George F. Harding

“He is Capable of More than that”

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Philadelphia Lawyer George F. Harding said: 

“I did not meet Stanton after that until he had been in the Cabinet some months. Much interest had been aroused by remarkable passages in certain state papers, which were thought to be quite beyond anything that could be expected of Lincoln, and which admirers of Seward and Chase had attributed to them. I thought Stanton abler than either Seward or Chase and that he was their author. When I met him next, after the usual salutation, I referred to a paper of that character which had recently appeared and said to him, JI know who is the author of that..’ Stanton asked, ‘Who do you suppose?,’ and I replied ‘You.’ ‘Not a word of it, not a word of it,’ he said. ‘Lincoln wrote it-every word of it. And he is capable of more than that. Harding, no men were ever so deceived as we at Cincinnati.’ And then he launched forth into a eulogy of Lincoln so emphatic that I could hardly credit it. Never afterwards would any disparagment of Lincoln be tolerated by Stanton or members of his family. “

–Abraham Lincoln quarterly. [Vol. 4, no. 3]

Lincoln Appointed Stanton as Secretary of War

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Philadelphia Lawyer George F. Harding said: 

“I had been retained by a group of reaper manufacturers East and West to resist McCormick’s charge of infringement. The interests at stake were large and there was money enough at our disposal to enable us to do whatever we thought would conduce to success. Watson, afterwards president of the Erie Railroad, was associated with me and had much to do, under my direction, in the preparation of the case, for which he was especially well qualified. The suit against Manny et al., pending in Illinois, was regarded as a test case. It was expected to be tried before Judge Drummond, and the Illinois defendants wished to bring in local counsel. I appreciated the advantage of having an associate who understood the judge and had his confidence, but felt that we were not likely to find a lawyer there who would be of real assistance in arguing such a case. Arnold, then Congressman from the Chicago District, was selected by me as probably the best for our purpose but we found he was not available because of some adverse retainer. Someone then suggested a Springfield lawyer whose name was given as ‘A. Lincoln’ or ‘Abe Lincoln.’ I was not inclined to have him brought into the case but, perhaps under some pressure from Illinois clients, Watson and I concluded to give the matter consideration and Watson went to Springfield to look Lincoln over, with authority to retain him if he concluded it was best. I had already expressed my preference for having Stanton as my associate in the argument, knowing him and having a high regard for his ability.

“Watson reached Springfield rather late in the day and found Lincoln was not at his office that evening but could probably be seen at his house. He went to the house, found it a small frame structure, not such as would indicate that its occupant was a lawyer of the standing required for this case. There was neither door bell nor knocker, and he rapped with his knuckles. A woman’s head came out of the window of the second floor, asking ‘Who is there?’ Watson explained that he was from a distance and wished to see Mr. Lincoln. Then came the question, ‘Business or politics?’ When told it was business, she (Mrs. Lincoln) indicated her satisfaction by the modified tone in which she shouted, ‘Abe, here is a man wants to see you on business’ (I am not certain whether she said ‘man’ or ‘fellow’). Steps were heard coming down the stairs and the door was opened by a very tall man having on neither coat nor vest, who said he was Lincoln and was just putting up a bed. He took Watson into the small, plainly furnished room, which evidently served, among other purposes, as the reception room. Watson was satisfied that he was not the associate we wanted, but, after some conversation, concluded that Lincoln had qualities which might be rather effective in that community, that it would be unwise to incur his hostility by turning him down after consulting him, and paid him a retainer (at which he seemed much surprised), arranged for quite a substantial fee to be paid at the close of the litigation, and left him under the impression that he was to make an argument and should prepare himself for it.

“Returning to Philadelphia, he reported to me what he had done and why, that he thought we should keep Lincoln in line but, without disabusing him, quietly employ Stanton, toward whom I had already been inclined, and ultimately find a way of sidetracking Lincoln. His description of Lincoln confirmed me in thinking that it would be quite out of the question to have him take part in the argument. We retained Stanton, but said nothing to Lincoln about super I seding him. The subsequent arrangement, by which the case was argued in Cincinnati before justice McLean, judge Drummond coming there to sit as associate, removed the principal object we had in employing Lincoln. He came to Cincinnati with his argument prepared, and without an intimation that other arrangements had been made. Stanton and I went there determined that he should be altogether dispensed with. We went together to the Burnet House, the principal Cincinnati Hotel, and there first saw Lincoln, standing on the platform at the head of the steps ascending from Third Street, a tall rawly boned, ungainly back woodsman, with coarse, ill-fitting clothing, his trousers hardly reaching his ankles, holding in his hands a blue cotton umbrella with a ball on the end of the handle. I can see distinctly now that umbrella and Lincoln standing there with it. He was introduced to Stanton and me. We barely exchanged salutations with him, and I proposed to Stanton that he and I go up to the court. Lincoln said, ‘Let’s go up in a gang.’ Stanton drew me aside, saying, ‘Let that fellow go with his gang. We’ll walk up together.’ We did. (I should here explain that the Federal Court was then just above the Burnet House, in the same block, and the Burnet House then had its principal entrance from Third Street up a high flight of stone steps.)

“Stanton managed to make it plain to Lincoln that we expected him to withdraw, and, upon his offering to do so, he was taken at his word instantly, and treated as no longer connected with the case. The hearing lasted about a week, and Lincoln was a close observer throughout. We were all at the same hotel. Neither of us ever conferred with him, ever had him at our table or sat with him, or asked him to our room, or walked to or from the court with him, or, in fact, had any intercourse with him. He sent to me, through Watson, a roll of manuscript which he said contained the argument he had intended to deliver, and which he wished me to make any use of I thought proper. I was so sure that it would be only trash on which I had no time to waste that I never glanced at it or even unrolled it. He afterwards asked Watson if I had read it, and when told that I had not, asked to have it returned to him, intimating that he wished to destroy it. It went back unopened.

“During the week Justice McLean entertained counsel on both sides at dinner in his fine residence at Clifton, one of the suburbs of Cincinnati. Lincoln was not invited. When we left for home, I think neither of us said goodbye to him. I heard afterwards that he had paid my argument the compliment you have mentioned. 

“When the fees were paid for services in the Manny case, Watson disbursed the funds and sent Lincoln a check for the fee he was to have received for his argument. Lincoln returned it, saying he had made no argument, and was entitled to no pay beyond the original retainer. Watson returned the check to him, writing that he was there prepared to render the service and was as much entitled to the fee as if he had made the argument. It was then accepted, and I have heard that when it came back to him, he recognized it as a kind of provident provision for meeting the expenses of a campaign which he otherwise could not afford, and applied it accordingly. About this I have no direct knowledge. 

“When Lincoln was named for President by the party to which I belonged, my disgust was such that I felt that I could not vote for him and I did not intend to, but the situation had become so ominous by election day that I finally took a Lincoln and Hamlin ballot, closed my eyes, and with great reluctance dropped it in the box. Stanton, a very pronounced Democrat, though an opponent of slavery, did his best to defeat Lincoln, taking the stump against him and attacking him savagely. When, early in the war, it became evident that Cameron must be superseded as Secretary of War and that the co-operation of Union Democrats must be recognized and encouraged, Watson, whose regard for Stanton dated from the case at Cincinnati, devoted himself to pressing Stanton for war secretary, and procured baskets full of petitions for his appointment. Lincoln had understood that Stanton was to blame for his humiliation at Cincinnati, and had so far acquitted me as to ask me to become Commissioner of Patents-an office which, of course, I declined at once. Stanton’s attack on him and ridicule of him during the campaign must have further exasperated him, and there was probably no man in the country towards whom he had reason to feel so much personal resentment. When convinced that the interest of the nation would be best served by bringing Stanton into his cabinet, he suppressed his personal resentment, as not many men could have done, and made the appointment.

Quoted in Abraham Lincoln quarterly. [Vol. 4, no. 3]