Abraham Lincoln Part 2: Understanding the story of Lincoln.
My first post covered the development and observation of who Abraham Lincoln was as an individual; to see what kind of person was built to shoulder the Herculean task of preserving the Union of America. I will now focus on his career and add details to the famous events that defined his place in history.
Living on the western frontier during the early 1800s, young Abraham Lincoln was given only a minimal level of formal education, but his thirst for knowledge led him to be an avid book reader and a self-starter. His father was not supportive of his ambitions and thought personal development was just a distraction from the productive work that helps put food on the table, which led Abraham to be very intentional about his learning environment. When he set out on his own at the age of 22 and settled in New Salem, the liberation from his father’s dismissive eye ignited a passionate flame in Abraham as he quickly ventured into many pursuits. Lincoln soon bounced between jobs as a store clerk, boatman, surveyor, and even a volunteer captain during the brief Black Hawk War.
It only took Lincoln six months of living in this small village to build a reputation for himself, and after the encouragement of observers of his performance at a debate club, he made his entrance in politics and ran for the county seat in the Illinois House of Representatives. There were 4 open seats, and he placed 8th out of 13 candidates. While he was young, no reputation, and inexperienced, he won over his new community with receiving 277 of the 300 votes casted from New Salem. He would try again two years later and was successful in being elected, along with John Todd Stuart, a lawyer who Lincoln made a strong impression on, which Stuart encouraged Lincoln to study law to join his law practice.
While Lincoln served on the Illinois House of Representatives for 8 years, he began his quest to practice law. Instead of going to law school, Lincoln resorted to borrowing textbooks from local lawyers and studied on his own. In 1836, he passed the oral exam and was given his law license. A few months later he moved to Springfield to partner with John Stuart and was licensed under the Illinois Supreme Court.
Struggling to find Political Success:
After serving four terms in the Illinois State Legislature and 7 years of practicing law, Lincoln pursued the election of the U.S. House of Representatives in 1844, but was passed for the Whig nomination for Edward Baker. Lincoln then received the Whig nomination in the 1846 election and won his first national election over Democrat Peter Cartwright. His first term as a U.S. Congressman soured quickly when he made a speech aimed at President Polk to prove the Mexican War was Constitutional. In 1845, President Polk signed off on annexing the Republic of Texas, against the protest from Mexico. This put the U.S. in a heated situation with Mexico, and Polk sent troops to the southern border of Texas, into the area Mexico claimed they still owned. Mexican soldiers inevitably attacked the outpost and Polk declared war on Mexico for attacking on American soil. It was well aware that Polk was baiting Mexico to provoke war, so that Polk would have the excuse of his main objective: Manifest Destiny. Polk wanted to be the one who stretched the U.S. territory from coast to coast, and he needed California in order to do that. The Mexican War allowed Polk to defeat Mexico, and leverage the acquisition of territories that make up today’s California, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona.
The concern of all this acquisition of land is the inevitable slave debate; more potential states that were especially located in the south meant the potential for more slave-holding states that could be the majority in the Union. Lincoln, along with others in the Whig party resisted this potential power for southern Democrats, and Lincoln’s speech that challenged the legitimacy of the war declaration centered on the location of the initial conflict. Polk claimed the conflict started on American land, but if the soldiers had ventured into Mexican territory, then it could not be considered an attack, and thus Polk would not have constitutional authority to take action.
This speech was not well received, since it came after the American victory, and it felt like someone raining on the American parade. Lincoln was viewed as unpatriotic and congress turned their back on him; thus killing his chance for a reelection.
After his term was up, Lincoln returned to his law practice until a national crisis brought Lincoln back into the political discussion and ran for Senator in the 1854. The hot topic in 1854 was the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which many regard as the breaking point for the subject of slavery that turned southern secession from a “if” question to “when.”
Back in 1820, the Missouri Compromise was designed to keep the balance of slave-holding states to free states in check, but with the push for western expansion, it was unsure how to keep the balance moving forward. Stephen A. Douglas, a Democrat Senator from Illinois, presented the Kansas-Nebraska Act to Congress. The Act was add two more states to the union, but instead of keeping the compromise, he proposed “popular sovereignty” voting; which meant instead of Congress determining if slavery was legal or not for the given state, the early settlers would vote and the side with most votes would determine the ruling of the state. This killed the binding act of the Missouri Compromise, but it also erupted chaos in these two new states. Up until this point, slavery was always swept under the rug, and even had an official gag rule that prevented it being a debate topic. Now that the fate of the state’s slavery status was up to a popular vote, and the state’s status would determine which side would control Congress meant it became a race for both sides to rush as many voting settlers to these states. With Kansas being closer to the southern states, it became the most hotly contested state, with thousands of settlers rushing to stake their place and build their voting factions. This open hostility erupted with the infamous Pottawatomie Massacre, where John Brown and his sons murdered slave-supporting farmers. This political and violent hostility crisis was called “Bleeding Kansas.”
Lincoln gained public notoriety after a series of debates with Douglas on the Kansas-Nebraska Act, and when it came to the election voting, Lincoln was in the lead with 45 senate votes (51 was needed to win) in the first round of ballots, with his main contestant, James Shields, had 41 votes. Since the Kansas-Nebraska Act had caused such disruption, voting was not based on party lines, but rather on where the candidate stood on the subject of the Act. Lincoln was the leading Anti-Nebraska candidate, while Shields was the leading supporter. Lincoln was poised to win, but an Anti-Nebraska Democrat, Lyman Trumbull, had 5 votes. Lincoln needed these votes to come to his side in the next ballot and he would only be 1 short of victory if nothing changed. Since both Lincoln and Trumbull were on the same side of being anti-Nebraska, it is expected that the lower vote generator would either withdraw or simply the voters would switch the leader in order to secure the victory, the problem was the 5 voters who voted for Trumbull were Democrats and could get themselves to vote for Lincoln since he was still in the Whig party. In the second ballot, Lincoln got 47 votes, but still the 5 delegates refused to budge.
Seeing that they were at an impasse, Lincoln did the unthinkable and announced he would be the one withdrawing and told all his voters to switch to Trumbull since then it would secure a victory for the Anti-Nebraska team. Congress was shocked that the voting leader of 47 votes would withdraw to elevate the candidate with only 5 votes. It was a sign of Lincoln’s depth of magnanimity and willing to keep his own ego in check for the sake of others. He may not have foreseen this, but this act was one of the main catalysts that shaped the narrative of Lincoln’s reputation that allowed him to win the Republican nomination for President 6 years later.
Lincoln returned back to his law practice after the election, but soon found his disappointment followed him as well. He was presented with a fantastic opportunity to gain national notoriety when he was invited to join a legal team that was defending a patent for a mechanical reaper in what was known as the “Reaper Suit.” The suit was to take place in Chicago, and Lincoln was brought on as the local expert, but soon the court case was moved to Cincinnati, Ohio and thus made Lincoln irrelevant to the legal team. Lincoln worked on the case for three months without being informed that he was off the case, and he even found out on his own it had been relocated and traveled out to join the team, only to discover that they had replaced him with another lawyer named Edwin Stanton.
The Great Debates:
In 1858, Lincoln would make another attempt at a Senate seat, this time by challenging the creator of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, Stephen Douglas. They traveled around the state and conducted 7 debates, primarily on the subject of slavery. These debates were known as “The Great Debates” which in one of them is where Lincoln gave his famous “House divided” speech. In the speech, Lincoln said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become lawful in all the States, old as well as new — North as well as South.” The phrase, “House divided against itself cannot stand” comes from the bible verse, Mark 3:25. Lincoln saw that it was inevitable that the country would have to pick one extreme or another; the piecemeal stance on slavery could no longer be sustained.
Douglas based his argument on popular sovereignty, and said that this was the more pure form of government since it took the decision out of government hands and gave it to the people; each state would have the freedom of self-government, just as the founding fathers designed it to be. Lincoln’s rebuttal was that interpretation of “self-government” was grossly narrow in viewpoint since it really meant the freedom of white men to govern over other men. Lincoln said, “When he (a white man), governs himself, and also another man, that is more than self-government-that is despotism. If the negro is a man, why then my ancient faith teaches me that ‘all men are created equal’; and that there can be no moral right in connection with one’s making a slave of another.”
Lincoln’s rebuttals weren’t enough to dislodge Douglas from his senate seat though, as Douglas was reelected with 54% of the vote. The debates were however extremely popular and catapulted Lincoln into the public discussion and as an icon of the newly formed Republican party, even though he hadn’t held a congressional seat in the past 10 years.
As the 1860 election approached, the U.S. was put to the final breaking point, mostly due to the disastrous Buchanan presidential administration. President Buchanan started his administration by influencing the Dred Scott decision that declared slaves were not citizens, and therefore did not have rights. Buchanan saw this as an olive branch to appease the south, and condemned the new Republican party as abolitionist extremists, which then put the whole south on edge with any Republican candidates; if a Republican won the Presidential Election, it would be the end of the southern way of life.
Election of 1860:
For as much misfortune begot Lincoln in his attempts for political influence, 1860 would finally be the turning point where all the losses turned into leverage that propelled him into the remarkably improbable Republican nomination. In 1860, the Republican Party had taken over for the dwindling Whig party as the main opposition to the Democratic Party, and much interest was focused on who would be the nominee. There were three major players who were all jockeying for the top position: William Seward, Salmon Chase, and Edward Bates. Seward was the most famous and credentialed candidate, being both a former governor of New York, and a Senator for 12 years, Seward represented the power of the northern Republicans and was a strong voice in the abolitionist movement. While he was strongly supported by the northern Republicans, he represented everything the south was against and made him too polarizing of a figure for a national campaign. Chase was also a former senator and governor, but in Ohio. Chase was even more of a zealous abolitionist; he was called the “Attorney general for fugitive slaves.” This was also used against him, and in addition to that, he was not seen as a loyal Republican, since he had spent time as a member of the Whig Party, Liberty Party, Free Soil Party, and Democratic Party before becoming a Republican. Bates came from the southern state of Missouri, he was backed by the powerful Blair family and was introduced as an established moderate that could appease the angry southern states. The problem was he didn’t seem to embody the values of this new Republican Party.
Lincoln was more of an afterthought in the nomination process, but what the other candidates didn’t see was how divisive the country really was and the fear of hostility was more of an issue over credentials; plus the previous Buchanan administration was seen as one of the most credentialed presidents to date and it did not correlate in a successful administration. When it came to Republican National Convention, the top three candidates kept offsetting each other and nobody was able to gain momentum as the leading candidate. While Seward was the favorite coming into the convention, his enemies were adamant against him and prevented the momentum to gain for him. The frustration of not finding a compromise propelled Lincoln into the discussion and the absence of opposition to the proposal of Lincoln allowed him to gain momentum. Things like how Lyman Trumbull, a Democrat, supported Lincoln against the Illinois Democrat, Stephen Douglas, were evidence that Lincoln could garner support beyond the strong northern abolitionist voters. Lincoln’s ability to not burn bridges even in the midst of much disappointment allowed unlikely supporters to build the momentum for Lincoln to gain the Republican nomination.
Once Lincoln won the Republican nomination and was deemed not too polarizing, it became almost assured that he would win the Presidential Election, even though he would go against his rival Stephen Douglas. Even the Republican Party was only four years old, it had the momentum over the Democratic Party because southern opposition fractured the party into Northern & Southern Democratic parties. Stephen Douglas became the Northern Democratic nominee, while John Breckinridge became the Southern Democratic nominee, which they canceled each other out even though they combined would have had the popular vote. Lincoln would win in a landslide victory of 180 electoral votes out of the 152 needed.
Lincoln did the improbable and propelled from obscurity to the Presidency, but the celebration was short lived because even though he was seen as moderate, the damage had already been done and the election of a Republican was the last straw for the southern states. A month after Lincoln was elected, South Carolina lit the match that set the whole country ablaze as they announced they were seceding from the Union. Shortly after, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, & Texas followed suit and all declared secession from the Union before Lincoln had even taken office in April 1861.
Before Lincoln’s first day in office, it was clear that he would be tasked with the most difficult issue in American history. Lincoln was brought on as a moderate, but the time for moderation had been all used up by Buchanan, and now it was time for decisive action. The divided house had given out and now it was up to Lincoln if the house would be purely free or enslaved. The first step was putting together his inner circle; the fate of the country rested upon the decisions he made, and this was not a time for surrounding himself with yes men, he needed most capable people to be in his cabinet. Lincoln was already thinking ahead, and by the end of election night, Lincoln had already penciled in who he wanted in his cabinet, that with only two exceptions would end up comprising his final selection.
Cabinet selection is a delicate process, and how a cabinet is formed indicates the values of the President. Cabinet seats can be given to close connections and understudies of the president to consolidate power, or positions can be awarded to key supporters to sustain party support for re-election, along with other variations that either cements the power of the President or turns the President into a pawn of the party. Lincoln decided to do neither, and sought to bring in his biggest critics and those who came from the Democratic Party; he created what the historian, Doris Kearns Goodwin, calls the “Team of Rivals.” Lincoln brought in his top three Republican nominee opponents, Seward, Chase & Bates, with Seward being in the powerful position of Secretary of State, Chase as Secretary of Treasury & Bates as Attorney General. Lincoln not only brought in his competitors, but he balanced his cabinet of former Whigs with former Democrats. Lincoln appointed Simon Cameron to Secretary of War, Montgomery Blair to Postmaster General, Gideon Welles to Secretary of the Navy, & Caleb Smith to Secretary of the Interior. It was pointed out to him that his selection of former Democrats: Chase, Cameron, Welles & Blair would outweigh the former Whig members of Seward, Bates, & Smith, and give the democratic voice majority in the cabinet. Lincoln responded that he himself counts as part of the cabinet which would the even the total to 4 on each side, and he has the concluding decision on discussion matter. Lincoln’s cabinet was also diversified geographically as well with Seward, Welles & Cameron representing the Northeast; Chase & Smith representing the Northwest; along with Bates & Blair representing the border slave states. This format though, allowed Lincoln to allow more voices to be heard from those who came from a different political background—and would not be intimidated to voice their opinion—which allowed Lincoln’s cabinet to avoid groupthink errors when every decision carried heavy consequences.
Deciding who he wanted in his cabinet is one thing, but getting these sore loser and rivals to agree to work under Lincoln is another story. In order to form his cabinet, Lincoln displayed his expertise in reading people and dialing in the right influence technique to win them over. The most vital person to win over was William Seward, and give him the second in command position of Secretary of State. But Seward was still embarrassed to have been passed over by the inferior Lincoln for the nomination and with the secession of the South indicating a seemingly impossible task for the Lincoln administration to succeed, Seward had reason to not be associated with Lincoln’s administration to preserve his chance down the road. Lincoln however, knew Seward was still a passionate advocate of the preservation of the Union and strove to make America a free nation for all; he just had to prove to Seward that he was respected and valued by Lincoln, and that they do have a chance together to do the impossible.
Lincoln sent Seward two letters: the first one was a standard issue invitation to accept the position of Secretary of State that was seen as only a pro forma offer to appease party leaders with the expectation that Seward would then decline. But then Seward opened the second letter that had “Confidential” stamped on it. In it, Lincoln wrote, “Rumors have got into the newspapers to the effect that the Department, named above, would be tendered you, as a compliment, and with the expectation that you would decline it. I beg you to be assured that I have said nothing to justify these rumors. On the contrary, it has been my purpose, from the day of the nomination in Chicago, to assign you, by your leave, this place in the administration… I now offer you the place, in the hope that you will accept it, and with the belief that your position in the public eye, your integrity, ability, learning, and great experience, all combine to render it an appointment pre-eminently fit to be made.” Seward needed to feel truly respected and valued, and the second letter was a way to break his mental schema by leading him on to believing it was all just formality, but then Lincoln changed the narrative with a whole second letter-almost as if it was meant to be a secret he was sharing with him-countering that narrative by highlighting the virtues of Seward’s ability. Lincoln also changed the subject from joining a losing cause to being part of a great redemption. Seward was shaken by the depth and care Lincoln took in approaching him, and shortly after accepted the position.
Lincoln’s maneuvers weren’t just for Seward. With Bates, he sought to give him the position of Attorney General, but he also had to appease Bates’ wounded ego. After Lincoln had sent his letters to Seward, he met with Bates, and said similar things to him in that he was on his list for cabinet from the very day of the winning the nomination. To continue to pad Bates’ ego, he even talked about his interest of offering the Secretary of State to him, but had party politics make important to first offer it to Seward, and if he refused, Lincoln would gladly offer it to him. Lincoln told him another borderline white lie that he was the first he had communicated with about a cabinet position. He said that he, “had not yet communicated with Mr. Seward, and did not know whether he would accept the appointment, as there were some doubts expressed about his doing so.” The key word there is “communicated” since Seward hadn’t responded yet, there wasn’t actually any dialog of communication. This was critical to shape the narrative that Bates was so valuable to Lincoln that he came to him first before the person who was inevitably to be offered the higher position of Secretary of State.
This clever wordsmithing to give false impressions while not explicitly lying became one of the hallmarks of Lincoln’s influencing strategy that allowed him to move people without jeopardizing his own credibility. It does chip away slightly at the image of Honest Abe, but it shows that when it would be easier to just lie, Lincoln found means to be truthful, but to remain tactfully one step ahead in the discussion. Little did they know this goofy gentle giant was a masterful chess master of human emotion, who was always playing six steps ahead.
The War Begins
By the time Lincoln took office on March 4th, 1861, seven states had declared secession from the Union. President Buchanan found him stuck in the middle of declaring secession illegal, but with no constitutional way to enforce it either. This gave the seceding states three months to organize and solidify their front by the time Lincoln took office.
Lincoln was busy trying to figure out a solution to the secession argument when it became clear that the newly founded Confederate Army had intention of overtaking U.S. military fortresses. One of the most prominent of these was Fort Sumter of South Carolina. The commanding officer, Major Anderson, messaged Lincoln with request to resupply the fortress in that they only had 26 days of supplies. This created a complicated issue, since reinforce and resupply the fort would provoke conflict with the Confederates, thus initiate the war and draw the remaining border states to join the secessionists; but not reinforcing the fort would force Major Anderson to surrender the fort and be a declared victory for the Confederates and as well encourage positive momentum for border states to secede. There was still the legal issue in that since the government did not recognize the secession as legal and valid, to initiate firing against the Confederates would be defined as firing against its own citizens would be illegal.
Lincoln decided to focus on a more humanitarian approach and sent a ship with material supplies so that those who remained in the fort could withstand longer and put the offensive responsibility on the Confederate Army.
Questions came up with security since even if they decided to provide material supplies, if the Confederates did initiate action, the supplies would need to be protected, and thus a second battle ship should be sent as well. Problems arose when Secretary of State, William Seward advocated to instead use the supplies to resupply Fort Pickens in Florida. He argued that such a resupply would be more effective there since it wasn’t in as hotly contested of location as South Carolina and wouldn’t provoke as much of a hostile response. He drafted a letter to Lincoln with the request to send the battleship to Fort Pickens. In the chaotic mess of trying to settle down in his new administration, Lincoln was buried in paperwork and without reading the contents, signed off on Seward’s letter. This meant the battleship received contradictory orders to be at Fort Pickens and Fort Sumter, which the Fort Pickens were sent first. Thus the battleship sailed past Fort Sumter and headed towards Florida.
The commands for resupply were intercepted by Confederates, and on April 12th, the Confederate Army hurried to overtake the fort before the ships arrived and initiated the first shots of the Civil War against Fort Sumter. With the battle commencing, the resupply ship wasn’t able to dock without the protection of the battleship. The battle lasted 36 hours before Major Anderson ran out of ammunition and was forced to surrender. Interestingly, for what became the deadliest American war, there were no deaths in the first battle. But during a salute to the U.S. flag upon leaving the fort, one Union soldier died by a gunpowder explosion. Thus the first death was an accident; symbolizing the tragedy of war amongst brothers.
The Failures of Union Generals:
One constant thorn in Lincoln’s side was ineptitude of his commanding generals. While the Union army would be comprised of significantly more soldiers, peaking at over 2.6 million soldiers enlisted, and the Confederate Army had at most 1 million enlisted soldiers, most of the star military experts were in the Confederate Army. The most notable general, Robert E. Lee was still part of the Union Army when Fort Sumter fell, and Lincoln offered Lee command of the Union Army. But when Lee’s home state of Virginia declared secession, Lee couldn’t accept fighting against his home state, and soon resigned from the Union Army; only to be offered the same position by Confederate President, Jefferson Jackson, which Lee did then accept.
The exit of rising stars like Lee and “Stonewall” Jackson, Lincoln was left with the aged General Winfield Scott, and had to promote many young soldiers into higher positions. While Scott was the General-in-Chief, the regional Army of the Potomac was the most important instrument of the war. Lincoln soon promoted George B. McClellan to head the Army of the Potomac, for he was highly regarded amongst his peers for impeccable training methods and maintaining discipline in the camp. He was often referred to as “Young Napoleon” which further boosted his ego and self-importance.
What many do not realize is there’s a strong divide from being a trainer and being a leader; they are two separate skills that a commander needs to embody both, and the sign of one does not imply the possession of the other. A more recent history lesson that illustrates this is looking at the famous 101st Airborne E (“easy”) Company in WWII. The company was trained by Captain Herbert Sobel. As depicted in the HBO mini-series “Band of Brothers”, Sobel was excellent in training and conditioned Easy Company into one of most mentally prepared companies in the 101st. But Sobel did not possess the on-field tactical skill to command the troops in battle, which led to rise of Richard Winters, who possessed the training expertise along with the tactical skills needed.
McClellan was always erring on the overly cautious and would constantly miss vital opportunities to strike significant blows to the inferior Confederate armies. McClellan was held outside the city of Manassas for months with fears of facing another battle of Bull Run, and claimed that the city had impregnable fortifications. Lincoln urged McClellan to act, and when McClellan finally did act, the Confederates had already left and what they found were many logs that were positioned to look like canons. This same thing happened again when McClellan’s quarter million soldier army was held outside Yorktown, which is only about 50 miles away from the Confederate capital of Richmond. McClellan stalled for a whole month with claims to better prepare his troops and requesting better fortifications and reinforcements. But when the Confederate General, Joe Johnson saw McClellan’s superior army, he quietly retreated out of Yorktown to join up other forces to reinforce a more solid defense. When McClellan finally acted, he was again embarrassed to find the enemy had already left. If McClellan was able to attack before Johnson had retreated, he could have captured a significant portion of the Confederate defense and fractured the army as a whole.
Lincoln eventually was fed up with McClellan’s stalling and swung to the other extreme and gave the army of the Potomac to General Ambrose Burnside, who was overly trigger happy and pushed his army into battles without any coordinated plans that resulted in many casualties. Lincoln quickly reshuffled and gave the command to General Joseph Hooker, before giving the command to General George Meade. While Meade would keep direct command of the Army of the Potomac, it really became controlled by the unlikely General Ulysses S. Grant, who was given the title of General of the Army, which was the first time in U.S. History that position had been used. Grant would operate with the Army of the Potomac, and thus Meade became essentially just arm to Grant’s command of the troops.
Lincoln’s first year as President was anything but ideal; when he traveled to Washington D.C. for his inauguration, he had to slip onto a midnight train in disguise due to multiple sources indicating an a plan to assassinate him. One month into his presidency, he was engaged in the deadliest war in the history of the nation, in addition to much of the momentum going towards the Confederate forces. Lincoln would have to wait another year to start seeing positive momentum in the war efforts, but 1862 was the year that he began to establish his strength within his cabinet that would allow him to push the nation into the long-awaited new chapter of emancipation.
The first step Lincoln took in his cabinet was removing the incompetent Simon Cameron. Cameron’s single year as Secretary of War was a disaster; One of Cameron’s main responsibilities was funding the military, and Cameron signed off on many fraudulent deals that limited provisions to the expanding military. There were horror stories of contacts to purchase stockpiles of rifles and ammo, only to find the rifles were faulty, or knapsacks that broke down almost immediately. Not only did many of the provisions fail, but the contract negotiations were fraudulent with orders of blankets of 50% cotton density were sold at the quoted price of 100% cotton. None of the reported deals led a paper trail back to Cameron for his own profiting, but he allowed many cracks in his department so that many down the chain of command walked away with sizable profits at the expense of providing to the military that needed every provision to hemorrhage the growing momentum of the Confederates.
Lincoln decided to remove Cameron from the cabinet and appoint him as Ambassador to Russia, but he made sure to give Cameron room to keep his public image and personal autonomy by phrasing the commission in a way that implied Cameron initiated the change and not as a demotion. In addition, he asked Cameron for a recommendation on who should Lincoln appoint for the War Department, which Cameron recommended one of his most trusted advisors, Edwin Stanton. When Lincoln later appointed Stanton, it left Cameron with the positive impression of his influence in the cabinet. What Cameron didn’t know was that Lincoln had already settled on Stanton before the recommendation.
The appointment of Stanton has multiple threads that further demonstrates Lincoln’s ability to coerce people into his line of thinking while giving the impression that they were the ones with influential power over Lincoln. When the decision was made to replace Cameron, Lincoln talked privately with the two cabinet members who had connections to Stanton: Seward and Chase. Seward had connections to Stanton when Seward first took office of Secretary of State, and Stanton secretly communicated with Seward to leak out info from the leaving Buchanan Administration that allowed Seward to take proactive steps in rooting out plots against the Government during the fragile transition period. Chase had a deep friendship with Stanton, much like Lincoln had with Joshua Speed, during their early years as lawyers in Ohio who pushed for abolitionist measures. Lincoln listened to both of their recommendations for Stanton, and paired that with the recommendation from Cameron to make the appointment for Stanton, that boosted their self-esteem, but they didn’t know Lincoln had his eye on Stanton for a long time already. Even though Stanton was the lawyer who replaced Lincoln in the Reaper Trial that humiliated Lincoln, he didn’t let his shame cloud his judgement of Stanton and even stayed for the trial to hear Stanton’s arguments. When he heard Stanton’s more polished arguments than the ones he had drafted, he used that as motivation to push his law studies more intensely. It demonstrates Lincoln’s high level of magnanimity to not let his pride influence his decision and to remain objective while using the opportunity to win over his divided cabinet.
While McClellan’s army remained halted by the fake cannons at Manassas, General Ulysses S. Grant conducted the brutal attack against Fort Donelson. After days of many casualties, the Confederate commander, Simon Buckner, tried to negotiate a cease-fire with Grant for which Grant fired back the famous line: “No terms except unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted.” For which shortly after the remaining 15,000 troops of Fort Donelson surrendered. Lincoln used this as positive momentum in the West by promoting Grant to Major General.
1862 would also be a year for two of the most misunderstood and controversial incidents of Lincoln’s career. The first had to do with a public response to Horace Greeley’s article about emancipation where Lincoln responded, “If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it.” I will expand on this in my final post, but what wasn’t publicly known was the groundwork Lincoln had already set in motion for emancipation, including an initial draft of the Emancipation Proclamation that he would present the following year.
The second controversial incident had to do with the Sioux Tribe in Minnesota when a violent uprising resulted in over 350 white settlers (mostly farmers) were massacred during a Sioux raid. The Minnesota military captured 303 Sioux men and ordered the execution of all of them for involvement in the massacre. Lincoln requested the conviction records of all the men listed to acquit some of them that didn’t have direct involvement. Politicians from Minnesota protested against the notion of acquittal and demanded all to be executed due to the public outrage of the incident; they argued that all must be executed or settler outrage would be out in force and result in indiscriminate murdering of Sioux by settlers in act of revenge. Lincoln however pushed on and obtained the records and being the consummate lawyer, found arguments for 265 of the men to be pardonable and dwindled the list down to 38 Sioux who were found to have directly murdered a farmer or other extreme crimes like rape and mutilation. It still ended up being the largest government-ordered execution in American history, but it was reduced by 87% of the initial order. While the present day controversy is the Government oppression against the Sioux tribe (since there was much that that the U.S. did to aggravate the massacre in the first place as well), but back in the 1860s the controversy was on the reduced number of executions. The Republican Governor, Alexander Ramsey, blamed this act as the reason for Republican strength faltered in the 1864 election. Lincoln responded, “I could not afford to hang men for votes.”
The final act of Lincoln securing strength in his cabinet was towards the of 1862, when rumors came out (mostly from Chase) that Lincoln was just a puppet to Seward and that Seward was really in charge. This along with the belief that the Team of Rivals was too divided to get anything done, and the poor performance in the war was a result of it, brought pressure from many for Seward’s removal. Seward soon after presented Lincoln with his resignation, but if Lincoln were to accept it, it would dislodge the political balance in the cabinet, and would make him not the puppet of Seward, but of the conservatives in Congress. But when Chase’s rumors started to be seen as inaccurate, he scrambled to also present his resignation to Lincoln. What Chase didn’t realize was that he gave Lincoln the perfect out to the issue. Lincoln gratefully received the resignation letter, and then sent a response to both Seward and Chase, stating he couldn’t accept the resignations due to their value to the cabinet. By both these sides giving Lincoln power over them to either accept or deny their removal, it not only nullified the notion that Seward controlled Lincoln, but also that Lincoln was in control over his cabinet.
On New Year’s Day, Lincoln presented the famous Emancipation Proclamation; an order to emancipate all slaves that were behind Confederate State lines. While it would take the 13th Amendment to completely stamp out slavery, this was the first proactive step against slavery the American history. Up until this point, slavery was always side-stepped when it came to government stance; a state could independently decide if they were to ban it or not, but the national government wiped its hand clean of the matter. Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation changed the tone that the national government was finally ready to take a stand against slavery. Since not everyone was sold on the concept of emancipation, especially in the Border States, Lincoln knew that his every action needed to be intentional and reinforce solidarity with emancipation. Thus, when it came for him to sign the proclamation, he notice his hand was still shaking from fatigue of shaking hands for hours on end that day, and put the pen down briefly. He looked up at his cabinet members who were present and said, “l never, in my life, felt more certain that I was doing right, than I do in signing this paper,” he said. “If my name ever goes into history it will be for this act, and my whole soul is in it… If my hand trembles when I sign the Proclamation,” Lincoln said, “all who examine the document hereafter will say ‘He hesitated.’
While the Eastern theater was mostly stagnate, Major General Grant and the Western theater was gaining huge momentum. Grant was promoted to head the whole Western theater, with instructions to overtake Vicksburg, the last fort along the Mississippi River. After a six week siege, Grant was able force General Pemberton to surrender his thirty thousand man army, along with over 150 canons. But having full control of the Mississippi, Grant had effectively cut the Confederate Army in two, with no means of either side able to reinforce the other.
After failing to push into Virginia with the loss at Chancellorsville, Lincoln replaced General Hooker on the Eastern theater, and replaced him with General Meade. This would be the 5th General to have command of the Army of the Potomac in a one year span, and was quickly thrusted into the most significant battle of the war. After just one week in command, and while Grant was on the brink of securing Vicksburg, the Army of the Potomac clashed with General Lee’s last ditch effort of an offensive in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. It is famously known as the bloodiest battle in U.S. history, with over 50,000 casualties. After the famous Picket’s Charge pushed back the Confederate lines, Lee was forced to call a full forced retreat. This took all the remaining momentum Lee had from defeating Hooker at Chancellorsville, and Lee would never again resupply his forces to make another offensive push.
Over the 4th of July week, the Union forces divided the Confederate forces with Grant’s capture of Vicksburg, and also finally stood up and neutralized Lee’s offensive attack.
While Meade was able to stop Lee, he missed the golden opportunity to turn on the offensive and capture the exhausted Lee. The tide had changed and the Army of the Potomac was able to sustain the mighty Lee, and had more means of resupplying. Lincoln urged Meade to act, but when Meade failed to do so, Lincoln drafted a scathing letter that stated he was horrified that he let Lee escaped, stating, “He was within your easy grasp, and to have closed upon would, in connection with our other late successes, have ended the war. As it is, the war will be prolonged indefinitely.” But Lincoln understood that this was now mostly just him flaring his emotions and that nothing productive could come out it, and would only further isolate a newly minted General that had to endure the most brutal battle. Lincoln never sent the letter, but kept it in his drawer.
Meade’s failure to act may be even more understandable when considering that following the Battle of Gettysburg, Meade had to send forces to stop the horrendous New York riots that left over 100 people murdered. Lincoln had signed the first official military draft, but there was one caveat that made the issue more divisive. If one was drafted, you either had to enlist, find a substitute enlistee, or pay $300 to get out of it. While it seemed as a way to ease into the drafting process with options that allow the most able to serve to be enlisted, it soon became seen as a rich man’s war. Since only those who could pay $300 were the wealthy, all the wealthy draftees could get out and force only poor people to fight in a war that was now for “the black man.” When the first round of the draft started, a protest quickly turned into a violent riot that soon continued to gained extraordinary momentum. The rioters started destroying shops, and soon any black man in sight became of a target of lynching as demolition quickly turned to a complete massacre. The riot was so big that the local police were overtaken by the mob as the streets turned into a warzone. After five days of chaos, Meade’s forces entered the city and quickly brought order to the city.
In November, Lincoln set out to Gettysburg to commemorate those who died at the Battle of Gettysburg. The main speaker, Edward Everett, spoke for over two hours, as was the norm for a public speech. But when Lincoln came up to speak, he gave his famous Gettysburg Address that was only 272 words and lasted only about 2 minutes. With every word loaded with power and emotion, Lincoln’s address created something tangible for those weary with conflict; the Union was still not completely sold on value of fighting in this war, and Lincoln made the connection to the great struggle the Founding Fathers endured to bring the opportunity of freedom. This battlefield epitomized the sacrifice their generation was now enduring to pursue that same freedom but it now had a more deeper meaning: freedom was not just for white men, but for ALL people. It helped shape the narrative that they weren’t just in some political scheme, but part of a revolutionary conflict in history: can we be part of something that bring to life the dream of generations before us?
After General Grant’s surge in popularity over capturing Vicksburg & Chattanooga, Lincoln decided to hand over the whole military operation to Grant. To emphasize his trust in Grant, Lincoln took a step further in promoting him to the official position as four star General “General of the Army”, the first time that position had been used in U.S. history. General Grant camped with the Army of the Potomac, and was given the main objective of taking down General Lee. General Sherman was then promoted to head the Western theater.
1864 was a critical year since it was election year, and war fatigue was starting to set in. Many Democrats pushed for a peace talks and negotiating a legal secession, and began designing a political campaign to elect pro-peace democrats into office. The former General, George McClellan, was nominated as the Democratic Presidential Nominee to contest Lincoln during re-election. If Lincoln lost re-election, it would certainly result in an early end to the war, but also the permanent division of America. Lincoln needed one more big victory to carry momentum into election. That moment came when Sherman’s overtook the Confederate forces in Atlanta on September 2nd; thus eliminating Democrat’s doubts and assuring the Union that victory was near. Lincoln won in one of the largest electoral college landslides with 212 of the 233 votes over McClellan’s 21 votes.
Lincoln had more cabinet management to deal with as well, primarily involving Secretary of the Treasury, Salmon Chase. Chase was still eager to push for having power and ultimately to be President, and even went so far as privately campaigning against Lincoln and even sending Lincoln appointment recommendations for people who would support Chase’s candidacy while he was still in the cabinet. Many reports came back to Lincoln of Chase’s undermining actions and suggested that Lincoln fire Chase before he sabotages Lincoln’s re-election. Lincoln observed that Chase was also very proactive in completing his cabinet tasks as well (to make sure he looked good for his own candidacy), and asked why should he remove a cabinet member that is finally being productive and not bickering with cabinet members just because he has alterior motives? Lincoln gave an analogy from his childhood, where he was plowing corn on a farm with a particularly lazy horse, when suddenly the horse sped forward at a great pace to to the other side of the field. Once Lincoln went to observe the horse, he notices a large chin-fly biting the horse and knocked it off. Lincoln then realized he made a mistake since that biting chin-fly was the motivation for the horse’s frantic energy. Lincoln then brought it back to Chase by saying, “If Mr. [Chase] has a presidential chin-fly biting him, I’m not going to knock him of if it will only make his department go.”
One of Chase’s most effective methods to push his agenda in cabinet discussions was to threaten to resign. While Lincoln knew Chase was trying to control him and was preparing to make a run for a nomination against Lincoln, Chase had been effective in funding the war operations (J.P. Morgan Chase Bank is even named in Chase’s honor) and was important to Lincoln’s overall strategy. In a six month period alone in 1863, Chase presented Lincoln with three different letters of resignation that Lincoln had to talk him out of, which involved him making compromises to appeal to Chase’s agenda. But in June of 1864, Chase’s manipulation had finally crossed the line and when he presented Lincoln with his resignation over a dispute in replacing a New York Assistant Treasurer. This time Lincoln had enough of Chase’s antics and approved the resignation. In addition, with General Grant’s capture of Atlanta that month assured Lincoln’s nomination from Chase.
Lincoln wasn’t completely done with Chase though. Six months later, Chief Justice Taney, who not only voted against Dred Scott in the Supreme Court ruling, but also made it a national issue by declaring the Missouri Compromise to be unconstitutional, had died and Lincoln needed to appoint a new Chief Justice. Lincoln went against personal preference of rewarding one of his cabinet members who were on his side and had expressed interest in the position, but instead turned to Chase for the position.
The 13th Amendment.
After Lincoln won re-election and General Grant closing in on General Lee’s army, Lincoln set out to settle the slavery issue once and for all. The Emancipation Proclamation was a war-time declaration, and once the war has ended and states return to the Union, state laws that permit slavery would still be valid. In order to make this bloody war stand for something, the slavery issue needed to be completely erased, and it needed to be done before the war ended, otherwise the Southern states could rally together and vote down any measure. Lincoln had tried passing the 13th Amendment early in 1864, but it couldn’t get the 2/3 majority in the House of Representatives due to the border state Democrats rallying their minority power. But with Lincoln’s re-election, Lincoln pushed to have the proposal be sent back to the House for a vote. They were only a few votes away from securing the 2/3 majority, and Lincoln allowed the bill sponsor, James Ashley, to use liberal means to procure votes from moderate Democrats.
The biggest threat to the passing of the bill was that three peace commissioners were on their way to meet with Lincoln. It was done in secret, but rumors had started to spread that there were representatives from the Confederacy with legitimate power that had expressed interest in peace talks. If this were true, it would assure the bill would not get passed since it would indicate that the war could end without further bloodshed. The war at this point had become a winner-takes-all scenario: if the South wins, they get to be their own country with proper representation and get to keep slavery in all their states, and if the North wins, then they set the terms for reintegration and dissolve the Confederacy and its laws. If the Confederacy comes before surrendering, and turns the discussion into a negotiation, then its no longer a winner-takes-all, but terms for settlement can take place. What this also means is that if the South proposes reintegration with the condition of state’s rights to slavery, and the North declines, it then the continuing war is explicitly and singularly about slavery, which would further divide the Union. Lincoln needed the 13th Amendment to be in place before negotiating with the South as leverage for a full and complete surrender since it would be part of the Constitution and the South wouldn’t be able to work around that.
In order to avoid the crisis of admitting to peace commissioners, Lincoln gave a cleverly worded response to the House of Representatives’ inquiry and said, “So far as I know, there are no peace Commissioners in the City, or likely to be in it.” It gave the impression that Lincoln was stating that he had no expectation of peace talks, but really only stating he had no expectation that they were in D.C. at that time. It was another instance of Honest Abe deceiving with true statements, like when told Edward Bates that he, “had not yet communicated with Mr. Seward” about the position of Secretary of State, even though he had already sent Seward a letter. The response worked as it calmed the speculation and voting process continued. When it came to vote, Ashley’s team pulled it through and secured a 119-56 vote (116 to gain 2/3 majority) on January 31st, 1865. Every Republican voted for the bill along with 16 Democrats.
On March 4th, Lincoln gave his second inaugural address, where he tried to set the tone to the public for reintegration; he wanted to shape the narrative of the South being the Union’s prodigal son, and not a bitter rival that will be soon defeated. In his speech, he famously said, “With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive o to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds… To do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.”
A month later, General Grant cornered Lee’s army, and forced Lee to surrender at the Appomattox Court House on April 9th, 1865. Grant furthered Lincoln’s goal of mending the two sides back together by setting lenient terms of surrender to Lee. He not only recognized the soldiers as his countrymen, and could use the railway system to return home free of charge, but also for them to keep their all their possessions including their horses and side arms; they only surrendered their rifles, cannons, and ammunition. While this was not the official end of the Civil War, it did mark the end of it as the head of the Army had surrendered and the Capital had been captured. It would be a couple weeks later until the last of the official army had surrendered to General Sherman, and it wouldn’t be until May that President Jefferson Davis was captured.
News quickly made its way to Washington D.C. and the White House exploded with celebration. Victory was at hand, the deadliest war in American history was almost over. Lincoln did the impossible and kept the country together when unity seemed blown into oblivion; and now he was ready for the next challenge: reconstruction. The great tragedy of the story of Lincoln is he set the groundwork for this next step, but never got to see it through as he only got to embrace victory for less than a week, when he was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth on April 14th.
The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln is a famous one, but for how shocking it was for the Southern actor to sneak into the President’s box during a play at Ford’s Theatre, that isn’t even half of the story. The assassination was actually a double assassination, and should have been a triple assassination! John Wilkes Booth must have acted in Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” and learned from the mistakes of Caesar’s assassin: Marcus Brutus. Brutus killed Caesar, but then Mark Antony replaced Caesar and hunted down Brutus and stopped any uprising. Booth knew that in order to dismantle the Union, he not only needed to kill the President, but also the immediate successor in the Vice President and as well as the Secretary of State. Booth worked with two other conspirators who agreed to all act at the same time, to assassinate Lincoln, Johnson, and Seward. The assassin assigned to Johnson got scared and abandoned the plot, but Seward’s Assassin did carry on. Seward had recently gotten in a carriage accident and had severely broken his jaw and was immobilized in his bed. The assassin charged in, taking out multiple guards and struck Seward’s son in the head with a revolver so severely that it cracked his skull and brain tissue was visible. The assassin charged into Seward’s room and plunged a Bowie knife into the side of his face and then charged out of the room leaving more victims in his wake. The shocking thing was the assassin hit a metal plate that was holding Seward’s jaw in place, which prevented the severing of an artery or his throat, and Seward soon recovered from all the injuries. Seward’s son, Fred, also miraculously recovered from his injury as well.
When Lincoln died, Edwin Stanton declared, “Now he belongs to the ages.” The man who snubbed Lincoln back in the Reaper Trial now stood in awe and dismay of the loss of a giant in American history. John Wilkes Booth thought his was providing a hard-fought deed for the South, but he was too zealous to see that the man he killed was the South’s greatest chance for prosperity. The tide had changed and the Confederacy was now on its way to joining back with the Union; the question is will they be welcome back as family or as criminals? Lincoln was embracing them with open arms, but since Johnson wasn’t assassinated and took Lincoln’s place, Johnson took the route of a heavy hand towards the South and provoked further hostilities that linger to present day. When Grant would be elected to President four years later, he would set out to resume Lincoln’s path; but Johnson’s actions burned all the bridges to the path of reconciliation.
Lincoln left a legacy that shows that the virtues of humility, patience, magnanimity, forgiveness, empathy, and honesty can succeed as long as they are paired with the strengths of intellect, power, perseverance, strategy, tact, and diplomacy. But life still has a say, and we never got to see the complete story of Lincoln’s legacy and the service to the lives of millions of people that would have benefited with a little more time given to him.