Tuesday, February 14, 2017

John Hay to John G. Nicolay: September 11, 1863

Executive Mansion,
Washington, September 11, 1863.

A week or so ago I got frightened at

“The brow so haggard, the chin so peaked,
Fronting me silent in the glass,”

and sending for Stoddard (who had been giving the northern watering places for the last two months a model of high breeding and unquestionable deportment), I left for a few days at Long Branch and two or three more at Providence. I was at the Commencement at Brown University, and made a small chunk of a talk. I only staid a little over a week, and came back feeling heartier.

I must be in Warsaw early in October on account of family affairs. As I infer from your letter that you cannot return before November, or, as Judge Otto says, before December, I will have to give the reins up for a few days to Stoddard and Howe again. I hope the daring youth will not reduplicate the fate of Phaeton.

Washington is as dull here as an obsolete almanac. The weather is not so bad as it was. The nights are growing cool. But there is nobody here except us old stagers who can't get away. We have some comfortable dinners and some quiet little orgies on whiskey and cheese in my room. And the time slides away.

We are quietly jolly over the magnificent news from all round the board. Rosecrans won a great and bloodless victory at Chattanooga which he had no business to win. The day that the enemy ran, he sent a mutinous message to Halleck complaining of the very things that have secured us the victories, and foreshadowing only danger and defeat.

You may talk as you please of the Abolition Cabal directing affairs from Washington; some well-meaning newspapers advise the President to keep his fingers out of the military pie, and all that sort of thing. The truth is, if he did, the pie would be a sorry mess. The old man sits here and wields like a backwoods Jupiter the bolts of war and the machinery of government with a hand equally steady and equally firm.

His last letter is a great thing. Some hideously bad rhetoric — some indecorums that are infamous, — yet the whole letter takes its solid place in history as a great utterance of a great man. The whole Cabinet could not have tinkered up a letter which could have been compared with it. He can rake a sophism out of its hole better than all the trained logicians of all schools. I do not know whether the nation is worthy of him for another term. I know the people want him. There is no mistaking that fact. But politicians are strong yet, and he is not their “kind of a cat.” I hope God won't see fit to scourge us for our sins by any one of the two or three most prominent candidates on the ground.

I hope you are getting well and hearty. Next winter will be the most exciting and laborious of all our lives. It will be worth any other ten.

SOURCES: Clara B. Hay, Letters of John Hay and Extracts from Diary, Volume 1, p. 100-3; For the whole diary entry see Tyler Dennett, Editor, Lincoln and the Civil War in the Diaries and letters of John Hay, p. 90-1; Michael Burlingame, Editor, At Lincoln’s Side: John Yay’s Civil War Correspondence and Selected Writings, p. 53-4.

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