Abraham Lincoln and Maine

Abraham Lincoln and Maine

Abraham Lincoln never got to visit Maine – although he had been invited in 1860 by the Portland Republican Committee “to visit our City, at any time that may suit your convenience, with a few weeks, and address our citizens on political questions.” 1 Mr. Lincoln was in nearly New Hampshire at the time, visiting his son and making speeches after his famous Cooper Union speech in New York City on February 27.

New England was supposed to be favorable to the nomination of New York William H. Seward, but several important Republicans in the state had their doubts. Senator Hannibal Hamlin questioned Seward’s electability. So did future Congressman James G. Blaine, who was chairman of the Maine Republican Party. At a meeting of top Maine Republicans, it was agreed to support the Republican presidential candidate “most likely to obtain the largest number of votes, principle being regarded as superior to men, and the triumph of the cause above anything else.” 2 Although many of Maine’s delegates to the Republican National Convention were Seward supporters, they were pledged to discern once in Chicago which candidate had the best chance of election in 1860.

Future Senator Lot M. Morrill remembered: “I was governor when Mr. Lincoln was nominated; my state was then in the hands of the Seward men; S. had been recognized as the leading interpreter of the Republican ideas.” Morrill said he told Fessenden “I was not for Seward for President; I didn’t feel like trusting him in that place; and very naturally when it became necessary to make a choice I turned to Lincoln,” Morrill recalled: “I went out to Chicago, though not as a delegate; was however called into council by the delegation. A Majority of our delegation was at first for Seward; but when it came to the critical point, and they had more fully consulted it was the other way[.]”3

The Maine delegation was the first to vote at the convention, which started balloting with upper New England. And all three ballots, 10 delegates voted for Seward and six supported Abraham Lincoln. Once Mr. Lincoln was nominated his supporters tried without success to get Seward’s supporters to choose a candidate for vice president. When they refused, five candidates were nominated. On the first ballot, Senator Hamlin took a lead of 194 to 102 and a half over Kentucky’s Cassius M. Clay. On the second ballot, Hamlin crushed Clay, 367 to 86. Ohio journalist Murat Halstead wrote that the popular choice was Clay 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.'”4

Back in Bangor Maine, news of Hamlin’s nomination was reported by his brother Elijah: “About twelve o’clock I was awakened by a crowd about my house shouting your nomination for Vice-President. August and I had to get up and upon opening the door, the outsiders rushed into the house with loud cheers. After par-taking some refreshments, Augustus found a swivel and some powder, and a salute was fired in honor of the nomination.”5

Senator Hamlin had served in the Senate since 1948 – with a break in 1857-58 as Governor of Maine. He had a long career of public service – as a former Democrat turned Republican. His nomination for Vice President at the Republican National Convention in Chicago in May served as a political counterbalance to Abraham Lincoln, a former Whig. Journalist Ben Perley Poore wrote in his memoirs about Hamlin: “Of medium height, with a massive head, dark complexion, cleanly shaven face, he was ever prompt and diligent in the transaction of business. At all seasons of the year he wore a suit of black, with a dress-coat, and could never be persuaded to wear an overcoat, even in the coldest weather. He was noted for his fidelity to political friends, and at Washington he always had their interests at heart.” 6

Mr. Lincoln concerned about the Republicans’ chances in Maine in the fall. So was Hamlin and Hamlin’s worries that the Republican gubernatorial candidate might win by just 6,000 votes got back to Mr. Lincoln through Schuyler Coflax. Mr. Lincoln wrote Hamlin: “Such a result as you seem to have predicted in Maine would, I fear, put us on the down hill track lose us the State elections in Pennsylvania and Indiana [in October] and probably ruin us on the main turn in November. You must not allow it.”

Hamlin replied with some asperity on September 8: “I regret that you or any of your friends should have been annoyed at anything which it is supposed I have written. I have neither said or written any thing, which I should not, I am sure, nor any thing which could possibly annoy any one – I have not written to Colfax at all, nor to any one any thing like the extract in your letter. Mr Harlan of Ind. was here some three weeks since for aid. He came to see me – I told him frankly that it could not then be had for two reasons:”

“First, the moral effect of our election would be such that we must use all our present means at home.”
“Second, that while we could carry the state by 12, to 15000. We were so distracted that we could do that, and lose one or two members of Congress. That was the truth – I have never regarded the 1st Dist as at all dou[b]tful – the 3d & 6th I have, tho I said to Harlan that with the use of all our means, we would carry them all – At the last election we carried the 3d by less than fifty and the 6th by less than one hundred maj[ority].”7

When the votes were counted in early September, Republicans triumphed by a margin of nearly 18,000 votes – giving hope to Republicans elsewhere in the north. Hamlin reported to Mr. Lincoln: “I cannot resist the temptation of adding a few congratulatory words this morning upon our election of yesterday – True you will get the result over the wires long before this reaches you, and more fully than I can now give them, yet I desire to say that we have done all our friends could ask or expect. We think Maine has come nobly up to the crisis and vindicated the right in a gallant manner – It cannot fail to have a powerful moral effect every where. It will surly aid us much in Ill. Ind. N. J. and N. Y. I trust it is the presage of our success, and the triumph of truth and justice…We have carried all our Congressmen and swept the State like a prairie on fire – We think that will do, and we will wait with confidence for the response of the West -“8

After the election, President-elect Lincoln wrote Hamlin that it was time for them to get to know each other. Meeting Vice President elect Hannibal Hamlin in Chicago in 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 back enforcement of the fugitive slave law. Connecticut’s Gideon Welles was called to Washington in a telegram from Vice President-elect Hamlin on March 1. He expected to be named Postmaster General, finally met with the President-elect on March 4 and was named to the Navy post.

Before their inauguration, President Lincoln conferred again with Vice President Hamlin in New York City on February 20. Hamlin biographer H. Draper Hunt wrote: “Hamlin had arranged to rendezvous with Lincoln in New York and had persuaded him to stay at the Astor House, a hotel run by a good Republican friend. ‘If you go [to Washington] by way of N.Y. will you not stop with Stetson at the Astor,’ Hamlin had written. ‘He is a gentleman in every sense of the word, and is the only man of all the Hotel keepers of the first class, who was openly and squarely with us. It has injured him some. I do therefore hope you will stop with him.'”

“The Hamlins dined with the Lincolns in the latter’s suite, and Lincoln’s reaction to his first oysters on the half-shell tickled Hamlin. The President-elect eyed the dish uncertainly and then drawled, ‘Well, I don’t know that I can manage these things, but I guess I can learn.’ During dinner, Lincoln and Hamlin swapped stories of their respective journeys to New York, and both men seemed heartened by the tumultuous demonstrations of patriotism they had witnessed along the way. That evening, the two couples were escorted to a performance of Verdi’s ‘The Masked Ball’ at the Academy of Music, and Lincoln and Hamlin had to bow repeatedly to the frantically cheering audience. A few snobbish New Yorkers sneered as they looked up at the presidential box and saw Lincoln’s huge hands, encased in black kid gloves rather than the proper white evening gloves, dangling over the railing.”
“The presidential party left after one act and returned to the Astor House, where Lincoln conferred with New York republican leaders while Ellen Hamlin and Mary Todd Lincoln held a reception. Mrs. Hamlin later held a private reception in her parlor. At midnight, a tumultuous crowd of Wide-Awakes, complete with a band, arrived at the hotel to serenade Lincoln and Hamlin. Lincoln had already delivered a speech in the city and declined to make another, but Hamlin stepped out onto the balcony.”9

Hamlin went home to Maine after the inauguration but went to New York City when hostilities broke out at Fort Sumter. Hamlin wrote President Lincoln from New York on April 26: “The world has never seen such a spectacle as is now presented in the loyal states – In no age or country have been seen such a people as we have who rally for the Govt, the Const, and the enforcement of the laws Amidst all the cases that press upon, this is a matter of profound congratulation.”

“I am here to advise and consult, with our friends, and will try and discharge any service that may be required…”10

Unfortunately, his services weren’t much required during the Civil War – nor was he able to dispense many. Hamlin was somewhat patronage-obsessed – and frequently patronage-denied. Hamlin Biographer Mark Scroggins wrote: “The old Jacksonian firmly believed that every man who was active in party politics deserved a reward. Senator Hamlin was able to dole out political offices and favors like candy at a child’s birthday party; but now, as vice president, Hamlin was powerless. He had to beg the administration for everything, even a paltry postal clerk’s position for a Maine constituent.” 11 Hamlin was not normally included in the deliberations of the Lincoln Administration and did not even attend Cabinet meetings. He complained to Jessie Frémont: “The slow unsatisfactory movements of the Government do not meet with my approbation, and that is known, and of course I am not consulted at all, nor do I think there is much disposition in any quarter to regard any counsel I may give if at all.”12

The job itself was disappointingly inconsequential for Hamlin. “There is a popular impression that the Vice President is in reality the second officer of the government not only in rank but also in power and influence. This is a mistake. In the early days of the republic he was in some sort an heir apparent to the Presidency. But that is changed. He presides over the Senate – he has a casting vote in case of a tie – and he appoints his own private secretary. But this gives him no power to wield, and no influence to exert,” complained Hamlin in 1879. “Every member who has a constituency, and every senator who represents a state, counts for more in his own locality, and with the Executive who must needs, in wielding the functions of his office, gather around him, and retain by his favors those who can vote in Congress and can operate directly upon public sentiment in their houses.”13

“It is a source of great gratification to me that my relations with Mr. Lincoln were not only those of uninterrupted friendship, but those of entire harmony and intimate and unreserved cordiality,” Hamlin recalled.14 But, he said, “I saw very soon, that the V.P. was a nullity in W[ashingto]n and recognizing that fact I abstained from any effort to absorb duties or functions not my own. I did not obtrude upon or interfere with the Presidential duties, though I always gave Mr. {Lincoln] my views, and when asked, my advice. His treatment of me was on his part that of kindness and consideration, and my counsels had all the more weight with him, that he thus practically knew them to be disinterested and free from any taint of intrigue or factional purpose.” 15 Lincoln’s respect for Hamlin was probably heightened by the fact that sons Charles and Cyrus were both Union generals.

Hamlin served briefly as a private in the Army in Maine during the Civil War. Straightforward and gregarious, he had a cordial but not close relationship with the President when in Washington. He played little role in Lincoln’s first term, but helped win Lincoln’s agreement for the use of black soldiers. The Vice President pushed for immediate Proclamation of Emancipation in 1862. Before the Battle of Antietam, he shared dinner with the President at the Soldiers’ Home and afterwards listened as the President read his draft of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Hamlin’s great rival in Maine Republian politics was Senator William P. Fessenden, who had joined the Senate in 1854. He served as chairman of Senate Finance Committee until he succeeded Salmon Chase as Secretary of the Treasury in 1864. President Lincoln valued Fessenden’s prickly integrity if not his cranky disposition. “Fessenden was a tall, spare, man, with angular features and figures, and a pale, intellectual face, from which the iron-gray hair was carefully brushed backward. His manner was cold, dry, and severe. His humor was acrid and biting,” wrote journalist Noah Brooks. “Remonstrating with a member of the House who had championed a bill for the abolition of the franking privilege, but who wanted it quietly strangled in the Senate, Fessenden grimly said: ‘My dear fellow, you can’t make the reputation of a statesman with fourpence-ha-penny tricks like that.'”16 Journalist Ben Perley Poore wrote that Fessenden “was really the leader of the Republican party in the Upper House. He was a statesman of great power and comprehensiveness, who possessed mental energies of the very highest order, and whose logic in debate was like a chain, which his hearers often hated to be confined with, yet knew not how to break. To courage and power in debate he united profound legal knowledge and a very extraordinary aptitude for public business.”17 In short, Fessenden was someone whose support President Lincoln needed more than he did Hamlin’s.

Maine Congressman James G. Blaine recalled: “As a debater Mr. Fessenden was exceptionally able. He spoke without apparent effort, in a quiet, impressive manner, with a complete mastery of pure English. He preserved the lucidus ordo in his argument, was never confused, never hurried, never involved in style. A friend once said to him that the only criticism to be made of his speeches in the Senate was that he illustrated his point too copiously, throwing light upon it after it was made plain to the comprehension of all his hearers.”18 Ohio Senator John Sherman wrote that “Fessenden was an able lawyer, a keen incisive speaker, rarely attempting rhetoric, but always a master in clear, distinct statement and logical argument. He had been for a number of years dyspeptic, and this, no doubt, clouded his temper and caused many of the bitter things he said.” 19 Lincoln aide John Hay wrote that Fessenden was “cool though irascible, candid though prejudiced, firm though crotchety, always brilliant and always patriotic…”20

Senator Fessenden’s own impressions of the new President were not positive. In mid-March 1861, Fessenden wrote his family: “Our poor President is having a hard time of it. He came here tall, strong, and vigorous, but has worked himself almost to death. The good fellow thinks it is his duty to see to everything, and to do everything himself, and consequently does many things foolishly. Everything in the way of office goes West. We shall hardly get the pairings of a toenail in New England, and many people feel hardly about it. I have been to see him two or three times, but stayed but a few moments each time, as I was pained and disgusted with the ill-bred, ravenous crowd there was about him.” 21 Early in the war, Fessenden told a fellow Senator: “I confess that were I in Lincoln’s place a small scruple would not detain me from doing what was needful.” 22 Fessenden, however, grew frustrated with President Lincoln in the fall of 1862. He wrote Iowa Senator James Grimes in October: “The folly of the President has lost Ohio and Indiana, and I am surprised that its effect have not been still more calamitous.”23 Fessenden took a leading role in the December 1862 revolt against the policies and administration of President Lincoln. Fessenden wrote an extensive summary of the meetings with President Lincoln in which he played a key role.

At the end of June 1864, Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase resigned. President Lincoln first chose former Ohio Governor David Tod to replace him, but when that nomination fizzled, he moved immediately to William P. Fessenden as the perfect alternative. His appointment of Fessenden received widespread support and was quickly confirmed – some of which President Lincoln engineered, according to artist Francis B. Carpenter. “Throughout the day, Mr. Lincoln urged almost all who called to go and see Mr. Fessenden, and press upon him the duty of accepting. Among these was a delegation of New York bankers, who, in the name of the banking community, expressed their satisfaction at the nomination. This was especially gratifying to the President; and, in the strongest manner he entreated them to ‘see Mr. Fessenden and assure him of their support.'”24

In one day, Fessenden was nominated and confirmed. President Lincoln told John Hay that night: “It is very singular, considering that this appointment of F’s is so popular when made, that no one ever mentioned his name to me for that place. Thinking over the matter two or three points occurred to me. First he knew the ropes thoroughly: as Chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance he knows as much of this special subject as Mr. Chase. 2nd he is a man possessing a national reputation and the confidence of the country. 3d He is a radical – without the petulant and vicious fretfulness of many radicals. On the other hand I considered the objections: the Vice President and Sec Treasury coming from the same small state – though I thought little of that: that that Fessenden from the state of his health is of rather a quick and irritable temper: but in this respect he should be pleased with this incident; for, while for some time he has been running in rather a pocket of bad luck – such as failure to renominate Mr. Hamlin which makes possible a contest between him and the V.P. the most popular man in Maine for the election which is now imminent – and the fact of his recent spat in the Senate where [Lyman] Trumbull told him his ill-temper had left him no friends – this thing has developed a sudden and very gratifying manifestation of good feeling in his appointment, his instant confirmation, the earnest entreaties of every body that he may accept and all that. It cannot be very grateful to his feelings. This morning he came into this room just as you left it. He sat down and began to talk about other things. I could not help being amused by seeing him sitting there so unconscious and you on your way to the Capitol. He at last began to speak of this matter, rather supporting [Hugh] McCulloch for Secretary. I answered ‘Mr. Fessenden I have nominated you for that place. Mr. Hay has just taken the nomination to the Senate’ ‘But it hasn’t reached there – you must withdraw it – I can’t accept.’ ‘If you decline’ I replied ‘you must do it in open day: for I shall not recall the nomination.’ We talked about it for some time and he went away less decided in his refusal. I hope from the long delay, that he is making up his mind to accept. If he would only consent to accept and stay here and help me for a little while, I think he would be in no hurry to go.'”25

Fessenden wrote a friend how his appointment was handled: “My nomination was sent to the Senate and unanimously confirmed at once, before I reached the chamber. I went directly to my room and commenced writing a letter declining to accept the place. My reasons were that I did not wish to leave the Senate, had no fancy for an executive office, and considered myself physically unable to discharge its duties. I was utterly exhausted by hard work and rest was absolutely essential. In fact, I had no idea I could continue in office for a month if I accepted it. Before this letter was finished, however, I was waited upon by delegations from all parties in the House, urging me to accept, visited by almost every member of the Senate expressing the same desire, and received telegrams from many quarters to the same effect, from chambers of commerce and individuals. Convinced, however, that I could only accept at the risk of my life, I still resolved to decline, and called at the President’s about ten in the evening, with a letter to that effect. He, however, had retired, and I left word that I would call again in the morning. I accordingly did so, and told him that I had a letter for him which I deemed it most respectful to present in person. He said that if it was a letter declining to accept the Treasury, he would not receive it. Much conversation followed, which it is unnecessary to repeat. Much of it consisted of personal appeals to my sense of duty, and expressions of belief that there was no other man with whom the country would be satisfied. He said the crisis was such as demanded any sacrifice, even life itself; that Providence had never deserted him or the country, and that his choice of me was a special proof that Providence would not desert him. All this and more. Failing, however, to convince me, he requested, as a favor, that I would let the matter stand until after Congress adjourned, in order that, as it would then be a vacancy occurring in the recess, he might have a chance to fill it more deliberately. To this I, of course, assented.

After this interview and before Congress adjourned I became convinced that I could not decline but at the risk of danger to the country. From my position as chairman of the finance committee it was believed that I knew more than most men of our financial condition. The money market was excited and feverish. We had no successes in the field, public confidence was wavering, and if I refused to accept the Treasury it would be imputed to anything but the true cause. Everybody apprehended a financial crash as the consequence of my refusal, and such an event would be most disastrous. Under these circumstances, I did not dare to hesitate longer, whatever might be the consequences. Foreseeing nothing but entire prostration of my physical powers, and feeling that to take the Treasury in its then exhausted condition would probably result in destroying what little reputation I had, it was still my duty to hazard both life and reputation if by so doing I could avert a crisis so imminent. I consented, therefore, to make the sacrifice, having, however, a clear understanding with the President that I might retire when I could do so without public injury, and openly declaring that I hoped to return to the Senate when the public exigency which called upon me to leave it no longer existed. 26

Iowa Senator James Grimes sympathized with the dilemma that Fessenden faced in taking the onerous responsibilities of the Treasury : “You know what I thought of your going into the Cabinet. If you would not deem it offensive to say so, I would say that I really pitied you when I saw you last. I saw at a glance your true situation. I knew that you had feeble health, that the Treasury is in a terrible condition, and that the result of your acceptance office might be your death. At the same time I believed no name would give one half so much confidence to the country as yours, and I knew that your declination by every enemy of the country would be ascribed not to its true cause, your poor health, but to the fact that you knew too well the condition of the Treasury Department to accept the portfolio. In this condition of things I did not feel like urging you to either or decline, but contented myself with recommending you to make such terms as would prevent you from being slandered and backbitten out of the Cabinet in a few weeks by your associates.”27

Fessenden himself wrote: “I consented to take the Treasury not only with extreme reluctance, but with much pain, having little strength for labor of any kind, but I could not resist the appeals to try to save our sinking credit – upon which the success of our cause depended. It was unfortunate for me that just at that moment I was believed to possess the confidence of the country to an extent which imposed the effort upon me. Under this state of things and in the hour of peril, I did not dare to refuse, whatever might be the consequences to myself. It may result in the destruction of all the reputation I have gained. Be it so – I owe that to my country as well as my life.” 28

Republican politics in Maine tended to be a family affair. Lot M. Morrill had been Governor of Maine before he was elected in 1861 to finish the unexpired term of Vice President Hamlin. In March 1863 he was elected to his own full term. Unlike Fessenden, just one of Morrill’s brothers – Anson P. Morrill – was a member of Congress at the outset of the Civil War and he retired in 1863. “I first saw Mr. Lincoln in Washington in 1861; had no previous acquaintance with him; but had carefully followed and noted his contest with Douglas in 1858; and saw that he developed qualities and talents which at once marked him as a man of unusual power,” recalled Morrill. “When I came to meet him here at Washington, and see and talk with, I was more than ever convinced the people had made no mistake. I said to myself here are all the elements of character that go to make up a great man.” 29

Mr. Lincoln himself had doubts: “I don’t know but that God has created some one man great enough to comprehend the whole of this stupendous crisis and transaction from beginning to end, and endowed him with sufficient wisdom to manage and direct it,” Lincoln told Morrill. “I confess I do not fully understand, and foresee it all. But I am placed here where I am obliged to the best of my poor ability to deal with it. And that being the case I can only go just as fast as I can see how to go.”30

Morrill recalled that President Lincoln “saw this thing as a stupendous movement, which he watched, and upon which he acted as he might best do when in his judgment the opportune moment came. I was satisfied he comprehended it as thoroughly as any man living could do. He saw that it was an immense affair; that in his dealings with it he must be backed by immense forces; and to this end it was his policy to hold the nation true to the general aim – to disregard petty deviations and delays – he saw the progress we made from time to time in its larger and more important aspects and relations – he moderated, guided, controlled or pushed ahead as he saw his opportunity – he was the great balance-wheel in short, that held the ship true to her course.”31

Two of Senator William P. Fessenden’s brothers – Samuel C. and Thomas A. Fessenden – were members of Congress at the beginning of the war. Neither Samuel nor Thomas sought seek reelection in 1862. Two of Fessenden’s sons – Francis and James D. Fessenden – became Union generals. In addition to the Hamlin and Fessenden families, Maine Republican politics had room for the Washburn family. One of the Washburn brothers, Elihu B. Washburne (he spelled it with an “e” at the end) was an Illinois congressman who was a close political ally of Abraham Lincoln. He would also become the chief political sponsor of General Ulysses S. Grant, who was his constituent at the beginning of the Civil War. Another brother Cadwallader Colden Washburn, moved to Wisconsin, became a congressmen for three terms before the Civil War, a general during it and Wisconsin’s governor after it. A third brother would serve in Congress from Minnesota after the Civil War.

Still another Washburn brother, had served a decade in Congress from Maine before the Civil War. In September 1860 Israel Washburn, Jr., was elected governor, defeating Ephraim K. Smart, for whom Illinois Senator Stephen A. Douglas campaigned. “Though short in stature, serious, almost scholarly, in demeanor, nearsighted, and high-voiced, Israel Washburn impressed people as a solid, hard-working man of erudition and integrity,” wrote Historian William B. Hesseltine. “His appearance and reputation were valuable to the party, for the Democrats, weary of assailing Republican eccentricities, had begun to charge the party with extravagance and corruption.” 32 Washburn’s lack of formal education was compensated for by his studious disposition.

“Before the war the similarity between Lincoln’s and Washburn’s views had made itself manifest,” wrote biographer Gaillard Hunt. “Now as the war progressed this became even more evident.” 33 Washburn was easily reelected in 1861, but after two terms as Governor, Israel declined to run for reelection in September 1862. Republicans nominated a lumber and railroad businessman, Abner Coburn, a strong administrator but an indifferent speaker. He was elected but with a majority less than Maine Republicans were accustomed to. And a year later, he was denied renomination by Republicans who had reformulated themselves as the Union Party. Former Douglas Democrat Samuel A. Cony led Coburn on the first ballot at the Union Party convention and Coburn withdrew.

Though out of office, former Governor Washburn was not neglected. In October 1863, President Lincoln wrote Illinois Congressman Elihu B. Washburne: “Yours of the 12th. has been in my hands several days. Enclosed I send the leave of absence for your brother [Cadwallader Colden Washburn], in as good form as I think I can safely put it. Without knowing whether he would accept it, I have tendered the Collectorship at Portland, Me, to your other brother, the Governor.” 34 Washburn badly wanted to be a U.S. Senator but until the opportunity presented itself, he settled for the Treasury job and helping Treasury Secretary Fessenden return to the Senate in 1865.

Republican State Chairman James G. Blaine was speaker of the Maine House of Representatives until he entered Congress in 1863. Even before he joined Congress, he frequently visited Washington. He took a leading role in promoting President Lincoln’s renomination, writing President Lincoln on March 3, 1864: “Both branches of the Maine legislature have this day adopted resolutions cordially recommending your renomination. Every Union member voted in favor of them. Maine is a unit for you -“35 Renominating Mr. Lincoln proved easy, but renominating Vice President Hamlin proved unexpectedly difficult.

In 1891 Pennsylvania Republican leader Alexander K. McClure raised the contention that President Lincoln had personally urged him to work to replace Hamlin on the Republican-Union ticket with Tennessee’s Andrew Johnson. John G. Nicolay, who attended the Republican convention on the President’s behalf, immediately countered by maintaining that President Lincoln “persistently withheld any opinion calculated to influence the convention.” 36 Journalist Noah Brooks, no friend of Nicolay’s wrote of his meeting with President Lincoln the night before the Convention opened: “I had hoped to see Mr. Hamlin renominated, and had anxiously given Mr. LIncoln many opportunities to say whether he preferred the renomination of the Vice-President; but he was craftily and rigidly non-committal, knowing, as he did, what was in my mind concerning Mr. Hamlin. He would refer to the matter only in the vaguest phrase, as, ‘Mr. Hamlin is a very good man,’ or, ‘You, being a New Englander, would naturally like to see Mr. Hamlin renominated; and you are quite right,’ and so on. By this time Lincoln’s renomination was an absolute certainty, and he cheerfully conceded that point without any false modesty. But could not be induced to express any opinion on the subject of the selection of a candidate for vice-president. He did go so far as to say that he hoped that the convention would declare in favor of the constitutional amendment abolishing slavery as one of the articles of the party faith. But beyond that, nothing.”37

On June 6, Lincoln aide John Hay wrote in his diary: “Got a letter from Nicolay at Baltimore — answered by mail & telegraph. The President positively refuses to give even a confidential suggestion in regard to Vice Prest, platform or organization.” 38 Hay wrote John G. Nicolay in Baltimore: “The President wishes not to interfere in the nomination even by a confidential suggestion. He also declines suggesting anything in regard to platform or the organization of the Convention. The Convention must be guided in these matters by their own views of justice and propriety.”39

Nicolay wrote to Hay the same day: “Hamlin will in all probability be nominated V.P. New York does not want the nominee – hence neither [John A.] Dix nor [Daniel] Dickinson have any backers. Andy Johnson seems to have no strength whatever; even Dr Breckenridge and the Kentuckians oppose him. Cameron received no encouragement outside of Pennsylvania, and he is evidently too shrewd to bear an empty bush. The disposition of all the delegates was to take any war Democrat, provided he would add strength to the ticket. None of the names suggested seemed to meet this requirement, and the feeling therefore is to avoid any weakness. It strikes everybody that Hamlin fills this bill, and Pennsylvania has this afternoon broken ground on the subject by resolving, on Cameron’s own motion to cast her vote for him. New York will probably follow suit tonight, which will virtually decide the contest[.]”40

The next day, Nicolay wrote Hay: “The Vice Presidency goes a-begging. Yesterday as I wrote you the current set toward Hamlin. But New England does not support Hamlin, or at least Massachusetts does not, because, it is shrewdly suspected, she hopes something may turn up in a new deal which would enable her to push [Governor John] Andrew. New York leaned decidedly to Hamlin yesterday evening; but the main thing New York wants is not to have the V.P. because that would obstruct Seward’s future. So this morning, New York, fearing that through Hamlin’s failure Dickinson might succeed determined to go for Johnson…So the matter drifts…”41

Once again the Republicans cast their votes geographically – with Maine voting first and giving all 16 votes to President Lincoln. When votes for Vice President were tallied, Hamlin trailed Tennessee Governor Andrew Johnson, 200-150, on the first ballot, but so many votes switched that Johnson got 494. Many political considerations combined to undermine Hamlin – including defections among New England delegations – especially Connecticut and Massachusetts – which voted first. Another problem was a movement to nominate Daniel S. Dickinson of New York – hoping that it would force fellow New Yorker William H. Seward out of the cabinet. The evidence suggests that President Lincoln himself did not interfere in the contest – instructing his secretary; “Convention must judge for itself.” 42 Maine Senator Morrill tried to organize Hamlin’s renomination and blamed his defeat on Massachusetts’ defection. He wrote Hamlin: “I do not doubt but for the movement of Massachusetts you would have gone through.”43

Pennsylvania journalist Alexander K. McClure probably overstated the case when he wrote: “Hamlin was not in close sympathy with Lincoln; on the contrary, he was known as one who passively rather than actively strengthened a powerful cabal of Republican leaders in their aggressive hostility to Lincoln and his general policy; but Lincoln was incapable of yielding to prejudice, however strong, in planning his great campaign for re-election in 1864. Had Hamlin been ten times more offensive than he was to Lincoln, it would not have halted Lincoln for a moment in favoring Hamlin’s renomination if he believed it good politics to do so. He rejected Hamlin not because he hated him; he accepted Johnson not because he loved him. He was guided in what he did, or what he did not, in planning the great campaign of his life, that he believed involved the destiny of the country itself, by the single purpose of making success as nearly certain as possible.”44

Lincoln friend Henry C. Whitney later conjectured: “That, while Lincoln had a preference, it was for the man he thought would add strength to the ticket, and that he knew that Hamlin could bring no votes, but that a war Democrat could do so – hence he was for a war Democrat; and that, inasmuch as he desired to please the border states so far as he could, he really preferred Holt or Johnson; but I doubt if he really mentioned any particular individual, or even acquiesced in any choice. He listened with simulated patience and ostensibly pleased interest to all suggestions, and expressed no dissent from the laudation of the various candidates suggested, and each laudator supposed that silence gave consent to his views.”45

Historian Allan Nevins wrote: “Hamlin deserved renomination, for he had been a dignified, salty, right-minded Vice-President, and if he had given little impression of force or stature, his office made it almost impossible to make any impression at all. The son of a poor farmer, deprived of a college education, he had steadily grown as he rose from a law office through legislature, House and Senate. A gentleman of the old school, a six -footer of blandly courteous manners…He was punctilious in the discharge of duty; his speech had terse Yankee pungency, but also judgment and tact: and he held some firm convictions – one that amnesty ought to be granted all Southerners sincerely converted to loyalty, and another that the Negro could be developed into a useful citizen just as surely as he had been developed into a soldier.”46

Hamlin biographer Mark Scroggins wrote: “When Hamlin got the news of his defeat, he took the loss with an unusual degree of nonchalance and good humor. He did not make the usual complaints about conspiracies’ or ‘corrupt bargains.’ “Be assured that I am in the best of spirits and ready to do my whole duty so far as I am able,’ he wrote to his secretary John W. Babson. He wrote almost gleefully to Simon Cameron that his friends were ‘more solicitous and disappointed than myself. I was in fact very indifferent about it as you know.”47

Indeed, noted Scroggins, Hamlin preferred to return to the Senate seat which William P. Fessenden vacated in July to serve as Secretary of the Treasury. But Fessenden did not relish that job any more than Hamlin liked the Vice Presidency. Hamlin promoted William Pitt Fessenden for Chief Justice in the fall of 1864 in order to get him out of the upcoming Senate race – writing President Lincoln that “If you can consistently give him the place it will confer a lasting obligation upon me.”48 Instead the chief court job went to Fessenden’s predecessor, Salmon P. Chase.

The two Maine rivals set their sights on returning to the Senate through a Maine legislative election in early 1865. The New York Herald reported that Fessenden had “turned the whole patronage, power and machinery of his [Treasury] department into the effort to secure his own return to the Senate and the defeat of Mr. Hamlin. In this work it is averred he found a willing tool in his Collector of Internal Revenue at Portland, Israel Washburn, Jr. who in turn is looking with covetous eyes upon the other seat in the Senate now occupied by Senator Morrill.”49

Maine had gone reliably Republican the previous fall. Governor Cony easily won reelection by more than 19,000 votes in September – setting the stage for a presidential victory in November. Congressman Blaine telegraphed the President: “The Union majority in Maine will reach 20,000. We will give you thirty thousand (30.000) in November.”50 President Lincoln carried the state, 59-41%, over Democrat George B. McClellan.

On January 17, President Lincoln wrote Hamlin: “Mr. Fessenden decides to take the Senatorship on the 4th of March. Please let this remain profoundly secret for the present.”51 Fessenden reclaimed the post before Hamlin could get it; Hamlin’s supporters conceded defeat by removing his name from consideration. President Lincoln looked around for a position that Hamlin could comfortably fill – writing Boston Collector of Customs John Z. Goodrich, whether or not Goodrich wanted to continue in the post. Unfortunately for Hamlin, the former lieutenant governor of Massachusetts most definitely wanted to stay.

On February 6, Fessenden sent President Lincoln a gracious resignation letter: “On leaving the position which your favor conferred upon me, I desire gratefully to acknowledge the kindness and consideration with which you have invariably treated me, and to assure you that, in retiring, I carry with me great and increased respect for your personal character, and for the ability which has marked your administration of the government, at a period requiring the most devoted patriotism and the highest intellectual and moral qualities, for a place so exalted as yours.”52

Republicans soon had reason to regret that dismissal of Vice President Hamlin – who presided over the inauguration of Andrew Johnson in the Senate chamber. Suffering from the flu, Johnson had fortified himself with whiskey and delivered a rambling, incoherent speech. Historians Harry J. Carman and Reinhard H. Luthin wrote: “Several days after the inauguration of Lincoln and Johnson, Hamlin, still unplaced, left Washington for his home. A notice in a leading journal carried this announcement: ‘Mr. Hamlin Going Home Disgusted: Ex-Vice President Hamlin departed for his home in Maine this morning, thoroughly disgusted with everything and almost everybody in public life, excepting the President. He complains that almost every one with whom he has had anything to do has played him false.'”53


  1. Harold Holzer, Lincoln at Cooper Union, p. 188.
  2. Louis Clinton Hatch, editor, Maine: A History, Volume II, p. 418.
  3. Michael Burlingame, editor, An Oral History of Abraham Lincoln, John G. Nicolay’s Interviews and Essays, p. 54 (John G. Nicolay Conversation with Lot M. MOrrill, September 20, 1878).
  4. Paul M. Angle and Earl Schenck Miers, editors, Fire the Salute: Murat Halstead Report the Republican National Convention in Chicago, May 16, 17, & 18, 1860, May 16, 17, & 18, 1860, pp. 48-49.
  5. Louis Clinton Hatch, editor, Maine: A History, Volume II, p. 422.
  6. Ben Perley Poore, Perley’s Reminiscences, Volume II, pp. 97-98.
  7. Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Transcribed and Annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College. Galesburg, Illinois. (Letter from Hannibal Hamlin to Abraham Lincoln, September 8, 1861)
  8. Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Transcribed and Annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College. Galesburg, Illinois. Letter from Hannibal Hamlin to Abraham Lincoln, September 11,1861)
  9. H. Draper Hunt, Hannibal Hamlin, p. 143.
  10. Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Transcribed and Annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College. Galesburg, Illinois. (Letter from Hannibal Hamlin to Abraham Lincoln, April 26, 1861).
  11. Mark Scroggins, Hannibal: The Life of Abraham Lincoln’s First Vice President, p. 184.
  12. Mark Scroggins, Hannibal: The Life of Abraham Lincoln’s First Vice President, p. 185.
  13. Michael Burlingame, editor, An Oral History of Abraham Lincoln , John G. Nicolay’s Interviews and Essays , p. 69 (John G. Nicolay conversation with Hannibal Hamlin, April 8, 1879).
  14. Michael Burlingame, An Oral History of Abraham Lincoln, John G. Nicolay’s Interviews and Essays , p. 67 (Conversation with Hannibal Hamlin, April 8, 1879).
  15. Michael Burlingame, editor, An Oral History of Abraham Lincoln, John G. Nicolay’s Interviews and Essays, p. 68 (John G. Nicolay conversation with Hannibal Hamlin, April 8, 1879).
  16. Noah Brooks, Washington in Lincoln’s Time, pp. 34-35.
  17. Ben Perley Poore, Perley’s Reminiscences, Volume II, p. 98.
  18. James G. Blaine, Twenty Years of Congressman from Lincoln to Garfield, Volume I, p. 316.
  19. John Sherman, Recollections of Forty Years, Volume I, p. 338.
  20. Michael Burlingame, Lincoln’s Journalist: John Hay’s Anonymous Writings for the Press, 1860-1864p. 276. (June 26, 1862).
  21. Francis Fessenden, Life and Public Services of William Pitt Fessenden,, Volume I, p. 127.
  22. James A. Rawley, Abraham Lincoln and a Nation Worth Fighting For, p. 63
  23. William Salter, “William Pitt Fessenden,” (Letter from William P. Fessenden to James Grimes, October 19, 1862), p. 8.
  24. Francis B. Carpenter, The Inner Life of Abraham Lincoln: Six Months at the White House, p. 183.
  25. Michael Burlingame and John R. Turner Ettlinger, Inside Lincoln’s White House: The Complete Civil War Diary of John Hay, p. 216-217 (July 1, 1864).
  26. Francis Fessenden, Life and Public Services of William Pitt Fessenden, pp. 317-318.
  27. Francis Fessenden, Life and Public Services of William Pitt Fessenden , p. 323 (Letter from James Grimes to William P. Fessenden, July 3, 1864).
  28. Willliam Salter, “William Pitt Fessenden”, p. 10.
  29. Michael Burlingame, editor, Oral History of Abraham Lincoln, John G. Nicolay’s Interviews and Essays, p. 54 (John G. Nicolay Conversation with Lot M. Morrill), September 20, 1878).
  30. Michael Burlingame, editor, An Oral History of Abraham Lincoln, John G. Nicolay’s Interviews and Essays, p. 54-55 (John G. Nicolay Conversation with Lot M. Morrill, September 20, 1878).
  31. Michael Burlingame, editor, An Oral History of Abraham Lincoln, John G. Nicolay’s Interviews and Essays, p. 55 (John G. Nicolay Conversation with Lot M. Morrill, September 20, 1878).
  32. William B. Hesseltine, Lincoln and the War Governors, pp. 80-81.
  33. Gaillard Hunt, Israel, Elihu and Cadwallader Washburn: A Chapter in American Biography, p. 112.
  34. Roy P. Basler, editor, Collected Works of Abrahma Lincoln ,Volume VI, p. 540 (Letter from Abraham Lincoln to Elihu B. Washburne, October 26, 1863).
  35. Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Transcribed and Annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College. Galesburg, Illinois. (Letter from James G. Blaine, March 3, 1864).
  36. Don E. Fehrenbacher, “The Making of a Myth: Lincoln and the Vice Presidential Nomination of 1864,” Civil War History, December 1992, p. 286.
  37. Noah Brooks, Washington in Lincoln’s Time, p. 141.
  38. Michael Burlingame and John R. Turner Ettlinger, editors, Inside Lincoln’s White House: The Complete Civil War Diary of John Hay, p. 200.
  39. Michael Burlingame, editor, At Lincoln’s Side: John Hay’s Civil War Correspondence and Selected Writings, p. 84 (Letter from John Hay to John G. Nicolay), June 6, 1864).
  40. Michael Burlingame, With Lincoln in the White House: Letters, Memoranda, and Other Writings of John G. Nicolay, 1860-1865, p. 145 (Letter to John Hay), June 6, 1864).
  41. Michael Burlingame, editor, With Lincoln in the White House: Letters, Memoranda, and Other Writings of John G. Nicolay, 1860-1865, pp. 145-146 (Letter to John Hay, June 7, 1864).
  42. Roy P. Basler, editor, Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume VII, p. 376 (Endorsement Concerning Leonard Swett and Joseph Holt, June 6, 1864).
  43. Carl Sandburg, Abraham Lincoln, The War Years, Volume III. p. 92.
  44. Alexander K. McClure, Lincoln and Men of War-Times, p. 115.
  45. Henry Clay Whitney, Life on the Circuit with Lincoln, p. 138.
  46. Allan Nevins, The War for Union: The Organized War to Victory, 1864-1865, pp. 74-77.
  47. Mark Scroggins, Hannibal: The Life of Abraham Lincoln’s First Vice President, p. 209.
  48. Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Transcribed and Annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College. Galesburg, Illinois. (Letter from Hannibal Hamlin to Abraham Lincoln, October 15, 1864).
  49. Harry. J. Carman and Reinhard H. Luthin, Lincoln and the Patronage, p. 307 (New York Herald, March 10, 1865).
  50. Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Transcribed and Annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College. Galesburg, Illinois. (Letter from James G. Blaine to Abraham Lincoln, September 12, 1864).
  51. CWAL, First Supplement, p. 276 (Letter from Abraham Lincoln to Hannibal Hamlin, January 17, 1865.
  52. Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Transcribed and Annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College. Galesburg, Illinois. (Letter from William P. Fessenden to Abraham Lincoln, February 6, 1865).
  53. H. J. Carman and Reinhard H. Luthin, Lincoln and the Patronage, p. 307. (New York Herald, March 10, 1865).