Abraham Lincoln was a Kentuckian - but that did not help him much in his dealings with his native state. In sketching out a speech he considered directing at Kentucky residents in February 1861, Mr. Lincoln warned against compromises that did not protect the principles of his election. He added: "What Kentuckian, worthy of his birth place, would not do this? Gentlemen, I too, am a Kentuckian."
Some of Mr. Lincoln's favorite stories were centered in the state of his birth. One story Mr. Lincoln liked to tell was a joke on himself: "Riding at one time in a stage with an old Kentuckian who was returning from Missouri, Lincoln excited the old gentleman's surprise by refusing to accept either of tobacco or French brandy. When they separated that afternoon - the Kentuckian to take another stage bound for Louisville - he shook hands warmly with Lincoln, and said, good-humoredly: "See here, stranger, you're a clever but strange companion. I may never see you again, and I don't want to offend you, but I want to say this: My experience has taught me that a man who has no vices has d - d few virtues. Good-day." 1
Mr. Lincoln's birthplace didn't even show much enthusiasm for his presidential prospects in 1860. On the first ballot of the Republican National Convention in Chicago in May, Kentucky gave 8 votes to Salmon P. Chase, 6 votes for Lincoln, 5 for William H. Seward, 2 for Benjamin F. Wade, 1 for John McLean and 1 for Charles Sumner. On the second ballot, Mr. Lincoln led with 9 votes to 7 for Seward and 6 for Chase. On the third vote, Mr. Lincoln had 13, Seward 6 and Chase 4.
Mr. Lincoln had other competition in 1860. He was one of two Kentuckians running for President another was Vice President John C. Breckinridge, a Democrat whose base was in the South and who captured the electoral votes of most Southern states. - as did Breckinridge. In the 1860 presidential election in the Blue Grass State, John Bell edged out John Breckinridge, 45-36%. Kentucky-born Lincoln received less than 1% of the state's votes. In 1864, Mr. Lincoln had only somewhat better success against Pennsylvania-born George B. McClellan. The Democratic candidate won nearly 70% of the state's votes - to only 30% for Mr. Lincoln. As historian David E. Long wrote, "the suspension of habeas corpus and the presence of troops, who made many arrests, had been onerous in the months before the election. The results of the balloting reflected that."2
Mr. Lincoln had lived in Kentucky from his birth in 1809 until his family moved to Indiana in 1816. "My father, at the death of his father, was but six years of age; and he grew up, literally without education. He removed from Kentucky to what is now Spencer county, Indiana, in my eighth year," wrote Mr. Lincoln in a draft autobiography in December 1859.3
As an adult, Mr. Lincoln had two compelling reasons to return to Kentucky. One was that Joshua Speed, his best friend with whom he roomed for four years in Springfield, sold his general store and moved back home to Farmington, Kentucky. Mr. Lincoln took a rare out-of-state vacation to visit Speed in the summer of 1841 and came to know Speed's family - including Joshua's mother and future Attorney General James Speed, Joshua's brother. James Speed later recalled meeting Mr. Lincoln in the summer of 1841. "He sat in my office, read my books, and talked with me about his life, his reading, his studies, his aspirations...He was earnest, frank, manly, and sincere in every thought and expression."4
Lincoln biographer Albert Beveridge noted: "Just at that time [Joshua] Speed was paying court to Miss Fanny Henning, a lovely young woman who was soon to become his wife, and this marriage was to have decisive influence on Lincoln. Speed had often written to Lincoln of his infatuation, but had not yet proposed. Fanny was an orphan and lived with her uncle, John Williamson, who had given the young merchant no opportunity to make love to his niece; for the old gentleman, a violent Whig, always insisted on talking politics when her suitor called and would never leave them alone. Speed was anxious that his friend should see the young woman and took Lincoln with him on one of his visits. With a meaning look at Speed, Lincoln, pretending to be a Democrat, engaged Fanny's uncle so heavily in a political argument that the lovers got their chance to be alone, and thus Speed proposed and was accepted."5
Historian David Donald noted: "It was the first vacation he had ever had and his introduction to the luxury and leisure of Southern society at its best. Farmington was a handsome fourteen-room brick house, built, according to tradition, after a plan that had been drawn up by Thomas Jefferson, who as an old friend of Mrs. Speed's family back in Virginia, and it was surrounded by beautiful grounds."6 Donald wrote: "All in all, this was one of the happiest times in Lincoln's life, hardly marred by a miserable toothache and the botched job a Louisville dentist made in trying to extract the tooth."7 Yet, noted biographer Albert Beveridge, "During most of his stay, [Lincoln] was desperately sad. Sometimes, 'he was so much depressed,' says Speed, 'that he almost contemplated suicide;' and once he wrote a poem on that subject and sent it to the Sangamo Journal."8
When he returned to Springfield in September, Speed accompanied him as far as St. Louis on a steamboat. Mr. Lincoln needed to make his semi-annual tour of the Eighth Judicial District, Mr. Lincoln wrote Speed's sister Mary: "Having resolved to write to some of your Mother's family, and not having the express permission of any one of them do so, I have had some little difficulty in determining on which to inflict the task of reading what I now feel must be a most dull and silly letter; but when I remembered that you and I were something of cronies while I was at Farmington, and that, while there, I once was under the necessity of shutting you up in a room to prevent your committing an assault and battery upon me, I instantly decided that you should be the devoted one -
I assume that you have not heard from Joshua & myself since we left, because I think it doubtful whether he has written -
You remember there was some uneasiness about Joshua's health when we left. That little indisposition of his turned out to be nothing serious; and it was pretty nearly forgotten when we reached Springfield. We got on board the Steam Boat Lebanon, in the locks of the Canal about 12 o'clock M. of the day we left, and reached St Louis the next Monday at 8 P.M - Nothing of interest happened during the passage, except the vexatious delays occasioned by the sand bars be thought interesting - By the way, a fine example was presented on board the boat for contemplating the effect of condition upon human happiness. A gentleman had purchased twelve negroes in different [sic] parts of Kentucky and was taking them to a farm in the South. They were chained six and six together - A small iron clevis was around the left wrist of each, and this fastened to the main chain by a shorter one at a convenient distance from the others; so that the negroes were strung together precisely like so many fish upon a trot-line - In this condition they were being separated forever from the scenes of their childhood, their friends, their fathers and mothers, and brothers and sisters, and many of them, from their wives and children, and going into perpetual slavery where the lash of the master is proverbially more ruthless and unrelenting than any other where; and yet amid all these distressing circumstances, as we would think them, they were the most cheerful and apparently [sic] happy creatures on board. One, whose offence for which he had been sold was an over-fondness for his wife, played the fiddle almost continually; and the others danced, sung, cracked jokes, and played various games with cards from day to day - How true it is that "God tempers the wind to the shorn lamb," or in other words, that He renders the worst of human conditions tolerable, while He permits the best, to be nothing better than tolerable -
To return to the nar[r]ative. When we reached Springfield, I staid but one day when I started on this tedious circuit where I now am - Do you remember my going to the city while I was in Kentucky, to have a tooth extracted, and making a failure of it? Well, that same old tooth got to paining me so much that about a week since I had it torn out, bringing with it a bit of the jawbone; the consequence of which is that my mouth is now so sore that I can neither talk nor eat - I am literally "subsisting on savory remembrances" - that is, being unable to eat, I am living upon the remembrance of the delicious dishes of peaches and cream we used to have at your house - 9
In a letter to Joshua Speed in 1855, Mr. Lincoln had a different version of their trip down the Ohio River: "In 1841 you and I had together a tedious low-water trip, on a Steam Boat from Louisville to St. Louis. You may remember, as I well do, that from Louisville to the mouth of the Ohio there were, on board, ten or a dozen slaves, shackled together with irons. That sight was a continual torment to me; and I see something like it every time I touch the Ohio, or any other slave-border. It is hardly fair for you to assume, that I have no interest in a thing which has, and continually exercises, the power of making me miserable. You ought rather to appreciate how much the great body of the Northern people do crucify their feelings, in order to maintain their loyalty to the constitution and the Union."10
Another reason for Mr. Lincoln to visit Kentucky was that Mary Todd Lincoln's father and step-mother lived there. Although Mrs. Lincoln did not like her stepmother, she adored her father. Abraham Lincoln occasionally handled legal work for him. Some six years after he visited the Speeds in Kentucky, Congressman-elect Lincoln left Springfield with his wife and two sons to take up his duties in Washington. The Lincolns went by boat to Frankfort, Kentucky, then by train to Lexington, Kentucky where Mrs. Lincoln's family lived. The Lincolns spent most of November there, before leaving on November 25 for the nation's capital. As the daughter of Mary's half-sister Emilie described the Lincolns' arrival according to Emilie's memories: "It was a cold day in November, and the wide hall was chilly as the door was thrown open to receive them. The whole family stood near the front door with welcoming arms and, in true patriarchal style, the colored contingent filled the rear of the hall to shake hands with the long absent one and 'make a miration' over the babies. Mary came in first with little Eddie, the baby, in her arms.
"To my mind she was lovely,' her sister Emilie says; 'clear, sparkling, blue eyes, lovely smooth white skin with a fresh, faint, wild-rose color in her cheeks; and glossy light brown hair, which fell in soft, short curls behind each ear. She was then about twenty-nine years of age.
"Mr. Lincoln followed her into the hall with his little son Robert Todd in his arms. He put the little fellow on the floor, and as he arose I remember thinking of Jack and the Beanstalk, and feared he might be the hungry giant of the story, he was so tall and looked so big with a long full black cloak over his shoulders and he wore a fur cap with ear straps which allowed but little of his face to be seen. Expecting to hear the 'Fee, fi, fo, fum!' I shrank closer to my mother and tried to hide behind her voluminous skirts. After shaking hands with all the grown-ups Mr. Lincoln turned and, lifting me in his arms, said, 'So this is little sister.' I was always after that called by him 'little sister.' His voice and smile banished my fear of the giant.
"Our brother Sam, who was attending college at Danville, Kentucky, came home to see sister Mary and his little nephews. He taught Robert to call him 'Uncle Sam' and, swelled with importance at the honor of being an uncle, he swaggered around as proud as Punch, much to the quiet amusement of the older ones of the family. 'What a big handsome boy Sam has grown to be,' said Sister Mary to mother, 'he was such a little scrap of a baby.' 'Well,' said Sam laughing, 'I at least have had the grace to grow up and you are still only a tiny little scrap hardly reaching to my shoulder. I hope my nephews will inherit their father's long legs.' 'And their mother's lovely disposition' said Mary making a little grimace at him.
"I do not recall how long the visit lasted, but I remember the romps with Bob, and that Mr. Lincoln was so absorbed in books that our noisy play never seemed to disturb him. His reading, they told me later, was principally Niles Register and a book of miscellaneous poems. The poem by Cowper on 'Slavery and the Slave Trade,' he bracketed and even turned down the page upon which it appeared. At this time he committed to memory 'Thanatopsis.'
Mrs. Helm tells an amusing incident in connection with this visit. Mrs. Todd's nephew, Joseph Humphreys, had traveled on the same train with the Lincolns without knowing who they were. Being alone, with no impedimenta, he quickly covered the ground between the railway station and the Todd home. 'Aunt Betsy,' he exclaimed, 'I was never so glad to get off a train in my life. There were two lively youngsters on board who kept the whole train in a turmoil, and their long-legged father, instead of spanking the brats, looked pleased as Punch and aided and abetted the older one in mischief.' Glancing out of the window at that moment he saw the 'long-legged' man and the two 'lively youngsters' in the Todd carriage, which had just stopped before the door. 'Good Lord,' he said in a panic, 'there they are now.' He promptly vanished and was not seen again during Mary's visit."11
During the Lincolns' visit, Whig Senator Henry Clay, whom both Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln admired, gave a speech in Lexington. Historian William L. King wrote that "Lincoln heard Clay make a speech condemning Polk's declaration that Mexico had started the war. Clay deplored the acquisition of territory for the purpose of spreading slavery. Lincoln observed that Clay read his speech - an unheard of thing for him to do - and later, when he dined with him at Ashland, Clay's trembling weakness shocked and saddened his guest."12 Pennsylvania journalist and politician Alexander K. McClure wrote: "The address was a tame affair, as was the personal greeting when Lincoln made himself known. Clay was courteous, but cold. He may never have heard of the man, then in his presence, who was to secure, without solicitation, the prize which he for many years had unsuccessfully sought. Lincoln was disenchanted; his ideal was shattered. One reason why Clay had not realized his ambition had become apparent. Clay was cool and dignified; Lincoln was cordial and hearty. Clay's hand was bloodless and frosty, with no vigorous grip in it; Lincoln's was warm, and its clasp was expressive of kindliness and sympathy. 13
Lincoln scholar William H. Townsend noted that Clay's speech had been publicized before its delivery on November 13: "By Friday evening the taverns were packed with visitors, many of whom, like Morton McMichael, editor of the Philadelphia North American, had come hundreds of miles to hear Clay's address. Next morning he crowd was so large, in spite of the rain, that the meeting was adjourned to a large brick structure on Water Street, known as the Lower Market-House, where a temporary platform had been erected in one end of the building. Here, with Judge George Robertson, the chairman, seated on one side, and Robert S. Todd, vice-chairman, on the other, before an audience that contained representatives from a majority of the states of the Union, Henry Clay delivered one of the ablest and most statesmanlike address of his long career."14
Clay's two and a half hour speech addressed the legitimacy of the war with Mexico and touched on slavery: "My opinions on the subject of slavery are well known. They have the merit, if it be one, of consistency, uniformity and long duration. I have ever regarded slavery as a great evil, a wrong, for the present I fear, an irremedial wrong to it unfortunate victims. I should rejoice if not a single slave breathed the air or was within the limits of our country. Among the resolutions which it is my intent to present for your consideration at the conclusion of the address one proposes in your behalf and mine, to disavow, in the most positive manner, any desire on our part to acquire any foreign territory whatever for the purpose of introducing slavery into it."15
At the end of his speech, Clay called on American to "strike at the monster aggressor wherever it could be reached under the constitution - an organization of men of whatever politics, of Free Soilers, Whigs and Democrats, who should bury past animosities, and repenting past errors which all have been guilty of, unite in hurling down the gigantic evil which threatened even their own liberty. When men violate the...Constitution, put them down. Repeal unconstitutional enactments, restore liberty to Kansas and Nebraska....Slavery must be kept a section, and liberty a national institution."16 Mr. Lincoln's visits to Kentucky helped shape his attitudes toward slavery, although Lincoln scholar Louis A. Warren wrote: that "long before Lincoln visited his wife's people at Lexington, Kentucky, he had some very decided notions about he wrongs of slavery."17
Joshua Speed, though a Democrat and a slaveholder, wrote Mr. Lincoln after his nomination in May 1860: "You can hardly imagine [sic], and I am sure I can not describe my feelings when I saw by the papers this morning that you were a Candidate for the Presidency- Allow a warm personal friend, though as you are perhaps aware a political opponent, to congratulate you - Should you be elected and I think you have a fair Chance for it - I am satisfied that you will honestly administer the government - and make a lasting reputation for yourself - "18 After Mr. Lincoln's election as President in November Speed wrote again:
I desire to tender you my sincere congratulations upon your election to the highest position in the world - by the suffrage of a free people - As a friend, I am rejoiced at your success - as a political opponent I am not disappointed - The result is what I expected -
That you will bring an honest purpose to bear upon all subjects upon which you are called to act I do not doubt - Knowing you as I do and feeling for you as I have ever done - I can not but tremble for you - But all men and all questions sink into utter insignificance when compared with the good of our whole country and the preservation of our glorious Union - You are I know as proud of its past glories as any man in the nation -
Its continuance and its future will depend very much upon how you deal with the inflammable material by which you are, and will be surrounded -
The eyes of the whole nation will be upon you while unfortunately the ears of one half of it will be closed to any thing you may say - How to deal with the combustible material lying around you without setting fire to the edifice of which we are all so proud and of which you will be the chief custodian is a difficult task -
Upon this subject I have the views of a private citizen seeking no office for himself nor for any friend he has. I will not even broach them in a letter - But if it would be agreeable to you I will come & see you - and I think can impart to you some information as to men & public sentiment here which may be valuable19
Mr. Lincoln wrote his old friend asking Speed and his wife to meet the Lincolns in Chicago later in the month. "He seemed very anxious to avoid bloodshed and said that he would do almost anything saving the sacrifice of personal honor and the dignity of the position to which he had been elevated to avoid war," wrote Speed nearly 12 years later. "He asked about Mr. [James] Guthrie and spoke of him as a suitable man for Secretary of War. He asked very particularly as to his strength with the people and if I knew him well enough to say what would be his course in the event of war. I frankly gave my opinion as to what I thought would be his course...He requested me to see Mr. Guthrie. But by all means to be guarded and not to give any man the advantage of the tender of a Cabinet appointment to be declined by an insulting letter. I did see Mr. Guthrie and never tendered him any office for any office for I was not authorized to do so."20
Another old Lincoln acquaintance, Kentuckian Duff Green, came to Illinois at the end of December to confer with Mr. Lincoln on behalf of President Buchanan, to whom he reported back: "I have had a long and interesting conversation with Mr. Lincoln. I brought with me a copy of the resolutions submitted by Mr. [John J.] Crittenden which he read over several times and said that he believed the adoption of the line proposed would quiet for the present the agitation of the Slavery question, but believed it would be renewed by the seizure and attempted annexation of Mexico.- He said that the real question at issue between the North & the South, was Slavery 'propagandism' and that upon that issue the republican party was opposed to the South and that he was with his own party; that he had been elected by that party and intended to sustain his party in good faith, but added that the question of the Amendments to the Constitution and the questions submitted by Mr. Crittenden, belonged to the people & States in legislatures or Conventions & that he would be inclined not only to acquiesce, but to give full force and effect to their will thus expressed." Green asked for a letter expressing these sentiments and wrote that Mr. Lincoln promised to do so, but the delivery of the letter was delayed until after Mr. Lincoln's Washington allies reviewed it.21
Historian Albert D. Kirwan wrote: "Apparently [Illinois Senator Lyman] Trumbull and the friends did not approve of the letter, for they never delivered it to Green. Green thereupon gave a statement to the New York Herald, repeating what he understood Lincoln's position to be. The publication of this created consternation among radical Republicans in Washington, and Kellogg was dispatched to Springfield to confer with the President-elect. Then on January 28, Kellogg was authorized to say that Lincoln would 'suffer death' rather than enter into a bargain that would have the appearance of 'buying the privilege of taking possession' of the government."22
Crittenden rolled out his compromise plan on December 18. Congressman John J. Crittenden was a Washington institution, having served as a Kentucky Senator in four separate terms, the last one ending in 1861. Having succeeded Henry Clay in the Senate, Crittenden sought a congressional compromise to avoid secession in 1860-61 by protecting slavery in the South. He had helped organize the Union Party candidacy of John Bell in 1860 from remnants of Whig and American Parties. He was something of a political vagabond having also served as a governor of Kentucky and U.S. attorney general under Presidents William Henry Harrison (1841) and Millard Fillmore. He ended his life serving in the House of Representatives from 1862 until his death in 1863. He enjoyed whiskey, cigars, and card-playing.
Crittenden was a friend of Mary Todd Lincoln, but wrote a letter in 1858 backing Senator Stephen A. Douglas that was critical to his victory over Mr. Lincoln. The correspondence began with Mr. Lincoln writing Senator Crittenden on July 7, 1858:
Dear Sir: I beg you will pardon me for the liberty in addressing you upon only so limited an acquaintance, and that acquaintance so long past. I am prompted to do so by a story being whispered about here that you are anxious for the reelection of Mr. Douglas to the United States Senate, and also of Harris, of our district, to the House of Representatives, and that you are pledged to write letters to that effect to your friends here in Illinois, if requested. I do not believe the story, but still it gives me some uneasiness. If such was your inclination, I do not believe you would so express yourself. It is not in character with you as I have always estimated you.
You have no warmer friends than here in Illinois, and I assure you nine tenths--I believe ninety-nine hundredths--of them would be mortified exceedingly by anything of the sort from you. When I tell you this, make such allowance as you think just for my position, which, I doubt not, you understand. Nor am I fishing for a letter on the other side. Even if such could be had, my judgment is that you would better be hands off!
Please drop me a line; and if your purposes are as I hope they are not, please let me know. The confirmation would pain me much, but I should still continue your friend and admirer.23
Crittenden replied to Mr. Lincoln at the end of the month: "The acquaintance to which you allude as having long since existed between us is still freshly remembered by me, and the favorable sentiments of personal regard and respect with which it impressed me I have ever since retained."
You are entitled to be frank with me, and you will be best pleased, I think, with frankness on my part, and in that spirit I will endeavor to reply to your letter.
Mr. Douglas and myself have always belonged to different together in opposing the enforcement of the Lecompton Constitution upon the people of Kansas. I regarded that as a gross violation of the principle and good faith fraught with danger to the country[.] Mr. Douglas's opposition with highly gratifying to me; the position taken by him was full of sacrifice and full of hazard, yethe took it and defended it like a man! In this he had my warm approbation and sympathy; and when it was understood that for the very course of conduct in which I had concurred and participated, the angry frown of the administration and its party was to be employed to defeat his re-election to the Senate, I could not but wish for his success and triumph over such persecution. I thought his reelection was necessary as a rebuke to the administration and a vindication of the great cause of popular rights and public justice. In this statement you will find the original and state of my present feelings in regard to Mr. Douglas.
Crittenden admitted that he had received letters from Illinois residents about his position regarding Douglas "which I could not forbear replying without subjecting myself to imputations of insincerity or timidity."24 One of those letters was from attorney T. Lyle Dickey. Old Whig friend of Mr. Lincoln who had become a Douglas supporter, Three days later, Crittenden replied to Dickey, but Dickey decided to hold the letter until the end of the Senate campaign in order to maximize its impact. In the letter, Crittenden repeated that Douglas had "the courage and patriotism to take an elevated, just, and independent position on the Lecompton question at the sacrifice of old party ties and in defiance of the power of an angry administration."25 After the votes were tabulated and Senator Douglas' reelection assured, Mr. Lincoln wrote Crittenden that his letter to Mr. Lincoln had been misplaced until "only two days before the election. It never occurred to me to cast any blame upon you....The emotions of defeat at the close of a struggle in which I felt more than a merely selfish interest, and to which defeat the use of your name contributed largely, are fresh upon me; but even in this mood I cannot for a moment suspect you of anything dishonorable."26
In 1861 Mr. Lincoln apparently intended to stop briefly in Kentucky on his pre-inaugural trip from Springfield to Ohio. It is presumed that he intended to cross the Ohio River at Cincinnati. Instead, he spoke of Kentucky in a speech at Cincinnati - quoting from the speech he had made in that city in September 1859: "I see no occasion, and feel no inclination, to retract a word of this [Applause.] If it shall not be made good, be assured, the fault shall not be mine."27 The following paragraphs were part of the message that Mr. Lincoln had prepared to deliver in Kentucky, if possible:
I am grateful, for the opportunity your invitation affords me to appear before an audience of my native state. During the present winter it has been greatly pressed upon me by many patriotic citizens, Kentuckians among others, that I could in my position, by a word, restore peace to the country. But what word? I have many words already before the public; and my position was given me on the faith of those words. Is the desired word to be confirmatory of these; or must it be contradictory to them? If the former, it is useless repe[ti]tion; if the latter, it is dishonorable and treacherous.
Again, it is urged as if the word must be spoken before the fourth of March. Why? Is the speaking the word a 'sine qua non' to the inaugeration? Is there a Bell-man, a Breckinridge-man, or a Douglas man, who would tolerate his own candidate to make such terms, had he been elected? Who amongst you would not die by the proposition, that your candidate, being elected, should be inaugerated, solely on the conditions of the constitution, and laws, or not all. What Kentuckian, worthy of his birth place, would not do this? Gentlemen, I too, am a Kentuckian.
Nor is this a matter of mere personal honor. No man can be elected President without some opponents, as well as supporters; and if when elected, he can not be installed, till he first appeases his enemies, by breaking his pledges, and ... betraying his friends, this government, and all popular government, is already at an end. Demands for such surrender, once recognized, and yielded to, are without limit, as to nature, extent, or repetition. They break the only bond of faith between public, and public servant; and they distinctly set the minority over the majority. Such demands acquiesced in, would not merely be the ruin of a man, or a party; but as a precedent they would ruin the government itself.
I do not deny the possibility that the people may err in an election; but if they do, the true [remedy] is in the next election, and not in the treachery of the person elected.28
Pennsylvania journalist Alexander K. McClure noted that in Cincinnati Mr. Lincoln "prophesied the outcome of the rebellion if the Southern people attempted to divide the Union by force. Addressing himself particularly to the Kentuckians in the audience, he said: "I have told you what we mean to do. I want to know, now, when that thing takes place, what do you mean to do? I often hear it intimated that you mean to divide the Union whenever a Republican, or anything like it, is elected President of the United States. [A Voice - "That is so."] 'That is so,' one of them says; I wonder if he is a Kentuckian? [A Voice - "He is a Douglas man."] Well, then, I want to know what you are going to do with your half of it?
"Are you going to split the Ohio down through, and push your half off a piece? Or are you going to keep it right alongside of us outrageous fellows? Or are you going to build up a wall some way between your country, and ours, by which that movable property of yours can't come over here any more, to the danger of your losing it? Do you think you can better yourselves on that subject by leaving us here under no obligation whatever to return those specimens of your movable property that come hither? "You have divided the Union because we would not do right with you, as you think, upon that subject; when we cease to be under obligations to do anything for you, how much better off do you think you will be? Will you make war upon us and kill us all? Why, gentlemen, I think you are as gallant and as brave men as live; that you can fight as bravely in a good cause, man for man, as any other people living; that you have shown yourselves capable of this upon various occasions; but, man for man, you are not better than we are, and there are not so many of you as there are of us. "You will never make much of a hand at whipping us. If we were fewer in numbers than you, I think that you could whip us; if we were equal, it would likely be a drawn battle; but, being inferior in numbers, you will make nothing by attempting to master us. "But perhaps I have addressed myself as long, or longer, to the Kentuckians than I ought to have done, inasmuch as I have said that, whatever course you take, we intend in the end to beat you."29
As outgoing vice president, John C. Breckinridge had the responsibility to proclaim Abraham Lincoln as the winner of the 1860 presidential election. Before the War, Breckinridge had been a lawyer, army officer in the Mexican-American War and member of Congress. He had hoped to avoid secession but eventually abandoned the Union. At the end of December 1860, Breckinridge issued a call for a convention of the border states of Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, Kentucky and Missouri to search for a solution to the secession crisis, but the proposal was stillborn. Historian William C. Davis wrote: "As the appointed day for counting the electoral votes approached, Breckinridge, according to rumor, would tamper with them to somehow defeat Lincoln or disrupt the election. The vice-president met with General Winfield Scott to discuss the rumors, as well as the general danger of violence, and pledged that he would do his best to maintain peace. 'His word is reliable,' said Scott. Still Breckinridge's declaration that all the votes were safe and intact did not quell speculation."30 On February 12, Breckinridge did his duty without a hitch.
With President Lincoln's inauguration the next month, Breckinridge took up new duties. During the spring and summer of 1861, Breckinridge remained in Washington as one Kentucky's senators. Illinois Congressman Isaac N. Arnold later wrote: "His fellow traitors from the slave states had all gone. He alone lingered, shunned, and distrusted by all loyal men, and treated with the most freezing and formal courtesy, by his associates. Dark and lowering, he could be daily seen in his carriage - always alone - driving to the Senate chamber, where his voice and his votes were always given to thwart the war measures of the government. It was obvious that his heart was with his old associates at Richmond."31 Breckinridge was eventually expelled from the Senate and narrowly avoided arrest; he served a Confederate Army general with commands in both the West and East.
Breckinridge biographer Frank B. Heck wrote: "As a senator Breckinridge gained a forum which he had lacked as vice president; he now felt entirely free to speak on the issues of the day. With the aid of political friends in Kentucky, he proceeded to block out a new line of policy. Writing from Washington on March 10 to James B. Clay, he was apprehensive lest 'patchwork' measures 'make the separation eternal and leave the border states helpless.' He proposed that Kentucky take the stand 'that all troops should be withdrawn from the Confederate States, so that peace in any event my be really the policy.32
One of Mary Todd Lincoln's Springfield cousins, Elizabeth Todd Grimsley, stayed at the White House for several months after the Lincolns moved in after President Lincoln's inauguration: "My relative on the other side of the house, General John C. Breckinridge, was open and above board. He called a number of times, before leaving Washington, and most complacently said to me, 'Cousin Lizzie, I would not like you to be disappointed in your expected stay at the White House, so I will now invite you to remain here as a guest, when the Confederation takes possession'. Mrs. Lincoln replied 'We will be only too happy to entertain her until that time, General', where upon arose a seemingly merry war of words, but there was perceptible undercurrent of storm and sting, as would naturally be the case, when two bright, quick, embittered brains and tongues wage a contest."33
Presidential aide John Hay wrote that he was "very sorry for Breckinridge. A ridiculous weakness, which he fatally mistook for honor, shared him to his ruin. The flattery of the seditious and the cruel contempt of the loyal hastened his departure. He could not suit himself to the new state of feeling. In the town whose every pulse of sentiment had sensitively responded to his utterances, he felt lonely and strange when the advent of a new dynasty had changed that fickle populace, and he found himself not only suspected but out of fashion. He was too proud to conceal, and too weak honestly to change. He retained to the last the same stern inflexibility of prejudice, mingled and toned with that courtly grace and dignity that so often made many seem right, when he was engaged in debate, with some rough specimen of patriotism from the woods or the mountains. Even in his most atrocious utterances of disloyalty, he was always calm and gentlemanly."34
Maine Republican James G. Blaine observed, "Intellectually, Mr. Breckinridge was not the equal of many Southern men who deferred to him as a leader. His precedence was due to his personal character, to his strong connections, to his well-tempered judgment, and especially to a certain attractiveness of man which was felt by all who came in contact with him."35 Historian William C. Davis wrote: "Whatever their differences over politics, Lincoln and Breckinridge had remained on friendly personal terms up to the Kentuckian's flight south. On Lincoln's part, that regard was not diminished by the war. When a nephew of the secretary's visited the president Washington, he was asked: 'Do you ever hear from your uncle John C. Breckinridge?' On being told that word did occasionally come through, Lincoln continued. 'Well,' he said, 'I was fond of John, and I was sorry to see him take the course he did. Yes, I was fond of John, and regret that he sided with the South. It was a mistake."36
The beginning of the Civil War was a difficult time for Kentuckians. Lincoln biographer Carl Sandburg wrote: "The former Governor of Kentucky, who had been a Whig Congressman with Lincoln, Charles S. Morehead, the Peace Convention delegate whom Lincoln sent for immediately on his arrival for inauguration, had tried to keep Kentucky 'neutral,' had accused Seward of inconsistency, and publicly criticized cutting off trade with the south. By order of the Secretary of War, and without trial, ex-Governor Morehead was held four months in cells of Fort Lafayette and Fort Warren. Mainly through the efforts of Congressman John J. Crittenden, he was released on parole. When later discharged from parole, he fled to England and addressed public meetings, giving a recital of his interview with Lincoln just before inauguration, stressing his personal impression that Lincoln was anxious to be a war lord."37
Historian William C. Davis wrote: "In Kentucky the Unionists believed that the state would have to stand by Lincoln because of vital economic links with the North during the current fiscal slump. The secessionists felt that Kentucky's business depression came about because the state did not stand with the South, whose planters were the chief customers of Kentucky merchants."38 Governor Beriah Magoffin, who promoted a convention of border states, was an apologist for slavery. "I do not believe slavery to be wrong. I do not believe it to be a moral, social, or political evil," Governor Magoffin told the Kentucky Legislature. Historian William B. Hesseltine wrote that Magoffin "was in a quandary. There was a strong Unionist element in his state and a widespread fear that Kentucky was destined to become the battleground between the sections. Already, too, the Confederate government was calling for troops, and many Kentuckians were organizing companies to join the Southern cause. Although his own sympathies were with the South, Magoffin hoped still for compromise."39 Magoffin sought to get Indiana Governor Oliver P. Morton and Ohio Governor William Dennison to work with him "to bring about a truce between the general government and the seceded States" but Dennison and Morton refused to meet with him.40
Kentucky Unionists arranged for the purchase of weapons to arm supporters of the Union. According to Lincoln scholar Lowell H. Harrison, longtime Lincoln friend Joshua Speed "was sent to Indianapolis to obtain ammunition for the weapons. Most of the guns were sent to Louisville for distribution, but those intended for central Kentucky were shipped from Cincinnati to Lexington over the Kentucky Central Railroad."41 Historian Hesseltine wrote: "Lincoln gave cautious encouragement to the unionists. He sent his old friend Joshua Speed into the state and posted Colonel Robert Anderson, wearing his fresh laurels from Sumter, at Cincinnati to enlist Kentuckians among the three-year volunteers. On June 20, 1861, the President's policy bore fruit when congressional elections returned nine unionist representatives to one secessionist. Two weeks later, unionists won a three-fourths majority in the state legislature. Then Lincoln took another careful step and established Camp Dick Robinson in eastern Kentucky, with Thomas Bramlette in command."42 Speed regularly kept his old friend advised of political and military developments in Kentucky during the spring and summer of 1861. The first letter is from late May:
I am informed by letter from Capt. Wm Nelson that the arms intended for the Union men in KY - have been entirely exhausted -
The distribution of the small number received has had a most salutary influence upon the party in KY - Giving strength and confidence to our friends - and weakening our foes - We are fast getting them on the hip - The arms are distributed only to such men as we know to be reliable and who will swear to support the Constitution of the United States - If the good work can go on - without bloodshed or violence we will have KY all right - So far, we have beaten them at their own game -
Thereby hangs a tale - Our Gove[r]nor - borrowed $60.000 from the Bank and dispatched an agent (Blackburn) to New Orleans to buy arms - He dispatched to this city that he had made a purchase of arms - and that they would soon be here - Each secessionist looked to be a foot taller - talked loud and boastfully of what they intended to do -
The arms at length arrived when, lo & behold - they were old flint lock muskets altered to percussion - in altering them they had omitted to bore a touch hole - They could load them very well but d-n the one would go off.-
This was not the best of the joke - it is now known that the Guns belonged to some Yankee and entrusted to George Saunders to sell - who had offered them at $1.25 each & could not find a purchaser - They were sold to our Governor at $8.50 each - the agent I suppose pocketing the difference - The joke was so good a one that the lovers of fun could not keep it -
Let us of the Union party then I pray you be supplied with arms -
If we have them - there need be no necessity for their use - If we don't have them we will in all probability have to run the gauntlet for our lives -
We will elect 10 Union men to Congress in June - and in August carry the Legislature by an overwhelming majority - 43
Two days later, Speed again wrote President Lincoln: "From all the accounts received from those portions of the state in which the fire arms, which were subject to Capt Nelsons disposal - We have the most favorable accounts - Our friends speak out with boldness and confidence - While the secessionists hang their heads - and are in a state of trepidation and fear -
They begin to think the Government will not allow its friends to be over awed and intimidated for want of weapons of defense - I do assure you that in my judgment - a liberal supply of arms to be distributed as the 5000 already sent have been, will be productive of incalculable good -
No time should be lost - and no one can serve us better than Capt Nelson - He is true, active, vigilant, a Kentuckian himself - with a large acquaintance with an air & manner well adapted to this region- 44
Lincoln scholar Lowell H. Harrison wrote: "The state's geographical location was of great strategic importance. Her accession to the South would give the Confederacy a defensible river boundary and one along which Confederate armies would pose the threat of a drive to the Great Lakes that could split the Union. No one recognized this significance more clearly than Abraham Lincoln. 'I think to lose Kentucky is nearly the same as to lose the whole game,' he wrote a friend in September 1861." Elected officials in states north of the Ohio River were worried. Magoffin himself moved cautiously. Harrison observed: "While Magoffin's sympathies were with the Confederacy, he feared a Union invasion if Kentucky should move in that direction, and many of his fellow citizens were opposed to secession."45 Kentucky's neighbors had different fears. Harrison wrote: "During the early months of the war, neutral Kentucky was a major conduit for the transportation of goods southward as the volume of trade suddenly ballooned."46 The situation in Kentucky affected neighboring states along the Ohio River - Illinois, Indiana and Ohio. Historian Emma Lou Thornbrough wrote: "Counties in southern Indiana were frightened at the prospect that Kentucky would secede and thus bring the boundary of the Confederacy to the Ohio River. Lincoln's policy of seeming inaction, which was based on advice from Union men in Kentucky to wait for the Confederates to strike the first blow, was viewed with scorn and impatience by the active Morton. The latter sought to interfere personally in Kentucky's affairs and, along with the governors of Illinois and Ohio, urged the occupation of strategic points in Kentucky by Union forces."47
Historian Kenneth Stampp wrote: "The anomalous position of Indiana's Kentucky neighbors at once demanded the attention of state politicians. Governor Beriah Magoffin, whose southern sympathies were thinly disguised, had refused to respond to Lincoln's call for troops. In May the Kentucky legislature approved a policy of neutrality which was designed to exclude both Union and Confederate troops from the state. Lincoln cautiously acquiesced and permitted General George B. McClellan to agree to hold off the Union forces as long as the Kentucky militia could bar the Confederates.
While the neutrality policy was not without sympathy in Indiana, Lincoln's 'timid' action toward Kentucky was anathema to the warlike Morton. The Governor was disturbed by reports of frenzied panic along the Indiana border. The river counties were terrified by the possibility that Kentucky might secede and thus bring the war to their doors, expose them to recurrent rebel raids, and threaten the destruction of lives and property."48
Lincoln scholar Lowell H. Harrison wrote: "Two elections held during the summer of 1861 indicated the relative strength of the two groups and foreshadowed the commonwealth's ultimate decision. The Unionists spurred on by the efforts of such radicals as Joseph Holt, made strenuous effort to sweep the congressional election of June 20." Because pro-secession Democrats decided not to participate, the Unionists won overwhelmingly - as they did state legislative election on August 5.49 President Lincoln was emboldened by these political developments. In late July 1861, he wrote the Kentucky congressional delegation: "I somewhat wish to authorize my friend Jesse Bayles to raise a Kentucky Regiment; but I do not wish to do it without your consent. If you consent, please write so, at the bottom of this." Five Kentucky Congressmen endorsed the President's note.50
The situation, however, was still difficult. In August, President Lincoln met with two Kentucky commissioners. He "told them professed Unionists gave him more trouble than rebels"51 In late August, Mr. Lincoln wrote Governor Magoffin:
Sir: Your letter of the 19th Inst. in which you 'urge the removal from the limits of Kentucky of the military force now organized, and in camp within said State' is received.
I may not possess full and precisely accurate knowledge upon this subject; but I believe it is true that there is a military force in camp within Kentucky, acting by authority of the United States, which force is not very large, and is not now being augmented.
I also believe that some arms have been furnished to this force by the United States.
I also believe this force consists exclusively of Kentuckians, having their camp in the immediate vicinity of their own homes, and not assailing or menacing, any of the good people of Kentucky.
In all I have done in the premises, I have acted upon the urgent solicitation of many Kentuckians, and in accordance with what I have believed, and still believe, to be the wish of a majority of all the Union-loving people of Kentucky.
While I have conversed on this subject with many eminent men of Kentucky, including a large majority of her Members of Congress, I do not remember that any one of them, or any other person, except your Excellency and the bearers of your Excellency's letter, has urged me to remove the military force from Kentucky, or to disband it. One other very worthy citizen of Kentucky did solicit me to have the augmenting of the force suspended for a time.
Taking all the means within my reach to form a judgment, I do not believe it is the popular wish of Kentucky that this force shall be removed beyond her limits; and, with this impression, I must respectfully decline to so remove it.
I most cordially sympathize with your Excellency, in the wish to preserve the peace of my own native State, Kentucky; but it is with regret I search, and can not find, in your not very short letter, any declaration, or intimation, that you entertain any desire for the preservation of the Federal Union. 52
Joshua F. Speed, meanwhile, continued to act as Mr. Lincoln's unofficial agent in the state - and agent for complaints to Mr. Lincoln from fellow Kentuckians. In early September, Speed wrote the President from Cincinnati, Ohio, about relations with Union military commander Robert Anderson and the governors of states north of the Ohio River: "I am here to see Anderson on KY matters - We are pretty well assured that Tennessee [sic] has had her spies in the Southern counties of Ills, Indiana & Ohio - to see what disaffection to the Govt there is & whether those States are in a condition to render the Union men in KY any assistance - should the South make an advance on KY - " Speed went on to complain about the recent proclamation by General John C. Frémont to emancipate slaves in Missouri.
Louisville has sent comms. to each of the Governors of these to States to advise them of the fact.
Denison [sic] promises us to be in readiness to assist us at any moment - Morton & Yates will be seen to day & tomorrow -
We will give them the best fight we can but with traitors & enemies at home and a disciplined army from Tennessee advancing we may need help - I think that Anderson will soon have an army of 20.000 Kentuckians in for the war-
I have just seen Fremonts proclamation - it will hurt us in KY - The war should be waged upon high points and no state law be interfered with - Our Constitution & laws both prohibit the emancipation of slaves among us - even in small numbers - If a military commander can turn them loose by the thousand by mere proclamation - It will be a most difficult matter to get our people to submit to it
All of us who live in slave states whether Union or loyal have great fear of insurrection-- Will not such a proclamation read by the slaves incline them to assert their freedom? And the owner whether loyal or not & the whole community suffer? I think the proclamation directly against the spirit of the law-
Ruseau is very anxious to have Philip Speed as paymaster- Charles Thomasson will I hope be remembered-- They have both worked hard in getting up the regiments & are worthy men.
I sent you some KY hams - six - Did you get them53
Frémont's proclamation constituted a major threat to Kentucky's loyalty. President Lincoln disapproved of the unauthorized action and let General Frémont know of his disapproval while debate about it swirled in the North. On September 2, James Speed, together with Green Adams, protested Frémont's proclamation of emancipation in Missouri. They wrote that the general's actions "will be condemned by a large majority of the Legislature and people of Kentucky." The President responded: "Your dispatch received. Be easy. I will take care of the matter."54 The same day, Joshua Speed wired the President: "Genl Anderson needs at least one thousand (1000) Regulars with as many Western regular officers to command Volunteers as you can spare any movement must be vigorous to be useful."55
If Kentucky's opposition to General Frémont's proclamation was not clear to President Lincoln, Joshua Speed left no room for doubt in a letter to President Lincoln on September 3. This time he wrote from Louisville:
I have been so much distressed since reading, (to us and to the union cause) that foolish proclamation of Fremont, that I have been unable to eat or sleep -
It will crush out every vestage [sic] of a union party in the state - I perhaps & a few others will be left alone - for I do not intend that the act of any military cheiftain [sic] or any administration shall drive me from my fidelity to my government:
Think of its practical workings - We have from 180 to 200000 slaves among us - A military commander issues an edict which declares 20.000 of them free men - I suppose that would be about the relative proportion which would be declared free They would not be slow to assert their claim - It would be a necessity with our entire people to resist - for the loyal slaveholder & the non slaveholder would all be alike interested in resistance. Cruelty & crime would run riot in the land & the poor negroes would be almost exterminated -
So fixed is public sentiment in this state against freeing negroes & allowing negroes to be emancipated & remain among us - That you had as well attack the freedom of worship in the north or the right of a parent to teach his child to read - as to wage war in a slave state on such a principle -
You will have about as much support in one case as in the other -
Think of this I implore you56
Ten days later, Speed forwarded a message from three fellow Kentuckians:
"There is not a day to lose in disavowing emancipation or Kentucky is gone over the mill dam - "57 By mid-September, President Lincoln had ordered revocation of the Fremont's proclamation. Meanwhile, President Lincoln effectively outmaneuvered Governor Magoffin by avoiding federal interference in Kentucky. Kentucky was given no excuse to succeed. "By late August the Confederate supporters had become the state's strongest advocates of continued neutrality," wrote Harrison.58 When Confederates march into Columbus, Kentucky in early September, they provided the excuse for the Union forces to take Paducah. Unionists had sufficient control of the state legislature that they were able to override a gubernatorial veto of their demand for the withdrawal of Confederate troops. Union supporters were in effective control of the state.
Illinois Governor Richard Yates recalled that he was "in the Executive Chamber when a number of Kentuckians insisted that troops should be sent through that State for the purpose of putting down the rebel spirit in Tennessee. The President was hesitating what to do, and they were pressing immediate action." Mr. Lincoln responded with one of his favorite analogies: "I am a good deal like the farmer who, returning to his home one winter night, found his two sweet little boys asleep with a hideous serpent crawling over their bodies. He could not strike the serpent without wounding or killing the children, so he calmly waited until it head moved away. Now I do not want to act in a hurry about this matter; I don't want to hurt anybody in Kentucky; but I will get the serpent out of Tennessee."59
"Kentucky's neutrality terminated abruptly in September, 1861, when the Confederates seized Columbus and Bowling Green. General [Ulysses S.]Grant at once countered with the occupation of Paducah. The state legislature demanded the immediate withdrawal of the southern troops and prepared to employ the Kentucky militia to drive them out," historian Kenneth Stampp wrote. "The success of Lincoln's strategy in forcing the Confederates to make the first move apparently escaped Governor Morton. Instead he saw in the southern invasion of Kentucky a complete vindication of the administration's stupidity in allowing the Confederacy to take the initiative."60
Speed wrote President Lincoln again in early October about the replacement for General Robert Anderson, whose ill health required his retirement as military commander in the region. Anderson was replaced by General William T. Sherman, who also would develop health problems. Speed wrote that General Anderson and his brother Larz "seemed grieved that Genl Anderson had to surrender his command-"
They both however, agreed that it was necessary & gracefully yielded - He telegraphed you on yesterday asking to be relieved & Mr Guthrie[,] Larz Anderson & myself asked the appointment of Genl Hallet to this command - which would give us Sherman in the field & at the head of the center column in Ky - where he is very much needed - I do not know Hallet but the Andersons speak highly of him -
Genl Anderson prefers Sherman -
If we wish to save KY to the Union our force should be increased - to a point that will enable us to drive Buckner out of the State & carry the war into Ten[n]essee - Our forces would be largely increased both in Southern KY & Ten[n]essee by the presence of an over powering force - The forces we would get there would be burning with a desire for revenge and most effective because they would be thoroughly acquainted with the geography of the country- 61
"James Guthrie, George D. Prentice, and James Speed, three of Lincoln's most trusted confidants in Kentucky, alarmed him with a telegraphed warning on November 5, 1861, that Sherman might be overwhelmed by much large Confederate forces," wrote Lincoln chronicler Lowell H. Harrison. "Another telegram the same day from Prentice asserted that [Confederate General Simon] Buckner's army was at least four times and possibly seven times as large as Sherman's command. The concerned president asked for specific information that showed he was following military affairs closely. "How near to Louisville is Buckner? Is he moving toward Louisville? Has he crossed Green River? Is the bridge over Green River repaired? Can he cross Green River in face of McCook? If he were on the North side of Green River, how long could McCook hold him out of Louisville, holding the railroad with power to destroy it inch by inch? Lincoln was learning to be skeptical of unconfirmed reports and exaggerated numbers. Unfortunately, some of his generals never acquired his skepticism."62
Magoffin's position as governor was untenable and he yielded to suggestions that he might resign so long as his replacement was "a conservative, just man, of high position, and character, and that his policy would be conciliatory and impartial toward all law-abiding citizens." In order to expedite Magoffin's departure, the Unionists replaced the speaker of the Kentucky Senate with a man who Magoffin felt fit his criteria: James F. Robinson.63 Historian Eric Foner wrote: "After a brief attempt at 'neutrality' in 1861, Kentucky became firmly committed to the Union, but throughout the war remained under the control of a conservative Unionist coalition that steadfastly opposed all federal policies that threatened to undermine slavery. State officials denounced the Emancipation Proclamation as unconstitutional and refused to recognize the liberty of any black person 'claiming or pretending to be free' under its terms."64
The divided loyalties of Kentucky were exemplified by the Kentucky congressional delegation. Senator Garrett Davis was a friend of Mr. Lincoln who was sent to Washington to plead Kentucky's case at the outset of Civil War. He had served in Congress just before Mr. Lincoln arrived in 1847. A Peace Democrat, his criticisms of President Lincoln led to threats to expel him from the Senate. Lincoln aide John Hay wrote that Davis was "a gentleman, slight in stature, elderly, quiet, grave. A fine head - thin white hair, the baldness of the brow giving prominence to the benevolence and energy indicated by the phrenological development - clear bright eyes, a Wellingtonian nose - a firm, straight mouth - a complexion untarnished by dissipation, and an expression of feature honest and steadfast, without concealments and without fear." 65 But Hay also wrote that Davis represented "the last lingering relic of a class of little great men, who cannot, in their minds, disentangle the interests of good government from those of slavery, and in whose troubled dreams mingles always unwholesomely the flavor of the unresting contraband."66 Historian Allan G. Bogue wrote: "A spry, peppery, gray-haired little man of about sixty, Davis had been a Clay Whig and a Constitutional Unionist and, in Kentucky's crisis, both a resolute and an inspiring Unionist. But he was also dedicated to the defense of Kentucky's institution as they were, rather than as many Republicans wished them to be, and he was prepared to make his points, a book at a time, in a thin, piercing voice."67
Davis met with President Lincoln in April 1861: "I found the President frank and calm, but decided and firm. He expressed deep concern and regret for the existing condition of public affairs, and his hope that there would yet be a restoration of the Union, and peace and amity among all the States. He remarked that neither he, nor any other President, who had been elected by a party, could administer the Government in exact accordance with his own opinions and judgment; but must make some departure to satisfy those who had placed him in power. That before the Carolinians made their attack on Fort Sumter, he had decided not to reinforce or to attempt to reinforce its garrison, but merely, and only, to supply its handful of famishing men with food; and that he had distinctly communicated these purposes to the authorities of the southern confederation. That he had also determined that until the meeting of Congress he would make no attempt to retake the forts, &c., belonging to the United States, which had been unlawfully seized and wrested from their possession, but would leave the then existing state of things to be considered and acted upon by Congress, unless he should be cons, , trained to depart from that purpose by the continued military operations of the seceded States.
The President further said, that events had now reached a point when it must be decided whether our system of Federal Government was only a league of sovereign and independent States, from which any States could withdraw at pleasure, or whether the Constitution formed a Government invested with strength and powers sufficient to uphold its own authority, and to enforce the execution of the laws of Congress; that he no doubt of the truth of the latter proposition, and he intended to make it good in the administration of the Government to the extent that he should be sustained by the people of the United States.68
Senator Davis himself wrote President Lincoln in August 1861: "I have always been a pro slavery man." But in the middle of a long letter of analysis and advice, Davis wrote: "This war was brought on by the South for no real grievance, and without any proper cause; but, to minister to the selfish ambition of political leaders and from delusions of great sectional industrial & commercial advantages." He advised: "Mr. President, this is great war. The issues are of an importance that my mind cannot begin to grasp. Its demands in men & money too are stupendous. Both parties, & the whole country will become wearied with it, but the rebellious states first. The supporters of both Governments will be willing to furnish the men longer than the money; but a reluctance to furnish both, will in a few months begin to manifest itself, & it will rapidly expand and grow. It seems to me, that it is your true policy to give the war the broadest possible nationality. The appointment of Mr. [Joseph] Holt to the war department would give to your administration the active & hearty support of three fourths of the Democratic Party, the free states; and it would command from the nation not a loss of enthusiastic approbation than the transfer of [George B.] McClellan to the command of the Washington column of the army. If too, you would put an able & competent man, of another phase of politics, into the navy department, you would then have a national administration; and all parties & people would then recognize, what is now & always has been in truth the fact, that the war is national. The newly infused energy & activity into every operation of the government would soon effect the deliverance of the country."69
A reporter for the Cincinnati Commercial called Davis "[t]he greatest bore that ever lived."70 Iowa politician Josiah B Grinnell wrote that Garrett Davis "had a whining refrain, disgusting his Senate colleagues and the country with harangues only remembered by their days of duration..."71 Indiana Congressman George W. Julian wrote in his memoirs that "Davis was always an interesting figure. His volubility of talk bordered on the miraculous; and whenever he began to swathe the Senate in his interminable rhetoric it awakened the laughter or the despair of everybody on the floor in the galleries."72 Davis was a strong opponent of the use of black soldiers, telling the Senate: "You propose to place in the hands of the slaves, or such, of them as are able to handle arms, and manumit the whole mass, men, women, and children, and leave them among us. Do you expect us to give our sanction and approval to these things? No! No!"73
Senator Orville H. Browning wrote in his diary: "Garrett Davis senator from Kentucky, came in whilst I was with the President and in conversation upon the subject of slavery said that to save the Union he was willing, if necessary, to see slavery wiped out. Still he is very sensitive upon the subject."74 Nevertheless in 1864 Davis helped lead Senate opposition to the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery. Historian Allan G. Bogue wrote: "A spry, peppery, gray-haired little man of about sixty, Davis had been a Clay Whig and a Constitutional Unionist and, in Kentucky's crisis, both a resolute and an inspiring Unionist. But he was also dedicated to the defense of Kentucky's institutions as they were, rather than as many Republicans wished them to be, and he was prepared to make his points, a book at a time, in a thin, piercing voice."75
Charles A. Wickliffe, who was postmaster general under President John Tyler, returned to Congress in 1861. Journalist Ben Perley Poore wrote that "Wickliffe, portly in figure and florid in features,...clung to the ruffled-bosom shirt of his boyhood."76 Indiana Congressman George W. Julian wrote in his memoirs that "Wickliffe of Kentucky was one of the most offensive representatives of the border State policy, and whenever he spoke [Illinois Congressman Owen] Lovejoy was sure to follow. As often as Wickliffe got the floor it was noticed that Lovejoy's brow was immediately darkened in token of the impending strife, while his friends and enemies prepared themselves for the scene. Wickliffe was a large, fierce-looking man, with a shrill voice, and quite as belligerent as Lovejoy; and their contests were frequent, and always enjoyed by the House..."77
Maine Congressman James G. Blaine was more kind when he later described Wickliffe as "a man of ability, of commanding appearance, of high character."78 Whatever his faults, Wickliffe was a Unionist. After Mr. Lincoln's election, Wickliffe had urged "a grand Mass Convention of all Kentuckians opposed to the present division movement...."79 Lincoln aide John Hay wrote an anonymous newspaper dispatch in December 1861 in which he observed: "Kentucky was never better represented in the House. Gov. Wickliffe made a most charming little speech to-day, which he called an obituary notice of his late colleague, [Henry C.] Burnett, who has set up a traveling government for Kentucky, and assumed the style of a peripatetic Governor. Burnett was a very stupid rebel and a bore in the House. He was never amusing, except when he rose, as he did every day, 'solemnly to protest.' He was a slow-blooded, pig-face nuisance, who looked more like a dropsical tallow-chandler of weak mind than a revolutionist."80 Burnett was expelled from Congress on December 3, 1861.
As obnoxious as Wickliffe could be, Mr. Lincoln wasn't above doing him a favor. When Congress passed a bill emancipating slaves in the District of Columbia, President Lincoln delayed signing the legislation, according to Senator Orville H. Browning, because "old Gov. Wickliffe had two family servants with him who were sickly, and who would not be benefited by freedom, and wanted time to remove them, but could not get them out of the City until Wednesday, and that the Gov had come frankly to him and asked for time."81 The interest which both Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln had in Kentucky was illustrated in an August 1863 letter from the President to his wife: "Nothing very important occurring. The election in Kentucky has gone very strongly right. Old Mr. Wickliffe got ugly, as you know, ran for Governor, and is terribly beaten. Upon Mr. Crittenden's death, Brutus Clay, Cassius' brother, was put on the track for Congress, and is largely elected. Mr. Menzies, who, as we thought, behaved very badly last session of Congress, is largely beaten in the District opposite Cincinnati, by Green Clay Smith, Cassius Clay's nephew. But enough.82
Mr. Lincoln had reason to be disappointed in Wickliffe. In the spring and summer of 1862, Mr. Lincoln had made a concerted effort to get Border State congressmen to support his plan for compensated emancipation. Wickliffe chaired the majority group of Border State congressman which rejected Mr. Lincoln's proposal. They concluded in a letter to President Lincoln in July that his "resolution [was] the utterance of a sentiment, and we had no confidence that it would assume the shape of a tangible, practicable proposition, which would yield the fruits of the sacrifices it required. Our people are influenced by the same want of confidence, and will not consider the proposition in its present impalpable form. The interest they are asked to give up, is to them of immense importance, and they ought not to be expected, even to entertain the proposal, until they are assured, that when they accept it, their just expectations will not be frustrated. We regard your plan as a proposition from the Nation to the States, to exercise an admitted constitutional right in a particular manner, and yield up a valuable interest; Before they ought to consider the proposition, it should be presented in such a tangible, practicable, efficient shape, as to command their confidence, that its fruits are contingent only, upon their acceptance. We cannot trust any thing to the contingencies of future legislation. If Congress, by proper and necessary legislation, shall provide sufficient funds and place them at your disposal, to be applied by you, to the payment of any of our States or the citizens thereof, who shall adopt the abolishment of slavery, either gradual or immediate, as they may determine, and the expense of the deportation and colonization of the liberated slaves, then will our States and people take this proposition into careful consideration for such decision as in their judgments is demanded by their interests, their honor, and their duty to the whole country."83 As a consequence of this rejection, President Lincoln proceeded with his plans to issue a draft Emancipation Proclamation in September.
While President Lincoln was preparing his proclamation, Confederate troops were invading Kentucky - capturing Lexington and Frankfurt and sending the Union government in flight to Louisville. Union forces checked the Confederate advance sufficiently at Perryville on October 8, 1862 to convince the Confederate commander to abandon the campaign - without achieving his aim to recruit thousands of new Confederate soldiers. The Confederates turned back to Tennessee.
At the White House, requests for leniency towards Union and Confederate soldiers were frequent. Kentucky Congressman George Yeaman recalled one case in which President Lincoln indicated the limits of his compassion: "A squad of rollicking young blades started off to join the Confederate army but had not yet entered its service, and on their way met a boy on horseback carrying the United States mail. They confiscated the horse, tore open the mail bag, scattered the letters on the road, and soon found themselves in the embrace of a squad of Union cavalry. The legal situation was, of course, critical enough. Their parents asked me to intercede. When the case was laid before the president he looked thoughtful and remarked that it was a pretty serious thing. I said it was; but I hoped it would not occur again. He replied there were too many violations of the law going on - he thought they ought to be stopped. I still pleaded for mercy to the boys. He then said, 'I will turn these boys out on one condition.' 'What condition, Mr. President?' 'That you pledge your personal honor that they will behave themselves in the future.' 'Mr. President, that is a hard saying. I do not know these boys personally; I know their parents; they are Southern sympathizers, but are good, respectable people. I believe that the boys have been so badly frightened that they will keep the peace in the future.' He looked thoughtful, hesitated and said, 'Well, we'll try this once, but if these boys cut up any more shines, you must not come back to me again in their behalf.' 'Yes, Mr. President, if they cut up any more shines, I will be come back to you, but I will come back to insist that the law take its course.' And he signed an order for their release."84
Another important and controversial Kentuckian with whom Mr. Lincoln had to deal was Republican abolitionist Cassius Clay. In 1860, Clay nurtured hopes that his name might be "available" at the Republican presidential nominating convention in Chicago. Historian William E. Barringer wrote that Clay "did not go to Chicago, but sent a lieutenant with instructions to make the best deal he could. Forewarned by earlier overtures from Seward and Montgomery Blair, Clay knew that bargaining would be rife at Chicago. The Lincoln managers promised that valuable support would be recognized by making Clay Secretary of War or Secretary of the Navy. When the balloting began Kentucky and Virginia recognized Lincoln as the coming man and gave him much-needed assistance from the first."85
Clay had received 101.5 votes on the first ballot for vice president and 86 on the second ballot in which Maine Senator Hannibal Hamlin emerged victorious. Ohio journalist Murat Halstead wrote: "The nomination of Vice-President was not particularly exciting. Cassius M. Clay was the only competitor of [Hannibal] Hamlin, who made any show in the race; and the outside pressure was for him. At one time a thousand voices called 'Clay! Clay!' to the Convention. If the multitude could have had their way, Mr. Clay would have been put on the ticket by acclamation. But it was stated that Mr. Hamlin was a good friend of Mr. Seward. He was geographically distant from Lincoln, and was once a Democrat. It was deemed judicious to pretend to patronize the Democratic element, and thus consolidate those who were calling the Convention an 'old Whig concern.' They need not have been afraid, however, of having it called an Whig affair, for it was not eminently respectable,' nor distinguished for its 'dignity and decorum.' On the other hand, the satanic element was very strongly developed."86
Pugnacious and pugilistic, sharp-tongued and sharp-penned, Clay organized the Strangers' Guard in the nation's capital at the beginning of the Civil War in 1861. Clay was subsequently appointed minister to Russia after he objected to appointment as minister to Spain; he soon returned to America to accept a commission as a Union general. Despite his notable lack of common sense, humility or diplomatic skills, Clay sought reappointment as minister to Russia as quickly as Simon Cameron tired of this job. President Lincoln obliged him again. This time, Clay stayed in the Russian post until 1869.
Mr. Lincoln apparently used Clay in other ways. In the Summer of 1862, according to Clay, President "Lincoln sent for me, and said: 'I have been thinking of what you said to me, but I fear if such proclamation of emancipation was made Kentucky would go against us; and we have no as much as we can carry.'" Clay said: "You are mistaken. The Kentuckians have heard this question discussed by me for a quarter of a century; and have all made up their minds. Those who intend to stand by slavery have already joined the rebel army; and those who remain will stand by the Union at all events. Not a man of intelligence will change his ground."87 According to Clay, President Lincoln replied: "The Kentucky Legislature is now in session. Go down, and see how they stand, and report to me." Clay went to Lexington, making speeches along the way, investigated and returned to Washington in early September. He recalled: "Lincoln said but little; but on the 22d day of September, 1862, issued his immortal Proclamation of Freedom for the slaves in all the rebel States."88
The enlistment of free blacks into the Union army in 1863 and 1864 became an especially touchy issue in Kentucky. Lincoln scholar Lowell Harrison wrote: "Many Kentucky Unionists were slaveholders, and many more were convinced that the federal government had no right to interfere with slavery within a state....As a first step that Kentuckians might accept, Lincoln suggested the enrollment of free Negroes, preliminary to their possible future enlistment. The proposal encountered violent opposition, although the number finally available for military service would probably have been well under 1,000."89
Lowell Harrison wrote: "The Union Democracy, as its adherents called themselves, held its state convention in Louisville on March 18-19, 1863, with a distinctly military flavor. General Boyle was an active candidate for the nomination for governor, but he had antagonized too many people, and Joshua F. Bell was selected. A month later Bell declined the nomination, partly because of poor health, partly because of the dominance of the military in the state. On May 2 the party's central committee replaced him with Thomas E. Bramlette, who had recently resigned from the army because of a dispute over his command. The Union Democrats and their candidate would try to dissociate themselves from the Lincoln administration, but they were inevitably tied to it in the view of many disenchanted Kentuckians."90
Kentucky was the source of many complaints directed at President Lincoln. On January 6, 1864, Governor Bramlette wrote to President Lincoln: "Maj Gen [John G.] Foster has ordered all the organized forces in Kentucky to Knoxville. This will take the forces raised under act of Congress for defense of Kentucky & expose us to Ruin. The Act reserved to you at once the power to remove these troops it is due to us, to good faith, to honor & to humanity that this order as to these troops be countermanded". The President responded: "Nothing is known here about Gen. Foster's order, of which you complain, beyond the fair presumption that it comes from Gen. Grant, and that it has an object which if you understood, you would be loth to frustrate."
True, these troops are, in strict law, only to be removed by my order; but Gen. Grant's judgment would be the highest incentive to me to make such order. Nor can I understand how doing so is bad faith or dishonor; nor yet how it exposes Kentucky to ruin.
Military men here do not perceive how it such [sic] exposes Kentucky, and I am sure Grant would not permit it, if it so appeared to him."91
Lincoln scholar Lowell H. Harrison wrote: "Governor Bramlette led the state's opposition to the highhanded methods employed by General [Stephen] Burbridge and other military leaders to secure Lincoln's election. 'I am opposed to your election, and regard a change of policy as essential to the salvation of our country,' he informed the president, and protested: 'We are dealt with as though Kentucky was a rebellious and conquered province, instead of being as they [sic] are, a brave and loyal people."92
Mr. Lincoln had limited sympathy with the complaints. In late October 1864, President Lincoln responded to a complaint from Kentucky residents: "A petition has been presented to me on behalf of certain citizens of Allen and Barren counties in the State of Kentucky assuming that certain sums of money have been assessed and collected from them by the United States Military authorities, to compensate certain Union citizens of the same vicinage, for losses by rebel depredations, and praying that I will order the money to be refunded. The petition is accompanied by a letter of yours, which so presents the case as to induce me to make a brief response. You distinctly admit that the petitioners 'sympathize with the Confederate States & regard them as warring to preserve their Constitutional & legal rights.' This admitted, it is scarcely possible to believe that they do not help the cause they thus love whenever they conveniently can. Their sons and relatives go into the rebel, but we may not be able to distinctly prove that they out-fitted, and sent them. When armed rebels come among them, their houses and other property are spared; while Union men's houses are burned, and their property pillaged. Still we may not be able to specifically prove that the sympathizers, protected and supplied the raiders in turn, or designated their Union nei[g]hbors for plunder and devastation. Yet we know all this exists even better than we could know an isolated fact upon the sworn testimony of one or two witnesses, just as we better know there is fire when we see much smoke rising than could know it by one or two witnesses swearing to it. The witnesses may commit perjury, but the smoke can not. Now, experience has already taught us in this war that holding these smoky localities responsible for the conflagrations within them has a very salutary effect. It was obviously so in and about St. Louis, and on Eastern Shore of Virginia.93
On November 9, 1864 Governor Bramlette complained to President Lincoln: "Genl. Jno B. Houston, a loyal man and prominent citizen was arrested and yesterday started off by Genl Burbridge to be sent beyond our lines by way of Catlettsburg for no other offense than opposition to your reelection....You are doubtless reelected, but surely it cannot sanction this ostracising of loyal men who honestly opposed you". Mr. Lincoln wrote Governor Bramlett: "Yours of yesterday received. I can scarcely believe that Gen. Jno. B. Houston has been arrested 'for no other offence than opposition to my re-election' for it had been deemed sufficient cause of arrest, I should have heard of more than one arrest in Kentucky on election day. If however, Gen. Houston has been arrested for no other cause than opposition to my re-election Gen. Burbridge will discharge him at once, I sending him a copy of this as an order to that effect."94
Four days later, Bramlette wrote President Lincoln with more complaints about General Burbridge: "The election is over, and you are re-elected by a decisive majority. I take it as granted that you desire to harmonize all the loyal element of our Country into a cordial support of your Administration. It is my desire to have a Union of all in Kentucky in support of the Government and to aid in carrying out the Administrative measures.
Holding as I do that the free and unrestricted Right of the Citizen to canvass the measures and merits of candidates pending an election, implies the duty of obeying the ascertained will when deduced, until it can be changed or modified in the mode secured by our form of Government; I do not admit the right of factious opposition or attempts to overcome by resistance or revolt the measures adopted by the Constituted Authorities. Obedience to the Constituted Authorities does not surrender the freedom of private judgement, but only submits to and obeys the public will as ascertained in the appointed mode. With us in Kentucky partisan asperity ceases with the election. This is necessary to the peace of society and the preservation of public order. I regret that Genl Burbridge is pursuing a course calculated to exasperate and infuriate rather than pacify and conciliate. His whole course for weeks past, has been such as was most calculated to inaugurate revolt and produce collisions. My utmost powers have been taxed to frustrate the evils of his course, and preserve peace and order. I have thus far succeeded but shall need your cooperation, and assistance to attain that unity and harmony which I desire, but which he will defeat, in the blunderings of a weak intellect and over-weaning vanity. Any man in Command in Kentucky can easily harmonize with the State Authorities if he wishes to do so. For it is my fixed rule of action, upon principle, to sustain as Citizen and Officer the measures of the Constituted Authorities, regardless of my private judgement of their policy or impolicy.
Any other course I regard as revolutionary. If the Hd Qurs of the Comdt in KY were at Frankfort where a free interchange of views could be had it would avoid the evils which have resulted from Burbridges weakness. But he and I can not hold personal converse after his bad conduct within the last few weeks. Our intercourse must be restricted to official correspondence in writing. It would therefore much facilitate matters to have some Commandant with whom I could be upon terms of social courtesy and equality. The system of arrests inaugurated by Burbridge outrages public judgement, and ought to be restricted. His entire want of truthfulness enables him unscrupulously to make false charges, to sustain his outrages against public judgement.
The system inaugurated by him of trade permits has been most sham[e]fully carried out in some places. Although his published order seems fair enough, yet the manner of its execution revolts the public sense.
The system will greatly depreciate the public revenues during the coming year. Many loyal men are driven out of business after having paid the tax and obtained a license, and for no other reason than their political preferences. They will not take out license again unless these restrictions are removed and thus the Government revenues will be diminished without return. It is certainly better to risk the chances of even a disloyal man trading, than cut off hundreds of loyal men by such regulations and exasperate them and diminish the sources of revenue. A hearty support of the Government by loyal men though differing in views of policy from you, is better than a hollow-quasi loyalty purchased of a semi-rebel by a trade permit.
Considerable commotion has recently been produced amongst the farmers by some orders recently issued - and especially by the manner of their carrying out - in relation to the hog crop.
The agents sent out have been attempting to force the farmers to let their hogs go to them at greatly less than the market price, by falsely telling them that the Government had fixed the price and unless they received it willingly their hogs would be taken at the price fixed anyhow; and if they attempted to sell, or if packers attempted to purchase & pack their hogs would be confiscated and they arrested and imprisoned. Some large houses in Louisville that have paid their tax are thus held in check and cut off from business, although they offer to sell to the Government their hog product at $[6?] less per hundred than the Cincinnati market if permitted to go on with their business.
I beg of you Mr. President to assist me and give me such aid as you have in your power in preserving peace order and [amity?] in Kentucky. Our people are right and true, though they have been made bedeviled by the course of Subordinate officers.
Burbridge will not correct these evils for he has favorites to reward - and enemies to punish, and will use his official station to carry out his favoritism and personal vengeance - 95
As in other states, President Lincoln cultivated editors of important papers in Kentucky - particularly if they could be useful outlets for his opinions. One such man was George D. Prentice, editor of Louisville Journal. Prentice was a strong union supporter, but two of his sons served in the Confederate army. He was poet and a longtime Whig editor of the Louisville Journal, who wrote Mr. Lincoln in October 1860: "You undoubtedly know the condition of public sentiment in the far South as well as I do. I dread lest, almost as soon as the fact of your election shall be proclaimed, a desperate blow will be struck for the dismemberment of the Union. Under these circumstances I take the liberty of suggesting to you whether it will not be advisable for you to prepare a letter to some friend, which, in the event of your election, shall be published at once - a letter setting forth your conservative views and intentions and therefore calculated to assure all the good citizens of the South and to take from the disunionists every excuse or pretext for treason."96 Nevertheless, Prentice opposed Mr. Lincoln's election in 1860 and reelection in 1864. At one point in 1862, Prentice had to apologize to President Lincoln for a publication of an editorial urging Kentucky's Union Army officers to resign. Prentice was an occasional and sometimes pesky correspondent, asking for favors and patronage. Though he often opposed the President's war policies, he had the nerve to ask to visit his Confederate son while continuing to berate the administration. In November 1861, Prentice made a clear request to President Lincoln for financial help for the Louisville Journal:
... I hardly know how the Journal is to be sustained. The Northern cities, anxious to sustain, have been exceedingly liberal in subscriptions, but no political and commercial paper, as expensive as mine, can live by subscriptions, no matter how large. Advertising is a paper's main support, and that has ceased in Louisville. 'Tis almost literally nothing. Thus far our whole amount of patronage from the U. S. Government is less than two hundred dollars, and, if we can obtain no aid from any quarter, I know not how soon the Journal may die. If I had private funds, I would devote the last dollar to its support.
Now Sir, I would ask you whether there is not some way in which the Government can aid us and itself and the Union cause in this matter. I think there certainly must be. I presume the Government can give me and my partners contracts in horses and mules or bacon and pork or both for delivery at Louisville or any other point in the country. More cavalry horses certainly are or will be wanted. I should like individually a contract for furnishing guns and pistols, and I have peculiar facilities for it. The Government may not be intending to purchase any more fire-arms at present, but probably a few thousand more would find men to handle them.97
Prentice worked against President Lincoln's reelection in 1864. More helpful than Prentice to Mr. Lincoln was Albert G. Hodges, editor of Frankfort Commonwealth. Hodges protested President Lincoln's emancipation policies but published a letter of explanation composed by the President in April 1864. Also in 1864, President Lincoln recommended his appointment as a Collector of Internal Revenue in Kentucky but the appointment was not made. Lincoln biographer Josiah G. Holland wrote: "Hodges had previously had a conversation with him, and had requested him to put into writing the substance of his remarks. The President complied; and, to show that he acted in his emancipation policy purely upon military necessity, stated that, although he was naturally antislavery, and could not remember when he did not think and feel that slavery was wrong, he never understood that the presidency conferred upon him any right to act upon that judgment and feeling."98 Lincoln scholar Louis A. Warren wrote: "It is the contents of a letter which Abraham Lincoln wrote to A.G. Hodges of Frankfort, Kentucky on April 4, 1864, which justify the assumption that Lincoln's opinions about slavery were formulated very early in life and became a dominant force in his development. President Lincoln wrote: 'I am naturally anti-slavery. If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong. I cannot remember when I did not so think and feel."99
You ask me to put in writing the substance of what I verbally said the other day, in your presence, to Governor Bramlette and Senator Dixon. It was about as follows:
"I am naturally anti-slavery. If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong. I can not remember when I did not so think, and feel. And yet I have never understood that the Presidency conferred upon me an unrestricted right to act officially upon this judgment and feeling. It was in the oath I took that I would, to be the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States. I could not take the office without taking the oath. Nor was it my view that I might take an oath to get power, and break the oath in using the power. I understood, too, that in ordinary civil administration this oath even forbade me to practically indulge my primary abstract judgement on the moral question of slavery. I had publicly declared this many times, and in many ways. And I aver that, to this day, I have done no official act in mere deference to my abstract judgment and feeling on slavery. I did understand however, that my oath to preserve the constitution to the best of my ability, imposed upon me the duty of preserving, by every indispensable means, that government - that nation - of which that constitution was the organic law. Was it possible to lose the nation, and yet preserve the constitution? By general law life and limb must be protected; yet often a limb must be amputated to save a life; but a life is never wisely given to save a limb. I felt that measures, otherwise unconstitutional, might become lawful, by becoming indispensable to the preservation of the constitution, through the preservation of the nation. Right or wrong, I assumed this ground, and now avow it. I could not feel that, to the best of my ability, I had even tried to preserve the constitution, if, to save slavery, or any minor matter, I should permit the wreck of government, country, and Constitution all together. When, early in the war, Gen. Fremont attempted military emancipation, I forbade it, because I did not then think it an indispensable necessity. When a little later, Gen. Cameron, then Secretary of War, suggested the arming of the blacks, I objected, because I did not yet think it an indispensable necessity. When, still later, Gen. [David] Hunter attempted military emancipation, I again forbade it, because I did not yet think the indispensable necessity had come. When, in March, and May, and July 1862 I made earnest, and successive appeals to the border states to favor compensated emancipation, I believed the indispensable necessity for military emancipation, and arming the blacks would come, unless averted by that measure. They declined the proposition; and I was, in my best judgment, driven to the alternative of either surrendering the Union, and with it, the Constitution, or of laying strong hand upon the colored element. I chose the latter. In choosing it, I hoped for greater gain than loss; but of this, I was not entirely confident. More than a year of trial now shows no loss by it in our foreign relations, none in our home popular sentiment, none in our white military force, - no loss by it any how or any where. On the contrary, it shows a gain of quite a hundred and thirty thousand soldiers, seamen and laborers. These are palpable facts, about which, as facts, there can be no caviling. We have the men; and we could not have had them without the measure.
["] And now let any Union man who complains of the measure, test himself by writing down in one line that he is for subduing the rebellion by force of arms; and in the next, that he is for taking these hundred and thirty thousand men from the Union side, and placing them where they would be but for the measure he condemns. If he can not face his case so stated, it is only because he can not face the truth.["]
I add a word which was not in the verbal conversation. In telling this tale I attempt no compliment to my own sagacity. I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have controlled me. Now, at the end of three years struggle the nation's condition is not what either party, or any man devised, or expected, God alone can claim it. Whither it is tending seems plain. If God now wills the removal of a great wrong, and wills also that we of the North as well as you of the South, shall pay fairly for our complicity in that wrong, impartial history will find therein new cause to attest and revere the justice and goodness of God.100
Hodges promised to send President Lincoln regular political intelligence. He wrote Mr. Lincoln on April 22: "It is with feelings of profound satisfaction I inform you, that every day since my arrival at home, I have been receiving information of your steady gain upon the gratitude and confidence of the People of Kentucky. Extraordinary efforts, however, will be made by Mr. Guthrie and the Louisville Journal to carry off a majority of the Union men to the support of the nominee of the Chicago Convention. My deliberate belief is, that with your name before the people of our State, - to use a homely phrase, - we shall 'flax them out handsomely.'" He added:
We have the advantage of them, greatly, in one respect, and that is, the working and laboring men are with us, from every part of the State from which I have been able, thus far, to obtain information. The county meetings which are now being held to appoint Delegates to the Louisville Convention, of unconditional Union men, with but few exceptions, are for sending Delegates to Baltimore. I believe that that Convention, will, with great unanimity, not only send Delegates to Baltimore but send them instructed to vote for you for re-election to the Presidency.101
On May 10, Hodges wrote: "I am gratified, also, in informing you that your letter to me is doing good even in Kentucky. Many laboring men who, until they read that letter, were holding back, are now coming out in vindication of your course. Your views in regard to Slavery, as set forth in that little speech in your reception room, was so much in accordance with my own views and feelings, from my earliest manhood, that I could not resist the temptation to ask the favor of you to write it out for me. I have received the thanks of many old and young friends in Kentucky for having obtained your views as set forth in that letter."102 On May 27, 1864, Hodges wrote:
Our Convention, which assembled in Louisville the day before yesterday, was attended by Delegates from 58 counties. There were about twenty one or twenty two counties, in which public meetings had been held, and delegates appointed, that were not represented. The great mass of the truly loyal men of Kentucky are laboring men - many of them without negroes to assist them - consequently, could not leave their farms and workshops at this particular season of the year to attend a convention, without considerable pecuniary loss to men of that class. However, we had an exceedingly interesting and harmonious meeting, and one too that will make itself felt in the coming canvass.
It was exceedingly gratifying to me, in my conversations with the Delegates, to find that you are preferred to any other living man by all the truly loyal men in Kentucky. I was of opinion that the Convention should endorse you by resolution; but there were some few who thought, for prudential reasons, that such preference ought not to be expressed by resolutions, when it was known that every Delegate present was for you, as well as every Delegate to the Baltimore Convention. Under the circumstances, those of us who were for the passage of such a resolution yielded to the wishes of the few in order to perfect harmony in our action.
From the men who composed the Guthrie-Prentice Convention, I am satisfied we shall have a tremendous struggle in Kentucky for supremacy. They are mostly the wealthy slaveholders of Kentucky - they are struggling for the continuance of Slavery in the State, and nothing which every appliance of wealth can effect, will be left undone by them to carry this State against you - Still, I trust in the justice of our cause and the approval of a kind Providence, to give us the victory over those who would enslave their fellow men in all time to come.
The principle apprehension I have in regard to the contest in this State, is the one alluded to by Dr. Breckinridge in his speech before the Convention - a fusion of the pro-slavery Union men and the Wickliffe party. My own impression is that but few of the out-and-out Rebels in our State will vote in a contest between you and McClellan; and I am not sure that a majority of them would not prefer your election to that of McClellan. If McClellan be the nominee of the Chicago Convention against you, I know of some few of the most intelligent ones among us who will certainly cast their votes for you. Those who communicate with me upon the subject, however, will not permit me to communicate it to others. Some few of them are out spoken, and jocularly remark, that when confiscation day comes, they will have a clean record for loyalty - many of them not having a dollar's worth of property upon the face of the earth to confiscate, either in land, negroes, or any thing else.
Be assured of one thing however, that whatever men can accomplish in old Kentucky, in the great, and as I honestly believe, good cause in which we are engaged, will be accomplished. Nothing shall be left undone that can be done, to restore our whole country to that moral status when human slavery shall no longer be known among us.
I feel highly honored and complimented by our Convention in being selected as a Delegate to the Baltimore Convention. Although now in my sixty first year, it is the first time I ever was selected to visit a National Convention, and I am the more gratified, if my life and health be spared me, that I shall have the privilege of casting that first vote in a National Convention for Abraham Lincoln.103
After several months of such letters, Hodges got to a point common with many of President Lincoln's correspondents. Hodges wanted a job, writing in late October 1864: "I had made application by letter to you for the appointment of a Collectorship in one of the Districts - the one in which I reside - in the event of a reorganization of said Districts in Kentucky. You informed me, if I did not misunderstand you, that you had received that letter, and had sent it to the Secretary of the Treasury with the endorsement that I was to have the appointment.
Since my return to Kentucky within the last ten days I have understood that another gentleman is to receive the appointment. If this be so, you will confer a special favor upon me by having the fact communicated to me - confidentially, if you choose - for reasons which I will frankly and honestly give you. They are these: At the commencement of this Rebellion I was in comparatively easy circumstances. By laborious industry for a period of over thirty five years I had supported my family - a large one - and accumulated about $50.000 in property. This Rebellion has been the immediate cause of a loss of more than half of the whole of it.104
As Hodges had indicated, in June 1864, the Rev. Robert J. Breckinridge had been named to preside over the Republican-Union National Convention in Baltimore. The Kentucky Republican had studied and practiced lawyer before becoming a Presbyterian minister and professor of theology. His nephew was former Vice President John C. Breckinridge. Lincoln aide John G. Nicolay was not impressed with the elder Breckinridge's talents as convention chair, writing: "The Convention met at noon today and organized by making Dr Breckenridge of Ky. temporary chairman. He is a poor presiding officer - has a weak voice and is somewhat slow. But the Convention was good natured and tractable, and he managed to get through the session, not however without wasting a couple of hours of time. In the stormy seas of the Chicago Wigwam he could not have lived fifteen minutes." Journalist Noah Brooks wrote that Breckinridge "had a weak voice and an irresolute manner, and though he made a clear and logical speech on taking the chair, and was received with a whirlwind of the most boisterous applause, he was unable to make himself heard when the business of organization began, and the vast crowd that filled the Front Street Theater was unruly and restive under renewed delays."105 Nicolay also saw some compensation in Dr. Breckinridge's oratorical talents, writing "that he made a splendid, straight-out radical speech. It was clear earnest and forcible and will make an invaluable campaign document - I doubt whether we get a better one during the whole campaign."106
Another Kentucky appointment followed later that year. Lincoln friend Ward Hill Lamon recalled: "When Attorney-General Bates resigned, late in 1864, after the resignation of Postmaster-General Blair in that year, the Cabinet was left without a Southern member."107 President Lincoln called Assistant Attorney General Titian J. Coffey to the White House and told him: "My Cabinet has shrunk up North, and I must find a Southern man. I suppose if the twelve Apostles were to be chosen nowadays the shrieks of locality would have to be heeded. I have invited Judge [Joseph] Holt to become Attorney-General, but he seems unwilling to undertake the Supreme Court work. I want you to see him, remove his objection if you can, and bring me his answer." Coffey met with Holt but was unable to convince him to take the post.108
Holt was a Kentucky Democrat turned Radical Republican; he had served as postmaster general and briefly as secretary of war under President James Buchanan. In that post, he directed an unsuccessful rescue mission to Fort Sumter and reported to President Lincoln on the situation as the outgoing secretary. As a well-respected Democrat, Holt had earlier been appointed commissioner of patents by President James Buchanan. Holt was also a committed Unionist. According to biographer Elizabeth Leonard, an "essential driving force in Holt's personality was his persistent concern about the nature and responsibility of leadership and power. Quite simply, Holt believed that it was the express burden of those in power, such as himself, to dedicate themselves, their blood, and their treasure to sustaining common people's basic devotion to the good. In the context of the crisis of the winter of 1860-61, 'the good' to Holt meant, most saliently, loyalty to the Union as a sacred and unbreakable trust."109 Holt would later say: "I am for the Union as unconditionally as I am for protecting my own body, at every cost and hazard, from the knife of the assassin."110
Joshua Speed believed early in the war that Holt should return to his old job as secretary of war, but that job went instead to Edwin Stanton in early 1862. It wasn't until September 1862 that Holt got his reward as judge advocate general. His job entailed overseeing military justice - including preparing presidential pardons and thus required spending a good deal of time with President Lincoln. Historian Mark Neely wrote that "Holt was a loyal Kentuckian who retained an unflinching hatred for reels and traitors, but he was also a punctilious lawyer and military administrator who repeatedly overturned the decisions of trials by military commission (as well as courts-martial) for what can only be called legal technicalities."111 According to Leonard, "In Lincoln's eyes, at least, Holt was the ideal man for this demanding job - an unswerving and apparently tireless Unionist, a brilliant legal mind and a man known for being thoroughly honest."112 Holt's name was often considered for potential appointments - including that of the 1864 vice presidential nominee. Holt was apparently offered the position as attorney general, but rejected it so Mr. Lincoln turned to another Kentuckian he knew well - James Speed.
President Lincoln told Titian Coffey that James Speed was "a man I know well, though not so well as I know his brother Joshua. That, however, is not strange, for I slept with Joshua for four years, and I suppose I ought to know him well. But James is an honest man and a gentleman, and if he comes here you will find he is one of those well-poised men, not too common here, who are not spoiled by a big office."113 In 1859, James Speed had written Mr. Lincoln after his defeat in the previous year's Senate election that "tho' a democrat, I would not have sorrowed at your election to the U. S. Senate - I feel that our rights and institutions would not have been in jeopardy in your hands - "114 Speed was a Douglas Democrat and onetime state legislator from Kentucky turned War Democrat and uncompromising abolitionist. He was not universally regarded as an attorney, however; predecessor Bates called him "my poor imbecile successor."115
Journalist Noah Brooks wrote of Speed: "The new Attorney General is about forty years of age, is a distinguished lawyer, an early emancipationist, and upon the great question of human freedom he is a little more radical, if anything than Judge Bates; at least the President says so, and I suppose he knows, for he has been acquainted with Speed for a great many years...."116 A conflict with President Johnson over Speed's harsh views on reconstruction and Johnson's veto of Freedmen's Bill led to Speed's resignation in 1866. "I am embarrassed because I knew, admired and loved Abraham Lincoln," said Speed in a speech after Mr. Lincoln's death. "His personal friendship was so true and warm, and his manifestations of it so unaffected, simple, and engaging, that his friends never could retire far enough from him to appreciate the colossal proportions of the man..."117
Kentuckians continued to complain as the war came to a close. In early January 1865, President Lincoln met with some Kentucky leaders who wanted General Benjamin Butler assigned to a command in Kentucky. Mr. Lincoln was not impressed: "You howled when Butler went to New-Orleans. Others howled when he was removed from that command. Somebody has been howling ever since at his assignment to military command. How long will it be before you, who are howling for his assignment to rule Kentucky, will be howling to me to remove him?"118
One of Mr. Lincoln's last associations with his native state was highly unpleasant. It occurred aboard Mr. Lincoln's steamer shortly after he visited Richmond in April 1865. His visitor was Duff Green, the Kentuckian who had been close to Andrew Jackson and John C. Calhoun. More than four years earlier at the very end of 1860, Green had renewed a friendship with Mr. Lincoln that had formed when Mr. Lincoln served in Congress in the late 1840s. A journalist-turned-businessman, Green had spent the Civil War helping the South develop its limited industrial capacity. Now, the ever-pushy Duff was back. Bodyguard William Crook wrote that Green "was a newspaper man, an ardent rebel. He always carried with him a huge staff, as tall as he was himself - and he was a tall man."119 According to Admiral David Dixon Porter: "A man appeared at the landing, dressed in gray homespun, of a somewhat decayed appearance, and with a staff about six feet long in his hand. It was, in fact, nothing more than a stick taken from a wood-pile. It was about two inches in diameter, and was not even smoothed at the knots. It was just such a weapon as a man would pick up to kill a mad dog with.
'Who are you, and what do you want?' asked the officer of the deck. 'You can not come on board unless you have important business.'
'I am Duff Green,' said the man. 'I want to see Abraham Lincoln, and my business concerns myself alone. You tell Abraham Lincoln Duff Green wants to see him.'
The officer came down into the cabin and delivered the message. I arose and said, 'I will go up and send him away,' but the President interposed.
'Let him come on board,' he said; 'Duff is an old friend of mine, and I would like to talk to him.'
I then went on deck to have a boat sent for him and to see what kind of a man this was who sent off such arrogant messages to the President of the United States. He stepped into the boat as if it belonged to him; instead of sitting down he stood up, leaning on his long staff. When he came over the side he stood on the deck defiantly, looked up at the flag and scowled, and then, turning to me, whom he knew very, he said, 'I want to see Abraham Lincoln.' He paid no courtesy to me or to the quarter deck.
It had been a very long time since he had shaved or cut his hair, and he might have come under the head 'unkempt and not canny.'
'When you come in a respectful manner,' I said, 'the President will see you; but throw away that cord of wood you have in your hand before entering the President's presence.
He turned on his heel and tried to throw the stick on shore, but it fell short, and went floating down with the current.
'Ah,' he said, 'has it come to that? Is he afraid of assassination? Tyrants generally get into that condition.'
I went down and reported this queer customer to the President, and told him I thought the man insane; but he said, 'Let
him come down; he always was a little queer. I shan't mind him.'
Mr. Duff Green was shown into the cabin.
The President got up from his chair to receive him, and approaching, offered him his hand.
'No,' said Green, with a tragic air, 'it is red with blood; I can't touch it. When I knew it, it was an honest hand. It has cut the throats of thousands of my people, and their blood, which now lies soaking into the ground, cries aloud to Heaven for vengeance. I came to see you, not for old remembrance' sake, but to give you a piece of my opinion. You won't like it, but I don't care, for people don't generally like to have the truth told them. You have come here, protected by your army and navy, to gloat over the run and desolation you have caused. You are a second Nero, and, had you lived in his day, you would have fiddled white Rome was burning!'
When the fanatic commenced this tirade of abuse Mr. Lincoln was standing with his hand outstretched, his mouth wreathed with the pleasant smile it almost always wore, and his eyes lighted up as when anything pleased him. He was pleased because about to meet an old an esteemed friend, and better pleased that this friend had come to see him of his own accord.
The outstretched hand was gradually withdrawn as Duff Green started on his talk, the smile left the President's lips as the talker got to the middle of his harangue, and the softness of his eyes faded out. He was another man altogether.
Had any one closed his eyes after Duff Green commenced speaking, and opened them when he stopped, he would have seen a perfect transformation. The hearer's slouch manner had disappeared, his mouth was compressed, his eyes were fixed, even his stature appeared increased.
Duff Green went on without noticing the change in the President's manner and appearance. 'You came here,' he continued, 'to triumph over a poor, conquered town, with only women and children in it; whose soldiers have left it, and would rather starve than see your hateful presence here; those soldiers -- and only a handful at that -- who have for four years defied your paid mercenaries on those glorious hills, and have taught you to respect the rights of the South. You have given your best blood to conquer them, and now you will march back to your demoralized capital and lay out your wits to win them over so that you can hold this Government in perpetuity. Shame on you! Shame on - '
Mr. Lincoln could stand it no longer; his coarse hair stood on end, and his nostrils dilated like those of an excited race-horse. He stretched out his long right arm, and extended his lean forefinger until it almost touched Duff Green's face. He made one step forward, to place himself as near as possible to this vituperator, and in a clear, cutting voice addressed him. He was really graceful while he spoke -- with the grace of one expressing his honest convictions.
'Stop, you political tramp,' he exclaimed, 'you, the aider and abettor of those who have brought all this ruin upon your country, without the courage to risk your person in defense of the principles you profess to espouse! A fellow who stood by to gather up the loaves and fishes, if any should fall to you! A man who had no principles in the North, and took none South with him! A political hyena who robbed the graces of the dead, and adopted their language as his own! You talk of the North cutting the throats of Southern people. You talk of the North cutting the throats of the Southern people. You have all cut your own throats, and, unfortunately, have cut many of those of the North. Miserable impostor, vile intruder! Go, before I forget myself and the high position I hold! GO, I tell you, and don't desecrate this national vessel another minute!' And he made a step toward him.
This was something Duff Green had not calculated upon; he had never seen Abraham Lincoln in anger. His courage failed him, and he turned and fled out of the cabin and up the cabin-stairs if the avenging angel was after him. He never stopped till he reached the gangway, and there he stood, looking at the shore, seemingly measuring the distance, to see if he could swim to the landing.
I was close behind him, and when I got on deck I said to the officer in charge, 'Put that man on shore, and if he appears in the sight of this vessel while we are here, have him sent away with scant ceremony.'
He was a humble at that moment as a whipped dog, and hurried into the boat when ordered.
The last I saw of him he was striding rapidly over the fields, as if to reach the shelter of the woods. When I returned to the cabin, about fifteen minutes later, the President was perfectly calm -- as if nothing had happened -- and did not revert to the subject for some hours.
'This place seems to give you annoyance, sir, ' I said. 'Would you prefer to get under way and go to City Point, where we are more among friends than here?'120
Years after the fact, bodyguard William H. Crook recalled the incident somewhat differently. He said that Green had sat down with President Lincoln and "began to abuse Mr. Lincoln for the part he had taken in the struggle between the North and the South. Duff concluded: I do not know how God and your conscience will let you sleep at night..." According to Crook, "The President listened to his diatribe without the slightest show of emotion. He said nothing. There was nothing in his fact to show that he was angry. When Mr. Green had exhausted himself, he said, "I would like, sir, to go to my friends." President Lincoln ordered that Green be given a pass through Confederate lines, and he departed. That night, Mr. Lincoln told Crook: "The old man is pretty angry, but I guess he will get over it."121