montgomery Blair, who together with his brother, Congressman Frank Blair, were demonized by the Radicals. The combative Blairs returned the compliment. Radical opposition to the Blair family only grew during the Civil War. The Blairs' greed for political advantage generated many adversaries. Historian William Ernest Smith wrote by 1863 "many men were determined to rid politics of the ambitious Blairs. They had been a power for thirty years."173 They had managed to alienate almost everyone who might be an ally and disdained the rest. Montgomery had made himself an outcast from virtually the entire Cabinet Blair wasn't even on speaking terms with his brother-in-law, according to Secretary of the Navy Welles.174 Lincoln biographer Josiah G. Holland noted that in 1864: "A committee consisting of John M. Ashley, John Covode and George S. Boutwell, waited upon the President, on one occasion, to urge Mr. Blair's dismissal; and on that occasion Mr. Lincoln said that, if he should be re-elected, he should probably make some changes in his cabinet - a reply which they took as an assent to their request, and so reported to the body that sent them."175 Lincoln aide John G. Nicolay wrote: "The feeling against Mr. Blair and the pressure upon the President for his removal increased throughout the summer. All through the period of gloom and discouragement he refused to act, even when he believed the verdict of the country likely to go against him, and was assured on every side that such a concession to the radical spirit might be greatly to his advantage. But after the turn had come, and the prospective triumph of the Union cause became evident, he felt that he ought no longer to retain in his cabinet a member who, whatever his personal merits, had lost the confidence of the great body of Republicans."176
In early September 1864, Radicals pressed Lincoln to dismiss Postmaster General Blair. A four-man delegation met with Lincoln on September 3. When he was told "all who will vote for you think Blair false and untrustworthy and you can't convince them; so you must remove him or be defeated," Lincoln responded, "But I don't want to desert a friend!" When they still pressed, Lincoln promised to consider dismissing Blair. Senator Zachary Chandler said he would try to get FrĂ©mont out of the race: "Well I think it may be done!" responded Lincoln. Chandler then proceeded to New York City where he tried to secure FrĂ©mont's withdrawal from the race - without first securing Blair's resignation. FrĂ©mont stalled but was finally convinced by some advice from John Greenleaf Whittier: "There is a time to do, and a time to stand aside." Fremont's letter of withdrawal, however, was petulant: "In respect to Mr. Lincoln, I consider that his Administration has been politically, militarily, and financially a failure, and that its necessary continuance is a cause of regret for the country." The president was so annoyed that he considered backing off his implied pledge to terminate Blair. Senator Chandler, however, was persistent and on September 23, Lincoln requested Blair resign. Obediently but reluctantly, Blair did so."177 After Postmaster General Blair submitted his resignation at Lincoln's request, Blair told Gideon Welles "he had no doubt he was a peace-offering to Fremont and his friends. They wanted an offering, and he was the victim whose sacrifice would propitiate them."178
Attorney General Edward Bates continued highly critical of the Radicals' influence on Lincoln. In September, he wrote in his diary that FrĂ©mont dropping out of the race was "the result of a compromise with the leaders of â€¦the extreme Radicalsâ€¦..it is announced that Ben F. Wade and H[enr]y Winter Davis (notwithstanding their fierce manifesto) are to take the Stump for Lincoln. The result will, probably be to ensure Mr. L's election over McClellan; and the Radicals, no doubt, hope that they will constitute the controlling element in the new party thus formed, and as such will continue to govern the nation." Bates added: "I think Mr. Lincoln could have governed, free from their malign influences, and more nearly in conformity to the constitution."179 Nevertheless, the Radicals's fell into line behind Lincoln's reelection. The Radicals' changed attitude toward Lincoln may have been assisted by two factors. First, the Democrats nominated for President the Radicals' bete noire, George B. McClellan, on an overtly pro-peace platform. Second, General William T. Sherman captured and burned Atlanta before beginning his march across Georgia. Lincoln was the only viable option for the Radicals.
The Radicals soon had another cause to advocate. In June 1864, the Radicals had been exasperated when President Lincoln had accepted the resignation of Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase in June 1864 in a dispute over patronage but kept Blair in the Cabinet. Lincoln's conduct of key policies was mandated by the balance he sought between Radicals and Conservatives in his own party as he pursued his own reelection. Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, aged 86, died on October 12 - sparking a scramble among those Republicans who aspired to replace him. In light of the fact that the country had had only two chief justices in the previous 64 years, the appointment was critical one with potential long-lasting significance. After Taney's death, Lincoln told a journalist: "I have been all day, and yesterday and the day before, besieged by messages from my friends all over the country, as if there were a determination to put up the bars between Governor Chase and myself. But I shall nominate him for chief justice, nevertheless."180 Historian Michael Burlingame observed that Lincoln "did not want to antagonize Conservatives during the  campaign" so he declined to nominate Chase for Chief Justice until the election campaign was over.181 But it also true that President Lincoln liked to examine a question from several sides before he made an important decision. And he had serious reservations about Chase's continuing presidential ambitions. He also had to replace retiring Attorney General Bates (who would have been happy to become chief justice but was never seriously considered).
Publicly, the President refused to be pushed into a quick decision on Taney's replacement. Journalist Noah Brooks wrote: "It was a peculiar trait of Lincoln that, in order to preclude all possibility of doubt in his own mind concerning the expediency of any contemplated act, he would state to those with whom he came in contact many doubts and objections not his own, but those of others, for the express purpose of being confirmed and fixed in his own judgment. For example, when a Chicago ministerial delegation visited Lincoln, and urged upon him the expediency of issuing an emancipation proclamation, it was this mental habit that induced him to argue with his visitors as though his mind were not already made up, and as if he were really uncertain as to his course in regard to that great measure. When those Chicago clergymen read the emancipation proclamation, for the coming of which Lincoln had given them no hope, they must have been amazed by what they perhaps thought was an evidence of Lincoln's secretiveness. And, as a matter of truth, it may be said that when Sumner and others importuned President Lincoln to nominate Chase to the chief-justiceship, and he replied in a doubtful manner, he had really made up his mind to nominate Chase."182
Some Radicals like Carl Schurz did come enthusiastically to the president's defense in the 1864 election. Some Radicals came to like him better. Radical Lydia Maria Child observed: "I have sometimes been out of patience with him; but I will say of him that I have constantly gone on liking him better and better."183 Michael Burlingame noted that many Radicals including Henry Ward Beecher, Wendell Garrison, and Theodore Tilton eventually backed Lincoln's reelection. Burlingame noted: "Congressman William D. Kelley of Pennsylvania spoke for many of them when he wrote 'Abraham Lincoln is the wisest radical of us all.'"184 Lincoln himself took no pleasure when he heard on the night of his election that two troublesome Radicals - New Hampshire's Senator Hale and Maryland Congressman Davis - had been defeated. "It has seemed to me recently that Winter Davis was growing more sensible to his own true interests and has ceased wasting his time attacking me. He has been very malicious against me but has only injured himself by it," said Lincoln.185
Congressman Thaddeus Stevens had called on the President in mid-August to demand Blair's ouster. Lincoln had lost his temper and demanded: "Am I to be the mere puppet of power to have my constitutional advisers selected for me beforehand, and to be told I just do this or leave that undone? It would be degrading to my manhood to consent to any such bargain - I was about to say it is equally degrading to your manhood to ask it."186 Nevertheless, even Stevens came to back Lincoln's reelection. His most fulsome praise came in an October 1864 campaign speech in Philadelphia: "Well may every honest man, well may every man who loves God and loves liberty exclaim, 'Thank God for Abraham Lincoln.' Wiser and firmer than his official or officious admirers, he has saved the nation from disgrace; he has rescued liberty from destruction. I would not bestow indiscriminate praise upon every act of the President. Whoever heaps fulsome eulogy on those in power is a parasite and a sycophant and not an honest counselor."187
1865 & Lincoln Assassination
President Lincoln's reelection strengthened his hand in dealing with the Radicals at the same time it gave him greater freedom to pursue policies that they advocated. Historian Richard Striner wrote: "Important subsequent events (in the early months of 1865) lend strong circumstantial support to this theory that the president was coming around to the position of across-the-board land redistribution. In short, Lincoln and his Radical Republican critics were closer on a number of issues in 1864 than appeared on the surface." Striner noted that President "Lincoln worked with the Radicals on early civil rights legislation in the spring of 1864. He signed a series of bills that permitted blacks to testify in Federal courts, forbade discrimination in the streetcar system of the District of Columbia, and (in fulfillment of his pledge to Frederick Douglass) raised the level of pay for black troops."188 Michael Burlingame noted: "During the holiday recess, Wendell Phillips visited Washington and reported that 'the radical men feel that they are powerless and checkmated. Henry Winter Davis told him the game was up - 'Lincoln with his immense patronage can do what he pleases; the only hope is an appeal to the people.'"189
Lincoln now focused on work with Ohio Congressman James Ashley on several issues regarding reconstruction and slavery. Burlingame wrote: "In response to Radical pressure, Ashley significantly modified the compromise bill, virtually eliminating the possibility of admitting Louisiana, Arkansas, and Tennessee in accordance with the Ten Percent plan. In effect, the oft-modified measure was the Wade-Davis bill with black suffrage added. Moderate Republicans rebelled and the bill was tabled. Partly in response to Lincoln's reelection, most Republican lawmakers were backing away from their earlier endorsement of the Wade-Davis approach to Reconstruction and moving toward the president's plan."190 The immediate focus of Lincoln's collaborative efforts was to help Ashley round up the votes necessary to pass the Thirteenth Amendment in the House. The Senate had passed the amendment, 33-6, in April 1864, but the legislation failed to win the necessary two-thirds majority in House. Uncharacteristically, Lincoln got directly involved in rounding up the votes necessary to pass what he called a "king's cure" for slavery. The amendment passed the House on January 31, 1865. Illinois Congressman Isaac N. Arnold noted: "The personal friends of Mr. Lincoln, hastening to the White House, exchanged congratulations with him on the auspicious result. The passage of the resolution was not unexpected to him, and it filled his heart with joy. He saw in it the complete consummation of his own great work, the Emancipation Proclamation."191 The reconciliation of Lincoln and the Radicals was brief.
Immediately after the amendment's passage, President Lincoln slipped out of the capital to meet with three Confederate peace commissioners at Hampton Roads. Word of the negotiations caused consternation among Radicals - as rumors spread. Historian James A. Rawley wrote: "On the day of the crucial House vote, January 31, 1865, Representative James M. Ashley, who had introduced the bill, sent a worried appeal to Lincoln. A rumor was circulating in the House that peace commissioners were en route to Washington, and the rumor 'is being used against us.' Ashley requested authorization to contradict the rumor. Lincoln promptly replied in a single sentence, 'So far as I know, there are no peace commissioners in the city, or likely to be in it.' His reply was disingenuous, for Lincoln was aware that peace commissioners were en route to Fortress Monroe."192
Noah Brooks wrote that editor "J.W. Forney, in his eagerness to be considered as the oracle of the President (rushing to the conclusion that Lincoln was going to obtain peace by compromise), had deliberately gone to work to prepare the public mind for the sacrifice of something vaguely dreadful, and dreadfully vague. These articles, counseling popular acquiescence in a repeal of the confiscation law and other kindred measures, as a condition of peace, were telegraphed all over the country, indorsed by [Horace] Greeley, as the outgivings of the President, ready by astonished and indignant thousands, scouted by the Wade-and-Davisites, debauching public sentiment, and filling the minds of vast multitudes, who did not know all the facts, with alarm and dejection. Grave hints about an official impeachment of the President were dropped by such of the so-called 'radicals,' who, now that their war upon the President for slowness upon the slavery question is estopped, fly to Negro suffrage and a more vigorous system of retaliation upon rebel prisoners, as affording weapons of new warfareâ€¦"193
Congressional debate exposed the divisions between moderates and radicals in Congress. Brooks later wrote in his memoirs of the Lincoln Administration: "On February 3ighth culminated a long and acrimonious quarrel which had been brewing in the Senate between some of the conservative and radical members of that body. Sumner introduced a resolution calling on the President for information concerning the Hampton Roads conference. To this [James R.] Doolittle of Wisconsin objected. He urged that such a request, at such a time, was an indirect censure of the President, and would be construed as a senatorial demand for him to give an account of himself. Mr. Doolittle was somewhat anxious to be regarded as the special champion of Lincoln and his administration. Sumner made a thrust at Doolittle, saying that the Wisconsin senator had made that speech before in the Senate, and that he [Sumner] would caution him not to 'jump before he got to the stile.' Irritated by this and other gibes at his alleged super-serviceableness, Doolittle replied that he classed Senator [Lazarus] Powell of Kentucky and Senator Wade of Ohio together; for although, as he said, they were acting from different motives, they were attempting a common aim. Both, he said, were opposed to the readmission of the States lately in rebellion where the Federal authority had been partially restored - Louisiana at that time being the bone of contention. Senator Wade soon got the floor, and replied to Doolittle's speech with great bitterness, losing his temper, and referring to Doolittle's position as 'poor, mean, miserable, and demagogical.' He frankly said that he bore the Senator from Wisconsin 'no malice and very little good will,' and he added that the President was certainly in a bad way if he was reduced to having 'such a poor prop' as Doolittle. Senator Wade exhibited great violence of temper, and Doolittle did not appear to advantage in his attempt to parry the violent blows of the angry senator from Ohio. The upshot of this painful business was that the resolution calling on the President for information concerning the Hampton Roads conference was adopted." The President speedily made a report to Congress."194
Lincoln understood the Radicals would object, but he also realized that he needed to go through the motions of negotiating with Confederate leaders in order to reassure moderate and conservative northerners. Historian Michael Burlingame wrote: "Originally skeptical about Lincoln's decision to meet with Confederate emissaries, Radicals felt relief at the outcome. Thaddeus Stevens acknowledged that he and his allies had underestimated the president." Burlingame wrote at the Hampton Roads peace conference in early February 1865, Confederate Robert "Hunter remarked that he had no fear of harsh treatment,'Lincoln retorted that he, also, had felt easy as to the rebels, but not always so easy about the lamp posts around Washington city - a hint that he had already done more favors for the rebels, than was exactly popular with the radical men of his own party.'"195
Indeed, the more extreme of the Radicals were never reconciled to the president. Perhaps one of the few groups that did not mourn Mr. Lincoln's murder was a small group of Radicals that gathered in Washington, D.C. on the day of his death - April 15, 1865. Indiana Congressman Julian and fellow Radicals met with President Andrew Johnson that morning shortly after Lincoln's demise. Julian wrote: "I like the radicalism of the members of this caucus, but have not in a long time heard so much profanity. It became intolerably disgusting. Their hostility towards Lincoln's policy of conciliation and contempt for his weakness were undisguised; and the universal feeling among radical men here is that his death is a god-send."196 The Radicals mistakenly thought they could work with Johnson. President Lincoln had managed the Radicals with more dexterity than Johnson would ever manage. Wade biographer Trefousse concluded: "Lincoln's death removed from the scene a man whom Wade had never understood. Had he reflected calmly upon the President's actions during the past years, he would have seen that, despite his great caution, the Executive had always shown a tendency to come around gradually to an endorsement of radical policies....Unlike in temperament, outlook, and character, they probably could not have avoided a clash."197
Pennsylvania Congressman Stevens was also less than crushed by Lincoln's death. "I was still half asleep and in my fright grew suddenly cold, heartsick and almost helpless. On Saturday, George Julian went to a meeting with Wade, Chandler, Covode, Cartter and Wilkinson," wrote Stevens of the morning after President Lincoln's death. "Their hostility towards Lincoln's policy of conciliation and contempt for his weakness were undisguised; and the universal feeling among radical men here is that his death is a godsend. It really seems so, for among the last acts of his official life was an invitation to some of the chief rebel conspirators to meet in Richmond and confer with us on the subject of peace." Stevens admiration for the assassinated President grew with time. He eventually observed: "From the height of his glory he beheld the promised land, and was withdrawn from our sight. In the midst of the most exquisite enjoyment of his favorite relaxation he was instantaneously taken away without suffering on pang of death. Like the prophet of the Lord who knew not death, he was wrapt from earth to heaven along a track no less luminous than his who ascended in a chariot of fire with horses of fire. Would to God that some small portion of the mantle of our Elijah had fallen on his Elisha."198
President Lincoln had given his final public address from a White House window on April 11, 1865 four days before he was assassinated. The topic was reconstruction and black suffrage. It was sufficiently radical that it drove one listener - John Wilkes Booth - to murder him. "It is true that I don't usually read a speech, but I am going to say something to-night that may be important," Lincoln told Noah Brooks. "I am going to talk about reconstruction, and sometimes I am betrayed into saying things that other people don't like."199 Journalist Noah Brooks wrote: "Those who are ready to fight the President on reconstruction and thereby carry out in 1868 the radical programme for the Presidency, which failed in 1864, are only waiting for the occasion to pounce upon the President's expected clemency toward the offending rebel leaders. As yet, we have none of them to experiment upon, but the extremists are thirsting for a general hanging, and if the President fails to gratify their desires in this direction, they will be glad, for it will afford them more pretexts for the formation of a party which shall be pledged to 'a more vigorous policy.'"200
Brooks reported that there was "something terrible about the enthusiasm with which the beloved Chief Magistrate was received - cheers upon cheers, wave after wave of applause rolled up, the President modestly standing quiet until it was over."201 The response to the speech itself was another matter. Lincoln scholar Jay Winik wrote: "Back inside the White House, Lincoln is not just once against exhausted, but 'very anxious' about the cool reaction of the crowd. He is hardly any more reassured when he learns that the Radicals, whom he sought to reach out to, have overwhelmingly rejected the compromises he offered in the address. One Boston journalist blasts him for his 'backwardness' and argues that it 'will be wicked and blasphemous for us as a nation to allow any distinction of color whatever in the reconstructed states.' For his part, speaking for the Radicals from the Hill, Senator Sumner sternly agrees. 'Alas! Alas,' he protests. By failing to adopt 'a just and safe system' of Reconstruction - to wit, one that enfranchises all freedmen - the president is only promoting 'confusion and uncertainty in the future - with hot controversy.'"202
Charles Summer & Owen Lovejoy
Senator Sumner was slow to appreciate Lincoln's prudent leadership. Sumner continued to visit and to torment Lincoln in 1865 - particularly on issues concerning reconstruction. The cultured Sumner was the one Radical that Mary Lincoln liked. Lincoln scholar Daniel Mark Epstein wrote: "Mrs. Lincoln's last beneficial act as a political partner was her tireless courtship of the liberal senator from Massachusetts. Playfully flirtatious but chaste, there was nothing insincere about Mary Lincoln's pursuit of Charles Sumner."203 Carl Schurz wrote: "Lincoln regarded and esteemed Sumner as the outspoken conscience of the advanced, anti-slavery element, the confidence and hearty cooperation of which was to him of highest moment....While it required all his fortitude to bear Sumner's intractable insistence, Lincoln did not deprecate Sumner's public agitation for an immediate emancipation policy....On the contrary, he rather welcomed everything that would prepare the public mind for the approaching development."204
The political gulf between Lincoln and Sumner widened in the final months of Lincoln's life as Sumner obstreperous tactics prevented movement on reconstruction. Historian William C. Harris wrote: "Though Lincoln and Sumner's personal relationship continued to be cordial, their differences over reconstruction in early 1865 widened. Sumner refused an invitation by Mrs. Lincoln to attend a reconstruction address by Lincoln on April 11 at the White House because, as he wrote Salmon P. Chase, his presence would give symbolic approval to the president's conservative course toward the South. At the same time, Sumner informed Francis Lieber that Lincoln's policy augured ominous 'confusion and uncertainty in the future, with hot controversy."205 One Union officer recalled: "No one understood the character of Charles Sumner better than the keen-witted President. And while he believed the senator to be a somewhat impractical statesman - while he believed that he was unnecessarily harsh in debate, with those colleagues who happened to differ with him - he knew the senator from Massachusetts was patriotic, sincere, and true; faithful in his friendships, and unassailable by corruption."206
Throughout February and early March, Sumner showed his determination to block Lincoln's effort to reconstruct Louisiana. Lincoln biographer Carl Sandburg wrote: "The central figure of the Senate, gazed at by all, Sumner in the last days of the session piled his desk high with documents, books, papers, notes, gave the word he was going to filibuster. There at his post, where once he had taken a merciless beating and come near death, there he would stand and speak and read - and read and speak - till the session officially ended. There he would kill three bills - a tax, a tariff, and an appropriation bill."207 Historian Frederick W. Moore wrote: "Senator Trumbull charged the Republican members of the minority with factious obstruction. Senator Sumner, to whom the remarks were particularly addressed, repudiated the charge of factiousness, but insisted that the Senate could not be brought to a vote that night. 'Parliamentary law is against" it; 'and the importance of the measure justifies a resort to every instrument that parliamentary law supplies.' When the Senate finally adjourned (without division) the measure was left as unfinished business. The impression made by the votes and the debate is that the resolutions of the committee would have passed that night [February 25] if they had been brought to a vote."208 Lincoln biographer Burlingame wrote: "It was not hard to understand Lincoln's aversion to the vain, haughty, pedantic senator, who was thwarting the will of the overwhelming majority of his colleagues and frustrating the president's laboriously achieved attempt to rehabilitate Louisiana."209
Historian Jay Winik wrote of Sumner: "As is the case with many historic figures, it is futile to expect consistency in his genius, and he abounds with contradictions. But they served him well: he was a politician in the crudest sense of the term, but at the same time a man of moral stature; he was genuine intellectual, but also a man of uncommon street sense; he had no executive experience whatsoever, and only the most preparation for the highest office in the land, but when the country was suddenly confronted by the mightiest challenge since its auspicious birth, he somehow managed to ascend to the occasion."210
Sumner, was deeply affected by Lincoln's assassination. Winik wrote: "When Lincoln's friend and political tormentor, Senator Sumner, came in [to the Petersen House across the street from Ford's Theater], his face was paralyzed with grief. He gently fingered Lincoln's limp hand and began speaking to him, but one of the doctors interjected softly, 'He can't hear you. He is dead.' 'No,' a trembling Sumner hotly protested, 'he isn't dead. Look at his face; he is breathing.'"211 In a eulogy of President Lincoln delivered seven weeks after his death, Sumner said: "In the statement of moral truth and the exposure of wrong, he was at times singularly cogent. There was fire as well as light in his words. Nobody exhibited Slavery in its enormity more clearly. On one occasion he blasted it as 'a monstrous injustice'; on another he pictured the slave-master as 'wringing his bread from the sweat of other men's face'; and the, on still another he said, with exquisite simplicity of diction, 'If Slavery is not wrong, then nothing is wrong.'"212 Historian Allen C. Guelzo observed that "Sumner, who had chided Lincoln without end over emancipation, admitted that a good deal of his chiding was a matter of calculated excess. 'I knew him well,' Sumner wrote to Lot Morrill two months after Lincoln's assassination, '& saw much of him.'
I think his delays tended to prolong the war....But the victory was won at last, & Emancipation secured. History dwells on results rather than the means employed....the late Presdt. put his name to Emancipation - made speeches that nobody else could have made - & early dedicated himself to the support of Human Rights as announced in the Decltn. of Indep. Therefore, we honor him & Fame takes him by the hand."213
Not every Radical was a Lincoln critic. Illinois Congressman Owen Lovejoy, whom Lincoln had often judged too radical in the 1850s, became particularly close to him as president. Journalist Ben Perley Poore called Lovejoy "a man of considerable brains and a good deal of body, and his style of utterance was of the hyper-intense school."214 Lovejoy's rhetorical power could overcome even determined opponents. Attorney David Littler recalled a speech given by Owen Lovejoy at the Springfield fair grounds. "The Speech was pathos - fire - rhetoric set on flame by feelings. Ben. S. Edwards was present and became Emotionally Excited and sprang up, saying to the vast crowd this - 'I would shake hands with the very devil on this question' at the same time grasping Lovejoy's hands in his own. The difficulty with Ben was that before this scene of which he was apart he was frightened by the word abolition, but was willing now to accept to opprobrious term. Lincoln sat by - heard the speech and when B.S. Edwards did what he did, Lincoln wept like a child and burst into tears and as Littler said - 'He (Lincoln) broke Completely down,' I supposed from the fact that L intended to make a speech or had Commenced one and then broke down..."215
Unlike many Radicals, Congressman Lovejoy came to appreciate the pacing of Lincoln's action. Lovejoy said of emancipation in November 1861: "President Lincoln is advancing step by step just as the cautious swimmer wades into the stream before making a dive. President Lincoln will make a dive before long."216 Lovejoy chroniclers William F. Moore and Jane Ann Moore wrote that in 1862, "Lovejoy became a welcome visitor at the White House. He did not need an invitation. He often engaged in informal conversation with Mary Lincoln and Charles Sumner. He encouraged emancipation policies when he could. It was during this melancholy time that religious, political, and military forces came together in such a way that allowed the president, finally and fatefully, to present to the public the purpose of the war as twofold - to save the Union and to emancipate the slaves."217 In Congress, Lovejoy repeatedly came to the defense of the President. In early January 1863, Lovejoy replied to one critic: "The President of the United States is the last man in the world that should be charged with arbitrary power. That gentlemen must know it, as every man knows it, and as, thank God, the great masses of the people not only believe it, but know it."218
Springfield attorney Shelby M. Cullom recalled Lincoln's response to Lovejoy's death in 1864: "Lovejoy had been something of a radical in the House, and, although his radicalism had in a way aided Lincoln, there were times when it grew too strong for the good of the cause in hand. Speaking of Lovejoy on this occasion, Lincoln said, 'He was one of the best men in Congress. If he became too radical I always knew that I could send for him and talk it over and he would go back to the floor and do about as I wanted."219 `"Whether reading Psalms together on Sundays or sharing last thoughts by the bedside of an ailing Lovejoy, the two men had grown to trust and respect each other enough to talk of life - even about their own deaths," the Moores wrote. "The reformer Lovejoy grew to be conservative when necessary. The conservative Lincoln grew to be a reformer when it became possible."220 In May 1864 President Lincoln wrote an organizer of a tribute to Lovejoy:
Yours of the 14th Inst. enclosing a card of invitation to a preliminary meeting contemplating the erection of a monument to the memory of Hon. Owen Lovejoy, was duly received. As you anticipate, it will be out of my power to attend. Many of you have known Mr. Lovejoy longer than I have, and are better able than I to do his memory complete justice. My personal acquaintance with him commenced only about ten years ago, since when it has been quite intimate; and every step in it has been one of increasing respect and esteem, ending, with his life, in no less than affection on my part. It can truly be said of him that while he was personally ambitious, he bravely endured the obscurity which the unpopularity of his principles imposed; and never accepted official honors, until those honors were ready to admit his principles with him. Throughout my heavy and perplexing responsibilities here, to the day of his death, it would scarcely wrong any other to say, he was my most generous friend.221
Featured Book (continued)
Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life, Volume II
(Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008)
Bruce Tap, Over Lincoln's Shoulder
(Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 1998).
T. Harry Williams, Lincoln and the Radicals
(Madison, University of Wisconsin Press, 1965)