Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Diary of John Hay: December 9, 1863

. . . . In the evening Judd and Usher, and Nicolay and I were talking politics and blackguarding our friends in the Council Chamber. A great deal had been said about the folly of the Edward Bates letter — the Rockville Blair speech, etc. — when the President came in. They at once opened on him, and after some talk he settled down to give his ideas about the Blair business. He said:—

“The Blairs have, to an unusual degree, the spirit of clan. Their family is a close corporation. Frank is their hope and pride. They have a way of going with a rush for anything they undertake; — especially have Montgomery and the Old Gentleman. When this war first began, they could think of nothing but Frémont; they expected everything from him; and upon their earnest solicitation he was made a General, and sent to Missouri. I thought well of Frémont. Even now I think he is the prey of wicked and designing men, and I think he has absolutely no military capacity. He went to Missouri, the pet and protegé of the Blairs. At first they corresponded with him and with Frank, who was with him, fully and confidently thinking his plans and his efforts would accomplish great things for the country. At last the tone of Frank’s letters changed. It was a change from confidence to doubt and uncertainty. They were pervaded with a tone of sincere sorrow, and of fear that Frémont would fail. Montgomery showed them to me, and we were both grieved at the prospect. Soon came the news that Frémont had issued his Emancipation Order, and had set up a Bureau of Abolition, giving free papers, and occupying his time apparently with little else. At last, at my suggestion, Montgomery Blair went to Missouri to look at, and talk over matters. He went as the friend of Frémont. I sent him as Frémont ‘s friend. He passed on the way, Mrs. Frémont coming to see me. She sought an audience with me at midnight, and taxed me so violently with many things that I had to exercise all the awkward tact I have, to avoid quarreling with her. She surprised me by asking why their enemy, Montgomery Blair, had been sent to Missouri. She more than once intimated that if Gen'l Frémont should conclude to try conclusions with me, he could set up for himself.”

(Judd says: — “It is pretty clearly proven that Frémont had at that time concluded that the Union was definitely destroyed, and that he should set up an independent government as soon as he took Memphis and organized his army.")

“The next we heard was that Frémont had arrested Frank Blair, and the rupture has since never been healed.”

“During Frémont’s time, the Missouri Democrat, which had always been Blair’s organ, was bought up by Frémont, and turned against Frank Blair. This took away from Frank, after his final break with Frémont, the bulk of the strength which had always elected him. This left him ashore. To be elected in this state of things he must seek for votes outside of the Republican organization. He had pretty hard trimming and cutting to do this consistently. It is this necessity, as it appears to me, of finding some ground for Frank to stand on, that accounts for the present, somewhat anomalous, position of the Blairs in politics.”

Judd: — “The opinion of people who read your Message to-day is that, on that platform, two of your ministers must walk the plank — Blair and Bates.”

Lincoln: — “Both of these men acquiesced in it without objection. The only member of the Cabinet who objected to it was Mr. Chase.”

SOURCES: Clara B. Hay, Letters of John Hay and Extracts from Diary, Volume 1, p. 132-5; For the whole diary entry see Tyler Dennett, Editor, Lincoln and the Civil War in the Diaries and letters of John Hay, p. 130-4.

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