The Politicians: Ozias M. Hatch (1814-1893)

“It is next to impossible for me to leave here now. I received your letter and inclosures. My judgment is that we must never sell old friends to buy old enemies,” Mr Lincoln wrote Ozias M. Hatch in March 1858 as the critical Senate race with Stephen Douglas heated up. “Let us have a State convention, in which we can have a full consultation: and till which, let us all stand firm, making no committals, as to strange and new combinations. This is the sum of all the counsel I could give if with you; and you are at liberty to show to discreet friends.”1 Like many of Mr. Lincoln’s friends, Hatch had a habit of playing recurring roles at critical junctures in the life of America’s 16th President.

John G. Nicolay, helped elect his fellow Pike County Republican to the office of Secretary of State in 1856. According to Nicolay, who became Mr. Lincoln’s campaign assistant and White House secretary, Hatch’s office was the center of Springfield political activity in the years before Mr. Lincoln left for Washington. “From the spring of 1857 to 1860 I was Clerk in the office of Hon. O.M. Hatch, Secretary of State of Illinois, who in that capacity occupied a large and well-appointed room in the old Statehouse in Springfield. The State Library, of which the Secretary had charge, was in an adjoining room, also large and commodious, which by common usage was used by all the political parties when assembled at State conventions or during sessions of the legislature, as a political caucus room, the entry through the Secretary’s main office,” wrote Nicolay. “This office…was therefore in effect the state political headquarters and a common rendezvous for prominent Illinois politicians…Mr. Lincoln was of course a frequent visitor, and when he came was always the center of an animated and interested group. It was there, during the years mentioned, that I made his acquaintance. All the election records were kept by the Secretary of State, and I, as Mr. Hatch’s principal clerk, had frequent occasion to show Mr. Lincoln, who was an assiduous student of election tables, the latest returns, or the completed record books.”2

Samuel R. Weed, a St. Louis reporter who visited Mr. Lincoln on election day, 1860, wrote: “I found him in a private room attached to the office of the Illinois Secretary of State, which he had occupied as sort of headquarters for several months. When I entered, he was chatting with three or four friends as calmly and as amiable as if he had started on a picnic. In this apartment he had received many of the men afterward distinguished in the councils of the nation and also on her battlefields. His manner was quiet, unaffected and gracious, and, when I informed him of my errand, he smiled and hoped I would manage to enjoy myself.”3

Hatch not only aided Mr. Lincoln. Mr. Lincoln aided the Secretary of State. There was a complicated problem with some bonds issued by the State of Illinois. “I went at once to Lincoln. Lincoln came immediately up to my office and sat down and heard Mack’s story entirely through without saying a word. Then getting up and stretching himself he exclaimed with his emphatic gesture of doubling one of his fists ‘I’ll be _____ if that should be done.” Hatch concluded: “I was sent to New York and the bonds were taken up and canceled.”4

According to William H. Herndon: “The first effort in his behalf as a Presidential aspirant was the action taken by his friends at a meeting held in the State House early in 1860, in the rooms of O.M. Hatch, then Secretary of State. Besides Hatch there were present Norman B. Judd, chairman of the Republican State Committee, Ebenezer Peck, Jackson Grimshaw, and others of equal prominence in the party. We all expressed a personal preference for Mr. Lincoln,’ relates one who was a participant in the meeting (Jackson Grimshaw), ‘as the Illinois candidate for the Presidency, and asked him if his name might be used at once in connection with the nomination and election. With his characteristic modesty he doubted whether he could get the nomination even if he wished it, and asked until the next morning to answer us whether his name might [be] announced. Late the next day he authorized us, if we thought proper to do so, to place him in the field.”5

The relations between Hatch and the Lincolns were social as well as political. Hatch was a regular visitor at the Lincoln household “Mr Hatch, made one of his social, agreeable calls last evening,” Mrs. Lincoln wrote a friend in October 1859. He “enquired very particularly for you – no sign of his marrying.”6 The next day, Mrs. Lincoln wrote Hatch in her unique, run-on style: “By way of impressing upon your mind, that friends must not be entirely forgotten, I would be pleased to have you wander up our way, to see us this evening, altho’ I have not the inducements of meeting company to offer you, or Mr Lincoln to welcome you, yet if you are disengaged, I should like to see you.”7

In a letter from Mary Todd Lincoln to Hatch in 1862 she wrote: “Two or three of our companion de voyage, will pass an hour or two with us, this eve, if Mr. Taylor & yourself, will wander in this direction, about 8 o’clock, we will be very much pleased to see you.”8 The invitations continued when the Lincolns moved to Washington. “A tempting bowl of raspberries, sent by a kind sister, induced me to extend invitations to two or three friends to take tea with us this evening. Hoping you will not fail to remember us by your presence, I remain”.9

Hatch found numerous ways to support Mr. Lincoln. He went with Mr. Lincoln to Council Bluffs, Iowa in August 1859 to look over real estate owned by Norman Judd – for which Mr. Lincoln had loaned $3000. Hatch also participated in a group that helped fund incidental expenses for the 1860 presidential campaign. He wrote Trumbull that he “never heard that anybody received money in ’58. I know some of us paid rather liberally after the election as well as before. Mr. Lincoln and Mr. Dubois paid $300 each at one time after the election and I paid $275, but there was little or no money raised by the committee at that election.”10

Hatch visited President Lincoln in October 1862. He accompanied Mr. Lincoln when he visited General McClellan’s encampment near the Antietam battlefield. “Early next morning,” Hatch later reported, “I was awakened by Mr. Lincoln. It was very early – daylight was just lighting the east – the soldiers were all asleep in their tents. Scarce a sound could be heard except the notes of early birds, and the farm-yard voices from distant farms. Lincoln said to me, ‘Come, Hatch, I want you to take a walk with me.’ His tone was serious and impressive. I arose without a word, and as soon as we were dressed we left the tent together. He led me about the camp, and then we walked upon the surrounding hills overlooking the great city of white tents and sleeping soldiers. Very little was spoken between us, beyond a few words as to the pleasantness of the morning or similar casual observations. Lincoln seemed to be peculiarly serious, and his quiet, abstract way affected me also. It did not seem a time to speak. We walked slowly and quietly, meeting here and there a guard, our thoughts leading us to reflect on that wonderful situation. A nation in peril – the whole world looking at America – million men in arms – the whole machinery of war engaged throughout the country, while I stood by that kind-hearted, simple-minded man who might be regarded as the Director-General, looking at the beautiful sunrise and the magnificent scene before us. Nothing was to be said, nothing needed to be said. Finally, reaching a commanding point where almost that entire camp could be seen – the men were just beginning their morning duties, and evidences of life and activity were becoming apparent – we involuntarily stopped. The President, waving his hand towards the scene before us, and leaning towards me, said in an almost whispering voice: ‘Hatch – Hatch, what is all this?’ ‘Why, Mr. Lincoln ,’ said I, ‘this is the Army of the Potomac.’ He hesitated a moment, and then, straightening up, said in a louder tone: ‘No, Hatch, no. This is General McClellan’s body-guard.’ Nothing more was said. We walked to our tent, and the subject was not alluded to again.”11

The relations between Hatch and President Lincoln sometimes grew prickly however – especially over Illinois patronage issues. Governor Richard Yates, State Treasurer William Butler, State Auditor Jesse K. Dubois and Hatch often jointly wrote President Lincoln letters of advice about Illinois affairs. Nearly a year later, on September 12, 1863 Dubois and Hatch telegraphed Lincoln recommending that Brigadier General Robert Allen be appointed to the position occupied by Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs. Mr. Lincoln wrote Hatch and Dubois: “What nation do you desire Gen. Allen to be made Quarter-Master-General of? This nation already has a Quarter-Master-General.”12 They failed to get Mr. Lincoln’s humor and he replied a week later: “Your letter is just received. The particular form of my despatch was jocular, which I supposed you gentlemen knew me well enough to understand. Gen. Allen is considered here as a very faithful and capable officer; and one who would be at least thought of for Quarter-Master-General if that office were vacant.13

Hatch, himself, occasionally maintained a sense of humor about patronage – sometimes going through Ward Hill Lamon rather than the President. “My brother is foolish enough to desire an office,” Hatch wrote Lamon in March 1861. “When you see him, and this, if he still insists that he has as good right to a place as anybody else, I want you to do for him, what you would for me. Nor more, no less,” he concluded.14

Brother Reuben got a job but caused him some embarrassment. Reuben was charged with fraud for actions taken as a paymaster in Grant’s army. Nicolay wrote in February 1862 “Jack Grimshaw has been here a week or ten days trying to ascertain and straighten out the troubles Reuben Hatch has somehow got himself into over his Quartermaster’s affairs.”15 A few months later, Nicolay inquired into “the charges against him for [a] second arrest?”16 The charges were eventually dropped. Reuben Hatch – appointed assistant quartermaster of volunteers for Southeast Missouri.

The White House’s desire to keep Hatch happy can be seen in a letter from presidential aide John G. Nicolay to Hatch in July 1862. He said he had “instructed John Hay to tell the President which of the two is to be the man as soon as I can see you and telegraph to him. I wish you would have your mind finally made up about it when I see you next Sunday or Monday. I don’t think the appointments for Illinois will be made before that time. As soon as I find out from you, I will telegraph or write John Hay, and he will lay the final decision before the President. If you think it will become necessary to determine before that time, you may telegraph the determination.17

Nicolay maintained his relationship with his former boss, Ozias M. Hatch, after Mr. Lincoln became President – sending Hatch updates on the situation in Washington. Nicolay sent him requests – like telling Hatch “the President would be pleased” to have assistance in arranging for Nicolay to become a delegate to the 1864 Republican National Convention.18 Nicolay also sent Hatch complaints – such as this one in July 1863:

I wish you would go over to the Post Office in Springfield, and pick a crow with [postmaster] John Armstrong for me. When there the other day I mailed a letter directed over here, franked, as usual in the following way:
“From the President of the United States
Jno. G. Nicolay
Priv. Sec.”
Upon sending it, somebody in his office made the following endorsement on it:
“Frank Illegal
President not in this vicinity.”
and marked 6 cents postage due upon it.
I want you to ascertain for me whether he did this himself or whether one of his clerks did it. If his clerk did it, then Armstrong ought to kick him out of the office. If Armstrong himself did it, then I intend to ask him officially his reasons therefor, and submit the question to the Postmaster General….19


  1. Roy P. Basler, editor, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, First Supplement, p. 29-30 (Letter to Ozias M. Hatch, March 24. 1858).
  2. Helen Nicolay, Lincoln’s Secretary, p. 27.
  3. Rufus Rockwell Wilson, editor, Intimate Memories of Lincoln, p. 323 (Samuel R. Weed, New York Times, February 14, 1932).
  4. Michael Burlingame, editor, An Oral History of Abraham Lincoln: John G. Nicolay’s Interviews and Essays, p. 17 (Conversation with Ozias M. Hatch, September 1, 1879).
  5. William H. Herndon and Jesse W. Weik, Herndon’s Life of Abraham Lincoln, p. 367.
  6. Justin G. Turner and Linda Levitt Turner, editor, Mary Todd Lincoln: Her Life and Letters, p. 60 (Letter from Mary Todd Lincoln to Hannah Shearer, October 2, 1859).
  7. Justin G. Turner and Linda Levitt Turner, editor, Mary Todd Lincoln: Her Life and Letters, p. 60 (Letter from Mary Todd Lincoln to Ozias M. Hatch, October 3, 1859).
  8. Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Transcribed and Annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College. Galesburg, Illinois. (Letter of Mary Todd Lincoln to Ozias M. Hatch).
  9. Justin G. Turner and Linda Levitt Turner, editor, Mary Todd Lincoln: Her Life and Letters, p. 132 (Letter from Mary Todd Lincoln to Ozias M. Hatch, September 28, 1862).
  10. Harry E. Pratt, The Personal Finances of Abraham Lincoln, p. 105 (Letter from Ozias M. Hatch to Lyman Trumbull, July 14, 1860).
  11. Francis Fisher Browne, The Every-Day Life of Abraham Lincoln, p. 529-530.
  12. Roy P. Basler, editor, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume VI, p. 450 (Letter to Jesse K. Dubois and Ozias M. Hatch, September 15, 1863).
  13. Roy P. Basler, editor, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, p. 473 (Letter to Jesse K. Dubois and Ozias M. Hatch, September 22, 1863).
  14. Ward Hill Lamon, Recollections of Abraham Lincoln, p. 316 (Letter of Ozias M. Hatch to Ward Hill Lamon, March 18, 1861).
  15. Michael Burlingame, editor, With Lincoln in the White House: Letters, Memoranda, and Other Writings of John G. Nicolay, 1860-1865, p. 68 (Letter to Therena Bates, February 2, 1862).
  16. Michael Burlingame, editor, With Lincoln in the White House: Letters, Memoranda, and Other Writings of John G. Nicolay, 1860-1865, p. 77 (Letter to Major John Fitzgerald Le, May 19, 1862).
  17. Michael Burlingame, editor, With Lincoln in the White House: Letters, Memoranda, and Other Writings of John G. Nicolay, 1860-1865, p. 87 (Letter to Ozias M. Hatch, July 29, 1862).
  18. Michael Burlingame, editor, With Lincoln in the White House: Letters, Memoranda, and Other Writings of John G Nicolay, 1860-1865, p. 140 (Letter to Ozias M. Hatch, May 14, 1864).
  19. Michael Burlingame, editor, With Lincoln in the White House: Letters, Memoranda, and Other Writings of John G. Nicolay, 1860-1865, p. 118-119 (Letter to Ozias M. Hatch, July 24, 1863).