Letter to Carl Schurz (November 10, 1862)

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#67 on the list of 150 Most Teachable Lincoln Documents

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“We have lost the elections; and it is natural that each of us will believe, and say, it has been because his peculiar views was not made sufficiently prominent.”

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HD Daily Report, November 10, 1862

The Lincoln Log, November 10, 1862

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How Historians Interpret

“Lincoln, after being barraged by numerous critics making points like Schurz’s, took that general’s letter as the occasion to reply to them all.189 He argued that three factors caused the Republican setback: “1. The democrats were left in a majority by our friends going to the war. 2. The democrats observed this & determined to re-instate themselves in power, and 3. Our newspaper’s, by vilifying and disparaging the administration, furnished them all the weapons to do it with. Certainly, the ill-success of the war had much to do with this.” The president explained why he had distributed military patronage to Democrats: “It so happened that very few of our friends had a military education or were of the profession of arms. It would have been a question whether the war should be conducted on military knowledge, or on political affinity, only that our own friends (I think Mr. Schurz included) seemed to think that such a question was inadmissable. Accordingly I have scarcely appointed a democrat to a command, who was not urged by many republicans and opposed by none. It was so as to McClellan. He was first brought forward by the Republican Governor of Ohio, & claimed, and contended for at the same time by the Republican Governor of Pennsylvania. I received recommendations from the republican delegations in congress, and I believe every one of them recommended a majority of democrats. But, after all many Republicans were appointed; and I mean no disparagement to them when I say I do not see that their superiority of success has been so marked as to throw great suspicion on the good faith of those who are not Republicans.”

–Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life (2 volumes, originally published by Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008) Unedited Manuscript by Chapter, Lincoln Studies Center, Volume 2, Chapter 29  (PDF), 3172.

 

“But what this reveals is of how adamant Lincoln was about emancipation and his ‘vow,’ that he would take the chance of these touch-and-go elections, in the midst of an unwon war, and issue an Emancipation Proclamation only weeks before voting began. Looked at coldly, the timing of the Proclamation amounted to political suicide: Lincoln was putting the most highly charged issue of the war before voters, and the voters into the hands of the opposition, without any time for the shock to wear off. ‘Three main causes told the whole story’ of the election, Lincoln wrote to Carl Schurz on November 10: The soldiers went off to war, leaving only the grumblers and disaffected at home, the Democrats saw the Proclamation as an opportunity to sow political havoc; and the newspapers ‘furnished them all with weapons to do so.’”

–Allen C. Guelzo, Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004), 189-190.

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Private and Confidential
 
Executive Mansion, Washington, Nov. 10. 1862.
 
Gen. Schurz
 
My dear Sir 
Yours of the 8th. was, to-day, read to me by Mrs. S[churz]. We have lost the elections; and it is natural that each of us will believe, and say, it has been because his peculiar views was not made sufficiently prominent. I think I know what it was, but I may be mistaken. Three main causes told the whole story. 1. The democrats were left in a majority by our friends going to the war. 2. The democrats observed this & determined to re-instate themselves in power, and 3. Our newspaper’s, by vilifying and disparaging the administration, furnished them all the weapons to do it with. Certainly, the ill-success of the war had much to do with this.
 
You give a different set of reasons. If you had not made the following statements, I should not have suspected them to be true. “The defeat of the administration is the administrations own fault.” (opinion) “It admitted its professed opponents to its counsels” (Asserted as a fact) “It placed the Army, now a great power in this Republic, into the hands of its’ enemys” (Asserted as a fact) “In all personal questions, to be hostile to the party of the Government, seemed, to be a title to consideration.” (Asserted as a fact) “If to forget the great rule, that if you are true to your friends, your friends will be true to you, and that you make your enemies stronger by placing them upon an equality with your friends.” “Is it surprising that the opponents of the administration should have got into their hands the government of the principal states, after they have had for a long time the principal management of the war, the great business of the national government.”
 
I can not dispute about the matter of opinion. On the the [sic] three matters (stated as facts) I shall be glad to have your evidence upon them when I shall meet you. The plain facts, as they appear to me, are these. The administration came into power, very largely in a minority of the popular vote. Notwithstanding this, it distributed to it’s party friends as nearly all the civil patronage as any administration ever did. The war came. The administration could not even start in this, without assistance outside of it’s party. It was mere nonsense to suppose a minority could put down a majority in rebellion. Mr. Schurz (now Gen. Schurz ) was about here then & I do not recollect that he then considered all who were not republicans, were enemies of the government, and that none of them must be appointed to to [sic] military positions. He will correct me if I am mistaken. It so happened that very few of our friends had a military education or were of the profession of arms. It would have been a question whether the war should be conducted on military knowledge, or on political affinity, only that our own friends (I think Mr. Schurz included) seemed to think that such a question was inadmissable. Accordingly I have scarcely appointed a democrat to a command, who was not urged by many republicans and opposed by none. It was so as to McClellan. He was first brought forward by the Republican Governor of Ohio, & claimed, and contended for at the same time by the Republican Governor of Pennsylvania. I received recommendations from the republican delegations in congress, and I believe every one of them recommended a majority of democrats. But, after all many Republicans were appointed; and I mean no disparagement to them when I say I do not see that their superiority of success has been so marked as to throw great suspicion on the good faith of those who are not Republicans.
Yours truly,
A. LINCOLN
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