My Memories of Eighty Years
Chauncey M. Depew
Part 1 out of 7
MY MEMORIES OF EIGHTY YEARS
BY CHAUNCEY M. DEPEW
TO MY WIFE MAY PALMER DEPEW THIS BOOK GREW FROM HER ENCOURAGEMENT
For many years my friends have insisted upon my putting in
permanent form the incidents in my life which have interested
them. It has been my good fortune to take part in history-making
meetings and to know more or less intimately people prominent
in world affairs in many countries. Every one so situated has
a flood of recollections which pour out when occasion stirs the
memory. Often the listeners wish these transcribed for their
My classmate at Yale in the class of 1856, John D. Champlin, a man
of letters and an accomplished editor, rescued from my own
scattered records and newspaper fiIes material for eight volumes.
My secretary has selected and compiled for publication two volumes
since. These are principally speeches, addresses, and contributions
which have appeared in public. Several writers, without my
knowledge, have selected special matter from these volumes
and made books.
Andrew D. White, Senator Hoar, and Senator Foraker, with whom
I was associated for years, have published full and valuable
autobiographies. I do not attempt anything so elaborate or
complete. Never having kept a diary, I am dependent upon a good
memory. I have discarded the stories which could not well be
published until long after I have joined the majority.
I trust and earnestly hope there is nothing in these recollections
which can offend anybody. It has been my object so to picture
events and narrate stories as to illumine the periods through
which I have passed for eighty-eight years, and the people whom
I have known and mightily enjoyed.
I. CHILDHOOD AND YOUTH
II. IN PUBLIC LIFE
III. ABRAHAM LINCOLN
IV. GENERAL GRANT
V. ROSCOE CONKLING
VI. HORACE GREELEY
VII. RUTHERFORD B. HAYES AND WILLIAM M. EVARTS
VIII. GENERAL GARFIELD
IX. CHESTER A. ARTHUR
X. GROVER CLEVELAND
XI. BENJAMIN HARRISON
XII. JAMES G. BLAINE
XIII. WILLIAM McKINLEY
XIV. THEODORE ROOSEVELT
XV. UNITED STATES SENATE
XVI. AMBASSADORS AND MINISTERS
XVII. GOVERNORS OF NEW YORK STATE
XVIII. FIFTY-SIX YEARS WITH THE NEW YORK CENTRAL RAILROAD COMPANY
XIX. RECOLLECTIONS FROM ABROAD
XX. ORATORS AND CAMPAIGN SPEAKERS
XXI. NATIONAL REPUBLICAN CONVENTIONS
XXII. JOURNALISTS AND FINANCIERS
XXIII. ACTORS AND MEN OF LETTERS
XXIV. SOCIETIES AND PUBLIC BANQUETS
INDEX [not included]
MY MEMORIES OF EIGHTY YEARS
I. CHILDHOOD AND YOUTH
It has occurred to me that some reminiscences of a long life
would be of interest to my family and friends.
My memory goes back for more than eighty years. I recall
distinctly when about five years old my mother took me to the
school of Mrs. Westbrook, wife of the well-known pastor of the
Dutch Reformed church, who had a school in her house, within
a few doors. The lady was a highly educated woman, and her
husband, Doctor Westbrook, a man of letters as well as a preacher.
He specialized in ancient history, and the interest he aroused
in Roman and Greek culture and achievements has continued with me
The village of Peekskill at that time had between two and three
thousand inhabitants. Its people were nearly all Revolutionary
families who had settled there in colonial times. There had been
very little immigration either from other States or abroad;
acquaintance was universal, and in the activities of the churches
there was general co-operation among the members. Church
attendance was so unanimous that people, young or old, who failed
to be in their accustomed places on Sunday felt the disapproval
of the community.
Social activities of the village were very simple, but very
delightful and healthful. There were no very rich nor very poor.
Nearly every family owned its own house or was on the way to
acquire one. Misfortune of any kind aroused common interest
and sympathy. A helping hand of neighborliness was always extended
to those in trouble or distress. Peekskill was a happy community
and presented conditions of life and living of common interest,
endeavor, and sympathy not possible in these days of restless
crowds and fierce competition.
The Peekskill Academy was the dominant educational institution,
and drew students not only from the village but from a distance.
It fitted them for college, and I was a student there for about
twelve years. The academy was a character-making institution,
though it lacked the thoroughness of the New England preparatory
schools. Its graduates entering into the professions or business
had an unusual record of success in life. I do not mean that they
accumulated great fortunes, but they acquired independence and were
prominent and useful citizens in all localities where they settled.
I graduated from the Peekskill Academy in 1852. I find on the
programme of the exercises of that day, which some old student
preserved, that I was down for several original speeches, while
the other boys had mainly recitations. Apparently my teachers
had decided to develop any oratorical talent I might possess.
I entered Yale in 1852 and graduated in 1856. The college of that
period was very primitive compared with the university to which
it has grown. Our class of ninety-seven was regarded as unusually
large. The classics and mathematics, Greek and Latin, were the
dominant features of instruction. Athletics had not yet appeared,
though rowing and boat-racing came in during my term. The
outstanding feature of the institution was the literary societies:
the Linonia and the Brothers of Unity. The debates at the weekly
meetings were kept up and maintained upon a high and efficient
plane. Both societies were practically deliberative bodies and
discussed with vigor the current questions of the day. Under this
training Yale sent out an unusual number of men who became
eloquent preachers, distinguished physicians, and famous lawyers.
While the majority of students now on leaving college enter business
or professions like engineering, which is allied to business,
at that time nearly every young man was destined for the ministry,
law, or medicine. My own class furnished two of the nine judges
of the Supreme Court of the United States, and a large majority
of those who were admitted to the bar attained judicial honors.
It is a singular commentary on the education of that time that the
students who won the highest honors and carried off the college
prizes, which could only be done by excelling in Latin, Greek,
and mathematics, were far outstripped in after-life by their
classmates who fell below their high standard of collegiate
scholarship but were distinguished for an all-around interest
in subjects not features in the college curriculum.
My classmates, Justice David J. Brewer and Justice Henry Billings Brown,
were both eminent members of the Supreme Court of the United States.
Brewer was distinguished for the wide range of his learning and
illuminating addresses on public occasions. He was bicentennial
orator of the college and a most acceptable one. Wayne MacVeagh,
afterwards attorney-general of the United States, one of the leaders
of the bar, also one of the most brilliant orators of his time,
was in college with me, though not a classmate. Andrew D. White,
whose genius, scholarship, and organization enabled Ezra Cornell
to found Cornell University, was another of my college mates.
He became one of the most famous of our diplomats and the author
of many books of permanent value. My friendship with MacVeagh
and White continued during their lives, that is, for nearly sixty
years. MacVeagh was one of the readiest and most attractive of
speakers I ever knew. He had a very sharp and caustic wit, which
made him exceedingly popular as an after-dinner speaker and as a
host in his own house. He made every evening when he entertained,
for those who were fortunate enough to be his guests, an occasion
memorable in their experience.
John Mason Brown, of Kentucky, became afterwards the leader of
the bar in his State, and was about to receive from President Harrison
an appointment as justice of the Supreme Court when he died
suddenly. If he had been appointed it would have been a remarkable
circumstance that three out of nine judges of the greatest of
courts, an honor which is sought by every one of the hundreds
of thousands of lawyers in the United States, should have been
from the same college and the same class.
The faculty lingers in my memory, and I have the same reverence
and affection for its members, though sixty-five years out of
college, that I had the day I graduated. Our president,
Theodore D. Woolsey, was a wonderful scholar and a most inspiring
teacher. Yale has always been fortunate in her presidents, and
peculiarly so in Professor Woolsey. He had personal distinction,
and there was about him an air of authority and reserved power
which awed the most radical and rebellious student, and at the
same time he had the respect and affection of all. In his
historical lectures he had a standard joke on the Chinese, the
narration of which amused him the more with each repetition. It
was that when a Chinese army was beleaguered and besieged in a
fortress their provisions gave out and they decided to escape.
They selected a very dark night, threw open the gates, and as
they marched out each soldier carried a lighted lantern.
In the faculty were several professors of remarkable force and
originality. The professor of Greek, Mr. Hadley, father of the
distinguished ex-president of Yale, was more than his colleagues
in the thought and talk of the undergraduates. His learning and
pre-eminence in his department were universally admitted. He had a
caustic wit and his sayings were the current talk of the campus.
He maintained discipline, which was quite lax in those days, by
the exercise of this ability. Some of the boys once drove a calf
into the recitation-room. Professor Hadley quietly remarked:
"You will take out that animal. We will get along to-day with
our usual number." It is needless to say that no such experiment
was ever repeated.
At one time there was brought up in the faculty meeting a report
that one of the secret societies was about to bore an artesian
well in the cellar of their club house. It was suggested that such
an extraordinary expense should be prohibited. Professor Hadley
closed the discussion and laughed out the subject by saying from
what he knew of the society, if it would hold a few sessions over
the place where the artesian well was projected, the boring would
be accomplished without cost. The professor was a sympathetic
and very wise adviser to the students. If any one was in trouble
he would always go to him and give most helpful relief.
Professor Larned inspired among the students a discriminating
taste for the best English literature and an ardent love for its
classics. Professor Thacher was one of the most robust and
vigorous thinkers and teachers of his period. He was a born
leader of men, and generation after generation of students who
graduated carried into after-life the effects of his teaching and
personality. We all loved Professor Olmstead, though we were not
vitally interested in his department of physics and biology. He
was a purist in his department, and so confident of his principles
that he thought it unnecessary to submit them to practical tests.
One of the students, whose room was immediately over that of
the professor, took up a plank from the flooring, and by boring
a very small hole in the ceiling found that he could read the
examination papers on the professor's desk. The information
of this reaching the faculty, the professor was asked if he had
examined the ceiling. He said that was unnecessary, because
he had measured the distance between the ceiling and the surface
of his desk and found that the line of vision connected so far
above that nothing could be read on the desk.
Timothy Dwight, afterwards president, was then a tutor. Learning,
common sense, magnetism, and all-around good-fellowship were
wonderfully united in President Dwight. He was the most popular
instructor and best loved by the boys. He had a remarkable talent
for organization, which made him an ideal president. He possessed
the rare faculty of commanding and convincing not only the students
but his associates in the faculty and the members of the corporation
when discussing and deciding upon business propositions and
questions of policy.
The final examinations over, commencement day arrived. The
literary exercises and the conferring of degrees took place in the
old Center Church. I was one of the speakers and selected for
my subject "The Hudson River and Its Traditions." I was saturated
from early association and close investigation and reading with the
crises of the Revolutionary War, which were successfully decided
on the patriots' side on the banks of the Hudson. I lived near
Washington Irving, and his works I knew by heart, especially
the tales which gave to the Hudson a romance like the Rhine's.
The subject was new for an academic stage, and the speech made
a hit. Nevertheless, it was the saddest and most regretful day of
my life when I left Yale.
My education, according to the standard of the time, was completed,
and my diploma was its evidence. It has been a very interesting
question with me how much the academy and the college contributed
to that education. Their discipline was necessary and their
training essential. Four years of association with the faculty,
learned, finely equipped, and sympathetic, was a wonderful help.
The free associations of the secret and debating societies, the
campus, and the sports were invaluable, and the friendships formed
with congenial spirits added immensely to the pleasures and
compensations of a long life.
In connection with this I may add that, as it has been my lot
in the peculiar position which I have occupied for more than
half a century as counsel and adviser for a great corporation
and its creators and the many successful men of business who
have surrounded them, I have learned to know how men who have
been denied in their youth the opportunities for education feel
when they are in possession of fortunes, and the world seems
at their feet. Then they painfully recognize their limitations,
then they know their weakness, then they understand that there
are things which money cannot buy, and that there are gratifications
and triumphs which no fortune can secure. The one lament of all
those men has been: "Oh, if I had been educated I would sacrifice
all that I have to obtain the opportunities of the college, to be
able to sustain not only conversation and discussion with the
educated men with whom I come in contact, but competent also
to enjoy what I see is a delight to them beyond anything which
But I recall gratefully other influences quite as important to
one's education. My father was a typical business man, one of
the pioneers of river transportation between our village and
New York, and also a farmer and a merchant. He was a stern man
devoted to his family, and, while a strict disciplinarian, very
fond of his children.
My mother was a woman of unusual intellect bordering upon genius.
There were no means of higher education at that period, but her
father, who was an eminent lawyer, and her grandfather, a judge,
finding her so receptive, educated her with the care that was
given to boys who were intended for a professional life. She was
well versed in the literature of the time of Queen Elizabeth and
Queen Anne, and, with a retentive memory, knew by heart many
of the English classics. She wrote well, but never for publication.
Added to these accomplishments were rare good sense and prophetic
vision. The foundation and much of the superstructure of all that
I have and all that I am were her work. She was a rigid Calvinist,
and one of her many lessons has been of inestimable comfort to
me. Several times in my life I have met with heavy misfortunes
and what seemed irreparable losses. I have returned home to find
my mother with wise advice and suggestions ready to devote herself
to the reconstruction of my fortune, and to brace me up. She
always said what she thoroughly believed: "My son, this which
you think so great a calamity is really divine discipline.
The Lord has sent it to you for your own good, because in His
infinite wisdom He saw that you needed it. I am absolutely
certain that if you submit instead of repining and protesting,
if you will ask with faith and proper spirit for guidance and
help, they both will come to you and with greater blessings than
you ever had before." That faith of my mother inspired and
intensified my efforts and in every instance her predictions
Every community has a public-spirited citizen who unselfishly
devotes himself or herself to the public good. That citizen of
Peekskill in those early days was Doctor James Brewer. He had
accumulated a modest competence sufficient for his simple needs
as bachelor. He was either the promoter or among the leaders of
all the movements for betterment of the town. He established
a circulating library upon most liberal terms, and it became an
educational institution of benefit. The books were admirably
selected, and the doctor's advice to readers was always available.
His taste ran to the English classics, and he had all the standard
authors in poetry, history, fiction, and essay.
No pleasure derived in reading in after-years gave me such delight
as the Waverley Novels. I think I read through that library and
some of it several times over.
The excitement as the novels of Dickens and Thackeray began
to appear equalled almost the enthusiasm of a political campaign.
Each one of those authors had ardent admirers and partisans.
The characters of Dickens became household companions. Every one
was looking for the counterpart of Micawber or Sam Weller, Pecksniff
or David Copperfield, and had little trouble in finding them either
in the family circle or among the neighbors.
Dickens's lectures in New York, which consisted of readings from
his novels, were an event which has rarely been duplicated for
interest. With high dramatic ability he brought out before the
audience the characters from his novels with whom all were
familiar. Every one in the crowd had an idealistic picture in
his mind of the actors of the story. It was curious to note that
the presentation which the author gave coincided with the idea
of the majority of his audience. I was fresh from the country
but had with me that evening a rather ultra-fashionable young
lady. She said she was not interested in the lecture because
it represented the sort of people she did not know and never
expected to meet; they were a very common lot. In her subsequent
career in this country and abroad she had to her credit three
matrimonial adventures and two divorces, but none of her husbands
were of the common lot.
Speaking of Dickens, one picture remains indelibly pressed upon
my memory. It was the banquet given him at which Horace Greeley
presided. Everybody was as familiar with Mr. Pickwick and his
portrait by Cruikshank in Dickens's works as with one's father.
When Mr. Greeley arose to make the opening speech and introduce
the guest of the evening, his likeness to this portrait of Pickwick
was so remarkable that the whole audience, including Mr. Dickens,
shouted their delight in greeting an old and welI-beloved friend.
Another educational opportunity came in my way because one of
my uncles was postmaster of the village. Through his post-office
came several high-class magazines and foreign reviews. There
was no rural delivery in those days, and the mail could only be
had on personal application, and the result was that the subscribers
of these periodicals frequently left them a long time before they
were called for. I was an omnivorous reader of everything
available, and as a result these publications, especially the
foreign reviews, became a fascinating source of information and
culture. They gave from the first minds of the century criticisms
of current literature and expositions of political movements and
public men which became of infinite value in after-years.
Another unincorporated and yet valuable school was the frequent
sessions at the drug store of the elder statesmen of the village.
On certain evenings these men, representing most of the activities
of the village, would avail themselves of the hospitable chairs
about the stove and discuss not only local matters but the general
conditions of the country, some of them revolving about the
constitutionality of various measures which had been proposed
and enacted into laws. They nearly all related to slavery,
the compromise measures, the introduction of slaves into new
territories, the fugitive slave law, and were discussed with much
intelligence and information. The boys heard them talked about
in their homes and were eager listeners on the outskirts of this
village congress. Such institutions are not possible except in the
universal acquaintance, fellowship, and confidences of village
and country life. They were the most important factors in forming
that public opinion, especially among the young, which supported
Mr. Lincoln in his successful efforts to save the Union at whatever
A few days after returning home from Yale I entered the office
of Edward Wells, a lawyer of the village, as a student. Mr. Wells
had attained high rank in his profession, was a profound student
of the law, and had a number of young men, fitting them for the
bar under his direction.
I was admitted to the bar in 1858, and immediately opened an
office in the village. My first client was a prosperous farmer
who wanted an opinion on a rather complicated question. I prepared
the case with great care. He asked me what my fee was, and
I told him five dollars. He said: "A dollar and seventy-five is
enough for a young lawyer like you." Subsequently he submitted
the case to one of the most eminent lawyers in New York, who
came to the same conclusion and charged him five hundred dollars.
On account of this gentleman's national reputation the farmer
thought that fee was very reasonable. In subsequent years I have
received several very large retainers, but none of them gave so
much satisfaction as that dollar and seventy-five cents, which I had
actually earned after having been so long dependent on my father.
After some years of private practice Commodore Vanderbilt sent
for me and offered the attorneyship for the New York and Harlem
Railroad. I had just been nominated and confirmed United States
minister to Japan. The appointment was a complete surprise to me,
as I was not an applicant for any federal position. The salary was
seven thousand five hundred dollars and an outfit of nine thousand.
The commodore's offer of the attorneyship for the Harlem Railroad,
which was his first venture in railroading, was far less than
the salary as minister. When I said this to the commodore, he
remarked: "Railroads are the career for a young man; there is
nothing in politics. Don't be a damned fool." That decided me,
and on the 1st of January, 1921, I rounded out fifty-five years in
the railway service of this corporation and its allied lines.
Nothing has impressed me more than little things, and apparently
immaterial ones, which have influenced the careers of many people.
My father and his brothers, all active business men, were also
deeply interested in politics, not on the practical side but in
policies and governmental measures. They were uncompromising
Democrats of the most conservative type; they believed that
interference with slavery of any kind imperilled the union of
the States, and that the union of the States was the sole salvation
of the perpetuity of the republic and its liberties. I went to
Yale saturated with these ideas. Yale was a favorite college
for Southern people. There was a large element from the
slaveholding States among the students. It was so considerable
that these Southerners withdrew from the great debating societies
of the college and formed a society of their own, which they
called the Calliopean. Outside of these Southerners there were
very few Democrats among the students, and I came very near being
drawn into the CaIliopean, but happily escaped.
The slavery question in all its phases of fugitive slave law and
its enforcement, the extension of slavery into the new territories,
or its prohibition, and of the abolition of the institution by
purchase or confiscation were subjects of discussion on the campus,
in the literary societies, and in frequent lectures in the halls in
New Haven by the most prominent and gifted speakers and advocates.
That was a period when even in the most liberal churches the pulpit
was not permitted to preach politics, and slavery was pre-eminently
politics. But according to an old New England custom, the pastor
was given a free hand on Thanksgiving Day to unburden his mind
of everything which had been bubbling and seething there for
a year. One of the most eminent and eloquent of New England
preachers was the Reverend Doctor Bacon, of Center Church,
New Haven. His Thanksgiving sermon was an event eagerly anticipated
by the whole college community. He was violently anti-slavery.
His sermons were not only intently listened to but widely read,
and their effect in promoting anti-slavery sentiment was very great.
The result of several years of these associations and discussions
converted me, and I became a Republican on the principles
enunciated in the first platform of the party in 1856. When I came
home from Yale the situation in the family became very painful,
because my father was an intense partisan. He had for his party
both faith and love, and was shocked and grieved at his son's
change of principles. He could not avoid constantly discussing
the question, and was equally hurt either by opposition or silence.
II. IN PUBLIC LIFE
The campaign of 1856 created an excitement in our village which
had never been known since the Revolutionary War. The old
families who had been settled there since colonial days were
mainly pro-slavery and Democratic, while the Republican party was
recruited very largely from New England men and in a minority.
Several times in our national political campaigns there has been
one orator who drew audiences and received public attention and
reports in the newspapers beyond all other speakers. On the
Democratic side during that period Horatio Seymour was pre-eminent.
On the Republican side in the State of New York the attractive
figure was George William Curtis. His books were very popular,
his charming personality, the culture and the elevation of his
speeches put him in a class by himself.
The Republicans of the village were highly elated when they had
secured the promise of Mr. Curtis to speak at their most important
mass meeting. The occasion drew together the largest audience
the village had known, composed not only of residents but many from
a distance. The committee of arrangements finally reported to
the waiting audience that the last train had arrived, but
Mr. Curtis had not come.
It suddenly occurred to the committee that it would be a good
thing to call a young recruit from a well-known Democratic family
and publicly commit him. First came the invitation, then the
shouting, and when I arose they cried "platform," and I was
escorted to the platform, but had no idea of making a speech.
My experience for years at college and at home had saturated me
with the questions at issue in all their aspects. From a full
heart, and a sore one, I poured out a confession of faith.
I thought I had spoken only a few minutes, but found afterwards
that it was over an hour. The local committee wrote to the State
committee about the meeting, and in a few days I received a letter
from the chairman of the State committee inviting me to fill
a series of engagements covering the whole State of New York.
The campaign of 1856 differed from all others in memory of men
then living. The issues between the parties appealed on the
Republican side to the young. There had grown up among the young
voters an intense hostility to slavery. The moral force of the
arguments against the institution captured them. They had no
hostility to the South, nor to the Southern sIaveholders; they
regarded their position as an inheritance, and were willing to
help on the lines of Mr. Lincoln's original idea of purchasing
the slaves and freeing them. But the suggestion had no friends
among the slaveholders. These young men believed that any
extension or strengthening of the institution would be disastrous
to the country. The threatened dissolution of the Union, secession,
or rebellion did not frighten them.
Political conventions are the most interesting of popular gatherings.
The members have been delegated by their fellow citizens to
represent them, and they are above the average in intelligence,
political information of conditions in the State and nation, as
the convention represents the State or the republic. The belief
that they are generally boss-governed is a mistake. The party
leader, sometimes designated as boss, invariably consults with
the strongest men there are in the convention before he arrives
at a decision. He is generally successful, because he has so well
prepared the way, and his own judgment is always modified and
frequently changed in these conferences.
In 1858 I had the first sensation of the responsibility of public
office. I was not an applicant for the place; in fact, knew
nothing about it until I was elected a delegate to the Republican
State convention from the third assembly district of Westchester
County. The convention was held at Syracuse. The Westchester
delegates arrived late at night or, rather, early in the morning,
and we came to the hotel with large numbers of other delegates
from different sections who had arrived on the same train. It was
two o'clock, but the State leader, Thurlow Weed, was in the lobby
of the hotel to greet the delegates. He said to me: "You are
from Peekskill. With whom are you studying law?" I answered:
"With Judge William Nelson." "Oh," he remarked, "I remember
Judge Nelson well. He was very active in the campaign of 1828."
It was a feat of memory to thus recall the usefulness of a local
politician thirty years before. I noticed, as each delegate was
introduced, that Mr. Weed had some neighborhood recollections
of the man which put a tag on him.
The next day, as we met the leader, he recalled us by name, the
places where we lived, and the districts represented. Mr. Blaine
was the only other man I ever met or knew who possessed this
extraordinary gift for party leadership.
There was a revolt in the convention among the young members,
who had a candidate of their own. Mr. Weed's candidate for
governor was Edwin D. Morgan, a successful New York merchant,
who had made a good record as a State senator. I remember one
of Mr. Weed's arguments was that the Democrats were in power
everywhere and could assess their office-holders, while the
Republicans would have to rely for campaign funds upon voluntary
contributions, which would come nowhere so freely as from Mr. Morgan
and his friends. When the convention met Mr. Weed had won over
a large majority of the delegates for his candidate. It was
a triumph not only of his skill but of his magnetism, which were
always successfully exerted upon a doubtful member.
I was elected to the assembly, the popular branch of the New York
Legislature, in 1861. I was nominated during an absence from
the State, without being a candidate or knowing of it until my
return. Of course, I could expect nothing from my father, and
my own earnings were not large, so I had to rely upon a personal
canvass of a district which had been largely spoiled by rich
candidates running against each other and spending large amounts
of money. I made a hot canvass, speaking every day, and with
an investment of less than one hundred dollars for travel and
other expenses I was triumphantly elected.
By far the most interesting member of the legislature was the
speaker, Henry J. Raymond. He was one of the most remarkable
men I ever met. During the session I became intimate with him,
and the better I knew him the more I became impressed with his
genius, the variety of his attainments, the perfection of his
equipment, and his ready command of all his powers and resources.
Raymond was then editor of the New York Times and contributed
a leading article every day. He was the best debater we had
and the most convincing. I have seen him often, when some other
member was in the chair of the committee of the whole, and we were
discussing a critical question, take his seat on the floor and
commence writing an editorial. As the debate progressed, he would
rise and participate. When he had made his point, which he always
did with directness and lucidity, he would resume writing his
editorial. The debate would usually end with Mr. Raymond carrying
his point and also finishing his editorial, an example which seems
to refute the statement of metaphysicians that two parts of the mind
cannot work at the same time.
Two years afterwards, when I was secretary of state, I passed much
of my time at Saratoga, because it was so near Albany. Mr. Raymond
was also there writing the "Life of Abraham Lincoln." I breakfasted
with him frequently and found that he had written for an hour or
more before breakfast. He said to me in explanation that if one
would take an hour before breakfast every morning and concentrate
his mind upon his subject, he would soon fill a library.
Mr. Raymond had been as a young man a reporter in the United States
Senate. He told me that, while at that time there was no system
of shorthand or stenography, he had devised a crude one for
himself, by which he could take down accurately any address of
a deliberate speaker.
Daniel Webster, the most famous orator our country has ever
produced, was very deliberate in his utterances. He soon discovered
Raymond's ability, and for several years he always had Raymond
with him, and once said to him: "Except for you, the world would
have very few of my speeches. Your reports have preserved them."
Mr. Raymond told me this story of Mr. Webster's remarkable memory.
Once he said to Mr. Webster: "You never use notes and apparently
have made no preparation, yet you are the only speaker I report
whose speeches are perfect in structure, language, and rhetoric.
How is this possible?" Webster replied: "It is my memory. I can
prepare a speech, revise and correct it in my memory, and then
deliver the corrected speech exactly as finished." I have known
most of the great orators of the world, but none had any approach
to a faculty like this, though several could repeat after second
reading the speech which they had prepared.
In 1862 I was candiate for re-election to the assembly. Political
conditions had so changed that they were almost reversed. The
enthusiasm of the war which had carried the Republicans into power
the year before had been succeeded by general unrest. Our armies
had been defeated, and industrial and commercial depression
The leader of the Democratic Party in the State was Dean Richmond.
He was one of those original men of great brain-power, force, and
character, knowlege of men, and executive ability, of which that
period had a number. From the humblest beginning he had worked
his way in politics to the leadership of his party, to the presidency
of the greatest corporation in the State, the New York Central
Railroad Company, and in his many and successful adventures
had accumulated a fortune. His foresight was almost a gift of
prophecy, and his judgment was rarely wrong. He believed that
the disasters in the field and the bad times at home could be
charged up to the Lincoln administration and lead to a Democratic
victory. He also believed that there was only one man in the party
whose leadership would surely win, and that man was Horatio Seymour.
But Seymour had higher ambitions than the governorship of New York
and was very reluctant to run. Nevertheless, he could not resist
Richmond's insistence that he must sacrifice himself, if necessary,
to save the party.
The Republicans nominated General James W. Wadsworth for governor.
Wadsworth had enlisted at the beginning of the war and made a most
brilliant record, both as a fighting soldier and administrator.
The Republican party was sharply divided between radicals who
insisted on immediate emancipation of the slaves, and conservatives
who thought the time had not yet arrived for such a revolution.
The radicals were led by Horace Greeley, and the conservatives
by Thurlow Weed and Henry J. Raymond.
Horatio Seymour made a brilliant canvass. He had no equal in the
State in either party in charm of personality and attractive
oratory. He united his party and brought to its ranks all the
elements of unrest and dissatisfaction with conditions, military
and financial. While General Wadsworth was an ideal candidate,
he failed to get the cordial and united support of his party.
He represented its progressive tendencies as expressed and
believed by President Lincoln, and was hostile to reaction.
Under these conditions Governor Seymour carried the State.
The election had reversed the overwhelming Republican majority
in the legislature of the year before by making the assembly a tie.
I was re-elected, but by reduced majority. The assembly being
a tie, it was several weeks before it could organize. I was the
candidate in the caucus of the Republican members for speaker,
but after the nomination one of the members, named Bemus, threatened
to bolt and vote for the Democratic candidate unless his candidate,
Sherwood, was made the nominee. So many believed that Bemus
would carry out his threat, which would give the organization of
the House to the Democrats by one majority, that I withdrew in
favor of Sherwood. After voting hopelessly in a deadlock, day
after day for a long period, a caucus of the Republican members
was called, at which Sherwood withdrew, and on his motion I was
nominated as the party candidate for speaker.
During the night a Democratic member, T.C. Callicot, of Kings County,
came to my bedroom and said: "My ambition in life is to be speaker
of the assembly. Under the law the legislature cannot elect
the United States senator unless each House has first made a
nomination, then the Senate and the House can go into joint
convention, and a majority of that convention elect a senator.
You Republicans have a majority in the Senate, so that if the
House nominates, the legislature can go into joint convention
and elect a Republican senator. As long as the House remains
a tie this cannot be done. Now, what I propose is just this:
Before we meet tomorrow morning, if you will call your members
together and nominate me for speaker, the vote of your party and
I voting for myself will elect me. Then I will agree to name
General Dix, a Democrat, for United States senator, and if your
people will all vote with me for him he will be the assembly
nominee. The Senate has already nominated Governor Morgan.
So the next day the legislature can go into joint convention and,
having a Republican majority, elect Governor Morgan United States
senator." I told Mr. Callicot that I would present the matter
to my party associates.
In the early morning Saxton Smith and Colonel John Van Buren,
two of the most eminent Democrats in the State and members of
the legislature, came to me and said: "We know what Callicot
has proposed. Now, if you will reject that proposition we will
elect you speaker practically unanimously."
This assured my election for the speakership. I had a great
ambition to be on that roll of honor, and as I would have been
the youngest man ever elected to the position, my youth added
to the distinction. On the other hand, the government at Washington
needed an experienced senator of its own party, like Edwin D. Morgan,
who had been one of the ablest and most efficient of war governors,
both in furnishing troops and helping the credit of the country.
I finally decided to surrender the speakership for myself to gain
the senatorship for my party. I had difficulty in persuading my
associates, but they finally agreed. Callicot was elected speaker
and Edwin D. Morgan United States senator.
The event was so important and excited so much interest, both in
the State and in the country, that representative men came to
Albany in great numbers. The rejoicing and enthusiasm were intense
at having secured so unexpectedly a United States Senator for
the support of Mr. Lincoln's administration.
That night they all united in giving me a reception in the ballroom
of the hotel. There was a flood of euIogistic and prophetic
oratory. I was overwhelmed with every form of flattery and
applause, for distinguished service to the party. By midnight
I had been nominated and elected Governor of the State, and an hour
later I was already a United States senator. Before the morning
hour the presidency of the United States was impatiently waiting
for the time when I would be old enough to be eligible. All this
was soon forgotten. It is a common experience of the instability
of promises and hopes which come from gratified and happy
enthusiasts, and how soon they are dissipated like a dream! I have
seen many such instances, and from this early experience deeply
sympathize with the disillusionized hero.
The Democrats of the assembly and also of the State were determined
that Mr. Callicot should not enjoy the speakership. They started
investigations in the House and movements in the courts to prevent
him from taking his seat. The result was that I became acting
speaker and continued as such until Mr. Callicot had defeated
his enemies and taken his place as speaker in the latter part of
I was also chairman of the committee of ways and means and the
leader of the House. The budget of my committee was larger than
usual on account of the expenses of the war. It was about seven
million dollars. It created much more excitement and general
discussion than does the present budget of one hundred and forty
millions. The reason is the difference in conditions and public
necessities of the State of New York in the winter of 1863 and
now. It is also partly accounted for by the fact that the expenses
of the State had then to be met by a real-estate tax which affected
everybody, while now an income tax has been adopted which is
capable of unlimited expansion and invites limitless extravagance
because of the comparatively few interested.
Eighteen hundred and sixty-three was an eventful year; the early
part was full of gloom and unrest. Horatio Seymour, as governor,
violently antagonized President Lincoln and his policies. Seymour
was patriotic and very able, but he was so saturated with State
rights and strict construction of the Constitution that it marred
his judgment and clouded his usually clear vision. In the critical
situation of the country Mr. Lincoln saw the necessity of support
of the State of New York. The president said: "The governor has
greater power just now for good than any other man in the country.
He can wheel the Democratic party into line, put down the rebellion
and preserve the government. Tell him from me that if he will
render this service to his country, I shall cheerfully make way
for him as my successor." To this message, sent through
Thurlow Weed, Governor Seymour made no reply. He did not believe
that the South could be defeated and the Union preserved.
Later President Lincoln sent a personal letter to the governor.
It was a very human epistle. The president wrote: "You and I
are substantially strangers, and I write this that we may become
better acquainted. In the performance of duty the co-operation
of your State is needed and is indispensable. This alone is
sufficient reason why I should wish to be on a good understanding
with you. Please write me at least as long a letter as this,
of course saying in it just what you think fit."
Governor Seymour made no reply. He and the other Democratic
leaders thought the president uncouth, unlettered, and very weak.
The phrase "please write me at least as long a letter as this"
produced an impression upon the scholarly, cultured, cautious,
and diplomatic Seymour which was most unfavorable to its author.
Seymour acknowledged the receipt of the letter and promised to
make a reply, but never did.
Seymour's resentment was raised to fever heat when General Burnside,
in May, 1863, arrested Clement L. Vallandigham. The enemies of
the war and peace at any price people, and those who were
discouraged, called mass meetings all over the country to protest
this arrest as an outrage. A mass meeting was called in Albany
on the 16th of May. Erastus Corning, one of the most eminent
Democrats in the State, presided.
I was in Albany at the time and learned this incident. One of
Governor Seymour's intimate friends, his adviser and confidant
in personal business affairs was Charles Cook, who had been
comptroller of the State and a State senator. Cook was an active
Republican, a very shrewd and able man. He called on the governor
and tried to persuade him not to write a letter to the Vallandigham
meeting, but if he felt he must say something, attend the meeting
and make a speech. Cook said: "Governor, the country is going
to sustain ultimately the arrest of Vallandigham. It will be proved
that he is a traitor to the government and a very dangerous man
to be at large. Whatever is said at the meeting will seriously
injure the political future of the authors. If you write a letter
it will be on record, so I beg you, if you must participate, attend
the meeting and make a speech. A letter cannot be denied; it can
always be claimed that a speech has been misreported."
The Governor wrote the letter, one of the most violent of his
utterances, and it was used against him with fatal effect when
he ran for governor, and also when a candidate for president.
On July 11th the draft began in New York City. It had been
denounced as unconstitutional by every shade of opposition to
Mr. Lincoln's administration and to the prosecution of the war.
The attempt to enforce it led to one of the most serious riots
in the history of the city, and the rage of the rioters was against
the officers of the law, the headquarters of the draft authorities,
and principally against the negroes. Every negro who was caught
was hung or burned, and the negro orphan asylum was destroyed
by fire. The governor did his best to stop the rioting. He issued
a proclamation declaring the city in a state of insurrection, and
commanded obedience to the law and the authorities.
In this incident again the governor permitted his opposition to
the war to lead him into political indiscretion. He made a speech
from the steps of the City Hall to the rioters. He began by
addressing them as "My friends." The governor's object was to
quiet the mob and send them to their homes. So instead of saying
"fellow citizens" he used the fatal words "my friends." No two
words were ever used against a public man with such fatal effect.
Every newspaper opposed to the governor and every orator would
describe the horrors, murders, and destruction of property by
the mob and then say: "These are the people whom Governor Seymour
in his speech from the steps of the City Hall addressed as
The Vallandigham letter and this single utterance did more harm
to Governor Seymour's future ambitions than all his many eloquent
speeches against Lincoln's administration and the conduct of the war.
The political situation, which had been so desperate for the
national administration, changed rapidly for the better with
the victory at Gettysburg, which forced General Lee out of
Pennsylvania and back into Virginia, and also by General Grant's
wonderful series of victories at Vicksburg and other places which
liberated the Mississippi River.
Under these favorable conditions the Republicans entered upon
the canvass in the fall of 1863 to reverse, if possible, the
Democratic victory the year before. The Republican State ticket was:
Secretary of State ..... Chauncey M. Depew.
Comptroller ..... Lucius Robinson.
Canal Commissioner ..... Benjamin F. Bruce.
Treasurer ..... George W. Schuyler.
State Engineer ..... William B. Taylor.
Prison Inspector ..... James K. Bates.
Judge of the Court of Appeals ..... Henry S. Selden.
Attorney-General ..... John Cochran.
The canvass was one of the most interesting of political campaigns.
The president was unusually active, and his series of letters
were remarkable documents. He had the ear of the public; he
commanded the front page of the press, and he defended his
administration and its acts and replied to his enemies with skill,
tact, and extreme moderation.
Public opinion was peculiar. Military disasters and increasing
taxation had made the position of the administration very critical,
but the victories which came during the summer changed the situation.
I have never known in any canvass any one incident which had
greater effect than Sheridan's victory in the Shenandoah Valley,
and never an adventure which so captured the popular imagination
as his ride from Washington to the front; his rallying the retreating
and routed troops, reforming them and turning defeat into victory.
The poem "Sheridan's Ride," was recited in every audience, from
every platform, and from the stage in many theatres and created
the wildest enthusiasm.
My friend, Wayne MacVeagh, who was at Yale College with me,
had succeeded as a radical leader in defeating his brother-in-law,
Don Cameron, and getting control for the first time in a generation
against the Cameron dynasty of the Republican State organization
of Pennsylvania. He had nominated a radical ticket, with
Andrew G. Curtin as a candidate for governor.
MacVeagh wrote to me, saying: "You are running at the head of
the Republican ticket in New York. Your battle is to be won
in Pennsylvania, and unless we succeed you cannot. Come over
and help us."
I accepted the invitation and spent several most exciting and
delightful weeks campaigning with Governor Curtin and his party.
The meetings were phenomenal in the multitudes which attended
and their interest in the speeches. I remember one dramatic
occasion at the city of Reading. This was a Democratic stronghold;
there was not a single Republican office-holder in the county.
The only compensation for a Republican accepting a nomination
and conducting a canvass, with its large expenses and certain
defeat, was that for the rest of his life he was given as an
evidence of honor the title of the office for which he ran, and so
the county was full of "judges, Mr. District Attorneys, State
Senators, and Congressmen" who had never been elected.
We arrived at Reading after midday. The leading street, a very
broad one, was also on certain days the market-pIace. A friend
of the governor, who had a handsome house on this street, had
the whole party for luncheon. The luncheon was an elaborate
banquet. Governor Curtin came to me and said: "You go out and
entertain the crowd, which is getting very impatient, and in about
twenty minutes I will send some one to relieve you." It was
raining in torrents; the crowd shouted to me encouragingly: "Never
mind the rain; we are used to that, but we never heard you." As
I would try to stop they would shout: "Go ahead!" In the meantime
the banquet had turned into a festive occasion, with toasts and
speeches. I had been speaking over two hours before the governor
and his party appeared. They had been dining, and the Eighteenth
Amendment had not been dreamed of. I was drenched to the skin,
but waited until the governor had delivered his twenty-minute
speech; then, without stopping for the other orators, I went over
to the house, stripped, dried myself, and went to bed.
Utterly exhausted with successive days and nights of this experience,
I did not wake until about eight o'clock in the evening. Then
I wandered out in the street, found the crowd still there, and
the famous John W. Forney making a speech. They told me that
he had been speaking for four hours, delivering an historical address,
but had only reached the administration of General Jackson. I never
knew how long he kept at it, but there was a tradition with our party
that he was still speaking when the train left the next morning.
Governor Curtin was an ideal party leader and candidate. He was
one of the handsomest men of his time, six feet four inches in
height, perfectly proportioned and a superb figure. He never
spoke over twenty minutes, but it was the talk in the familiar
way of an expert to his neighbors. He had a cordial and captivating
manner, which speedily made him the idol of the crowd and a most
agreeable companion in social circles. When he was minister
to Russia, the Czar, who was of the same height and build, was
at once attracted to him, and he took a first place among the
diplomats in influence.
When I returned to New York to enter upon my own canvass, the State
and national committees imposed upon me a heavy burden. Speakers
of State reputation were few, while the people were clamoring for
meetings. Fortunately I had learned how to protect my voice. In
the course of the campaign every one who spoke with me lost his
voice and had to return home for treatment. When I was a student
at Yale the professor in elocution was an eccentric old gentleman
named North. The boys paid little attention to him and were
disposed to ridicule his peculiarities. He saw that I was specially
anxious to learn and said: "The principal thing about oratory
is to use your diaphragm instead of your throat." His lesson
on that subject has been of infinite benefit to me all my life.
The programme laid out called upon me to speak on an average
between six and seven hours a day. The speeches were from ten
to thirty minutes at different railway stations, and wound up with
at least two meetings at some important towns in the evening,
and each meeting demanded about an hour. These meetings were
so arranged that they covered the whole State. It took about four
weeks, but the result of the campaign, due to the efforts of the
orators and other favorable conditions, ended in the reversal
of the Democratic victory of the year before, a Republican majority
of thirty thousand and the control of the legislature.
In 1864 the political conditions were very unfavorable for the
Republican party, owing to the bitter hostility between the
conservative and radical elements. Led by such distinguished men
as Thurlow Weed and Henry J. Raymond, on the one side, and
Horace Greeley, with an exceedingly capable body of earnest
lieutenants on the other, the question of success or defeat depended
upon the harmonizing of the two factions.
Without having been recognized by the politicians or press of
the State, Reuben E. Fenton, who had been for ten years a congressman
from the Chatauqua district, had developed in Congress remarkable
ability as an organizer. He had succeeded in making Galusha A. Grow
speaker of the House of Representatives, and had become a power
in that body. He had behind him the earnest friendship and support
of the New York delegation in the House of Representatives and had
not incurred the enmity of either faction in his own State. His
nomination saved the party in that campaign.
As an illustration how dangerous was the situation, though the
soldiers' vote in the field was over one hundred thousand and
almost unanimously for the Republican ticket, the presidential and
gubernatorial candidates received less than eight thousand
majority, the governor leading the president.
The re-election of Mr. Lincoln and the election Reuben E. Fenton
over Governor Seymour made our State solidly Republican, and
Governor Fenton became at once both chief executive and party
leader. He had every quality for political leadership, was a shrewd
judge of character, and rarely made mistakes in the selection
of his lieutenants. He was a master of all current political
questions and in close touch with public opinion. My official
relations with him as secretary of state became came at once
intimate and gratifying. It required in after-years all the
masterful genius of Roscoe Conkling and the control of federal
patronage granted to him by President Grant to break Fenton's
hold upon his party.
Governor Fenton was blessed with a daughter of wonderfuI executive
ability, singular charm, and knowledge of public affairs. She made
the Executive Mansion in Albany one of the most charming and
hospitable homes in the State. Its influence radiated everywhere,
captured visitors, legislators, and judges, and was a powerful
factor in the growing popularity and influence of the governor.
One of the most interesting of political gatherings was the
Democratic convention, which met at Tredwell Hall in Albany
in the fall of 1864, to select a successor to Governor Seymour.
The governor had declared publicly that he was not a candidate,
and that under no conditions would he accept a renomination. He
said that his health was seriously impaired, and his private affairs
had been neglected so long by his absorption in public duties
that they were in an embarrassing condition and needed attention.
The leaders of the convention met in Dean Richmond's office and
selected a candidate for governor and a full State ticket. When
the convention met the next day I was invited to be present as
a spectator. It was supposed by everybody that the proceedings
would be very formal and brief, as the candidates and the platform
had been agreed upon. The day was intensely hot, and most of
the delegates discarded their coats, vests, and collars, especially
those from New York City.
When the time came for the nomination, the platform was taken
by one of the most plausible and smooth talkers I ever heard.
He delivered a eulogy upon Governor Seymour and described in
glowing terms the debt the party owed him for his wonderful public
services, and the deep regret all must have that he felt it necessary
to retire to private life. He continued by saying that he acquiesced
in that decision, but felt it was due to a great patriot and
the benefactor of the party that he should he tendered a
renomination. Of course, they all knew it would be merely a
compliment, as the governor's position had been emphatically
stated by himself. So he moved that the governor be nominated by
acclamation and a committee appointed to wait upon him at the
Executive Mansion and ascertain his wishes.
When Mr. Richmond was informed of this action, he said it was
all right but unnecessary, because the situation was too serious
to indulge in compliments.
In an hour the delegation returned, and the chairman, who was
the same gentleman who made the speech and the motion, stepped
to the front of the platform to report. He said that the governor
was very grateful for the confidence reposed in him by the
convention, and especially for its approval of his official actions
as governor of the State and the representative of his party at
the national convention, that in his long and intense application
to public duties he had impaired his health and greatly embarrassed
his private affairs, but, but, he continued with emphasis. . . He
never got any further. Senator Shafer, of Albany, who was unfriendly
to the governor, jumped up and shouted: "Damn him, he has accepted!"
The convention, when finally brought to order, reaffirmed its
complimentary nomination as a real one, with great enthusiasm
and wild acclaim.
When the result was reported to Mr. Richmond at his office, I was
told by one who was present that Richmond's picturesque vocabulary
of indignation and denunciation was enriched to such a degree
as to astonish and shock even the hardened Democrats who listened
to the outburst.
A committee was appointed to wait on the governor and request him
to appear before the convention. In a little while there stepped
upon the platform the finest figure in the State or country.
Horatio Seymour was not only a handsome man, with a highly
intellectual and expressive face of mobile features, which added
to the effect of his oratory, but he never appeared unless perfectly
dressed and in the costume which was then universally regarded
as the statesman's apparel. His patent-leather boots, his
Prince Albert suit, his perfectly correct collar and tie were
evidently new, and this was their first appearance. From head to
foot he looked the aristocrat. In a few minutes he became the idol
of that wild and overheated throng. His speech was a model of
tact, diplomacy, and eloquence, with just that measure of restraint
which increased the enthusiasm of the hearers. The convention,
which had gathered for another purpose, another candidate, and
a new policy, hailed with delight its old and splendid leader.
Commodore Vanderbilt had a great admiration for Dean Richmond.
The commodore disliked boasters and braggarts intensely. Those
who wished to gain his favor made the mistake, as a rule, of boasting
about what they had done, and were generally met by the remark:
"That amounts to nothing." Mr. Tillinghast, a western New York man
and a friend of Richmond, was in the commodore's office one day,
soon after Richmond died. Tillinghast was general superintendent
of the New York Central and had been a sufferer from being stepped
on by the commodore when he was lauding his own achievements and
so took the opposite line of extreme moderation. The commodore
asked Tillinghast, after praising Mr. Richmond very highly, "How
much did he leave?" "Oh," said Tillinghast, "his estate is a
great disappointment, and compared with what it was thought to be
it is very little." "I am surprised," remarked the commodore,
"but how much?" "Oh, between five or six millions," Tillinghast
answered. For the first time in his life the commodore was thrown
off his guard and said: "Tillinghast, if five or six million
of dollars is a disappointment, what do you expect in western
New York?" At that time there were few men who were worth that
amount of money.
Governor Seymour made a thorough canvass of the State, and I was
appointed by our State committee to follow him. It was a singular
experience to speak and reply to the candidate the day after his
address. The local committee meets you with a very complete report
of his speech. The trouble is that, except you are under great
restraint, the urgency of the local committee and the inevitable
temptations of the reply under such conditions, when your adversary
is not present, will lead you to expressions and personalities which
you deeply regret.
When the canvass was over and the governor was beaten, I feared
that the pleasant relations which had existed between us were
broken. But he was a thorough sportsman. He sent for and received
me with the greatest cordiality, and invited me to spend a week-end
with him at his home in Utica. There he was the most delightful
of hosts and very interesting as a gentleman farmer. In the
costume of a veteran agriculturist and in the farm wagon he drove
me out mornings to his farm, which was so located that it could
command a fine view of the Mohawk Valley. After the inspection
of the stock, the crops, and buildings, the governor would spend
the day discoursing eloquently and most optimistically upon
the prosperity possible for the farmer. To his mind then the food
of the future was to be cheese. There was more food value
in cheese than in any known edible article, animal or vegetable.
It could sustain life more agreeably and do more for Iongevity
No one could have imagined, who did not know the governor and
was privileged to listen to his seemingly most practical and
highly imaginative discourse, that the speaker was one of the
ablest party managers, shrewdest of politicians, and most eloquent
advocates in the country, whose whole time and mind apparently
were absorbed in the success of his party and the fruition of
his own ambitions.
As we were returning home he said to me: "You have risen higher
than any young man in the country of your age. You have a talent
and taste for public life, but let me advise you to drop it and
devote yourself to your profession. Public life is full of
disappointments, has an unusual share of ingratitude, and its
compensations are not equal to its failures. The country is full
of men who have made brilliant careers in the public service and
then been suddenly dropped and forgotten. The number of such men
who have climbed the hill up State Street to the capitol in Albany,
with the applause of admiring crowds whom none now can recall,
would make a great army."
He continued by telling this story: "In the war of 1812 the
governor and the legislature decided to bring from Canada to
Albany the remains of a hero whose deeds had excited the admiration
of the whole State. There was an imposing and continuous
procession, with local celebrations all along the route, from
the frontier to the capital. The ceremonies in Albany were attended
by the governor, State officers, legislature, and judges, and the
remains were buried in the capitol park. No monument was erected.
The incident is entirely forgotten, no one remembers who the hero
was, what were his deeds, nor the spot where he rests."
Years afterwards, when the State was building a new capitol and
I was one of the commissioners, in excavating the grounds
a skeleton was found. It was undoubtedly the forgotten hero
of Governor Seymour's story.
When my term was about expiring with the year 1865 I decided
to leave public life and resume the practice of my profession.
I was at the crossroads of a political or a professional career.
So, while there was a general assent to my renomination, I
emphatically stated the conclusion at which I had arrived.
The Republican convention nominated for my successor as secretary
of state General Francis C. Barlow, a very brilliant soldier in
the Civil War. The Democratic convention adopted a patriotic
platform of advanced and progressive views, and nominated at the
head of their ticket for secretary of state General Henry W. Slocum.
General Slocum had been a corps commander in General Sherman's
army, and came out of the war among the first in reputation and
achievement of the great commanders. It was a master stroke on
the part of the Democratic leaders to place him at the head of
their ticket. He was the greatest soldier of our State and very
popular with the people. In addition to being a great commander,
he had a charming personality, which fitted him for success
in public life.
The Democrats also on the same ticket nominated for attorney-general
John Van Buren. He was a son of President Van Buren and a man
of genius. Although he was very erratic, his ability was so great
that when serious he captured not only the attention but the judgment
of people. He was an eloquent speaker and had a faculty of
entrancing the crowd with his wit and of characterization of his
opponent which was fatal. I have seen crowds, when he was
elaborately explaining details necessary for the vindication of his
position, or that of his party which did not interest them,
to remain with close attention, hoping for what was certain to come,
namely, one of those sallies of wit, which made a speech of
Van Buren a memorable thing to have listened to.
Van Buren was noted for a reckless disregard of the confidences
of private conversation. Once I was with him on the train for
several hours, and in the intimacy which exists among political
opponents who know and trust each other we exchanged views in
regard to public measures and especially public men. I was very
indiscreet in talking with him in my criticism of the leaders of
my own party, and he equally frank and delightful in flaying alive
the leaders of his party, especially Governor Seymour.
A few days afterwards he made a speech in which he detailed what
I had said, causing me the greatest embarrassment and trouble.
In retaliation I wrote a letter to the public, stating what he had
said about Governor Seymour. The Democratic ticket was beaten
by fifteen thousand in a very heavy vote, and Van Buren always
charged it to the resentment of Governor Seymour and his friends.
In our country public life is a most uncertain career for a young
man. Its duties and activities remove him from his profession or
business and impose habits of work and thought which unfit him
for ordinary pursuits, especially if he remains long in public
service. With a change of administration or of party popularity,
he may be at any time dropped and left hopelessly stranded.
On the other hand, if his party is in power he has in it a position
of influence and popularity. He has a host of friends, with many
people dependent upon him for their own places, and it is no easy
thing for him to retire.
When I had decided not to remain any longer in public life and
return home, the convention of my old district, which I had
represented in the legislature, renominated me for the old position
with such earnestness and affection that it was very difficult
to refuse and to persuade them that it was absolutely necessary
for me to resume actively my profession.
Our village of Peekskill, which has since grown into the largest
village in the State, with many manufacturing and other interests,
was then comparatively small. A large number of people gathered
at the post-office every morning. On one occasion when I arrived
I found them studying a large envelope addressed to me, which
the postmaster had passed around. It was a letter from
William H. Seward, secretary of state, announcing that the president
had appointed me United States minister to Japan, and that the
appointment had been sent to the Senate and confirmed by that
body, and directing that I appear at the earliest possible moment
at his office to receive instructions and go to my post. A few
days afterwards I received a beautiful letter from Henry J. Raymond,
then in Congress, urging my acceptance.
On arriving in Washington I went to see Mr. Seward, who said to me:
"I have special reasons for securing your appointment from the
president. He is rewarding friends of his by putting them in
diplomatic positions for which they are wholly unfit. I regard
the opening of Japan to commerce and our relations to that new
and promising country so important, that I asked the privilege
to select one whom I thought fitted for the position. Your youth,
familiarity with public life, and ability seem to me ideal for this
position, and I have no doubt you will accept."
I stated to him how necessary it was that after long neglect in
public life of my private affairs I should return to my profession,
if I was to make a career, but Mr. Seward brushed that aside by
reciting his own sucess, notwithstanding his long service in our
State and in Washington. "However," he continued, "I feared that
this might be your attitude, so I have made an appointment for you
to see Mr. Burlingame, who has been our minister to China, and
is now here at the head of a mission from China to the different
nations of the world."
Anson Burlingame's career had been most picturesque and had
attracted the attention of not only the United States but of
Europe. As a member of the House of Representatives he had
accepted the challenge of a "fire-eater," who had sent it under
the general view that no Northern man would fight. As minister
to China he had so gained the confidence of the Chinese Government
that he persuaded them to open diplomatic relations with the Western
world, and at their request he had resigned his position from
the United States and accepted the place of ambassador to the great
powers, and was at the head of a large delegation, composed of
the most important, influential, and representative mandarins of
the old empire.
When I sent up my card to his room at the hotel his answer was:
"Come up immediately." He was shaving and had on the minimum
of clothes permissible to receive a visitor. He was expecting me
and started in at once with an eloquent description of the attractions
and importance of the mission to Japan. With the shaving brush
in one hand and the razor in the other he delivered an oration.
In order to emphasize it and have time to think and enforce a new
idea, he would apply the brush and the razor vigorously, then pause
and resume. I cannot remember his exact words, but have a keen
recollection of the general trend of his argument.
He said: "I am surprised that a young man like you, unmarried
and with no social obligations, should hesitate for a moment
to accept this most important and attractive position. If you
think these people are barbarians, I can assure you that they
had a civilization and a highly developed literature when our
forefathers were painted savages. The western nations of Europe,
in order to secure advantages in this newly opened country for
commerce, have sent their ablest representatives. You will meet
there with the diplomats of all the western nations, and your
intimacy with them will be a university of the largest opportunity.
You will come in contact with the best minds of Europe. You can
make a great reputation in the keen rivalry of this situation
by securing the best of the trade of Japan for your own country
to its western coasts over the waters of the Pacific. You will
be welcomed by the Japanese Government and the minister of
foreign affairs will assign you a palace to live in, with a garden
attached so perfectly appointed and kept as to have been the envy
of Shenstone. You will be attended by hundreds of beautiful and
accomplished Japanese maidens."
When I repeated to a large body of waiting office-seekers who had
assembled in my room what Mr. Burlingame had said, they all became
applicants for the place.
There is no more striking evidence of the wonderful advance in
every way of the Japanese Empire and its people than the conditions
existing at that time and now. Then it took six months to reach
Japan and a year for the round trip. Of course, there was no
telegraphic or cable communication, and so it required a year
for a message to be sent and answered. The Japanese army at that
time was mostly clad in armor and its navy were junks.
In fifty years Japan has become one of the most advanced nations
of the world. It has adopted and assimilated all that is best of
Western civilization, and acquired in half a century what required
Europe one thousand years to achieve. Its army is unexcelled
in equipment and discipline, and its navy and mercantile marine are
advancing rapidly to a foremost place. It demonstrated its prowess
in the war with Russia, and its diplomacy and power in the recent war.
Japan has installed popular education, with common schools,
academies, and universities, much on the American plan. It has
adopted and installed every modern appliance developed by
electricity--telegraph, cable, telephone, etc.
While I was greatly tempted to reverse my decision and go,
my mother, who was in delicate health, felt that an absence so
long and at such distance would be fatal, and so on her account
As I look back over the fifty years I can see plainly that four
years, and probably eight, in that mission would have severed
me entirely from all professional and business opportunities
at home, and I might have of necessity become a place holder
and a place seeker, with all its adventures and disappointments.
If I had seriously wanted an office and gone in pursuit of one,
my pathway would have had the usual difficulties, but fickle
fortune seemed determined to defeat my return to private life
by tempting offers. The collectorship of the port of New York
was vacant. It was a position of great political power because
of its patronage. There being no civil service, the appointments
were sufficientIy numerous and important to largely control the
party in the State of New York, and its political influence reached
into other commonwealths. It was an office whose fees were
enormous, and the emoluments far larger than those of any position
in the country.
The party leaders had begun to doubt President Johnson, and they
wanted in the collectorship a man in whom they had entire
confidence, and so the governor and State officers, who were all
Republicans, the Republican members of the legislature, the State
committee, the two United States senators, and the Republican
delegation of New York in the House of Representatives unanimously
requested the president to appoint me.
President Johnson said to me: "No such recommendation and
indorsement has ever been presented to me before." However,
the breach between him and the party was widening, and he could
not come to a decision.
One day he suddenly sent for Senator Morgan, Henry J. Raymond,
Thurlow Weed, and the secretary of the treasury for a consultation.
He said to them: "I have decided to appoint Mr. Depew." The
appointment was made out by the secretary of the treasury, and the
president instructed him to send it to the Senate the next morning.
There was great rejoicing among the Republicans, as this seemed
to indicate a favorable turn in the president's mind. Days and
weeks passed, however, and when the veto of the Civil Rights Bill
was overridden in the Senate and, with the help of the votes
of the senators from New York, the breach between the president
and his party became irreconcilable, the movement for his
impeachment began, which ended in the most sensational and perilous
trial in our political history.
On my way home to New York, after the vote of the New York senators
had ended my hope for appointment, I had as a fellow traveller
my friend, Professor Davies, from West Point. He was a brother
of that eminent jurist, Henry E. Davies, a great lawyer and
chief justice of our New York State Court of Appeals. Professor
Davies said to me: " I think I must tell you why your nomination
for collector was not sent to the Senate. I was in Washington
to persuade the president, with whom I am quite intimate, to make
another appointment. I was calling on Secretary Hugh McCulloch
and his family in the evening of the day when the conference decided
to appoint you. Secretary McCulloch said to me: 'The contest
over the collectorship of the port of New York is settled, and
Chauncey Depew's name will be sent to the Senate to-morrow
morning.' I was at the White House," continued the professor,
"the next morning before breakfast. The president received me
at once because I said my mission was urgent and personal. I told
him what the secretary of the treasury had told me and said:
'You are making a fatal mistake. You are going to break with
your party and to have a party of your own. The collectorship
of the port of New York is the key to your success. Depew is
very capable and a partisan of his party. If you have any doubt,
I beg of you to withhold the appointment until the question
comes up in the Senate of sustaining or overriding of the veto
of the Civil Rights Bill. The votes of the two New York senators
will decide whether they are your friends or not.' The president
thought that was reasonable, and you know the result."
There was at least one satisfaction in the professor's amazingly
frank revelation: it removed all doubt why I had lost a great
office and, for my age and circumstances, a large fortune.
President Andrew Johnson differed radically from any President
of the United States whom it has been my good fortune to know.
This refers to all from and including Mr. Lincoln to Mr. Harding.
A great deal must be forgiven and a great deal taken by way of
explanation when we consider his early environment and opportunities.
In the interviews I had with him he impressed me as a man of
vigorous mentality, of obstinate wilfulness, and overwhelming
confidence in his own judgment and the courage of his convictions.
His weakness was alcoholism. He made a fearful exhibition of
himself at the time of his inauguration and during the presidency,
and especially during his famous trip "around the circle" he
was in a bad way.
He was of humble origin and, in fact, very poor. It is said of him
that he could neither read nor write until his wife taught him.
He made a great career both as a member of the House of Representatives
and a senator, and was of unquestionable influence in each branch.
With reckless disregard for his life, he kept east Tennessee
in the Union during the Civil War.
General Grant told me a story of his own experience with him.
Johnson, he said, had always been treated with such contempt
and ignored socially by the members of the old families and slave
aristocracy of the South that his resentment against them was
vindictive, and so after the surrender at Appomattox he was
constantly proclaiming "Treason is odious and must be punished."
He also wanted and, in fact, insisted upon ignoring Grant's parole
to the Confederate officers, in order that they might be tried
for treason. On this question of maintaining his parole and
his military honor General Grant was inflexible, and said he would
appeal not only to Congress but to the country.
One day a delegation, consisting of the most eminent, politically,
socially, and in family descent, of the Southern leaders, went to
the White House. They said: "Mr. President, we have never
recognized you, as you belong to an entirely different class
from ourselves, but it is the rule of all countries and in all ages
that supreme power vested in the individual raises him, no matter
what his origin, to supreme leadership. You are now President
of the United States, and by virtue of your office our leader,
and we recognize you as such." Then followed attention from
these people whom he admired and envied, as well as hated,
of hospitality and deference, of which they were past masters.
It captivated him and changed his whole attitude towards them.
He sent for General Grant and said to him: "The war is over
and there should be forgiveness and reconciliation. I propose
to call upon all of the States recently in rebellion to send
to Washington their United States senators and members of the House,
the same as they did before the war. If the present Congress
will not admit them, a Congress can be formed of these Southern
senators and members of the House and of such Northern senators
and representatives as will believe that I am right and acting
under the Constitution. As President of the United States, I will
recognize that Congress and communicate with them as such.
As general of the army I want your support." General Grant replied:
"That will create civil war, because the North will undoubtedly
recognize the Congress as it now exists, and that Congress will
assert itself in every way possible." "In that case," said the
president, "I want the to support the constitutional Congress
which I am recognizing." General Grant said: "On the contrary,
so far as my authority goes, the army will support the Congress
as it is now and disperse the other." President Johnson then
ordered General Grant to Mexico on a mission, and as he had
no power to send a general of the army out of the United States,
Grant refused to go.
Shortly afterwards Grant received a very confidential communication
from General Sherman, stating that he had been ordered to Washington
to take command of the army, and wanted to know what it meant.
General Grant explained the situation, whereupon General Sherman
announced to the president that he would take exactly the same
position as General Grant had. The president then dropped
the whole subject.
III. ABRAHAM LINCOLN
The secretaryship of the State of New York is a very delightful
office. Its varied duties are agreeable, and the incumbent is
brought in close contact with the State administration,
the legislature, and the people.
We had in the secretary of state's office at the time I held
the office, about fifty-eight years ago, very interesting archives.
The office had been the repository of these documents since
the organization of the government. Many years afterwards they
were removed to the State Library. Among these documents were
ten volumes of autograph letters from General Washington to
Governor Clinton and others, covering the campaign on the Hudson
in the effort by the enemy to capture West Point, the treason of
Arnold and nearly the whole of the Revolutionary War. In the course
of years before these papers were removed to the State Library,
a large part of them disappeared. It was not the fault of the
administration succeeding me, but it was because the legisIature,
in its effort to economize, refused to make appropriation for the
proper care of these invaluable historic papers. Most of
Washington's letters were written entirely in his own hand, and
one wonders at the phenomenal industry which enabled him to do
so much writing while continuously and laboriously engaged in
In view of the approaching presidential election, the legislature
passed a law, which was signed by the governor, providing machinery
for the soldiers' vote. New York had at that time between three
and four hundred thousand soldiers in the field, who were scattered
in companies, regiments, brigades, and divisions all over the South.
This law made it the duty of the secretary of state to provide
ballots, to see that they reached every unit of a company, to gather
the votes and transmit them to the home of each soldier. The State
government had no machinery by which this work could be done.
I applied to the express companies, but all refused on the ground
that they were not equipped. I then sent for old John Butterfield,
who was the founder of the express business but had retired and
was living on his farm near Utica. He was intensely patriotic and
ashamed of the lack of enterprise shown by the express companies.
He said to me: "If they cannot do this work they ought to retire."
He at once organized what was practically an express company,
taking in all those in existence and adding many new features
for the sole purpose of distributing the ballots and gathering
the soldiers' votes. It was a gigantic task and successfully
executed by this patriotic old gentleman.
Of course, the first thing was to find out where the New York
troops were, and for that purpose I went to Washington, remaining
there for several months before the War Department would give
me the information. The secretary of war was Edwin M. Stanton.
It was perhaps fortunate that the secretary of war should not only
possess extraordinary executive ability, but be also practically
devoid of human weakness; that he should be a rigid disciplinarian
and administer justice without mercy. It was thought at the time
that these qualities were necessary to counteract, as far as
possible, the tender-heartedness of President Lincoln. If the boy
condemned to be shot, or his mother or father, could reach the
president in time, he was never executed. The military authorities
thought that this was a mistaken charity and weakened discipline.
I was at a dinner after the war with a number of generals who
had been in command of armies. The question was asked one of
the most famous of these generals: "How did you carry out the
sentences of your courts martial and escape Lincoln's pardons?"
The grim old warrior answered: "I shot them first."
I took my weary way every day to the War Department, but could
get no results. The interviews were brief and disagreeable and
the secretary of war very brusque. The time was getting short.
I said to the secretary: "If the ballots are to be distributed
in time I must have information at once." He very angrily refused
and said: "New York troops are in every army, all over the enemy's
territory. To state their location would be to give invaluable
information to the enemy. How do I know if that information would
be so safeguarded as not to get out?"
As I was walking down the long corridor, which was full of hurrying
officers and soldiers returning from the field or departing for it,
I met Elihu B. Washburne, who was a congressman from Illinois
and an intimate friend of the president. He stopped me and said:
"Hello, Mr. Secretary, you seem very much troubled. Can I help you?"
I told him my story.
"What are you going to do?" he asked. I answered: "To protect
myself I must report to the people of New York that the provision
for the soldiers' voting cannot be carried out because the
administration refuses to give information where the New York
soldiers are located."
"Why," said Mr. Washburne, "that would beat Mr. Lincoln. You don't
know him. While he is a great statesman, he is also the keenest
of politicians alive. If it could be done in no other way, the
president would take a carpet-bag and go around and collect those
votes himself. You remain here until you hear from me. I will
go at once and see the president."
In about an hour a staff officer stepped up to me and asked: "Are
you the secretary of state of New York?" I answered "Yes."
"The secretary of war wishes to see you at once," he said. I found
the secretary most cordial and charming.
"Mr. Secretary, what do you desire?" he asked. I stated the case
as I had many times before, and he gave a peremptory order to one
of his staff that I should receive the documents in time for me
to leave Washington on the midnight train.
The magical transformation was the result of a personal visit of
President Lincoln to the secretary of war. Mr. Lincoln carried
the State of New York by a majority of only 6,749, and it was
a soldiers' vote that gave him the Empire State.
The compensations of my long delay in Washington trying to move
the War Department were the opportunity it gave me to see
Mr. Lincoln, to meet the members of the Cabinet, to become intimate
with the New York delegation in Congress, and to hear the wonderful
adventures and stories so numerous in Washington.
The White House of that time had no executive offices as now,
and the machinery for executive business was very primitive.
The east half of the second story had one large reception-room,
in which the president could always be found, and a few rooms
adjoining for his secretaries and clerks. The president had very
little protection or seclusion. In the reception-room, which was
always crowded at certain hours, could be found members of Congress,
office-seekers, and an anxious company of fathers and mothers
seeking pardons for their sons condemned for military offenses,
or asking permission to go to the front, where a soldier boy was
wounded or sick. Every one wanted something and wanted it very
bad. The patient president, wearied as he was with cares of state,
with the situation on several hostile fronts, with the exigencies
in Congress and jealousies in his Cabinet, patiently and
sympathetically listened to these tales of want and woe. My position
was unique. I was the only one in Washington who personally did
not want anything, my mission being purely in the public interest.
I was a devoted follower of Mr. Seward, the secretary of state,
and through the intimacies with officers in his department I learned
from day to day the troubles in the Cabinet, so graphically described
in the diary of the secretary of the navy Gideon Welles.
The antagonism between Mr. Seward and Mr. Chase, the secretary
of the treasury, though rarely breaking out in the open, was
nevertheless acute. Mr. Seward was devoted to the president and
made every possible effort to secure his renomination and election.
Mr. Chase was doing his best to prevent Mr. Lincoln's renomination
and secure it for himself.
No president ever had a Cabinet of which the members were so
independent, had so large individual followings, and were so
inharmonious. The president's sole ambition was to secure the
ablest men in the country for the departments which he assigned
to them without regard to their loyalty to himself. One of
Mr. Seward's secretaries would frequently report to me the acts
of disloyalty or personal hostility on the part of Mr. Chase with
the lament: "The old man--meaning Lincoln--knows all about it
and will not do a thing."
I had a long and memorable interview with the president. As
I stepped from the crowd in his reception-room, he said to me:
"What do you want?" I answered: "Nothing, Mr. President, I only
came to pay my respects and bid you good-by, as I am leaving
Washington." "It is such a luxury," he then remarked, "to find
a man who does not want anything. I wish you would wait until
I get rid of this crowd."
When we were alone he threw himself wearily on a lounge and was
evidently greatly exhausted. Then he indulged, rocking backward
and forward, in a reminiscent review of different crises in his
administration, and how he had met them. In nearly every instance
he had carried his point, and either captured or beaten his
adversaries by a story so apt, so on all fours, and such complete
answers that the controversy was over. I remember eleven of
these stories, each of which was a victory.
In regard to this story-telling, he said: "I am accused of telling
a great many stories. They say that it lowers the dignity of the
presidential office, but I have found that plain people (repeating
with emphasis plain people), take them as you find them, are more
easily influenced by a broad and humorous illustration than in any
other way, and what the hypercritical few may think, I don't care."
In speaking Mr. Lincoln had a peculiar cadence in his voice, caused
by laying emphasis upon the key-word of the sentence. In answer
to the question how he knew so many anecdotes, he answered:
"I never invented story, but I have a good memory and, I think,
tell one tolerably well. My early life was passed among pioneers
who had the courage and enterprise to break away from civilization
and settle in the wilderness. The things which happened to these
original people and among themselves in their primitive conditions
were far more dramatic than anything invented by the professional
story-tellers. For many years I travelled the circuit as a lawyer,
and usually there was only one hotel in the county towns where
court was held. The judge, the grand and petit juries, the lawyers,
the clients, and witnesses would pass the night telling exciting
or amusing occurrences, and these were of infinite variety and
interest." He was always eager for a new story to add to his
magazine of ammunition and weapons.
One night when there was a reception at the executive mansion
Rufus F. Andrews, surveyor of the port of New York, and I went
there together. Andrews was a good lawyer and had been a
correspondent in New York of Mr. Lincoln, while he was active
at the bar in Illinois. He was a confidential adviser of the
president on New York matters and frequently at the executive
mansion. As the procession moved past the president he stopped
Andrews and, leaning over, spoke very confidentially to him.
The conversation delayed the procession for some time. When
Andrews and I returned to the hotel, our rooms were crowded with
newspaper men and politicians wanting to know what the confidential
conversation was about. Andrews made a great mystery of it and so
did the press. He explained to me when we were alone that during
his visit to the president the night before he told the president
a new story. The president delayed him at the reception, saying:
"Andrews, I forgot the point of that story you told me last night;
repeat it now."
While Mr. Lincoln had the most logical of minds and his letters
and speeches on political controversies were the most convincing
of any statesman of his period, he rarely would enter into a long
discussion in conversation; he either would end the argument by
an apt story or illustration enforcing his ideas.
John Ganson, of Buffalo, was the leader of the bar in western
New York. Though elected to the House of Representatives as
a Democrat, he supported the war measures of the administration.
He was a gentleman of the old school, of great dignity, and always
immaculately dressed. He was totally bald and his face also
devoid of hair. It was a gloomy period of the war and the reports
from the front very discouraging. Congressman Ganson felt it his
duty to see the president about the state of the country. He made
a formal call and said to Mr. Lincoln: "Though I am a Democrat,
I imperil my political future by supporting your war measures.
I can understand that secrecy may be necessary in miIitary
operations, but I think I am entitled to know the exact conditions,
good or bad, at the front."
Mr. Lincoln looked at him earnestly for a minute and then said:
"Ganson, how clean you shave!" That ended the interview.
The first national convention I ever attended was held in Baltimore
in 1864, when Mr. Lincoln was renominated. I have since been four
times a delegate-at-large, representing the whole State, and many
times a delegate representing a congressional district. Judge
W. H. Robertson, of Westchester County, and I went to the convention
together. We thought we would go by sea, but our ship had a
collision, and we were rescued by a pilot boat. Returning to
New York, we decided to accept the security of the railroad.
Judge Robertson was one of the shrewdest and ablest of the Republican
politicians in the State of New York. He had been repeatedly
elected county judge, State senator, and member of Congress, and
always overcoming a hostile Democratic majority.
We went to Washington to see Mr. Seward first, had an interview
with him at his office, and dined with him in the evening. To dine
with Secretary Seward was an event which no one, and especially
a young politician, ever forgot. He was the most charming of hosts
and his conversation a liberal education.
There was no division as to the renomination of Mr. Lincoln, but
it was generally conceded that the vice-president should be a war
Democrat. The candidacy of Daniel S. Dickinson, of New York,
had been so ably managed that he was far and away the favorite.
He had been all his life, up to the breaking out of the Civil War,
one of the most pronounced extreme and radical Democrats in the
State of New York. Mr. Seward took Judge Robertson and me into
his confidence. He was hostile to the nomination of Mr. Dickinson,
and said that the situation demanded the nomination for vice-president
of a representative from the border States, whose loyalty had been
demonstrated during the war. He eulogized Andrew Johnson, of
Tennessee, and gave a gIowing description of the courage and
patriotism with which Johnson, at the risk of his life, had advocated
the cause of the Union and kept his State partially loyal.
He said to us: "You can quote me to the delegates, and they will
believe I express the opinion of the president. While the president
wishes to take no part in the nomination for vice-president, yet
he favors Mr. Johnson."
When we arrived at the convention this interview with Mr. Seward
made us a centre of absorbing interest and at once changed the
current of opinion, which before that had been almost unanimously
for Mr. Dickinson. It was finally left to the New York delegation.
The meeting of the delegates from New York was a stormy one and
lasted until nearly morning. Mr. Dickinson had many warm friends,
especially among those of previous democratic affiliation, and
the State pride to have a vice-president was in his favor. Upon
the final vote Andrew Johnson had one majority. The decision
of New York was accepted by the convention and he was nominated
This is an instance of which I have met many in my life, where
the course of history was changed on a very narrow margin. Political
histories and the newspapers' discussions of the time assigned
the success of Mr. Johnson to the efforts of several well-known
delegates, but really it was largely if not wholly due to the
message of Mr. Seward, which was carried by Judge Robertson and
myself to the delegates.
The year of 1864 was full of changes of popular sentiment and
surprises. The North had become very tired of the war. The people
wanted peace, and peace at almost any price. Jacob Thompson
and Clement C. Clay, ex-United States senators from the South,
appeared at Niagara Falls, on the Canadian side, and either they
or their friends gave out that they were there to treat for peace.
In reference to them Mr. Lincoln said to me: "This effort was
to inflame the peace sentiment of the North, to embarrass the
administration, and to demoralize the army, and in a way it was
successful. Mr. Greeley was hammering at me to take action for
peace and said that unless I met these men every drop of blood
that was shed and every dollar that was spent I would be responsible
for, that it would be a blot upon my conscience and soul. I wrote
a letter to Mr. Greeley and said to him that those two
ex-United States senators were Whigs and old friends of his,
personally and politically, and that I desired him to go to
Niagara Falls and find out confidentially what their credentials
were and let me know."
The president stated that instead of Mr. Greeley doing it that
way, he went there as an ambassador, and with an array of reporters
established himself on the American side and opened negotiations
with these two alleged envoys across the bridge. Continuing,
Mr. Lincoln said: "I had reason to believe from confidential
information which I had received from a man I trusted and who had
interviewed Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy,
that these envoys were without authority, because President Davis
had said to this friend of mine and of his that he would treat on
no terms whatever but on absolute recognition of the independence
of the Southern Confederacy. The attention of the whole country
and of the army centred on these negotiations at Niagara Falls,
and to stop the harm they were doing I recalled Mr. Greeley and
issued my proclamation 'To Whom It May Concern,' in which I stated
if there was anybody or any delegation at Niagara Falls, or anywhere
else, authorized to represent the Southern Confederacy and to treat
for peace, they had free conduct and safety to Washington and
return. Of course, they never came, because their mission was
a subterfuge. But they made Greeley believe in them, and the
result is that he is still attacking me for needlessly prolonging
the war for purposes of my own."
At a Cabinet meeting one of the members said to Mr. Lincoln:
"Mr. President, why don't you write a letter to the public stating
these facts, and that will end Mr. Greeley's attacks?" The president
answered: "Mr. Greeley owns a daily newspaper, a very widely
circulated and influential one. I have no newspaper. The press
of the country would print my letter, and so would the New York
Tribune. In a little while the public would forget all about it,
and then Mr. Greeley would begin to prove from my own letter that
he was right, and I, of course, would be helpless to reply." He
brought the Cabinet around to unanimous agreement with him by
telling one of his characteristic stories.
This affair and the delays in the prosecution of the war had
created a sentiment early in 1864 that the re-election of Mr. Lincoln
was impossible. The leaders of both the conservative and the
radical elements in the Republican party, Mr. Weed, on the one
hand, and Mr. Greeley, on the other, frankly told the president
that he could not be re-elected, and his intimate friend,
Congressman Elihu B. Washburne, after a canvass of the country,
gave him the same information.
Then came the spectacular victory of Farragut at Mobile and the
triumphant march of Sherman through Georgia, and the sentiment
of the country entirely changed. There was an active movement
on foot in the interest of the secretary of the treasury, Chase,
and fostered by him, to hold an independent convention before
the regular Republican convention as a protest against the
renomination of Mr. Lincoln. It was supported by some of the most
eminent and powerful members of the party, who threw into the
effort their means and influence. After these victories the effort
was abandoned and Mr. Lincoln was nominated by acclamation.
I recall as one of the excitements and pleasures of a lifetime
the enthusiastic confidence of that convention when they acclaimed
Lincoln their nominee.
Governor Seymour, who was the idol of his party, headed the
New York delegation to the national Democratic convention to
nominate the president, and his journey to that convention was
a triumphal march. There is no doubt that at the time he had
with him not only the enthusiastic support of his own party but
the confidence of the advocates of peace. His own nomination
and election seemed inevitable. However, in deference to the war
sentiment, General McClellan was nominated instead, and here
occurred one of those littIe things which so often in our country
have turned the tide.
The platform committee, and the convention afterwards, permitted
to go into the platform a phrase proosed by Clement C. Vallandigham,
of Ohio, the phrase being, "The war is a failure." Soon after
the adjournment of the convention, to the victories of Farragut
and Sherman was added the spectacular campaign and victory of
Sheridan in the Valley of Shenandoah. The Campaign at once took
on a new phase. It was the opportunity for the orator.
It is difficult now to recreate the scenes of that campaign.
The people had been greatly disheartened. Every family was
in bereavement, with a son lost and others still in the service.
Taxes were onerous and economic and business conditions very bad.
Then came this reaction, which seemed to promise an early victory
for the Union. The orator naturally picked up the phrase, "The war
is a failure"; then he pictured Farragut tied to the shrouds of his
flag-ship; then he portrayed Grant's victories in the Mississippi
campaign, Hooker's "battle above the clouds," the advance of the
Army of Cumberland; then he enthusiastically described Sheridan
leaving the War Department hearing of the battle in Shenandoah
Valley, speeding on and rallying his defeated troops, reforming
and leading them to victory, and finished with reciting some of
the stirring war poems.
Mr. Lincoln's election under the conditions and circumstances
was probably more due to that unfortunate phrase in the Democratic
platform than to any other cause.
The tragedy of the assassination of Mr. Lincoln was followed by
the most pathetic incident of American life--his funeral. After
the ceremony at Washington the funeral train stopped at Philadelphia,
New York, and Albany. In each of these cities was an opportunity
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