MY MEMORIES OF EIGHTY YEARS
BY CHAUNCEY M. DEPEW
TO MY WIFE MAY PALMER DEPEW THIS BOOK GREW FROM HER ENCOURAGEMENT
For many years my friends have insisted upon my putting in permanent form the incidents in my life which have interested them. It has been my good fortune to take part in history-making meetings and to know more or less intimately people prominent in world affairs in many countries. Every one so situated has a flood of recollections which pour out when occasion stirs the memory. Often the listeners wish these transcribed for their own use.
My classmate at Yale in the class of 1856, John D. Champlin, a man of letters and an accomplished editor, rescued from my own scattered records and newspaper fiIes material for eight volumes. My secretary has selected and compiled for publication two volumes since. These are principally speeches, addresses, and contributions which have appeared in public. Several writers, without my knowledge, have selected special matter from these volumes and made books.
Andrew D. White, Senator Hoar, and Senator Foraker, with whom I was associated for years, have published full and valuable autobiographies. I do not attempt anything so elaborate or complete. Never having kept a diary, I am dependent upon a good memory. I have discarded the stories which could not well be published until long after I have joined the majority.
I trust and earnestly hope there is nothing in these recollections which can offend anybody. It has been my object so to picture events and narrate stories as to illumine the periods through which I have passed for eighty-eight years, and the people whom I have known and mightily enjoyed.
I. CHILDHOOD AND YOUTH
II. IN PUBLIC LIFE
III. ABRAHAM LINCOLN
IV. GENERAL GRANT
V. ROSCOE CONKLING
VI. HORACE GREELEY
VII. RUTHERFORD B. HAYES AND WILLIAM M. EVARTS
VIII. GENERAL GARFIELD
IX. CHESTER A. ARTHUR
X. GROVER CLEVELAND
XI. BENJAMIN HARRISON
XII. JAMES G. BLAINE
XIII. WILLIAM McKINLEY
XIV. THEODORE ROOSEVELT
XV. UNITED STATES SENATE
XVI. AMBASSADORS AND MINISTERS
XVII. GOVERNORS OF NEW YORK STATE
XVIII. FIFTY-SIX YEARS WITH THE NEW YORK CENTRAL RAILROAD COMPANY
XIX. RECOLLECTIONS FROM ABROAD
XX. ORATORS AND CAMPAIGN SPEAKERS
XXI. NATIONAL REPUBLICAN CONVENTIONS
XXII. JOURNALISTS AND FINANCIERS
XXIII. ACTORS AND MEN OF LETTERS
XXIV. SOCIETIES AND PUBLIC BANQUETS
INDEX [not included]
MY MEMORIES OF EIGHTY YEARS
I. CHILDHOOD AND YOUTH
It has occurred to me that some reminiscences of a long life would be of interest to my family and friends.
My memory goes back for more than eighty years. I recall distinctly when about five years old my mother took me to the school of Mrs. Westbrook, wife of the well-known pastor of the Dutch Reformed church, who had a school in her house, within a few doors. The lady was a highly educated woman, and her husband, Doctor Westbrook, a man of letters as well as a preacher. He specialized in ancient history, and the interest he aroused in Roman and Greek culture and achievements has continued with me ever since.
The village of Peekskill at that time had between two and three thousand inhabitants. Its people were nearly all Revolutionary families who had settled there in colonial times. There had been very little immigration either from other States or abroad; acquaintance was universal, and in the activities of the churches there was general co-operation among the members. Church attendance was so unanimous that people, young or old, who failed to be in their accustomed places on Sunday felt the disapproval of the community.
Social activities of the village were very simple, but very delightful and healthful. There were no very rich nor very poor. Nearly every family owned its own house or was on the way to acquire one. Misfortune of any kind aroused common interest and sympathy. A helping hand of neighborliness was always extended to those in trouble or distress. Peekskill was a happy community and presented conditions of life and living of common interest, endeavor, and sympathy not possible in these days of restless crowds and fierce competition.
The Peekskill Academy was the dominant educational institution, and drew students not only from the village but from a distance. It fitted them for college, and I was a student there for about twelve years. The academy was a character-making institution, though it lacked the thoroughness of the New England preparatory schools. Its graduates entering into the professions or business had an unusual record of success in life. I do not mean that they accumulated great fortunes, but they acquired independence and were prominent and useful citizens in all localities where they settled.
I graduated from the Peekskill Academy in 1852. I find on the programme of the exercises of that day, which some old student preserved, that I was down for several original speeches, while the other boys had mainly recitations. Apparently my teachers had decided to develop any oratorical talent I might possess.
I entered Yale in 1852 and graduated in 1856. The college of that period was very primitive compared with the university to which it has grown. Our class of ninety-seven was regarded as unusually large. The classics and mathematics, Greek and Latin, were the dominant features of instruction. Athletics had not yet appeared, though rowing and boat-racing came in during my term. The outstanding feature of the institution was the literary societies: the Linonia and the Brothers of Unity. The debates at the weekly meetings were kept up and maintained upon a high and efficient plane. Both societies were practically deliberative bodies and discussed with vigor the current questions of the day. Under this training Yale sent out an unusual number of men who became eloquent preachers, distinguished physicians, and famous lawyers. While the majority of students now on leaving college enter business or professions like engineering, which is allied to business, at that time nearly every young man was destined for the ministry, law, or medicine. My own class furnished two of the nine judges of the Supreme Court of the United States, and a large majority of those who were admitted to the bar attained judicial honors. It is a singular commentary on the education of that time that the students who won the highest honors and carried off the college prizes, which could only be done by excelling in Latin, Greek, and mathematics, were far outstripped in after-life by their classmates who fell below their high standard of collegiate scholarship but were distinguished for an all-around interest in subjects not features in the college curriculum.
My classmates, Justice David J. Brewer and Justice Henry Billings Brown, were both eminent members of the Supreme Court of the United States. Brewer was distinguished for the wide range of his learning and illuminating addresses on public occasions. He was bicentennial orator of the college and a most acceptable one. Wayne MacVeagh, afterwards attorney-general of the United States, one of the leaders of the bar, also one of the most brilliant orators of his time, was in college with me, though not a classmate. Andrew D. White, whose genius, scholarship, and organization enabled Ezra Cornell to found Cornell University, was another of my college mates. He became one of the most famous of our diplomats and the author of many books of permanent value. My friendship with MacVeagh and White continued during their lives, that is, for nearly sixty years. MacVeagh was one of the readiest and most attractive of speakers I ever knew. He had a very sharp and caustic wit, which made him exceedingly popular as an after-dinner speaker and as a host in his own house. He made every evening when he entertained, for those who were fortunate enough to be his guests, an occasion memorable in their experience.
John Mason Brown, of Kentucky, became afterwards the leader of the bar in his State, and was about to receive from President Harrison an appointment as justice of the Supreme Court when he died suddenly. If he had been appointed it would have been a remarkable circumstance that three out of nine judges of the greatest of courts, an honor which is sought by every one of the hundreds of thousands of lawyers in the United States, should have been from the same college and the same class.
The faculty lingers in my memory, and I have the same reverence and affection for its members, though sixty-five years out of college, that I had the day I graduated. Our president, Theodore D. Woolsey, was a wonderful scholar and a most inspiring teacher. Yale has always been fortunate in her presidents, and peculiarly so in Professor Woolsey. He had personal distinction, and there was about him an air of authority and reserved power which awed the most radical and rebellious student, and at the same time he had the respect and affection of all. In his historical lectures he had a standard joke on the Chinese, the narration of which amused him the more with each repetition. It was that when a Chinese army was beleaguered and besieged in a fortress their provisions gave out and they decided to escape. They selected a very dark night, threw open the gates, and as they marched out each soldier carried a lighted lantern.
In the faculty were several professors of remarkable force and originality. The professor of Greek, Mr. Hadley, father of the distinguished ex-president of Yale, was more than his colleagues in the thought and talk of the undergraduates. His learning and pre-eminence in his department were universally admitted. He had a caustic wit and his sayings were the current talk of the campus. He maintained discipline, which was quite lax in those days, by the exercise of this ability. Some of the boys once drove a calf into the recitation-room. Professor Hadley quietly remarked: “You will take out that animal. We will get along to-day with our usual number.” It is needless to say that no such experiment was ever repeated.
At one time there was brought up in the faculty meeting a report that one of the secret societies was about to bore an artesian well in the cellar of their club house. It was suggested that such an extraordinary expense should be prohibited. Professor Hadley closed the discussion and laughed out the subject by saying from what he knew of the society, if it would hold a few sessions over the place where the artesian well was projected, the boring would be accomplished without cost. The professor was a sympathetic and very wise adviser to the students. If any one was in trouble he would always go to him and give most helpful relief.
Professor Larned inspired among the students a discriminating taste for the best English literature and an ardent love for its classics. Professor Thacher was one of the most robust and vigorous thinkers and teachers of his period. He was a born leader of men, and generation after generation of students who graduated carried into after-life the effects of his teaching and personality. We all loved Professor Olmstead, though we were not vitally interested in his department of physics and biology. He was a purist in his department, and so confident of his principles that he thought it unnecessary to submit them to practical tests. One of the students, whose room was immediately over that of the professor, took up a plank from the flooring, and by boring a very small hole in the ceiling found that he could read the examination papers on the professor’s desk. The information of this reaching the faculty, the professor was asked if he had examined the ceiling. He said that was unnecessary, because he had measured the distance between the ceiling and the surface of his desk and found that the line of vision connected so far above that nothing could be read on the desk.
Timothy Dwight, afterwards president, was then a tutor. Learning, common sense, magnetism, and all-around good-fellowship were wonderfully united in President Dwight. He was the most popular instructor and best loved by the boys. He had a remarkable talent for organization, which made him an ideal president. He possessed the rare faculty of commanding and convincing not only the students but his associates in the faculty and the members of the corporation when discussing and deciding upon business propositions and questions of policy.
The final examinations over, commencement day arrived. The literary exercises and the conferring of degrees took place in the old Center Church. I was one of the speakers and selected for my subject “The Hudson River and Its Traditions.” I was saturated from early association and close investigation and reading with the crises of the Revolutionary War, which were successfully decided on the patriots’ side on the banks of the Hudson. I lived near Washington Irving, and his works I knew by heart, especially the tales which gave to the Hudson a romance like the Rhine’s. The subject was new for an academic stage, and the speech made a hit. Nevertheless, it was the saddest and most regretful day of my life when I left Yale.
My education, according to the standard of the time, was completed, and my diploma was its evidence. It has been a very interesting question with me how much the academy and the college contributed to that education. Their discipline was necessary and their training essential. Four years of association with the faculty, learned, finely equipped, and sympathetic, was a wonderful help. The free associations of the secret and debating societies, the campus, and the sports were invaluable, and the friendships formed with congenial spirits added immensely to the pleasures and compensations of a long life.
In connection with this I may add that, as it has been my lot in the peculiar position which I have occupied for more than half a century as counsel and adviser for a great corporation and its creators and the many successful men of business who have surrounded them, I have learned to know how men who have been denied in their youth the opportunities for education feel when they are in possession of fortunes, and the world seems at their feet. Then they painfully recognize their limitations, then they know their weakness, then they understand that there are things which money cannot buy, and that there are gratifications and triumphs which no fortune can secure. The one lament of all those men has been: “Oh, if I had been educated I would sacrifice all that I have to obtain the opportunities of the college, to be able to sustain not only conversation and discussion with the educated men with whom I come in contact, but competent also to enjoy what I see is a delight to them beyond anything which I know.”
But I recall gratefully other influences quite as important to one’s education. My father was a typical business man, one of the pioneers of river transportation between our village and New York, and also a farmer and a merchant. He was a stern man devoted to his family, and, while a strict disciplinarian, very fond of his children.
My mother was a woman of unusual intellect bordering upon genius. There were no means of higher education at that period, but her father, who was an eminent lawyer, and her grandfather, a judge, finding her so receptive, educated her with the care that was given to boys who were intended for a professional life. She was well versed in the literature of the time of Queen Elizabeth and Queen Anne, and, with a retentive memory, knew by heart many of the English classics. She wrote well, but never for publication. Added to these accomplishments were rare good sense and prophetic vision. The foundation and much of the superstructure of all that I have and all that I am were her work. She was a rigid Calvinist, and one of her many lessons has been of inestimable comfort to me. Several times in my life I have met with heavy misfortunes and what seemed irreparable losses. I have returned home to find my mother with wise advice and suggestions ready to devote herself to the reconstruction of my fortune, and to brace me up. She always said what she thoroughly believed: “My son, this which you think so great a calamity is really divine discipline. The Lord has sent it to you for your own good, because in His infinite wisdom He saw that you needed it. I am absolutely certain that if you submit instead of repining and protesting, if you will ask with faith and proper spirit for guidance and help, they both will come to you and with greater blessings than you ever had before.” That faith of my mother inspired and intensified my efforts and in every instance her predictions proved true.
Every community has a public-spirited citizen who unselfishly devotes himself or herself to the public good. That citizen of Peekskill in those early days was Doctor James Brewer. He had accumulated a modest competence sufficient for his simple needs as bachelor. He was either the promoter or among the leaders of all the movements for betterment of the town. He established a circulating library upon most liberal terms, and it became an educational institution of benefit. The books were admirably selected, and the doctor’s advice to readers was always available. His taste ran to the English classics, and he had all the standard authors in poetry, history, fiction, and essay.
No pleasure derived in reading in after-years gave me such delight as the Waverley Novels. I think I read through that library and some of it several times over.
The excitement as the novels of Dickens and Thackeray began to appear equalled almost the enthusiasm of a political campaign. Each one of those authors had ardent admirers and partisans. The characters of Dickens became household companions. Every one was looking for the counterpart of Micawber or Sam Weller, Pecksniff or David Copperfield, and had little trouble in finding them either in the family circle or among the neighbors.
Dickens’s lectures in New York, which consisted of readings from his novels, were an event which has rarely been duplicated for interest. With high dramatic ability he brought out before the audience the characters from his novels with whom all were familiar. Every one in the crowd had an idealistic picture in his mind of the actors of the story. It was curious to note that the presentation which the author gave coincided with the idea of the majority of his audience. I was fresh from the country but had with me that evening a rather ultra-fashionable young lady. She said she was not interested in the lecture because it represented the sort of people she did not know and never expected to meet; they were a very common lot. In her subsequent career in this country and abroad she had to her credit three matrimonial adventures and two divorces, but none of her husbands were of the common lot.
Speaking of Dickens, one picture remains indelibly pressed upon my memory. It was the banquet given him at which Horace Greeley presided. Everybody was as familiar with Mr. Pickwick and his portrait by Cruikshank in Dickens’s works as with one’s father. When Mr. Greeley arose to make the opening speech and introduce the guest of the evening, his likeness to this portrait of Pickwick was so remarkable that the whole audience, including Mr. Dickens, shouted their delight in greeting an old and welI-beloved friend.
Another educational opportunity came in my way because one of my uncles was postmaster of the village. Through his post-office came several high-class magazines and foreign reviews. There was no rural delivery in those days, and the mail could only be had on personal application, and the result was that the subscribers of these periodicals frequently left them a long time before they were called for. I was an omnivorous reader of everything available, and as a result these publications, especially the foreign reviews, became a fascinating source of information and culture. They gave from the first minds of the century criticisms of current literature and expositions of political movements and public men which became of infinite value in after-years.
Another unincorporated and yet valuable school was the frequent sessions at the drug store of the elder statesmen of the village. On certain evenings these men, representing most of the activities of the village, would avail themselves of the hospitable chairs about the stove and discuss not only local matters but the general conditions of the country, some of them revolving about the constitutionality of various measures which had been proposed and enacted into laws. They nearly all related to slavery, the compromise measures, the introduction of slaves into new territories, the fugitive slave law, and were discussed with much intelligence and information. The boys heard them talked about in their homes and were eager listeners on the outskirts of this village congress. Such institutions are not possible except in the universal acquaintance, fellowship, and confidences of village and country life. They were the most important factors in forming that public opinion, especially among the young, which supported Mr. Lincoln in his successful efforts to save the Union at whatever cost.
A few days after returning home from Yale I entered the office of Edward Wells, a lawyer of the village, as a student. Mr. Wells had attained high rank in his profession, was a profound student of the law, and had a number of young men, fitting them for the bar under his direction.
I was admitted to the bar in 1858, and immediately opened an office in the village. My first client was a prosperous farmer who wanted an opinion on a rather complicated question. I prepared the case with great care. He asked me what my fee was, and I told him five dollars. He said: “A dollar and seventy-five is enough for a young lawyer like you.” Subsequently he submitted the case to one of the most eminent lawyers in New York, who came to the same conclusion and charged him five hundred dollars. On account of this gentleman’s national reputation the farmer thought that fee was very reasonable. In subsequent years I have received several very large retainers, but none of them gave so much satisfaction as that dollar and seventy-five cents, which I had actually earned after having been so long dependent on my father.
After some years of private practice Commodore Vanderbilt sent for me and offered the attorneyship for the New York and Harlem Railroad. I had just been nominated and confirmed United States minister to Japan. The appointment was a complete surprise to me, as I was not an applicant for any federal position. The salary was seven thousand five hundred dollars and an outfit of nine thousand. The commodore’s offer of the attorneyship for the Harlem Railroad, which was his first venture in railroading, was far less than the salary as minister. When I said this to the commodore, he remarked: “Railroads are the career for a young man; there is nothing in politics. Don’t be a damned fool.” That decided me, and on the 1st of January, 1921, I rounded out fifty-five years in the railway service of this corporation and its allied lines.
Nothing has impressed me more than little things, and apparently immaterial ones, which have influenced the careers of many people. My father and his brothers, all active business men, were also deeply interested in politics, not on the practical side but in policies and governmental measures. They were uncompromising Democrats of the most conservative type; they believed that interference with slavery of any kind imperilled the union of the States, and that the union of the States was the sole salvation of the perpetuity of the republic and its liberties. I went to Yale saturated with these ideas. Yale was a favorite college for Southern people. There was a large element from the slaveholding States among the students. It was so considerable that these Southerners withdrew from the great debating societies of the college and formed a society of their own, which they called the Calliopean. Outside of these Southerners there were very few Democrats among the students, and I came very near being drawn into the CaIliopean, but happily escaped.
The slavery question in all its phases of fugitive slave law and its enforcement, the extension of slavery into the new territories, or its prohibition, and of the abolition of the institution by purchase or confiscation were subjects of discussion on the campus, in the literary societies, and in frequent lectures in the halls in New Haven by the most prominent and gifted speakers and advocates.
That was a period when even in the most liberal churches the pulpit was not permitted to preach politics, and slavery was pre-eminently politics. But according to an old New England custom, the pastor was given a free hand on Thanksgiving Day to unburden his mind of everything which had been bubbling and seething there for a year. One of the most eminent and eloquent of New England preachers was the Reverend Doctor Bacon, of Center Church, New Haven. His Thanksgiving sermon was an event eagerly anticipated by the whole college community. He was violently anti-slavery. His sermons were not only intently listened to but widely read, and their effect in promoting anti-slavery sentiment was very great.
The result of several years of these associations and discussions converted me, and I became a Republican on the principles enunciated in the first platform of the party in 1856. When I came home from Yale the situation in the family became very painful, because my father was an intense partisan. He had for his party both faith and love, and was shocked and grieved at his son’s change of principles. He could not avoid constantly discussing the question, and was equally hurt either by opposition or silence.
II. IN PUBLIC LIFE
The campaign of 1856 created an excitement in our village which had never been known since the Revolutionary War. The old families who had been settled there since colonial days were mainly pro-slavery and Democratic, while the Republican party was recruited very largely from New England men and in a minority.
Several times in our national political campaigns there has been one orator who drew audiences and received public attention and reports in the newspapers beyond all other speakers. On the Democratic side during that period Horatio Seymour was pre-eminent. On the Republican side in the State of New York the attractive figure was George William Curtis. His books were very popular, his charming personality, the culture and the elevation of his speeches put him in a class by himself.
The Republicans of the village were highly elated when they had secured the promise of Mr. Curtis to speak at their most important mass meeting. The occasion drew together the largest audience the village had known, composed not only of residents but many from a distance. The committee of arrangements finally reported to the waiting audience that the last train had arrived, but Mr. Curtis had not come.
It suddenly occurred to the committee that it would be a good thing to call a young recruit from a well-known Democratic family and publicly commit him. First came the invitation, then the shouting, and when I arose they cried “platform,” and I was escorted to the platform, but had no idea of making a speech. My experience for years at college and at home had saturated me with the questions at issue in all their aspects. From a full heart, and a sore one, I poured out a confession of faith. I thought I had spoken only a few minutes, but found afterwards that it was over an hour. The local committee wrote to the State committee about the meeting, and in a few days I received a letter from the chairman of the State committee inviting me to fill a series of engagements covering the whole State of New York.
The campaign of 1856 differed from all others in memory of men then living. The issues between the parties appealed on the Republican side to the young. There had grown up among the young voters an intense hostility to slavery. The moral force of the arguments against the institution captured them. They had no hostility to the South, nor to the Southern sIaveholders; they regarded their position as an inheritance, and were willing to help on the lines of Mr. Lincoln’s original idea of purchasing the slaves and freeing them. But the suggestion had no friends among the slaveholders. These young men believed that any extension or strengthening of the institution would be disastrous to the country. The threatened dissolution of the Union, secession, or rebellion did not frighten them.
Political conventions are the most interesting of popular gatherings. The members have been delegated by their fellow citizens to represent them, and they are above the average in intelligence, political information of conditions in the State and nation, as the convention represents the State or the republic. The belief that they are generally boss-governed is a mistake. The party leader, sometimes designated as boss, invariably consults with the strongest men there are in the convention before he arrives at a decision. He is generally successful, because he has so well prepared the way, and his own judgment is always modified and frequently changed in these conferences.
In 1858 I had the first sensation of the responsibility of public office. I was not an applicant for the place; in fact, knew nothing about it until I was elected a delegate to the Republican State convention from the third assembly district of Westchester County. The convention was held at Syracuse. The Westchester delegates arrived late at night or, rather, early in the morning, and we came to the hotel with large numbers of other delegates from different sections who had arrived on the same train. It was two o’clock, but the State leader, Thurlow Weed, was in the lobby of the hotel to greet the delegates. He said to me: “You are from Peekskill. With whom are you studying law?” I answered: “With Judge William Nelson.” “Oh,” he remarked, “I remember Judge Nelson well. He was very active in the campaign of 1828.” It was a feat of memory to thus recall the usefulness of a local politician thirty years before. I noticed, as each delegate was introduced, that Mr. Weed had some neighborhood recollections of the man which put a tag on him.
The next day, as we met the leader, he recalled us by name, the places where we lived, and the districts represented. Mr. Blaine was the only other man I ever met or knew who possessed this extraordinary gift for party leadership.
There was a revolt in the convention among the young members, who had a candidate of their own. Mr. Weed’s candidate for governor was Edwin D. Morgan, a successful New York merchant, who had made a good record as a State senator. I remember one of Mr. Weed’s arguments was that the Democrats were in power everywhere and could assess their office-holders, while the Republicans would have to rely for campaign funds upon voluntary contributions, which would come nowhere so freely as from Mr. Morgan and his friends. When the convention met Mr. Weed had won over a large majority of the delegates for his candidate. It was a triumph not only of his skill but of his magnetism, which were always successfully exerted upon a doubtful member.
I was elected to the assembly, the popular branch of the New York Legislature, in 1861. I was nominated during an absence from the State, without being a candidate or knowing of it until my return. Of course, I could expect nothing from my father, and my own earnings were not large, so I had to rely upon a personal canvass of a district which had been largely spoiled by rich candidates running against each other and spending large amounts of money. I made a hot canvass, speaking every day, and with an investment of less than one hundred dollars for travel and other expenses I was triumphantly elected.
By far the most interesting member of the legislature was the speaker, Henry J. Raymond. He was one of the most remarkable men I ever met. During the session I became intimate with him, and the better I knew him the more I became impressed with his genius, the variety of his attainments, the perfection of his equipment, and his ready command of all his powers and resources. Raymond was then editor of the New York Times and contributed a leading article every day. He was the best debater we had and the most convincing. I have seen him often, when some other member was in the chair of the committee of the whole, and we were discussing a critical question, take his seat on the floor and commence writing an editorial. As the debate progressed, he would rise and participate. When he had made his point, which he always did with directness and lucidity, he would resume writing his editorial. The debate would usually end with Mr. Raymond carrying his point and also finishing his editorial, an example which seems to refute the statement of metaphysicians that two parts of the mind cannot work at the same time.
Two years afterwards, when I was secretary of state, I passed much of my time at Saratoga, because it was so near Albany. Mr. Raymond was also there writing the “Life of Abraham Lincoln.” I breakfasted with him frequently and found that he had written for an hour or more before breakfast. He said to me in explanation that if one would take an hour before breakfast every morning and concentrate his mind upon his subject, he would soon fill a library.
Mr. Raymond had been as a young man a reporter in the United States Senate. He told me that, while at that time there was no system of shorthand or stenography, he had devised a crude one for himself, by which he could take down accurately any address of a deliberate speaker.
Daniel Webster, the most famous orator our country has ever produced, was very deliberate in his utterances. He soon discovered Raymond’s ability, and for several years he always had Raymond with him, and once said to him: “Except for you, the world would have very few of my speeches. Your reports have preserved them.”
Mr. Raymond told me this story of Mr. Webster’s remarkable memory. Once he said to Mr. Webster: “You never use notes and apparently have made no preparation, yet you are the only speaker I report whose speeches are perfect in structure, language, and rhetoric. How is this possible?” Webster replied: “It is my memory. I can prepare a speech, revise and correct it in my memory, and then deliver the corrected speech exactly as finished.” I have known most of the great orators of the world, but none had any approach to a faculty like this, though several could repeat after second reading the speech which they had prepared.
In 1862 I was candiate for re-election to the assembly. Political conditions had so changed that they were almost reversed. The enthusiasm of the war which had carried the Republicans into power the year before had been succeeded by general unrest. Our armies had been defeated, and industrial and commercial depression was general.
The leader of the Democratic Party in the State was Dean Richmond. He was one of those original men of great brain-power, force, and character, knowlege of men, and executive ability, of which that period had a number. From the humblest beginning he had worked his way in politics to the leadership of his party, to the presidency of the greatest corporation in the State, the New York Central Railroad Company, and in his many and successful adventures had accumulated a fortune. His foresight was almost a gift of prophecy, and his judgment was rarely wrong. He believed that the disasters in the field and the bad times at home could be charged up to the Lincoln administration and lead to a Democratic victory. He also believed that there was only one man in the party whose leadership would surely win, and that man was Horatio Seymour. But Seymour had higher ambitions than the governorship of New York and was very reluctant to run. Nevertheless, he could not resist Richmond’s insistence that he must sacrifice himself, if necessary, to save the party.
The Republicans nominated General James W. Wadsworth for governor. Wadsworth had enlisted at the beginning of the war and made a most brilliant record, both as a fighting soldier and administrator. The Republican party was sharply divided between radicals who insisted on immediate emancipation of the slaves, and conservatives who thought the time had not yet arrived for such a revolution. The radicals were led by Horace Greeley, and the conservatives by Thurlow Weed and Henry J. Raymond.
Horatio Seymour made a brilliant canvass. He had no equal in the State in either party in charm of personality and attractive oratory. He united his party and brought to its ranks all the elements of unrest and dissatisfaction with conditions, military and financial. While General Wadsworth was an ideal candidate, he failed to get the cordial and united support of his party. He represented its progressive tendencies as expressed and believed by President Lincoln, and was hostile to reaction. Under these conditions Governor Seymour carried the State.
The election had reversed the overwhelming Republican majority in the legislature of the year before by making the assembly a tie. I was re-elected, but by reduced majority. The assembly being a tie, it was several weeks before it could organize. I was the candidate in the caucus of the Republican members for speaker, but after the nomination one of the members, named Bemus, threatened to bolt and vote for the Democratic candidate unless his candidate, Sherwood, was made the nominee. So many believed that Bemus would carry out his threat, which would give the organization of the House to the Democrats by one majority, that I withdrew in favor of Sherwood. After voting hopelessly in a deadlock, day after day for a long period, a caucus of the Republican members was called, at which Sherwood withdrew, and on his motion I was nominated as the party candidate for speaker.
During the night a Democratic member, T.C. Callicot, of Kings County, came to my bedroom and said: “My ambition in life is to be speaker of the assembly. Under the law the legislature cannot elect the United States senator unless each House has first made a nomination, then the Senate and the House can go into joint convention, and a majority of that convention elect a senator. You Republicans have a majority in the Senate, so that if the House nominates, the legislature can go into joint convention and elect a Republican senator. As long as the House remains a tie this cannot be done. Now, what I propose is just this: Before we meet tomorrow morning, if you will call your members together and nominate me for speaker, the vote of your party and I voting for myself will elect me. Then I will agree to name General Dix, a Democrat, for United States senator, and if your people will all vote with me for him he will be the assembly nominee. The Senate has already nominated Governor Morgan. So the next day the legislature can go into joint convention and, having a Republican majority, elect Governor Morgan United States senator.” I told Mr. Callicot that I would present the matter to my party associates.
In the early morning Saxton Smith and Colonel John Van Buren, two of the most eminent Democrats in the State and members of the legislature, came to me and said: “We know what Callicot has proposed. Now, if you will reject that proposition we will elect you speaker practically unanimously.”
This assured my election for the speakership. I had a great ambition to be on that roll of honor, and as I would have been the youngest man ever elected to the position, my youth added to the distinction. On the other hand, the government at Washington needed an experienced senator of its own party, like Edwin D. Morgan, who had been one of the ablest and most efficient of war governors, both in furnishing troops and helping the credit of the country. I finally decided to surrender the speakership for myself to gain the senatorship for my party. I had difficulty in persuading my associates, but they finally agreed. Callicot was elected speaker and Edwin D. Morgan United States senator.
The event was so important and excited so much interest, both in the State and in the country, that representative men came to Albany in great numbers. The rejoicing and enthusiasm were intense at having secured so unexpectedly a United States Senator for the support of Mr. Lincoln’s administration.
That night they all united in giving me a reception in the ballroom of the hotel. There was a flood of euIogistic and prophetic oratory. I was overwhelmed with every form of flattery and applause, for distinguished service to the party. By midnight I had been nominated and elected Governor of the State, and an hour later I was already a United States senator. Before the morning hour the presidency of the United States was impatiently waiting for the time when I would be old enough to be eligible. All this was soon forgotten. It is a common experience of the instability of promises and hopes which come from gratified and happy enthusiasts, and how soon they are dissipated like a dream! I have seen many such instances, and from this early experience deeply sympathize with the disillusionized hero.
The Democrats of the assembly and also of the State were determined that Mr. Callicot should not enjoy the speakership. They started investigations in the House and movements in the courts to prevent him from taking his seat. The result was that I became acting speaker and continued as such until Mr. Callicot had defeated his enemies and taken his place as speaker in the latter part of the session.
I was also chairman of the committee of ways and means and the leader of the House. The budget of my committee was larger than usual on account of the expenses of the war. It was about seven million dollars. It created much more excitement and general discussion than does the present budget of one hundred and forty millions. The reason is the difference in conditions and public necessities of the State of New York in the winter of 1863 and now. It is also partly accounted for by the fact that the expenses of the State had then to be met by a real-estate tax which affected everybody, while now an income tax has been adopted which is capable of unlimited expansion and invites limitless extravagance because of the comparatively few interested.
Eighteen hundred and sixty-three was an eventful year; the early part was full of gloom and unrest. Horatio Seymour, as governor, violently antagonized President Lincoln and his policies. Seymour was patriotic and very able, but he was so saturated with State rights and strict construction of the Constitution that it marred his judgment and clouded his usually clear vision. In the critical situation of the country Mr. Lincoln saw the necessity of support of the State of New York. The president said: “The governor has greater power just now for good than any other man in the country. He can wheel the Democratic party into line, put down the rebellion and preserve the government. Tell him from me that if he will render this service to his country, I shall cheerfully make way for him as my successor.” To this message, sent through Thurlow Weed, Governor Seymour made no reply. He did not believe that the South could be defeated and the Union preserved.
Later President Lincoln sent a personal letter to the governor. It was a very human epistle. The president wrote: “You and I are substantially strangers, and I write this that we may become better acquainted. In the performance of duty the co-operation of your State is needed and is indispensable. This alone is sufficient reason why I should wish to be on a good understanding with you. Please write me at least as long a letter as this, of course saying in it just what you think fit.”
Governor Seymour made no reply. He and the other Democratic leaders thought the president uncouth, unlettered, and very weak. The phrase “please write me at least as long a letter as this” produced an impression upon the scholarly, cultured, cautious, and diplomatic Seymour which was most unfavorable to its author. Seymour acknowledged the receipt of the letter and promised to make a reply, but never did.
Seymour’s resentment was raised to fever heat when General Burnside, in May, 1863, arrested Clement L. Vallandigham. The enemies of the war and peace at any price people, and those who were discouraged, called mass meetings all over the country to protest this arrest as an outrage. A mass meeting was called in Albany on the 16th of May. Erastus Corning, one of the most eminent Democrats in the State, presided.
I was in Albany at the time and learned this incident. One of Governor Seymour’s intimate friends, his adviser and confidant in personal business affairs was Charles Cook, who had been comptroller of the State and a State senator. Cook was an active Republican, a very shrewd and able man. He called on the governor and tried to persuade him not to write a letter to the Vallandigham meeting, but if he felt he must say something, attend the meeting and make a speech. Cook said: “Governor, the country is going to sustain ultimately the arrest of Vallandigham. It will be proved that he is a traitor to the government and a very dangerous man to be at large. Whatever is said at the meeting will seriously injure the political future of the authors. If you write a letter it will be on record, so I beg you, if you must participate, attend the meeting and make a speech. A letter cannot be denied; it can always be claimed that a speech has been misreported.”
The Governor wrote the letter, one of the most violent of his utterances, and it was used against him with fatal effect when he ran for governor, and also when a candidate for president.
On July 11th the draft began in New York City. It had been denounced as unconstitutional by every shade of opposition to Mr. Lincoln’s administration and to the prosecution of the war. The attempt to enforce it led to one of the most serious riots in the history of the city, and the rage of the rioters was against the officers of the law, the headquarters of the draft authorities, and principally against the negroes. Every negro who was caught was hung or burned, and the negro orphan asylum was destroyed by fire. The governor did his best to stop the rioting. He issued a proclamation declaring the city in a state of insurrection, and commanded obedience to the law and the authorities.
In this incident again the governor permitted his opposition to the war to lead him into political indiscretion. He made a speech from the steps of the City Hall to the rioters. He began by addressing them as “My friends.” The governor’s object was to quiet the mob and send them to their homes. So instead of saying “fellow citizens” he used the fatal words “my friends.” No two words were ever used against a public man with such fatal effect. Every newspaper opposed to the governor and every orator would describe the horrors, murders, and destruction of property by the mob and then say: “These are the people whom Governor Seymour in his speech from the steps of the City Hall addressed as ‘my friends.'”
The Vallandigham letter and this single utterance did more harm to Governor Seymour’s future ambitions than all his many eloquent speeches against Lincoln’s administration and the conduct of the war.
The political situation, which had been so desperate for the national administration, changed rapidly for the better with the victory at Gettysburg, which forced General Lee out of Pennsylvania and back into Virginia, and also by General Grant’s wonderful series of victories at Vicksburg and other places which liberated the Mississippi River.
Under these favorable conditions the Republicans entered upon the canvass in the fall of 1863 to reverse, if possible, the Democratic victory the year before. The Republican State ticket was:
Secretary of State ….. Chauncey M. Depew. Comptroller ….. Lucius Robinson.
Canal Commissioner ….. Benjamin F. Bruce. Treasurer ….. George W. Schuyler.
State Engineer ….. William B. Taylor. Prison Inspector ….. James K. Bates.
Judge of the Court of Appeals ….. Henry S. Selden. Attorney-General ….. John Cochran.
The canvass was one of the most interesting of political campaigns. The president was unusually active, and his series of letters were remarkable documents. He had the ear of the public; he commanded the front page of the press, and he defended his administration and its acts and replied to his enemies with skill, tact, and extreme moderation.
Public opinion was peculiar. Military disasters and increasing taxation had made the position of the administration very critical, but the victories which came during the summer changed the situation. I have never known in any canvass any one incident which had greater effect than Sheridan’s victory in the Shenandoah Valley, and never an adventure which so captured the popular imagination as his ride from Washington to the front; his rallying the retreating and routed troops, reforming them and turning defeat into victory. The poem “Sheridan’s Ride,” was recited in every audience, from every platform, and from the stage in many theatres and created the wildest enthusiasm.
My friend, Wayne MacVeagh, who was at Yale College with me, had succeeded as a radical leader in defeating his brother-in-law, Don Cameron, and getting control for the first time in a generation against the Cameron dynasty of the Republican State organization of Pennsylvania. He had nominated a radical ticket, with Andrew G. Curtin as a candidate for governor.
MacVeagh wrote to me, saying: “You are running at the head of the Republican ticket in New York. Your battle is to be won in Pennsylvania, and unless we succeed you cannot. Come over and help us.”
I accepted the invitation and spent several most exciting and delightful weeks campaigning with Governor Curtin and his party. The meetings were phenomenal in the multitudes which attended and their interest in the speeches. I remember one dramatic occasion at the city of Reading. This was a Democratic stronghold; there was not a single Republican office-holder in the county. The only compensation for a Republican accepting a nomination and conducting a canvass, with its large expenses and certain defeat, was that for the rest of his life he was given as an evidence of honor the title of the office for which he ran, and so the county was full of “judges, Mr. District Attorneys, State Senators, and Congressmen” who had never been elected.
We arrived at Reading after midday. The leading street, a very broad one, was also on certain days the market-pIace. A friend of the governor, who had a handsome house on this street, had the whole party for luncheon. The luncheon was an elaborate banquet. Governor Curtin came to me and said: “You go out and entertain the crowd, which is getting very impatient, and in about twenty minutes I will send some one to relieve you.” It was raining in torrents; the crowd shouted to me encouragingly: “Never mind the rain; we are used to that, but we never heard you.” As I would try to stop they would shout: “Go ahead!” In the meantime the banquet had turned into a festive occasion, with toasts and speeches. I had been speaking over two hours before the governor and his party appeared. They had been dining, and the Eighteenth Amendment had not been dreamed of. I was drenched to the skin, but waited until the governor had delivered his twenty-minute speech; then, without stopping for the other orators, I went over to the house, stripped, dried myself, and went to bed.
Utterly exhausted with successive days and nights of this experience, I did not wake until about eight o’clock in the evening. Then I wandered out in the street, found the crowd still there, and the famous John W. Forney making a speech. They told me that he had been speaking for four hours, delivering an historical address, but had only reached the administration of General Jackson. I never knew how long he kept at it, but there was a tradition with our party that he was still speaking when the train left the next morning.
Governor Curtin was an ideal party leader and candidate. He was one of the handsomest men of his time, six feet four inches in height, perfectly proportioned and a superb figure. He never spoke over twenty minutes, but it was the talk in the familiar way of an expert to his neighbors. He had a cordial and captivating manner, which speedily made him the idol of the crowd and a most agreeable companion in social circles. When he was minister to Russia, the Czar, who was of the same height and build, was at once attracted to him, and he took a first place among the diplomats in influence.
When I returned to New York to enter upon my own canvass, the State and national committees imposed upon me a heavy burden. Speakers of State reputation were few, while the people were clamoring for meetings. Fortunately I had learned how to protect my voice. In the course of the campaign every one who spoke with me lost his voice and had to return home for treatment. When I was a student at Yale the professor in elocution was an eccentric old gentleman named North. The boys paid little attention to him and were disposed to ridicule his peculiarities. He saw that I was specially anxious to learn and said: “The principal thing about oratory is to use your diaphragm instead of your throat.” His lesson on that subject has been of infinite benefit to me all my life.
The programme laid out called upon me to speak on an average between six and seven hours a day. The speeches were from ten to thirty minutes at different railway stations, and wound up with at least two meetings at some important towns in the evening, and each meeting demanded about an hour. These meetings were so arranged that they covered the whole State. It took about four weeks, but the result of the campaign, due to the efforts of the orators and other favorable conditions, ended in the reversal of the Democratic victory of the year before, a Republican majority of thirty thousand and the control of the legislature.
In 1864 the political conditions were very unfavorable for the Republican party, owing to the bitter hostility between the conservative and radical elements. Led by such distinguished men as Thurlow Weed and Henry J. Raymond, on the one side, and Horace Greeley, with an exceedingly capable body of earnest lieutenants on the other, the question of success or defeat depended upon the harmonizing of the two factions.
Without having been recognized by the politicians or press of the State, Reuben E. Fenton, who had been for ten years a congressman from the Chatauqua district, had developed in Congress remarkable ability as an organizer. He had succeeded in making Galusha A. Grow speaker of the House of Representatives, and had become a power in that body. He had behind him the earnest friendship and support of the New York delegation in the House of Representatives and had not incurred the enmity of either faction in his own State. His nomination saved the party in that campaign.
As an illustration how dangerous was the situation, though the soldiers’ vote in the field was over one hundred thousand and almost unanimously for the Republican ticket, the presidential and gubernatorial candidates received less than eight thousand majority, the governor leading the president.
The re-election of Mr. Lincoln and the election Reuben E. Fenton over Governor Seymour made our State solidly Republican, and Governor Fenton became at once both chief executive and party leader. He had every quality for political leadership, was a shrewd judge of character, and rarely made mistakes in the selection of his lieutenants. He was a master of all current political questions and in close touch with public opinion. My official relations with him as secretary of state became came at once intimate and gratifying. It required in after-years all the masterful genius of Roscoe Conkling and the control of federal patronage granted to him by President Grant to break Fenton’s hold upon his party.
Governor Fenton was blessed with a daughter of wonderfuI executive ability, singular charm, and knowledge of public affairs. She made the Executive Mansion in Albany one of the most charming and hospitable homes in the State. Its influence radiated everywhere, captured visitors, legislators, and judges, and was a powerful factor in the growing popularity and influence of the governor.
One of the most interesting of political gatherings was the Democratic convention, which met at Tredwell Hall in Albany in the fall of 1864, to select a successor to Governor Seymour. The governor had declared publicly that he was not a candidate, and that under no conditions would he accept a renomination. He said that his health was seriously impaired, and his private affairs had been neglected so long by his absorption in public duties that they were in an embarrassing condition and needed attention.
The leaders of the convention met in Dean Richmond’s office and selected a candidate for governor and a full State ticket. When the convention met the next day I was invited to be present as a spectator. It was supposed by everybody that the proceedings would be very formal and brief, as the candidates and the platform had been agreed upon. The day was intensely hot, and most of the delegates discarded their coats, vests, and collars, especially those from New York City.
When the time came for the nomination, the platform was taken by one of the most plausible and smooth talkers I ever heard. He delivered a eulogy upon Governor Seymour and described in glowing terms the debt the party owed him for his wonderful public services, and the deep regret all must have that he felt it necessary to retire to private life. He continued by saying that he acquiesced in that decision, but felt it was due to a great patriot and the benefactor of the party that he should he tendered a renomination. Of course, they all knew it would be merely a compliment, as the governor’s position had been emphatically stated by himself. So he moved that the governor be nominated by acclamation and a committee appointed to wait upon him at the Executive Mansion and ascertain his wishes.
When Mr. Richmond was informed of this action, he said it was all right but unnecessary, because the situation was too serious to indulge in compliments.
In an hour the delegation returned, and the chairman, who was the same gentleman who made the speech and the motion, stepped to the front of the platform to report. He said that the governor was very grateful for the confidence reposed in him by the convention, and especially for its approval of his official actions as governor of the State and the representative of his party at the national convention, that in his long and intense application to public duties he had impaired his health and greatly embarrassed his private affairs, but, but, he continued with emphasis. . . He never got any further. Senator Shafer, of Albany, who was unfriendly to the governor, jumped up and shouted: “Damn him, he has accepted!”
The convention, when finally brought to order, reaffirmed its complimentary nomination as a real one, with great enthusiasm and wild acclaim.
When the result was reported to Mr. Richmond at his office, I was told by one who was present that Richmond’s picturesque vocabulary of indignation and denunciation was enriched to such a degree as to astonish and shock even the hardened Democrats who listened to the outburst.
A committee was appointed to wait on the governor and request him to appear before the convention. In a little while there stepped upon the platform the finest figure in the State or country. Horatio Seymour was not only a handsome man, with a highly intellectual and expressive face of mobile features, which added to the effect of his oratory, but he never appeared unless perfectly dressed and in the costume which was then universally regarded as the statesman’s apparel. His patent-leather boots, his Prince Albert suit, his perfectly correct collar and tie were evidently new, and this was their first appearance. From head to foot he looked the aristocrat. In a few minutes he became the idol of that wild and overheated throng. His speech was a model of tact, diplomacy, and eloquence, with just that measure of restraint which increased the enthusiasm of the hearers. The convention, which had gathered for another purpose, another candidate, and a new policy, hailed with delight its old and splendid leader.
Commodore Vanderbilt had a great admiration for Dean Richmond. The commodore disliked boasters and braggarts intensely. Those who wished to gain his favor made the mistake, as a rule, of boasting about what they had done, and were generally met by the remark: “That amounts to nothing.” Mr. Tillinghast, a western New York man and a friend of Richmond, was in the commodore’s office one day, soon after Richmond died. Tillinghast was general superintendent of the New York Central and had been a sufferer from being stepped on by the commodore when he was lauding his own achievements and so took the opposite line of extreme moderation. The commodore asked Tillinghast, after praising Mr. Richmond very highly, “How much did he leave?” “Oh,” said Tillinghast, “his estate is a great disappointment, and compared with what it was thought to be it is very little.” “I am surprised,” remarked the commodore, “but how much?” “Oh, between five or six millions,” Tillinghast answered. For the first time in his life the commodore was thrown off his guard and said: “Tillinghast, if five or six million of dollars is a disappointment, what do you expect in western New York?” At that time there were few men who were worth that amount of money.
Governor Seymour made a thorough canvass of the State, and I was appointed by our State committee to follow him. It was a singular experience to speak and reply to the candidate the day after his address. The local committee meets you with a very complete report of his speech. The trouble is that, except you are under great restraint, the urgency of the local committee and the inevitable temptations of the reply under such conditions, when your adversary is not present, will lead you to expressions and personalities which you deeply regret.
When the canvass was over and the governor was beaten, I feared that the pleasant relations which had existed between us were broken. But he was a thorough sportsman. He sent for and received me with the greatest cordiality, and invited me to spend a week-end with him at his home in Utica. There he was the most delightful of hosts and very interesting as a gentleman farmer. In the costume of a veteran agriculturist and in the farm wagon he drove me out mornings to his farm, which was so located that it could command a fine view of the Mohawk Valley. After the inspection of the stock, the crops, and buildings, the governor would spend the day discoursing eloquently and most optimistically upon the prosperity possible for the farmer. To his mind then the food of the future was to be cheese. There was more food value in cheese than in any known edible article, animal or vegetable. It could sustain life more agreeably and do more for Iongevity and health.
No one could have imagined, who did not know the governor and was privileged to listen to his seemingly most practical and highly imaginative discourse, that the speaker was one of the ablest party managers, shrewdest of politicians, and most eloquent advocates in the country, whose whole time and mind apparently were absorbed in the success of his party and the fruition of his own ambitions.
As we were returning home he said to me: “You have risen higher than any young man in the country of your age. You have a talent and taste for public life, but let me advise you to drop it and devote yourself to your profession. Public life is full of disappointments, has an unusual share of ingratitude, and its compensations are not equal to its failures. The country is full of men who have made brilliant careers in the public service and then been suddenly dropped and forgotten. The number of such men who have climbed the hill up State Street to the capitol in Albany, with the applause of admiring crowds whom none now can recall, would make a great army.”
He continued by telling this story: “In the war of 1812 the governor and the legislature decided to bring from Canada to Albany the remains of a hero whose deeds had excited the admiration of the whole State. There was an imposing and continuous procession, with local celebrations all along the route, from the frontier to the capital. The ceremonies in Albany were attended by the governor, State officers, legislature, and judges, and the remains were buried in the capitol park. No monument was erected. The incident is entirely forgotten, no one remembers who the hero was, what were his deeds, nor the spot where he rests.”
Years afterwards, when the State was building a new capitol and I was one of the commissioners, in excavating the grounds a skeleton was found. It was undoubtedly the forgotten hero of Governor Seymour’s story.
When my term was about expiring with the year 1865 I decided to leave public life and resume the practice of my profession. I was at the crossroads of a political or a professional career. So, while there was a general assent to my renomination, I emphatically stated the conclusion at which I had arrived.
The Republican convention nominated for my successor as secretary of state General Francis C. Barlow, a very brilliant soldier in the Civil War. The Democratic convention adopted a patriotic platform of advanced and progressive views, and nominated at the head of their ticket for secretary of state General Henry W. Slocum. General Slocum had been a corps commander in General Sherman’s army, and came out of the war among the first in reputation and achievement of the great commanders. It was a master stroke on the part of the Democratic leaders to place him at the head of their ticket. He was the greatest soldier of our State and very popular with the people. In addition to being a great commander, he had a charming personality, which fitted him for success in public life.
The Democrats also on the same ticket nominated for attorney-general John Van Buren. He was a son of President Van Buren and a man of genius. Although he was very erratic, his ability was so great that when serious he captured not only the attention but the judgment of people. He was an eloquent speaker and had a faculty of entrancing the crowd with his wit and of characterization of his opponent which was fatal. I have seen crowds, when he was elaborately explaining details necessary for the vindication of his position, or that of his party which did not interest them, to remain with close attention, hoping for what was certain to come, namely, one of those sallies of wit, which made a speech of Van Buren a memorable thing to have listened to.
Van Buren was noted for a reckless disregard of the confidences of private conversation. Once I was with him on the train for several hours, and in the intimacy which exists among political opponents who know and trust each other we exchanged views in regard to public measures and especially public men. I was very indiscreet in talking with him in my criticism of the leaders of my own party, and he equally frank and delightful in flaying alive the leaders of his party, especially Governor Seymour.
A few days afterwards he made a speech in which he detailed what I had said, causing me the greatest embarrassment and trouble. In retaliation I wrote a letter to the public, stating what he had said about Governor Seymour. The Democratic ticket was beaten by fifteen thousand in a very heavy vote, and Van Buren always charged it to the resentment of Governor Seymour and his friends.
In our country public life is a most uncertain career for a young man. Its duties and activities remove him from his profession or business and impose habits of work and thought which unfit him for ordinary pursuits, especially if he remains long in public service. With a change of administration or of party popularity, he may be at any time dropped and left hopelessly stranded. On the other hand, if his party is in power he has in it a position of influence and popularity. He has a host of friends, with many people dependent upon him for their own places, and it is no easy thing for him to retire.
When I had decided not to remain any longer in public life and return home, the convention of my old district, which I had represented in the legislature, renominated me for the old position with such earnestness and affection that it was very difficult to refuse and to persuade them that it was absolutely necessary for me to resume actively my profession.
Our village of Peekskill, which has since grown into the largest village in the State, with many manufacturing and other interests, was then comparatively small. A large number of people gathered at the post-office every morning. On one occasion when I arrived I found them studying a large envelope addressed to me, which the postmaster had passed around. It was a letter from William H. Seward, secretary of state, announcing that the president had appointed me United States minister to Japan, and that the appointment had been sent to the Senate and confirmed by that body, and directing that I appear at the earliest possible moment at his office to receive instructions and go to my post. A few days afterwards I received a beautiful letter from Henry J. Raymond, then in Congress, urging my acceptance.
On arriving in Washington I went to see Mr. Seward, who said to me: “I have special reasons for securing your appointment from the president. He is rewarding friends of his by putting them in diplomatic positions for which they are wholly unfit. I regard the opening of Japan to commerce and our relations to that new and promising country so important, that I asked the privilege to select one whom I thought fitted for the position. Your youth, familiarity with public life, and ability seem to me ideal for this position, and I have no doubt you will accept.”
I stated to him how necessary it was that after long neglect in public life of my private affairs I should return to my profession, if I was to make a career, but Mr. Seward brushed that aside by reciting his own sucess, notwithstanding his long service in our State and in Washington. “However,” he continued, “I feared that this might be your attitude, so I have made an appointment for you to see Mr. Burlingame, who has been our minister to China, and is now here at the head of a mission from China to the different nations of the world.”
Anson Burlingame’s career had been most picturesque and had attracted the attention of not only the United States but of Europe. As a member of the House of Representatives he had accepted the challenge of a “fire-eater,” who had sent it under the general view that no Northern man would fight. As minister to China he had so gained the confidence of the Chinese Government that he persuaded them to open diplomatic relations with the Western world, and at their request he had resigned his position from the United States and accepted the place of ambassador to the great powers, and was at the head of a large delegation, composed of the most important, influential, and representative mandarins of the old empire.
When I sent up my card to his room at the hotel his answer was: “Come up immediately.” He was shaving and had on the minimum of clothes permissible to receive a visitor. He was expecting me and started in at once with an eloquent description of the attractions and importance of the mission to Japan. With the shaving brush in one hand and the razor in the other he delivered an oration. In order to emphasize it and have time to think and enforce a new idea, he would apply the brush and the razor vigorously, then pause and resume. I cannot remember his exact words, but have a keen recollection of the general trend of his argument.
He said: “I am surprised that a young man like you, unmarried and with no social obligations, should hesitate for a moment to accept this most important and attractive position. If you think these people are barbarians, I can assure you that they had a civilization and a highly developed literature when our forefathers were painted savages. The western nations of Europe, in order to secure advantages in this newly opened country for commerce, have sent their ablest representatives. You will meet there with the diplomats of all the western nations, and your intimacy with them will be a university of the largest opportunity. You will come in contact with the best minds of Europe. You can make a great reputation in the keen rivalry of this situation by securing the best of the trade of Japan for your own country to its western coasts over the waters of the Pacific. You will be welcomed by the Japanese Government and the minister of foreign affairs will assign you a palace to live in, with a garden attached so perfectly appointed and kept as to have been the envy of Shenstone. You will be attended by hundreds of beautiful and accomplished Japanese maidens.”
When I repeated to a large body of waiting office-seekers who had assembled in my room what Mr. Burlingame had said, they all became applicants for the place.
There is no more striking evidence of the wonderful advance in every way of the Japanese Empire and its people than the conditions existing at that time and now. Then it took six months to reach Japan and a year for the round trip. Of course, there was no telegraphic or cable communication, and so it required a year for a message to be sent and answered. The Japanese army at that time was mostly clad in armor and its navy were junks.
In fifty years Japan has become one of the most advanced nations of the world. It has adopted and assimilated all that is best of Western civilization, and acquired in half a century what required Europe one thousand years to achieve. Its army is unexcelled in equipment and discipline, and its navy and mercantile marine are advancing rapidly to a foremost place. It demonstrated its prowess in the war with Russia, and its diplomacy and power in the recent war.
Japan has installed popular education, with common schools, academies, and universities, much on the American plan. It has adopted and installed every modern appliance developed by electricity–telegraph, cable, telephone, etc.
While I was greatly tempted to reverse my decision and go, my mother, who was in delicate health, felt that an absence so long and at such distance would be fatal, and so on her account I declined.
As I look back over the fifty years I can see plainly that four years, and probably eight, in that mission would have severed me entirely from all professional and business opportunities at home, and I might have of necessity become a place holder and a place seeker, with all its adventures and disappointments.
If I had seriously wanted an office and gone in pursuit of one, my pathway would have had the usual difficulties, but fickle fortune seemed determined to defeat my return to private life by tempting offers. The collectorship of the port of New York was vacant. It was a position of great political power because of its patronage. There being no civil service, the appointments were sufficientIy numerous and important to largely control the party in the State of New York, and its political influence reached into other commonwealths. It was an office whose fees were enormous, and the emoluments far larger than those of any position in the country.
The party leaders had begun to doubt President Johnson, and they wanted in the collectorship a man in whom they had entire confidence, and so the governor and State officers, who were all Republicans, the Republican members of the legislature, the State committee, the two United States senators, and the Republican delegation of New York in the House of Representatives unanimously requested the president to appoint me.
President Johnson said to me: “No such recommendation and indorsement has ever been presented to me before.” However, the breach between him and the party was widening, and he could not come to a decision.
One day he suddenly sent for Senator Morgan, Henry J. Raymond, Thurlow Weed, and the secretary of the treasury for a consultation. He said to them: “I have decided to appoint Mr. Depew.” The appointment was made out by the secretary of the treasury, and the president instructed him to send it to the Senate the next morning. There was great rejoicing among the Republicans, as this seemed to indicate a favorable turn in the president’s mind. Days and weeks passed, however, and when the veto of the Civil Rights Bill was overridden in the Senate and, with the help of the votes of the senators from New York, the breach between the president and his party became irreconcilable, the movement for his impeachment began, which ended in the most sensational and perilous trial in our political history.
On my way home to New York, after the vote of the New York senators had ended my hope for appointment, I had as a fellow traveller my friend, Professor Davies, from West Point. He was a brother of that eminent jurist, Henry E. Davies, a great lawyer and chief justice of our New York State Court of Appeals. Professor Davies said to me: ” I think I must tell you why your nomination for collector was not sent to the Senate. I was in Washington to persuade the president, with whom I am quite intimate, to make another appointment. I was calling on Secretary Hugh McCulloch and his family in the evening of the day when the conference decided to appoint you. Secretary McCulloch said to me: ‘The contest over the collectorship of the port of New York is settled, and Chauncey Depew’s name will be sent to the Senate to-morrow morning.’ I was at the White House,” continued the professor, “the next morning before breakfast. The president received me at once because I said my mission was urgent and personal. I told him what the secretary of the treasury had told me and said: ‘You are making a fatal mistake. You are going to break with your party and to have a party of your own. The collectorship of the port of New York is the key to your success. Depew is very capable and a partisan of his party. If you have any doubt, I beg of you to withhold the appointment until the question comes up in the Senate of sustaining or overriding of the veto of the Civil Rights Bill. The votes of the two New York senators will decide whether they are your friends or not.’ The president thought that was reasonable, and you know the result.”
There was at least one satisfaction in the professor’s amazingly frank revelation: it removed all doubt why I had lost a great office and, for my age and circumstances, a large fortune.
President Andrew Johnson differed radically from any President of the United States whom it has been my good fortune to know. This refers to all from and including Mr. Lincoln to Mr. Harding. A great deal must be forgiven and a great deal taken by way of explanation when we consider his early environment and opportunities.
In the interviews I had with him he impressed me as a man of vigorous mentality, of obstinate wilfulness, and overwhelming confidence in his own judgment and the courage of his convictions. His weakness was alcoholism. He made a fearful exhibition of himself at the time of his inauguration and during the presidency, and especially during his famous trip “around the circle” he was in a bad way.
He was of humble origin and, in fact, very poor. It is said of him that he could neither read nor write until his wife taught him. He made a great career both as a member of the House of Representatives and a senator, and was of unquestionable influence in each branch. With reckless disregard for his life, he kept east Tennessee in the Union during the Civil War.
General Grant told me a story of his own experience with him. Johnson, he said, had always been treated with such contempt and ignored socially by the members of the old families and slave aristocracy of the South that his resentment against them was vindictive, and so after the surrender at Appomattox he was constantly proclaiming “Treason is odious and must be punished.” He also wanted and, in fact, insisted upon ignoring Grant’s parole to the Confederate officers, in order that they might be tried for treason. On this question of maintaining his parole and his military honor General Grant was inflexible, and said he would appeal not only to Congress but to the country.
One day a delegation, consisting of the most eminent, politically, socially, and in family descent, of the Southern leaders, went to the White House. They said: “Mr. President, we have never recognized you, as you belong to an entirely different class from ourselves, but it is the rule of all countries and in all ages that supreme power vested in the individual raises him, no matter what his origin, to supreme leadership. You are now President of the United States, and by virtue of your office our leader, and we recognize you as such.” Then followed attention from these people whom he admired and envied, as well as hated, of hospitality and deference, of which they were past masters. It captivated him and changed his whole attitude towards them.
He sent for General Grant and said to him: “The war is over and there should be forgiveness and reconciliation. I propose to call upon all of the States recently in rebellion to send to Washington their United States senators and members of the House, the same as they did before the war. If the present Congress will not admit them, a Congress can be formed of these Southern senators and members of the House and of such Northern senators and representatives as will believe that I am right and acting under the Constitution. As President of the United States, I will recognize that Congress and communicate with them as such. As general of the army I want your support.” General Grant replied: “That will create civil war, because the North will undoubtedly recognize the Congress as it now exists, and that Congress will assert itself in every way possible.” “In that case,” said the president, “I want the to support the constitutional Congress which I am recognizing.” General Grant said: “On the contrary, so far as my authority goes, the army will support the Congress as it is now and disperse the other.” President Johnson then ordered General Grant to Mexico on a mission, and as he had no power to send a general of the army out of the United States, Grant refused to go.
Shortly afterwards Grant received a very confidential communication from General Sherman, stating that he had been ordered to Washington to take command of the army, and wanted to know what it meant. General Grant explained the situation, whereupon General Sherman announced to the president that he would take exactly the same position as General Grant had. The president then dropped the whole subject.
III. ABRAHAM LINCOLN
The secretaryship of the State of New York is a very delightful office. Its varied duties are agreeable, and the incumbent is brought in close contact with the State administration, the legislature, and the people.
We had in the secretary of state’s office at the time I held the office, about fifty-eight years ago, very interesting archives. The office had been the repository of these documents since the organization of the government. Many years afterwards they were removed to the State Library. Among these documents were ten volumes of autograph letters from General Washington to Governor Clinton and others, covering the campaign on the Hudson in the effort by the enemy to capture West Point, the treason of Arnold and nearly the whole of the Revolutionary War. In the course of years before these papers were removed to the State Library, a large part of them disappeared. It was not the fault of the administration succeeding me, but it was because the legisIature, in its effort to economize, refused to make appropriation for the proper care of these invaluable historic papers. Most of Washington’s letters were written entirely in his own hand, and one wonders at the phenomenal industry which enabled him to do so much writing while continuously and laboriously engaged in active campaigning.
In view of the approaching presidential election, the legislature passed a law, which was signed by the governor, providing machinery for the soldiers’ vote. New York had at that time between three and four hundred thousand soldiers in the field, who were scattered in companies, regiments, brigades, and divisions all over the South. This law made it the duty of the secretary of state to provide ballots, to see that they reached every unit of a company, to gather the votes and transmit them to the home of each soldier. The State government had no machinery by which this work could be done. I applied to the express companies, but all refused on the ground that they were not equipped. I then sent for old John Butterfield, who was the founder of the express business but had retired and was living on his farm near Utica. He was intensely patriotic and ashamed of the lack of enterprise shown by the express companies. He said to me: “If they cannot do this work they ought to retire.” He at once organized what was practically an express company, taking in all those in existence and adding many new features for the sole purpose of distributing the ballots and gathering the soldiers’ votes. It was a gigantic task and successfully executed by this patriotic old gentleman.
Of course, the first thing was to find out where the New York troops were, and for that purpose I went to Washington, remaining there for several months before the War Department would give me the information. The secretary of war was Edwin M. Stanton. It was perhaps fortunate that the secretary of war should not only possess extraordinary executive ability, but be also practically devoid of human weakness; that he should be a rigid disciplinarian and administer justice without mercy. It was thought at the time that these qualities were necessary to counteract, as far as possible, the tender-heartedness of President Lincoln. If the boy condemned to be shot, or his mother or father, could reach the president in time, he was never executed. The military authorities thought that this was a mistaken charity and weakened discipline. I was at a dinner after the war with a number of generals who had been in command of armies. The question was asked one of the most famous of these generals: “How did you carry out the sentences of your courts martial and escape Lincoln’s pardons?” The grim old warrior answered: “I shot them first.”
I took my weary way every day to the War Department, but could get no results. The interviews were brief and disagreeable and the secretary of war very brusque. The time was getting short. I said to the secretary: “If the ballots are to be distributed in time I must have information at once.” He very angrily refused and said: “New York troops are in every army, all over the enemy’s territory. To state their location would be to give invaluable information to the enemy. How do I know if that information would be so safeguarded as not to get out?”
As I was walking down the long corridor, which was full of hurrying officers and soldiers returning from the field or departing for it, I met Elihu B. Washburne, who was a congressman from Illinois and an intimate friend of the president. He stopped me and said:
“Hello, Mr. Secretary, you seem very much troubled. Can I help you?” I told him my story.
“What are you going to do?” he asked. I answered: “To protect myself I must report to the people of New York that the provision for the soldiers’ voting cannot be carried out because the administration refuses to give information where the New York soldiers are located.”
“Why,” said Mr. Washburne, “that would beat Mr. Lincoln. You don’t know him. While he is a great statesman, he is also the keenest of politicians alive. If it could be done in no other way, the president would take a carpet-bag and go around and collect those votes himself. You remain here until you hear from me. I will go at once and see the president.”
In about an hour a staff officer stepped up to me and asked: “Are you the secretary of state of New York?” I answered “Yes.” “The secretary of war wishes to see you at once,” he said. I found the secretary most cordial and charming.
“Mr. Secretary, what do you desire?” he asked. I stated the case as I had many times before, and he gave a peremptory order to one of his staff that I should receive the documents in time for me to leave Washington on the midnight train.
The magical transformation was the result of a personal visit of President Lincoln to the secretary of war. Mr. Lincoln carried the State of New York by a majority of only 6,749, and it was a soldiers’ vote that gave him the Empire State.
The compensations of my long delay in Washington trying to move the War Department were the opportunity it gave me to see Mr. Lincoln, to meet the members of the Cabinet, to become intimate with the New York delegation in Congress, and to hear the wonderful adventures and stories so numerous in Washington.
The White House of that time had no executive offices as now, and the machinery for executive business was very primitive. The east half of the second story had one large reception-room, in which the president could always be found, and a few rooms adjoining for his secretaries and clerks. The president had very little protection or seclusion. In the reception-room, which was always crowded at certain hours, could be found members of Congress, office-seekers, and an anxious company of fathers and mothers seeking pardons for their sons condemned for military offenses, or asking permission to go to the front, where a soldier boy was wounded or sick. Every one wanted something and wanted it very bad. The patient president, wearied as he was with cares of state, with the situation on several hostile fronts, with the exigencies in Congress and jealousies in his Cabinet, patiently and sympathetically listened to these tales of want and woe. My position was unique. I was the only one in Washington who personally did not want anything, my mission being purely in the public interest.
I was a devoted follower of Mr. Seward, the secretary of state, and through the intimacies with officers in his department I learned from day to day the troubles in the Cabinet, so graphically described in the diary of the secretary of the navy Gideon Welles.
The antagonism between Mr. Seward and Mr. Chase, the secretary of the treasury, though rarely breaking out in the open, was nevertheless acute. Mr. Seward was devoted to the president and made every possible effort to secure his renomination and election. Mr. Chase was doing his best to prevent Mr. Lincoln’s renomination and secure it for himself.
No president ever had a Cabinet of which the members were so independent, had so large individual followings, and were so inharmonious. The president’s sole ambition was to secure the ablest men in the country for the departments which he assigned to them without regard to their loyalty to himself. One of Mr. Seward’s secretaries would frequently report to me the acts of disloyalty or personal hostility on the part of Mr. Chase with the lament: “The old man–meaning Lincoln–knows all about it and will not do a thing.”
I had a long and memorable interview with the president. As I stepped from the crowd in his reception-room, he said to me: “What do you want?” I answered: “Nothing, Mr. President, I only came to pay my respects and bid you good-by, as I am leaving Washington.” “It is such a luxury,” he then remarked, “to find a man who does not want anything. I wish you would wait until I get rid of this crowd.”
When we were alone he threw himself wearily on a lounge and was evidently greatly exhausted. Then he indulged, rocking backward and forward, in a reminiscent review of different crises in his administration, and how he had met them. In nearly every instance he had carried his point, and either captured or beaten his adversaries by a story so apt, so on all fours, and such complete answers that the controversy was over. I remember eleven of these stories, each of which was a victory.
In regard to this story-telling, he said: “I am accused of telling a great many stories. They say that it lowers the dignity of the presidential office, but I have found that plain people (repeating with emphasis plain people), take them as you find them, are more easily influenced by a broad and humorous illustration than in any other way, and what the hypercritical few may think, I don’t care.”
In speaking Mr. Lincoln had a peculiar cadence in his voice, caused by laying emphasis upon the key-word of the sentence. In answer to the question how he knew so many anecdotes, he answered: “I never invented story, but I have a good memory and, I think, tell one tolerably well. My early life was passed among pioneers who had the courage and enterprise to break away from civilization and settle in the wilderness. The things which happened to these original people and among themselves in their primitive conditions were far more dramatic than anything invented by the professional story-tellers. For many years I travelled the circuit as a lawyer, and usually there was only one hotel in the county towns where court was held. The judge, the grand and petit juries, the lawyers, the clients, and witnesses would pass the night telling exciting or amusing occurrences, and these were of infinite variety and interest.” He was always eager for a new story to add to his magazine of ammunition and weapons.
One night when there was a reception at the executive mansion Rufus F. Andrews, surveyor of the port of New York, and I went there together. Andrews was a good lawyer and had been a correspondent in New York of Mr. Lincoln, while he was active at the bar in Illinois. He was a confidential adviser of the president on New York matters and frequently at the executive mansion. As the procession moved past the president he stopped Andrews and, leaning over, spoke very confidentially to him. The conversation delayed the procession for some time. When Andrews and I returned to the hotel, our rooms were crowded with newspaper men and politicians wanting to know what the confidential conversation was about. Andrews made a great mystery of it and so did the press. He explained to me when we were alone that during his visit to the president the night before he told the president a new story. The president delayed him at the reception, saying: “Andrews, I forgot the point of that story you told me last night; repeat it now.”
While Mr. Lincoln had the most logical of minds and his letters and speeches on political controversies were the most convincing of any statesman of his period, he rarely would enter into a long discussion in conversation; he either would end the argument by an apt story or illustration enforcing his ideas.
John Ganson, of Buffalo, was the leader of the bar in western New York. Though elected to the House of Representatives as a Democrat, he supported the war measures of the administration. He was a gentleman of the old school, of great dignity, and always immaculately dressed. He was totally bald and his face also devoid of hair. It was a gloomy period of the war and the reports from the front very discouraging. Congressman Ganson felt it his duty to see the president about the state of the country. He made a formal call and said to Mr. Lincoln: “Though I am a Democrat, I imperil my political future by supporting your war measures. I can understand that secrecy may be necessary in miIitary operations, but I think I am entitled to know the exact conditions, good or bad, at the front.”
Mr. Lincoln looked at him earnestly for a minute and then said: “Ganson, how clean you shave!” That ended the interview.
The first national convention I ever attended was held in Baltimore in 1864, when Mr. Lincoln was renominated. I have since been four times a delegate-at-large, representing the whole State, and many times a delegate representing a congressional district. Judge W. H. Robertson, of Westchester County, and I went to the convention together. We thought we would go by sea, but our ship had a collision, and we were rescued by a pilot boat. Returning to New York, we decided to accept the security of the railroad. Judge Robertson was one of the shrewdest and ablest of the Republican politicians in the State of New York. He had been repeatedly elected county judge, State senator, and member of Congress, and always overcoming a hostile Democratic majority.
We went to Washington to see Mr. Seward first, had an interview with him at his office, and dined with him in the evening. To dine with Secretary Seward was an event which no one, and especially a young politician, ever forgot. He was the most charming of hosts and his conversation a liberal education.
There was no division as to the renomination of Mr. Lincoln, but it was generally conceded that the vice-president should be a war Democrat. The candidacy of Daniel S. Dickinson, of New York, had been so ably managed that he was far and away the favorite. He had been all his life, up to the breaking out of the Civil War, one of the most pronounced extreme and radical Democrats in the State of New York. Mr. Seward took Judge Robertson and me into his confidence. He was hostile to the nomination of Mr. Dickinson, and said that the situation demanded the nomination for vice-president of a representative from the border States, whose loyalty had been demonstrated during the war. He eulogized Andrew Johnson, of Tennessee, and gave a gIowing description of the courage and patriotism with which Johnson, at the risk of his life, had advocated the cause of the Union and kept his State partially loyal.
He said to us: “You can quote me to the delegates, and they will believe I express the opinion of the president. While the president wishes to take no part in the nomination for vice-president, yet he favors Mr. Johnson.”
When we arrived at the convention this interview with Mr. Seward made us a centre of absorbing interest and at once changed the current of opinion, which before that had been almost unanimously for Mr. Dickinson. It was finally left to the New York delegation.
The meeting of the delegates from New York was a stormy one and lasted until nearly morning. Mr. Dickinson had many warm friends, especially among those of previous democratic affiliation, and the State pride to have a vice-president was in his favor. Upon the final vote Andrew Johnson had one majority. The decision of New York was accepted by the convention and he was nominated for vice-president.
This is an instance of which I have met many in my life, where the course of history was changed on a very narrow margin. Political histories and the newspapers’ discussions of the time assigned the success of Mr. Johnson to the efforts of several well-known delegates, but really it was largely if not wholly due to the message of Mr. Seward, which was carried by Judge Robertson and myself to the delegates.
The year of 1864 was full of changes of popular sentiment and surprises. The North had become very tired of the war. The people wanted peace, and peace at almost any price. Jacob Thompson and Clement C. Clay, ex-United States senators from the South, appeared at Niagara Falls, on the Canadian side, and either they or their friends gave out that they were there to treat for peace. In reference to them Mr. Lincoln said to me: “This effort was to inflame the peace sentiment of the North, to embarrass the administration, and to demoralize the army, and in a way it was successful. Mr. Greeley was hammering at me to take action for peace and said that unless I met these men every drop of blood that was shed and every dollar that was spent I would be responsible for, that it would be a blot upon my conscience and soul. I wrote a letter to Mr. Greeley and said to him that those two ex-United States senators were Whigs and old friends of his, personally and politically, and that I desired him to go to Niagara Falls and find out confidentially what their credentials were and let me know.”
The president stated that instead of Mr. Greeley doing it that way, he went there as an ambassador, and with an array of reporters established himself on the American side and opened negotiations with these two alleged envoys across the bridge. Continuing, Mr. Lincoln said: “I had reason to believe from confidential information which I had received from a man I trusted and who had interviewed Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, that these envoys were without authority, because President Davis had said to this friend of mine and of his that he would treat on no terms whatever but on absolute recognition of the independence of the Southern Confederacy. The attention of the whole country and of the army centred on these negotiations at Niagara Falls, and to stop the harm they were doing I recalled Mr. Greeley and issued my proclamation ‘To Whom It May Concern,’ in which I stated if there was anybody or any delegation at Niagara Falls, or anywhere else, authorized to represent the Southern Confederacy and to treat for peace, they had free conduct and safety to Washington and return. Of course, they never came, because their mission was a subterfuge. But they made Greeley believe in them, and the result is that he is still attacking me for needlessly prolonging the war for purposes of my own.”
At a Cabinet meeting one of the members said to Mr. Lincoln: “Mr. President, why don’t you write a letter to the public stating these facts, and that will end Mr. Greeley’s attacks?” The president answered: “Mr. Greeley owns a daily newspaper, a very widely circulated and influential one. I have no newspaper. The press of the country would print my letter, and so would the New York Tribune. In a little while the public would forget all about it, and then Mr. Greeley would begin to prove from my own letter that he was right, and I, of course, would be helpless to reply.” He brought the Cabinet around to unanimous agreement with him by telling one of his characteristic stories.
This affair and the delays in the prosecution of the war had created a sentiment early in 1864 that the re-election of Mr. Lincoln was impossible. The leaders of both the conservative and the radical elements in the Republican party, Mr. Weed, on the one hand, and Mr. Greeley, on the other, frankly told the president that he could not be re-elected, and his intimate friend, Congressman Elihu B. Washburne, after a canvass of the country, gave him the same information.
Then came the spectacular victory of Farragut at Mobile and the triumphant march of Sherman through Georgia, and the sentiment of the country entirely changed. There was an active movement on foot in the interest of the secretary of the treasury, Chase, and fostered by him, to hold an independent convention before the regular Republican convention as a protest against the renomination of Mr. Lincoln. It was supported by some of the most eminent and powerful members of the party, who threw into the effort their means and influence. After these victories the effort was abandoned and Mr. Lincoln was nominated by acclamation. I recall as one of the excitements and pleasures of a lifetime the enthusiastic confidence of that convention when they acclaimed Lincoln their nominee.
Governor Seymour, who was the idol of his party, headed the New York delegation to the national Democratic convention to nominate the president, and his journey to that convention was a triumphal march. There is no doubt that at the time he had with him not only the enthusiastic support of his own party but the confidence of the advocates of peace. His own nomination and election seemed inevitable. However, in deference to the war sentiment, General McClellan was nominated instead, and here occurred one of those littIe things which so often in our country have turned the tide.
The platform committee, and the convention afterwards, permitted to go into the platform a phrase proosed by Clement C. Vallandigham, of Ohio, the phrase being, “The war is a failure.” Soon after the adjournment of the convention, to the victories of Farragut and Sherman was added the spectacular campaign and victory of Sheridan in the Valley of Shenandoah. The Campaign at once took on a new phase. It was the opportunity for the orator.
It is difficult now to recreate the scenes of that campaign. The people had been greatly disheartened. Every family was in bereavement, with a son lost and others still in the service. Taxes were onerous and economic and business conditions very bad. Then came this reaction, which seemed to promise an early victory for the Union. The orator naturally picked up the phrase, “The war is a failure”; then he pictured Farragut tied to the shrouds of his flag-ship; then he portrayed Grant’s victories in the Mississippi campaign, Hooker’s “battle above the clouds,” the advance of the Army of Cumberland; then he enthusiastically described Sheridan leaving the War Department hearing of the battle in Shenandoah Valley, speeding on and rallying his defeated troops, reforming and leading them to victory, and finished with reciting some of the stirring war poems.
Mr. Lincoln’s election under the conditions and circumstances was probably more due to that unfortunate phrase in the Democratic platform than to any other cause.
The tragedy of the assassination of Mr. Lincoln was followed by the most pathetic incident of American life–his funeral. After the ceremony at Washington the funeral train stopped at Philadelphia, New York, and Albany. In each of these cities was an opportunity