Hosanna to Old Abe

Abraham-Lincoln-1865

At last it is found, in the Gideon Welles diary entry of January 31, 1865:

The vote was taken today in the House on the Constitutional Amendment abolishing slavery, which was carried 119 to 56. It is a step towards the reestablishment of the Union in its integrity, yet it will be a shock to the framework of Southern society. But that has already been sadly shattered by their own inconsiderate and calamitous course. When, however, the cause, or assignable cause for the Rebellion is utterly extinguished, the States can and will resume their original position, acting each for itself. How soon the people in those States will arrive at right conclusions on this subject cannot now be determined.

If there had been such a January 1865 fever of anti-slavery in the Lincoln administration as depicted in the Steven Spielberg “Lincoln” movie, Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy, would have noticed it. In earlier diary entries, Welles had given a fair amount of coverage to the then-upcoming and not yet announced Emancipation Proclamation.

The February 3, 1865 issue of the New York Times reported upon how a serenading party “last night” strolled to the White House and President Abraham Lincoln appeared at an upper window and was greeted by cheers. The President told the serenaders he supposed they were there to celebrate passage of the 13th Amendment in the House of Representatives. The occasion, said Lincoln, “was one of congratulation to the country and to the whole world.” (New York Times citations are from the book, The New York Times: The Complete Civil War, edited by Harold Holzer & Craig L. Symonds.)

The February 1, 1865 issue of the New York Times commented upon how the 13th Amendment still had to be ratified by a majority of States: “It has already been objected to this action that it ought not to be taken while the States most directly interested are not in condition to vote upon it. They should have a voice, it is urged, in a measure designed to destroy an enormous interest peculiar to themselves. But it is their own fault that they do not vote, and they have no right to profit by their own wrong.” By this is meant that affirmative votes from some of the States in rebellion would have to be secured to ratify the 13th Amendment.

But were those rebellious States in the Union, or were they not? The South said it had seceded, but President Lincoln and others thought the Union was perpetual and could not be dissolved.

The editors’ introduction to the January-February 1865 section of the book, The New York Times: The Complete Civil War, has it that Abraham Lincoln was “so jubilant over passage of the Thirteenth Amendment” that “he affixed his name to the Congressional resolution that formally sent the proposal to the states for ratification.” In reaction to this, “Congress huffily passed an additional resolution criticizing the chief executive for his seeming impertinence [of having affixed his name to the resolution].” Each branch of government was “jockeying for position” as we now call it. Each wanted to claim credit for what was being celebrated in the North. This credit would improve their standing in the “opinion polls” except they did not have the curséd things back then. Still, public opinion mattered to each branch of government and both sides saw that claiming credit might help their standing.

At this point in today’s blog entry, Hosanna to Old Abe, some might be muttering, “Lincoln suspended habeas corpus!” And it’s true, President Lincoln did suspend habeas corpus. Yet the U.S. Constitution provides for this in Article I, Section 9, Paragraph 2: “The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it.” Unless when in cases of rebellion. You could say that the Civil War was a rebellion, in which case Lincoln’s action was not contrary to the U.S. Constitution.

“Lincoln clamped down on the press!” That also might be muttered. Granting the claim though I am not so sure about it at this time, even in spite of the “clampdown” Lincoln was mocked and vilified in the press as no other President before him had been. That claim comes from the pages of an extinct book, Meet Mr. Lincoln, published in 1960.

The real problem came after the April 14, 1865 intra-Republican Party coup d’état. Do not blame Abraham Lincoln, who wanted to go easy on the South. Reported the New York Times on February 2, 1865: “The well-known disposition of the President to acknowledge the Confederacy…”

The Radical Republicans were “the extremists”, wrote Gideon Welles in his diary. Opposed to them was the kind-hearted Abraham Lincoln. He was a roadblock to their plans. Wrote Gideon Welles, the Secretary of the Navy, on February 4, 1865, “The Speaker [Schuyler Colfax], who is not a fair and ingenuous man, although he professes to be so, and also to be personally friendly to me, is strictly factious and in concert with the extremists.” Thaddeus Stevens, “Chairman of the Ways and Means, is of the same stripe.” There was “a combination of the radicals.” These were “miserable wretched combinations of malcontents and intriguers…”

On February 10, 1865, Welles wrote in his diary, “There are ultras among us who do not favor the cessation of hostilities except on terms and conditions which make that event remote. A few leading radicals are inimical to the Administration, and oppose all measures of the Administration which are likely to effect an immediate peace. They are determined that the States in rebellion shall not resume their position in the Union except on new terms and conditions independent of those in the proposed Constitutional Amendment. Wade in the Senate and Winter Davis in the House are leading spirits in this disturbing movement. It is the positive element, violent without much regard to Constitutional or State rights, — or any other rights indeed, except such as they may themselves define or dictate.”

February 21, 1865, from the Welles diary: “In Congress there is a wild, radical element in regard to the rebellious States and people. They are to be treated by a radical Congress as no longer States, but Territories without rights, and must have a new birth or creation by permission of Congress. These are the mistaken theories and schemes of [Salmon] Chase, — perhaps in conjunction with others.”

(Further background: Blowback From Intra-Party Coup d’état, Ersjdamoo’s Blog, July 17, 2015.)

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About ersjdamoo

Editor of Conspiracy Nation, later renamed Melchizedek Communique. Close associate of the late Sherman H. Skolnick. Jack of all trades, master of none. Sagittarius, with Sagittarius rising. I'm not a bum, I'm a philosopher.
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