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Chapter IV
LINCOLN AS PRESIDENT ORGANISES THE PEOPLE FOR THE MAINTENANCE OF NATIONAL EXISTENCE

After the election of November, 1860, events moved swiftly. On the 20th of December, comes the first act of the Civil War, the secession of South Carolina. The secession of Georgia had for a time been delayed by the influence of Alexander H. Stephens who, on the 14th of November, had made a great argument for the maintenance of the union. His chief local opponent at the time was Robert Toombs, the Southern leader who proposed in the near future to "call the roll-call of his slaves on Bunker Hill." Lincoln was still hopeful of saving to the cause of the union the Border States and the more conservative divisions of States, like North Carolina, which had supported the Whig party.

In December, we find correspondence between Lincoln and Gilmer of North Carolina, whom he had known in Washington. "The essential difference," says Lincoln, "between your group and mine is that you hold slavery to be in itself desirable and as something to be extended. I hold it to be an essential evil which, with due regard to existing rights, must be restricted and in the near future exterminated."

On the 23d of February, 1861, Lincoln reaches Washington where he is to spend a weary and anxious two weeks of waiting for the burden of his new responsibilities. He is at this time fifty-two years of age. In one of his brief addresses on the way to Washington he says:

"It is but little to a man of my age, but a great deal to thirty millions of the citizens of the United States, and to posterity in all coming time, if the union of the States and the liberties of the people are to be lost. If the majority is not to rule, who would be the judge of the issue or where is such judge to be found?"

It is difficult to imagine a more exasperating condition of affairs than obtained in Washington while Lincoln was awaiting the day of inauguration. The government appeared to be crumbling away under the nerveless direction, or lack of direction, of President Buchanan and his associates. In his last message to Congress, Buchanan had taken the ground that the Constitution made no provision for the secession of States or for the breaking up of the union; but that it also failed to contain any provision for measures that could prevent such secession and the consequent destruction of the nation. The old gentleman appeared to be entirely unnerved by the pressure of events. He could not see any duty before him. He certainly failed to realise that the more immediate cause of the storm was the breaking down, through the repeal of the Missouri Compromise, of the barriers that had in 1820, and in 1850, been placed against the extension of slavery. He evidently failed to understand that it was his own action in backing up the infamous Lecompton Constitution, and the invasion of Kansas by the slave-owners, which had finally aroused the spirit of the North, and further that it was the influence of his administration which had given to the South the belief that it was now in a position to control for slavery the whole territory of the Republic.

It has before now been pointed out that, under certain contingencies, the long interval between the national election and the inaugural of the new President from the first Tuesday in November until the fourth day of March must, in not a few instances, bring inconvenience, disadvantage, and difficulty not only to the new administration but to the nation. These months in which the members of an administration which had practically committed itself to the cause of disintegration, were left in charge of the resources of the nation gave a most serious example and evidence of such disadvantage. This historic instance ought to have been utilised immediately after the War as an influence for bringing about a change in the date for bringing into power the administration that has been chosen in November.

By the time when Lincoln and the members of his Cabinet had placed in their hands the responsibilities of administration, the resources at the disposal of the government had, as far as practicable, been scattered or rendered unavailable. The Secretary of the Navy, a Southerner, had taken pains to send to the farthest waters of the Pacific as many as possible of the vessels of the American fleet; the Secretary of War, also a Southerner, had for months been busy in transferring to the arsenals of the South the guns and ammunition that had been stored in the Federal arsenals of the North; the Secretary of the Treasury had had no difficulty in disposing of government funds in one direction or another so that there was practically no balance to hand over to his successor available for the most immediate necessities of the new administration.

One of the sayings quoted from Washington during these weeks was the answer given by Count Gurowski to the inquiry, "Is there anything in addition this morning?" "No," said Gurowski, "it is all in subtraction."

By the day of the inaugural, the secession of seven States was an accomplished fact and the government of the Confederacy had already been organised in Montgomery. Alexander H. Stephens had so far modified his original position that he had accepted the post of Vice-President and in his own inaugural address had used the phrase, "Slavery is the corner-stone of our new nation," a phrase that was to make much mischief in Europe for the hopes of the new Confederacy.

In the first inaugural, one of the great addresses in a noteworthy series, Lincoln presented to the attention of the leaders of the South certain very trenchant arguments against the wisdom of their course. He says of secession for the purpose of preserving the institution of slavery:

"You complain that under the government of the United States your slaves have from time to time escaped across your borders and have not been returned to you. Their value as property has been lessened by the fact that adjoining your Slave States were certain States inhabited by people who did not believe in your institution. How is this condition going to be changed by war even under the assumption that the war may be successful in securing your independence? Your slave territory will still adjoin territory inhabited by free men who are inimical to your institution; but these men will no longer be bound by any of the restrictions which have obtained under the Constitution. They will not have to give consideration to the rights of slave-owners who are fellow-citizens. Your slaves will escape as before and you will have no measure of redress. Your indignation may produce further wars, but the wars can but have the same result until finally, after indefinite loss of life and of resources, the institution will have been hammered out of existence by the inevitable conditions of existing civilisation."

Lincoln points out further in this same address the difference between his responsibilities and those of the Southern leaders who are organising for war. "You," he says, "have no oath registered in Heaven to destroy this government, while I have the most solemn oath to preserve, direct, and defend it."

"It was not necessary," says Lincoln, "for the Constitution to contain any provision expressly forbidding the disintegration of the state; perpetuity and the right to maintain self-existence will be considered as a fundamental law of all national government. If the theory be accepted that the United States was an association or federation of communities, the creation or continued existence of such federation must rest upon contract; and before such contract can be rescinded, the consent is required of both or of all of the parties assenting to it."

He closes with the famous invocation to the fellow Americans of the South against whom throughout the whole message there had not been one word of bitterness or rancour: "We are not enemies but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained our relations, it must not break our bonds of affection."

It was, however, too late for argument, and too late for invocations of friendship. The issue had been forced by the South and the war for which the leaders of the South had for months, if not for years, been making preparation was now to be begun by Southern action. It remained to make clear to the North, where the people up to the last moment had been unwilling to believe in the possibility of civil war, that the nation could be preserved only by fighting for its existence. It remained to organise the men of the North into armies which should be competent to carry out this tremendous task of maintaining the nation's existence.

It was just after the great inaugural and when his head must have been full of cares and his hands of work, that Lincoln took time to write a touching little note that I find in his correspondence. It was addressed to a boy who had evidently spoken with natural pride of having met the President and whose word had been questioned:

"The White House, March 18, 1861.

"I did see and talk in May last at Springfield, Illinois, with Master George Edward Patten."

With the beginning of the work of the administration, came trouble with the members of the Cabinet. The several secretaries were, in form at least, the choice of the President, but as must always be the case in the shaping of a Cabinet, and as was particularly necessary at a time when it was of first importance to bring into harmonious relations all of the political groups of the North which were prepared to be loyal to the government, the men who took office in the first Cabinet of Lincoln represented not any personal preference of the President, but political or national requirements. The Secretary of State, Mr. Seward, had, as we know, been Lincoln's leading opponent for the Presidential nomination and had expressed with some freedom of criticism his disappointment that he, the natural leader of the party, should be put to one side for an uncultivated, inexperienced Westerner. Mr. Seward possessed both experience and culture; more than this, he was a scholar, and came of a long line of gentlefolk. He had public spirit, courage, legitimate political ambition, and some of the qualities of leadership. His nature was, however, not quite large enough to stand the pressure of political disappointment nor quite elastic enough to develop rapidly under the tremendous urgency of absolutely new requirements. It is in evidence that more than once in the management of the complex and serious difficulties of the State Department during the years of war, Seward lost his head. It is also on record that the wise-minded and fair-minded President was able to supply certain serious gaps and deficiencies in the direction of the work of the Department, and further that his service was so rendered as to save the dignity and the repute of the Secretary. Seward's subjectivity, not to say vanity, was great, and it took some little time before he was able to realise that his was not the first mind or the strongest will-power in the new administration. On the first of April, 1861, less than thirty days after the organisation of the Cabinet, Seward writes to Lincoln complaining that the "government had as yet no policy; that its action seemed to be simply drifting"; that there was a lack of any clear-minded control in the direction of affairs within the Cabinet, in the presentation to the people of the purposes of the government, and in the shaping of the all-important relations with foreign states. "Who," said Seward, "is to control the national policy?" The letter goes on to suggest that Mr. Seward is willing to take the responsibility, leaving, if needs be, the credit to the nominal chief. The letter was a curious example of the weakness and of the bumptiousness of the man, while it gave evidence also, it is fair to say, of a real public-spirited desire that things should go right and that the nation should be saved. It was evident that he had as yet no adequate faith in the capacity of the President.

Lincoln's answer was characteristic of the man. There was no irritation with the bumptiousness, no annoyance at the lack of confidence on the part of his associate. He states simply: "There must, of course, be control and the responsibility for this control must rest with me." He points out further that the general policy of the administration had been outlined in the inaugural, that no action since taken had been inconsistent with this. The necessary preparations for the defence of the government were in train and, as the President trusted, were being energetically pushed forward by the several department heads. "I have a right," said Lincoln, "to expect loyal co-operation from my associates in the Cabinet. I need their counsel and the nation needs the best service that can be secured from our united wisdom." The letter of Seward was put away and appears never to have been referred to between the two men. It saw the light only after the President's death. If he had lived it might possibly have been suppressed altogether. A month later, Seward said to a friend, "There is in the Cabinet but one vote and that is cast by the President."

The post next in importance under the existing war conditions was that of Secretary of War. The first man to hold this post was Simon Cameron of Pennsylvania. Cameron was very far from being a friend of Lincoln's. The two men had had no personal relations and what Lincoln knew of him he liked not at all. The appointment had been made under the pressure of the Republicans of Pennsylvania, a State whose support was, of course, all important for the administration. It was not the first nor the last time that the Republicans of this great State, whose Republicanism seems to be much safer than its judgment, have committed themselves to unworthy and undesirable representatives, men who were not fitted to stand for Pennsylvania and who were neither willing nor able to be of any service to the country. The appointment of Cameron had, as appears from the later history, been promised to Pennsylvania by Judge Davis in return for the support of the Pennsylvania delegation for the nomination of Lincoln. Lincoln knew nothing of the promise and was able to say with truth, and to prove, that he had authorised no promises and no engagements whatsoever. He had, in fact, absolutely prohibited Davis and the one or two other men who were supposed to have some right to speak for him in the convention, from the acceptance of any engagements or obligations whatsoever. Davis made the promise to Pennsylvania on his own responsibility and at his own risk; Lincoln felt under too much obligation to Davis for personal service and for friendly loyalty to be willing, when the claim was finally pressed, to put it to one side as unwarranted. The appointment of Cameron was made and proved to be expensive for the efficiency of the War Department and for the repute of the administration. It became necessary within a comparatively short period to secure his resignation. It was in evidence that he was trafficking in appointments and in contracts. He was replaced by Edwin M. Stanton, who was known later as "the Carnot of the War." Stanton's career as a lawyer had given him no direct experience of army affairs. He showed, however, exceptional ability, great will power, and an enormous capacity for work. He was ambitious, self-willed, and most arbitrary in deed and in speech. The difficulty with Stanton was that he was as likely to insult and to browbeat some loyal supporter of the government as to bring to book, and, when necessary, to crush, greedy speculators and disloyal tricksters. His judgment in regard to men was in fact very often at fault. He came into early and unnecessary conflict with his chief and he found there a will stronger than his own. The respect of the two men for each other grew into a cordial regard. Each recognised the loyalty of purpose and the patriotism by which the actions of both were influenced. Lincoln was able to some extent to soften and to modify the needless truculency of the great War Secretary, and notwithstanding a good deal of troublesome friction, armies were organised and the troops were sent to the front.

The management of the Treasury, a responsibility hardly less in importance under the war conditions than that of the organisation of the armies, was placed in the hands of Senator Chase. He received from his precursor an empty treasury while from the administration came demands for immediate and rapidly increasing weekly supplies of funds. The task came upon him first of establishing a national credit and secondly of utilising this credit for loans such as the civilised world had not before known. The expenditures extended by leaps and bounds until by the middle of 1864 they had reached the sum of $2,000,000 a day. Blunders were made in large matters and in small, but, under the circumstances, blunders were not to be avoided and the chief purpose was carried out. A sufficient credit was established, first with the citizens at home and later with investors abroad, to make a market for the millions of bonds in the two great issues, the so-called seven-thirties and five-twenties. The sales of these bonds, together with a wide-reaching and, in fact, unduly complex system of taxation, secured the funds necessary for the support of the army and the navy. At the close of the War, the government, after meeting this expenditure, had a national war debt of something over four thousand millions of dollars. The gross indebtedness resulting from the War was of course, however, much larger because each State had incurred war expenditures and counties as well as States had issued bonds for the payment of bounties, etc. The criticism was made at the time by the opponents of the financial system which was shaped by the Committee of Ways and Means in co-operation with the Secretary, a criticism that has often been repeated since, that the War expenditure would have been much less if the amounts needed beyond what could be secured by present taxation had been supplied entirely by the proceeds of bonds. In addition, however, to the issues of bonds, the government issued currency to a large amount, which was made legal tender and which on the face of it was not made subject to redemption.

In addition to the bills ranging in denomination from one dollar to one thousand, the government brought into distribution what was called "postal currency." I landed in New York in August, 1862, having returned from a University in Germany for the purpose of enlisting in the army. I was amused to see my father make payment in the restaurant for my first lunch in postage stamps. He picked the requisite number, or the number that he believed would be requisite, from a ball of stamps which had, under the influence of the summer heat, stuck together so closely as to be very difficult to handle. Many of the stamps were in fact practically destroyed and were unavailable. Some question arose between the restaurant keeper and my father as to the availability of one or two of the stamps that had been handed over. My father explained to me that immediately after the outbreak of the War, specie, including even the nickels and copper pennies, had disappeared from circulation, and the people had been utilising for the small change necessary for current operations the postage stamps, a use which, in connection with the large percentage of destruction, was profitable to the government, but extravagant for the community. A little later, the postal department was considerate enough to bring into print a series of postage stamps without any gum on the back. These could, of course, be handled more easily, but were still seriously perishable. Towards the close of the year, the Treasury department printed from artistically engraved plates a baby currency in notes of about two and a half inches long by one and a half inches wide. The denominations comprised ten cents, fifteen cents, twenty-five cents, fifty cents, and seventy-five cents. The fifteen cents and the seventy-five cents were not much called for, and were probably not printed more than once. They would now be scarce as curiosities. The postal currency was well printed on substantial paper, but in connection with the large requirement for handling that is always placed upon small currency, these little paper notes became very dirty and were easily used up. The government must have made a large profit from the percentage that was destroyed. The necessary effect of this distribution of government "I.O.U.'s," based not upon any redemption fund of gold but merely upon the general credit of the government, was to appreciate the value of gold. In June, 1863, just before the battle of Gettysburg, the depreciation of this paper currency, which represented of course the appreciation of gold, was in the ratio of 100 to 290. It happened that the number 290, which marked the highest price reached by gold during the War, was the number that had been given in Laird's ship-yard (on the Mersey) to the Confederate cruiser Alabama.

Chase was not only a hard-working Secretary of the Treasury but an ambitious, active-minded, and intriguing politician. He represented in the administration the more extreme anti-slavery group. He was one of those who favoured from the beginning immediate action on the part of the government in regard to the slaves in the territory that was still controlled by the government. It is doubtless the case that he held these anti-slavery views as a matter of honest conviction. It is in evidence also from his correspondence that he connected with these views the hope and the expectation of becoming President. His scheming for the nomination for 1864 was carried on with the machinery that he had at his disposal as Secretary of the Treasury. The issues between Chase and Seward and between Chase and Stanton were many and bitter. The pressure on the part of the conservative Republicans to get Chase out of the Cabinet was considerable. Lincoln, believing that his service was valuable, refused to be influenced by any feeling of personal antagonism or personal rivalry. He held on to the Secretary until the last year of the War, when deciding that the Cabinet could then work more smoothly without him, he accepted his resignation. Even then, however, although he had had placed in his hands a note indicating a measure of what might be called personal disloyalty on the part of Chase, Lincoln was unwilling to lose his service for the country and appointed him as Chief Justice.

Montgomery Blair was put into the Cabinet as Postmaster-General more particularly as the representative of the loyalists of the Border States. His father was a leader in politics in Missouri, in which the family had long been of importance. His brother, Frank P. Blair, served with credit in the army, reaching the rank of Major-General. The Blair family was quite ready to fight for the union, but was very unwilling to do any fighting for the black man. They wanted the union restored as it had been, Missouri Compromise and all. It was Blair who had occasion from time to time to point out, and with perfect truth, that if, through the influence of Chase and of the men back of Chase in Massachusetts and northern Ohio, immediate action should be taken to abolish slavery in the Border States, fifty thousand men who had marched out of those States to the support of the union might be and probably would be recalled. "By a stroke of the pen," said Blair, "Missouri, eastern Tennessee, western Maryland, loyal Kentucky, now loyally supporting the cause of the nation, will be thrown into the arms of the Confederacy." During the first two years of the War, and in fact up to September, 1863, the views of Blair and his associates prevailed, and with the fuller history before us, we may conclude that it was best that they should have prevailed. This was, at least, the conclusion of Lincoln, the one man who knew no sectional prejudices, who had before him all the information and all the arguments, and who had upon him the pressure from all quarters. It was not easy under the circumstances to keep peace between Blair and Chase. Probably no man but Lincoln could have met the requirement.

The Secretary of the Navy, Gideon Welles, of Connecticut, while not a man of brilliancy or of great initiative, appears to have done his part quietly and effectively in the great work of the building and organising of a new fleet. He contributed nothing to the friction of the Cabinet and he was from the beginning a loyal supporter of the President. What we know now about the issues that arose between the different members of the Cabinet family comes to us chiefly through the Diary of Welles, who has described with apparent impartiality the idiosyncrasies of each of the secretaries and whose references to the tact, patience, and gracefully exercised will-power of the President are fully in line with the best estimates of Lincoln's character.

One of the first and most difficult tasks confronting the President and his secretaries in the organisation of the army and of the navy was in the matter of the higher appointments. The army had always been a favourite provision for the men from the South. The representatives of Southern families were, as a rule, averse to trade and there were, in fact, under the more restricted conditions of business in the Southern States, comparatively few openings for trading on the larger or mercantile scale. As a result of this preference, the cadetships in West Point and the commissions in the army had been held in much larger proportion (according to the population) by men of Southern birth. This was less the case in the navy because the marine interests of New England and of the Middle States had educated a larger number of Northern men for naval interests. When the war began, a very considerable number of the best trained and most valuable officers in the army resigned to take part with their States. The army lost the service of men like Lee, Johnston, Beauregard, and many others. A few good Southerners, such as Thomas of Virginia and Anderson of Kentucky, took the ground that their duty to the union and to the flag was greater than their obligation to their State. In the navy, Maury, Semmes, Buchanan, and other men of ability resigned their commissions and devoted themselves to the (by no means easy) task of building up a navy for the South; but Farragut of Tennessee remained with the navy to carry the flag of his country to New Orleans and to Mobile.

It was easy and natural during the heat of 1861 to characterise as traitors the men who went with their States to fight against the flag of their country. Looking at the matter now, forty-seven years later, we are better able to estimate the character and the integrity of the motives by which they were actuated. We do not need to-day to use the term traitors for men like Lee and Johnston. It was not at all unnatural that with their understanding of the government of the States in which they had been born, and with their belief that these States had a right to take action for themselves, they should have decided that their obligation lay to the State rather than to what they had persisted in thinking of not as a nation but as a mere confederation. We may rather believe that Lee was as honest in his way as Thomas and Farragut in theirs, but the view that the United States is a nation has been maintained through the loyal services of the men who held with Thomas and with Farragut.
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