Since the fall of 1864 John Wilkes Booth along with others had been plotting against Lincoln. A supporter of the Confederacy, Booth was also a popular actor, a son of the great actor Junius Brutus Booth who had written a letter, perhaps tongue in cheek, to Andrew Jackson, threatening to assassinate him. His brother Edwin Booth, perhaps the foremost American actor of his day and who had saved the life of Robert Todd Lincoln, was a firm supporter of Lincoln and the Union, and had banned his brother from his house in New York. Booth had an unexplained trip to Montreal in 1864. It is tempting to suspect that he got in contact with Confederate intelligence operatives active in Canada, but no evidence has been found linking Booth to Confederate intelligence then or later.
Initially Booth and his co-conspirators had planned to kidnap Lincoln and smuggle him South and trade him for Confederate prisoners of war. They gathered on March 17, 1865 to do so when Lincoln was en route to a play but Lincoln unknowingly foiled the plot by changing his plans. Booth and his band awaited another opportunity.
In 1874 Asia Booth in a memoir of her brother, that remained unpublished until 1938, recounts a strange event that occurred to Booth while he was a schoolboy and that summed up his life: Continue reading
On March 15, 1865, Abraham Lincoln took time to scribble a thank you note to Thurlow Weed. A political fixer of the first order and a political powerhouse in New York, Weed had been critical of Lincoln after the Emancipation Proclamation and had only grudgingly supported him for re-election. Interestingly enough, there is no record of Weed sending a letter to Lincoln complimenting him on the Second Inaugural. Thus Lincoln was either mistaken, or the letter from Weed has vanished along with most correspondence written in the 19th century. However, that fact is secondary to what Lincoln said in the note:
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.
Lincoln underlines in this note the passage in the Second Inaugural in which he thought the War might be a punishment from God inflicted on both North and South: Continue reading
Something for the weekend. Kids at the 2013 Illinois State Fair reciting the Gettysburg Address. Seemed appropriate to recall Lincoln’s second greatest speech on the weekend following the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s greatest speech, which has never had the cachet with the American people that the Gettysburg address has had. Endless recitals of the speech have been given. Here is one by Johnny Cash who had a strong life long interest in the Civil War:
My favorite recitation of the Gettysburg address was given by Englishman Charles Laughton: Continue reading
Hands down the most moving inaugural address in American history is the second inaugural address given by President Lincoln on March 4, 1865, little over a month before his death. It is short, to the point and powerful. It is also the most important theological document written by any American President. Here is the text:
Lincoln was a long man.
He liked out of doors,
He liked the wind blowing
And the talk in country stores
He liked telling stories,
He liked telling jokes.
“Abe’s quite a character,”
Said quite a lot of folks.
Lots of folks in Springfield
Saw him every day,
Walking down the street
In his gaunt, long way.
Shawl around his shoulders,
Letters in his hat.
“That’s Abe Lincoln.”
They thought no more than that.
Knew that he was honest,
Guessed that he was odd,
Knew he had a cross wife,
Though she was a Todd.
Knew that he had three little boys
Who liked to shout and play,
Knew he had a lot of debts
It took him years to pay.
Knew his clothes and knew his house
“That’s his office, here.
Blame good lawyer on the whole,
Though he’s sort of queer.
“Sure, he went to Congress, once,
But he didn’t stay.
Can’t expect us all to be
Smart as Henry Clay.
“Need a man for troubled times?
Well, I guess we do.
Wonder who we’ll ever find?
Yes–I wonder who.”
That is how they met and talked,
Knowing and unknowing,
Lincoln was the green pine.
Lincoln kept on growing
Stephen Vincent Benet
One hundred and fifty years ago, Abraham Lincoln turned 56, the last birthday he would know in this life, Lincoln having just slightly over two months to live.
Like most adults in the Nineteenth Century, Lincoln never had any celebrations for his birthdays, no cake, no gifts, no ceremony. February 12, 1865 was just another day for him, filled with the endless burdens and grinding work of being President in a time of civil war. Yet, during one point in his day, I would wager that Lincoln probably thought momentarily of his long ago childhood.
He wrote out a “pardon” for some misbehaving students. The note said: “Let these boys return to their school upon the condition stated by them, and remain so long as they do not misbehave.” Continue reading
On February 10, 1865, pursuant to a House of Representatives Resolution drafted by Congressman Thaddeus Stevens, Lincoln sent a report to the House which basically consisted of a timeline of the events that led up to the Hampton Roads Conference. Radical Republicans were furious when they first learned of the Hampton Roads Conference, afraid that Lincoln was trying an end run around them by ending the War on terms generous to the Confederates. After the report was read in the House, tension ebbed when it was clear that the Hampton Roads Conference had ended without any agreement being reached, or any further meetings planned. Here is the text of Lincoln’s report: Continue reading
As news spread of the abortive Hampton Roads Conference, members of Congress demanded to know what was said. Lincoln sent the following telegraph to Grant on February 8, 1865:
City Point, Va. Washington, Feb. 8. 1865
I am called on by the House of Representatives to give an account of my interview with Messrs. Stephens, Hunter & Campbell; and it is very desireable to me to put in your despatch of Feb. 1st. to the Sec. of War, in which among other things you say “I fear now their going back without any expression from any one in authority will have a bad influence” I think the despatch does you credit while I do not see that it can embarrass you. May I use it?
Here is the message from Grant to Stanton on February 1:
CITY POINT, VA., February 1, 1865-10.30 p.m.
Honorable EDWIN M. STANTON,
Secretary of War:
Now that the interview between Major Eckert, under his written instructions, and Mr. Stephens and party has ended, I will state confidentially, but not officially to become a matter of record, that I am convinced, upon conversation with Messrs. Stephens and Hunter, that their intentions are good and their desire sincere to restore peace and union. I have not felt myself at liberty to express even views of my own or to account for my reticence. This has placed me in an awkward position, which I could have avoided by not seeing them in the first instance. I fear now their going back without any expression from any one in authority will have a bad influence. At the same time I recognize the difficulties in the way of receiving these informal commissioners at this time, and do not know what to recommend. I am sorry, however, that Mr. Lincoln cannot have an interview with the two named in this despatch, if not all there now within our lines. Their letter to me was all that the President’s instructions contemplated, to secure their safe conduct, if they had used the same language to Major Eckert.
U. S. GRANT,
Lieutenant-General. Continue reading
Something for the weekend. This video purports to have in it every known photograph of Mr. Lincoln. The songs in the video are Lincoln and Liberty Too, perhaps the most stirring campaign song in American history, Dixie, ironically a favorite song of the President of the Union, and the haunting Ashokan Farewell. A fitting video in the weekend before we observe the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of Lincoln’s last birthday in this Vale of Tears.
Throughout the War Lincoln had made several attempts to propose compensated emancipation to end the War. All such initiatives were still-born, killed by the twin facts that Congress was uninterested in providing the funding and that the slaveholders were uninterested in ending slavery, even with compensation. On February 5, 1865, Lincoln proposed this plan to his cabinet:
House of Representatives.
I respectfully recommend that a Joint Resolution, substantially as follows, be adopted so soon as practicable, by your honorable bodies.
“Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives, of the United States of America in congress assembled: That the President of the United States is hereby empowered, in his discretion, to pay four hundred millions of dollars to the States of Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West-Virginia, in the manner, and on the conditions following, towit: The payment to be made in six per cent government bonds, and to be distributed among said States pro rata on their respective slave populations, as shown by the census of 1860; and no part of said sum to be paid unless all resistance to the national authority shall be abandoned and cease, on or before the first day of April next; and upon such abandonment and ceasing of resistance, one half of said sum to be paid in manner aforesaid, and the remaining half to be paid only upon the amendment of the national constitution recently proposed byPage 261congress, becoming valid law, on or before the first day of July next, by the action thereon of the requisite number of States”
The adoption of such resolution is sought with a view to embody it, with other propositions, in a proclamation looking to peace and re-union.
Whereas a Joint Resolution has been adopted by congress in the words following, towit
Now therefore I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, do proclaim, declare, and make known, that on the conditions therein stated, the power conferred on the Executive in and by said Joint Resolution, will be fully exercised; that war will cease, and armies be reduced to a basis of peace; that all political offences will be pardoned; that all property, except slaves, liable to confiscation or forfeiture, will be released therefrom, except in cases of intervening interests of third parties; and that liberality will be recommended to congress upon all points not lying within executive control. Continue reading
The Hampton Roads Conference between President Lincoln and three representatives of the Confederacy, led by Lincoln’s old friend, and fellow former Whig, Vice President Alexander Stephens, was an exercise in pointlessness, as Lincoln and Stephens both knew it would be. Lincoln was willing to negotiate on anything except Union and the end of Slavery, the two items that the Confederate emissaries lacked any authority to concede. The only result of the conference was that Lincoln agreed to release from captivity a nephew of Stephens, a Confederate POW. (Stephens did not request this until he was pressed by Lincoln as to whether there was anything he could do of a personal nature for him.) The war would go on and both Lincoln and Davis could tell their peoples that negotiations had been attempted and that only success on the battlefield could lead to peace. Here are the comments of Grant on this curious incident in the War: Continue reading
One hundred and fifty years ago President Lincoln signed the Thirteenth Amendment which had just been passed by Congress. Unknown to most Americans, it is also National Freedom Day, so proclaimed by President Truman on January 25, 1949. Here is the text of his proclamation:
Whereas, near the end of the tragic conflict between the Northern and Southern States, the Congress adopted a joint resolution proposing an amendment to the Constitution which would outlaw slavery in the United States and in every place subject to its jurisdiction; and
Whereas the resolution was signed by President Lincoln on February 1, 1865, and thereafter led to the adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment to the constitution; and
Whereas that Amendment is a corner stone in the foundation of our American traditions, and the signing of the resolution is a landmark in the Nation’s effort to fulfill the principles of freedom and justice proclaimed in the first ten amendments to the Constitution; and
Whereas, by a joint resolution approved June 30, 1948 (62 Stat. 1150), the Congress authorized the President to proclaim the first day of February of each year as National Freedom Day in commemoration of the signing of the resolution of February 1, 1865; and
Whereas the Government and people of the United States wholeheartedly support the Universal Declaration of Human Rights approved by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 10, 1948, which declares that “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world”:
Now, Therefore, I, Harry S. Truman, President of the United States of America, do hereby designate February 1, 1949, and each succeeding February 1, as national Freedom Day; and I call upon the people of the United States to pause on that day in solemn contemplation of the glorious blessings of freedom which we humbly and thankfully enjoy.
In Witness Whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States of America to be affixed.
Done at the City of Washington this 25th day of January in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and forty-nine, and of the Independence of the United States of America the one hundred and seventy-third. Continue reading
After Francis P. Blair returned to Washington from Richmond with a note from Jefferson Davis indicating a willingness to enter into negotiations, go here and here for background on Blair’s mission and his meeting with Davis, Lincoln had a decision to make. Refuse to enter into negotiations and that would anger both moderate Republicans and Democrats. Enter into negotiations, and both mainstream and radical Republicans would be dismayed. Lincoln hit upon a shrewd response. He would enter into negotiations, but he would couch his agreement in such terms as clearly to indicate no weakening in his resolve to preserve the Union: Continue reading
Sherman and his men completed their March to the Sea with the siege of Savannah, Georgia. The end of the siege was anti-climactic with Lieutenant General W. J. Hardee evacuating his garrison from the city of Savannah. Sherman sent this message to Lincoln announcing the fall of Savannah.
SAVANNAH, GA., December 22, 1864
(Via Fort Monroe 6.45 p.m. 25th)
His Excellency President LINCOLN:
I beg to present you, as a Christmas gift, the city of Savannah, with 150 heavy guns and plenty of ammunition, and also about 25,000 bales of cotton.
The message reached the White House on Christmas Day. It was published in the papers and roused huge joy throughout the North as another sign that the end of the War was in sight. Lincoln spoke for the North when he telegrammed back to Sherman:
MY DEAR GENERAL SHERMAN:
Many, many thanks for your Christmas gift, the capture of Savannah. When you were about leaving Atlanta for the Atlantic coast, I was anxious, if not fearful; but feeling that you were the better judge, and remembering that ‘nothing risked, nothing gained,’ I did not interfere. Now, the undertaking being a success, the honor is yours; for I believe none of us went further than to acquiesce. And taking the work of General Thomas into the county, as it should be taken, it is indeed a great success. Not only does it afford the obvious and immediate military advantages, but, in showing to the world that your army could be divided, putting the stronger part to an important new service, and yet leaving enough to vanquish the old opposing force of the whole — Hood’s army — it brings those who sat in darkness to see a great light. But what next? I suppose it will be safer if I leave General Grant and yourself to decide. Please make my grateful acknowledgments to your whole army, officers and men. Continue reading
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