It is proper to mention in this connection that the Cabinet change here described caused no change in the friendship between Lincoln and Cameron. Three or four months afterwards a violent factional assault upon the latter in the House of Representatives resulted in the passage of a resolution of censure, charging Cameron, while Secretary of War, with having adopted in certain transactions ” a policy highly injurious to the p.im public service.” As soon as Mr. Lincoln’s attention was called to the resolution, he wrote and transmitted to the House a special message explaining that the censured “transactions” occurred during the days of the first and extreme peril of the Grovernment, when Washington was cut off from communication with the North by the insurrection in Maryland; that the acts complained of were not done by Cameron exclusively, but were ordered by the President with the full assent of his Cabinet, every member of which, with himself, was equally responsible for the alleged irregularity. Cameron gratefully remembered this voluntary and manly defense of his official integrity. He remained one of the most intimate and devoted of Lincoln’s personal friends, and became one of the earliest and most effective advocates of his renomination and reelection to the Presidency.
Quoted in John G. Nicolay and John Hay, Abraham Lincoln: A History, Vol. I (New York: Century Co., 1917), p. 130. Vol. v.— 9
May 26, 1862
To the Senate and House of Representatives:
The insurrection which is yet existing in the United States, and aims at the overthrow of the federal Constitution and the Union,
was clandestinely prepared during the winter of 1860 and 1861, and assumed an open organization in the form of a treasonable provisional government at Montgomery, in Alabama, on the 18th day of February, 1861. On the 12th day of April, 1861, the insurgents committed the flagrant act of civil war by the bombardment and capture of Fort Sumter, which cut off the hope of immediate conciliation. Immediately afterwards all the roads and avenues to this city were obstructed, and the capital was put into the condition of a siege. The mails in every direction were stopped, and the lines of telegraph cut off by the insurgents, and military and naval forces, which had been called out by the government for the defence of Washington, were prevented from reaching the city by organized and combined treasonable resistance in the State of Maryland. There was no adequate and effective organization for the public defence. Congress had indefinitely adjourned. There was no time to convene them. It became necessary for me to choose whether, using only the existing means, agencies, and processes which Congress had provided, I should let the government fall at once into ruin, or whether, availing myself of the broader powers conferred by the Constitution in cases of insurrection, I would make an effort to save it with all its blessings for the present age and for posterity.
I thereupon summoned my constitutional advisers, the heads of all the departments, to meet on Sunday, the 20th [21st] day of April, 1861, at the office of the Navy Department, and then and there, with their unanimous concurrence, I directed that an armed revenue cutter should proceed to sea, to afford protection to the commercial marine, and especially the California treasure ships then on their way to this coast. I also directed the commandant of the navy yard at Boston to purchase or charter, and arm as quickly as possible, five steamships, for purposes of public defence. I directed the commandant of the navy yard at Philadelphia to purchase, or charter and arm, an equal number for the same purpose. I directed the commandant at New York to purchase, or charter and arm, an equal number. I directed Commander Gillis to purchase, or charter and arm, and put to sea two other vessels. Similar directions were given to Commodore DuPont, with a view to the opening of passages by water to and from the capital. I directed the several officers to take the advice and obtain the aid and efficient services in the matter of his excellency Edwin D. Morgan, the governor of New York, or, in his absence, George D. Morgan, William M. Evarts, R. M. Blatchford, and Moses H. Grinnell, who were, by my directions, especially empowered by the Secretary of the Navy to act for his department in that crisis, in matters pertaining to the forwarding of troops and supplies for the public defence.
On the same occasion I directed that Governor Morgan and Alexander Cummings, of the city of New York, should be authorized by the Secretary of War, Simon Cameron, to make all necessary arrangements for the transportation of troops and munitions of war, in aid and assistance of the officers of the army of the United States, until communication by mails and telegraph should be completely re-established between the cities of Washington and New York. No security was required to be given by them, and either of them was authorized to act in case of inability to consult with the other.
On the same occasion I authorized and directed the Secretary of the Treasury to advance, without requiring security, two millions of dollars of public money to John A. Dix, George Opdyke, and Richard M. Blatchford, of New York, to be used by them in meeting such requisitions as should be directly consequent upon the military and naval measures necessary for the defence and support of the government, requiring them only to act without compensation, and to report their transactions when duly called upon.
The several departments of the government at that time contained so large a number of disloyal persons that it would have been impossible to provide safely, through official agents only, for the performance of the duties thus confided to citizens favorably known for their ability, loyalty, and patriotism.
The several orders issued upon these occurrences were transmitted by private messengers, who pursued a circuitous way to the seaboard cities, inland, across the States of Pennsylvania and Ohio and the northern lakes. I believe that by these and other similar measures taken in that crisis, some of which were without any authority of law, the government was saved from overthrow. I am not aware that a dollar of the public funds thus confided without authority of law to unofficial persons was either lost or wasted, although apprehensions of such misdirection occurred to me as objections to those extraordinary proceedings, and were necessarily overruled.
I recall these transactions now because my attention has been directed to a resolution which was passed by the House of Representatives on the 30th day of last month, which is in these words:
Resolved, That Simon Cameron, late Secretary of War, by investing Alexander Cummings with the control of large sums of the public money, and authority to purchase military supplies without restriction, without requiring from him any guarantee for the faithful performance of his duties, when the services of competent public officers were available, and by involving the government in a vast number of contracts with persons not legitimately engaged in the business pertaining to the subject-matter of such contracts, especially in the purchase of arms for future delivery, has adopted a policy highly injurious to the public service, and deserves the censure of the House.”
Congress will see that I should be wanting equally in candor and in justice if I should leave the censure expressed in this resolution to rest exclusively or chiefly upon Mr. Cameron. The same sentiment is unanimously entertained by the heads of departments, who participated in the proceedings which the House of Representatives has censured. It is due to Mr. Cameron to say that, although he fully approved the proceedings, they were not moved nor suggested by himself, and that not only the President but all the other heads of departments were at least equally responsible with him for whatever error, wrong, or fault was committed in the premises. ABRAHAM LINCOLN.
Washington, May 26, 1862.
-Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln. Volume 5.
In this deadlock of depression, the scandal at the War Office had a certain ventilating effect. Cameron had unquestionably been too credulous in his dealings with army contractors, and many went so far as to say he was taking a share in the spoils. Socks that could be torn to pieces with a moderate pull, blankets that were too thin, knapsacks put together with glue instead of being stitched ; all were laid to the Secretary of War’s charge. A com- mittee of inquiry was appointed, but Lincoln stood up for Cameron, declaring that he himself and the cabinet were jointly responsible for anything that was amiss. Even in the case of this man of dubious character, this man who had been forced on him, he pre- ferred, without any need for it, to stake his own already much vilified name, and to bear his share of the blame for questionable machinations, rather than sacrifice a colleague when the battle was raging.
And this though he had a personal grievance against Cameron. The latter had, on his own initiative, come forward as an aboli- tionist, preparing in secret, almost simultaneously with the ripen- ing of the army-contracts scandal, a report in which he declared :
“Those who make war against the Government justly forfeit all rights of property, privilege, or security derived from the Constitution and laws against which they are in armed rebellion , and as the labor and service of their slaves constitute the chief property of the rebels, such property should share in the common fate of war.’
For the second time Lincoln contemplated the fulfillment of his wishes, and again he had to take an adverse line. At this New Year of 1862 it seemed to him that the time was not yet ripe ; nor was it. He had the pamphlet copies of the report recalled from the post offices by telegraph, and the controversial passage was deleted.
This is typical of Lincoln, who screens his secretary in personal difficulties, but disavows the same man in a matter where State policy is involved, although upon the latter question he is really in sympathy with Cameron, whereas in the former respect he is out of tune; and although the very reverse behavior in both in- stances would have been more favorable to his own reputation. How much importance he attaches to a cause and how little to personal concerns; how readily he can overlook a slight when he thinks an adversary can be useful to the imperiled nation, is strikingly proved at this juncture by his appointment of Stanton as Secretary of War.