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Abraham Lincoln

Illinois Patronage

Patronage caused some of the biggest problems in Mr. Lincoln's relationships with his Illinois friends. State Auditor Jesse Dubois bitterly recalled that "the moment [Mr. Lincoln] was elevated to his proud position he seemed all at once to have entirely changed his whole nature and become altogether a new being" and forgot his friends.1 Contrary to contention of Dubois, Lincoln's friends and acquaintances actually did relatively well at the President's hand. William E. Barringer at the end of Lincoln's Vandalia noted that by 1861 of the Long Nine with whom Mr. Lincoln first served in the State Legislative three were dead, two were old and retired (including Herndon's father) and remaining three other received "lucrative federal appointment(s)."2

Henry C. Whitney recalled being in Washington in the summer of 1861 with several other Illinois politicians seeking appointments. "I merely said to Lincoln one day - Everything is drifting into the war & I guess you will have to put me in the army.' He said 'I'm making Generals now & in a few days I will be making Quartermasters & I'll then fix you.' - That was all that was ever said between Lincoln & me or anyone else on that subject. [Robert L.]Wilson went to Lincoln and frankly said 'Lincoln I have come on to secure the office of Paymaster in the Army: you know its in the line of business as Clerk and my son is excellent at accounts & I wish to make him my clerk.' - Lincoln made no reply but cast his eyes down to the floor as if in the greatest mental distress & was silent for about 2 minutes. Wilson told me he was almost on the point of leaving the room & going home: but Lincoln turned the conversation on other matters & made no reply at all." On August 6, Whitney learned from the New York Herald that he and several others from Illinois had been appointed. He wrote Herndon: "Think of this. Two of the appointees were utterly worthless & I could just as well have been given & satisfied with a lesser place."3

Journalist Henry Villard reported that in early March 1861, Mr. Lincoln talked about the increased patronage pressures he experienced when he arrived in Washington: "Yes, it was bad enough in Springfield, but it was child's play compared with this tussle here. I hardly have a chance to eat or sleep. I am fair game for everybody of that hungry lot."4 His friends and relatives were insatiable in their ambitions. "A great number of gentlemen have gone from here to the inauguration (or rather office seeking)," Clinton Conkling's mother wrote him from Springfield. "Illinois is here in perfect hordes," John G. Nicolay wrote Ozias M. Hatch in March 1861. "You may look out for a tremendous crop of soreheads."5 Historian David Donald wrote that "a great many of Lincoln's friends looked on his election as an opening of the door to the public treasury. Surely a President of the United States would reward his old and faithful Illinois friends. Lincoln did appoint many, but the federal patronage was not large enough to give everyone a job. There was considerable wailing and gnashing of teeth among the disappointed."6

"There are nearly one hundred applicants for the post office here. Mr. [E. B.] Hawley is one. Dame rumor says Mr. L. will give it to Mrs. [Elizabeth] Grimsley, she is now at Washington. Dr. [William M.]Reynolds want to be sent to Bremen. [George M.]Brinkerhoff is expecting some office, and just think! Adam Johnston is at Washington trying to get the Superintendance of public buildings. Mr. Lincoln will have something to do to gratify all from this place, to say nothing of any other part of our vast country."7

Harry J. Carman and Reinhard H. Luthin wrote: " Lincoln's close friend Jesse W. Fell - essentially neutral in the Davis-Judd Republican factional fight in the President-elect's own state - had suggested to Lincoln that Illinois had her share of glory and patronage in the President; that neither Judd nor Davis should go into the Cabinet; that Cabinet places should go to Indiana and Pennsylvania, for such a disposition of favors was a good deal spoken of at Chicago, in a quiet way, though of course no improper pledges - so far as I know or believe - were asked - as I am very sure they were not and could not be given.' Judd's followers did not surrender easily, but the odds were against them. For Lincoln had almost definitely decided to take Smith. Soon Leonard Swett was writing an associate confidentially: 'Tell [future Interior Secretary Caleb B.]Smith what I know, that it was through the Illinois fight and Judge Davis that Judd went out and he went in.'"8

There were many conflicts - as suggested by difficulties over the appointment of a Treasury Department assessor in the 12th Congressional District of Illinois. Philip B. Fouke wrote President Abraham Lincoln, October 26, 1862 to protest the dismissal of Frederick Grammar from the job: "For five days I have tried in vain to obtain an interview with you upon the subject. Mr. Grammer was appointed at my suggestion, I felt grateful to you, and thanked you cordially, on behalf of the gentlemen, who urged me to recommend him." The new assessor, John Scheil, was a relative by marriage of former Illinois Lieutenant Governor Gustave Koerner . But more than Koerner's influence, Fouke blamed the change on allies of Senator Lyman Trumbull.

Fouke complained: "In connection with these appointments, I made speeches, declaring that I was willing, & every conservative, Union-loveing-man ought also to be willing, that you Sir, should be your own successor to the elevated position of President of the United States, - The removal of Mr Grammer & his Deputies, destroys all that feeling & fixes in the public mind the fact that a Democrat is, per see, in the estimation of your Administration, a disloyal man & unworthy of public patronage. The removal of Mr. G is also the source of the greatest mortification to me: the event will be a source of rejoicing to the extremes of both parties: - one insisting on the principle that "to the victors belong the spoils" & none but those who voted for you, should enjoy patronage. The other, rejoice that I have been rebuked by the very administration I have sacrificed myself to serve."9

Even Salmon P. Chase, who often crossed the President on matters of patronage, walked carefully in Mr. Lincoln's home state. He wrote President Lincoln a detailed letter in August 1862 in which he painstakingly detailed potential nominees for 26 positions as Treasury Department collectors and assessors in Illinois - and the recommendations of relevant Republicans elected officials. He added: "I have not attempted in all cases to bring my mind to definite conclusions, knowing that your intimate acquaintance with the people of that State would enable you to arrive at once at satisfactory results."10 These disputes were serious challenges for Mr. Lincoln for if he could not keep the Republican together, it seemed unlikely that he could keep the Union together.

Sometimes the President had to reassure nervous Illinoisans who feared that they had fallen from favor. General John M. Palmer found himself without a command in late 1864 had wrote Mr. Lincoln about his concerns. Presidential Secretary John G. Nicolay reassured him in December 30 1864 that "the President requested me to say to you that you were not mistaken in the kindness and regard he entertains for you, and that he desired you to follow the course you had indicated in your letter, until you should hear from him." Two months later, Palmer got a new command."11

Historian Michael Burlingame described the kinds of dilemmas which Illinois patronage presented. "When the speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives, Shelby M. Cullom, asked Lincoln in March for control of the postmasterhip and the revenue collectorship of Springfield, the president replied, 'Now you can have the collectorship, but the Post Office I think I have promised to old Mrs. [Seymour] Moody for her husband. I can't let you have the Post Office, Cullom; take the collectorship.' 'Now Mr. President,' replied Cullom, 'why can't you be liberal and let me have both?' 'Mrs. Moody would get down on me,' Lincoln said.12 Moody didn't get the appointment and over a year later, the President sent a telegram to Seymour B. Moody: "Which do you prefer - commissary or quartermaster? If appointed it must be without conditions." First, Moody said he wanted "Commissary in located in Springfield" and a few days later he declined either position.13

Competition for the postmaster's position in Springfield was particularly keen ó and included some of Mrs. Lincoln's relations - like her cousin Elizabeth Grimsley. Even presidential aide John G. Nicolay got involved in trying to resolve the dispute: "I am only writing a few words now to suggest to you the propriety of ending the Post Office squabble in Springfield by having our boys take up Mrs. Lizzie Grimsley (who is here) as their candidate, and with her beating the whole pile of the other contestants? Wouldn't the other aspirants there be more easily reconciled to be beaten by a woman than by one of themselves? I think the President would be pleased to have the riddle solved in that way."14

As a former postmaster in New Salem, Mr. Lincoln knew the utility of such posts ó particularly for maintaining party support. William Herndon asked President-elect Lincoln to prevail upon Governor Richard Yates to reappoint him as Bank Commissioner. "I was present at the meeting between Yates and Lincoln, and I remember that the former, when Lincoln urged my claims for retention in office, asked Lincoln to appoint their mutual friend A.Y. Ellis postmaster at Springfield." Mr. Lincoln had helped longtime friend Abner Ellis win appointment to that same office in 1849. But Ellis got no second chance in 1861. He later said he blamed William Butler and Jesse K. Dubois for making Mr. Lincoln believe that Ellis had not supported him in the 1858 Senate contest.15 Herndon himself wrote: "A.Y. Ellis did not get the office, which can be accounted for alone upon the hypothesis that Lincoln forgot his implied promise in the hurry and flurry of the war times."16

"Patronage was the bonding element of the nineteenth-century party system, and there were more appointments and contracts to be obtained from the Post Office than from all other departments of the federal government combined. But patronage is only part of the story. In every community, the post office was the center of communication, and thus a center of local political power. It was responsible not only for the transmission of letters and other private mail, but also for the circulation of newspapers, periodicals, and government documents ó then the principal media of mass information. To an extent now difficult to comprehend, postmasters of that era, even while performing their official duties, served as active agents of party enterprise," wrote Don E. Fehrenbacher. 17

Fehrenbacher went to focus on the relationship between control of newspapers and control of the post office "It was this admitted relationship between control of the local post office and the welfare of a newspaper that made the Chicago Tribune in 1861. 'We want the office, not wholly for the money there is in it, but as a means of extending and insuring our business and widening the influence of the Tribune,' Charles H. Ray, one of the editors, wrote to Senator Lyman Trumbull after Lincoln's election. 'If Mr. S[cripps] had it the country post masters of the N[orth]west would work to extend our circulation,' added Joseph Medill a week later. There was nothing unusual about Lincoln's appointment of John Locke Scripps, a senior Tribune editor, as Chicago postmaster in 1861. I have counted more than fifty Illinoisans who were simultaneously postmasters and editors or publishers in the years 1854 to 1861. Doubtless there were also numerous instances of close relationships ó of connections through blood marriage, and friendship ó between the two positions."18

Patronage presented a keen test of friendship and politics for Mr. Lincoln. Journalist Henry Villard wrote in his memoirs about the situation that he faced in Springfield : "...it will be understood that the President-elect had a hard time of it with the office-seekers. But as he himself was a thorough believer in the doctrine of rotation in office, he felt it his duty to submit to this tribulation."19 Historian M. L. Houser wrote: "Probably no President ever realized more keenly the power of patronage in securing and retaining support, or used it more skillfully. Where, as in most States, two factions sought control, he divided the appointive offices between them with meticulous care. His political philosophy regarding the handling of such factions was probably disclosed when he wrote to General Schofield, who had been appointed Military Commander of Missouri:
...the Union men of Missouri...have entered into a factional quarrel among themselves....If both factions, or neither, shall abuse you, you will probably be about right. Beware of being assailed by one and praised by the other.20


A particular problem was presented by the requests of David Davis, Ward Hill Lamon and Leonard Swett for promotion of Illinois lawyer William W. Orme to brigadier general. "Until he was appointed," wrote Carl Sandburg, Lincoln's old associates in law kept Orme's name before the President, reporting to Orme its status, how the Senate returned to the President one batch of brigadier appointments on the ground that by law no more could be appointed, how the Senate passed a bill to create twenty new major generals and fifty brigadiers. Mr. Lincoln repeatedly evaded the appointment - but Orme's friends kept up the pressure. Orme wrote that he heard from Washington that "Lamon is at work with the President; and that Mr. Lincoln would make the promotion at once if he could say in justification of himself that I had distinguished myself in battle."21

Orme was a particular object of David Davis' solicitude. According to Davis biographer Willard King: "After Congress had passed the bill fixing the number of brigadiers, Davis again pressed Lincoln for the appointment [in early 1863]. 'I like Orme as well as you do,' Lincoln pleaded, 'but you would hesitate when you have a limited number to appoint, as I have.'" When Davis next returned to the White House, Mr. Lincoln said: "There's Davis. He bothers me nearly to death. The list of new brigadier generals had been made up and Orme is on it." Davis insisted on seeing the list and discovered that Orme's name was on it but had been eliminated. David vociferously protested and President Lincoln corrected the omission.22 But Davis himself admitted that "the pressure upon Lincoln for offices & promotions is as great as ever - He sometimes get very impatient - If ever a man sh[ou]d be sympathized with it is Lincoln -."23

Still, Illinois Republicans were seldom satisfied. Historian Paul M. Angle wrote: "The truth is that long before 1864 the attachment of the Illinois leaders of the party to Lincoln had become at best lukewarm. Within a few months of Lincoln's inauguration Dubois was angered by the administration's coolness towards men he had recommended for office. Herndon complained of Lincoln's slowness in attacking slavery - 'Does he suppose he can crush - squelch out this huge rebellion by pop guns filled with rose water?' [James C.]Conkling thought the President weak and half-hearted. [Edward L.] Baker of the Journal inveighed against the 'dilly-dallying of the Government with Southern traitors.' D. L. Phillips, the United States marshal, charged that Democrats were carrying off fat army contracts while the loyal men were ignored. [Governor Richard] Yates had spent himself in putting an Illinois army into the field, but had 'no credit for it from Mr. Lincoln.'"24 There may have been reason for complaint but the list of close Illinois (or near-Illinois) friends and colleagues who were rewarded by President Lincoln for past loyalty is a surprisingly long one:

Isaac Arnold, Chicago Congressman and attorney. Appointed to Treasury Department position after declining to seek reelection in 1864.

Speed Butler, son of Springfield friend State Treasurer William Butler. Appointed commissary of subsistence.

Theodore Canisius, political friend and editor of the Illinois Staats-Anzeiger, which Mr. Lincoln owned. Appointed Consul in Vienna.

Charles W. Chatterton, (brother-in-law of William Herndon). Appointed to job in Bureau of Indian Affairs.

James C. Conkling, Springfield attorney and political friend. Appointed "agent to adjust accounts with this government for the States of Illinois" in 1863.

Shelby M Cullom, political friend and lawyer. Appointed to War Claims Commission at Cairo.

David Davis, judge, political supporter and friend. Appointed to U.S. Supreme Court in 1862.

Mark Delahay, Illinois resident turned Kansas supporter and Senate aspirant. Appointed surveyor general for Kansas and Nebraska in 1861 and U.S. District Court judge in 1863.

William P. Dole, from Paris, Illinois and Indiana. Appointed Commissioner of Indian Affairs.

Ninian Edwards, brother-in-law and member of the Long Nine. Appointed commissary of subsistence in 1861 for Springfield and later for Chicago. Resigned in 1863.

William F. Elkin, member of the "Long Nine" with whom Mr. Lincoln served in State Legislature. Appointed Register of the Land Office at Springfield.

Elmer Ellsworth, law clerk and family friend. Appointed to War Department clerkship in March 1861. Father got a job when he was killed in military action in Alexandria, Virginia in April 1861.

Jesse W. Fell, lawyer and editor. Appointed U.S. Army paymaster in mid-1862. He took a leave of absence in early 1863 and resigned in December 1863.

William Flood, who served in the Illinois Legislature with Mr. Lincoln. Asked for a position as paymaster. There is no record that he got it although the President endorsed a note to Stanton for the job.

Simeon Francis, former editor of Illinois Journal. Appointed paymaster in Northwest.

James Gourley, Springfield neighbor. Appointed a deputy U.S. marshal.

William G. Greene, New Salem friend and co-worker in Offut store, member of Black Hawk War militia. Appointed collector of internal revenue at Peoria.

Asahel Gridley, merchant and politician with whom Mr. Lincoln served in State House of Representatives in 1830s. Offered post as Minister to Moscow, declined.

Jackson Grimshaw, attorney and unsuccessful candidate for Congress. Appointed collector of Internal Revenue for Quincy in 1865 but had earlier wanted to be appointed U.S. District Judge in Kansas.

Reuben B. Hatch, son of Illinois Secretary of State Ozias M. Hatch. Appointed Assistant Quartermaster.

Dr. Anson G. Henry, doctor and political friend. Appointed Surveyor-General of Washington. Sought to be appointed Commissioner of Indian Affairs in 1865.

William H. Herndon, lawyer and friend. Offered job in St. Louis for $5/day in February 1863 for a month, but turned it down. Worked as assistant to U.S. Attorney in southern Illinois.

William Dean Howells, journalist. Appointed consul in Vienna in 1861.

Dr. William Jayne, brother of Mary Todd 's erstwhile friend Julia Jayne and brother-in-law of Lyman Trumbull. Governor of Dakota Territory, appointed in March 1861. He was elected delegate to Congress in 1863

Norman Judd, attorney and State Republican Chairman, not appointed to Cabinet. Appointed Minister to Berlin in 1861

Charles Kellogg, husband of Margaret Todd Kellogg, half sister of Mary. He was given an army position.

William Pitt Kellogg, attorney. Appointed Consul at Valparaiso, Chile but declined. Appointed Chief Justice of Nebraska Territory in 1861 and U.S. Collector of Port of New Orleans. He had been pushed for Commissioner of Indian Affairs.

Turner R. King, political friend. Appointed U.S. Collector for Eighth Congressional District in 1862.

Gustave Koerner, political friend, German-American leader and former Lieutenant Governor. Appointed Colonel in the Army in 1861 and Minister to Spain in 1862.

Ward Hill Lamon, attorney-friend. Appointed Marshal of the District of Columbia.

E.C. Larned, Chicago attorney. Appointed U.S. Attorney for Illinois.

Stephen Logan, former law partner. Appointed commissioner to investigate claims at Cairo, Illinois.

James G. Long, Menard County sheriff. Appointed to Pension Office clerkship.

Dr. Samuel Long, Springfield friend. Appointed Consul at Lahama, Hawaii.

James P. Luse, editor of the Lafayette Indiana Journal was given the job of postmaster of Lafayette after his father-in-law, Jesse K. Dubois, was unable to obtain the job of Minnesota superintendent of Indian Affairs for him.

Henry McHenry, New Salem resident, friend and brother-in-law of Jack Armstrong. Appointed provost marshal.

Thomas Henry Nelson, attorney from Indiana who sometimes practiced law in the same courts with Mr. Lincoln. Appointed Minister to Chile.

William Orme, friend and attorney. Appointed brigadier general.

Richard J. Oglesby, attorney and Republican politician. Union general before resigning because of ill health and to run for Governor in 1864.

John Palmer, State Senator who nominated Lyman Trumbull for the Senate in 1855. Appointed Union general, became major general.

Samuel C. Parks, Eighth Circuit lawyer and political friend from Logan County. Appointed Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of Idaho in 1863.

Ebenezer Peck, Chicago friend and legal colleague. Appointed associate judge on U.S. Court of Claims in 1863.

David L. Phillips, an 1858 congressional candidate who had worked on Illinois State Journal. Appointed U.S. Marshal for Southern District of Illinois.

Thomas J. Pickett, editor of the Weekly Register in Rock Island and an early booster of Lincoln for President. Appointed agent of Quartermaster on Rock Island.

George Schneider, editor of Illinois Staats-Zeitung, Consul at Elsinore, Denmark. He traveled in both Denmark and Germany.

John Locke Scripps, journalist with the Chicago Press and Tribune and writer of an 1860 campaign biography of Mr. Lincoln. Appointed Postmaster of Chicago in 1861.

James Short, friend from New Salem. Appointed Indian agent at Round Valley Indian Reservation in California.

J.W. Somers. Appointed to Board of Review at the pension office

Leonard Swett, appointed commissioner of Peruvian claims. In November 1861, he was appointed a staff officer for General Eleasar A. Paine, but the appointment was canceled. He also served on a mission to resolve mining problems in California.

John B.S. Todd, brother of Elizabeth Grimsley, like in the Dakota Territory from whence he was a delegate to Congress. Appointed Brigadier General of Volunteers.

Benjamin M. Trumbull, brother of Senator Lyman Trumbull. Appointed to the Omaha land office.

William S. Wallace, physician and brother-in-law. Appointed Army paymaster.

William H. L. Wallace, political friend from Iowa. Appointed Governor of Idaho.

Lawrence Weldon, Clinton lawyer and friend. Appointed U.S. Attorney for Southern District of Illinois in 1861.

Henry C. Whitney, attorney and friend. In August 1861, appointed paymaster of volunteers stationed at Louisville and Ohio. He tried to get transferred in early 1864 to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

John H. Wickizer, Bloomington politician and legal colleague. Appointed Assistant Quartermaster in 1862.

Archibald Williams, attorney and friend. Appointed U.S. District Judge for Kansas in 1861.

Charles Wilson, editor of Chicago Journal. First Secretary of Legation to London Consulate.

Robert L. Wilson, one of "Long Nine" with whom Mr. Lincoln served in the State Legislature. Appointed United States Army paymaster. Declined appointment as army captain.

 

Footnotes

  1. Douglas L. Wilson and Rodney O. Davis, editor, Herndonís Informants, p. 620 (Letter from Jesse K. Dubois to Henry C.. Whitney, April 6, 1865).
  2. William E. Barringer at the end of, Lincolnís Vandalia, p. xxx.
  3. Douglas L. Wilson and Rodney O. Davis, editor, Herndonís Informants, p. 619 (Letter to William H. Herndon from Henry C. Whitney , June 23, 1887).
  4. Henry Villard, Memoirs of Henry Villard, Journalist and Financier, Volume I, 1835-1862, p. 156.
  5. Michael Burlingame, editor, With Lincoln in the White House: Letters, Memoranda, and Other Writings of John G. Nicolay, 1860-1865, p. 30 (Letter to Ozias M. Hatch in March 7 1861).
  6. David Herbert Donald, Lincolnís Herndon: A Biography, p. 153.
  7. Harry E. Pratt, Concerning Mr. Lincoln, p. 66-67 (Mercy Conkling to Clinton L. Conkling, March 1, 1861).
  8. Harry J. Carman and Reinhard H. Luthin, Lincoln Forms His Cabinet, p. 30.
  9. Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Transcribed and Annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College. Galesburg, Illinois. (Letter from Philip B. Fouke to Abraham Lincoln, October 26, 1862).
  10. Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Transcribed and Annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College. Galesburg, Illinois. (Letter from Salmon P. Chase to Abraham Lincoln, August 25, 1862).
  11. Michael Burlingame, editor, With Lincoln in the White House: Letters, Memoranda, and Other Writings of John G. Nicolay, 1860-1865, p. 30 (Letter to John M. Palmer, December 30, 1864).
  12. Michael Burlingame, editor, With Lincoln in the White House: Letters, Memoranda, and Other Writings of John G. Nicolay, 1860-1865, p. 198-199.
  13. Roy P. Basler, editor, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume V, p. 381 (Letter to Seymour B. Moody, August 18, 1862).
  14. Michael Burlingame, editor, With Lincoln in the White House: Letters, Memoranda, and Other Writings of John G. Nicolay, 1860-1865, 1860-1865, p. 32 (Letter to Ozias M. Hatch, March 31, 1861).
  15. Douglas L. Wilson and Rodney O. Davis, editor, Herndonís Informants, p. 173 (Statement by Abner Y. Ellis, January 23, 1866).
  16. Emanuel Hertz, The Hidden Lincoln, p. 420.
  17. Don E. Fehrenbacher, Lincoln in Text and Context, p. 24.
  18. Fehrenbacher, Lincoln in Text and Context, p. 29.
  19. Henry Villard, Memoirs of Henry Villard, Journalist and Financier, Volume I, 1835-1862, p. 147.
  20. M. L. Houser, Lincolnís Education and Other Essays, p. 193.
  21. Carl Sandburg, Abraham Lincoln: The War Years, Volume II, p. 39.
  22. Willard L. King, Lincoln's Manager, David Davis, p. 205-206.
  23. Michael Burlingame, The Inner Wold of Abraham Lincoln, p. 167.
  24. Paul M. Angle, Here I Have Lived: A History of Lincolnís Springfield, p. 284-285.