The Great Conspiracy

The same kindly anxiety to soften and dispel the feeling of bitterness
that had been engendered in the malignant bosoms of the Copperhead-
Democracy by their defeat, was apparent when he said with emphasis and

“I have said before, and now repeat, that I indulge in no feeling of
triumph over any man who has thought or acted differently from myself.
I have no such feeling toward any living man;” and again, after
complimenting Maryland for doing “more than double her share” in the
elections, in that she had not only carried the Republican ticket, but
also the Free Constitution, he added: “Those who have differed with us
and opposed us will yet see that the result of the Presidential election
is better for their own good than if they had been successful.”

The victory of the Union-Republican Party at this election was an
amazing one, and in the words of General Grant’s dispatch of
congratulation to the President, the fact of its “having passed off
quietly” was, in itself, “a victory worth more to the Country than a
battle won,”–for the Copperheads had left no stone unturned in their
efforts to create the utmost possible rancor, in the minds of their
partisans, against the Administration and its Party.

Of twenty-five States voting, Lincoln and Johnson had carried the
electoral votes of twenty-two of them, viz.: Maine, New Hampshire,
Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Vermont, New York,
Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Michigan,
Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, California, Oregon, Kansas, West Virginia,
and Nevada; while McClellan and Pendleton had carried the twenty-one
electoral votes of the remaining three, viz.: New Jersey, Delaware, and
Kentucky–the popular vote reaching the enormous number of 2,216,067 for
Lincoln, to 1,808,725 for McClellan–making Lincoln’s popular majority
407,342, and his electoral majority 191!

But if the figures upon the Presidential candidacy were so gratifying
and surprising to all who held the cause of Union above all others, no
less gratifying and surprising were those of the Congressional
elections, which indicated an entire revulsion of popular feeling on the
subject of the Administration’s policy. For, while in the current
Congress (the 38th), there were only 106 Republican-Union to 77
Democratic Representatives, in that for which the elections had just
been held, (the 39th), there would be 143 Republican-Union to 41
Democratic Representatives.

It was at once seen, therefore, that, should the existing House of
Representatives fail to adopt the Thirteenth Amendment to the
Constitution, there would be much more than the requisite two-thirds
majority for such a Measure in both Houses of the succeeding Congress;
and moreover that in the event of its failure at the coming Session, it
was more than probable that President Lincoln would consider himself
justified in calling an Extra Session of the Thirty-ninth Congress for
the especial purpose of taking such action. So far then, as the
prospects of the Thirteenth Amendment were concerned, they looked
decidedly more encouraging.


As to the Military situation, a few words are, at this time, necessary:
Hood had now marched Northward, with some 50,000 men, toward Nashville,
Tenn., while Sherman, leaving Thomas and some 35,000 men behind, to
thwart him, had abandoned his base, and was marching Southward from
Atlanta, through Georgia, toward the Sea.

On the 30th of November, 1864, General Schofield, in command of the 4th
and 23rd Corps of Thomas’s Army, decided to make a stand against Hood’s
Army, at Franklin, in the angle of the Harpeth river, in order to give
time for the Union supply-trains to cross the river. Here, with less
than 20,000 Union troops, behind some hastily constructed works, he had
received the impetuous and overwhelming assault of the Enemy–at first
so successful as to threaten a bloody and disastrous rout to the Union
troops–and, by a brilliant counter-charge, and subsequent obstinate
defensive-fighting, had repulsed the Rebel forces, with nearly three
times the Union losses, and withdrew the next day in safety to the
defenses of Nashville.

A few days later, Hood, with his diminished Rebel Army, sat down before
the lines of Thomas’s somewhat augmented Army, which stretched from bank
to bank of the bight of the Cumberland river upon which Nashville is

And now a season of intense cold set in, lasting a week or ten days.
During this period of apparent inaction on both sides–which aroused
public apprehension in the North, and greatly disturbed General Grant–I
was ordered to City Point, by the General-in-Chief, with a view to his
detailing me to Thomas’s Command, at Nashville.

On the way, I called on President Lincoln, at the White House. I found
him not very well, and with his feet considerably swollen. He was
sitting on a chair, with his feet resting on a table, while a barber was
shaving him. Shaking him by the hand, and asking after his health, he
answered, with a humorous twinkle of the eye, that he would illustrate
his condition by telling me a story. Said he: “Two of my neighbors, on
a certain occasion, swapped horses. One of these horses was large, but
quite thin. A few days after, on inquiry being made of the man who had
the big boney horse, how the animal was getting along?–whether
improving or not?–the owner said he was doing finely; that he had
fattened almost up to the knees already!”

Afterward–when, the process of shaving had been completed, we passed to
another room–our conversation naturally turned upon the War; and his
ideas upon all subjects connected with it were as clear as those of any
other person with whom I ever talked. He had an absolute conviction as
to the ultimate outcome of the War–the final triumph of the Union Arms;
and I well remember, with what an air of complete relief and perfect
satisfaction he said to me, referring to Grant–“We have now at the head
of the Armies, a man in whom all the People can have confidence.”

But to return to Military operations: On December 10th? Sherman reached
the sea-board and commenced the siege of Savannah, Georgia; on the 13th,
Fort McAllister was stormed and Sherman’s communications opened with the
Sea; on the 15th and 16th, the great Battle of Nashville was fought,
between the Armies of Thomas and Hood, and a glorious victory gained by
the Union Arms–Hood’s Rebel forces being routed, pursued for days, and
practically dispersed; and, before the year ended, Savannah surrendered,
and was presented to the Nation, as “a Christmas gift,” by Sherman.

And now the last Session of the Thirty-eighth Congress having commenced,
the Thirteenth Amendment might at any time come up again in the House.
In his fourth and last Annual Message, just sent in to that Body,
President Lincoln had said:

“At the last Session of Congress a proposed Amendment of the
Constitution abolishing Slavery throughout the United States, passed the
Senate, but failed for lack of the requisite two-thirds vote in the
House of Representatives. Although the present is the same Congress,
and nearly the same members, and without questioning the wisdom or
patriotism of those who stood in opposition, I venture to recommend the
reconsideration and passage of the measure at the present Session. Of
course the abstract question is not changed; but an intervening election
shows, almost certainly, that the next Congress will pass the measure if
this does not. Hence there is only a question of time as to when the
proposed Amendment will go to, the States for their action. And as it
is to so go, at all, events, may we not agree that the sooner the
better? It is not claimed that the election has imposed a duty on
members to change their views or their votes, any farther than, as an
additional element to be considered, their judgment may be affected by
it. It is the voice of the People now, for the first time, heard upon
the question. In a great National crisis like ours, unanimity of action
among those seeking a common end is very desirable–almost
indispensable. And yet no approach to such unanimity is attainable
unless some deference shall be paid to the will of the majority simply
because it is the will of the majority. In this case the common end is
the maintenance of the Union; and, among the means to secure that end,
such will, through the election, is most clearly declared in favor of
such Constitutional Amendment.”

After affirming that, on the subject of the preservation of the Union,
the recent elections had shown the existence of “no diversity among the
People;” that “we have more men now than we had when the War began;”
that “we are gaining strength” in all ways; and that, after the
evidences given by Jefferson Davis of his unchangeable opposition to
accept anything short of severance from the Union, “no attempt at
negotiation with the Insurgent leader could result in any good,” he
appealed to the other Insurgents to come back to the fold–the door of
amnesty and pardon, being still “open to all.” But, he continued:

“In presenting the abandonment of armed resistance to the National
Authority, on the part of the Insurgents, as the only indispensable
condition to ending the War, on the part of the Government, I retract
nothing heretofore said as to Slavery. I repeat the declaration made a
year ago, that ‘while I remain in my present position I shall not
attempt to retract or modify the Emancipation Proclamation, nor shall I
return to Slavery any Person who is Free by the terms of that
Proclamation, or by any of the Acts of Congress.’ If the People should,
by whatever mode or means, make it an Executive duty to Reenslave such
Persons, another, and not I, must be their instrument to perform it. In
stating a single condition of Peace I mean simply to say that the War
will cease on the part of the Government, whenever it shall have ceased
on the part of those who began it.”

On the 22d of December, 1864, in accordance with the terms of a
Concurrent Resolution that had passed both Houses, Congress adjourned
until January 5, 1865. During the Congressional Recess, however, Mr.
Lincoln, anxious for the fate of the Thirteenth Amendment, exerted
himself, as it afterward appeared, to some purpose, in its behalf, by
inviting private conferences with him, at the White House, of such of
the Border-State and other War-Democratic Representatives as had before
voted against the measure, but whose general character gave him ground
for hoping that they might not be altogether deaf to the voice of reason
and patriotism.

[Among those for whom he sent was Mr. Rollins, of
Missouri, who afterward gave the following interesting account of
the interview:

“The President had several times in my presence expressed his deep
anxiety in favor of the passage of this great measure. He and
others had repeatedly counted votes in order to ascertain, as far
as they could, the strength of the measure upon a second trial in
the House. He was doubtful about its passage, and some ten days or
two weeks before it came up for consideration in the House, I
received a note from him, written in pencil on a card, while
sitting at my desk in the House, stating that he wished to see me,
and asking that I call on him at the White House. I responded that
I would be there the next morning at nine o’clock.

“I was prompt in calling upon him and found him alone in his
office. He received me in the most cordial manner, and said in his
usual familiar way: ‘Rollins, I have been wanting to talk to you
for some time about the Thirteenth Amendment proposed to the
Constitution of the United States, which will have to be voted on
now, before a great while.’

“I said: ‘Well, I am here, and ready to talk upon that subject.

“He said: ‘You and I were old Whigs, both of us followers of that
great statesman, Henry Clay, and I tell you I never had an opinion
upon the subject of Slavery in my life that I did not get from him.
I am very anxious that the War should be brought to a close at the
earliest possible date, and I don’t believe this can be
accomplished as long as those fellows down South can rely upon the
Border-States to help them; but if the Members from the Border-
States would unite, at least enough of them to pass the Thirteenth
Amendment to the Constitution, they would soon see that they could
not expect much help from that quarter, and be willing to give up
their opposition and quit their War upon the Government; that is my
chief hope and main reliance to bring the War to a speedy close,
and I have sent for you as an old Whig friend to come and see me,
that I might make an appeal to you to vote for this Amendment. It
is going to be very close; a few votes one way or the other will
decide it.’

“To this, I responded: ‘Mr. President, so far as I am concerned,
you need not have sent for me to ascertain my views on this
subject, for although I represent perhaps the strongest Slave-
district in Missouri, and have the misfortune to be one of the
largest Slave-owners in the country where I reside, I had already
determined to vote for the Amendment.

“He arose from his chair, and grasping me by the hand, gave it a
hearty shake, and said: ‘I am most delighted to hear that.’

“He asked me how many more of the Missouri delegates in the House
would vote for it.

“I said I could not tell; the Republicans of course would; General
Loan, Mr. Blow, Mr. Boyd, and Colonel McClurg.

“He said, ‘Won’t General Price vote for it? He is a good Union
man.’ I said I could not answer.

“‘Well, what about General King?’

“I told him I did not know.

“He then asked about Judges Hall and Norton.

“I said they would both vote against it, I thought.

“‘Well,’ he said, ‘are you on good terms with Price and King?’

“I responded in the affirmative, and that I was on easy terms with
the entire delegation.

“He then asked me if I would not talk with those who might be
persuaded to vote for the amendment, and report to him as soon as I
could find out what the prospect was.’

“I answered that I would do so with pleasure, and remarked at the
same time, that when I was a young man, in 1848, I was the Whig
competitor of King for Governor of Missouri, and, as he beat me
very badly, I thought now he should pay me back by voting as I
desired him on this important question.

“I promised the President I would talk to this gentleman upon the

“He said: ‘I would like you to talk to all the Border-State men
whom you can approach properly, and tell them of my anxiety to have
the measure pass; and let me know the prospect of the Border-State
vote,’ which I promised to do.

“He again said: ‘The passage of this Amendment will clinch the
whole subject; it will bring the War, I have no doubt, rapidly to a
close.'”–Arnold’s Life of Lincoln, pp. 358-359,]

On the 5th of January, 1865, the Christmas Recess having expired,
Congress re-assembled. The motion to reconsider the vote-by which the
Joint Resolution, to amend the Constitution by the abolition of Slavery,
had been defeated–was not called up, on that day, as its friends had
not all returned; but the time was mainly consumed in able speeches, by
Mr. Creswell of Maryland, and Stevens of Pennsylvania, in which the
former declared that “whether we would or not, we must establish Freedom
if we would exterminate Treason. Events have left us no choice. The
People have learned their duty and have instructed us accordingly.” And
Mr. Thaddeus Stevens solemnly said: “We are about to ascertain the
National will, by another vote to amend the Constitution. If gentlemen
opposite will yield to the voice of God and Humanity, and vote for it, I
verily believe the sword of the Destroying Angel will be stayed, and
this People be reunited. If we still harden our hearts, and blood must
still flow, may the ghosts of the slaughtered victims sit heavily upon
the souls of those who cause it!”

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