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a very thorough review with some unusual insights, too.

I can enlarge your comment that Lincoln replaced Salmon Chase with "another radical". William Pitt Fessenden is a distant relative. He was essentially a friend of Chase and certainly in agreement with his abolitionist politics. He also shared the 'radicals' opinion of Lincoln in the first years of the war as too compromising.

As you point out, commentators of the period were no less partisan than now, but Fessenden had a solid reputation for integrity and effectiveness. An interesting feature of the Team of Rivals story is that he had no higher ambitions - like Stanton in my opinion. They were both focused on policy and on the war.

Goodwin, I think, approached her book with a desire to show Lincoln's political skill, which, as you write, could be (was?) triangulation. Perhaps it was only the logic of process and situation that eventually brought Stanton, Fessenden, and Grant into their appropriate positions. I like to give Lincoln somewhat more credit for conviction on the one hand and management skills on the other.

At any rate Fessenden was an abolitionist Senator from Maine with two brothers (also Maine, also abolitionists) in the House of Representatives at the start of the war. They were all essentially charter members of the Republican Party in the sense that Maine Whigs held onto their party label longer than some other contingents before creating their state branch. His youngest son was a Lieutenant who died at Bull Run; his two other sons became Generals by the end of the war. One of the latter two, James, organized the first African-American regiment in 1862, but Lincoln's staff ordered it disbanded.

He actually did rescue the Treasury partly by paying more attention to his job than jockeying for political dominance (Chase). First, he 'cleaned up' a lot of the political appointments in his inherited staff. Second, he 'invented' the idea of government bonds at a par value that the general public could afford with an attractive interest rate (7.3%). Then, although he had opposed paper money (definitely a 'gold bug') while in the Senate, he saw the imperative of 'running the printing presses' at that juncture, intending to buy the 'greenbacks' out when war financing ended.

One action of his with which I might disagree is that he probably saved Andrew Johnson's presidency. Fessenden felt that the impeachment proceedings were prejudiced according to his official remarks and voted for acquittal on an essentially technical basis. Some other remarks, however, indicate that he feared a political crisis at that juncture.

One remark on William Seward - to keep his cabinet position under Johnson, he had to have been an adept political operative.

paul spencer

by paul spencer (spencerinthegorge AT yahoo DOT com) on Sun Jan 19th, 2014 at 03:12:28 PM EST
he had no higher ambitions - like Stanton in my opinion

As a further aside, you allow me to tell four interesting tidbits about this intriguing character which didn't fit into the diary.

Stanton had a special history with all the main players. I first mentioned him as a whistleblower – the first Republican he contacted was Seward. From much earlier, he was Chase's best friend. As for Lincoln, their first meeting was rather negative. Back when both worked as lawyers, a partner of Stanton asked Lincoln for some help in a patent case involving an Illinois company, but although Lincoln did the job, he was forgotten when the trial was moved to Ohio. When Lincoln turned up at the trial in Cincinnati, Stanton saw him as an uncouth backwoodsman and rudely told him off. However, instead of coming away with hate, Lincoln stayed and was impressed by Stanton's attention to detail in the case, contributing to his later decision to put him in the War Department. As for Stanton, in office, he practically became a fan of Lincoln, and wrote that law partner that "no men were ever so deceived as we at Cincinnati".

Back in 2006 when I wrote Monday Train Blogging: Field Railways, I thought that the 1866 Austro-Prussian War was the first conflict in which railways have been used strategically, with decisive effect, but a commenter forced me to read up on the Civil War and re-think. Now I view the September-October 1863 movement of three entire divisions from the eastern to the western theatre in a week (which proved a decisive factor in the ensuing Chattanooga Campaign) as the revolutionary step. As described in Team of Rivals, his was entirely Stanton's brainchild, his generals never thought something like this is possible until he had calculations made, organised it and supervised it 24/7 at the detriment of his health.

Then there is General Sherman, who was such a racist that during his march to the Sea, he failed to recognise that taking slaves along was the most effective means of his goal to starve the Southern war economy. It was Stanton who got him to meet slave elders and issue an order distributing land among the escaped slaves following his army.

It was also Stanton, though, who in all likelihood was responsible for issuing the order for the assassination of the Confederate government that came to light in the Dahlgren Affair. Team of Rivals completely omits this episode, and also the fact that the South retaliated by starting black flag operations, though the most successful of those was featured: that claim of scuppering a Confederate peace offer (which I mentioned in the diary in the part on Douglass), a manipulation by Southern agents in Canada meant to influence the 1864 elections.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sun Jan 19th, 2014 at 05:07:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I would note, following Allyn Young's account, that Chase was responsible for the creation of the National Bank System as a result of his actions as Secretary of Treasury. One of his first acts was to negotiate three $50 million loans with New York bankers. The loans were payable in gold. Once he had the loans he demanded payment in gold, thus, effectively, seizing most of the domestic gold supply. US banks were largely unable to now deal with foreign counter-parties who might demand payment in gold, so this gave control over foreign imports to the Federal Government, which held almost all of the gold.

But this also meant no more loans! So two issues of $150 million of legal tender currency were quickly authorized and a total of $400 million was issued before the Union Army was disbanded. The deal Chase negotiated with the banks allowed them to use this legal tender currency as reserves against which they could issue their own bank notes. The greenbacks did depreciate by about 50% against gold over the course of the war, but the Union had much stronger finances than did the Confederacy and could use gold to pay for vital supply imports, while the South had to rely on getting a shipment of cotton past the blockade to earn foreign currency.

This episode gave the US experience with a fiat currency and, effectively, created the National Bank System, which endured until the creation of the Federal Reserve, which became operational just after the outbreak of WWI. After the war there was pressure from the banks to reestablish the gold standard and the Treasury began retiring greenbacks, which proved highly deflationary. The retirement was stopped in 1873 and, instead, the Treasury accumulated enough specie to properly back the notes, after which there was no need to retire the remainder.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Mon Jan 20th, 2014 at 12:28:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
By way of wikipedia found this critical cartoon of the Lincoln administration, Chase is the one working the money mill.

(Click for larger)

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Mon Jan 20th, 2014 at 02:46:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
One remark on William Seward - to keep his cabinet position under Johnson, he had to have been an adept political operative.

I submit I don't know anything about his Johnson-era career, but let me expand on what I meant with my characterisation as "a talented yet carefree, ageing dandy without strong convictions".

  • It appears that politics was like an aristocratic sport for him: he enjoyed drawing a crowd with public speeches, liked to fight rhetorical battles on the Senate floor, and most of all liked to be at the centre of a social gathering, whatever the subject of discussion. But often his spoken words came back to haunt him when written down and read by other audiences.

  • Another pillar of a 19th-century American political career was to have loyal foot-soldiers who do the groundwork. Lincoln created this on his own, Chase totally ignored this, while Seward left it all in the hands of his friend and mentor Thurlow Weed. Seward would have been nobody without Weed.

  • The third ingredient was (is) to network with other powerful people. In this field, Chase's deficit was to be contended with superficial friendships and change parties (and thus "betray" networks) too many times, while Seward (and Weed) neglected relationships, most prominently Horace Greeley (a New York newspaper editor with political ambitions ignored for too long).

  • Further on the aristocratic sport point, Seward was something of an opportunist, he doesn't seem to have had any real ideological causes or strong loyalty to a group with special interests. This in sharp contrast to his wife Francis, who was a perhaps even more committed abolitionist than Chase (the effect of a visit to the South when the couple was young).

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Jan 20th, 2014 at 07:34:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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