John B. Alley

“I should have been Recreant to my Convictions of Duty”

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Mr. Lincoln was always just and magnanimous. His conduct toward Chief-Justice Chase was an exhibition of magnanimity and freedom from all revengeful and petty feelings, seldom animating a human bosom. When Mr. Chase was dismissed — as he regarded it — from the Cabinet, he visited some of his old friends in New England — among others, myself. He was exceedingly bitter and denunciatory of Mr. Lincoln, and so open in his opposition that some of his friends rebuked him. They warned him that it would injure his chance for the Chief-Justiceship. They reminded him that the Republican party generally looked to him as the most fitting successor of Chief-Justice Roger B. Taney, whose health was greatly impaired, and who. It was clearly seen, could not long survive.

In a few weeks Mr. Taney died, and Mr. Chase became a prominent candidate. He expressed an ardent desire to obtain the appointment. Senator Sumner and myself, who were great friends and admirers of Mr. Chase, went to Washington to plead with the President in his behalf. We found, to our dismay, that the President had heard of these bitter criticisms of Mr. Chase upon himself and his administration. Mr. Lincoln urged many of Mr. Chase’s defects, to discover, as we afterwards learned, how his objections could be answered. We were both discouraged and made up our minds that the President did not mean to appoint Mr. Chase. It really seemed too much to expect of poor human nature.

But early one morning I went to the White House, found the President in his library, and was cordially received. As I entered he made to me this declaration: “I have something to tell you that will make you happy. I have just sent Mr. Chase word that he is to be appointed Chief-Justice, and you are the first man I have told of it.” I said: “Mr. President, this is an exhibition of magnanimity and patriotism that could hardly be expected of any one. After what he has said against your administration, which has undoubtedly been reported to you, it was hardly to be expected that you would bestow the most important office within your gift on such a man.” His quaint reply was: “Although I may have appeared to you and to Mr. Sumner to have been opposed to Chase’s appointment, there never has been a moment since the breath left old Taney’s body that I did not conceive it to be the best thing to do to appoint Mr. Chase to that high office; and to have done otherwise I should have been recreant to my convictions of duty to the Republican party and to the country.” I repeated again my sense of his magnanimity and his patriotism in making the appointment. He repled: “As to his talk about me, I do not mind that. Chase is, on the whole, a pretty good fellow and a very able man. His only trouble is that he has ‘the White House fever’ a little too bad, but I hope this may cure him and that he will be satisfied.”

Quoted in John B. Alley, in Reminiscences of Abraham Lincoln, ed. Rice (1886 edn.), pp. 581-82.


“I am going to Pardon that Young Soldier”

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He was so kind-hearted and lenient, and virtually set aside so many sentences of courts martial, that the commanding generals remonstrated very often, insisting that he was ruining the discipline of the army.

I never asked him to pardon a soldier or to release one from the army, for good cause, that he did not do it. On one occasion I was at the White House and in the ante-room were scores of people waiting for an opportunity to obtain admission to see the President. At the end of the room sat a gray headed old man upon the window seat, sobbing as though his heart would break. Moved by compassion I asked him what his trouble was. He said that his darling boy, 19 years of age, was sentenced to be shot, and he had been waiting two days to see the President but could not get in, and to-morrow noon the boy was to be shot. I asked him to follow me, saying that I would take him in to see the President. He told his story to Mr. Lincoln, who replied with much feeling that he could not do it, for the commanding general had just telegraphed him from Fortress Monroe, where the boy was, imploring him to cease interfering with the sentences of courts martial. But the abundant tears and imploring looks of the old man were too much for the kind-hearted President. He said, ” Let the generals telegraph, if they please, but I am going to pardon that young soldier.” He immediately sent a dispatch to suspend the execution of the sentence until further orders from him. Thereupon the old man burst out crying afresh, and in a tremulous voice said, ” Mr. President, that is not a pardon, it only asks for a suspension until further orders from you.” ” My dear man,” exclaimed Mr. Lincoln, ” if your son lives until I order him shot, he will live longer than ever Methusaleh did.” The old man departed, invoking blessings upon the head of the good President.

Quoted in John B. Alley, in Reminiscences of Abraham Lincoln, ed. Rice (1886 edn.), pp. 584.

“He was so Simple, so Child-like, so Sincere”

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He was so simple, so child-like, so sincere, that it seemed to me that that was the chief reason why he was so little appreciated during his Presidency by his compeers in public life. He exhibited a degree of wisdom and firmness of purpose, a sagacity and soundness of judgment absolutely without parallel among the statesmen of his day ; while his toleration of difference of opinion, his sagacity in harmonizing discordant elements and his politic treatment of envious and ambitious rivals, exceeded anything I have ever seen in any other of our statesmen. In illustration of this I may say, that he had in his Cabinet several rivals in whose judgment or fitness he had but little confidence. Yet he managed to make them and the country believe that he was on the most excellent terms with each and all of them.

Quoted in John B. Alley, in Reminiscences of Abraham Lincoln, ed. Rice (1886 edn.), pp. 576.