The History of New York State
Book XII, Chapter 8, Part 3

Editor, Dr. James Sullivan

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Pam

 

 In the State campaign of 1862, the parties might broadly be looked upon as Democratic and Republican; yet the official party names were Constitutional Union, largely democratic; and Republican Union, mostly Republican. Horatio Seymour headed the Democratic, and James S. Wadsworth headed the Republican ticket. Seymour fundamentally condemned the government and Wadsworth ardently supported it. Seymour's Constitutional Union party pledged "the Democracy to continue united in its support of the government, to use all legitimate means to suppress rebellion, restore the Union as it was, and maintain the Constitution as it is." In other words, they would revert to the ante-bellum status. But their standard-bearer, Seymour, would go much father. He condemned emancipation as "a proposal for the butchering of women and children, for scenes of lust and rapine, and of arson and murder, which would invoke the interference of civilized Europe." #18 Wadsworth, on the other hand, was absolutely convinced that "the Union must crush out slavery, or slavery will crush the Union." He saw no alternative. Neither did Lincoln. His Emancipation proclamation was issued on September 23, five days after the Antietam disaster.

As Horace Greeley and Abolitionists had not brought the President around to their way of thinking, and especially as the President had gone contrary to the advice of Secretary Seward, who thought it would be dangerous to publish the Emancipation Proclamation until military success had paved the way, we find the "Tribune' actively behind the Republican ticket, and very active in criticism of Seymour and the Democrats. The great editor found Seymour to be a "consummate demagogue," "radically dishonest"; one whose political utterances "will be read throughout the rebel states with unalloyed delight," since "their whole drift tends to encourage treason and paralyze the arm of those who strike for the Union." #19 Raymond, of the "Times," declared that "every vote given for Wadsworth is a vote for loyalty, and every vote given for Seymour is a vote for treason."

Lincoln viewed New York possibilities with grave apprehension; he felt that the Union would be in grave danger of falling, if Seymour won. Man-power must be obtained, for military replacements; and if not obtainable by voluntary means, men must be conscripted. New York was the biggest field; but even the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus would make enforcement of the Draft Act difficult in New York State, if under a Governor such as Seymour, who vehemently condemned conscription.

Lincoln's lot was an unenviable one at that time. Complaints were many; commendations were few. In Pennsylvania, men said openly "that they would be glad to hand Lincoln to the nearest lamp-port." #20 The October elections in Pennsylvania went against the government. So did those of Ohio and Indiana. The governor of Indiana wrote to Lincoln: "nothing but success, speedy and decided, will save out cause from destruction. In the Northwest, distrust and despair are seizing upon the hearts of the people." The reaction was just as noticeable in New York. The republicans made a desperate effort at the last moment to get both Seymour and Wadsworth to retire in favor of John A. Dix, but the latter refused to consider the Governorship, being too busy in military responsibility just then. So New York went on to its destiny. John Van Buren, who had been out of the public eye since the outbreaking of war and had had no desire to oppose the government, now emerged as a stump-speaker for Seymour, but he lacked force. The "Tribune" ridiculed his efforts; called him "a repeater of moldy jokes," " a political harlequin," and many worse names. The newspapers did their best to elect Wadsworth, independent journals joining with republican. "Seymour's antecedents are against him," declared the "Herald." "Wadsworth, radical as he is, will be preferred by the people to a Democrat who is believed to be in favor of stopping the war. Their frantic efforts were futile; reaction gad set it, the turn being made more positive by the unfortunate ordering of a military draft almost on the eve of election day. Seymour was furiously opposed to such tyranny; and he was given custody of New York's public affairs for the next two years. His majority over Wadsworth was only about 10,000 in a total vote of more than 600,000; #21 so, although the "Times" interpreted the vote as a "want of confidence in the President," the protest against Lincoln was evidently not very emphatic.

The total vote was 72,610 less than in 1860, chiefly because the soldiers in the field were not allowed to vote. Had New York's more than 100,000 soldiers been counted at the ballot, Wadsworth probably would have been Governor, but his destiny was death--within two years, on the field of battle. Seymour, the enemy of the government, was to control the reins in New York, fostering dissension and obstruction of Federal purposes, the unrest culminating in the draft riots which, in July, 1863, disgraced New York City, cost many lives, and much property, and to all intents rendered the Draft Act of little avail in New York.

The outgoing Governor, Edwin D. Morgan, was rewarded for four years of efficient administration of the State by being elected United States Senator, in the place of Preston King. Greeley had hoped for the success of Wadsworth, and that for his support he would himself gain the coveted Senatorship; so one can understand his feelings when both Wadsworth and the Senatorship hope passed. Greeley attributed the General's defeat to "a gang of corrupt Republican politicians, who, failing to rule the nominating convention, took revenge on its patriotic candidate by secretly supporting the Democratic nominee." Whether Greeley put Seward and Weed among the "gang of corrupt Republican politicians" can only be conjectured. Wadsworth was of opinion that Seward did not want him to have the Governorship. It hardly seems possible that Seward would have put personal antipathies before national safety at such a time, though it is pointed out that Wadsworth had helped to deny Seward the Presidential nomination at Chicago in 1860. Certainly, the affairs of the Union were at a low ebb in December, 1862. "Everything goes wrong," said Lincoln to Seward and Weed. "The rebel armies hold their own; Grant is wandering around in Mississippi; Burnside manages to keep ahead of Lee; Seymour has carried New York, and if his party carries and holds many of the Northern States, we shall have to give up the fight, for we can never conquer three-quarters of our countrymen, scattered in front, flank, and rear." #22

The piloting of ex-Governor Morgan into the Senate was Thurlow Weed's last political triumph. For thirty years he had been to all intents Dictator of his party in New York; and for the greater part of that time his party had been in office. Now, the veteran founder of the Albany "Journal" resolved to end his connection with it and with public affairs. His last editorial (January 28, 1863) disclosed the fact that he also was among those who differed with the government. "I differ widely with my party about the best means of crushing the rebellion," wrote Weed.

"I can neither impress others with my views nor surrender my own solemn convictions. The alternative of living in strife with those whom I have esteemed, or withdrawing, is presented. I have not hesitated in choose the path of peace as the path of duty."

All were not so patriotic. Supporters of Governor Seymour were organizing resistance to the drafting and enlisting of men for military duty. This spirit of endeavoring to force peace "by paralyzing the arm of the Government" grew so alarmingly strong that the Union supports, regardless of party, formed Union League clubs in the larger centres of population. John Van Buren, who a few months before, had been so helpful in carrying Seymour to victory, now saw the grave peril that partisan politics was bringing to the Union. To his credit let it be said that he was first and foremost a patriot. He knew no party when the Nation was in danger. Thurlow weed was of the same type' "from the outbreak of the rebellion," the latter confessed, "I knew no party, nor did I care for any except the part of the Union." #23 Many other prominent New Yorkers cast off their support of Seymour Democracy as soon as they fully realized the national danger. The Union league clubs did much to halt the disastrous downward trend of Northern politics. Alexander writes: "It may be said with truth that the only ray of hope piercing the gloom and suspense in the early months of 1863 came from the brilliant outbursts of patriotism heard at the meetings of the Union League Clubs," #24 Seward wrote: "I pray that my name may be enrolled in that league. I would prefer that distinction to any honor my fellow-citizens could bestow upon me. If the country lives, as I trust it will, let me be remembered among those who labored to save it. The diploma will grow in value as the years roll away." #25

Seymour, in his first message as Governor, gave expression to less guarded opinions than he had uttered during the campaign. He did not think that either the extremists of the North or the South would prevail. As he interpreted the elections, the people wanted the Nation to go back to the status of 1860. "The determination of the great Central and Western States is to defend the rights of the States, the rights of the individuals, and to restore our Union as it was," he said. "We must not wear out the lives of our soldiers by a war to carry out vague theories." He quite lost sight of the fact that the South had rebelled and could only be brought back by force.

The President recognized in Seymour a strong political force which might, by a dexterous hand, be turned from evil to good-- or rather from enmity to friendship. He said to Weed: "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 rebellion, and preserve the Government. Tell him for me that if he will render this service for his country, I shall cheerfully make way for him as my successor." #26 The President's message, seemingly, touched no responsive chord in the heart of the Governor of New York. Lincoln, however, resolved to make another attempt. Although Seymour and he were "substantially strangers" the President wrote him a personal letter. He wish to "become better acquainted," so that they, in their respective State and National responsibilities, might not be hampered in their duty "by unjust suspicions on one side or the other." Lincoln frankly confessed that "in the performance of his duty, the cooperation of New York State, as that of to others, is needed--in fact indispensable." Seymour let three weeks go by before he replied, and then it was chiefly to promise to address the President "after the Legislature adjourned." This promised letter seems never to have been written. Seymour wanted nothing to do with Lincoln, had no use for confidence in his party, and seems to have felt that the Union could not prevail in the war. Holding such opinions governor Seymour would hardly be likely to prick up his ears at Lincoln's suggestion, regarding the Presidency.

The State Legislature, which was equally divided between Republican and Democrats in the lower house, passed a bill permitting soldiers to vote in State elections while absent. The governor promptly vetoed the measure, remembering no doubt that the soldier vote in the last election would have slept defeat for Democrats. Of course, he put forward another reason; he charged the President with advancing in military rank those "of high rank for improperly interfering in State elections," presumably in the interest of the Republican candidates, but those "subordinate officers," inferentially Democrats, who cast their vote were demoted.

In May, 1863, Clemont L. Vallandighan was arrested in Ohio, for seditious utterances. Seymour was horror-stricken. So, for that matter, were most citizens, Republicans or Democrats. Individual liberty is a precious privilege. Seymour said: "It is a fearful thing to increase the danger which now overhangs us, by treating the law, the judiciary, and the authorities of States with contempt. . . . it is not merely a step toward revolution, it is revolution. . . If it is upheld, our liberties are overthrown." Lincoln was approached by New Yorkers of the Governor's following, and to them the President replied in stronger words than he customarily used. "Must I shoot a simple-minded soldier boy who deserts while I must not touch a hair of a wily agitator who induces him to desert?"

When Lee penetrated Pennsylvania, and it seemed likely that success there might be followed by invasion of New York, Governor Seymour did his duty as a New Yorker--he sent State troops to Gettysburg. Nevertheless, before the result of that great battle was known, the Governor, in a Fourth of July oration almost preached revolt--to the restless agitated citizenry of New York City, then on the verge of bloodily resisting the Draft Act, which would dare to take away their liberty. ". . .shall we do as our fathers did under circumstances of like trial when they battled against the power of a crown?" thundered the exasperated Governor. "Did they say that liberty was suspended? Did they say that men might be deprived of the right by trail by jury? Did they say that might be torn from their homes by midnight intruders?. . . If you would save your country and your liberties, begin at the hearthstone; begin in your family circle; declare that your rights shall be held sacred; and having once proclaimed your own right, claim for your own State that jurisdiction and that government which we, better than all others, can exercise for ourselves, for we know best our own interests." #27

A week later, an attempt to enforce the draft in one of the poorer districts of New York City quickly developed into a serious riot. After three days of mob violence the Governor hastened to the city to try to subdue his "friends." He was compelled to recognize that the city was in a state of insurrection, that the State must suppress this at all cost, and he was prepared to do so. At the time, he promised to do his best to secure a suspension of the Draft Act.

So we see that a Governor who had been fomenting revolution--though not against State authority--was forced, by his responsibility to that State, to exert every effort to suppress the revolt. Governor Seymour had been playing with fire, with inflammable material on every side of him. There had been a blaze, and it had blackened the great metropolis of the greatest State. Maybe, Governor Seymour had not been aware that while he had been openly preaching resistance to the Federal government, Southern emissaries were secretly worming their way into the confidence of the agitated citizen of New York, fomenting the spirit of revolt to the point of explosion. Indeed, it as revealed to the editors of the "Tribune" that the Governor had been implicated in a "widespread treasonable conspiracy." #28 Lincoln, however, "placed no reliance in the story," for which, says Hay, "there was no foundation in fact." #29 Although Governor Seymour protested against the draft, both in extent and in principle, Lincoln would let no State imperil the Nation. Seymour contended that New York City had not been credited with all the volunteers she had supplied--indeed, the Federal authorities quickly discovered that the excess enrolled above the number credited to New York City and Brooklyn was more then 13,00 men--also, he wish the draft to be suspended until the United States Supreme Court had passed upon the constitutionality of the act. In a letter to the President on August 3, Governor Seymour conveyed a note of warning. "If it is . . . . . .proposed on the one hand to exact obedience at the point of the bayonet," he said, "and upon the other hand to shut off, by military power, all approach to our judicial tribunals, we have reason to fear the most ruinous results." #30 Lincoln, in reply, showed that he approached the matter humanely, broadly, but also with a determination to let no state jeopardize the other loyal States. He thought of the Nation as a whole. Personally, he would be glad "to facilitate a decision of the Court and abide by it," but he could not longer delay the draft, "because time is too important." He pointed out that their enemy "drives every able-bodied man he can reach into his ranks," thus quickly producing an army which, said Lincoln, "will soon turn upon our now victorious soldiers already in the field, if they are not sustained by recruits as they should be." #31

Whether conscientious or not in his objection, the chief executive of New York continued to hamper the Federal Government. He could not prevent the draft, u his political agitation and the draft riots made it necessary to station in New York City an army of troops of other States during the days of the draft. Actually, more soldiers were brought into New York City to enforce the Conscription Act than were obtained by it. Ten thousand infantry and three batteries of artillery, as well as a division of State troops stood guard in New York City--so far from the war front--on August 19, when the drawing opened. Of the New Yorkers conscripted throughout the State during 1863 only 2,557 were personally into the service. #32 General John A. Dix, who had declined to accept nomination for the Governorship in 1862, was now head of the Department of the East, ready to take by force the soldiers that Seymour had begrudged the Nation. Dix, in 1862, has chosen the pat of danger, but it seems that he would have served both State and Nation better had he fought for the Governorship.

Governor Seymour must have had some uncomfortable moments during the State political campaign in 1863. President Lincoln sent a letter to the Republican State convention in September, in which he seemed to infer that black slaves were helping the Union more than were some prominent white citizens. "Peace does not appear so distant as it did," wrote Lincoln. "When it comes, it will prove that no appeal lies from the ballot to the bullet, and that those who take it are sure to lose the case and pay the costs. And then there will be some black men who can remember that, with silent tongue and clenched teeth and steady eye and poised bayonet, they have helped mankind on to this great consummation; while I fear there will be some white ones unable to get that with malignant heart and deceitful speech they have striven to hinder it." #33 Seymour, in a long speech to the delegates of the Democratic State convention at Albany a week later, regretting that the President, in holding to Abolition, was "looking to an indefinite protraction of the war." The future appeared to be :national bankruptcy and the subversion of our institutions."

Martin I. Townsend of Troy summed up the Governor's records in a few scathing sentences, spoken at a mass meeting in New York City. "Seymour," he said, "undertook to increase enlistments by refusing the soldier his political franchise. On the supposition that Meade would be defeated, he delivered a Fourth of July address that indicted the free people of the North and placed him in the front rank of men whom rebels delight to honor. If there was a traitor in New York City on that day, he was in the company of Horatio Seymour. Finally, he pronounced as 'friends' the men who, stirred to action by his incendiary words, applied the torch and the bludgeon in the Draft Riot of July 13, 14 and 15th." #34

On the eve of the election, the Governor delivered several addresses, the Governor delivered several addresses, his vapid tongue and distorted mind bringing to his hearers such thoughts as "bankruptcy," "sapping the liberties of the people," "humiliation and degradation of their country a stepping-stone of the continued power." "Does not every man know that we must have a united North to triumph?" asked Seymour. "Can we be a united North upon a theory that the Constitution can be set aside at the will of one man, because, forsooth, he judges it to be a military necessity?. . . .The Vice-President says 'There are men in your midst who want the Union as it was and the Constitution as it is.' We will tell him there are many such men, and we say to him we will have it." #35 Governor Seymour bewailed the call for another 300,000 volunteers, to be followed by a draft, if not properly filled. "Again, 600,000 men are called for--600,000 homes to be entered." With the usual politician's way of exaggerating, Seymour conveniently lost sight of the fact that the draft would be restored to only to make up the shortage of the 300,000 volunteers asked for. He continued his wailing: "The young man will be compelled to give up the cornerstone of his fortune, which he had laid away with toil and care, to begin the race for life. The old man will pat that which he has saved as the support of his declining years, to rescue his son. In God's name, let these operations be fair if they must be cruel." #36 So the Governor's partisan perspective continued to find choking utterances. Few can have looked upon his words as nonpartisan, and fewer and fewer, it seems, were to be swayed by them. "Governor Seymour," the editor of the New York "Herald" pointed out, "can talk more without saying anything and wrote more without meaning anything, than any other man we know. . . . .We consider Seymour not much of a man, and no Governor at all." #37 On the night before election, Seward, speaking at auburn, said" . . . .if the ballot box could be passed through the amps of he confederate soldiers every m n would vote for the administration of our government by Horatio Seymour and against the administration of Abraham Lincoln."

Governor Seymour's political career to all intents ended with the State elections of 1863. He himself was not a candidate, his term as Governor having still another year to run, but the sweeping victory of the Republicans was as much a condemnation of his own official acts as a congratulation of the Lincoln administration for the military victories--Gettysburg and Vicksburg--which had given the North renewed courage and hope. Chauncey M. Depew, a tactful young lawyer of brilliant oratorical power, had become Speaker of the Assembly within a year of entering it. His attractive personality and convincing speech undoubtedly contributed to the Republican victory in 1863, but Seymour's obstructive localism--if one may not call it disloyalty--did more. Depew, who headed the Republican ticket, was elected Secretary of State by a majority of almost 30,000; #38 and in the next Legislature the republican were almost two to one. #39 From such a Legislature, Governor Seymour could expect little cooperation.

The Governor seems to have hitched his star to something higher than the Albany Capitol. His message to the New York Legislature in January, 1864, was apparently intended more to keep his name, as a Presidential possibility, before Democrats, than even to obstruct the Lincoln administration. Seymour added denunciation of the National Bank Act to the many Republican measures he condemned, but the New York Governor did not convince many Democrats; he did not even get the support of his home-State delegation in August, when the Democrats, in convention at Chicago, chose General McClellan to oppose Lincoln for the Presidency.

The Republican National Convention was held at Baltimore on June 7. The exigencies of the war had wrought some changes in the party, and it was thought better to meet as the National Union Convention. Lincoln was to all intents the only candidate, for although on the first ballot General Grant was given twenty-two votes of the Missouri delegation, this was changed to Lincoln before the result was announced. So, Abraham Lincoln was re-nominated by unanimous vote, and, as the faithful Seward gad pointed out, the President was the only logical candidate. Even Lincoln had hoped that Seward might succeed him in 1864, but the great New York statesman had demurred. To the President he had said: "The logic of events requires you to be your own successor. Your were elected in 1860, but the Southern States refused to submit. They thought the decision made at the polls could be reversed in the field. They are still in arms, and their hope now is that you and your party will be voted down at the next election. When that election is held and they find the people re-affirming their decision to have you, President, I think the rebellion will collapse." #40

However, the Republican chances of party triumph were somewhat lessened by a schism in its own ranks. A number of Republicans who endorsed all the aims of the administration in the war but not all of its ways of accomplishing them, objected to the re-nomination of Lincoln. They favored one-term policy, and also the election of the President and Vice-president by the direct vote of the people, instead of by Electoral College ballot. This faction met in National convention at Cleveland on May 21, and chose to be known as Radical Republicans. They nominated John C. Fremont for President, and John Cochrane, of New York, for Vice-President. However, both candidates withdrew, in favor of the regular Republican nominees, Lincoln and Johnson, four months later. That Lincoln saw very little hope of being re-elected, there is abundant evidence. That he intended, if possible, to win the war before being compelled to hand over the reins of government to another who could never win it is also disclosed in his correspondence. "This morning, as for some days past," he wrote, "it seems exceedingly probable that this Administration will not be re-elected. Then it will be my duty to so cooperate with the President-elect as to save the Union between the election and the Inauguration, as he will have secured the election on such grounds that he cannot possibly save it afterwards." #41 Lincoln's mind was so centered in the Union that he failed to see personal loss in his defeat; all that mattered was the preservation of the Union; and while even a day of authority was left to him, he would use it to the full for the Union. Afterwards--after he had returned to private life--would be time enough to pick up the threads of his personal affairs again.

Of course, as we al know, Lincoln was never again to retire to private life. The burden of public affairs of the nation were to rest upon his shoulders until that tragic night when his life blood, drawn by an assassin, ebbed away. The November elections of 1864 approved of Lincoln's handling of the Nation during four years of terrible war. The popular vote was: Lincoln, 2,216,967; McClellan, 1,808,725. The Electoral College gave Lincoln and Johnson 212 votes, including every one of New York's thirty-three; and the Democratic candidate, McClellan, was able to command only the votes of three States, Delaware, Kentucky and New Jersey, in all only twenty-one electoral votes. So the President went on to the end of the war and --to his death.

The State elections of 1864 condemned Seymour. Dean Richmond, the head of the Democrat State convention, had planned to nominate a more popular Democrat than Seymour for the Governorship; and Seymour had himself declared that he would not accept re-nomination; but his friends contrived to outwit Richmond. Before the latter realized it, the Governor had been re-nominated, and what was more surprising had accepted. It was a master stroke of sharp practice. The Richmond faction was aghast. They could only gape--at least, all except Dean Richmond, whose language, says Depew, "was never printed." The Republicans nominated Reuben E., Fenton to oppose Seymour, and although there were moments of great anxiety during the tallying of the votes cast, it was finally announced that Seymour had been defeated by 8,293 votes. Fenton has a greater majority than Lincoln secured in New York, but the Republican triumph, though not very decisive in New York, was enough for the purpose. Twenty of the thirty-one New York Congressman were Republicans, Roscoe Conklin and John A. Griswold being returned, Henry J. Raymond, the capable editor of the "Times" going to Congress, triumphant in a Tammany district, and William E. Dodge also scoring a notable victory. The State Legislature was still almost as dominantly Republican, and was now aided instead of hindered by a Governor who did not always weight public acts on partisan scales.

Horace Greeley was perhaps the most jubilant citizen. Since September, 1864, the "Tribune" had been a Lincoln paper, the President, it is said, having promised that in case of the re-election, Greeley should become Postmaster-General. In April, 1865, Greeley dispatched a friend to Washington, to remind the President of his promise. Alas! The great editor's emissary reached the capital "the morning after the President's assassination." #42

 

The History of New York State, Lewis Historical Publishing Company, Inc., 1927

This book is owned by Pam Rietsch and is a part of the Mardos Memorial Library

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

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