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1864 July 16: Why Secretary Chase Resigned; Expectations for Fessenden; Confidence in Grant; News of Colonels Poole and Allen

July 21, 2014

From the July 16, 1864, issue of The Prescott Journal.

From Washington.

The Resignation of Mr. Chase—The Faults and Weaknesses of the late Secretary—
Things Expected of Mr. Fessenden—Closing Hours of Congress—
The Cabinet—Wisconsin [__] Fund—Confidence in Grant—Col. Poole and Col. Allen—
Term of Service of the Fifth Wisconsin Expired.

Correspondence of the State Journal.

WASHINGTON, July 1, 1864.

The resignation of Mr. Chase [Salmon P. Chase] yesterday took everybody by surprise, and for a time occasioned some sensation ;  but it is followed by a feeling of relief and even satisfaction, since Senator Fessenden [William P. Fessenden] has been appointed his successor.  No one was more surprised to find him out of office than the distinguished Secretary himself.  He had so long been accustomed to have his imperious and frequently unreasonable demands granted both by the President and Congress, and had come to regard himself so indispensable to the Administration, that he could continue to dictate his own terms.  He demanded exclusive control in all matters pertaining to the New York sub treasury, as he has beretofore in the  House; he wished to put Mr. Field¹ in place of Mr. Cisco;² Mr. Lincoln [Abraham Lincoln] advised otherwise; Mr. Chase demanded it as his exclusive prerogative, and for the second or third time tendered his resignation, expecting, of course, conciliatory Father Abraham would yield, as usual, but this was the “feather which broke the overladen camel’s back;” he was taken at his word, and while at the capitol engaged with the Finance Committee, not dreaming of any change, the name of his successor was sent in.

Whatever may be said of Mr. Chase’s ability and integrity, his imperious temper, his arrogance, his dogged determination to have his own way regardless of his friends, his towering ambition, his utter inability to discriminate character, unfit him for a safe administration of a position of patronage and power.  No department of the government has so many corrupt and unprincipled attaches and none has fostered more traitors and rebel sympathisers [sic] than the Treasury under his administration.  When his attention was called by the Potter Committee³ of Congress to the rebels and traitors in his Department, he replied, “if he was not competent to determine his own business, Congress had better take charge of it.”  When a distinguished Senator called upon him to remonstrate against his retaining a known corrupt assistant, he replied in high temper “I do not thank any one to talk to me thus about my assistants.”  By flattery and deceit, innumerable agents have obtained his confidence and been employed, (under the extraordinary powers conferred upon him by Congress,) whose moral, political and financial characters would dishonor any government.  His trade regulations have been a most fertile source of advantage to the rebels and of disaster to our arms, while the persons selected to administer them have caused the valleys of the Ohio and Mississippi and the Atlantic coast to ring with loyal curses against political, moral and official delinquency.

Gen. Washburne [sic: C. C. Washburn] has interposed the strong arm of military power at Memphis, but the evil has been incalculable and still continues from Cincinnati to New Orleans, save within his jurisdiction, as well as at Norfolk, Beaufort, and all down the Atlantic coast.  If Mr. Fessenden accepts the position, his character affords some guaranty of a change for the better.  The corrupt [__] within the Department, which have been whitewashed and smothered by a recent committee, and the schemes of fraud so long carried on under “permits,” &c., will receive a wholesome check under the new administration ;  while the National credit will sustain no damage by the rupture which has so long been threatened and finally occurred.

Congress is in the last throes of dissolution and a few more days will close its inharmonious but not fruitless session.  I am more than gratified that it has finally wiped out the infamous fugitive slave law, though it could not adopt the constitutional amendment prohibiting slavery, because of the love of northern Democrats for the institution which has so long been the corner stone of their political hopes.  It has been impossible for the friends of the government to act as a unit on any measure of general importance and no caucusing could bring together the majority into a solid phalanx against the opposition.  The most “radical” Republicans would sometimes be found voting with Copperheads and then against the most “conservative” would be taking the lead to radicalism.  On all measures of finance and taxation, as well as those pertaining to the conduct of the war there has existed a great diversity of opinion among the Unionists, which has emboldened the opposition until the rankest treason has been openly proclaimed by many who cam into Congress claiming to be War Democrats.

The action of the Baltimore Convention produced for a time a salutary effect and, I have no doubt, was the inducing cause of the final repeal of the Fugitive Slave Law.  But disappointed ambition had its representatives in both Houses, who have not failed to favor unjust aspersions upon prominent men in the Administration.  In the midst of the conflict of politicians and the want of harmony among the leading friends of the Union as to the best measures for its restoration, it is gratifying to notice the firmness of the popular mind on behalf of the Administration, and the determined purpose of the people to fight “on the same line” and under the same standard bearer until peace shall be conquered.

Mr. Lincoln, Mr. Seward [William H. Seward] and Mr. Stanton [Edwin M. Stanton] have gained great strength in the popular estimation, from the unswerving consistency of their course amid the storms of conflicting congressional opinion.  It is generally conceded that Mr. Blair [Montgomery Blair] will have to leave the Cabinet, though he has ceased to obtrude his obnoxious views on the slave question.  “My Maryland” having determined that henceforth no more slavery shall exist within her borders, Mr. Blair will no longer attempt to resist the popular current of freedom, but the people will require his overthrow for his past sins.

The effect of the change in the Secretary of the Treasury upon the stock market is the opposite of what was anticipated here, and the repeal of the gold bill also had a strange effect upon the price of gold.  Nothing, however, will establish stability in these matters but a decided triumph of Gen. Grant [Ulysses S. Grant] at Richmond.

The resolutions for a settlement of the five per cent due Wisconsin from the sales of public lands, after passing the Senate by a two thirds vote, will have to lay over to the next session in the House among the unfinished business.  Your correspondent, “T” [?] labored hard to show my reference to the old canal claim was incorrect.  He cannot, however, escape the conclusion, that an acceptance of the first proposition of settlement would have saved the State more than four times the amount in interest now lost.

Since the return of the President and Assistant Secretary of War Dana [Charles A. Dana], from a visit to the army, a more firm confidence has been inspired in the ultimate success against Richmond.  Gen. Grant seems confident and feels strong enough in men and means to secure the fall of the rebel capital.

Col. POOLE4 has returned here after a few weeks service at the “White House” and vicinity and is now acting as Provost Marshal in this city.  Col. ALLEN5 has finally completed his labors in connection with the examining board for officers in the colored regiments and his health, though precarious, is so far recovered that he desires again to go into active service in the field.  His regiment will be here, on their way home, in about a week, their term of service having expired.  Col. COBB6 received some time since a handsome little testimonial of the regard of his old command, consisting of a badge in the form of a gold cross surmounted by a silver eagle.  On the cross is inscribed to “Col. AMASA COBB, from the soldiers of the 5th Wis. Vols.”  Postmaster LAWRENCE is still confined, but it [is] rumored that he will soon have his trial, and also that there is no existing evidence that implicates him in the robbery of the safe and subsequent events.

R.

1.  Maunsell Bradhurst Field (1822-1875) was Chase’s Assistant Secretary of the Treasury from 1861 to 1865. Because he had literary interests and co-authored a romantic novel (Adrian; or The Clouds of the Mind, a Romance; available online on Google Books), Chase opponents charged that Field was not respected by the financiers. But he had served as an assistant to Cisco (see next footnote) for many years and was now Assistant Secretary of the Treasury.
2.  John J. Cisco (1806-1884) was the Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in New York under Democratic Presidents Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan, and Lincoln kept him on because of his connections with the the moneyed interests of the nation. Due to his health, he decided to resign in May of 1864. His position was one of the richest patronage plums in the Federal government and his resignation set in motion a tug of war between Chase and his New York enemies.
3.  The Potter Committee was the common name for the Select Committee on Loyalty of Clerks and Other Persons Employed by the Government. Representative John F. Potter, of Wisconsin, proffered the resolution that established the investigative committee. The committee existed from July 8, 1861, to March 3, 1863.
4.  DeWitt Clinton Poole (1828-1917), from Madison, had been the lieutenant colonel of the 12th Wisconsin Infantry.
5.  Benjamin Allen, from Pepin, was colonel of the 16th Wisconsin Infantry. He was wounded at the Battle of Shiloh and resigned in July 1863 and was replaced by Cassius Fairchild.
6.  Amasa Cobb, from Mineral Point, was colonel of the original 5th Wisconsin Infantry from May 1861 to December 1862 when he resigned. In August 1864 he will become colonel of the 43rd Wisconsin Infantry.

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