Monday, June 2, 2014

Lincoln’s Wit/Wisdom 187

Up until Lincoln’s nomination in 1860 the heir apparent to the Republican Presidential nomination was New York’s Senator William Seward. Lincoln appointed him Secretary of State, but Seward took a while to figure out who was really in charge; initially he took the attitude that he was prime minister with Lincoln as a kind of figurehead president. In those first few weeks he even conducted secret negotiations with Confederate emissaries without his boss even knowing. He also submitted to Lincoln a most curious document blandly entitled ‘Some Thoughts for the President’s Consideration,’ a document based on the assumption that the administration had no stated policy or strategy for coping with the looming constitutional crisis that came to be the Civil War. Lincoln, who remarked to his private secretary, ‘I can’t let Seward take the first trick,’ held a private meeting with Seward at which he politely but firmly rejected his advice [for example, Seward had suggested that a war with England would unite the country, North and South; Lincoln countered, ‘one war at a time’]. Lincoln pointed out that his policy was to hold Forts Pickins and Sumter as stated in the Inaugural Address, a document Seward himself had read in advance, edited and approved. Finally, if there were to be any change or modification in the administration’s policy, the president had said, ‘I must do it.’ When all the dust was settled Seward wrote his wife, ‘Executive force and vigor are rare qualities. The President is the best of us.’ Curiously, Lincoln’s putting Seward in his place was the basis for this initial sense of respect – which in turn was the basis for a friendship that was to last until the day Lincoln died.

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