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The success of the Democrats in the election of 1862 and the Federal defeat at Fredericksburg were charged against Seward by the radicals; but there was no ground for their accusations. When the Diplomatic Correspondence for 1862 appeared, near the end of that year, they found a despatch that well suited their purposes. It was written July 5th, in the midst of the political excitement resulting from the disasters of the campaign in the Peninsula. Its principal sentence was:
"It seems as if the extreme advocates of African slavery and its most vehement opponents were acting in concert together to precipitate a servile war the former by making the most desperate attempts to overthrow the Federal Union, the latter by demanding an edict of universal emancipation as a lawful and necessary, if not, as they say, the only legitimate, way of saving the Union."
It was as indiscreet as it was useless to put such a sentence into the official records, and nothing less than an accident would seem to account for its publication." Charles Sumner, who was chairman of the Senate committee on foreign affairs and had been one of Seward's severest critics in diplomacy and on the question of slavery, learned from the President that the despatch had never been submitted to him for approval. There was nothing strange about this, for the despatch was merely an expression of an opinion in no way designed to affect foreign relations; but it was regarded as a rare opportunity to create a disagreement between the President and the Secretary of State.
I Dip. Cor., 1862, 124.
"The biographers of Lincoln and of Sumner (6 Nicolay and Hay, 261; 4 Pierce, 110) thought it strange that Seward should have such ideas so short a time before the President made known his intention about emancipation. They overlooked the fact that Seward was speaking of universal emancipation, which was no part of Lincoln's programme, as was made very evident in his letter of August 22d to Greeley.
About the middle of December a caucus of Republican Senators passed a resolution asking the President to dismiss Seward. Later, this was changed into a request for a reconstruction of the Cabinet, but it was well understood that the Secretary of State was the target." Nine Senators-Grimes, Sumner, Trumbull, Pomeroy, Fessenden, Collamer; Harris, Howard, and Wade—were appointed as a committee to wait on Lincoln. Senator Preston King alone dissented, and, refusing to be bound to secrecy by the caucus, he hurried off to inform Seward. Wishing to anticipate the action of the committee, and to relieve Lincoln of embarrassment, Seward immediately wrote his resignation, and King carried it to the White House. The next day the committee called on the President and formally attacked Seward. Except in relation to slavery, they seem not to have. questioned his conduct of affairs in the Department of State. Lincoln described their criticism in this homely figure of speech: "While they seemed to believe in my honesty, they also appeared to think that when I had in me any good purpose or intention Seward contrived to suck it out of me unperceived." No conclusion was then reached, except that the conference should be continued that evening. Lincoln soon talked matters over with the Cabinet, showing no signs of yielding to the strange demand, and he finally instructed all except Seward to meet him that evening.
When the time arrived for continuing the conferences, the committee and the Cabinet were surprised by being brought together. Then the President opened the discussion by reading the resolution and commenting upon some of the points with "gentle severity," as his biographers describe it. Of course, the Senators had to take
16 Nicolay and Hay, 264.
2 Schuckers's Chase, 474; Welles, 83.
36 Nicolay and Hay, 265.
the aggressive; whereas Lincoln's attitude and the nature of the case compelled the Cabinet to act on the defensive. No Secretary could properly side with the Senators on such an issue; Stanton's simile explained the reason: "This Cabinet, gentlemen, is like yonder window. Suppose you allow it to be understood that passers-by might knock out one pane of glass-just one at a time-how long do you think any panes would be left in it?" Chase's position was exceptional, and he was greatly embarrassed. He dared not then criticise Seward, as it was notorious he had done at other times. Yet to defend him would have been a very patent stultification. It was so evident he was caught in a trap that he expressed his regrets that he had not stayed away. Before the long meeting broke up Lincoln had once more proved his superior shrewdness. All the members of the Senate committee had wished to have Seward expelled; but when they were asked: "Do you, gentlemen, still think Seward ought to be excused?” only four of the eight Senators present answered in the affirmative. Three were non-committal, and one had completely reversed his position. The Senators had met with a repulse, but the contest had not ended."
1 3 Seward, 147.
26 Nicolay and Hay, 266, 267.
3 Seward and his son withdrew from the Department of State on the day following the resignation. The New York Times of December 21st said, in a leading editorial article, that the metropolis had been as much startled on the 20th as it was a few days earlier by the defeat of Burnside. As yet the Times did not comprehend the situation. "Mr. Seward has been the right-hand man of the President from the day of his election until now," the same article declared.
He has had in a great measure the shaping of the policy of the government, besides the management of what has been, on several occasions, its most important and difficult department. . . . Other departments are filled with men who have no reputation, no administrative ability, no public respect-who are at the same time imbecile and headstrong, who have driven the government to the verge of ruin, and who would long ago have vacated their posts had they had the least regard
On the morning of December 20th, when Lincoln and most of the Cabinet met again for further consultation, Chase orally offered his resignation, but continued to hold the written communication in his hand. "The President stepped forward and took it with an alacrity that surprised, and it must be said disappointed, Mr. Chase.' From that moment the way was clear, for Lincoln had the leader of each faction at his mercy. "Yes, Judge," said the President to a caller shortly afterward, "I can ride on now, I've got a pumpkin in each end of my bag."" If either faction should become too bold, it could be humbled by accepting the resignation of its chief and by refusing to permit that of the other. But Chase was recognized as a great Secretary of the Treasury; and Lincoln had too keen a sense both of humor and of justice to allow an efficient officer to receive very severe punishment even for extreme folly. Seward was cer tainly not less efficient. If the President had released either Seward or both Seward and Chase, it would also have been interpreted to mean that the Senate had the right, or at least the power, to get rid of any Secretary whom it disliked. This would, indeed, have been very hazardous for the administration; for it would have encouraged the discontent shown in the recent elections and strengthened by Burnside's failure. Moreover, France was eager for an excuse to intervene; and
for the opinion, the sentiment, or the welfare of the country. If they will not resign, they should be expelled before the country is swept over the brink of despair on which it is now trembling."
By the next day the Times had learned the particulars of the crisis, and therefore it expressed a very different opinion: "Mr. Seward is supposed to have been the leading man in the administration-to have suggested policies and caused their adoption, to have held back the President from measures which he desired to adopt, and to have forced upon him action he did not wish to perform. We believe that all this is without the slightest foundation in fact." 1 6 Nicolay and Hay, 268.
3 Seward, 148.
the British government could hardly have resisted the popular demand that would have been made for the recognition of the Confederacy, if Lincoln's Cabinet had gone to pieces under such influences. Fortunately, Lincoln did not forget that the best way to control men and events is to keep control of them. With Chase and Seward outside the Cabinet, their respective followers were sure to be less friendly to the President. While Chase and Seward remained in the Cabinet, neither they nor their friends were likely to attack Lincoln, openly and directly. So, on the 20th, the President wrote a joint note to these Secretaries, saying that "after most anxious consideration,” his "deliberate judgment" was that the public interest would not permit him to accept their resignations; and he requested them to resume the duties of their departments.
In a single sentence of fourteen words Seward answered the next morning, that he had "cheerfully resumed the functions" of Secretary of State. Chase was still seriously embarrassed. He would have preferred not to re-enter the Cabinet if Seward had insisted on withdrawing; but Seward again at the Department of State, while he himself remained out of office, was not a pleasing prospect. Finally, on the 22d, he wrote to the President expressing a willingness "to conform my action to your judgment and wishes." The New York Herald of the 23d called Chase the Mephistopheles of the Cabinet, and charged that he had "been the prime mover in all the radical schemes and an active co-worker with his confederates of the Senate against Mr. Seward." This was too severe; but Chase's actions both before and during the Cabinet crisis are unintelligible except on the assumption that his dislike or jealousy of Seward's influence was a very important factor in what took place.