The Great Conspiracy

He objected, also, because “the States cannot, under the pretense of
amending the Constitution, subvert the structure, spirit, and theory of
this Government.” “But,” said he, “if this Amendment were within the
Constitutional power of amendment; if this were a proper time to
consider it; if three-fourths of the States were willing to ratify it;
and if it did not require the fraudulent use of power, either in this
House or in the Executive Department, to secure its adoption, I would
still resist the passage of this Resolution. It is another step toward
consolidation, and consolidation is Despotism; confederation is

It was about 4 o’clock in the afternoon of June 15th, that the House
came to a vote, on the passage of the Joint Resolution. At first the
strain of anxiety on both sides was great, but, as the roll proceeded,
it soon became evident that the Resolution was doomed to defeat. And so
it transpired. The vote stood 93 yeas, to 65 nays–Mr. Ashley having
changed his vote, from the affirmative to the negative, for the purpose
of submitting, at the proper time, a motion to reconsider.

That same evening, Mr. Ashley made the motion to reconsider the vote by
which the proposed Constitutional Amendment was rejected; and the motion
was duly entered in the Journal, despite the persistent efforts of
Messrs. Cox, Holman, and others, to prevent it.

On the 28th of June, just prior to the Congressional Recess, Mr. Ashley
announced that he had been disappointed in the hope of securing enough
votes from the Democratic side of the House to carry the Amendment.
“Those,” said he, “who ought to have been the champions of this great
proposition are unfortunately its strongest opponents. They have
permitted the golden opportunity to pass. The record is made up, and we
must go to the Country on this issue thus presented.” And then he gave
notice that he would call the matter up, at the earliest possible moment
after the opening of the December Session of Congress.


The record was indeed made up, and the issue thus made, between Slavery
and Freedom, would be the chief one before the People. Already the
Republican National Convention, which met at Baltimore, June 7, 1864,
had not only with “enthusiastic unanimity,” renominated Mr. Lincoln for
the Presidency, but amid “tremendous applause,” the delegates rising and
waving their hats–had adopted a platform which declared, in behalf of
that great Party: “That, as Slavery was the cause, and now constitutes
the strength, of this Rebellion, and as it must be, always and
everywhere, hostile to the principles of Republican government, Justice
and the National safety demand its utter and complete extirpation from
the soil of the Republic; and that while we uphold and maintain the Acts
and Proclamations by which the Government, in its own defense, has aimed
a death-blow at this gigantic evil, we are in favor, furthermore, of
such an Amendment to the Constitution, to be made by the People in
conformity with its provisions, as shall terminate and forever prohibit
the existence of Slavery within the limits or the jurisdiction of the
United States.”

So, too, with vociferous plaudits, had they received and adopted another
Resolution, wherein they declared “That we approve and applaud the
practical wisdom, the unselfish patriotism and the unswerving fidelity
to the Constitution and the principles of American Liberty, with which
Abraham Lincoln has discharged, under circumstances of unparalleled
difficulty, the great duties and responsibilities of the Presidential
Office; that we approve and endorse, as demanded by the emergency, and
essential to the preservation of the Nation, and as within the
provisions of the Constitution; the Measures and Acts which he has
adopted to defend the Nation against its open and secret foes; that we
approve, especially, the Proclamation of Emancipation, and the
employment, as Union soldiers, of men heretofore held in Slavery; and
that we have full confidence in his determination to carry these and all
other Constitutional Measures essential to the salvation of the Country,
into full and complete effect.”

Thus heartily, thoroughly and unreservedly, endorsed in all the great
acts of his Administration–and even more emphatically, if possible, in
his Emancipation policy–by the unanimous vote of his Party, Mr.
Lincoln, although necessarily “chagrined and disappointed” by the House-
vote which had defeated the Thirteenth Amendment, might well feel
undismayed. He always had implicit faith in the People; he felt sure
that they would sustain him; and this done, why could not the votes of a
dozen, out of the seventy Congressional Representatives opposing that
Amendment, be changed? Even failing in this, it must be but a question
of time. He thought he could afford to bide that time.

On the 29th of August, the Democratic National Convention met at
Chicago. Horatio Seymour was its permanent President; that same
Governor of New York whom the 4th of July, 1863, almost at the moment
when Vicksburg and Gettysburg had brought great encouragement to the
Union cause, and when public necessity demanded the enforcement of the
Draft in order to drive the Rebel invader from Northern soil and bring
the Rebellion speedily to an end–had threateningly said to the
Republicans, in the course of a public speech, during the Draft-riots at
New York City: “Remember this, that the bloody, and treasonable, and
revolutionary doctrine of public necessity can be proclaimed by a mob as
well as by a Government. * * * When men accept despotism, they may have
a choice as to who the despot shall be!”

In his speech to this Democratic-Copperhead National Convention,
therefore, it is not surprising that he should, at this time, declare
that “this Administration cannot now save this Union, if it would.”
That the body which elected such a presiding officer,–after the bloody
series of glorious Union victories about Atlanta, Ga., then fast leading
up to the fall of that great Rebel stronghold, (which event actually
occurred long before most of these Democratic delegates, on their
return, could even reach their homes)–should adopt a Resolution
declaring that the War was a “failure,” was not surprising either.

That Resolution–“the material resolution of the Chicago platform,” as
Vallandigham afterward characters it, was written and “carried through
both the Subcommittee and the General Committee” by that Arch-Copperhead
and Conspirator himself.–[See his letter of October 22, 1864, to the
editor of the New York News,]

It was in these words: “Resolved, That this Convention does explicitly
declare as the sense of the American People, that after four years of
failure to restore the Union by the experiment of War, during which,
under the pretense of a military necessity, or War-power higher than the
Constitution, the Constitution itself has been disregarded in every
part, and public Liberty and private right alike trodden down and the
material prosperity of the Country essentially impaired–Justice,
Humanity, Liberty, and the public welfare demand that immediate efforts
be made for a cessation of hostilities, with a view to an ultimate
Convention of the States, or other peaceable means, to the end that at
the earliest practicable moment Peace may be restored on the basis of
the Federal Union of the States.”

With a Copperhead platform, this Democratic Convention thought it
politic to have a Union candidate for the Presidency. Hence, the
nomination of General McClellan; but to propitiate the out-and-out
Vallandigham Peace men, Mr. Pendleton was nominated to the second place
on the ticket.

This combination was almost as great a blunder as was the platform–than
which nothing could have been worse. Farragut’s Naval victory at
Mobile, and Sherman’s capture of Atlanta, followed so closely upon the
adjournment of the Convention as to make its platform and candidates the
laughing stock of the Nation; and all the efforts of Democratic orators,
and of McClellan himself, in his letter of acceptance, could not prevent
the rise of that great tidalwave of Unionism which was soon to engulf
the hosts of Copperhead-Democracy.

The Thanksgiving-services in the churches, and the thundering salutes of
100 guns from every Military and Naval post in the United States, which
–during the week succeeding that Convention’s sitting–betokened the
Nation’s especial joy and gratitude to the victorious Union Forces of
Sherman and Farragut for their fortuitously-timed demonstration that the
“experiment of War” for the restoration of the Union was anything but a
“Failure” all helped to add to the proportions of that rapidly-swelling
volume of loyal public feeling.

The withdrawal from the canvass, of General Fremont, nominated for the
Presidency by the “radical men of the Nation,” at Cleveland, also
contributed to it. In his letter of withdrawal, September 17th, he

“The Presidential contest has, in effect, been entered upon in such a
way that the union of the Republican Party has become a paramount
necessity. The policy of the Democratic Party signifies either
separation, or reestablishment with Slavery. The Chicago platform is
simply separation. General McClellan’s letter of acceptance is
reestablishment, with Slavery. The Republican candidate is, on the
contrary, pledged to the reestablishment of the Union without Slavery;
and, however hesitating his policy may be, the pressure of his Party
will, we may hope, force him to it. Between these issues, I think no
man of the Liberal Party can remain in doubt.”

And now, following the fall of Atlanta before Sherman’s Forces, Grant
had stormed “Fort Hell,” in front of Petersburg; Sheridan had routed the
Rebels, under Early, at Winchester, and had again defeated Early at
Fisher’s Hill; Lee had been repulsed in his attack on Grant’s works at
Petersburg; and Allatoona had been made famous, by Corse and his 2,000
Union men gallantly repulsing the 5,000 men of Hood’s Rebel Army, who
had completely surrounded and attacked them in front, flank, and rear.

All these Military successes for the Union Cause helped the Union
political campaign considerably, and, when supplemented by the
remarkable results of the October elections in Pennsylvania, Indiana,
and Maryland, made the election of Lincoln and Johnson a foregone

The sudden death of Chief-Justice Taney, too, happening, by a strange
coincidence, simultaneously with the triumph of the Union Party of
Maryland in carrying the new Constitution of that State, which
prohibited Slavery within her borders, seemed to have a significance*
not without its effect upon the public mind, now fast settling down to
the belief that Slavery everywhere upon the soil of the United States
must die.

[Greeley well said of it: “His death, at this moment, seemed to
mark the transition from the Era of Slavery to that of Universal

Then came, October 19th, the Battle of Cedar Creek, Va. where the Rebel
General Early, during Sheridan’s absence, surprised and defeated the
latter’s forces, until Sheridan, riding down from Winchester, turned
defeat into victory for the Union Arms, and chased the armed Rebels out
of the Shenandoah Valley forever; and the fights of October 27th and
28th, to the left of Grant’s position, at Petersburg, by which the
railroad communications of Lee’s Army at Richmond were broken up.

At last, November 8, 1864, dawned the eventful day of election. By
midnight of that date it was generally believed, all over the Union,
that Lincoln and Johnson were overwhelmingly elected, and that the Life
as well as Freedom of the Nation had thus been saved by the People.

Late that very night, President Lincoln was serenaded by a Pennsylvania
political club, and, in responding to the compliment, modestly said:

“I earnestly believe that the consequences of this day’s work (if it be
as you assure, and as now seems probable) will be to the lasting
advantage, if not to the very salvation, of the Country. I cannot at
this hour say what has been the result of the election. But whatever it
may be, I have no desire to modify this opinion, that all who have
labored to-day in behalf of the Union organization have wrought for the
best interests of their Country and the World, not only for the present
but for all future ages.

“I am thankful to God,” continued he, “for this approval of the People;
but, while deeply gratified for this mark of their confidence in me, if
I know my heart, my gratitude is free from any taint of personal
triumph. I do not impugn the motives of any one opposed to me. It is
no pleasure to me to triumph over any one; but I give thanks to the
Almighty for this evidence of the People’s resolution to stand by Free
Government and the rights of Humanity.”

On the 10th of November, in response to another serenade given at the
White House, in the presence of an immense and jubilantly enthusiastic
gathering of Union men, by the Republican clubs of the District of
Columbia, Mr. Lincoln said:

“It has long been a grave question whether any Government, not too
strong for the Liberties of its People, can be strong enough to maintain
its existence in great emergencies. On this point the present
Rebellion. has brought our Republic to a severe test, and a
Presidential election, occurring in regular course during the Rebellion,
has added not a little to the strain. * * * But the election, along
with its incidental and undesired strife, has done good, too. It has
demonstrated that a People’s Government can sustain a National election
in the midst of a great Civil War, until now it has not been known to
the World that this was a possibility. It shows, also, how sound and
how strong we still are.

“But,” said he, “the Rebellion continues; and now that the election is
over, may not all having a common interest reunite in a common effort to
save our common Country?

“For my own part,” continued he–as the cheering, elicited by this
forcible appeal, ceased–“I have striven, and shall strive, to avoid
placing any obstacle in the way. So long as I have been here I have not
willingly planted a thorn in any man’s bosom. While I am deeply
sensible to the high compliment of a reelection, and duly grateful, as I
trust, to Almighty God for having directed my countrymen to a right
conclusion, as I think, for their own good, it adds nothing to my
satisfaction that any other man may be disappointed or pained by the

And, as the renewed cheering evoked by this kindly, Christian utterance
died away again, he impressively added: “May I ask those who have not
differed with me, to join with me in this same spirit, towards those who

So, too, on the 17th of November, in his response to the complimentary
address of a delegation of Union men from Maryland.

[W. H. Purnell, Esq., in behalf of the Committee, delivered an
address, in which he said they rejoiced that the People, by such an
overwhelming and unprecedented majority, had again reelected Mr.
Lincoln to the Presidency and endorsed his course–elevating him to
the proudest and most honorable position on Earth. They felt under
deep obligation to him because he had appreciated their condition
as a Slave-State. It was not too much to say that by the exercise
of rare discretion on his part, Maryland to-day occupies her
position in favor of Freedom. Slavery has been abolished therefrom
by the Sovereign Decree of the People. With deep and lasting
gratitude they desired that his Administration, as it had been
approved in the past, might also be successful in the future, and
result in the Restoration of the Union, with Freedom as its
immutable basis. They trusted that, on retiring from his high and
honorable position, the universal verdict might be that he deserved
well of mankind, and that favoring Heaven might ‘Crown his days
with loving kindness and tender mercies.’]

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