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Abraham Lincoln and the Union, A Chronicle of the Embattled North by Nathaniel W. Stephenson

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pitilessness of fate, more practical Northerners were grappling
with the question of what was to be done about the situation. In
their thoughts they anticipated a later statesman and realized
that they were confronted by a condition and not by a theory.
Secession was at last a reality. Which course should they take?

What strikes us most forcibly, as we look back upon that day, is
the widespread desire for peace. The abolitionists form a
conspicuous example. Their watchword was "Let the erring sisters
go in peace." Wendell Phillips, their most gifted orator, a
master of spoken style at once simple and melodious, declaimed
splendidly against war. Garrison, in "The Liberator", followed
his example. Whittier put the same feeling into his verse:

They break the links of Union; shall we light
The flames of hell to weld anew the chain
On that red anvil where each blow is pain?

Horace Greeley said in an editorial in the "New York Tribune":
"If the cotton states shall decide that they can do better out of
the Union than in it, we shall insist on letting them go in
peace. Whenever a considerable section of our Union shall
deliberately resolve to go out, we shall resist all coercive
measures designed to keep them in. We hope never to live in a
republic where one section is pinned to the residue by bayonets."

The Democrats naturally clung to their traditions, and, even when
they went over, as Black and Stanton did, to the Anti-Southern
group, they still hoped that war would not be the result.
Equally earnest against war were most of the Republicans, though
a few, to be sure, were ready to swing the "Northern hammer."
Summer prophesied that slavery would "go down in blood." But the
bulk of the Republicans were for a sectional compromise, and
among them there was general approbation of a scheme which
contemplated reviving the line of the Missouri Compromise, and
thus frankly admitting the existence of two distinct sections,
and guaranteeing to each the security of its own institutions.
The greatest Republican boss of that day, Thurlow Weed, came out
in defense of this plan.

No power was arrayed more zealously on the side of peace of any
kind than the power of money. It was estimated that two hundred
millions of dollars were owed by Southerners to Northerners.
War, it was reasoned, would cause the cancellation of these
obligations. To save their Southern accounts, the moneyed
interests of the North joined the extremists of Abolition in
pleading to let the erring sisters go in peace, if necessary,
rather than provoke them to war and the confiscation of debts.
It was the dread of such an outcome--which finally happened and
ruined many Northern firms--that caused the stock-market in New
York to go up and down with feverish uncertainty. Banks
suspended payment in Washington, Baltimore, and Philadelphia.
The one important and all-engrossing thing in the mind's eye of
all the financial world at this moment was that specter of unpaid
Southern accounts.

At this juncture, Senator Crittenden of Kentucky submitted to the
Senate a plan which has been known ever since as the Crittenden
Compromise. It was similar to Weed's plan, but it also provided
that the division of the country on the Missouri Compromise line
should be established by a constitutional amendment, which would
thus forever solidify sectionalism. Those elements of the
population generally called the conservative and the responsible
were delighted. Edward Everett wrote to Crittenden, "I saw with
great satisfaction your patriotic movement, and I wish from the
bottom of my heart it might succeed"; and August Belmont in a
letter to Crittenden spoke for the moneyed interest: "I have yet
to meet the first Union-loving man, in or out of politics, who
does not approve your compromise proposition...."

The Senate submitted the Compromise to a Committee of Thirteen.
In this committee the Southern leaders, Toombs and Davis, were
both willing to accept the Compromise, if a majority of the
Republican members would agree. Indeed, if the Republicans would
agree to it, there seemed no reason why a new understanding
between the sections might not be reached, and no reason why
sectionalism, if accepted as the basis of the government, might
not solve the immediate problem and thus avert war.

In this crisis all eyes were turned to Seward, that conspicuous
Republican who was generally looked upon as the real head of his
party. And Seward, at that very moment, was debating whether to
accept Lincoln's offer of the Secretaryship of State, for he
considered it vital to have an understanding with Lincoln on the
subject of the Compromise. He talked the matter over with Weed,
and they decided that Weed should go to Springfield and come to
terms with Lincoln. It was the interview between Weed and
Lincoln held, it seems, on the very day on which the Ordinance of
Secession was adopted--which gave to that day its double

Lincoln refused point-blank to accept the compromise and he put
his refusal in writing. The historic meaning of his refusal, and
the significance of his determination not to solve the problem of
the hour by accepting a dual system of government based on
frankly sectional assumptions, were probably, in a measure, lost
on both Weed and Seward. They had, however, no misunderstanding
of its practical effect. This crude Western lawyer had certain
ideas from which he would not budge, and the party would have to
go along with him. Weed and Seward therefore promptly fell into
line, and Seward accepted the Secretaryship and came out in
opposition to the Compromise. Other Republicans with whom
Lincoln had communicated by letter made known his views, and
Greeley announced them in The Tribune. The outcome was the solid
alignment of all the Republicans in Congress against the
Compromise. As a result, this last attempt to reunite the
sections came to nothing.

Not more than once or twice, if ever, in American history, has
there been such an anxious New Year's Day as that which ushered
in 1861. A few days before, a Republican Congressman had written
to one of his constituents: "The heavens are indeed black and an
awful storm is gathering...I see no way that either North or
South can escape its fury." Events were indeed moving fast
toward disaster. The garrison at Sumter was in need of supplies,
and in the first week of the new year Buchanan attempted to
relieve its wants. But a merchant vessel, the Star of the West,
by which supplies were sent, was fired upon by the South Carolina
authorities as it approached the harbor and was compelled to turn
back. This incident caused the withdrawal from the Cabinet of
the last opposition members--Thompson, of Mississippi, the
Secretary of the Interior, and Thomas, of Maryland, the Secretary
of the Treasury. In the course of the month five Southern States
followed South Carolina out of the Union, and their Senators and
Representatives resigned from the Congress of the United States.

The resignation of Jefferson Davis was communicated to the Senate
in a speech of farewell which even now holds the imagination of
the student, and which to the men of that day, with the Union
crumbling around them, seemed one of the most mournful and
dramatic of orations. Davis possessed a beautiful, melodious
voice; he had a noble presence, tall, erect, spare, even ascetic,
with a flashing blue eye. He was deeply moved by the occasion;
his address was a requiem. That he withdrew in sorrow but with
fixed determination, no one who listened to him could doubt.
Early in February, the Southern Confederacy was formed with Davis
as its provisional President. With the prophetic vision of a
logical mind, he saw that war was inevitable, and he boldly
proclaimed his vision. In various speeches on his way South, he
had assured the Southern people that war was coming, and that it
would be long and bloody.

The withdrawal of these Southern members threw the control of the
House into the hands of the Republicans. Their realization of
their power was expressed in two measures which also passed the
Senate; Kansas was admitted--as a State with an anti-slavery
constitution; and the Morrill tariff, which they had failed to
pass the previous spring, now became law. Thus the Republicans
began redeeming their pledges to the anti-slavery men on the one
hand and to the commercial interest on the other. The time had
now arrived for the Republican nominee to proceed from
Springfield to Washington. The journey was circuitous in order
to enable Lincoln to speak at a number of places. Never before,
probably, had the Northern people felt such tense strain as at
that moment; never had they looked to an incoming President with
such anxious doubt. Would he prevent war? Or, if he could not
do that, would he be able to extricate the country--Heaven alone
knew how!--without a terrible ordeal? Since his election,
Lincoln had remained quietly at Springfield. Though he had
influenced events through letters to Congressmen, his one
conspicuous action during that winter was the defeat of the
Crittenden Compromise. The Southern President had called upon
his people to put their house in order as preparation for war.
What, now, had Lincoln to say to the people of the North?

The biographers of Lincoln have not satisfactorily revealed the
state of his mind between election and inauguration. We may
safely guess that his silence covered a great internal struggle.
Except for his one action in defeating the Compromise, he had
allowed events to drift; but by that one action he had taken upon
himself the responsibility for the drift. Though the country at
that time did not fully appreciate this aspect of the situation,
who now can doubt that Lincoln did? His mind was always a lonely
one. His very humor has in it, so often, the note of solitude,
of one who is laughing to make the best of things, of one who is
spiritually alone. During those months when the country drifted
from its moorings, and when war was becoming steadily more
probable, Lincoln, after the manner of the prophets, wrestled
alone with the problems which he saw before him. From the little
we know of his inward state, it is hard for us to conclude that
he was happy. A story which is told by his former partner, Mr.
Herndon, seems significant. As Lincoln was leaving his
unpretentious law-office for the last time, he turned to Mr.
Herndon and asked him not to take down their old sign. "Let it
hang there undisturbed," said he. "Give our clients to
understand that the election of a President makes no difference
in the firm.... If I live, I'm coming back some time, and then
we'll go right on practising law as if nothing had happened."

How far removed from self-sufficiency was the man whose thoughts,
on the eve of his elevation to the Presidency, lingered in a
provincial law office, fondly insistent that only death should
prevent his returning some time and resuming in those homely
surroundings the life he had led previous to his greatness. In a
mood of wistfulness and of intense preoccupation, he began his
journey to Washington. It was not the mood from which to strike
fire and kindle hope. To the anxious, listening country his
speeches on the journey to Washington were disappointing.
Perhaps his strangely sensitive mind felt too powerfully the
fatefulness of the moment and reacted with a sort of lightness
that did not really represent the real man. Be that as it may,
he was never less convincing than at that time. Nor were people
impressed by his bearing. Often he appeared awkward, too much in
appearance the country lawyer. He acted as a man who was ill at
ease and he spoke as a man who had nothing to say. Gloom
darkened the North as a consequence of these unfortunate
speeches, for they expressed an optimism which we cannot believe
he really felt, and which hurt him in the estimation of the
country. "There is no crisis but an artificial one," was one of
his ill-timed assurances, and another, "There is nothing going
wrong.... There is nothing that really hurts any one." Of his
supporters some were discouraged; others were exasperated; and an
able but angry partisan even went so far as to write in a private
letter, "Lincoln is a Simple Susan."

The fourth of March arrived, and with it the end of Lincoln's
blundering. One good omen for the success of the new
Administration was the presence of Douglas on the inaugural
platform. He had accepted fate, deeply as it wounded him, and
had come out of the shattered party of evasion on the side of his
section. For the purpose of showing his support of the
administration at this critical time, he had taken a place on the
stand where Lincoln was to speak. By one of those curious little
dramatic touches with which chance loves to embroider history,
the presence of Douglas became a gracious detail in the memory of
the day. Lincoln, worn and awkward, continued to hold his hat in
his hand. Douglas, with the tact born of social experience,
stepped forward and took it from him without--exposing Lincoln's

The inaugural address which Lincoln now pronounced had little
similarity to those unfortunate utterances which he had made on
the journey to Washington. The cloud that had been over him,
whatever it was, had lifted. Lincoln was ready for his great
labor. The inaugural contained three main propositions. Lincoln
pledged himself not to interfere directly or indirectly with
slavery in the States where it then existed; he promised to
support the enforcement of the fugitive slave law; and he
declared he would maintain the Union. "No State," said he, "upon
its own mere motion can lawfully get out of the Union.... To the
extent of my ability I shall take care, as the Constitution
itself expressly enjoins upon me, that the laws of the Union be
faithfully executed in all the States.... In doing this, there
need be no bloodshed or violence; and there shall be none, unless
it be forced upon the national authority. The power confided to
me will be used to hold, occupy, and possess the property and
places belonging to the government." Addressing the Southerners,
he said: "In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow-countrymen, and
not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The Government
will not assail you.... We are not enemies but friends.... The
mystic cords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and
patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone, all over
this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when
again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of
our nature."

Gentle, as was the phrasing of the inaugural, it was perfectly
firm, and it outlined a policy which the South would not accept,
and which, in the opinion of the Southern leaders, brought them a
step nearer war. Wall Street held the same belief, and as a
consequence the price of stocks fell.


On the day following the inauguration, commissioners of the newly
formed Confederacy appeared at Washington and applied to the
Secretary of State for recognition as envoys of a foreign power.
Seward refused them such recognition. But he entered into a
private negotiation with them which is nearly, if not quite, the
strangest thing in our history. Virtually, Seward intrigued
against Lincoln for control of the Administration. The events of
the next five weeks have an importance out of all proportion to
the brevity of the time. This was Lincoln's period of final
probation. The psychological intensity of this episode grew from
the consciousness in every mind that now, irretrievably, destiny
was to be determined. War or peace, happiness or adversity, one
nation or two--all these were in the balance. Lincoln entered
the episode a doubtful quantity, not with certainty the master
even in his own Cabinet. He emerged dominating the situation,
but committed to the terrible course of war.

One cannot enter upon this great episode, truly the turning point
in American history, without pausing for a glance at the
character of Seward. The subject is elusive. His ablest
biographer* plainly is so constantly on guard not to appear an
apologist that he ends by reducing his portrait to a mere
outline, wavering across a background of political details. The
most recent study of Seward** surely reveals between the lines
the doubtfulness of the author about pushing his points home. The
different sides of the man are hard to reconcile. Now he seemed
frank and honest; again subtle and insincere. As an active
politician in the narrow sense, he should have been sagacious and
astute, yet he displayed at the crisis of his life the most
absolute fatuity. At times he had a buoyant and puerile way of
disregarding fact and enveloping himself in a world of his own
imagining. He could bluster, when he wished, like any demagogue;
and yet he could be persuasive, agreeable, and even personally

*Frederic Bancroft, "Life of William H. Seward".
** Gamaliel Bradford, "Union Portraits".

But of one thing with regard to Seward, in the first week of
March, 1861, there can be no doubt: he thought himself a great
statesman --and he thought Lincoln "a Simple Susan." He
conceived his role in the new administration to involve a subtle
and patient manipulation of his childlike superior. That Lincoln
would gradually yield to his spell and insensibly become his
figurehead; that he, Seward, could save the country and would go
down to history a statesman above compare, he took for granted.
Nor can he fairly be called conceited, either; that is part of
his singularity.

Lincoln's Cabinet was, as Seward said, a compound body. With a
view to strengthening his position, Lincoln had appointed to
cabinet positions all his former rivals for the Republican
nomination. Besides Seward, there was Chase as Secretary of the
Treasury; Simon Cameron of Pennsylvania as Secretary of War;
Edward Bates of Missouri as Attorney-General. The appointment of
Montgomery Blair of Maryland as Postmaster-General was intended
to placate the border Slave States. The same motive dictated the
later inclusion of James Speed of Kentucky in the Cabinet. The
Black-Stanton wing of the Democrats was represented in the Navy
Department by Gideon Welles, and in course of time in the War
Department also, when Cameron resigned and Stanton succeeded him.
The West of that day was represented by Caleb B. Smith of

Seward disapproved of the composition of the Cabinet so much
that, almost at the last moment, he withdrew his acceptance of
the State Department. It was Lincoln's gentleness of argument
which overcame his reluctance to serve. We may be sure, however,
that Seward failed to observe that Lincoln's tactlessness in
social matters did not extend to his management of men in
politics; we may feel sure that what remained in his mind was
Lincoln's unwillingness to enter office without William Henry
Seward as Secretary of State.

The promptness with which Seward assumed the role of prime
minister bears out this inference. The same fact also reveals a
puzzling detail of Seward's character which amounted to
obtuseness--his forgetfulness that appointment to cabinet offices
had not transformed his old political rivals Chase and Cameron,
nor softened the feelings of an inveterate political enemy,
Welles, the Secretary of the Navy. The impression which Seward
made on his colleagues in the first days of the new Government
has been thus sharply recorded by Welles: "The Secretary of State
was, of course, apprised of every meeting [of ministers] and
never failed in his attendance, whatever was the subject-matter,
and though entirely out of his official province. He was
vigilantly attentive to every measure and movement in other
Departments, however trivial--as much so as to his own--watched
and scrutinized every appointment that was made, or proposed to
be made, but was not communicative in regard to the transaction
of the State Department." So eager was Seward to keep all the
threads of affairs in his own hands that he tried to persuade
Lincoln not to hold cabinet meetings but merely to consult with
particular ministers, and with the Secretary of State, as
occasion might demand. A combined protest from the other
Secretaries, however, caused the regular holding of Cabinet

With regard to the Confederacy, Seward's policy was one of
non-resistance. For this he had two reasons. The first of these
was his rooted delusion that the bulk of the Southerners were
opposed to secession and, if let alone, would force their leaders
to reconsider their action. He might have quoted the nursery
rhyme, "Let them alone and they'll come home"; it would have been
like him and in tune with a frivolous side of his nature. He was
quite as irresponsible when he complacently assured the North
that the trouble would all blow over within ninety days. He also
believed that any display of force would convert these
hypothetical Unionists of the South from friends to enemies and
would consolidate opinion in the Confederacy to produce war. In
justice to Seward it must be remembered that on this point time
justified his fears.

His dealings with the Confederate commissioners show that he was
playing to gain time, not with intent to deceive the Southerners
but to acquire that domination over Lincoln which he felt was his
by natural right. Intending to institute a peace policy the
moment he gained this ascendency, he felt perfectly safe in
making promises to the commissioners through mutual friends. He
virtually told them that Sumter would eventually be given up and
that all they need do was to wait.

Seward brought to bear upon the President the opinions of various
military men who thought the time had passed when any expedition
for the relief of Sumter could succeed. For some time Lincoln
seemed about to consent, though reluctantly, to Seward's lead in
the matter of the forts. He was pulled up standing, however, by
the threatened resignation of the Postmaster-General, Blair.
After a conference with leading Republican politicians the
President announced to his Cabinet that his policy would include
the relief of Sumter. "Seward," says Welles, "...was evidently

Seward now took a new tack. Fort Pickens, at Pensacola, was a
problem similar to that of Sumter at Charleston. Both were
demanded by the Confederates, and both were in need of supplies.
But Fort Pickens lay to one side, so to speak, of the public
mind, and there was not conspicuously in the world's eye the
square issue over it that there was over Sumter. Seward
conceived the idea that, if the President's attention were
diverted from Sumter to Pickens and a relief expedition were sent
to the latter but none to the former, his private negotiations
with the Confederates might still be kept going; Lincoln might
yet be hypnotized; and at last all would be well.

On All-Fools' Day, 1861, in the midst of a press of business, he
obtained Lincoln's signature to some dispatches, which Lincoln,
it seems, discussed with him hurriedly and without detailed
consideration. There were now in preparation two relief
expeditions, one to carry supplies to Pensacola, the other to
Charleston. Neither was to fight if it was not molested. Both
were to be strong enough to fight if their commanders deemed it
necessary. As flagship of the Charleston expedition, Welles had
detailed the powerful warship Powhatan, which was rapidly being
made ready at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Such was the situation as
Welles understood it when he was thinking of bed late on the
night of the 6th of April. Until then he had not suspected that
there was doubt and bewilderment about the Powhatan at Brooklyn.
One of those dispatches which Lincoln had so hastily signed
provided for detaching the Powhatan from the Charleston
expedition and sending it safe out of harm's way to Pensacola.
The commander of the ship had before him the conflicting orders,
one from the President, one from the Secretary of the Navy. He
was about to sail under the President's orders for Pensacola; but
wishing to make sure of his authority, he had telegraphed to
Washington. Gideon Welles was a pugnacious man. His dislike for
Seward was deepseated. Imagine his state of mind when it was
accidently revealed to him that Seward had gone behind his back
and had issued to naval officers orders which were contradictory
to his own! The immediate result was an interview that same
night between Seward and Welles in which, as Welles coldly
admitted in after days, the Secretary of the Navy showed "some
excitement." Together they went, about midnight, to the White
House. Lincoln had some difficulty recalling the incident of the
dispatch on the 1st of April; but when he did remember, he took
the responsibility entirely upon himself, saying he had had no
purpose but to strengthen the Pickens expedition, and no thought
of weakening the expedition to Charleston. He directed Seward to
telegraph immediately cancelling the order detaching the
Powhatan. Seward made a desperate attempt to put him off,
protesting, it was too late to send a telegram that night. "But
the President was imperative," writes Secretary Welles, in
describing the incident, and a dispatch was sent.

Seward then, doubtless in his agitation, did a strange thing.
Instead of telegraphing in the President's name, the dispatch
which he sent read merely, "Give up the Powhatan...Seward." When
this dispatch was received at Brooklyn, the Powhatan was already
under way and had to be overtaken by a fast tug. In the eyes of
her commander, however, a personal telegram from the Secretary of
State appeared as of no weight against the official orders of the
President, and he continued his voyage to Pensacola.

The mercurial temper of Seward comes out even in the caustic
narrative written afterwards by Welles. Evidently Seward was
deeply mortified and depressed by the incident. He remarked,
says Welles, that old as he was he had learned a lesson, and that
was that he had better attend to his own business. "To this,"
commented his enemy, "I cordially assented."

Nevertheless Seward's loss of faith in himself was only
momentary. A night's sleep was sufficient to restore it. His
next communication to the commissioners shows that he was himself
again, sure that destiny owed him the control of the situation.
On the following day the commissioners had got wind of the relief
expedition and pressed him for information, recalling his
assurance that nothing would be done to their disadvantage. In
reply, still through a third person, Seward sent them the famous
message, over the precise meaning of which great debate has
raged: "Faith as to Sumter fully kept; wait and see." If this
infatuated dreamer still believed he could dominate Lincoln,
still hoped at the last moment to arrest the expedition to
Charleston, he was doomed to bitterest disappointment.

On the 9th of April, the expedition to Fort Sumter sailed, but
without, as we have seen, the assistance of the much needed
warship, the Powhatan. As all the world knows, the expedition
had been too long delayed and it accomplished nothing. Before it
arrived, the surrender of Sumter had been demanded and refused
--and war had begun. During the bombardment of Sumter, the
relief expedition appeared beyond the bar, but its commander had
no vessels of such a character as to enable him to carry aid to
the fortress. Furthermore, he had not been informed that the
Powhatan had been detached from his squadron, and he expected to
meet her at the mouth of the harbor. There his ships lay idle
until the fort was surrendered, waiting for the Powhatan--for
whose detachment from the squadron Seward was responsible.

To return to the world of intrigue at Washington, however, it
must not be supposed, as is so often done, that Fort Sumter was
the one concern of the new government during its first six weeks.
In fact, the subject occupied but a fraction of Lincoln's time.
Scarcely second in importance was that matter so curiously bound
up with the relief of the forts--the getting in hand of the
strangely vain glorious Secretary of State. Mention has already
been made of All-Fools' Day, 1861. Several marvelous things took
place on that day. Strangest of all was the presentation of a
paper by the Secretary of State to his chief, entitled "Thoughts
for the President's Consideration". Whether it be regarded as a
state paper or as a biographical detail in the career of Seward,
it proves to be quite the most astounding thing in the whole
episode. The "Thoughts" outlined a course of policy by which the
buoyant Secretary intended to make good his prophecy of domestic
peace within ninety days. Besides calmly patronizing Lincoln,
assuring him that his lack of "a policy either domestic or
foreign" was "not culpable and...even unavoidable," the paper
warned him that "policies...both domestic and foreign" must
immediately be adopted, and it proceeded to point out what they
ought to be. Briefly stated, the one true policy which he
advocated at home was to evacuate Sumter (though Pickens for some
unexplained reason might be safely retained) and then, in order
to bring the Southerners back into the Union, to pick quarrels
with both Spain and France; to proceed as quickly as possible to
war with both powers; and to have the ultimate satisfaction of
beholding the reunion of the country through the general
enthusiasm that was bound to come. Finally, the paper intimated
that the Secretary of State was the man to carry this project
through to success.

All this is not opera bouffe, but serious history. It must have
taxed Lincoln's sense of humor and strained his sense of the
fitness of things to treat such nonsense with the tactful
forbearance which he showed and to relegate it to the pigeonhole
without making Seward angry. Yet this he contrived to do; and he
also managed, gently but firmly, to make it plain that the
President intended to exercise his authority as the chief
magistrate of the nation. His forbearance was further shown in
passing over without rebuke Seward's part in the affair of
Sumter, which might so easily have been made to appear
treacherous, and in shouldering himself with all responsibility
for the failure of the Charleston expedition. In the wave of
excitement following the surrender, even so debonair a minister
as Seward must have realized how fortunate it was for him that
his chief did not tell all he knew. About this time Seward began
to perceive that Lincoln had a will of his own, and that it was
not safe to trifle further with the President. Seward thereupon
ceased his interference.

It was in the dark days preceding the fall of Sumter that a crowd
of office-seekers gathered at Washington, most of them men who
had little interest in anything but the spoils. It is a
distressing commentary on the American party system that, during
the most critical month of the most critical period of American
history, much of the President's time was consumed by these
political vampires who would not be put off, even though a
revolution was in progress and nations, perhaps, were dying and
being born. "The scramble for office," wrote Stanton, "is
terrible." Seward noted privately: "Solicitants for office
besiege the President.... My duties call me to the White House
two or three times a day. The grounds, halls, stairways,
closets, are filled with applicants who render ingress and egress

Secretary Welles has etched the Washington of that time in his
coldly scornful way:

"A strange state of things existed at that time in Washington.
The atmosphere was thick with treason. Party spirit and old
party differences prevailed, however, amidst these accumulated
dangers. Secession was considered by most persons as a political
party question, not as rebellion. Democrats to a large extent
sympathized with the Rebels more than with the Administration,
which they opposed, not that they wished Secession to be
successful and the Union divided, but they hoped that President
Lincoln and the Republicans would, overwhelmed by obstacles and
embarrassments, prove failures. The Republicans on the other
hand, were scarcely less partisan and unreasonable. Patriotism
was with them no test, no shield from party malevolence. They
demanded the proscription and exclusion of such Democrats as
opposed the Rebel movement and clung to the Union, with the same
vehemence that they demanded the removal of the worst Rebels who
advocated a dissolution of the Union. Neither party appeared to
be apprehensive of, or to realize the gathering storm."

Seen against such a background, the political and diplomatic
frivolity of the Secretary of State is not so inexplicable as it
would otherwise be. This background, as well as the intrigue of
the Secretary, helps us to understand Lincoln's great task inside
his Cabinet. At first the Cabinet was a group of jealous
politicians new to this sort of office, drawn from different
parties, and totally lacking in a cordial sense of previous
action together. None of them, probably, when they first
assembled had any high opinion of their titular head. He was
looked upon as a political makeshift. The best of them had to
learn to appreciate the fact that this strange, ungainly man,
sprung from plainest origin, without formal education, was a
great genius. By degrees, however, the large minds in the
Cabinet became his cordial admirers. While Lincoln was quietly,
gradually exercising his strong will upon Seward, he was doing
the same with the other members of his council. Presently they
awoke--the majority of them at least--to the truth that he, for
all his odd ways, was their master.

Meanwhile the gradual readjustment of all factions in the North
was steadily going forward. The Republicans were falling into
line behind the Government; and by degrees the distinction
between Seward and Lincoln, in the popular mind, faded into a
sort of composite picture called "the Administration." Lincoln
had the reward of his long forbearance with his Secretary. For
Seward it must be said that, however he had intrigued against his
chief at Washington, he did not intrigue with the country.
Admitting as he had, too, that he had met his master, he took the
defeat as a good sportsman and threw all his vast party influence
into the scale for Lincoln's fortunes. Thus, as April wore on,
the Republican party settled down to the idea that it was to
follow the Government at Washington upon any course that might

The Democrats in the North were anti-Southern in larger
proportion, probably, than at any other time during the struggle
of the sections. We have seen that numbers of them had frankly
declared for the Union. Politics had proved weaker than
propinquity. There was a moment when it seemed--delusively, as
events proved--that the North was united as one man to oppose the

There is surely not another day in our history that has witnessed
so much nervous tension as Saturday, April 13, 1861, for on that
morning the newspapers electrified the North with the news that
Sumter had been fired on from Confederate batteries on the shore
of Charleston Harbor. In the South the issue was awaited
confidently, but many minds at least were in that state of awed
suspense natural to a moment which the thoughtful see is the
stroke of fate. In the North, the day passed for the most part
in a quiet so breathless that even the most careless could have
foretold the storm which broke on the following day. The account
of this crisis which has been given by Lincoln's private
secretary is interesting:

"That day there was little change in the business routine of the
Executive office. Mr. Lincoln was never liable to sudden
excitement or sudden activity.... So while the Sumter telegrams
were on every tongue...leading men and officials called to learn
or impart the news. The Cabinet, as by common impulse, came
together and deliberated. All talk, however, was brief,
sententious, formal. Lincoln said but little beyond making
inquiries about the current reports and criticizing the
probability or accuracy of their details, and went on as usual
receiving visitors, listening to suggestions, and signing routine
papers throughout the day." Meanwhile the cannon were booming at
Charleston. The people came out on the sea-front of the lovely
old city and watched the duel of the cannon far down the harbor,
and spoke joyously of the great event. They saw the shells of
the shore batteries ignite portions of the fortress on the
island. They watched the fire of the defenders--driven by the
flames into a restricted area--slacken and cease. At last the
flag of the Union fluttered down from above Fort Sumter.

When the news flashed over the North, early Sunday morning, April
14th, the tension broke. For many observers then and afterward,
the only North discernible that fateful Sabbath was an enraged,
defiant, impulsive nation, forgetful for the moment of all its
differences, and uniting all its voices in one hoarse cry for
vengeance. There seemed to be no other thought. Lincoln gave it
formal utterance, that same day, by assembling his Cabinet and
drawing up a proclamation which called for 75,000 volunteer

An incident of this day which is as significant historically as
any other was on the surface no more than a friendly talk between
two men. Douglas called at the White House. For nearly two
hours he and Lincoln conferred in private. Hitherto it had been
a little uncertain what course Douglas was going to take. In the
Senate, though condemning disunion, he had opposed war. Few
matters can have troubled Lincoln more deeply than the question
which way Douglas's immense influence would be thrown. The
question was answered publicly in the newspapers of Monday, April
15th. Douglas announced that while he was still "unalterably
opposed to the Administration on all its political issues, he was
prepared to sustain the President in the exercise of all his
constitutional functions to preserve the Union, and maintain the
Government, and defend the federal capital."

There remained of Douglas's life but a few months. The time was
filled with earnest speechmaking in support of the Government.
He had started West directly following his conference with
Lincoln. His speeches in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, were perhaps
the greatest single force in breaking up his own following,
putting an end to the principle of doing nothing, and forcing
every Democrat to come out and show his colors. In Shakespeare's
phrase, it was--"Under which king, Bezonian? speak or die!" In
Douglas's own phrase: "There can be no neutrals in this war; ONLY

Side by side with Douglas's manifesto to the Democrats there
appeared in the Monday papers Lincoln's call for volunteers. The
militia of several Northern States at once responded.

On Wednesday, the 17th of April, the Sixth Massachusetts Regiment
entrained for Washington. Two days later it was in Baltimore.
There it was attacked by a mob; the soldiers fired; and a number
of civilians were killed as well as several soldiers.

These shots at Baltimore aroused the Southern party in Maryland.
Led by the Mayor of the city, they resolved to prevent the
passage of other troops across their State to Washington.
Railway tracks were torn up by order of the municipal
authorities, and bridges were burnt. The telegraph was cut. As
in a flash, after issuing his proclamation, Lincoln found himself
isolated at Washington with no force but a handful of troops and
the government clerks. And while Maryland rose against him on one
side, Virginia joined his enemies on the other. The day the
Sixth Massachusetts left Boston, Virginia seceded. The Virginia
militia were called to their colors. Preparations were at once
set on foot for the seizure of the great federal arsenal at
Harper's Ferry and the Navy Yard at Norfolk. The next day a
handful of federal troops, fearful of being overpowered at
Harper's Ferry, burned the arsenal and withdrew to Washington.
For the same reason the buildings of the great Navy Yard were
blown up or set on fire, and the ships at anchor were sunk. So
desperate and unprepared were the Washington authorities that
they took these extreme measures to keep arms and ammunition out
of the hands of the Virginians. So hastily was the destruction
carried out, that it was only partially successful and at both
places large stores of ammunition were seized by the Virginia
troops. While Washington was isolated, and Lincoln did not know
what response the North had made to his proclamation, Robert E.
Lee, having resigned his commission in the federal army, was
placed in command of the Virginia troops.

The secretaries of Lincoln have preserved a picture of his
desperate anxiety, waiting, day after day, for relief from the
North which he hoped would speedily come by sea. Outwardly he
maintained his self-control. "But once, on the afternoon of the
23d, the business of the day being over, the Executive office
being deserted, after walking the floor alone in silent thought
for nearly half an hour, he stopped and gazed long and wistfully
out of the window down the Potomac in the direction of the
expected ships; and, unconscious of other presence in the room,
at length broke out with irrepressible anguish in the repeated
exclamation, "Why don't they come! Why don't they come!"

During these days of isolation, when Washington, with the
telegraph inoperative, was kept in an appalling uncertainty, the
North rose. There was literally a rush to volunteer. "The
heather is on fire," wrote George Ticknor, "I never before knew
what a popular excitement can be." As fast as possible militia
were hurried South. The crack New York regiment, the famous,
dandified Seventh, started for the front amid probably the most
tempestuous ovation which until that time was ever given to a
military organization in America. Of the march of the regiment
down Broadway, one of its members wrote, "Only one who passed as
we did, through the tempest of cheers two miles long, can know
the terrible enthusiasm of the occasion."

To reach Washington by rail was impossible. The Seventh went by
boat to Annapolis. The same course was taken by a regiment of
Massachusetts mechanics, the Eighth. Landing at Annapolis, the
two regiments, dandies and laborers, fraternized at once in the
common bond of loyalty to the Union. A branch railway led from
Annapolis to the main line between Washington and Baltimore. The
rails had been torn up. The Massachusetts mechanics set to work
to relay them. The Governor of Maryland protested. He was
disregarded. The two regiments toiled together a long day and
through the night following, between Annapolis and the Washington
junction, bringing on their baggage and cannon over relaid
tracks. There, a train was found which the Seventh appropriated.
At noon, on the 25th of April, that advance guard of the Northern
hosts entered Washington, and Lincoln knew that he had armies
behind him.


The history of the North had virtually become, by April, 1861,
the history of Lincoln himself, and during the remaining four
years of the President's life it is difficult to separate his
personality from the trend of national history. Any attempt to
understand the achievements and the omissions of the Northern
people without undertaking an intelligent estimate of their
leader would be only to duplicate the story of "Hamlet" with
Hamlet left out. According to the opinion of English military
experts*, "Against the great military genius of certain Southern
leaders fate opposed the unbroken resolution and passionate
devotion to the Union, which he worshiped, of the great Northern
President. As long as he lived and ruled the people of the
North, there could be no turning back."

* Wood and Edmonds. "The Civil War in the United States."

Lincoln has been ranked with Socrates; but he has also been
compared with Rabelais. He has been the target of abuse that
knew no mercy; but he has been worshiped as a demigod. The ten
big volumes of his official biography are a sustained,
intemperate eulogy in which the hero does nothing that is not
admirable; but as large a book could be built up out of
contemporaneous Northern writings that would paint a picture of
unmitigated blackness--and the most eloquent portions of it would
be signed by Wendell Phillips.

The real Lincoln is, of course, neither the Lincoln of the
official biography nor the Lincoln of Wendell Phillips. He was
neither a saint nor a villain. What he actually was is not,
however, so easily stated. Prodigious men are never easy to sum
up; and Lincoln was a prodigious man. The more one studies him,
the more individual he appears to be. By degrees one comes to
understand how it was possible for contemporaries to hold
contradictory views of him and for each to believe frantically
that his views were proved by facts. For anyone who thinks he
can hit off in a few neat generalities this complex,
extraordinary personality, a single warning may suffice. Walt
Whitman, who was perhaps the most original thinker and the most
acute observer who ever saw Lincoln face to face has left us his
impression; but he adds that there was something in Lincoln's
face which defied description and which no picture had caught.
After Whitman's conclusion that "One of the great portrait
painters of two or three hundred years ago is needed," the mere
historian should proceed with caution.

There is historic significance in his very appearance. His huge,
loose-knit figure, six feet four inches high, lean, muscular,
ungainly, the evidence of his great physical strength, was a fit
symbol of those hard workers, the children of the soil, from whom
he sprang. His face was rugged like his figure, the complexion
swarthy, cheek bones high, and bushy black hair crowning a great
forehead beneath which the eyes were deep-set, gray, and
dreaming. A sort of shambling powerfulness formed the main
suggestion of face and figure, softened strangely by the
mysterious expression of the eyes, and by the singular delicacy
of the skin. The motions of this awkward giant lacked grace; the
top hat and black frock coat, sometimes rusty, which had served
him on the western circuit continued to serve him when he was
virtually the dictator of his country. It was in such dress that
he visited the army, where he towered above his generals.

Even in a book of restricted scope, such as this, one must insist
upon the distinction between the private and public Lincoln, for
there is as yet no accepted conception of him. What comes
nearest to an accepted conception is contained probably in the
version of the late Charles Francis Adams. He tells us how his
father, the elder Charles Francis Adams, ambassador to London,
found Lincoln in 1861 an offensive personality, and he insists
that Lincoln under strain passed through a transformation which
made the Lincoln of 1864 a different man from the Lincoln of
1861. Perhaps; but without being frivolous, one is tempted to
quote certain old-fashioned American papers that used to label
their news items "important if true."

What then, was the public Lincoln? What explains his vast
success? As a force in American history, what does he count for?
Perhaps the most significant detail in an answer to these
questions is the fact that he had never held conspicuous public
office until at the age of fifty-two he became President.
Psychologically his place is in that small group of great
geniuses whose whole significant period lies in what we commonly
think of as the decline of life. There are several such in
history: Rome had Caesar; America had both Lincoln and Lee. By
contrasting these instances with those of the other type, the
egoistic geniuses such as Alexander or Napoleon, we become aware
of some dim but profound dividing line separating the two groups.
The theory that genius, at bottom, is pure energy seems to fit
Napoleon; but does it fit these other minds who appear to meet
life with a certain indifference, with a carelessness of their
own fate, a willingness to leave much to chance? That
irresistible passion for authority which Napoleon had is lacking
in these others. Their basal inspiration seems to resemble the
impulse of the artist to express, rather than the impulse of the
man of action to possess. Had it not been for secession, Lee
would probably have ended his days as an exemplary superintendent
of West Point. And what of Lincoln? He dabbled in politics,
early and without success; he left politics for the law, and to
the law he gave during many years his chief devotion. But the
fortuitous break-up of parties, with the revival of the slavery
issue, touched some hidden spring; the able provincial lawyer
felt again the political impulse; he became a famous maker of
political phrases; and on this literary basis he became the
leader of a party.

Too little attention has been paid to this progression of Lincoln
through literature into politics. The ease with which he drifted
from one to the other is also still to be evaluated. Did it show
a certain slackness, a certain aimlessness, at the bottom of his
nature? Had it, in a way, some sort of analogy--to compare
homespun with things Olympian--to the vein of frivolity in the
great Caesar? One is tempted to think so. Surely, here was one
of those natures which need circumstance to compel them to
greatness and which are not foredoomed, Napoleon-like, to seize
greatness. Without encroaching upon the biographical task, one
may borrow from biography this insistent echo: the anecdotes of
Lincoln sound over and over the note of easy-going good nature;
but there is to be found in many of the Lincoln anecdotes an
overtone of melancholy which lingers after one's impression of
his good nature. Quite naturally, in such a biographical
atmosphere, we find ourselves thinking of him at first as a
little too good-humored, a little too easy-going, a little prone
to fall into reverie. We are not surprised when we find his
favorite poem beginning "Oh, why should the spirit of mortal be

This enigmatical man became President in his fifty-second year.
We have already seen that his next period, the winter of 1860-61,
has its biographical problems. The impression which he made on
the country as President-elect was distinctly unfavorable. Good
humor, or opportunism, or what you will, brought together in
Lincoln's Cabinet at least three men more conspicuous in the
ordinary sense than he was himself. We forget, today, how
insignificant he must have seemed in a Cabinet that embraced
Seward, Cameron, and Chase--all large national figures. What
would not history give for a page of self-revelation showing us
how he felt in the early days of that company! Was he troubled?
Did he doubt his ability to hold his own? Was he fatalistic?
Was his sad smile his refuge? Did he merely put things by,
ignoring tomorrow until tomorrow should arrive?

However we may guess at the answers to such questions, one thing
now becomes certain. His quality of good humor began to be his
salvation. It is doubtful if any President except Washington had
to manage so difficult a Cabinet. Washington had seen no
solution to the problem but to let Jefferson go. Lincoln found
his Cabinet often on the verge of a split, with two powerful
factions struggling to control it and neither ever gaining full
control. Though there were numerous withdrawals, no resigning
secretary really split Lincoln's Cabinet. By what turns and
twists and skillful maneuvers Lincoln prevented such a division
and kept such inveterate enemies as Chase and Seward steadily at
their jobs--Chase during three years, Seward to the end--will
partly appear in the following pages; but the whole delicate
achievement cannot be properly appreciated except in detailed

All criticism of Lincoln turns eventually on one question: Was he
an opportunist? Not only his enemies in his own time but many
politicians of a later day were eager to prove that he was the
latter--indeed, seeking to shelter their own opportunism behind
the majesty of his example. A modern instance will perhaps make
vivid this long standing debate upon Lincoln and his motives.
Merely for historic illumination and without becoming invidious,
we may recall the instance of President Wilson and the
resignation of his Secretary of War in 1916 because Congress
would not meet the issue of preparedness. The President accepted
the resignation without forcing the issue, and Congress went on
fiddling while Rome burned. Now, was the President an
opportunist, merely waiting to see what course events would take,
or was he a political strategist, astutely biding his time?
Similar in character is this old debate upon Lincoln, which is
perhaps best focussed in the removal of Secretary Blair which we
shall have to note in connection with the election of 1864.

It is difficult for the most objective historian to deal with
such questions without obtruding his personal views, but there is
nothing merely individual in recording the fact that the steady
drift of opinion has been away from the conception of Lincoln as
an opportunist. What once caused him to be thus conceived
appears now to have been a failure to comprehend intelligently
the nature of his undertaking. More and more, the tendency
nowadays is to conceive his career as one of those few instances
in which the precise faculties needed to solve a particular
problem were called into play at exactly the critical moment.
Our confusions with regard to Lincoln have grown out of our
failure to appreciate the singularity of the American people, and
their ultra-singularity during the years in which he lived. It
remains to be seen hereafter what strange elements of
sensibility, of waywardness, of lack of imagination, of
undisciplined ardor, of selfishness, of deceitfulness, of
treachery, combined with heroic ideality, made up the character
of that complex populace which it was Lincoln's task to control.
But he did more than control it: he somehow compounded much of it
into something like a unit. To measure Lincoln's achievement in
this respect, two things must be remembered: on the one hand, his
task was not as arduous as it might have been, because the most
intellectual part of the North had definitely committed itself
either irretrievably for, or irreconcilably against, his policy.
Lincoln, therefore, did not have to trouble himself with this
portion of the population. On the other hand, that part which he
had to master included such emotional rhetoricians as Horace
Greeley; such fierce zealots as Henry Winter Davis of Maryland,
who made him trouble indeed, and Benjamin Wade, whom we have met
already; such military egoists as McClellan and Pope; such crafty
double-dealers as his own Secretary of the Treasury; such astute
grafters as Cameron; such miserable creatures as certain powerful
capitalists who sacrificed his army to their own lust for profits
filched from army contracts.

The wonder of Lincoln's achievement is that he contrived at last
to extend his hold over all these diverse elements; that he
persuaded some, outwitted others, and overcame them all. The
subtlety of this task would have ruined any statesman of the
driving sort. Explain Lincoln by any theory you will, his
personality was the keystone of the Northern arch; subtract it,
and the arch falls. The popular element being as complex and
powerful as it was, how could the presiding statesman have
mastered the situation if he had not been of so peculiar a sort
that he could influence all these diverse and powerful interests,
slowly, by degrees, without heat, without the imperative note,
almost in silence, with the universal, enfolding irresistibility
of the gradual things in nature, of the sun and the rain. Such
was the genius of Lincoln--all but passionless, yet so quiet that
one cannot but believe in the great depth of his nature.

We are, even today, far from a definitive understanding of
Lincoln's statecraft, but there is perhaps justification for
venturing upon one prophecy. The farther from him we get and the
more clearly we see him in perspective, the more we shall realize
his creative influence upon his party. A Lincoln who is the
moulder of events and the great creator of public opinion will
emerge at last into clear view. In the Lincoln of his ultimate
biographer there will be more of iron than of a less enduring
metal in the figure of the Lincoln of present tradition. Though
none of his gentleness will disappear, there will be more
emphasis placed upon his firmness, and upon such episodes as that
of December, 1860, when his single will turned the scale against
compromise; upon his steadiness in the defeat of his party at the
polls in 1862; or his overruling of the will of Congress in the
summer of 1864 on the question of reconstruction; or his attitude
in the autumn of that year when he believed that he was losing
his second election. Behind all his gentleness, his slowness,
behind his sadness, there will eventually appear an inflexible
purpose, strong as steel, unwavering as fate.

The Civil War was in truth Lincoln's war. Those modern pacifists
who claim him for their own are beside the mark. They will never
get over their illusions about Lincoln until they see, as all the
world is beginning to see, that his career has universal
significance because of its bearing on the universal modern
problem of democracy. It will not do ever to forget that he was
a man of the people, always playing the hand of the people, in
the limited social sense of that word, though playing it with
none of the heat usually met with in the statesmen of successful
democracy from Cleon to Robespierre, from Andrew Jackson to Lloyd
George. His gentleness does not remove Lincoln from that stern
category. Throughout his life, besides his passion for the Union,
besides his antipathy to slavery, there dwelt in his very heart
love of and faith in the plain people. We shall never see him in
true historic perspective until we conceive him as the instrument
of a vast social idea--the determination to make a government
based on the plain people successful in war.

He did not scruple to seize power when he thought the cause of
the people demanded it, and his enemies were prompt to accuse him
of holding to the doctrine that the end justified the means--a
hasty conclusion which will have to be reconsidered; what
concerns us more closely is the definite conviction that he felt
no sacrifice too great if it advanced the happiness of the
generality of mankind.

The final significance of Lincoln as a statesman of democracy is
brought out most clearly in his foreign relations. Fate put it
into the hands of England to determine whether his Government
should stand or fall. Though it is doubtful how far the turning
of the scale of English policy in Lincoln's favor was due to the
influence of the rising power of English democracy, it is plain
that Lincoln thought of himself as having one purpose with that
movement which he regarded as an ally. Beyond all doubt among
the most grateful messages he ever received were the New Year
greetings of confidence and sympathy which were sent by English
workingmen in 1863. A few sentences in his "Letter to the
Workingmen of London" help us to look through his eyes and see
his life and its struggles as they appeared to him in relation to
world history:

"As these sentiments [expressed by the English workmen] are
manifestly the enduring support of the free institutions of
England, so am I sure that they constitute the only reliable
basis for free institutions throughout the world.... The
resources, advantages, and power of the American people are very
great, and they have consequently succeeded to equally great
responsibilities. It seems to have devolved upon them to test
whether a government established on the principles of human
freedom can be maintained against an effort to build one upon the
exclusive foundation of human bondage. They will rejoice with me
in the new evidence which your proceedings furnish that the
magnanimity they are exhibiting is justly estimated by the true
friends of freedom and humanity in foreign countries."

Written at the opening of that terrible year, 1863, these words
are a forward link with those more celebrated words spoken toward
its close at Gettysburg. Perhaps at no time during the war,
except during the few days immediately following his own
reelection a year later, did Lincoln come so near being free from
care as then. Perhaps that explains why his fundamental literary
power reasserted itself so remarkably, why this speech of his at
the dedication of the National Cemetery at Gettysburg on the 19th
of November, 1863, remains one of the most memorable orations
ever delivered:

"Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth upon
this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated
to the proposition that all men are created equal.

"Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that
nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long
endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have
come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place
for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live.
It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

"But in a larger sense we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate,
we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead,
who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our power to
add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember
what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It
is for us, the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the
unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly
advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great
task remaining before us: that from these honored dead we take
increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last
full measure of devotion; that we here highly resolve that these
dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation, under God,
shall have a new birth of freedom; and that government of the
people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from
the earth."


The fundamental problem of the Lincoln Government was the raising
of armies, the sudden conversion of a community which was
essentially industrial into a disciplined military organization.
The accomplishment of so gigantic a transformation taxed the
abilities of two Secretaries of War. The first, Simon Cameron,
owed his place in the Cabinet to the double fact of being one of
the ablest of political bosses and of standing high among
Lincoln's competitors for the Presidential nomination.
Personally honest, he was also a political cynic to whom
tradition ascribes the epigram defining an honest politician as
one who "when he is bought, will stay bought." As Secretary of
War he showed no particular ability.

In 1861, when the tide of enthusiasm was in flood, and volunteers
in hosts were responding to acts of Congress for the raising and
maintenance of a volunteer army, Cameron reported in December
that the Government had on foot 660,971 men and could have had a
million except that Congress had limited the number of volunteers
to be received. When this report was prepared, Lincoln was, so
to speak, in the trough of two seas. The devotion which had been
offered to him in April, 1861, when the North seemed to rise as
one man, had undergone a reaction. Eight months without a single
striking military success, together with the startling defeat at
Bull Run, had had their inevitable effect. Democracies are
mercurial; variability seems to be part of the price of freedom.
With childlike faith in their cause, the Northern people, in
midsummer, were crying, "On to Richmond!" In the autumn, stung
by defeat, they were ready to cry, "Down with Lincoln."

In a subsequent report, the War Department confessed that at the
beginning of hostilities, "nearly all our arms and ammunition"
came from foreign countries. One great reason why no military
successes relieve the gloom of 1861 was that, from a soldier's
point of view, there were no armies. Soldiers, it is true, there
were in myriads; but arms, ammunition, and above all,
organization were lacking. The supplies in the government
arsenals had been provided for an army of but a few thousand.
Strive as they would, all the factories in the country could not
come anywhere near making arms for half a million men; nor did
the facilities of those days make it possible for munition plants
to spring up overnight. Had it not been that the Confederacy was
equally hard pushed, even harder pushed, to find arms and
ammunition, the war would have ended inside Seward's ninety days,
through sheer lack of powder.

Even with the respite given by the unpreparedness of the South,
and while Lincoln hurriedly collected arms and ammunition from
abroad, the startled nation, thus suddenly forced into a
realization of what war meant, lost its head. From its previous
reckless trust in sheer enthusiasm, it reacted to a distrust of
almost everything. Why were the soldiers not armed? Why did not
millions of rounds of cartridges fall like manna out of the sky?
Why did not the crowds of volunteers become armies at a word of
command? One of the darkest pages in American history records
the way in which the crowd, undisciplined to endure strain,
turned upon Lincoln in its desire to find in the conduct of their
leader a pretext for venting upon him the fierceness of their
anxiety. Such a pretext they found in his treatment of Fremont.

The singular episode of Fremont's arrogance in 1861 is part of
the story of the border States whose friendship was eagerly
sought by both sides--Maryland, Kentucky, Missouri, and those
mountainous counties which in time were to become West Virginia.
To retain Maryland and thus to keep open the connection between
the Capital and the North was one of Lincoln's deepest anxieties.
By degrees the hold of the Government in Maryland was made
secure, and the State never seceded. Kentucky, too, held to the
Union, though, during many anxious months in 1861, Lincoln did
not know whether this State was to be for him or against him.
The Virginia mountains, from the first, seemed a more hopeful
field, for the mountaineers had opposed the Virginia secession
and, as soon as it was accomplished, had begun holding meetings
of protest. In the meantime George B. McClellan, with the rank
of general bestowed upon him by the Federal Government, had been
appointed to command the militia of Ohio. He was sent to assist
the insurgent mountaineers, and with him went the Ohio militia.
From this situation and from the small engagements with
Confederate forces in which McClellan was successful, there
resulted the separate State of West Virginia and the extravagant
popular notion that McClellan was a great general. His successes
were contrasted in the ordinary mind with the crushing defeat at
Bull Run, which happened at about the same time.

The most serious of all these struggles in the border States,
however, was that which took place in Missouri, where, owing to
the strength of both factions and their promptness in organizing,
real war began immediately. A Union army led by General
Nathaniel Lyon attacked the Confederates with great spirit at
Wilson's Creek but was beaten back in a fierce and bloody battle
in which their leader was killed.

Even before these events Fremont had been appointed to chief
command in Missouri, and here he at once began a strange course
of dawdling and posing. His military career must be left to the
military historians--who have not ranked him among the great
generals. Civil history accuses him, if not of using his new
position to make illegitimate profits, at least of showing
reckless favoritism toward those who did. It is hardly unfair to
say that Lincoln, in bearing with Fremont as long as he did,
showed a touch of amiable weakness; and yet, it must be
acknowledged that the President knew that the country was in a
dangerous mood, that Fremont was immensely popular, and that any
change might be misunderstood. Though Lincoln hated to appear
anything but a friend to a fallen political rival, he was at last
forced to act. Frauds in government contracts at St. Louis were
a public scandal, and the reputation of the government had to be
saved by the removal of Fremont in November, 1861. As an
immediate consequence of this action the overstrained nerves of
great numbers of people snapped. Fremont's personal followers,
as well as the abolitionists whom he had actively supported while
in command in Missouri, and all that vast crowd of excitable
people who are unable to stand silent under strain, clamored
against Lincoln in the wildest and most absurd vein. He was
accused of being a "dictator"; he was called an "imbecile"; he
ought to be impeached, and a new party, with Fremont as its
leader, should be formed to prosecute the war. But through all
this clamor Lincoln kept his peace and let the heathen rage.

Toward the end of the year, popular rage turned suddenly on
Cameron, who, as Secretary of War, had taken an active but proper
part in the investigation of Fremont's conduct. It was one of
those tremulous moments when people are desperately eager to have
something done and are ready to believe anything. Though
McClellan, now in chief command of the Union forces, had an
immense army which was fast getting properly equipped, month
faded into month without his advancing against the enemy. Again
the popular cry was raised, "On to Richmond!" It was at this
moment of military inactivity and popular restlessness that
charges of peculation were brought forward against Cameron.

These charges both were and were not well founded. Himself a
rich man, it is not likely that Cameron profited personally by
government contracts, even though the acrimonious Thad Stevens
said of his appointment as Secretary that it would add "another
million to his fortune." There seems little doubt, however, that
Cameron showered lucrative contracts upon his political
retainers. And no boss has ever held the State of Pennsylvania in
a firmer grip. His tenure of the Secretaryship of War was one
means to that end.

The restless alarm of the country at large expressed itself in
such extravagant words as these which Senator Grimes wrote to
Senator Fessenden: "We are going to destruction as fast as
imbecility, corruption, and the wheels of time can carry us." So
dissatisfied, indeed, was Congress with the conduct of the war
that it appointed a committee of investigation. During December,
1861, and January, 1862, the committee was summoning generals
before it, questioning them, listening to all manner of views,
accomplishing nothing, but rendering more and more feverish an
atmosphere already surcharged with anxiety. On the floors of
Congress debate raged as to who was responsible for the military
inaction--for the country's "unpreparedness," we should say today
--and as to whether Cameron was honest. Eventually the House in
a vote of censure condemned the Secretary of War.

Long before this happened, however, Lincoln had interfered and
very characteristically removed the cause of trouble, while
taking upon himself the responsibility for the situation, by
nominating Cameron minister to Russia, and by praising him for
his "ability, patriotism, and fidelity to the public trust."
Though the President had not sufficient hold upon the House to
prevent the vote of censure, his influence was strong in the
Senate, and the new appointment of Cameron was promptly

There was in Washington at this time that grim man who had served
briefly as Attorney-General in the Cabinet of Buchanan--Edwin M.
Stanton. He despised the President and expressed his opinion in
such words as "the painful imbecility of Lincoln." The two had
one personal recollection in common: long before, in a single
case, at Cincinnati, the awkward Lincoln had been called in as
associate counsel to serve the convenience of Stanton, who was
already a lawyer of national repute. To his less-known associate
Stanton showed a brutal rudeness that was characteristic. It
would have been hard in 1861 to find another man more difficult
to get on with. Headstrong, irascible, rude, he had a sharp
tongue which he delighted in using; but he was known to be
inflexibly honest, and was supposed to have great executive
ability. He was also a friend of McClellan, and if anybody could
rouse that tortoise-like general, Stanton might be supposed to be
the man. He had been a valiant Democrat, and Democratic support
was needed by the government. Lincoln astonished him with his
appointment as Secretary of War in January, 1862. Stanton
justified the President's choice, and under his strong if
ruthless hand the War Department became sternly efficient. The
whole story of Stanton's relations to his chief is packed, like
the Arabian genius in the fisherman's vase, into one remark of
Lincoln's. "Did Stanton tell you I was a fool?" said Lincoln on
one occasion, in the odd, smiling way he had. "Then I expect I
must be one, for he is almost always right, and generally says
what he means."

In spite of his efficiency and personal force, Stanton was unable
to move his friend McClellan, with whom he soon quarreled. Each
now sought in his own way to control the President, though
neither understood Lincoln's character. From McClellan, Lincoln
endured much condescension of a kind perilously near
impertinence. To Stanton, Lincoln's patience seemed a mystery;
to McClellan--a vain man, full of himself--the President who
would merely smile at this bullyragging on the part of one of his
subordinates seemed indeed a spiritless creature. Meanwhile
Lincoln, apparently devoid of sensibility, was seeking during the
anxious months of 1862, in one case, merely how to keep his
petulant Secretary in harness; in the other, how to quicken his
tortoise of a general.

Stanton made at least one great blunder. Though he had been
three months in office, and McClellan was still inactive, there
were already several successes to the credit of the Union arms.
The Monitor and Virginia (Merrimac) had fought their famous duel,
and Grant had taken Fort Donelson. The latter success broke
through the long gloom of the North and caused, as Holmes wrote,
"a delirium of excitement." Stanton rashly concluded that he now
had the game in his hands, and that a sufficient number of men
had volunteered. This civilian Secretary of War, who had still
much to learn of military matters, issued an order putting a stop
to recruiting. Shortly afterwards great disaster befell the
Union arms. McClellan, before Richmond, was checked in May.
Early in July, his peninsula campaign ended disastrously in the
terrible "Seven Days' Battle."

Anticipating McClellan's failure, Lincoln had already determined
to call for more troops. On July 1st, he called upon the
Governors of the States to provide him with 300,000 men to serve
three years. But the volunteering enthusiasm--explain it as you
will--had suffered a check. The psychological moment had passed.
So slow was the response to the call of July 1st, that another
appeal was made early in August, this time for 300,000 men to
serve only nine months. But this also failed to rouse the
country. A reinforcement of only 87,000 men was raised in
response to this emergency call. The able lawyer in the War
Department had still much to learn about men and nations.

After this check, terrible incidents of war came thick and fast
--the defeat at Second Manassas, in late August; the horrible
drawn battle of Antietam-Sharpsburg, in September;
Fredericksburg, that carnival of slaughter, in December; the
dearly bought victory of Murfreesboro, which opened 1863. There
were other disastrous events at least as serious. Foreign
affairs* were at their darkest. Within the political coalition
supporting Lincoln, contention was the order of the day. There
was general distrust of the President. Most alarming of all,
that ebb of the wave of enthusiasm which began in midsummer,
1861, reached in the autumn of 1862 perhaps its lowest point.
The measure of the reaction against Lincoln was given in the
Congressional election, in which, though the Government still
retained a working majority, the Democrats gained thirty-three

* See Chapter IX.

If there could be such a thing as a true psychological history of
the war, one of its most interesting pages would determine just
how far Stanton was responsible, through his strange blunder over
recruiting, for the check to enthusiasm among the Northern
people. With this speculation there is connected a still unsolved
problem in statistics. To what extent did the anti-Lincoln vote,
in 1862, stand for sympathy with the South, and how far was it
the hopeless surrender of Unionists who felt that their cause was
lost? Though certainty on this point is apparently impossible,
there can be no doubt that at the opening of 1863, the Government
felt it must apply pressure to the flagging spirits of its
supporters. In order to reenforce the armies and to push the war
through, there was plainly but one course to be

The government leaders in Congress brought in a Conscription Act
early in the year. The hot debates upon this issue dragged
through a month's time, and now make instructive reading for the
present generation that has watched the Great War*. The Act of
1863 was not the work of soldiers, but was literally "made in
Congress." Stanton grimly made the best of it, though he
unwaveringly condemned some of its most conspicuous provisions.
His business was to retrieve his blunder of the previous year,
and he was successful. Imperfect as it was, the Conscription
Act, with later supplementary legislation, enabled him to replace
the wastage of the Union armies and steadily to augment them. At
the close of the war, the Union had on foot a million men with an
enrolled reserve of two millions and a half, subject to call.

* The battle over conscription in England was anticipated in
America sixty-four years ago. Bagot says that the average
British point of view may be expressed thus: "What I am sayin' is
this here as I was a sayin' yesterday." The Anglo-Saxon mind is
much the same the world over. In America, today, the enemies of
effective military organization would do well to search the
arguments of their skillful predecessors in 1888, who fought to
the last ditch for a military system that would make inescapable
"peace at any price." For the modern believers in conscription,
one of their best bits of political thunder is still the defense
of it by Lincoln.

The Act provided for a complete military census, for which
purpose the country was divided into enrollment districts. Every
able-bodied male citizen, or intending citizen, between the ages
of twenty and forty-five, unless exempted for certain specified
reasons, was to be enrolled as a member of the national forces;
these forces were to be called to the colors--"drafted," the term
was--as the Government found need of them; each successive draft
was to be apportioned among the districts in the ratio of the
military population, and the number required was to be drawn by
lot; if the district raised its quota voluntarily, no draft would
be made; any drafted man could offer a substitute or could
purchase his discharge for three hundred dollars. The latter
provision especially was condemned by Stanton. It was seized
upon by demagogues as a device for giving rich men an advantage
over poor men.

American politics during the war form a wildly confused story, so
intricate that it cannot be made clear in a brief statement. But
this central fact may be insisted upon: in the North, there were
two political groups that were the poles around which various
other groups revolved and combined, only to fly asunder and
recombine, with all the maddening inconstancy of a kaleidoscope.
The two irreconcilable elements were the "war party" made up of
determined men resolved to see things through, and the
"copperheads"* who for one reason or another united in a faithful
struggle for peace at any price. Around the copperheads gathered
the various and singular groups who helped to make up the ever
fluctuating "peace party." It is an error to assume that this
peace party was animated throughout by fondness for the
Confederacy. Though many of its members were so actuated, the
core of the party seems to have been that strange type of man who
sustained political evasion in the old days, who thought that
sweet words can stop bullets, whose programme in 1863 called for
a cessation of hostilities and a general convention of all the
States, and who promised as the speedy result of a debauch of
talk a carnival of bright eyes glistening with the tears of
revived affection. With these strange people in 1863 there
combined a number of different types: the still stranger, still
less creditable visionary, of whom much hereafter; the avowed
friends of the principle of state rights; all those who
distrusted the Government because of its anti-slavery sympathies;
Quakers and others with moral scruples against war; and finally,
sincere legalists to whom the Conscription Act appeared
unconstitutional. In the spring of 1863 the issue of conscription
drew the line fairly sharply between the two political
coalitions, though each continued to fluctuate, more or less, to
the end of the war.

* The term arose, it has been said, from the use of the copper
cent with its head of Liberty as a peace button. But a more
plausible explanation associates the peace advocates with the
deadly copperhead snake.

The peace party of 1863 has been denounced hastily rather than
carefully studied. Its precise machinations are not fully known,
but the ugly fact stands forth that a portion of the foreign
population of the North was roused in 1863 to rebellion. The
occasion was the beginning of the first draft under the new law,
in July, 1863, and the scene of the rebellion was the City of New
York. The opponents of conscription had already made
inflammatory attacks on the Government. Conspicuous among them
was Horatio Seymour, who had been elected Governor of New York in
that wave of reaction in the autumn of 1862. Several New York
papers joined the crusade. In Congress, the Government had
already been threatened with civil war if the act was enforced.
Nevertheless, the public drawing by lot began on the days
announced. In New York the first drawing took place on Saturday,
July 12th, and the lists were published in the Sunday papers. As
might be expected, many of the men drawn were of foreign birth,
and all day Sunday, the foreign quarter of New York was a
cauldron boiling.

On Monday, the resumption of the drawing was the signal for
revolt. A mob invaded one of the conscription offices, drove off
the men in charge, and set fire to the building. In a short
while, the streets were filled with dense crowds of foreignborn
workmen shouting, "Down with the rich men," and singing, "We'll
hang Horace Greeley on a sour apple tree." Houses of prominent
citizens were attacked and set on fire, and several drafting
offices were burned. Many negroes who were seized were either
clubbed to death or hanged to lamp posts. Even an orphan asylum
for colored children was burned. The office of the "Tribune" was
raided, gutted, and set on fire. Finally a dispatch to Stanton,
early in the night, reported that the mob had taken possession of
the city.

The events of the next day were no less shocking. The city was
almost stripped of soldiers, as all available reserves had
already been hurried south when Lee was advancing toward
Gettysburg. But such militia as could be mustered, with a small
force of federal troops, fought the mob in the streets.
Barricades were carried by storm; blood was freely shed. It was
not, however, until the fourth day that the rebellion was finally
quelled, chiefly by New York regiments, hurried north by
Stanton--among them the famous Seventh--which swept the streets
with cannon.

The aftermath of the New York riots was a correspondence between
Lincoln and Seymour. The latter had demanded a suspension of the
draft until the courts could decide on the constitutionality of
the Conscription Act. Lincoln refused. With ten thousand troops
now assembled in New York, the draft was resumed, and there was
no further trouble.

The resistance to the Government in New York was but the most
terrible episode in a protracted contention which involves, as
Americans are beginning to see, one of the most fundamental and
permanent questions of Lincoln's rule: how can the exercise of
necessary war powers by the President be reconciled with the
guarantees of liberty in the Constitution? It is unfortunate
that Lincoln did not draw up a fully rounded statement of his own
theory regarding this problem, instead of leaving it to be
inferred from detached observations and from his actions.
Apparently, he felt there was nothing to do but to follow the
Roman precedent and, in a case of emergency, frankly permit the
use of extraordinary power. We may attribute to him that point
of view expressed by a distinguished Democrat of our own day:
"Democracy has to learn how to use the dictator as a necessary
war tool."* Whether Lincoln set a good model for democracy in
this perilous business is still to be determined. His actions
have been freely labeled usurpation. The first notorious
instance occurred in 1861, during the troubles in Maryland, when
he authorized military arrests of suspected persons. For the
release of one of these, a certain Merryman, Chief Justice Taney
issued a writ of habeas corpus**. Lincoln authorized his
military representatives to disregard the writ. In 1862 he
issued a proclamation suspending the privileges of the writ of
habeas corpus in cases of persons charged with "discouraging
volunteer enlistments, resisting military drafts, or guilty of
any disloyal practice...." Such persons were to be tried by
military commissions.

*President Edwin A. Alderman, of the University of Virginia.

** The Constitution permits the suspension of the privileges of
the writ of habeas corpus "when in cases of rebellion or invasion
the public safety may require it," but fails to provide a method
of suspension. Taney held that the power to suspend lay with
Congress. Five years afterward, when Chase was Chief Justice,
the Supreme Court, in ex parte Milligan, took the same view and
further declared that even Congress could not deprive a citizen
of his right to trial by jury so long as the local civil courts
are in operation. The Confederate experience differed from the
Federal inasmuch as Congress kept control of the power to suspend
the writ. But both governments made use of such suspension to
set up martial law in districts where the local courts were open
but where, from one cause or another, the Administration had not
confidence in their effectiveness. Under ex parte Milligan,
both Presidents and both Congresses were guilty of usurpation.
The mere layman waits for the next great hour of trial to learn
whether this interpretation will stand. In the Milligan case the
Chief Justice and three others dissented.

There can be little doubt that this proclamation caused something
like a panic in many minds, filled them with the dread of
military despotism, and contributed to the reaction against
Lincoln in the autumn of 1862. Under this proclamation many
arrests were made and many victims were sent to prison. So
violent was the opposition that on March 3, 1863, Congress passed
an act which attempted to bring the military and civil courts
into cooperation, though it did not take away from the President
all the dictatorial power which he had assumed. The act seems;
however, to have had little general effect, and it was
disregarded in the most celebrated of the cases of military
arrest, that of Clement L. Vallandigham.

A representative from Ohio and one of the most vituperative
anti-Lincoln men in Congress, Vallandigham in a sensational
speech applied to the existing situation Chatham's words, "My
lords, you cannot conquer America." He professed to see before
him in the future nothing "but universal political and social
revolution, anarchy, and bloodshed, compared with which the Reign
of Terror in France was a merciful visitation." To escape such a
future, he demanded an armistice, to be followed by a friendly
peace established through foreign mediation.

Returning to Ohio after the adjournment of Congress, Vallandigham
spoke to a mass-meeting in a way that was construed as rank
treason by General Burnside who was in command at Cincinnati.
Vallandigham was arrested, tried by court martial, and condemned
to imprisonment. There was an immediate hue and cry, in
consequence of which Burnside, who reported the affair, felt
called upon also to offer to resign. Lincoln's reply was
characteristic: "When I shall wish to supersede you I shall let
you know. All the Cabinet regretted the necessity for arresting,
for instance, Vallandigham, some perhaps doubting there was a
real necessity for it; but being done, all were for seeing you
through with it." Lincoln, however, commuted the sentence to
banishment and had Vallandigham sent through the lines into the

It seems quite plain that the condemnation of Lincoln on this
issue of usurpation was not confined to the friends of the
Confederacy, nor has it been confined to his enemies in later
days. One of Lincoln's most ardent admirers, the historian
Rhodes, condemns his course unqualifiedly. "There can be no
question," he writes, "that from the legal point of view the
President should have rescinded the sentence and released
Vallandigham." Lincoln, he adds, "stands responsible for the
casting into prison of citizens of the United States on orders as
arbitrary as the lettres-de-cachet of Louis XIV." Since Mr.
Rhodes, uncompromising Unionist, can write as he does upon this
issue, it is plain that the opposition party cannot be dismissed
as through and through disunionist.

The trial of Vallandigham made him a martyr and brought him the
Democratic nomination for Governor of Ohio*. His followers
sought to make the issue of the campaign the acceptance or
rejection of military despotism. In defense of his course
Lincoln wrote two public letters in which he gave evidence of the
skill which he had acquired as a lawyer before a jury by the way
in which he played upon the emotions of his readers.

* Edward Everett Hale's famous story "The Man Without a Country",
though it got into print too late to affect the election, was
aimed at Vallandigham. That quaint allegory on the lack of
patriotism became a temporary classic.

"Long experience [he wrote] has shown that armies cannot be
maintained unless desertion shall be punished by the severe
penalty of death. The case requires, and the law and the
Constitution sanction, this punishment. Must I shoot a
simple-minded soldier boy who deserts, while I must not touch a
hair of a wily agitator who induces him to desert? This is none
the less injurious when effected by getting a father, or brother,
or friend into a public meeting, and there working upon his
feelings till he is persuaded to write the soldier boy that he is
fighting in a bad cause for a wicked administration and a
contemptible government, too weak to arrest and punish him if he
shall desert. I think that in such a case to silence the
agitator and save the boy is not only constitutional, but,
withal, a great mercy."

His real argument may be summed up in these words of his:

"You ask, in substance, whether I really claim that I may
override all the guaranteed rights of individuals, on the plea of
conserving the public safety--when I may choose to say the public
safety requires it. This question, divested of the phraseology
calculated to represent me as struggling for an arbitrary
prerogative, is either simply a question who shall decide, or an
affirmation that nobody shall decide, what the public safety does
require in cases of rebellion or invasion.

"The Constitution contemplates the question as likely to occur
for decision, but it does not expressly declare who is to decide
it. By necessary implication, when rebellion or invasion comes,
the decision is to be made, from time to time; and I think the
man, whom for the time, the people have under the Constitution,
made the commander-in-chief of their army and navy, is the man
who holds the power and bears the responsibility of making it.
If he uses the power justly, the same people will probably
justify him; if he abuses it, he is in their hands to be dealt
with by all the modes they have reserved to themselves in the

Lincoln virtually appealed to the Northern people to secure
efficiency by setting him momentarily above all civil authority.
He asked them in substance, to interpret their Constitution by a
show of hands. No thoughtful person can doubt the risks of such
a method; yet in Ohio, in 1863, the great majority--perhaps
everyone who believed in the war--accepted Lincoln's position.
Between their traditional system of legal juries and the new
system of military tribunals the Ohio voters made their choice
without hesitation. They rejected Vallandigham and sustained the
Lincoln candidate by a majority of over a hundred thousand. That
same year in New York the anti-Lincoln candidate for Secretary of
State was defeated by twenty-nine thousand votes.

Though these elections in 1863 can hardly be called the
turning-point in the history of the Lincoln Government, yet it
was clear that the tide of popularity which had ebbed so far away
from Lincoln in the autumn of 1862 was again in the flood.
Another phase of his stormy course may be thought of as having
ended. And in accounting for this turn of the tide it must not
be forgotten that between the nomination and the defeat of a
Vallandigham the bloody rebellion in New York had taken place,
Gettysburg had been fought, and Grant had captured Vicksburg.
The autumn of 1863 formed a breathing space for the war party of
the North.


It is the custom of historians to measure the relative strength
of North and South chiefly in terms of population. The North
numbered 23,000,000 inhabitants; the South, about 9,000,000, of
which the slave population amounted to 3,500,000. But these
obvious statistics only partially indicate the real situation.
Not what one has, but what one is capable of using is, of course,
the true measure of strength. If, in 1861, either side could
have struck swiftly and with all its force, the story of the war
would have been different. The question of relative strength was
in reality a question of munitions. Both powers were glaringly
unprepared. Both had instant need of great supplies of arms and
ammunition, and both turned to European manufacturers for aid.
Those Americans who, in a later war, wished to make illegal the
neutral trade in munitions forgot that the international right of
a belligerent to buy arms from a neutral had prevented their own
destruction in 1861. In the supreme American crisis, agents of
both North and South hurried to Europe in quest of munitions. On
the Northern side the work was done chiefly by the three
ministers, Charles Francis Adams, at London; William L. Dayton,
at Paris; and Henry S. Sanford, at Brussels; by an able special
agent, Colonel George L. Schuyler; and by the famous
banking-house of Baring Brothers, which one might almost have
called the European department of the United States Treasury.

The eager solicitude of the War Department over the competition
of the two groups of agents in Europe informs a number of
dispatches that are, today, precious admonitions to the heedless
descendants of that dreadful time. As late as October, 1861, the
Acting Secretary of War wrote to Schuyler, one of whose shipments
had been delayed: "The Department earnestly hopes to
receive...the 12,000 Enfield rifles and the remainder of the
27,000, which you state you have purchased, by the earliest
steamer following. Could you appreciate the circumstances by
which we are surrounded, you would readily understand the urgent
necessity there is for the immediate delivery of all the arms you
are authorized to purchase. The Department expects to hear that
you have been able to conclude the negotiations for the 48,000
rifles from the French government arsenals." That the
Confederate Government acted even more promptly than the Union
Government appears from a letter of Sanford to Seward in May: "I
have vainly expected orders," he complains, "for the purchase of
arms for the Government, and am tempted to order from Belgium all
they can send over immediately.... Meanwhile the workshops are
filling with orders from the South.... It distresses me to think
that while we are in want of them, Southern money is taking them
away to be used against us."

At London, Adams took it upon himself to contract for arms in
advance of instructions. He wrote to Seward: "Aware of the
degree to which I exceed my authority in taking such a step,
nothing but a conviction of the need in which the country stands
of such assistance and the joint opinion of all the diplomatic
agents of the United States...in Paris, has induced me to
overcome my scruples." How real was the necessity of which this
able diplomat was so early conscious, is demonstrated at every
turn in the papers of the War Department. Witness this brief
dispatch from Harrisburg: "All ready to leave but no arms.
Governor not willing to let us leave State without them, as act
of Assembly forbids. Can arms be sent here?" When this appeal
was made, in December, 1861, arms were pouring into the country
from Europe, and the crisis had passed. But if this appeal had
been made earlier in the year, the inevitable answer may be
guessed from a dispatch which the Ordnance Office sent, as late
as September, to the authorities of West Virginia, refusing to
supply them with arms because the supplies were exhausted, and
adding, "Every possible exertion is being made to obtain
additional supplies by contract, by manufacture, and by purchase,
and as soon as they can be procured by any means, in any way,
they will be supplied."

Curiously enough, not only the Confederacy but various States of
the North were more expeditious in this all-important matter than
Cameron and the War Department. Schuyler's first dispatch from
London gives this singular information: "All private
establishments in Birmingham and London are now working for the
States of Ohio, Connecticut, and Massachusetts, except the London
Armory, whose manufacture is supposed to go to the Rebels, but of
this last fact I am not positively informed. I am making
arrangements to secure these establishments for our Government,
if desirable after the present State contracts expire. On the
Continent, Messrs, Dayton and Sanford...have been making
contracts and agreements of various kinds, of which you are by
this time informed." Soon afterward, from Paris, he made a long
report detailing the difficulties of his task, the limitations of
the existing munitions plants in Europe, and promising among
other things those "48,000 rifles from the French government
arsenals" for which, in the letter already quoted, the War
Department yearned. It was an enormous labor; and, strive as he
would, Schuyler found American mail continuing to bring him such
letters as this from the Assistant Secretary of War in October:
"I notice with much regret that [in the latest consignment] there
were no guns sent, as it was confidently expected that 20,000
would arrive by the [steamship] Fulton, and accordingly
arrangements had been made to distribute them through the
different States. Prompt and early shipments of guns are
desirable. We hope to hear by next steamer that you have shipped
from 80,000 to 100,000 stand."

The last word on the problem of munitions, which was so
significant a factor in the larger problem, is the report of the
United States Ordnance Office for the first year of the war. It
shows that between April, 1861, and June, 1862, the Government
purchased from American manufacturers somewhat over 30,000
rifles, and that from European makers it purchased 726,000.

From these illustrations it is therefore obvious that the true
measure of the immediate strength of the American contestants in
1861 was the extent of their ability to supply themselves from
Europe; and this, stated more concretely, became the question as
to which was the better able to keep its ports open and receive
the absolutely essential European aid. Lincoln showed his clear
realization of the situation when he issued, immediately after
the first call for volunteers, a proclamation blockading the
Southern coasts. Whether the Northern people at the time
appreciated the significance of this order is a question. Amid
the wild and vain clamor of the multitude in 1861, with its
conventional and old-fashioned notion of war as a thing of
trumpets and glittering armies, the North seems wholly to have
ignored its fleet; and yet in the beginning this resource was its
only strength.

The fleet was small, to be sure, but its task was at first also
small. There were few Southern ports which were doing a regular
business with Europe, and to close these was not difficult. As
other ports opened and the task of blockade grew, the Northern
navy also increased. Within a few months, to the few observers
who did not lose their heads, it was plain that the North had won
the first great contest of the war. It had so hampered Southern
trade that Lincoln's advantage in arming the North from Europe
was ten to one. At the very time when detractors of Lincoln were
hysterical over the removal of Fremont, when Grimes wrote to
Fessenden that the country was going to the dogs as fast as
imbecility could carry it, this great achievement had quietly
taken place. An expedition sailing in August from Fortress
Monroe seized the forts which commanded Hatteras Inlet off the
coast of North Carolina. In November, Commander Dupont, U. S.
N., seized Port Royal, one of the best harbors on the coast of
South Carolina, and established there a naval base. Thenceforth,
while the open Northern ports received European munitions without
hindrance, it was a risky business getting munitions into the
ports of the South. Only the boldest traders would attempt to
"run the blockade," to evade the Federal patrol ships by night
and run into a Southern port.

However, for one moment in the autumn of 1861, it seemed as if
all the masterful work of the Northern navy would be undone by
the Northern people themselves in backing up the rashness of
Captain Charles Wilkes, of the war-ship San Jacinto. On the high
seas he overhauled the British mail steamer, Trent. Aboard her
were two Confederate diplomatic agents, James M. Mason and John
Slidell, who had run the blockade from Charleston to Havana and
were now on their way to England. Wilkes took off the two
Confederates as prisoners of war. The crowd in the North went
wild. "We do not believe," said the New York Times, "that the
American heart ever thrilled with more sincere delight."

The intemperate joy of the crowd over the rashness of Wilkes was
due in part to a feeling of bitterness against the British
Government. In May, 1861, the Queen had issued a proclamation of
neutrality, whose justification in international law was hotly
debated at the time and was generally denied by Northerners.
England was the great cotton market of the world. To the excited
Northern mind, in 1861, there could be but one explanation of
England's action: a partisan desire to serve the South, to break
up the blockade, and to secure cotton. Whether such was the real
purpose of the ministry then in power is now doubted; but at that
time it was the beginning of a sharp contention between the two
Governments. The Trent affair naturally increased the tension.
So keen was the indignation of all classes of Englishmen that it
seemed, for a moment, as if the next step would be war.

In America, the prompt demand for the release of Mason and
Slidell was met, at first, in a spirit equally bellicose.
Fortunately there were cool and clear heads that at once
condemned Wilkes's action as a gross breach of international law.
Prominent among these was Sumner. The American Government,
however, admitted the justice of the British demand and the
envoys were released.

Relations with the United States now became a burning issue in
English politics. There were three distinct groups in
Parliament. The representatives of the aristocracy, whether
Liberals or Conservatives, in the main sympathized with the
South. So did most of the large manufacturers whose business
interests were affected by cotton. Great bitterness grew up
among the Northerners against both these groups, partly because
in the past many of their members had condemned slavery and had
said scornful things about America for tolerating it. To these
Northerners the Englishmen replied that Lincoln himself had
declared the war was not over slavery; that it was an ordinary
civil war not involving moral issues. Nevertheless, the third
Parliamentary group insisted that the American war, no matter
what the motives of the participants, would, in the event of a
Northern victory, bring about the abolition of slavery, whereas,
if the South won, the result would be the perpetuation of
slavery. This third group, therefore, threw all its weight on
the side of the North. In this group Lincoln recognized his
allies, and their cause he identified with his own in his letter
to English workmen which was quoted in the previous chapter.
Their leaders in Parliament were Richard Cobden, W. E. Forster,
and John Bright. All these groups were represented in the
Liberal party, which, for the moment, was in power.

In the Cabinet itself there was a "Northern" and a "Southern"
faction. Then, too, there were some who sympathized with the
North but who felt that its cause was hopeless--so little did
they understand the relative strength of the two sections--and
who felt that the war was a terrible proof of the uselessness of
mere suffering. Gladstone, in later days, wished to be thought
of as having been one of these, though at the time, a famous
utterance of his was construed in the North as a declaration of
hostility. To a great audience at Newcastle he said in October,
1862: "We may have our own opinions about slavery; we may be for
or against the South; but there is no doubt that Jefferson Davis
and other leaders of the South have made an army; they are
making, it appears, a navy; and they have made, what is more than
either--they have made a nation."

The Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston, wished to intervene in the
American war and bring about an amicable separation into two
countries, and so, apparently, did the Foreign Secretary, Lord
John Russell. Recently, the American minister had vainly
protested against the sailing of a ship known as 290 which was
being equipped at Liverpool presumably for the service of the
Confederacy, and which became the famous Alabama. For two years
it roved the ocean destroying Northern commerce, and not until it
was sunk at last in a battle with the U. S. S. Kearsarge did all
the maritime interests of the North breathe again freely. In
time and as a result of arbitration, England paid for the ships
sunk by the Alabama. But in 1862, the protests of the American
minister fell on deaf ears.

It must be added that the sailing of the Alabama from Liverpool
was due probably to the carelessness of British officials rather
than to deliberate purpose. And yet the fact is clear that about
the first of October, 1862, the British ministry was on the verge
of intervening to secure recognition of the independence of the
Southern confederacy. The chief motive pressing them forward was
the distress in England caused by the lack of cotton which
resulted from the American blockade. In 1860, the South had
exported 615,000 bales; in 1861, only 10,127 bales. In 1862 half
the spindles of Manchester were idle; the workmen were out of
employment; the owners were without dividends. It was chiefly by
these manufacturing capitalists that pressure was put upon the
ministry, and it was in the manufacturing district that
Gladstone, thinking the Government was likely to intervene, made
his allusion to the South as a nation.

Meanwhile the Emperor of the French was considering a proposal to
England and Russia to join with him in mediation between the
American belligerents. On October 28, 1862, Napoleon III gave
audience to the Confederate envoy at Paris, discussed the
Southern cause in the most friendly manner, questioned him upon
the Maryland campaign, plainly indicated his purpose to attempt
intervention, and at parting cordially shook hands with him.
Within a few days the Emperor made good his implied promise.

The month of November, 1862, is one of the turningpoints in
American foreign relations. Both Russia and England rejected
France's proposal. The motive usually assigned to the Emperor
Alexander is his hatred of everything associated with slavery.
His own most famous action was the liberation of the Russian
serfs. The motives of the British ministry, however, appear more

Mr. Rhodes thinks he can discern evidence that Adams communicated
indirectly to Palmerston the contents of a dispatch from Seward
which indicated that the United States would accept war rather
than mediation. Palmerston had kept his eyes upon the Maryland
campaign, and Lee's withdrawal did not increase his confidence in
the strength of the South. Lord Russell, two months previous,
had flatly told the Confederate envoy at London that the South
need not hope for recognition unless it could establish itself
without aid, and that "the fluctuating events of the war, the
alternation of defeat and victory," composed such a contradictory
situation that "Her Majesty's Government are still determined to

Perhaps the veiled American warning--assuming it was conveyed to
Palmerston, which seems highly probable--was not the only
diplomatic innuendo of the autumn of 1862 that has escaped the
pages of history. Slidell at Paris, putting together the
statements of the British Ambassador and those of the French
Minister of Foreign Affairs, found in them contradictions as to
what was going on between the two governments in relation to
America. He took a hand by attempting to inspire M. Drouyn de
L'huys with distrust of England, telling him he "HAD SEEN...a
letter from a leading member of the British Cabinet...in which he
very plainly insinuated that France was playing an unfair game,"
trying to use England as Napoleon's catspaw. Among the many
motives that may well have animated the Palmerston Government in
its waiting policy, a distrust of Napoleon deserves to be

It is scarcely rash, however, to find the chief motive in home
politics. The impetuous Gladstone at Newcastle lost his head and
spoke too soon. The most serious effect of his premature
utterance was the prompt reaction of the "Northern party" in the
Cabinet and in the country. Whatever Palmerston's secret desires
were, he was not prepared to take the high hand, and he therefore
permitted other members of the Cabinet to state in public that
Gladstone had been misunderstood. In an interview with Adams,
Lord Russell, "whilst endeavoring to excuse Mr. Gladstone,"

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