« PreviousContinue »
proclamation, defining more carefully the cases in which rebels were to be pardoned, and the manner in which they were to avail themselves of the benefits of the amnesty. He shut out many from the benefits of the proclamation, though he excluded none from personal application to the President for clemency,
The action of Congress during this session was not of notable importance. Important subjects were discussed at length; but they were not embodied in measures, or, rather, the measures sought to be enacted were not successfully carried through. A bill for the establishment of a Bureau of Freedmen's Affairs passed the House, but failed in the Senate; while a resolution to submit to a vote of the states an amendment of the Constitution, permanently prohibiting the existence of slavery in the states and territories of the Union, was passed by the Senate, but rejected by the House. The fugitive slave law—one of those compromise measures which were to silence the anti-slavery agitation forever, and be a final settlement of the slavery question—was repealed, with surprising ease and unanimity. A heated debate occurred upon a résolution introduced by Speaker Colfax, for the expulsion from the House of Alexander Long of Ohio, for declaring himself in favor of recognizing the rebel confederacy. A two-thirds vote being necessary for the purpose of the resolution, and this vote not being obtainable, the mover contented himself with a substitute, declaring Mr. Long an unworthy member of the House. During the discussion of the resolution, Mr. Harris of Maryland thanked God that the South had not yet been brought into subjection, and prayed God that it might not be; and straightway a resolution was introduced for his expulsion, which failed of passage by lack of the requisite two-thirds vote. He was, however, “severely censured;" and, although no extreme measures were effected in these cases, the debate had a healthy influence, in defining the boundaries of legitimate debate on the great questions which agitated the country.
An outcropping of the Missouri imbroglio showed itself above the surface during the session. General F. P. Blair resigned his seat in the House, and resumed his place in the army, at the close of a discussion introduced by one of his colleagues, who charged him with improprieties in the administration of affairs in his department. Although he cleared himself of the charges, the House called upon the President for an explanation of his restoration to command. The President gave them a reply at length, and frankly stated all the circumstances of the case. The two facts which the letter and all the correspondence in the case reveal most prominently, were, that Mr. Lincoln had a strong personal friendship for General Blair, and a firm belief in his anti-slavery principles and sentiments; and that he wished him to be where he could do the government the most good in the prosecution of the war.
Mr. Lincoln's representation of the case was, that General Blair and General Schenck of Ohio, having been elected to Congress, were permitted to resign their commissions, and take their seats, with the distinct verbal understanding with the President and the Secretary of War that they might, at their pleasure, withdraw their resignations, leave their places in the House, and return to the field. It is apparent that Mr. Lincoln wished for General Blair's aid in the organization of the House, and, after that, in the field, if he could be most useful to the government there. The arrangement seems to have been a little irregular, though entered upon with the best motives. It was one of Mr. Lincoln's short cuts out of the labyrinth of “red tape,” in which it was always difficult for him to walk. In a letter which he wrote to Montgomery Blair, he revealed one of the motives which actuated him in making the arrangement. "It will relieve him (the General) from a dangerous position, or a misunderstanding,” said he, " as I think he is in danger of being permanently separated from those with whom only he can ever have a real sympathy--the sincere opponents of slavery.”
A measure which time has proved to be of great importance was the restoration of the grade of Lieutenant-general, with reference to investing General Grant with the chief command of the armies of the United States. His appointment to this office, by the President, was an expression of the popular confidence in his devotion to the national cause, and his transcendent ability as a military man. In presenting him with his commission, Mr. Lincoln took occasion to say: “The expres sion of the nation's approbation of what you have already done, and its reliance on you for what remains to do, in the existing struggle, is now presented with this commission, constituting you Lieutenant-general of the armies of the United States.” The modest General made a fitting response: “I feel the full weight of the responsibilities now devolving on me; and I know that, if they are met, it will be due to those armies, and above all to the favor of that Providence which leads both nations and men." Fit officer with fit superior! Two simpler-hearted, truer men than President Lincoln and Lieutenant-general Grant, have not been produced by the republic; and, in their hands, unweakened by selfish ambition, and entirely consecrated to the work of saving the country, the cause of nationality, freedom, and humanity was destined to a glorious triumph. The victories of both had been victories of character. Not brilliant gifts, but a noble spirit had made the President a mighty man. Neither the courage of the brute nor the dash of the cavalier had made General Grant a great soldier; but a devoted purpose and a will of iron had crowned him with the name and enrobed him with the prestige of the greatest general living.
An incident occurred on the 18th of April, 1864, which forcibly illustrated the progress, not only of events, but of ideas. A grand fair, for the benefit of the United States Sanitary Commission, the original and leading charity established to mitigate the immediate horrors of war, was held in Baltimore; and one of the attractions was the presence and the voice of President Lincoln. Three years had introduced and confirmed great changes. Three years before this occasion, he was obliged to pass through the city in the night, to escape assassination. Three years before, the Massachusetts Sixth, hastening to the protection of Washington, had left some of
their members dead in the streets. Three years before, the whole city was seething with treason. Now, gold was pour ing into the treasury of the great charity which had been established to aid the soldiers of the Union; and the President was welcomed to the city with grateful gladness.
There was a large crowd, and, in the anxiety to get a glimpse of Mr. Lincoln and to hear his voice, great confusion; but enough of his remarks have been preserved to give an idea of their drift and spirit. “Calling it to mind that we are in Baltimore,” said he, we cannot fail to note that the world moves. Looking upon the many people I see assembled here, to serve as they best may the soldiers of the Union, itoccurs to me that three years ago those soldiers could not pass through Baltimore. I would say, blessings upon the men who have wrought these changes, and the women who have assisted them!" These allusions to the changes in Baltimore were heartily applauded by the Baltimoreans; and, when he proceeded to the mention of changes which had been wrought upon the institution of slavery, the applause was still more hearty and enthusiastic. Maryland had practically abolished the institution; and the President thanked her for what she had done and what she was doing.
A month or two later, the President attended another fair of the Sanitary Commission at Philadelphia. Of course, these movements were not entered upon to gratify a love of excitement or a desire for display, but to manifest his friendliness to the beneficent purposes of the commission. Here a grand supper was given; and, in response to a toast, Mr. Lincoln made a brief speech. Opening with an allusion to the terrors and burdens of war, he spoke of the two great associations which had done so much to relieve the soldier, in the field and in the hospital, and paid a grateful tribute to the ministry of woman in the great work of alleviating the suffering of the army. Speaking of the generous outpouring of means for sustaining these charities, he said: “They are voluntary contributions, giving proof that the national resources are not at all exhausted, and that the national patriotism will sustain us
through all.” Here, as always and everywhere, the war was uppermost in his mind. “It is a pertinent question,” said he, “ When is the war to end? I do not wish to name a day when it will end, lest the end should not come at the given time. We accepted the war, and did not begin it. We accepted it for an object, and, when that object is accomplished, the war will end; and I hope to God it will never end until that object is accomplished. We are going through with our task, so far as I am concerned, if it takes us three years longer. I have not been in the habit of making predictions, but I am almost tempted now to hazard one. It is, that Grant is this evening in a position, with Meade and Hancock of Pennsylvania, whence he can never be dislodged by the enemy, until Richmond is taken." Events that wait to be recounted verified the President's prediction.
A fair for the benefit of the soldiers, held at the Patent Office, in Washington, called out Mr. Lincoln as an interested visitor; and he was not permitted to retire without giving a word to those in attendance. “In this extraordinary war," said he, “extraordinary developments have manifested themselves, such as have not been seen in former wars; and among these manifestations nothing has been more remarkable than these fairs for the relief of suffering soldiers and their families. And the chief agents in these fairs are the women of America. I am not accustomed to the use of language of eulogy; I have never studied the art of paying compliments to women; but I must say that if all that has been said by orators and poets, since the creation of the world, in praise of women, were applied to the women of America, it would not do them justice for their conduct during this war. I will close by saying, God bless the women of America!”
The government was pledged to the protection of its black soldiers. The President felt that the matter involved many difficulties, for the government was not always able to protect. them. When these soldiers were shown no quarter in battle, or when, as prisoners, they were killed or enslaved by the infuriated and unscrupulous foe, he who could not prevent his