Abraham Lincoln and Connecticut
On September 11, 1848, Congressman Abraham Lincoln probably landed at Norwich, Connecticut after taking a steam ship from New York City. He was destined for Massachusetts to help rally that state’s Whigs behind the presidential candidacy of Zachary Taylor. He gave no known speeches in Connecticut, taking the railroad north to Worcester, where Bay State Whigs were holding a convention. It was Mr. Lincoln’s first visit to Connecticut, and he would not return for more than 11 years.
Mr. Lincoln’s second visit to the state coincided with the birth of the Wide-Awakes, a Republican campaign phenomenon that would become one of the major symbols of his successful presidential campaign in 1860. Lincoln chronicler Percy Coe Eggleston wrote that in February 1860 Kentucky orator and potential presidential candidate “Cassius M. Clay had spoken in Hartford. A few ardent Republicans bearing torches had accompanied him as a kind of bodyguard. Two of the young men, being dry-goods clerks, in order to protect their clothing from the dripping of the torches, had prepared capes of black cambric, which they wore in connection with the glazed caps commonly worn at the time. The marshal of the parade, noticing the uniform, put the wearers at the front where the utility and show of the rig attracted much attention. It was at once proposed to substitute oil-cloth for the cambric capes and adopt the uniform for a club of fifty torch bearers. In calling a meeting for that purpose, the ‘Hartford Courant’ hit upon the term ‘Wide-Awakes’ and it was appropriated as the name of the organization.” Eggleston noted that “During the following summer and fall, these bands, hearing blazing coal-oil torches, paraded the streets of almost every northern city and town, arousing everywhere the wildest fervor and enthusiasm…” 1 Historian Richard S. West, Jr., wrote that the Wide-Awakes were “doubtless supported by Hartford fire-insurance companies, for whom the Hartford fireman’s costume was an excellent advertisement…”2
In late February 1860, Mr. Lincoln came to New York City to give what became known as his Cooper Union Address. Connecticut Republican State Chairman Nehemiah Sperry sent an agent to Mr. Lincoln to seek his agreement in making speeches in Connecticut that might help Republicans in their upcoming gubernatorial election. Another message came from O. R. Post with an invitation from the Republican Club of Hartford to speak in the state capital. It was agreed that Mr. Lincoln would speak in Hartford on March 2 after he visited his son Robert in Exeter, New Hampshire, but Mr. Lincoln received so many requests for speaking engagements in the Granite State that his address in Hartford was postponed until March 5. Other Connecticut invitations for Mr. Lincoln came in as well – for New Haven and Meriden.
Leaving New Hampshire by train early Monday morning, Mr. Lincoln went first to Boston where he waited for a train for Hartford. Mr. Lincoln arrived in Connecticut in the late afternoon or early evening. “Greeted at the Hartford station by enthusiastic Republicans and the Hartford Cornet Band, travel-stained Lincoln climbed off the train and went…to the speaking hall without changing into fresh linen,” wrote Lincoln scholar Robert Harper.3 Another story had Hartford Evening Press Editor Gideon Welles, who was to become President Lincoln’s Secretary of the Navy, meet Mr. Lincoln accidentally that afternoon. Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin wrote: “Arriving by train in the afternoon [of March 5], Lincoln had several hours to spare before his speech that evening. He walked up Asylum Street to the bookstore of Brown & Gross, where he encountered the fifty-eight-year-old Welles…” 4 Welles biographer John Niven wrote: “Their conversation was interrupted frequently by customers, the idlers, and the curious, who recognized Welles and guessed that his companion was the Illinois ‘giant killer’ all the papers were talking about. For Hartford was still a small town and the word traveled fast.”5
Gov. William A. Buckingham, who was up for reelection after one two-year term, acted as Mr. Lincoln’s host that evening. “Buckingham’s political strength lay in his talent for keeping before his constituents the close connection between moral and economic issues,” wrote historian William B. Hesseltine. “Buckingham’s formula was attractive, but it did not ensure a landslide. State politics were still close enough to sustain the hope of the Democrats. The spring elections of 1860, like those of other New England states, were being closely followed throughout the nation, and observers were therefore more than casually interested when Connecticut Democrats nominated the most popular man of their party – Thomas H. Seymour, who had been [Franklin] Pierce’s Minister to Russia. The campaign attracted outside money, brought in visiting speakers, and inspired the formation of marching clubs of ‘Wide-Awakes’ and “chapultapers,’ who made more noise than staid old Connecticut had heard since [Andrew] Jackson’s day.”6
That night at City Hall, Governor Buckingham acted as master of ceremonies – while Welles and Republican leaders Calvin Day and Mark Howard joined them on the dais. The audience overflowed the Greek Revival building. According to the Hartford Evening Press, “hundreds came and went unable to get within hearing distance.” 7 Mr. Lincoln began: “Whether we will have it so or not, the slave question is the prevailing question before the nation. Though it may be true, and probably is true, that all parties, factions and individuals desire it should be settled, it still goes on unsettled – the all-prevailing and all-pervading question of the day. Hardly any other great question, however important it may have appeared, has been before the country several years, that had the power so to excite the public mind as this question of slavery. It has been so for six years, and before this received considerable consideration. It is in really, older. It was rife before the Revolution, even. But it was settled, apparently. It has been settled many times; but each time it has risen it has come higher and higher. It has been coming up and going down. Its last rise was in January 1854; it rose then higher than any former time, but this has never subsided. Otherwise than this, it grows more and more in magnitude and importance.” He continued:
“Two years ago, I said in a speech in Illinois, ‘We are now in the fifth year of an inauguration of a policy which was to settle this question satisfactorily, but we have not seen the end.’ It may now be added that since the winter of 1857-8, when the Lecompton imbroglio was created, those who then brought up the question have never been able to see the end. It characterized all the speeches, that the policy they had adopted ‘was working well, and we were just at the end of it, notwithstanding the efforts of Abolitionists to continue it along. We are just getting rid of this vexed question; and the tail of this hideous creature is just going out of sight.’
Now we hear no more of this; and the question arises, ‘Why can’t this question which we all desire so much to be settled, be satisfactorily arranged?’ The reason is, that while we all agree that we want it settled, one faction wants to settle it one way, a second has a different plan, and a third still another. Each pulls in a different direction. All desire its settlement, but differ in the method of doing it; and none of them being in a decided majority have ever been able to accomplish the object.
I think one great mistake is made by them all. I think our wisest men have made this mistake. They undertake its importance, and a settlement can never be effected until its magnitude is properly estimated. Now what is the difficulty? One-sixth of the population of the United States is slave. One man of every six, one woman of every six, one child of every six, is a slave. Those who own them look upon them as property, and nothing else. They contemplate them as property, and speak of them as such. The slaves have the same ‘property quality,’ in the minds of their owners, as any other property. The entire value of the slave population of the United States, is, at a moderate estimate, not less than $2,000,000,000. This amount of property has a vast influence upon the minds of those who own it. The same amount of property owned by Northern men has the same influence upon their minds. In this we do not assume that we are better than the people of the South – neither do we admit that they are better than we. We are not better, barring circumstances, than they. Public opinion is formed relative to a property basis. Therefore, the slaveholders battle any policy which depreciates their slaves as property. What increases the value of this property, they favor. When you tell them that slavery is immoral, they rebel, because they do not like to be told they are interested in an institution which is not a moral one. When you enter into a defense of slavery, they seize upon it, for they like justification. The result is, that public opinion is formed among them which insists upon the encouragement or protection, the enlargement or perpetuation of slavery – and secures them property in the slave.
Now this comes in conflict with this proposition that we at the North view slavery as a wrong. We understand that the ‘equality of man’ principle which actuated our forefathers in the establishment of the government is right; and that slavery, being directly opposed to this, is morally wrong. I think that if anything can be proved by natural theology, it is that slavery is morally wrong. God gave man a mouth to receive bread, hands to feed it, and his hand has a right to carry bread to his mouth without controversy.
The Connecticut Courant reported “The hall was filled before the appointed time for the appearance of the speaker, and when he took his position on the stand he was greeted with applause which was almost deafening….Mr. Lincoln’s speech was attentively listened to, and frequently his quaint allusions and similes brought out the laughter of the crowd; at other times his forcible arguments received their endorsement by hearty applause.”8
Mr. Lincoln asked: “Is there any man of the Democratic Party, especially the ‘Douglas wing,’ but will say that in his opinion the Declaration of Independence has no application to the negro? I have asked this question many times during the past three years, and no Democrat has yet denied that this was his belief, though I have asked it always where people are in the habit of answering their speakers when they please. So I assume this to be their belief to-day; and I tell you, you are safe to offer a premium to any many who will show you a Democrat who said so five years ago. I avow I never heard it from any man until I heard it from the lips of Judge Douglas. I had, to be sure, in certain portions of the country, heard men say something to this effect, but they didn’t sneak around it with any statement like this. They took the bull by the horns, and said the Declaration of Independence wasn’t true! Judge Taney might have first broached the doctrine. Perhaps he did; but I heard it first from Judge Douglas, though it was after Taney’s Dred Scott decision. If so, Douglas possibly got it from him. Here’s half the people of this nation saying what they would not have said five years ago; taking man from his kind and placing him among the brutes. This is a long strike toward bringing about this feeling of indifference in the minds of the people of this country. One more such stride and the object would be reached.”
Mr. Lincoln said: “They tell us that they desire the people of a territory to vote slavery out or in as they please. But who will form the opinion of the people there? The territories may be settled by emigrants from the free States, who will go there with this feeling of indifference. The question arises, ‘slavery or freedom?’ Caring nothing about it, they let it come in, and that is the end of it. It is the surest way of nationalizing the institution. Just as certain, but more dangerous because more insidious; but it is leading us there just as certainly and as surely as Jeff. Davis himself would have us go.” Mr. Lincoln then employed a graphic metaphor for slavery:
“For instance, out in the street, or in the field, or on the prairie I find a rattlesnake. I take a stake and kill him. Everybody would applaud the act and say I did right. But suppose the snake was in a bed where the children were sleeping. Would I do right to strike him there? I might hurt the children; or I might not kill, but only arouse and exasperate the snake, and he might bite the children. Thus, by meddling with him here, I would do more hurt than good. Slavery is like this. We dare not strike at it where it is. The manner in which our constitution is framed constrains us from making war upon it where it already exists. The question that we now have to deal with is, ‘Shall we be acting right to take this snake and carry it to a bed where there are children?’ The Republican party insists upon keeping it out of the bed.”
Then, Mr. Lincoln turned to another of his favorite metaphors, comparing slavery to a cancerous tumor: “I met Mr. Cassius Clay in the cars at New Haven one day last week, and it was my first opportunity to take him by the hand. There was an old gentleman in the car, seated in front of us, whose coat collar was turned far down upon the shoulders. I saw directly that he had a large wen on his neck. I said to Mr. Clay, That wen represents slavery, it bears the same relation to that man that slavery does to the country. That wen is a great evil; the man that bears it will say so. But he does not dare to cut it out. He bleeds to death if he does, directly. If he does not cut it out, it will shorten his life materially.”
“This is only applicable to men who think slavery is wrong. Those who think it right, of course will look upon the rattlesnake as a jewel, and call the wen an ornament. I suppose the only way to get rid of it is, for those who think it wrong, to work together, and to vote no longer with the Democracy who love it so well.”
“Do you think slavery is wrong, but still vote with the Democracy, act towards it as you do towards any other thing you consider wrong? I think not; on the contrary, you find fault with those who denounce it. In your view of the case it must not be discussed at all. In your view it must not be spoken of in the free States, because slavery is not there; nor in the slave States, because it is there you do not want it brought into politics because it stirs up agitation; you do not want to hear of it from the pulpit because it is not religion; you do not want to take it into your Tract Societies because it creates disturbance there.”
Mr. Lincoln talked about the inconsistency of pro-slavery Democrats and referred to the stand taken by New York Senator William H. Seward in a political speech in Rochester in October 1858:
“I think the Democracy are pretty generally getting into a system of bushwhackery in this controversy. You all know how Seward has been abused for his ‘irrepressible conflict’ doctrine. The Democracy has repeated it over, and over, and over again; I call this bushwhackery because they have been reminded time after time, but could never be made to admit, that the old fathers said the same thing. They dare not deny it because they know the proof is ready at your hands to meet their denial. Jefferson said it; Washington said it. Before Seward said it, the same statement was made by Pryor of Virginia in his Richmond Enquirer, the leading paper of his State. Pryor is sent to Washington and Douglas hugs him to his bosom, but goes into fits of hydrophobia at Seward’s enunciation of the same doctrine which was preached by his Virginia friend.”
“Another species of bushwhacking is exhibited in their treatment of the John Brown and Harper’s Ferry affair. They insist upon is that the Republican Party incites insurrections. Did they, can they ever prove their statement? They tried it in the Senate Investigation Committee and failed, but they keep saying it. We have not fairly dealt with it this matter. We need not [have] expected that we would have been. There was some State elections to come off soon afterwards. They had just passed through elections in other States, and been whipped out. They were glad this occurred at Harpers Ferry. They said to each other – ‘Jump in – now’s your chance!’ They were sorry there were not more killed; but taking it as they found it, they howled over it. The elections came off, but they did not result as the Democracy had expected. Each Republican knew that the charge that his party had incited the insurrection was, so far as he was concerned, a slander upon him. That is my philosophy of the result of the elections which ensued. The Democracy is still at work upon John Brown and Harper’s Ferry, charging the Republicans with the crime of instigating the proceedings there; and if they think they are able to slander a woman into loving them, or a man into voting with them, they will learn better presently.”
Mr. Lincoln then used his experience touring two textile mills in New Hampshire the previous week, saying Democrats were “going to work at the shoe strike. I know that it comes into Connecticut. It goes into New Hampshire.” Mr. Lincoln then lapsed into dialect: “A Democratic Senator gets up in the Senate Chamber and pompously announces that ‘I cannot doubt that this strike is the result of the unfortunate warefare brought about by this sectional controversy!’ Now whether is so or not, I know one thing – there is a strike! And I am glad to know that there is a system of labor where the laborer can strike if he wants to! I would hope to God that such a system prevailed all over the world.”
“Now this strike is caused by a withdrawal of Southern trade, or it is not. If it is, what can you do to help it? Have you ever made war upon the South? No. Then how can you help yourselves? They withdraw their trade on a false accusation, because you never warred upon them, and consequently cannot stop the war they charge you with. You can, however, conform to their idea that slavery is right. This will satisfy them, but what is the effect on you? Why slavery comes in upon you! Public opinion against it gives way. The barriers which protected you from it are down; slavery comes in, and white free labor that can strike will give way to slave labor that cannot!”
Mr. Lincoln’s closing words echoed his Cooper Union speech: “The Republicans want to see all parts of the Union in harmony with one another. Let us do our duty, but let us look to what our duty is, and do nothing except after due deliberation. Let us determine, if we can, what will satisfy the South. Will they be satisfied that we surrender the territories to them unconditionally? No. If we promise never to instigate an invasion upon slavery? No. Equally without avail is the fact that they have found nothing to detect us in doing them any wrong. What then? We must say that slavery is right; we must vote for Douglas’s new Sedition laws; we must withdraw our statement that slavery is wrong. If a slave runs away, they overlook the natural causes which impelled him to the act, do not remember the oppression or the lashes he received, but charge us with instigating him to flight. If he screams when whipped, they say it is not caused by the pains he suffers, but he screams because we instigate him to outcrying. We do let them alone, to be sure, but they object to our saying anything against their system. They do not ask us to change our free State constitutions, but they will yet do that. After demanding what they do, and as they do, they cannot stop short of this. They may be justified in this, believing, as they do, that slavery is right, and a social blessing. We cannot act otherwise than we do, believing that slavery is wrong. If it is right, we may not contract its limits. If it is wrong, they cannot ask us to extend it. Upon these different views, hinges the whole controversy. Thinking it right, they are justified in asking its protection; thinking it wrong, we cannot consent to vote for it, or to let it extend itself. If our sense of duty forbids this extension, let us do that duty. This contrivance of a middle ground is such that he who occupies it is neither a dead or a living man. Their ‘Union’ contrivances are not for us, for they reverse the scriptural order and all the righteous, not sinners to repentance. They ask men who never had an aspiration except for the Union, to swear fealty to the Union. Let us not be slandered from our duties, or intimidated from preserving our dignity and our rights by a menace; but let us have faith that Right, Eternal Right makes might, and as we understand our duty, so do it!”9
The Hartford Courant reported the next day: “The speech of Mr. Lincoln at the City Hall, last night, was the most convincing and clearest speech we ever heard made. He carried the judgement, the conscience and the good will of audience right straight along, from the beginning to end.
There was humor and fun interspersed, so as to keep everybody good-natured and smiling, and at the same time the current of Mr. Lincoln’s logic bore the audience along, from his initial position that slavery was morally wrong, that the framers of the constitution so regarded it, and the early statesmen of our government so treated it to the grand conclusion that it was our duty, whenever and wherever we get a chance to confine the wrong to its shelter within the slave states, and wash the hands of the nation of all contamination with its guilt. There could not have been even a ten year old boy in that crowd at the City Hall, who did not leave the room satisfied that Mr. Lincoln was right…”10
Alfred E. Burr, editor of the Hartford Times, tried to put the worst possible light on the event, reporting that “City Hall was well filled (though far from crowded) last night, to hear a speech from Abram Lincoln, of Illinois. The Hartford Cornet Band furnished music. As George G. Sill of Hartford introduced him to the audience, Mr. Lincoln apologized for the slovenliness of his personal appearance, and for not having even changed his linen. He had just arrived from New Hampshire, and he thought to have got here much earlier….” Burr went on to state: “Mr. Lincoln is among the ablest of the Republican speakers, and with Wm. H. Seward he entertains the doctrine that there is only one idea for the people to act upon in their elections, and that is anti-slavery. He acted up to this one idea most fully in his speech in this city. It was all anti-slavery, and to this every thing must give way, if the doctrine of these prime leaders, Seward and Lincoln, is to be adopted.” 11
Connecticut journalist Daniel Bidwell testified that Mr. Lincoln’s “Gaunt, homely figure, unpretending manner, conversational air, careless clothing and dry humor made him at once a favorite with the audience, who felt that he was indeed a man of the people.” 12 When the speech was over, the newly-formed Wideawakes with their capes, caps, torches and the Hartford Cornet Band escorted the speaker to his hotel, where a reception was held for him.
On the morning of March 6, Mr. Lincoln again met with Editor Welles in his office. Welles editorialized for the Evening Press: “This orator and lawyer has been caricatured. He is not Apollo, but he is not Caliban. He was made where the material for strong men is plenty, and his huge, tall frame is loosely thrown together. He is every way large, brain included, but his countenance shows intellect, generosity, great good nature, and keen discriminating… He is an effective speaker, because he is earnest, strong, honest, simple in style, and clear as crystal in his logic.”13
The good opinion of the Hartford editor was to play an important part in the lives of both Mr. Lincoln and Welles. Like Mr. Lincoln, Welles took an early and precocious role in politics – except unlike Mr. Lincoln, he did so on the side of Andrew Jackson. Welles was elected to the State Assembly from Glastonbury and became a conduit for political patronage for the Democratic Party for years. He helped place his newspaper’s editor in the post of Hartford postmaster, nixing a political opponent of Welles. Welles then succeeded his boss as editor of the Hartford Times. He later coveted the post office position for himself and in order to get it, arranged to have his former boss elected to the U.S. Senate so that Andrew Jackson would appoint him to the postmaster job which Welles held for five years. In the 1840s, he served under President Polk as chief of the Bureau of Provisions and Clothing in the Navy Department. As a Democrat, Welles served as state comptroller, but in the mid-1850s he switched to the new Republican Party and became the party’s sacrificial candidate for governor of Connecticut in 1856. By 1860, he was the state’s Republican national committeeman.
On Tuesday morning, Mr. Lincoln toured the Sharps Rifle Works and Colt Armory in Hartford before taking an afternoon train for New Haven, the next stop in Mr. Lincoln’s six-day odyssey across Connecticut. The New Haven Palladium had extensively advertised the event: “GRAND RALLY! – FOR BUCKINGHAM AND THE UNION! – THE HON ABRAHAM LINCOLN, OF ILLINOIS, WILL ADDRESS THE FREEMEN OF NEW HAVEN, AT UNION HALL ON TUESDAY EVENING, MARCH 6, 1860. PUSH ON THE COLUMN!” The newspaper more soberly reported: “At Union Hall to-night we shall hear one of the most effective and eloquent speakers in the Union States. It is a shame to New Haven that we have, as yet, no Hall that can accommodate a tithe of those who would attend, but we will keep good natured and pack as close as possible, and every one who hears this eloquent champion of Freedom will be amply repaid.”14
Fittingly, Mr. Lincoln spoke on Union Street at Union Hall, New Haven’s largest room on the second floor of a livery stable. The Palladium reported: “The hall was literally jammed. Every seat was packed full, every aisle and every foot of standing room were crowded by the throng, and even the platform was not left, but was so covered that it seemed impossible to find room for the officers of the Club and speaker. We have never seen a more intensely excited and interested audience in New Haven; and the feeling displayed was such as is rarely seen anywhere, except in the last days of a Presidential campaign. Referring to the 1858 campaign between Mr. Lincoln and Senator Stephen A. Douglas, Judge W. W. Boardman introduced “the champion who has bearded the lion in his den, and flogged him out there, the eloquent gentleman from Illinois.”15
As usual, Mr. Lincoln moved his audience. Local Congressman Nehemiah. D. Sperry claimed that Mr. Lincoln’s address “captivated all who heard it.” 16 The New Haven Palladium reported: “There was witnessed the wildest scene of enthusiasm and excitement that has been seen in New Haven for years. For several minutes, everybody was cheering….”17 In his half and a half speech, Mr. Lincoln repeated many of the themes from his Hartford speech and used similar language.18
As usual, a local band accompanied Mr. Lincoln home – in this case the home of James F. Babcock, the editor of the New Haven Palladium, where hundreds of noisy residents encouraged the Illinois speaker to talk some more. According to Gideon Welles biographer John Niven, “Babcock knew of Welles’ antipathy toward Seward…The New Haven editor may well have told his house guest that Welles was for Chase but that the delegation [to the Republican National Convention] was uncommitted.”19 Like Mr. Lincoln, Babcock was a former Whig turned Republican.
Mr. Lincoln had a relative day of leisure on March 7 – making no public appearances until the evening. The New Haven Palladium reported: “For the benefit of hundreds, if not thousands, who may wish to hear the Hon. Abraham Lincoln, and may be unable to hear him in this city to-night, arrangements, arrangements have been made to run an Extra Train to Meriden on Wednesday night. This train will leave New Haven at half-past six o’clock and will carry a delegation from the Campaign Club, with a band of music. It will return immediately after the conclusion of Mr. Lincoln’s speech.”20
That night Mr. Lincoln took the train north to Meriden where he spoke at Town Hall on East Main Street before an enthusiastic audience of 3,000. “A torch-light procession escorted Lincoln to the great town hall, where he spoke to an audience that literally packed the building,” reported Eggleston. 21 According to Nelson Burr: “The meeting ended with ‘tremendous’ cheers for him, for Buckingham and the state ticket, the Republican cause, and the delegation from New Haven.”22 Mr. Lincoln then returned that night back to New Haven by the same special train. It was after midnight until he reached the Babcock residence. Again, there was a band to march Mr. Lincoln home – this one from Wallingford.
The next morning, March 8, Mr. Lincoln departed New Haven early for Rhode Island – stopping in New London for a change of trains. Percy Eggleston, whose father was then chairman of the Republican Town Committee in New London, reported that Mr. Lincoln generated much less enthusiasm when he briefly stopped there. No speech was scheduled, but Eggleston’s father attempted to recruit local politicians and dignitaries to meet with Mr. Lincoln during his three-hour stopover. Mr. Lincoln’s ‘decision to stop here was unexpected, and too short notice was given to allow any preparation for his reception. A telegram from the Hon. Nehemiah D. Sperry…reached the chairman of the New London Republican Town Committee in the morning, shortly preceding Mr. Lincoln’s arrival. Mr. Eggleston went to the railway station but, through some inadvertence, there failed to intercept Mr. Lincoln. Thinking something might have prevented Mr. Lincoln from carrying out his purpose as telegraphed. Mr. Eggleston left the station and started back up the main street of the city. He had not proceeded far when his attention was attracted by the remarkable appearance of a figure, a short distance in advance. As viewed from the rear, the stranger appeared over six feet tall, his length of leg seeming out of proportion to his body. As he walked, he stooped slightly forward. He was a little pigeon-toed and this, with a peculiar method of setting his whole foot flat on the ground, made his gait a peculiar one. His ears were large, standing out from his head; hair was rather long and unkempt. He wore a suit of black broadcloth, somewhat wrinkled and apparently so much too small as to give the impression of a standing controversy between his trousers and his limbs. His hands were large and hung far below the confines of his coat sleeves. In one of them, he carried by means of handles attached midway of its length, a long, cylindrical leather bag, a shape quite common at that date…The entire figure tallied with the descriptions in the press and could not be mistaken. Mr. Eggleston recognized it and knew that it could belong to one man only and that man was Lincoln. The visitor was taken to the old City Hotel, which hostelry has since been demolished. In his room, he was asked whether something could be ordered for him from the bar. He replied ‘No’, and added either that he ‘never’ or that he ‘scarcely ever took anything of that sort.'” Arrangements were made for lunch. “While he sat down to his meal, Mr. Eggleston started out to find and bring in the prominent Republicans of the city. He met with a poor response and a chilling lack of interest. Several of the party leaders exhibited no little impatience. ‘Who was Lincoln, anyway? A man indeed that the sparsely settled West might consider of some prominence but he would not go in the East. No, they hadn’t any time to meet him.’ Some few, however, were found who went to the hotel and met Lincoln – probably Mayor J. N. Harris, Hon. Henry P. Haven and a number of others…the only remnant of what was said is one statement of Lincoln’s showing his analysis of himself as a public speaker. ‘I am not much of a rouser as a public speaker,’ said Lincoln. ‘I do not and cannot put on frills and fancy touches. If there is anything that I can accomplish, it is that I can state the question and demonstrate the strength of our position by plain, logical argument.'”23
Mr. Lincoln traveled on to Providence and then Woonsocket, Rhode Island later that day. The next day, Mr. Lincoln returned to Norwich, the home town of Governor Buckingham. The visiting speaker stayed at the Wauregan House. According to Percy Coe Eggleston, the Norwich Town Hall was full that night. “Mr. Lincoln was received upon his entrance in the Hall with storms of applause, loud and prolonged; and when he was introduced by Mr. Lamb, the enthusiasm of the audience knew no bounds. Cheer after cheer went up for the noble champion of Republican principles, and some minutes elapsed before the applause subsided sufficiently to allow him to commence his address,” reported the Norwich Bulletin.24
Mr. Lincoln provided his listeners with a “manly vindication of the principles of the Republican party, urging the necessity of the union of all elements to free our country from its present rule, and closed with an eloquent exhortation for each and every one to do his duty without regard to the sneers and slanders of our political opponents,” wrote Eggleston.25 The Rev. John P. Gulliver recalled that Mr. Lincoln’s speech “was in substance the famous speech delivered in New York, commencing with the noble words: ‘There is but one political question before the people of this country, which is this, Is slavery right, or is it wrong?’ and ending with the yet nobler words: ‘Gentlemen, it has been said of the world’s history hitherto that ‘might makes right;’ it is for us and for our times to reverse the maxim, and to show that right makes right!”
According to Gulliver: “The next morning I met him at the railroad station, where he was conversing with our Mayor, every few minutes looking up the track and inquiring, half impatiently and half quizzically, ‘Where’s that ‘wagon’ of yours? Why don’t the ‘wagon’ come along?’ On being introduced to him, he fixed his eyes upon me, and said: ‘I have seen you before, sir!’ ‘I think not,’ I replied; ‘you must mistake me for some other person.’ ‘No, I don’t; I saw you at the Town Hall, last evening.’ ‘Is it possible, Mr. Lincoln, that you could observe individuals so closely in such a crowd?’ ‘Oh, yes’ he replied, laughing; ‘that is my way. I don’t forget faces. Were you not there?’ ‘I was, sire, and I was well paid for going;’ adding somewhat in the vein of pleasantry he had started, ‘I consider it one of the most extraordinary speeches I ever heard.”26
The Norwich Weekly Courier reported: “Among the hearers were several of the keenest partisans of the Democratic party, whose criticisms of Mr. Lincoln’s speech, in so far as we have heard them, or of them, have been demonstrative of its great force as an argument, clearly defining the bearings of the great question of the day. We ought to have said hypercriticism, possibly; for when a man’s convictions unhinge his partisanship, and he reasons from his blind attachment to his party policy, which ignores his conscience, his position as an honest critic must be very questionable. Some Democrats in the audience, however, with manly feeling, acknowledge the great power of Mr. Lincoln’s reasoning, and assign to its due operation on their minds. We wish that the hundreds who failed to get admission into the Town Hall had had opportunity of hearing the speaker, for beyond question the impress of his remarks has been such as to clear the way, in the mind of many a Democrat, heretofore careless regarding the basis of his principles, for the reception of a superior political enlightenment and operation of a corresponding practice.”27
The Norwich Aurora was much less kind and reported that Mr. Lincoln had been beaten for Congress in 1848 by Thomas L. Harris, a “glorious Norwich boy” and then beaten for the Senate in 1858 by Stephen A. Douglas. Democrat Harris had indeed been elected to Congress from Springfield in 1848, but he defeated Mr. Lincoln’s former law partner, not Mr. Lincoln. But the facts did not get in the way of the Norwich newspaper’s tirade against Republicans “and the other eminent prophets and saints of the abolition.”28
Mr. Lincoln stayed overnight at the Wauregan Hotel on Main Street and took a train early Saturday morning, March 10, from Norwich to Bridgeport. Arriving in late morning, he apparently spent much of the day in conversation at the home of Charles F. Wood on Washington Avenue. It was another capacity crowd that night for the last speech he would ever give in New England. He spoke at Washington Hall, the city’s largest venue, located within the City Hall on State Street, but no record of his comments is known. After his speech, Mr. Lincoln took a night train back to New York City, where he attended church and visited friends before leaving for home in Springfield.
When the state held elections at the beginning of April, Governor Buckingham won reelection – but by just 541 votes. “It was the most desperate fight that I was ever engaged in. We met the enemy with the weapons of truth, liberty and justice, and they met our floating population as Philip of Macedon did the Greeks, with bribes in their hands,” wrote James F. Babcock to Mr. Lincoln in early April 1860.
During the Civil War, Governor Buckingham returned the support Mr. Lincoln had given him in his 1860 campaign. “As early as January, 1861, Buckingham at Hartford had taken personal responsibility for purchasing knapsacks, bayonets, and other equipment for 5000 men,” wrote historian Allan Nevins. 29 In April 1861, Buckingham won a 2,000-vote victory over Democrat James C. Loomis. He vigorously turned his attention to the war effort and according to historian William B. Hesseltine: “On his own personal notes the Governor borrowed money from the state’s banks and with it purchased arms and equipment for the troops.” 30 Perhaps more gratifying to President Lincoln, Buckingham supported President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.
After military failures and a Senate revolt sorely tried President Lincoln in December 1862, the Connecticut Legislature passed a resolution a expressing “our confidence in the patriotism and integrity of the president…remains unshaken…we deprecate every attempt to impute to him such evils or disaster as may have resulted from the errors of judgement, insufficiency, or culpability of subordinate officials…” President Lincoln responded to Governor Buckingham, who had forwarded the resolution, “Be assured, my dear sir, that I am deeply gratified by this new proof of the loyal and patriotic devotion of the people of your state, and that I most gratefully appreciate their expressions towards myself, which are at once so generous and so kind.”31
Black abolitionist Frederick Douglass visited President Lincoln at the White House in August 1864. He recalled in his memoirs: “An incident occurred during this interview which illustrates the character of this great man, though the mention of it may savor a little of vanity on my part. While in conversation with him his secretary twice announced ‘Governor Buckingham of Connecticut,’ one of the noblest and most patriotic of the loyal governors. Mr. Lincoln said, ‘Tell Governor Buckingham to wait, for I want to have a long talk with my friend Frederick Douglass,’ I interposed, and begged him to see the governor at once, as I could wait, but no, he persisted he wanted to talk with me, and Governor Buckingham could wait. This was probably the first time in the history of this Republic when its chief magistrate found occasion or disposition to exercise such an act of impartiality between persons so widely different in their positions and supposed claims upon his attention. From the manner of the governor, when he was finally admitted, I inferred that he was as well satisfied with what Mr. Lincoln had done, or had omitted to do, as I was.”32
Mr. Lincoln’s 1860 visit had brought him many Connecticut admirers – especially New Haven editor James H. Babcock – but few votes for the Republican National Convention in Chicago that May. The Connecticut delegation was chaired by Gideon Welles, who opposed the selection of William H. Seward as the party’s presidential nominee. Welles’ preference was for Salmon P. Chase but he was pressured by Pennsylvania allies of Simon Cameron and the New York Missouri allies of Edward Bates. Historian John Niven wrote: “Lincoln did have two supporters among the Connecticut delegates, Edward Noble and Edgar Tweedy, both of the Fourth District and both converted by Babcock.”33
The delegation was not able to unite behind one candidate. But there was deep sentiment against frontrunner William H. Seward in Connecticut and elsewhere. Senator James Dixon wrote Welles: “A singular state of feeling exists relative to his [Seward’s] prospect at Chicago. I do not know a single Senator, except his colleague, who desires his nomination. Still almost every senator believes he will be the chosen man.”34
Gideon Welles voted on the first three ballots in Chicago for Chase, but switched to Lincoln after the third decisive vote. Welles biographer John Niven wrote: “Though Welles admired Lincoln and knew him better than he did Chase, he was acting according to his principles. Chase was the better man, he thought, and it was a duty, indeed, a trust, imposed upon him by his friends and neighbors back home not to be swayed by emotion or to engage in empty gestures, especially after the primary goal of defeating Seward had been achieved.”35
Welles recalled: “On the part of the Connecticut delegation there was no committal or feeling in favor of any of the several candidates named, but there was a united voice and opinion irrespective of party antecedents, against the nomination of Mr. Seward. In this they represented correctly the sentiments and wishes of their constituents with whom that gentleman was not in high esteem. This united and emphatic sentiment, of which there was no concealment, had undoubtedly an influence on the minds of others, particularly the delegates from the eastern States. I claim no merit above my colleagues for the course pursued at Chicago…but the friends of Mr. Seward thought themselves justified in attributing to me personally the pronounced opposition of Connecticut to the wishes of the delegation of New York. It had unexpectedly to them extended to other delegations, and to this avowed objection they attributed in a great degree their discomfiture. For my course in opposing the Albany program for the nomination of Mr. Seward I incurred the resentment of his partisan friends, some of whom never forgave me, but pursued me thenceforth with unrelenting hostility.”36
After the convention, a delegation of Republican leaders took a train to Springfield officially to notify Mr. Lincoln of his nomination. Welles remembered: “I was on the committee to notify Mr. Lincoln of his nomination, and the Central R.R. tendered us a special train, to leave yesterday, Saturday morning. I thought it a good time for [Welles’ son] Edgar and concluded to go….[along with] Gov. Morgan, Gov. Boutwell, Gov. Ramsay, my old friend Blair and his son Montgomery…and some thirty other distinguished men, with a band of music. It was about sunset when we reached Springfield. The whole place was alive, of course. Mr. Lincoln & wife met us pleasantly, and with unaffected diffidence, that did them credit. We left at precisely twelve, midnight, though the [railroad] company offered to delay and come by daylight today, or tomorrow. A few of us desired it, but were outvoted.” Welles biographer Richard West noted that other details of the visit were printed in the Hartford Evening Press: “As the delegates passed through the front gate and up the steps two handsome lads of eight or ten years met them with a courteous ‘Good morning, gentlemen.’
‘Are you Mr. Lincoln’s son,’ asked Mr. [William] Evarts of New York.
‘Yes, sir,’ replied Willie, the elder of the two.
‘Then let’s shake hands.’ The delegates began greeting Willie so warmly as to excite the attention of his younger brother, who till now had stood silently by the opposite gatepost, and he sang out ‘I’m a Lincoln, too!’ Whereupon Welles and the other delegates merrily greeted the younger Lincoln.”37
Meanwhile, back in Norwich, Governor Buckingham wrote to congratulate Mr. “Abram” Lincoln: “Allow me to rejoice in common with the multitude and to express my cordial congratulations upon the nominations of the Republican Convention at Chicago. Your name excites the most lively enthusiasm in this State and cheers the friends of freedom with the hope and expectation that in 1861 the General Government will be honestly and faithfully administered and that it will then be seen that fidelity to the constitution will secure the greatest liberty without infringing upon the natural or legal rights of any section of our common country.” 38
Welles’s personal endorsement of the Lincoln nomination appeared in the Evening Press on Wednesday, May 23. “Going to Chicago as a spectator, not as the ardent and active lobby friend of any candidate, and industriously watching and studying the whole course of events, we have returned satisfied that the nomination of Lincoln and Hamlin is the surest proof yet given by the Republican party of its sincerity, its earnest purpose, its honesty, its freedom from the rule of cliques, its determination to enforce economy and a strict construction of federal power, and its noble and unselfish devotion to the great cause of human freedom.”39
Connecticut Republicans went on to win the presidential election handily that fall – because the Democratic vote was split between Illinois Senator Stephan A. Douglas and Vice President John Breckinridge of Kentucky. Breckinridge actually ran ahead of Douglas in Connecticut. Mr. Lincoln carried 149 of the state’s 161 towns and 58% of the vote. H. F. Sperry wired the President-elect: “The original wide awakes of Hartford congratulate you and thank God for the result of the election.”40
Meeting Vice President-elect Hannibal Hamlin in Chicago in late November 1860, President-elect Lincoln turned over to him responsibility for selection of a New England representative for the Cabinet. Senator Hamlin had his own prejudices against some of the New England names Mr. Lincoln raised – such as former Massachusetts Governor Nathaniel Banks. Mr. Lincoln was concerned that the appointee be willing to support enforcement of the fugitive slave law, then an important constitutional principle.
Years later, Gideon Welles wrote on cabinet selection, “More than a year after his inauguration, Mr. Lincoln in one of his cheerful and communicative moods related to me some of the particulars of the formation of his cabinet, and on one or two subsequent occasions, he mentioned circumstances connected with it.” Much of its composition he outlined on the night he was elected. Welles recalled: “There were many things to be taken into consideration – different influences to be reconciled, but he did not again sleep until he had constructed the framework of his cabinet. It was essentially the same he assured me as he finally selected, though one or two of the gentlemen occupied different positions. As regards New England, the man and the place, from first to last, remained unchanged, though there had been strenuous and persistent opposition, some from competing candidates, but more from personal hostility and old party animosities. He on that Wednesday, made up (his mind) subject to alteration and amendment, that he should tender seats in the cabinet to Mr. Seward, Mr. Chase, Mr. Dayton, Mr. Welles, Mr. Bates and he also had in his mind Mr. Blair, Mr. N.B. Judd and one or two others.” Welles wrote:
“Having disposed of the three first places in his cabinet by selection from the three great Central States, Mr. Lincoln’s mind naturally turned to New England for his naval secretary. It was from there that the country derived a large portion of its seamen and there was a large shipping interest in that section. In view of the principles on which he had proposed to make his appointments he felt that he must take for this place a Democrat, and his mind at once, he informed me, designated the man. The only other individual in New England on whom his thoughts had at any time turned was Charles Francis Adams. Had neither Mr. Seward nor Mr. Chase gone into the cabinet as at one time seemed possible, another arrangement might have brought that gentlemen into the councils. But the selection of Mr. Welles was, he said, from the first very persistently opposed by some of the special friends of Mr. Seward, who did not at any time acquiesce in the policy of a cabinet composed of men of decided opposite party principles and associations. The difference on this point between Mr. Lincoln and those who appeared as the representatives of the Albany arrangement was fundamental, but Mr. Lincoln did not abandon the line of policy which he had marked out for himself.”
“In the course of discussion he also discovered that there was particular animosity toward his selected naval secretary by the friends of Mr. Seward, who attributed to him more than to almost any other man, their defeat at Chicago, but efforts and the reasons against Mr. Welles instead of alienating, strengthened Mr. Lincoln in his choice. Mr. Adams, Governor Andrew and Mr. Banks were urged as acceptable to Mr. Seward. And Mr. John P. Hale, and Mr. Amos Tuck and one or two others were pressed. Finding Mr. Lincoln fixed in his determination, it was a special request that he should not commit himself but withhold the tender of an appointment until after he reached Washington and heard the opinions of his friends at the seat of government.”41
Welles chose not to purse a Cabinet appointment but let others do so for him. Welles later wrote: “Learning at an early day after the election that the President had my name under consideration, I forebode all communication with him, and declined, though earnestly advised and invited, to visit him or the seat of government while the subject of the formation of the cabinet was undetermined. Soon after the arrival of the President in Washington, I received a letter from James Dixon, one of the senators from Connecticut and a resident of my own town, written by request of Mr. Lincoln, propounding certain questions to me with reference to my appointment and a few days later a letter form the Vice-President-elect, Hannibal Hamlin, informed me that the President requested me to come to Washington. This summons I promptly obeyed.” 42 Welles expected to be named postmaster general. When he finally met with the President-elect on March 4, he was named to secretary of the navy.
In office, Secretary of the Navy Welles won over President Lincoln’s respect for calm, thorough efforts during the Civil War. But it was Mrs. Welles who perhaps was closest to the Lincoln family. Having lost five of her own children, she was in a strong position to comfort Mary Todd Lincoln on the death of her son Willie in February 1861.
One of Welles’ leading Connecticut supporters had a more complex relationship with the President. Republican Senator James. Dixon had met with Vice President-elect Hamlin in early December 1861 and wrote Welles that Hamlin “gave me to understand that in his judgment, your appointment was more probable than that of any other man in New England. Still nothing was understood to be decided.” 43 Dixon, a poet and an attorney who had been elected to the Senate in 1856, was a relentless advocate for Welles’ nomination to the Cabinet, writing one Lincoln advisor: “Mr. Welles may truly be said to represent the democracy of New England…” 44 Historian John Niven described Dixon as “a tall wiry man with a bulbous forehead and a full beard, looked the inoffensive retiring scholar, but his well-earned reputation for clandestine intrigue belied his otherworldly appearance. Irresolute in public affairs, he was a dangerous antagonist in the private arena of political cut and slash. James D. Baldwin, of the Worcester Spy, who knew Dixon well, drew a harsh though accurate portrait: “Altogether too timid, too sly, and treacherous in his dealings,’ wrote that clear-headed editor, ‘and too much of a ‘Miss Nancy’ to make a good leader.”45
Dixon was no radical. He favored on compromise with the South in the winter of 1860-1861. In December 1860, Dixon gave a Senate speech in which he said: “My constituents are ready to make any sacrifice which a reasonable man can ask or an honorable man can grant.” 46 Dixon was, however, more realistic than Welles on the threat caused by southern secession. He later opposed to presidential emancipation in 1862.
Dixon’s focus was more on politics than policy. His greed for patronage and relentless attempts to assure that as little as possible went to his political rivals created severe problems within the Connecticut Republican Party. He worked in direct opposition to the interests of Navy Secretary Gideon Welles and his allies – Navy Department aide William Faxon and Hartford Evening Press editor Mark Howard. Connecticut patronage problems would come to plague President Lincoln. According to artist Francis B. Carpenter, shortly after President-elect Lincolns’ arrival in Washington a Connecticut man accosted him at Willard’s Hotel where he was staying. He said “he wanted nothing but to take the incoming President by the hand. Mr. Lincoln surveyed him from head to foot, and giving him a cordial grasp, replied: ‘You are a rare man.'”47 Howard Dixon was fated to carry on their own uncivil war over Connecticut politics.
Dixon showed a rare ability to muster support for his patronage choice through bluff, bluster and personal pressure on the President. Historian Allan G. Bogue noted that Dixon “was unusual…in that his colleagues believed that he had sat adjacent to the congressman from Illinois, Abraham Lincoln as a member of the House of Representatives during the 1840s, a position that now gave him, some suspected, an unfair advantage in the struggle for political patronage.” 48 Dixon went out of his way to block Mark Howard from appointment as Hartford postmaster; his own choice was appointed and drew a storm of Republican protest when he kept the local post office in a building owned by the proprietors of the city’s largest Democratic newspaper. President Lincoln’s policy was to consult with the Republican congressional delegation on appointments and Dixon pushed to get his way – especially with the appointment of tax collectors and assessors in 1862.
Dixon was as politically aggressive as he was politically conservative. He never considered compromise with his opponents where patronage was concerned. He wrote President Lincoln many letters about Connecticut politics in August 1862 when the issue of emancipation was coming to a head. In one he wrote to condemn Mark Howard’s newspaper: “I enclose a few slips from the organ of the ultra party in Connecticut. This paper, alone, out of 30 Republican papers more or less in the state takes the ground that an edict of emancipation should be issued by the President This paper alone sustains the list of Candidates for Collectors recommended by Mr. Chase. All the rest are with me – approve my course & agree with the Administration. Why can we not be sustained by the Administration we support.” 49 In another letter the same day, he wrote:
“I left Washington on Friday, anxious to attend our grand war meeting this evening. Our new Regt. for this County (the 16th) is full and will be ready this week. Last evening a delegation of our friends met me in this City to hear my report from Washington. There were present some of our best men, your warm friends and the upholders of your administration. Among them were the Editor of the Courant, – the Chairman of our Rep. State Committee and other leading men. They expressed the most intense interest in the success of the list of candidates presented to you by me. They represent nearly all the working force of our party. The little knot of ultras who desire the other list appointed are insignificant in numbers and influence. They are, I assure you, bitterly and openly abusive of your policy and your course. Must they be strengthened by being made recipient of your confidence.”
“Mr. Babcock and Mr. Platt, Chairman of our State Committee, will see you soon and more fully explain the true effect and meaning of this effort to build up a personal its object at a glance.”
Dixon concluded this letter: “Excuse my earnestness. How can I feel less when I know that the appointment of Mr. Chase’s list is the death of your true friends & supporters in the state, as well as my own personal disgrace and humiliation.” 50 In still a third letter the same day, Dixon wrote plaintively: “If Hammond and Holister are not appointed [as tax collectors] my humiliation and disgrace will be complete. Babcock and the Chairman of the State Committee will see you by Wednesday. I rely with hope and confidence that you will spare our cause the injury and myself the intense mortification of a rebuke from you. Will you please reply and relieve my anxiety.”51 Over Dixon’s objection Howard was appointed as a collector, but Dixon worked behind the scenes to have his appointment rejected by the Senate. In the process, he drove Howard away from the President and toward the presidential candidacy of Salmon P. Chase in 1864.
Historian John Niven wrote: “The death of the United States Marshall for Connecticut, a Dixon man, in December 1863 had created a vacancy in an important post. Both the radical state faction and the conservative congressional faction put forward candidates. But Senator James Dixon moved more promptly than the radicals, and he managed to have Lincoln put his own man, Henry Hammond, in the coveted spot. The overburdened President neglected to ask Welles’ advice when he made the appointment. He had acted on the assumption that Dixon, who claimed he spoke for the entire congressional delegation, was reflecting party opinion in Connecticut.” 52 Once again, Dixon triumphed.
Much less aggressive than Dixon was Lafayette Foster, a former Whig from Norwich who was elected to the Senate in 1855, He lacked Dixon’s killer instinct for patronage and seldom stood up to Dixon, even when he disagreed with him. Senator Foster remembered that he once “went early in the morning to ask Mr. Lincoln to suspend the execution of a soldier sentenced to be shot for desertion, the father of the man insisting that the offence was technical and not real:
“Why don’t you men up there in Congress,” replied the President. “Repeal the law requiring men to be shot when they desert, instead of coming here to me, and asking me to override the law and practically make it a dead letter?”
Mr. Foster answered that he had not asked the man’s pardon but only that the sentence should be stayed till the facts might be investigated.
Said the Prest. “I shall grant your request. But you know that when I have once suspended the sentence of that man I can’t afterwards order him to be shot.” 53
In December 1864, President Lincoln delayed the nomination of Salmon P. Chase as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court until after the Senate confirmed James Speed as attorney general. Senator Foster visited him that day. “Mr. President you sent us up a Chief Justice today, whom we confirmed at once. There had been so many contradictory reports and rumors that we had begun to have some doubts and anxieties on the subject.” President Lincoln chose to address his own doubts about Chase. “Mr. Chase will make a very excellent judge if he devotes himself exclusively to the duties of his office, and don’t meddle with politics,” said the President. “But if he keeps on with the notion that he is destined to be President of the United States, and which in my judgment he will never be, he will never acquire that fame and usefulness as a Chief Justice which he would otherwise certainly attain…”54
Democratic Congressman James E. English of New Haven was a former governor of Connecticut. Historian John Niven described him as “a loyal supporter of the war effort.”55 Welles aide John Faxon described him as “a gentleman every way and on all occasions.”56 When President Lincoln discussed the upcoming vote on the 13th Amendment with Charles Dana in January 1864, Mr. Lincoln said ‘There are plenty of Democrats who will vote for it. There is James E. English, of Connecticut; I think he is sure, isn’t he?’ Dana responded: “Oh, yes; he is sure on the merits of the question.”57 Illinois Congressman Isaac N. Arnold recalled: “When the name of Governor English…was called, and he voted aye, there was great applause on the floor and in the crowded galleries…”58
Congressman Henry C. Deming of Hartford was another calm supporter of the President. Indiana Congressman George W. Julian wrote in his memoirs that “Deming of Connecticut was a man of real calibre, and on rare occasions electrified the House by his speeches, but he lacked industry.” 59 Francis B. Carpenter wrote: “The President’s friend, the Hon. H. C. Deming of Connecticut, once ventured to ask him ‘if he had ever despaired of the country?’ ‘When the Peninsula campaign terminated suddenly at Harrison’s Landing,’ rejoined Mr. Lincoln, ‘I was as nearly inconsolable as I could be and live.’ In the same connection Colonel Deming inquired if there had ever been a period in which he thought that better management upon the part of the commanding general might have terminated the war? ‘Yes,’ answered the President, ‘there were three: at ‘Malvern Hill,’ when [George] McClellan failed to command an immediate advance upon Richmond; at Chancellorsville,’ when [Joseph] Hooker failed to reinforce Sedgwick, after hearing his cannon upon the extreme right; and at ‘Gettysburg,’ when [George] Meade failed to attack [Robert E.] Lee in his retreat at the bend of the Potomac.’ After this commentary, the Congressman waited for an outburst of denunciation – for a criticism, at least – upon the delinquent officers; but he waited in vain. So far from a word of censure escaping Mr. Lincoln’s lips, he soon added, that his first remark might not appear uncharitable: ‘I do not know that I could have given any different orders had I been wi, th,, , them myself. I have not fully made up my mind how I should behave when mini-balls were whistling, and those great oblong shells shrieking in my ear. I might run away.'”60
Congressman Deming also recalled that he had once asked President Lincoln why he had not joined a church. President Lincoln responded that ‘he had never united himself to any church, because he found difficulty in giving his assent, without mental reservation, to the long complicated statements of Christian doctrine, which characterize their Articles of belief and Confessions of Faith. ‘When any church,’ he continued, ‘will inscribe over its altar, as its sole qualification for membership the Saviour’s condensed statement of the substance of both law and Gospel, ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul and with all thy mind, and thy neighbor as thyself,’ that church will I join with all my heart and all my soul.'”61
Mr. Lincoln was not the only charitable member of the family. A Connecticut postmaster wrote John G. Nicolay in February 1864 about a fair being held to benefit “soldiers orphans.” He suggested “that you see Mrs Lincoln and have her send a few flowers to me by Express with a Line showing her interest in the fair. It would ‘take well,’ beside I believe a few flowers thus sent, we raise Forty, or Fifty, Dollars. The fact that they were sent by her, and picked from the ‘Presidential Green House’ would be every thing to us.”62
That year, Navy Secretary Gideon Welles paid an important role in the re-nomination of President Lincoln — both at the state and national levels. The first endorsement of Mr. Lincoln for reelection came from New Hampshire where Welles and his assistant helped mobilize support among key Navy Yard personnel. In mid-February, Welles also helped organize the Lincoln effort by getting Connecticut Republicans to endorse President Lincoln’s reelection at the same time they renominated Governor Buckingham in February. Welles was helping to block the presidential candidate of the same man he himself had supported in 1860, Salmon P. Chase.
Secretary Welles wrote in his diary in late February 1864: “A circular, ‘strictly private,’ signed by Senator [Samuel C.] Pomeroy and in favor of Mr. Chase for President, has been detected and published. It will be more dangerous in its recoil than its projectile. That is, it will damage Chase more than Lincoln. The effect on the two men themselves will not be serious. Both of them desire the position, which is not surprising; it certainly is not in the President, who would be gratified with an endorsement. Were I to advise Chase, it would be not to aspire for the position, especially not as a competitor with the man who has given him his confidence, and with whom he has acted in the administration of the government at a most eventful period…Chase tries to have it thought that he is indifferent and scarcely cognizant of what is doing in his behalf, but no one of his partisans is well posted as Chase himself.”63 Welles was right; the Pomeroy Circular helped destroy Chase’s candidacy.
Welles also pressed for an early Republican national convention in 1864. He wrote in his diary on February 22: “The National Committee appointed at Chicago met today. As Connecticut had sent forward no one as a substitute in my place, I was for a brief time with the committee. I judge that four fifths are for the reelection of the President. The proceedings were harmonious, and will, I think, be satisfactory.” 64 The same day, James F. Babcock, the former New Haven Palladium editor who had been appointed New Haven collector of customs in 1861, wrote President Lincoln to congratulate him on his endorsement by the Republican State Convention on February 17: “I am happy to assure you that the enthusiasm manifested on every allusion to yourself and the success of your administration of the Government, was most earnest and cheering, and your nomination was made without a dissenting voice, and in tones that indicated the warmest confidence in you and the wisdom of your plans for subduing the greatest rebellion of modern times against a most beneficent government.”65
The campaign was not easy for Nutmeg State Republicans. In the fall of 1864, President Lincoln carried Connecticut with just 51.4% of the state’s votes – a far cry from the Republican triumph in 1860. Historian Samuel T. McSeveney concluded that “the votes of absentee servicemen likely contributed disproportionately to, but did not necessarily account for, the National party victory in Connecticut. Following the election, J. Hammond Trumbull, the secretary of state of Connecticut, announced that he had received 2,898 absentee soldier ballots from state commissioners, of which, he estimated, not more than twenty-four hundred had reached town officials time to be counted.” He noted that “Unofficial reports from various Connecticut units canvassed in the field disclosed that Lincoln had run well ahead of McClellan, but that sufficient Democratic votes had been cast to deny the Republicans a plurality of 2,406 or more votes among the absentee troops.”66
McSeveney wrote: “Connecticut Republicans, confident that they would benefit disproportionately from the vote of servicemen, expended considerably energy to secure as many such votes as possible. Nevertheless, recognizing the difficulties in securing a large military turnout, they refused to bank on the troops to achieve victory in the state…he issued specific instructions: chairmen were to report the total number of “UNION, COPPERHEAD AND DOUBTFUL voters’ in their towns; they were not to estimate the vote of soldiers, ‘except such as are already at home, or those you know will be….'”67 Connecticut was probably the only state in which the soldier vote determined the winner and the disposition of the state’s electoral votes.
After the Republican State Convention in Connecticut in February 1864, Mr. Lincoln’s 1860 host, James F. Babcock, had written President Lincoln: “I can never forget the impressive words you uttered to me when I told you in New Haven that you would in my opinion be our next President. Your answer was: “I do not envy the man who shall stand at the helm of this great Ship of State during the next four years.” These years have indeed been very troubulous times; but a good God has spared you through all the dangers and vicissitudes of the past; and may he keep you in safety to the end.”68
It was not to be. On the morning in April 1865 that President Lincoln died of an assassin’s bullet, Secretary Welles went to the White House, where his wife was consoling Mrs. Lincoln. As Welles and Attorney General James Speed were later taking their leave, young Tad Lincoln cried out: “Oh, Mr. Welles, who killed my father?” Secretary Welles wrote in his diary: “Neither Speed nor myself could restrain our tears, nor give the poor boy any satisfactory answer.”69
- Percy C. Eggleston, Lincoln in New England, pp. 14-15.
- Richard S. West, Gideon Welles: Lincoln’s Navy Department, p. 88.
- Robert S. Harper, Lincoln and the Press, p. 47.
- Doris Kearns Goodwin, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, p. 232.
- John Niven, Gideon Welles: Lincoln’s Secretary of the Navy, p. 289.
- William B. Hesseltine, Lincoln and the War Governors, p. 25.
- Richard S. West, Gideon Welles: Lincoln’s Navy Department, p. 80 (Hartford Evening Press, March 6, 1860).
- Nelson R. Burr, Abraham Lincoln: Western Star Over Connecticut, p. 6.
- Roy P. Basler, editor, Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Speech at Hartford, Connecticut, Volume IV, pp. 2-8 (March 5, 1860 published in the Hartford Daily Courant, March 6, 1860. Another different version was published in Hartford Evening Press on the same day).
- Nelson R. Burr, Abraham Lincoln: Western Star Over Connecticut, p. 6 (Hartford Courant, March 6, 1860).
- Nelson R. Burr, Abraham Lincoln: Western Star Over Connecticut, p. 7-8.
- Harold Holzer, Lincoln at Cooper Union, p. 194.
- Richard S. West, Gideon Welles: Lincoln’s Navy Department, p. 81.
- Nelson R. Burr, Abraham Lincoln: Western Star Over Connecticut, p. 10.
- Nelson R. Burr, Abraham Lincoln: Western Star Over Connecticut, p. 11 (New Haven Pallaldium).
- Percy C. Eggleston, Lincoln in New England, p. 15.
- Nelson R. Burr, Abraham Lincoln: Western Star Over Connecticut, p. 10 (New Haven Pallaldium).
- Roy P. Basler, editor, Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Speech at New Haven, Connecticut, March 6, 1860, Volume IV, pp. 13-30.
- John Niven, Gideon Welles: Lincoln’s Secretary of the Navy, p. 289.
- Nelson R. Burr, Abraham Lincoln: Western Star Over Connecticut, p. 11 (New Haven Pallaldium).
- Percy C. Eggleston, Lincoln in New England, p. 16.
- Nelson R. Burr, Abraham Lincoln: Western Star Over Connecticut, p. 12.
- Percy C. Eggleston, Lincoln in New England, pp. 19-21.
- Nelson R. Burr, Abraham Lincoln: Western Star Over Connecticut, March 10, 1860, p. 13.
- Percy C. Eggleston, Lincoln in New England, p. 23.
- Francis B. Carpenter, The Inner Life of Abraham Lincoln: Six Months at the White House, pp. 309-310.
- Nelson R. Burr, Abraham Lincoln: Western Star Over Connecticut, p. 14.
- Nelson R. Burr, Abraham Lincoln: Western Star Over Connecticut, p. 14.
- Allan Nevins, The War for the Union: The Improved War, 1861-1862, p. 346.
- William B. Hesseltine, Lincoln and the War Governors, p. 169.
- Roy P. Basler, editor, Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume VI, p. 54. (Letter from Abraham Lincoln to William A. Buckingham, January 12, 1863).
- Frederick Douglass, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, pp. 348-350.
- John Niven, Gideon Welles: Lincoln’s Secretary of the Navy, p. 289.
- William E. Baringer, Lincoln’s Rise to Power, p. 195.
- John Niven, Gideon Welles: Lincoln’s Secretary of the Navy, p. 300.
- Nelson R. Burr, Abraham Lincoln: Western Star Over Connecticut, p. 20.
- Richard S. West, Gideon Welles: Lincoln’s Navy Department, pp 85-86.
- Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Transcribed and Annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College. Galesburg, Illinois, (Letter from William A. Buckingham to Abraham Lincoln, May 21, 1860).
- Richard S. West, Gideon Welles: Lincoln’s Navy Department, p. 86.
- Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Transcribed and Annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College. Galesburg, Illinois, Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress (Telegram from H.F. Sperry to Abraham Lincoln, November 8, 1860).
- Rufus Rockwell Wilson, editor, Intimate Memories of Lincoln, pp. 352-353.
- Rufus Rockwell Wilson, editor, Intimate Memories of Lincoln, pp. 359-360.
- Harry J. Carman and Reinhard H. Luthin, Lincoln and the Patronage, p. 17 (Letter from James Dixon to Gideon Welles, December 3, 1860) .
- Harry J. Carman and Reinhard H. Luthin, Lincoln and the Patronage, p. 16 (Letter from James Dixon to Lyman Trumbull, November 13, 1860).
- John Niven, Gideon Welles: Lincoln’s Secretary of the Navy, p. 270.
- W.A.Croffut and John M. Morris, The Military and Civil History of Connecticut During the War of 1861-65, p. 33.
- Francis B. Carpenter, The Inner Life of Abraham Lincoln: Six Months at the White House, p. 230.
- Allan C. Bogue, Earnest Men: Republicans of the Civil War Senate, p. 35.
- Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Transcribed and Annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College. Galesburg, Illinois (Letter from James Dixon to Abraham Lincoln, August 11, 1862).
- Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Transcribed and Annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College. Galesburg, Illinois, (Letter from James Dixon to Abraham Lincoln, August 11, 1862).
- Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Transcribed and Annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College. Galesburg, Illinois, (Letter from James Dixon to Abraham Lincoln, August 11, 1862).
- John Niven, Gideon Welles: Lincoln’s Secretary of the Navy, p. 480.
- Michael Burlingame, editor, An Oral History of Abraham Lincoln, John G. Nicolay’s Interviews and Essays, pp. 53-54 (John G. Nicolay conversation with Lafayette Foster, October 23, 1878).
- Michael Burlingame, editor, An Oral History of Abraham Lincoln, John G. Nicolay’s Interviews and Essays, p. 53 (John G. Nicolay conversation with Lafayette Foster, October 23, 1878).
- John Niven, Gideon Welles: Lincoln’s Secretary of the Navy, p. 524.
- Nelson R. Burr, Abraham Lincoln: Western Star Over Connecticut, p. 77.
- Charles Dana, Recollections of the Civil War, pp. 175.
- Isaac N. Arnold, The Life of Abraham Lincoln, p. 365.
- George W. Julian, Political Recollections, 1840 to 1862, p. 363.
- Francis B. Carpenter, The Inner Life of Abraham Lincoln: Six Months at the White House, p. 220.
- Don E. and Virginia Fehrenbacher, editors, Recollected Words of Abraham Lincoln, p. 137.
- www.scils.rutgers.edu/keyrus/553doc4.html, Letter from Nehemiah D. Sperry to John G. Nicolay, February 10, 1864, www.scils.rutgers.edu/keyrus/553doc4.html.
- Gideon Welles, Diary of Gideon Welles, Volume I, p. 529 (February 22, 1864.
- Gideon Welles, Diary of Gideon Welles, Volume I, p. 529-530 (February 22, 1864.
- Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Transcribed and Annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College. Galesburg, Illinois (Letter from James F. Babcock to Abraham Lincoln, February 22, 1864).
- Samuel T. McSeveney, “Re-electing Lincoln: The Union Party Campaign and the Military Vote in Connecticut,” Civil War History, June 1986, p. 151.
- Samuel T. McSeveney, “Re-electing Lincoln: The Union Party Campaign and the Military Vote in Connecticut,” Civil War History, June 1986, p. 153.
- Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Transcribed and Annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College. Galesburg, Illinois, (Letter from James F. Babcock to Abraham Lincoln, February 22, 1864).
- Gideon Welles, Diary of Gideon Welles, Volume II, p. 290 (April 15, 1865).