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Presidential Canvass Concluded.
The Confederates were trying with all their might not merely to maintain a good defensive, but to show a bold, aggressive front down to the very day of the Presidential election. The Government had hoped such crushing blows would be dealt upon the armies of Lee and Johnston ere that date as to bring the war substantially to a close. This larger longing, in spite of all successes on land and sea, was not to be gratified. Lincoln's administration passed the ordeal of a general election unaided by so great an advantage. No administration was ever more bitterly, violently, persistently denounced in an electoral canvass.
In Kentucky the regular Union organization had gone over to the Democratic party, the most forcible reason alleged being a Congressional provision (in the act of February 24, 1864) for the enrollment of all able-bodied male slaves between the ages of twenty and forty-five years, to be subject to military duty, with compensation to loyal owners. The new Union organization in that State, represented in the Baltimore convention, of course sustained the policy of Emancipation. Missouri and Maryland had already gone so far in that direction as to leave their Union men without distraction.
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One resolution of the national convention had, in general terms, hinted the need of harmony in the Executive councils. The displacement of one member of the Cabinet was pressingly urged, especially after the retirement of Secretary Chase. This was Postmaster-General Blair. The President considered the selection of his heads of departments as properly his own prerogative, Executive responsibility resting not on his ministers, but on himself. He regarded Mr. Blair as an honest and efficient officer, and did not forget his earnest support in refusing to surrender Fort Sumter, as urgently advised by General Scott and Secretary Seward. Finally, deeming it better to end the disturbance, though the darkest days of the canvass were over, the President wrote to Mr. Blair (September 23d):
You have generously said to me, more than once, that whenever your resignation could be a relief to me, it was at my disposal. The time has come. You very well know that this proceeds from no dissatisfaction of mine with you personally or officially. Your uniform kindness has been unsurpassed by that of any friend, and while it is true that the war does not so greatly add to the difficulties of your department as it does to some others, it is yet much to say, as I most truly can, that in three years and half, during which you have administered the General Post Office, I remember no single complaint against you in connection therewith.
Mr. Blair's resignation bore the same date, and ex-Governor William Dennison, of Ohio, was appointed in his stead.
Three large central States then held elections on the second Tuesday in October. As usual before and since until the October elections ceased to be, these were eagerly awaited by politicians as foreshadowing the general result in November. This year Pennsylvania elected fifteen Republican and nine Democratic representatives in Congress, to succeed an equally divided delegation, and the new Legislature was strongly Republican. Ohio, which had fourteen Democratic and five Republican representatives in the Thirty-eighth Congress, chose sixteen Republicans to the Thirtyninth. Indiana re-elected Governor Morton by over twenty thousand majority; chose a Republican Legislature to succeed a Democratic one, and doubled the number of its Republican representatives in Congress, the delegation standing eight to three. The October oracle was not ambiguous.
On the day following these elections a vote even more notable was taken in Maryland on the ratification of a new State constitution which abolished slavery. Emancipation prevailed. In response to a serenading call after the result was finally determined, Lincoln said (October 19th): “Most heartily do I congratulate you and Maryland, and the nation and the world, upon the event. I regret that it did not occur two years sooner, which I am sure would have saved to the nation more money than would have met all the private loss incident to the measure.
A word upon another subject. Something was said by the Secretary of State, in his recent speech at Auburn, which has been construed by some into a threat that if I should be beaten at the election, I will, between then and the end of my constitutional term, do what I may be able to ruin the Government. Others regard the fact that the Chicago convention adjourned, not sine die, but to meet again if called to do so by a particular individual, as the intimation of a purpose that if their nominee shall be elected, he will at once seize control of the Government. I hope the good people will permit themselves to suffer no uneasiness on either point. I am struggling to maintain the Government, not to overthrow it. I am struggling especially to prevent others from overthrowing it, and I therefore say, that if I shall live, I shall remain President until the 4th of next March, and that whoever shall be constitutionally elected thereto in November, shall be duly installed as President on the 4th of March, and that in the meantime I shall do my utmost, that whoever is to hold the helm for the next voyage shall start with the best possible chance to save the ship.”
In Tennessee a "reorganization" convention, which met at Nashville on the 5th of September, provided for opening the polls in that State on the day of the Presidential election. As requested by the convention, Military-Governor Andrew Johnson issued (September 30th) a proclamation to that effect, reciting all the conditions and restrictions that had been agreed upon by the convention. Election day was near when a Tennessee delegation of supporters of McClellan waited on the President, to present a formal protest against Johnson's action in requiring other qualifications of voters than were prescribed by the Tennessee statutes. Among the signers of the protest were a number of old-time Whigs, such as Bailie Peyton, T. S. R. Nelson, and Emerson Etheridge, who were well seasoned in political conflict with Andrew Johnson before the war. The chief stress of their remonstrance lay against "the most unusual and impracticable test oath.” The President did not listen with quite his customary patience to the rather vexatious visitors. He told them at once that he did not deem it his duty to interfere as required, and said that he might soon reply in writing.
There was a humorous element in the situation that, of course, did not escape him. Had he been disposed to meddle with any of Johnson's methods, it would hardly have done to put the seal of reprobation on the acts of his associate on the Presidential ticket in his own State. On the 22d of October Lincoln replied to the remonstrants, reviewing the case at length, and stating as his conclusion: “I can have nothing to do with the matter, either to sustain the plan, as the convention and Governor Johnson have initiated it, or to revoke or modify it, as you demand. By the Constitution and laws, the President is charged with no duty in the conduct of a Presidential election in any State; nor do I, in this case, perceive any military reason for his interference in the matter. The movement set on foot by the convention and Governor Johnson does not, as it seems to be assumed by you, emanate from the National Executive. In no proper sense can it be considered other than as an independent movement of at least a portion of the loyal people of East Tennessee. I do not perceive in the plan any menace of violence or coercion toward any one.”
Directly after the October elections a letter in cipher, which came into the Government's possession in the following year, was sent by the Confederate plotters in Canada to their employers in Richmond, containing the following advice, coupled with a suggestive promise: