« PreviousContinue »
their errand gave them a most cordial welcome. For once, the life-long antagonists were united in heart and purpose. Mr. Lincoln took up the proclamation, calling for seventy-five thousand troops, which he had determined to issue the next day, and read it. When he had finished, Mr. Douglas rose from his chair and said: “Mr. President, I cordially concur in every word of that document, except that instead of the call for seventy-five thousand men I would make it two hundred thousand. You do not know the dishonest purposes of those men as well as I do." Then he asked the President and Mr. Ashmun to look at a map of the United States which hung at one end of the room. On this he pointed out, in detail, the principal strategic points which should be at once strengthened for the coming contest. Among the more prominent of these were Fortress Monroe, Washington, Harper's Ferry and Cairo. He then enlarged upon the firm, warlike course which should be pursued, while Mr. Lincoln listened with earnest interest, and the two old foes parted that night thorough friends, perfectly united in a patriotic purpose.
After leaving the President, Mr. Ashmun said to Mr. Douglas: “You have done justice to your own reputation and to the President; and the country must know it. The proclamation will go by telegraph all over the country in the morning, and the account of this interview must go with it. I shall send it, either in my own language or yours. I prefer that you should give your own version.” Mr. Douglas said he would write it, and so the dispatch went with the message wherever the telegraph would carry it, confirming the wavering of his own party, and helping to raise the tide of loyal feeling,' among all parties and classes, to its flood. The dispatch, the original of which Mr. Ashmun still retains, was as follows:
“Mr. Douglas called on the President this evening, and had an interesting conversation on the present condition of the country. The substance of the conversation was that while Mr. Douglas was unalterably opposed to the administration on all its political issues, he was prepared to sustain the President in the exercise of all his constitutional functions
to preserve the Union, and maintain the government and defend the federal capital. A firm policy and prompt action were necessary. The capital of our country was in danger and must be defended at all hazards, and at any expense of men or money. He spoke of the present and future without reference to the past.”
The writer of the life of Mr. Lincoln and the chronicler of the rebellion will find few more delightful tasks than that of recording the unwearied devotion of Mr. Douglas to the cause of his country during the brief remainder of his life. He was done with his dreams of power, done with the thought that compromise would save the country, and done, for the time at least, with schemes for party aggrandizement. Six days after his interview with Mr. Lincoln he was on his way home, and at Bellair, Ohio, he was called out to make a speech. All parties received him with the greatest enthusiasm, and every word he uttered had the genuine ring of patriotism. Subsequently he addressed the legislature of Illinois, at Springfield, and his own fellow-citizens at Chicago. The old party talk and the old party policy were all forgotten, and only the sturdy, enthusiastic patriot spoke. In one of the last letters he ever wrote he said: “We should never forget that a man cannot be a true democrat unless he is a loyal patriot." In May he became sick, and on the third of June he died. In the low delirium that attended his disease he talked of nothing but his country, and almost his last coherent words were shaped to a wish for its honor and prosperity, through the defeat and dispersion of its enemies.
Mr. Lincoln felt his death as a calamity. He had been of great service to him in unveiling the designs of the rebels, and in bringing to the support of the government an element which a word from him at a favorable moment would have alienated. He freely said that he regarded Mr. Douglas as one of his best and most valuable friends.
To those who are curious in marking strange coincidences, it will be interesting to remember that just four years to an hour after Mr. Douglas parted with Mr. Lincoln, at the close of the interview that has been described, Mr. Lincoln was slain by an assassin. Both died with a common purpose up permost in their minds, one in the threatening morning of the rebellion, and the other when its sun had just set in blood; and both sleep in the dust of that magnificent state almost every rod of which, within a quarter of a century, had echoed to their contending voices as they expounded their principles to the people.
The emergency which the rebellion forced upon the government found that government no less prepared to meet it than it found the loyal people of the country wanting in military knowledge and experience. The people were so eager to furnish men and supplies that they at once became impatient for results. No one among them seemed to doubt that the rebellion might be crushed in a few months, at most. They did not comprehend the almost infinite detail of a war. Patience was a virtue which it took four years to teach them; and when every man connected with the government was making all the efforts possible to forward the preparations for the struggle, the popular press--meaning well, but much misapprehending the difficulties of the situation--were already finding fault with the tardiness of operations. They had apparently forgotten how long it took to bring the Mexican war to a successful termination ;-indeed, they stood in a very different relation to this war from that which they had held toward the Mexican war. That was a war of the government against another power; this was 'a war of their own, against domestic traitors who sought to overthrow the government. Every loyal man had a direct interest in the war; and he judged every movement and every delay as if it were his own private enterprise. There were inconveniences in this; but, in this universal personal interest, lay the secret of those four years of popular devotion to the war which so astonished the observers of other lands, and made ultimate victory, under Providence, a certainty from the first.
This popular impatience was during the first two or three years of the war, one of the serious difficulties with which the administration had to deal. It had its advantages in holding to vigilance and industry all who were in responsible positions, but it had disadvantages in sometimes compelling precipitancy of action, and in breeding in the administration the idea that the people were to be managed like children whose food should be carefully prepared in the departments whenever it was administered, or carefully withheld when their stomachs were not able to receive it. This idea of the people was not born in the White House. Mr. Lincoln had a profound respect for the people, and never had any sympathy with efforts which aimed to make them instruments in the hands of the government, or which ignored the fact that they were the source of all his power.
During the latter part of April, certain important military operations were effected. Washington, the safety of which was the first consideration, was relieved from immediate danger; Fortress Monroe, commanding the water gateway of Virginia, was reinforced and held; the government works at Harper's Ferry were blown up and burned by Lieutenant Jones, in command of a company of regulars, moved by the intelligence of an advance of a large confederate force; Cairo, Illinois, an important strategic point at the confluence of the Ohio and the Mississippi rivers, had been occupied by government forces, and the blockade was extended so as to embrace the states of Virginia and North Carolina. Then began organization. On the twenty-seventh of April, Adjutant General Thomas made the following announcement of new military departments: First, The military department of Washington, including the District of Columbia, according to its original boundary, Fort Washington and the adjacent country, and the state of Maryland as far as Bladensburgh, to be under the charge of Colonel Mansfield, with head-quarters at Washington. Second, The department of Annapolis, headquarters at that city, and ineluding the country for twenty miles on either side of the railroad between Annapolis and