Owen Lovejoy

“If Stanton Said I was a Damned Fool”

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Lincoln, however, had the highest opinion of Stanton, and their relations were always most kindly, as the following anecdote bears witness: A committee of Western men, headed by [Congressman Owen] Lovejoy, procured from the President an important order looking to the exchange and transfer of Eastern and Western soldiers with a view to more effective work. Repairing to the office of the Secretary, Mr. Lovejoy explained the scheme, as he had before done to the President, but was met with a flat refusal.

“But we have the President’s order, sir,” said Lovejoy.

“Did Lincoln give you an order of that kind?” said Stanton.

“He did, sir.”

“Then he is a d-d fool,” said the irate secretary.

“Do you mean to say the President is add fool?” asked Lovejoy, in amazement.

“Yes, sir, if he gave you such an order as that.”

The bewildered Illinoisan betook himself at once to the President, and related the result of his conference.   

“Did Stanton say I was a d-d fool? “asked Lincoln at the close of the recital.

“He did, sir, and repeated it.”

After a moment’s pause, and looking up, the President said, “If Stanton said I was a d-d fool, then I must be one, for he is nearly always right, and generally says what he means. I will step over and see him.”

George W. Julian, Political Recollections, 1840 to 1872, pp. 211-12.

“He is the Rock on the Beach of our National Ocean”

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The son of a man who had befriended Lincoln in the days of his poverty, desired a certain army appointment. Congressmen Julian of Indiana and Lovejoy of Illinois went to Lincoln, who indorsed the application and sent them with it to Stanton.

“No,” said the Secretary.

“Let us give his qualifications,” suggested the Congressmen.

“I do not wish to hear them,” was the reply. “The position is of high importance. I have in mind a man of suitable experience and capacity to fill it.”

“But the President wishes this man to be appointed,” persisted the callers.

“I do not care what the President wants; the country wants the very best it can get. I am serving the country,” was the retort, “regardless of individuals.”

The disconcerted Congressmen returned to Lincoln and recited their experience. The President, without the slightest perturbation, said:  

“Gentlemen, it is my duty to submit. I cannot add to Mr. Stanton’s troubles. His position is one of the most difficult in the world. Thousands in the army blame him because they are not promoted and other thousands out of the army blame him because they are not appointed. The pressure upon him is immeasurable and unending. He is the rock on the beach of our national ocean against which the breakers dash and roar, dash and roar without ceasing. He fights back the angry waters and prevents them from undermining and overwhelming the land. Gentlemen, I do not see how he survives, why he is not crushed and torn to pieces. Without him I should be destroyed. He performs his task superhumanly. Now do not mind this matter, for Mr. Stanton is right and I cannot wrongly interfere with him.”

Quoted in “Edwin McMasters Stanton: The Autocrat of Rebellion, Emancipation, and Reconstruction”,By Frank Abial Flower, p. 369-370.