Published on December 31, 1864, and drawn by Thomas Nast, the above picture has Lincoln inviting the starving Confederate states to join the Christmas dinner of the Union States. The print brings to mind the phrase that Lincoln would make immortal in his Second Inaugural in a few short months: “With malice towards none, with charity for all”. Not a bad sentiment to recall at Christmas time, or any time.
Virginia born Ward Hill Lamon, Lincoln’s lawyer friend from Bloomington, Illinois, spent a frustrating Civil War attempting to protect the President, who appointed him the US Marshal for the District of Columbia. Lincoln took a fatalistic attitude towards security, assuming that no precautions could protect him from an assassin determined to kill him. Lamon’s frustration boiled over in an eerily prophetic letter written very early on December 10, 1864:
Washington, D. C.
Dec. 10, 1864, 1.30 o’clock, A. M.
Hon. A. Lincoln:
Sir, — I regret that you do not appreciate what I have repeatedly said to you in regard to the proper police arrangements connected with your household and your own personal safety. You are in danger. I have nothing to ask, and I flatter myself that you will at least believe that I am honest. If, however, you have been impressed differently, do me and the country the justice to dispose at once of all suspected officers, and accept my resignation of the marshalship, which is hereby tendered. I will give you further reasons which have impelled me to this course. To-night, as you have done on several previous occasions, you went unattended to the theatre. When I say unattended, I mean that you went alone with Charles Sumner and a foreign minister, neither of whom could defend himself against an assault from any able-bodied woman in this city. And you know, or ought to know, that your life is sought after, and will be taken unless you and your friends are cautious; for you have many enemies within our lines. You certainly know that I have provided men at your mansion to perform all necessary police duty, and I am always ready myself to perform any duty that will properly conduce to your interest or your safety.
God knows that I am unselfish in this matter; and I do think that I have played low comedy long enough, and at my time of life I think I ought at least to attempt to play star engagements.
I have the honor to be
Your obedient servant,
Ward H. Lamon.
Lincoln’s Final Annual Message to Congress, what we would call the State of the Union speech, dated December 6, 1864, is a good corrective to the idea that nothing occurred during the Lincoln administration except the Civil War. Most of the Message deals with non War related matters, and reminds us that History did not sit still until the War was concluded. The War itself is briefly touched upon, Lincoln assuming correctly that there were few citizens unaware of the fact that the War was going very well indeed and that the Union was on the verge of winning it. Lincoln does pick out for mention Sherman’s March to the Sea, no doubt a common topic of conversation at that time in the North, and a demonstration, as Lincoln observes, of the increasing weakness of the Confederacy to impede Union military operations. Lincoln devotes the end section of his Message to comments about reconstruction:
On careful consideration of all the evidence accessible it seems to me that no attempt at negotiation with the insurgent leader could result in any good. He would accept nothing short of severance of the Union, precisely what we will not and can not give. His declarations to this effect are explicit and oft repeated. He does not attempt to deceive us. He affords us no excuse to deceive ourselves. He can not voluntarily reaccept the Union; we can not voluntarily yield it. Between him and us the issue is distinct, simple, and inflexible. It is an issue which can only be tried by war and decided by victory. If we yield, we are beaten; if the Southern people fail him, he is beaten. Either way it would be the victory and defeat following war. What is true, however, of him who heads the insurgent cause is not necessarily true of those who follow. Although he can not reaccept the Union, they can. Some of them, we know, already desire peace and reunion. The number of such may increase. They can at any moment have peace simply by laying down their arms and submitting to the national authority under the Constitution. Alter so much the Government could not, if it would, maintain war against them. The loyal people would not sustain or allow it. If questions should remain, we would adjust them by the peaceful means of legislation, conference, courts, and votes, operating only in constitutional and lawful channels. Some certain, and other possible, questions are and would be beyond the Executive power to adjust; as, for instance, the admission of members into Congress and whatever might require the appropriation of money. The Executive power itself would be greatly diminished by the cessation of actual war. Pardons and remissions of forfeitures, however, would still be within Executive control. In what spirit and temper this control would be exercised can be fairly judged of by the past.
Lincoln’s attention was beginning to shift from winning the War to winning the peace. It is one of the great tragedies of American history that he would win the former and not be present for the latter. Here is the text of the message: Continue reading
By the President of the United States of America
It has pleased Almighty God to prolong our national life another year, defending us with His guardian care against unfriendly designs from abroad and vouchsafing to us in His mercy many and signal victories over the enemy, who is of our own household. It has also pleased our Heavenly Father to favor as well our citizens in their homes as our soldiers in their camps and our sailors on the rivers and seas with unusual health. He has largely augmented our free population by emancipation and by immigration, while He has opened to us new sources of wealth and has crowned the labor of our workingmen in every department of industry with abundant rewards. Moreover, He has been pleased to animate and inspire our minds and hearts with fortitude, courage, and resolution sufficient for the great trial of civil war into which we have been brought by our adherence as a nation to the cause of freedom and humanity, and to afford to us reasonable hopes of an ultimate and happy deliverance from all our dangers and afflictions: Continue reading
Stories cluster about Lincoln like barnacles on a great ship. Many of them cannot be sourced at all and have to be consigned to legend. One such story that is probably just a legend is that of Tad and the Turkey. The White House in 1863 received the gift of a live turkey that was to be fattened up for an eventual White House dinner. Tad grew fond of the bird, named him Jack and eventually begged his father for the Turkey’s life. Lincoln was reluctant at first, noting that the Turkey had been given as a gift for the table and not as a pet. Tad’s pleas however eventually caused Lincoln to give the Turkey a presidential pardon.
Like all good legends this story has the participants behaving in character: Tad always did have a menagerie of pets in the White House, and Lincoln was soft-hearted about animals and was a fairly indulgent father. A sequel to the story had Jack the Turkey stepping to the front of a line of soldiers waiting to vote at a polling place set up at a White House. Then Lincoln is supposed to have inquired of his son if Jack was going to vote. Tad solemnly responded that Jack could not vote due to his being too young. Continue reading
I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant General of Massachusetts that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle. I feel how weak and fruitless must be any words of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering to you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save. I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours, to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of Freedom.
Yours, very sincerely and respectfully,
It is a magnificent letter and repeats themes from the Gettysburg address and looks forward to the Second Inaugural. Alas, the letter demonstrates how frequently ill advised it is to rely on government records. Two of Mrs. Bixby’s sons died fighting for the Union, another died as either a deserter or a prisoner of war and another deserted and survived the war. The final son was honorably discharged from the Army. (This is not that unusual. One of my friends, when it came time for him to retire from the Marines, had quite a time convincing the Pentagon that he had not died fighting in Hue during the Tet Offensive in 1968.) Mrs. Bixby did not find the letter of comfort apparently. According to a granddaughter, Mrs. Bixby was secretly in sympathy with the Confederacy and had little good to say of Mr. Lincoln. She probably destroyed the letter soon after it was delivered to her on November 24, 1864, as the original letter, which was published at the time, promptly vanished from history.
Lincoln, although he signed the letter, may not have written it. Theodore Roosevelt had a copy of it in his office and greatly admired it. A witness indicated that at one point his Secretary of State John Hay, who had been one of Lincoln’s private secretaries, stated that he had written the letter, which would not have been an unusual procedure, although Lincoln wrote quite a bit of his own correspondence as President. The question remains open, although on balance I think the authorship of the letter by Hay, mimicking Lincoln’s thoughts and style, probably has the stronger case than Lincoln’s own authorship. Having said all of that, I assume that Lincoln’s heart did go out to Mrs. Bixby. He had seen two of his own sons die, and friends and relatives of his had fallen in the War. He was a frequent visitor to Union hospitals around Washington to visit the Union wounded and knew well the immense human cost of the War that now, mercifully, was drawing to a close. Continue reading
Something for the weekend. Mini-Abe to the rescue, to the song Up Where We Belong, played at the conclusion of An Officer and a Gentleman (1982), a good ending to an otherwise forgettable flick. This is one of a series of Mini-Abe commercials that highlights the delightful eccentric daffiness that often adds charm to an otherwise miserably misgoverned state.
Mr. Lincoln has long been a fixture in Illinois tourism commercials. Here is one from the late eighties:
Ohio claims they are due a president as they haven’t had one since Taft. Look at the United States, they have not had one since Lincoln.
Something for the weekend. Lincoln and Liberty Too. Mr. Lincoln was re-elected 150 years ago. The 1864 campaign songs have been long forgotten, while Lincoln and Liberty Too from the 1860 campaign is probably the most famous campaign song in American political history.
With the re-election the last faint hope for the Confederacy vanished. The War would be fought to a finish and slavery was as dead as the hundreds of thousands of men who had fallen in the bloodiest conflict in American history.
Lincoln garnered 55% of the vote to 45% for McClellan. The electoral vote was a landslide of epic proportions: 221-21. Even if all the Confederate states had been able to cast unanimous votes against Lincoln, he still would have won a solid majority in the electoral college. The margins in some of the Northern States were close, but as the saying goes, that only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. Continue reading
Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.” If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”
Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural
A look at religion in the Civil War from the internet series the Civil War in Four Minutes. Most people on both sides, as Lincoln noted in his Second Inaugural, assumed God was on their side. Some viewed their causes as crusades. Typical of those who embraced that interpretation is a Union officer who upbraided a chaplain who had given a stern sermon to the men of his regiment on the pains of Hell, and informed him that every one of his boys who fell in this great fight for human liberty was going straight to Heaven and he would allow no other doctrine to be preached while he was in command of the regiment.
Perhaps the most insightful view was that embraced by Abraham Lincoln, Robert E. Lee and others who saw the War as the punishment for national sins. Rather than a crusade, the War was a chastisement that God was using for His purposes. I think there is much wisdom in this view. God often brings good out of human weakness, folly and even sin, and out of the Civil War, with all of its ghastly loss of life, came freedom for the slaves and a united nation. Continue reading
During the Civil War Abraham Lincoln commuted, as did Jefferson Davis, almost every military sentence of death for desertion or cowardice that reached his desk. One of his last acts before his own death was to pardon a soldier on April 13, 1865. As Lincoln put it,”I don’t believe it will make a man any better to shoot him, while if we keep him alive, we just may get some work out of him.”
On November 2, 1864 he telegrammed General Grant ordering him to suspend the pending execution of Nathan Wilson, who had been found guilty of desertion from the 22nd Massachusetts. Unlike most men Lincoln pardoned, Private Wilson was politically connected. His uncle was New York State Senator Albert Hobbs, a Republican, who had interceded with Lincoln on behalf of his nephew. Continue reading
There is rather good historical evidence that Abraham Lincoln had premonitions of his death. John Hay, one of Lincoln’s two personal secretaries, wrote about one such premonition in the July 1865 issue of Harper’s Magazine, as related to him by Lincoln which occurred the morning after his election in 1860:
Looking in that glass, I saw myself reflected, nearly at full length; but my face, I noticed, had two separate and distinct images, the tip of the nose of one being about three inches from the tip of the other. I was a little bothered, perhaps startled, and got up and looked in the glass, but the illusion vanished.
On lying down again, I saw it a second time — plainer, if possible, than before; and then I noticed that one of the faces was a little paler, say five shades, than the other. I got up and the thing melted away, and I went off and, in the excitement of the hour, forgot all about it — nearly, but not quite, for the thing would once in a while come up, and give me a little pang, as though something uncomfortable had happened. Continue reading
Tragic is the only word to describe the life of Vachel Lindsay. Perhaps the greatest of the poets of Illinois, he deserves his appellation the Prairie Troubador, his life was haunted by mental instability and money woes. He committed suicide at age 52 in 1931 by drinking a bottle of Lysol. His last words indicated the paranoia that beset him at the end: “They tried to get me; I got them first!”
A sad life, but a great talent. In 1914, anguished by the outbreak of World War I, he wrote this haunting homage to Lincoln: Continue reading
Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.” If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”
Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address
MARCH 15, 1865
EXECUTIVE MANSION, WASHINGTON
DEAR MR. WEED:
Every one likes a compliment. Thank you for yours on my little notification speech and on the recent inaugural address. I expect the latter to wear as well as–perhaps better than–anything I have produced; but I believe it is not immediately popular. Men are not flattered by being shown that there has been a difference of purpose between the Almighty and them. To deny it, however, in this case, is to deny that there is a God governing the world. It is a truth which I thought needed to be told, and, as whatever of humiliation there is in it falls most directly on myself, I thought others might afford for me to tell it.
Last week we looked at the Democrat party platform of 1864. Go here to read it. It was one long attack on the conduct of the War by the Lincoln administration. Today we look at the Republican platform.
Well, technically it was the platform of the National Union Party, a temporary name given to the Republican party in 1864, the better to attract war Democrat votes. Hannibal Hamlin of Maine was dumped as Veep and Andrew Johnson, the military governor of Tennessee and life long Democrat, was nominated as Veep as part of this strategy. The party convention was held in Baltimore, not the friendliest of venues for Republicans, on June 7 and June 8, when the War news was unremittingly grim. It is striking therefore how uncompromising the platform approved on June 7 was in regard to the War and Emancipation. Here is the text of the platform:
1. Resolved, That it is the highest duty of every American citizen to maintain against all their enemies the integrity of the Union and the paramount authority of the Constitution and laws of the United States; and that, laying aside all differences of political opinion, we pledge ourselves, as Union men, animated by a common sentiment and aiming at a common object, to do everything in our power to aid the Government in quelling by force of arms the Rebellion now raging against its authority, and in bringing to the punishment due to their crimes the Rebels and traitors arrayed against it.
2. Resolved, That we approve the determination of the Government of the United States not to compromise with Rebels, or to offer them any terms of peace, except such as may be based upon an unconditional surrender of their hostility and a return to their just allegiance to the Constitution and laws of the United States, and that we call upon the Government to maintain this position and to prosecute the war with the utmost possible vigor to the complete suppression of the Rebellion, in full reliance upon the self-sacrificing patriotism, the heroic valor and the undying devotion of the American people to the country and its free institutions.
3. Resolved, That as slavery was the cause, and now constitutes the strength of this Rebellion, and as it must be, always and everywhere, hostile to the principles of Republican Government, justice and the National safety demand its utter and complete extirpation from the soil of the Republic; and that, while we uphold and maintain the acts and proclamations by which the Government, in its own defense, has aimed a deathblow at this gigantic evil, we are in favor, furthermore, of such an amendment to the Constitution, to be made by the people in conformity with its provisions, as shall terminate and forever prohibit the existence of Slavery within the limits of the jurisdiction of the United States.
4. Resolved, That the thanks of the American people are due to the soldiers and sailors of the Army and Navy, who have periled their lives in defense of the country and in vindication of the honor of its flag; that the nation owes to them some permanent recognition of their patriotism and their valor, and ample and permanent provision for those of their survivors who have received disabling and honorable wounds in the service of the country; and that the memories of those who have fallen in its defense shall be held in grateful and everlasting remembrance.
5. Resolved, That we approve and applaud the practical wisdom, the unselfish patriotism and the unswerving fidelity to the Constitution and the principles of American liberty, with which ABRAHAM LINCOLN has discharged, under circumstances of unparalleled difficulty, the great duties and responsibilities of the Presidential office; that we approve and indorse, as demanded by the emergency and essential to the preservation of the nation and as within the provisions of the Constitution, the measures and acts which he has adopted to defend the nation against its open and secret foes; that we approve, especially, the Proclamation of Emancipation, and the employment as Union soldiers of men heretofore held in slavery; and that we have full confidence in his determination to carry these and all other Constitutional measures essential to the salvation of the country into full and complete effect. more
The convention of the Democrats in 1864 to nominate a standard bearer for President opened on August 29, 1864 in Chicago. The convention was badly split between War Democrats and Peace Democrats. The Peace Democrats were strong enough to have a platform approved which dealt with one issue, the War, and which was highly critical of a continuation of the War and called for immediate peace negotiations:
Resolved, That in the future, as in the past, we will adhere with unswerving fidelity to the Union under the Constitution as the only solid foundation of our strength, security, and happiness as a people, and as a framework of government equally conducive to the welfare and prosperity of all the States, both Northern and Southern.
Resolved, That this convention does explicitly declare, as the sense of the American people, that after four years of failure to restore the Union by the experiment of war, during which, under the pretense of a military necessity of war-power higher than the Constitution, the Constitution itself has been disregarded in every part, and public liberty and private right alike trodden down, and the material prosperity of the country essentially impaired, justice, humanity, liberty, and the public welfare demand that immediate efforts be made for a cessation of hostilities, with a view of an ultimate convention of the States, or other peaceable means, to the end that, at the earliest practicable moment, peace may be restored on the basis of the Federal Union of the States.
Resolved, That the direct interference of the military authorities of the United States in the recent elections held in Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, and Delaware was a shameful violation of the Constitution, and a repetition of such acts in the approaching election will be held as revolutionary, and resisted with all the means and power under our control.
Resolved, That the aim and object of the Democratic party is to preserve the Federal Union and the rights of the States unimpaired, and they hereby declare that they consider that the administrative usurpation of extraordinary and dangerous powers not granted by the Constitution; the subversion of the civil by military law in States not in insurrection; the arbitrary military arrest, imprisonment, trial, and sentence of American citizens in States where civil law exists in full force; the suppression of freedom of speech and of the press; the denial of the right of asylum; the open and avowed disregard of State rights; the employment of unusual test-oaths; and the interference with and denial of the right of the people to bear arms in their defense is calculated to prevent a restoration of the Union and the perpetuation of a Government deriving its just powers from the consent of the governed.
Resolved, That the shameful disregard of the Administration to its duty in respect to our fellow-citizens who now are and long have been prisoners of war and in a suffering condition, deserves the severest reprobation on the score alike of public policy and common humanity.
Resolved, That the sympathy of the Democratic party is heartily and earnestly extended to the soldiery of our army and sailors of our navy, who are and have been in the field and on the sea under the flag of our country, and, in the events of its attaining power, they will receive all the care, protection, and regard that the brave soldiers and sailors of the republic have so nobly earned. Continue reading
Something for the weekend. We are Coming Father Abraham, written by Stephen Foster in 1862. Few songs better conveyed Northern determination to win the War. However, by August 1864 that determination seemed to be wearing thin.
With the War stalled both East and West Union morale was faltering. On August 22, 1864 Lincoln received a letter from Republican party chairman Henry J. Raymond suggesting that Lincoln offer peace terms to Jefferson Davis on the sole term of acknowledgement of the supremacy of the Constitution with slavery to be dealt with at a later date. Lincoln’s morale remained unshaken, but he was a veteran politician and could read the political tea leaves as well as any political prognosticator. That he read defeat in the tea leaves is demonstrated by what has become known as The Blind Memorandum. Lincoln sealed this document and on August w3, 1864 asked his cabinet officers to sign it unread. They complied. Here is the text:
This morning, as for some days past, it seems exceedingly probable that this Administration will not be re-elected. Then it will be my duty to so co-operate with the President elect, as to save the Union between the election and the inauguration; as he will have secured his election on such ground that he can not possibly save it afterwards.
A. Lincoln Continue reading
Lincoln, six feet one in his stocking feet,
The lank man, knotty and tough as a hickory rail,
Whose hands were always too big for white-kid gloves,
Whose wit was a coonskin sack of dry, tall tales,
Whose weathered face was homely as a plowed field–
Abraham Lincoln, who padded up and down
The sacred White House in nightshirt and carpet-slippers,
And yet could strike young hero-worshipping Hay
As dignified past any neat, balanced, fine
Plutarchan sentences carved in a Latin bronze;
The low clown out of the prairies, the ape-buffoon,
The small-town lawyer, the crude small-time politician,
State-character but comparative failure at forty
In spite of ambition enough for twenty Caesars,
Honesty rare as a man without self-pity,
Kindness as large and plain as a prairie wind,
And a self-confidence like an iron bar:
This Lincoln, President now by the grace of luck,
Disunion, politics, Douglas and a few speeches
Which make the monumental booming of Webster
Sound empty as the belly of a burst drum.
Stephen Vincent Benet
(I originally posted this on February 9, 2012. The comments it contains regarding my late son Larry reminds me that in this Vale of Tears we can never know the ending of our personal history, but we can do our best to make it a tale worth reading when we come to our end, something that I think both Mr. Lincoln and my son accomplished on vastly different scales.)
Today is the 203rd birthday of the Sixteenth President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln. The above video is an interesting and imaginative interview of Lincoln, if the film technology of the Thirties of the last century had been available in 1860.
Lately I have been reading a book on Lincoln with my autistic son. I point at the words and he reads them, an early morning ritual we have carried out for the last 14 years. Young Lincoln’s struggles against the poverty of his early years, and his lack of more than one year in total of formal education, strikes a chord with me in regard to my son’s struggles against his autism. One of the many reasons why I find Mr. Lincoln’s life endlessly fascinating is the theme throughout it of the most extraordinary possibilities in all of us, no matter the cards that Fate dealt to us initially. more