Immediately after the nomination of Mr. Lincoln for President, at Chicago, in the summer of 1860, while annoyed and dejected at the defeat of Governor Seward, as I was preparing to shake the dust of the city from my feet, Messrs. David Davis [afterward a judge of the Supreme Court of the United States], and Leonard Swett called at my room. These gentlemen, warm friends and zealous supporters of Mr. Lincoln, had contributed more than all others to his nomination. After his name was presented as a candidate for President, and received with favor by the citizens of Illinois, Messrs. Davis and Swett visited Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Maryland, for the purpose of commending Mr. Lincoln to the favorable consideration of prominent men in those States. They now called to converse with me about the approaching canvass. I informed them very frankly that I was so greatly disappointed at the result of the action of the convention as to be unable to think or talk on the subject; that I was going to pass a few days upon the prairies of Iowa, and that by the time I reached Albany I should be prepared to do my duty for the Republican cause and for its nominees. They then urged me to return home via Springfield, where we could talk over the canvass with Mr. Lincoln, saying that they would either join me at Bloomington, where they resided, or meet me at Springfield.

After passing with a few friends a pleasant week in traveling through Iowa, I repaired to Springfield. We entered immediately upon the question which deeply concerned the welfare of the country, and which had an especial interest for Mr. Lincoln. We discust freely the prospects of success, assuming that all or nearly all the slave States would be against us. The issues had already been made, and could neither be changed nor modified; but there was much to be considered in regard to the manner of conducting the campaign, and in relation to States that were safe without effort, to those which required attention, and to others that were sure to be vigorously contested. Viewing these questions in their various aspects, I found Mr. Lincoln sagacious and practical. He displayed throughout the conversation so much good sense, such intuitive knowledge of human nature, and such familiarity with the virtues and infirmities of politicians, that I became imprest very favorably with his fitness for the duties which he was not unlikely to be called upon to discharge. This conversation lasted some five hours, and when the train arrived in which we were to depart, I rose all the better prepared to "go to work with a will" in favor of Mr. Lincoln's election, as the interview had inspired me with confidence in his capacity and integrity.

In December of that year, and after the electoral colleges had shown a large majority for Mr. Lincoln, I was invited to visit him at Springfield, where I again met my friends Davis and Swett. Mr. Lincoln, altho manifestly gratified with his election, foresaw and appreciated the dangers which threatened the safety both of the Government and of the Union. But while Mr. Lincoln never underestimated the difficulties which surrounded him, his nature was so elastic, and his temperament so cheerful, that he always seemed at ease and undisturbed. . . .

Mr. Lincoln remarked, smiling, "that he supposed I had had some experience in cabinetmaking; that he had a job on hand, and as he had never learned that trade he was disposed to avail himself of the suggestions of friends." Taking up his figure, I replied, "that tho never a boss cabinet-maker, I had as a journeyman been occasionally consulted about State cabinets, and that altho President Taylor once talked with me about reforming his Cabinet, I had never been concerned in or presumed to meddle with the formation of an original Federal cabinet, and that he was the first President-elect I had ever seen." The question thus opened became the subject of conversation, at intervals, during that and the following day. I say at intervals, because many hours were consumed in talking of the public men connected with former administrations, interspersed, illustrated, and seasoned pleasantly with Mr. Lincoln's stories, anecdotes, etc.

Mr. Lincoln observed that "the making of a cabinet, now that he had it to do, was by no means as easy as he had supposed; that he had, even before the result of the election was known, assuming the probability of success, fixt upon the two leading members of his Cabinet, but that in looking about for suitable men to fill the other departments, he had been much embarrassed, partly from his want of acquaintance with the prominent men of the day, and partly, he believed, that while the population of the country had immensely increased, really great men were scarcer than they used to be." He then inquired whether I had any suggestions of a general character affecting the selection of a cabinet to make.

I replied that, along with the question of ability, integrity, and experience, he ought, in the selection of his Cabinet, to find men whose firmness and courage fitted them for the revolutionary ordeal which was about to test the strength of our Government; and that in my judgment it was desirable that at least two members of his Cabinet should be selected from slaveholding States. He inquired whether, in the emergency which I so much feared, they could be trusted, adding that he did not quite like to hear Southern journals and Southern speakers insisting that there must be no "coercion"; that while he had no disposition to coerce anybody, yet after he had taken an oath to execute the laws, he should not care to see them violated.

As the conversation progressed, Mr. Lincoln remarked that he intended to invite Governor Seward to take the State, and Governor Chase the Treasury Department, remarking that, aside from their long experience in public affairs, and their eminent fitness, they were prominently before the people and the convention as competitors for the Presidency, each having higher claims than his own for the place which he was to occupy. On naming Gideon Welles as the gentleman he thought of as the representative of New England in the Cabinet, I remarked that I thought he could find several New England gentlemen whose selection for a place in his Cabinet would be more acceptable to the people of New England. "But," said Mr. Lincoln, "we must remember that the Republican party is constituted of two elements, and that we must have men of Democratic as well as of Whig antecedents in the Cabinet."

Acquiescing in this view the subject was passed over. And then Mr. Lincoln remarked that Judge Blair had been suggested. I inquired, "What Judge Blair?" and was answered, "Judge Montgomery Blair." Has he been suggested by any one except his father, Francis P. Blair, Sr.?" "Your question," said Mr. Lincoln, "reminds me of a story," and he proceeded with infinite humor to tell a story, which I would repeat if I did not fear that its spirit and effect would be lost. I finally remarked that if we were legislating on the question, I should move to strike out the name of Montgomery Blair and insert that of Henry Winter Davis. Mr. Lincoln laughingly replied, "Davis has been posting you up on this question. He came from Maryland and has got Davis on the brain. Maryland must, I think, be like New Hampshire, a good State to move from." And then he told a story of a witness in a neighboring county, who, on being asked his age, replied, "Sixty." Being satisfied that he was much older, the judge repeated the question, and on receiving the same answer, admonished the witness, saying that the court knew him to be much older than sixty. "Oh," said the witness, "you're thinking about that fifteen year that I lived down on the eastern shore of Maryland; that was so much lost time and don't count." This story, I perceived, was thrown in to give the conversation a new direction. It was very evident that the selection of Montgomery Blair was a fixt fact; and altho I subsequently ascertained the reasons and influences that controlled the selection of other members of the Cabinet, I never did find out how Mr. Blair got there.

General Cameron's name was next introduced, and in reference to him and upon the peculiarities and characteristics of Pennsylvania statesmen we had a long conversation. In reply to a question of Mr. Lincoln's, I said that I had personally known General Cameron for twentyfive years; that for the last ten years I had seen a good deal of him; that whenever I had met him at Washington or elsewhere he had treated me with much kindness, inspiring me with friendly feeling. "But you do not," said Mr. Lincoln, " say what you think about him for the Cabinet." On that subject I replied that I was embarrassed; that Mr. Cameron during a long and stirring political life had made warm friends and bitter enemies; that while his appointment would gratify his personal friends, it would offend his opponents, among whom were many of the leading and influential Republicans of that State; that I was, as I had already stated, in view of an impending rebellion, anxious that Mr. Lincoln should have the support of not only a strong Cabinet, but one which would command the confidence of the people. We continued to canvass General Cameron in this spirit for a long time, Mr. Lincoln evidently sharing in the embarrassment which I had exprest, and manifesting, I thought, a desire that I should fully endorse General Cameron. I told him that if it were a personal question I should not hesitate to do so, for that I liked General Cameron, and entertained no doubt of his regard for me, but that as I was not sure that his appointment would give strength to the administration, I must leave the matter with himself. "But," said Mr. Lincoln, "Pennsylvania, any more than, New York or Ohio, can not be overlooked. Her strong Republican vote, not less than her numerical importance, entitles her to a representative in the Cabinet. Who is stronger or better than General Cameron?" To this question I was unprepared for a reply, for among General Cameron's friends there was no one eminently qualified, and would have been equally unjust and unwise to take an opponent, and finally General Cameron's case was passed over, but neither decided nor dismissed.

I now renewed my suggestion about having the slave States represented in the Cabinet. "But," said Mr. Lincoln, "you object to Judge Blair, who resides in a slave State." "I object to Judge Blair because he represents nobody, he has no following, and because his appointment would be obnoxious to the Union men of Maryland; and that, as I believe, while he can look into Maryland, he actually resides in the District of Columbia." "Very well," said Mr. Lincoln, "I will now give you the name of a gentleman who not only resides in a slave State, but who is emphatically a representative man. What objection have you to Edward Bates, of Missouri?" "None, not a shadow or a shade of an objection. That is a selection, as Mr. Webster might have said, 'eminently fit to be made.' The political record of Mr. Bates is proverbially consistent. He was a reliable Whig member of Congress from the State of Missouri thirty years ago; he was the able and popular president of the great River and Harbor Improvement Convention at Chicago twenty years ago; his high personal and professional character, his habits of industry, his equable temper, and his inalienable devotion to the Government and Union, fit and qualify him in my judgment admirably for a cabinet minister . . . . .

It was now settled that Governor Seward was to be Secretary of State, Governor Chase, Secretary of the Treasury, and Mr. Bates the AttorneyGeneral. I was satisfied that Mr. Lincoln intended to give Mr. Welles one of the other places in the Cabinet; that he was strongly inclined to give another place to Mr. Blair, and that his mind was not quite clear in regard to General Cameron. Only one place, therefore, remained open, and that, it was understood, was to be given to Indiana; but whether it was to be Caleb B. Smith or Colonel Lane was undetermined. I inquired whether, in the shape which the question was taking, it was just or wise to concede so many seats in the Cabinet to the Democratic element in the Republican party. He replied that as a Whig he thought he could afford to be liberal to a section of the Republican party without whose votes he could not have been elected.

I admitted the justice and wisdom of this, adding that in arranging and adjusting questions of place and patronage in our State we had acted in that spirit, but that I doubted both the justice and the wisdom, in inaugurating his administration, of giving to a minority of the Republican party a majority in his Cabinet. I added that the national convention indicated unmistakably the sentiment of its constituency by nominating for President a candidate with Whig antecedents, while its nominee for Vice-President had been for many years a Democratic representative in Congress. "But," said Mr. Lincoln, "why do you assume that we are giving that section of our party a majority in the Cabinet?" I replied that if Messrs. Chase, Cameron, Welles, and Blair should be designated, the Cabinet would stand four to three. "You seem to forget that I expect to be there; and counting me as one, you see how nicely the Cabinet would be balanced and ballasted. Besides," said Mr. Lincoln, "in talking of General Cameron you admitted that his political status was unexceptionable. I suppose we could say of General Cameron, without offense, that he is 'not Democrat enough to hurt him.' I remember that people used to say, without disturbing my self-respect, that I was not lawyer enough to hurt me." I admitted that I had no political objection to General Cameron, who, I was quite sure, would forget whether applicants for appointment had been Whig or Democrat.

In this way, the conversation being alternately earnest and playful, two days passed very pleasantly. I wish it were possible to give in Mr. Lincoln's amusing but quaint manner the many stories, anecdotes, and witticisms with which he interlarded and enlivened what, with almost any of his predecessors in the high office of President, would have been a grave, dry consultation. The great merit of Mr. Lincoln's stories, like Captain Bunsby's opinion, "lays in the application of it." They always and exactly suited the occasion and the subject, and none to which I ever listened were far-fetched or pointless.

1 From Weed's "Autobiography." By permission of, and by arrangement with, the authorized publishers, Houghton, Mifflin Company. Copyright, 1883. Mr. Weed, in the Chicago Convention that nominated Lincoln, had been a leader among the supporters of William H. Seward. He was at that time the editor of the Albany Journal, as he had been since 1830. He had long been influential in the State and national politics of the Whig and Republican parties. Weed exercised an important influence in securing the nomination of Harrison in 1836-40; of Clay in 1844; of Taylor in 1848, and of Scott in 1852. He, with Seward and Horace Greeley, for many years formed in New York politics a sort of triumvirate, which exercised great power. It was finally dissolved in 1854, as Greeley said, "by the retirement of the junior partner," Greeley having become dissatisfied.
Return to text.

Table of Contents
Return to Main Page
© 2002, 2003 by Lynn Waterman