Confederate emissaries from a British ship and taking them into custody,
Lincoln took a courageous but unpopular stand by insisting that the prisoners be released.
Throughout the war Lincoln was the subject of frequent, and often vitriolic, attacks, both from the Democrats who thought he was proceeding too drastically against slavery and from the Radicals in his own party--men like Charles Sumner, Benjamin F. Wade, and Zachariah Chandler--who considered him slow and ineffective. Partisan newspapers abused the
President as "a slangwhanging stump speaker," a "half-witted usurper," a
"mole-eyed" monster with "soul ... of leather,""the present turtle at the head of the government." Men of his own party openly charged that he was
"unfit," a "political coward," a "dictator,""timid and ignorant,""shattered, dazed, utterly foolish."
A minority president in 1861, Lincoln lost further support in the congressional elections of 1862, when Democrats took control of the crucial states of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. As the 1864 election approached, it was clear that Lincoln would face formidable opposition for reelection, not merely from a Democratic candidate but from rivals within his own party. Republican anti-Lincoln sentiment centered on treasury secretary Salmon P. Chase, who was working with the Radical critics of Lincoln in Congress. The Chase boom failed, however, chiefly because Lincoln insisted upon keeping the ambitious secretary in his cabinet. At the same time, Lincoln's own agents were working quietly to sew up the state delegations to the Republican national convention. Even
Chase's own state of Ohio pledged to vote for Lincoln. Facing certain defeat, Chase withdrew from the race, but Lincoln kept him in the cabinet until after the Republican national convention, which met in Baltimore in
Lacking a prominent standard bearer, some disgruntled Republicans gathered in Cleveland in May 1864 to nominate Frйmont, but the movement never made much headway. Radical pressure was powerful enough, however, to persuade
Lincoln to drop the most outspokenly conservative member of his cabinet,
Postmaster General Montgomery Blair, and Frйmont withdrew from the race.
Lincoln's Republican critics continued to hope they could summon a new national convention, which would replace the President with a more Radical candidate, but this scheme died with news of Union military victories.
For a time Democratic opposition in 1864 to Lincoln's reelection also appeared to be formidable, for people were tired of the endless war and disinclined to fight for the liberty of black men. But the Democrats found it impossible to bring together the two major groups of Lincoln's critics-- those who wanted the President to end the war, and those who wanted him to prosecute it more vigorously. Meeting at Chicago in August, the Democratic national convention nominated a candidate, Gen. George B. McClellan, pledged to the successful conclusion of the war on a platform that called the war a failure. McClellan's repudiation of this peace plank showed how fundamentally split were the Democrats.
Whatever chance the Democrats had in 1864 was lost when the war at last began to favor the Union cause. By the late summer of 1864, Grant had forced Lee back into the defenses of Richmond and Petersburg. In the West,
Sherman's advancing army captured Atlanta on September 2. At the same time,
Admiral Farragut's naval forces closed the key Confederate port of Mobile.
When the ballots were cast in November, the results reflected both these
Union triumphs and the rift among the opposition. Lincoln carried every state except Kentucky, Delaware, and New Jersey. He polled 2,206,938 popular votes to McClellan's 1,803,787 and won an electoral vote victory of
212 to 21. It must be remembered, however, that voters in the seceded states, the strongholds of the Democratic party, did not participate in the election.
Life in the White House
Beset by military, diplomatic, and political problems, the President tried to keep his family life as normal as possible. The two youngest
Lincoln boys, Thomas (Tad) and William Wallace (Willie), were high spirited lads. Their older brother, the sober Robert Todd Lincoln, was less frequently in Washington, because he was first a student at Harvard and later an aide to General Grant. Despite the snobbishness of Washington society and criticisms from those who wanted all social affairs suspended because of the war, the Lincolns continued to hold receptions in the White
House. But the President found these affairs costly and tiring. He would slip away late at night after a White House party to visit the telegraph room of the War Department to read the latest dispatches from the front. He never took a vacation, but in summer he moved his family to the cooler and more secluded Soldier's Home in Washington.
Lincoln visibly aged during the war years, and by 1865 he appeared almost haggard. His life was made harder by personal trials. Early in 1862, Willie died of typhoid. His mother, always high-strung and hysterical, suffered a nervous breakdown, and Lincoln had to watch over her with careful solicitude. But Lincoln emerged from his public and private agonies with a new serenity of soul. Any trace of vanity or egotism was burned out by the fires of war. In his second inaugural address, his language reached a new level of eloquence. Urging his countrymen to act "with malice toward none; with charity for all," he looked beyond the end of the war toward binding up the nation's wounds, so as to "achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace."
From the start of the Civil War, Lincoln was deeply concerned about the terms under which the Southern states, once subdued, should be restored to the Union. He had no fixed plan for reconstruction. At the outset, he would have welcomed a simple decision on the part of any Southern state government to rescind its ordinance of secession and return its delegation to Congress. By 1863, however, to this war aim of union he added that of liberty, for he now insisted that emancipation of the slaves was a necessary condition for restoration. By the end of the war he was beginning to add a third condition, equality, for he realized that minimal guarantees of civil rights for blacks were essential. Privately, he let it be known that he favored extending the franchise in the Southern states to some of the blacks--"as, for instance, the very intelligent, and especially those who have fought gallantly in our ranks."
As to means by which to achieve these goals, Lincoln was also flexible.
When Union armies advanced into the South, he appointed military governors for the states that were conquered. Most notable of these was the military governor of Tennessee, Andrew JOHNSON, who became Lincoln's running mate in