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The Journalists: Henry J. Raymond (1820-1869)

More than other New York news editors, Henry J. Raymond maintained consistently good relations with Mr. Lincoln and regularly visited Washington on political and journalistic missions. President Lincoln called Raymond his "lieutenant-General in politics," according to fellow journalist John Russell Young. "He was the kindliest of men; he had an open ox-like eye, neat, dapper person, which seemed made for an overcoat, a low, placid, decisive voice, argued with you in a Socratic method by asking questions and summing up your answers against you as evidence, that at last, you had found the blessing of conviction. He was never in a hurry, and yet there was no busier person in journalism." He was everything that his journalistic mentor, Horace Greeley, was not - Raymond was practical, debonair, and businesslike. "Raymond was the quiet, critical, somewhat impassive man of affairs, who looked at the whole panorama like the lounger at the club-window, thinking only of its movement and color," wrote Young.1

President Lincoln wrote Raymond in March 1862 a few days after he sent a message to Congress proposing action for the "gradual abolishment of slavery". Said Mr. Lincoln: "I am grateful to the New-York Journals, and not less so to the Times than to others, for their kind notices of the late special Message to Congress. Your paper, however, intimates that the proposition, though well-intentioned, must fail on the score of expense. I do hope you will reconsider this. Have you noticed the facts that less than one half-day's cost of this war would pay for all the slaves in Delaware, at four hundred dollars per head? - that eighty-seven days cost of this war would pay for all in Delaware, Maryland, District of Columbia, Kentucky, and Missouri at the same price? Were those states to take the step, do you doubt that it would shorten the war more than eighty seven days, and thus be an actual saving of expense. Please look at these things, and consider whether there should not be another article in the Times?"2

Raymond was usually open to such influence. He was neither a Radical Republican nor as conservative as his political mentor and fellow editor, Thurlow Weed. He was considerably easier to manager, however, than Weed whose swings of emotion were not quite as wide as those of Raymond's journalistic mentor, Horace Greeley. Raymond was more laid back - as a congratulatory letter to President-elect Lincoln in mid-November 1860 suggests.
I propose to intrude for five minutes on your valuable time:
1st. To congratulate you and the country on the result of the Election.
2nd. To ask you whether possible good might not result from a note embodying the points of the enclosed [memo], - to be written to some friend by you.
The main thing, you will note, is to have you say that the South misunderstands the Republican party, and that a Republican Administration can alone correct the error. I believe this is all any rational man can ask at your hands, and that it is all the emergency requires.
Whatever you may think of the suggestion I beg you to believe that it is offered with the most profound deference to your judgment, and from no other motive than a desire to smooth the way for the coming Administration.3

Raymond was a witness - as many visitors were - to President Lincoln's release in literature and humor - such as Petroleum Nasby and Artemus Ward. In April 1865, Raymond visited the White House and wrote:
The Saturday evening before he left Washington to go to the front, just previous to the capture of Richmond, I was with him from seven o'clock till nearly twelve. It had been one of his most trying days. The pressure of office-seekers was greater at this juncture than I ever knew it be, and he was almost worn out.
Among the callers that evening was a party composed of two Senators, a Representative, an ex-Lieutenant-Governor of a Western State, and several private citizens. They had business of great importance, involving the necessity of the President's examination of voluminous documents. Pushing everything aside, he said to one of the party:
'Have you seen the Nasby papers?
'No, I have not,' was the reply; 'who is Nasby?'
'There is a chap out in Ohio,' returned the President, 'who has been writing a series of letters in the newspapers over the signature of Petroleum V. Nasby. Some one sent me a pamphlet collection of them the other day. I am going to write to 'Petroleum' to come down here, and I intend to tell him if he will communicate his talent to me, I will swap places with him!'
'Thereupon he arose, went to a drawer in his desk, and, taking out the 'Letters,' sat down and read one to the company, finding in their employment of it the temporary excitement and relief which another man would have found in a glass of wine. The instant he had ceased, the book was thrown aside, his countenance relapsed into its habitual serious expression, and the business was entered upon with the utmost earnestness.'4

Raymond took an active role in the 1864 reelection effort. He compiled a 500-page "History of the Administration of President Lincoln" for use in the campaign. According to Raymond biographer Brown, "He was slated to head the New York delegation [to the National Union Convention in Baltimore], which with its sixty-six votes would be the largest at Baltimore, and that position alone assured him of an important part in the convention's work. Raymond's influence had a broader base than that. Some of it rested on his skill as a parliamentarian, his power as an orator, his broad tolerance and suavity. His ties with Seward and Weed and the friendships made in the years of political activity increased the weight he exerted as editor of the chief Lincoln paper in New York City. Most important of all, as the official biographer of the President, he could be regarded in some things as speaking for Lincoln himself."5

At the convention, Raymond was chosen to draft the party platform and took the lead in insisting on a roll call vote of states on President Lincoln's renomination - in order to avoid appearances of any suppression of dissent. He later established up national campaign headquarters at the Astor House in New York City and coordinated work with Edward Morgan and James Harlan, who chaired the congressional campaign committee.

New York was a hotbed of political intrigue and patronage problems - especially in August 1864 when Republican politicians of all factions were panicking. Like Mr. Lincoln's political generals, Raymond did not always possess the calm under fire that was needed in a battle. Raymond wrote Mr. Lincoln on August 22.
I feel compelled to drop you a line concerning the political condition of the Country as it strikes me. I am in active correspondence with your staunchest friends in every State and from them all I hear but one report. The tide is strongly against us. Hon. E. B. Washburne writes that "were an election to be held now in Illinois we should be beaten". Mr. Cameron writes that Pennsylvania is against us. Gov. Morton writes that nothing but the most stren[u]ous efforts can carry Indiana. This State, according to the best information I can get, would go 50.000 against us to?morrow. And so of the rest.
Nothing but the most resolute and decided action, on the part of the Government and its friends, can save the country from falling into hostile hands.
Two special causes are assigned for this great reaction in public sentiment, - the want of military successes, and the impression in some minds, the fear and suspicion in others, that we are not to have peace in any event under this Administration until Slavery is abandoned. In some way or other the suspicion is widely diffused that we can have peace with Union if we would. It is idle to reason with this belief - still more idle to denounce it. It can only be expelled by some authoritative act, at once bold enough to fix attention and distinct enough to defy incredulity & challenge respect.

Raymond went on to propose a peace commission "to make distinct proffers of peace to Davis, as the head of the rebel armies, on the sole condition of acknowledging the supremacy of the Constitution , - all other questions to be settled in convention of the people of all the States? The making of such an offer would require no armistice, no suspension of active war, no abandonment of positions, no sacrifice of consistency."6 Historian Allan Nevins wrote: "Such pessimism had seized some party leaders that Raymond, usually clearheaded and determined, persuaded the National Committee to support him in laying a preposterous suggestion before the President."7 President "Lincoln wanted no more peace talks, but he could hardly brush aside proposals that Raymond as national chairman brought forward," wrote Raymond biographer Francis Brown.8

Mr. Lincoln seemed temporarily unsettled by Raymond. On August 24. 1864, he responded to Raymond in a letter which was effectively revoked in a meeting with Raymond, William H. Seward, Edwin M. Stanton and William P. Fessenden the following day. The original letter proposed:
You will proceed forthwith and obtain, if possible, a conference for peace with Hon. Jefferson Davis, or any person by him authorized for that purpose.
You will address him in entirely respectful terms, at all events, and in any that my be indispensable to secure the conference.
At said conference you will propose, on behalf this government, that upon the restoration of the Union and the national authority, the war shall cease at once, al remaining questions to be left for adjustment by peaceful modes. If this be accepted hostilities to cease at once.
If it is not accepted, you will then request to be informed what terms, if any embracing the restoration of the Union, would be accepted. If any such be presented you in answer, you will forthwith report the same to this government, and await further instructions.
If the presentation of any terms embracing the restoration of the Union be declined, you will then request to be informed what terms of peace would, be accepted; and on receiving any answer, report the same to this government, and await further instructions.9

The conclusion of the White House meeting, according to John G. Nicolay, was that Raymond's "plan of sending a commission to Richmond would be worse than losing the Presidential contest - it would be ignominiously surrendering it in advance. Nevertheless the visit of himself and committee here did a very great good. They found the President and Cabinet wide awake to all the necessities of the situation, and went home much encouraged and cheered up."10 There is evidence from Mr. Lincoln's pen that he himself thought his reelection was nearly doomed, but his aides clearly did not.

Nicolay wrote to John Hay on August 25, 1864: "The N.Y. politicians have got a stampede on that is about to swamp everything. Raymond and the National Committee are here today. R[aymond] thinks a commission to Richmond is about the only salt to save us - while the Tycoon sees and says it would be utter ruination. The matter is now undergoing consultation. Weak-kneed d?d fools like Chas. Sumner are in the movement for a new candidate - to supplant the Tycoon. Everything is darkness and doubt and discouragement. Our men see giants in the airy and unsubstantial shadows of the opposition, and are about to surrender without a fight."11 According to biographer Brown, "In the end, 'encouraged and cheered,' the committee issued an optimistic statement of confidence in Lincoln's reelection...and the Times next day denied that the Government had any thought of peace negotiations. 'Its sole and undivided purpose is to prosecute the war until the rebellion is quelled.'"12

Nicolay concluded his letter to Hay: "I think that today and here is the turning point in our crisis. If the President can infect R[aymond]. and his committee with some of his own patience and pluck, we are saved. If our friends will only rub their eyes and shake themselves, and become convinced that they themselves are not dead we shall win the fight overwhelmingly."13 Nicolay wrote Lincoln:
"I did not reach here until noon today, in consequence of the late train of last night coming no farther than Philadelphia.
"I have seen no one yet but Mr. Raymond and Mr. Weed, and several influential men from the country, who were in Mr. Raymond's office when I went there.
"Raymond is still of opinion that the change contemplated should be made at once, although he does not seem to have conferred with any one, except Weed, who joins him very decidedly in the same belief. I myself asked Mr. Weed the distinct question whether the change ought to be made now, or after the election, and he answered, now by all means.
"The conference of Raymond and Sherman with him this morning of course apprised him that the step was in contemplation. I do not know through whose instrumentality it was, but somehow Mr. Draper has been informed that you were thinking of appointed him Surveyor, and he and some of his friends are stirring up a new difficulty by announcing and insisting that he will decline it. I enclose a letter to you on the subject from Draper's bosom fiend, Moses H. Grinnell, who had just brought it to Mr. Weed to be forwarded to you when I saw him.
"There is however still a chance that Draper will re-consider this determination. If he does not then I advise, on the strength of what I have heard today, that you accept his declension as final, and leave him out in the cold until he becomes more tractable. I will write more fully of this tomorrow.
"I hope Fenton may come on tonight, as he thought he would, so that I may have his advice in the matter tomorrow.14

It was a nasty and brutish campaign, though blessedly short as a result of the Democrats' late convention in August. Although President Lincoln remained publicly above the campaign, the Republican Party, which had nearly dissolved in consternation and trepidation in August, solidified into a strong and effective campaign organization under the leadership of Raymond. He squeezed political appointees in the government for political contributions with the help of Senator James Harlan. The President tacitly approved the operation although he was careful to oppose it when the screws were tightened too tightly or too obviously as they were at the Philadelphia Post Office. Historian Allan Nevins noted that Raymond "was more resourceful and dexterous that the Democratic national chairman, the capitalist-politician August Belmont."15 But one member of the Cabinet, Gideon Welles, strenuously opposed any political interference in his operations, writing in his diary
The President is greatly importuned and pressed by cunning intrigues just at this time. Thurlow Weed and Raymond are abusing his confidence and good nature badly. [John] Hay says they are annoying the President sadly. This he tells Mr. [Gustavus] Fox, who informs me. They want, Hay says, to control the Navy yard but dislike to come to me, for I give them no favorable response. They claim that every mechanic or laborer who does not support the Administration should be turned out of employment. Hay's representations alarmed Fox, who made it a point to call on the President. F. reports that the President was feeling very well over the election returns, and, on the subject of the Navy Yard votes, expressed his intention of not further interfering but will turn the whole matter over to me whenever the politicians call upon him. I have no doubt he thinks so, but when Weed and Raymond, backed by Seward, insist that action must be taken, he will hardly know how to act. His convictions and good sense will place him with me, but they will alarm him with forebodings of disaster if he is not vindictive. Among other things an appeal has been made to him in behalf of Scofield, a convicted fraudulent contractor, who is now in prison to serve out his sentence.16

 

Footnotes

  1. May D. Russell Young, Men and Memories: Personal Reminiscences by John Russell Young, p. 161-163.
  2. Roy P. Basler, editor, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume VI, p. 152-153 (Letter to Henry J. Raymond, March 9, 1862).
  3. David C. Mearns, editor, The Lincoln Papers, p. 311 (Letter from Henry J. Raymond to Abraham Lincoln, November 14, 1860).
  4. Alexander K. McClure, Yarns and Stories, p. 136-137.
  5. Francis Fisher Browne, Raymond of The Times, p. 251.
  6. Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Transcribed and Annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College. Galesburg, Illinois. (Letter from Henry J. Raymond to Abraham Lincoln, August 22, 1864).
  7. Allan Nevins, The War for the Union: The Organized War to Victory, Volume IV, p. 92.
  8. Francis Fisher Browne, Raymond of The Times, p. 261.
  9. Roy P. Basler, editor, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume VII, p. 517 (Letter to Henry J. Raymond, August 24, 1864).
  10. Michael Burlingame, editor, With Lincoln in the White House: Letters, Memoranda, and Other Writings of John G. Nicolay, 1860-1865, p. 153-154 (Letter to Therena Bates, August 28, 1864).
  11. Michael Burlingame, editor, With Lincoln in the White House: Letters, Memoranda, and Other Writings of John G. Nicolay, 1860-1865, p. 152 (Letter to John Hay, August 25, 1864).
  12. Francis Fisher Browne, Raymond of The Times, p. 261.
  13. Michael Burlingame, editor, With Lincoln in the White House: Letters, Memoranda, and Other Writings of John G. Nicolay, 1860-1865, p. 152 (Letter to John Hay, August 25, 1864).
  14. Michael Burlingame, editor, With Lincoln in the White House: Letters, Memoranda, and Other Writings of John G. Nicolay, 1860-1865, p. 154 (Letter to President Lincoln, August 29, 1864).
  15. Allan Nevins, The War for the Union: The Organized War to Victory, Volume IV, p. 110.
  16. Gideon Welles, Diary of Gideon Welles, Volume II, p. 175-176 (October 13, 1864).