Sunday, December 06, 2009

Lincoln's Fate Was Not Sealed

43rd of 45 excerpts from Lincoln by David Herbert Donald:
The New York Herald announced that publication of the President's "To Whom It May Concern" letter "sealed Lincoln's fate in the coming Presidential campaign." By making abolition as much a war aim as Union, the President gave new strength to the Democratic party, preparing for its national convention in Chicago at the end of August [1864]. Opposition leaders declared the letter proved Lincoln did not really want to end the war "even if an honorable peace were within his grasp." "All he has a right to require of the South is submission to the Constitution," Democratic editors announced. They were sure that "the people of the loyal states will teach him, they will not supply men and treasure to prosecute a war in the interest of the black race."

The President's letter also undermined support in his own party. . . . On August 5 this disaffection with Lincoln exploded with the publication of a protest by [Benjamin] Wade (above) and Henry Winter Davis (below) against Lincoln's "grave Executive usurpation" in pocket-vetoing their reconstruction bill. The congressmen found the President's public message explaining the reasons for his action even more offensive than the veto. "A more studied outrage on the legislative authority of the people has never been perpetuated," they fumed. . . .

Publication of the Wade-Davis "Manifesto," as it was generally called, produced a short-lived political commotion. Democrats, of course, enjoyed the spectacle of prominent congressional leaders attacking the presidential nominee of their own party, and they congratulated "the country that two Republicans have been found willing at last to resent the encroachments of the executive on the authority of Congress. The New York Herald, always glad to jab at the administration, called it an acknowledgment that Lincoln was "an egregious failure" who ought "to retire from the position to which, in an evil hour, he was exalted." But the rhetoric of the proclamation was so excessive and the accusations against Lincoln so extreme that the charges backfired. Most Republican papers criticized Wade and Davis more severely than they did the President.

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