Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Diary of Gideon Welles: Tuesday, April 28, 1863

Nothing at Cabinet, Seward and Chase absent. The President engaged in selecting provost marshals.

Sumner called this evening at the Department. Was much discomfited with an interview which he had last evening with the President. The latter was just filing a paper as Sumner went in. After a few moments Sumner took two slips from his pocket, — one cut from the Boston Transcript, the other from the Chicago Tribune, each taking strong ground against surrendering the Peterhoff mail. The President, after reading them, opened the paper he had just filed and read to Sumner his letter addressed to the Secretary of State and the Secretary of the Navy. He told Sumner he had received the replies and just concluded reading mine. After some comments on them he said to Sumner, “I will not show these papers to you now; perhaps I never shall.” A conversation then took place which greatly mortified and chagrined Sumner, who declares the President is very ignorant or very deceptive. The President, he says, is horrified, or appeared to be, with the idea of a war with England, which he assumed depended on this question. He was confident we should have war with England if we presumed to open their mail bags, or break their seals or locks. They would not submit to it, and we were in no condition to plunge into a foreign war on a subject of so little importance in comparison with the terrible consequences which must follow our act. Of this idea of a war with England, Sumner could not dispossess him by argument, or by showing its absurdity. Whether it was real or affected ignorance, Sumner was not satisfied.

I have no doubts of the President's sincerity, and so told Sumner. But he has been imposed upon, humbugged, by a man in whom he confides. His confidence has been abused; he does not — frankly confesses he does not — comprehend the principles involved nor the question itself. Seward does not intend he shall comprehend it. While attempting to look into it, the Secretary of State is daily, and almost hourly, wailing in his ears the calamities of a war with England which he is striving to prevent. The President is thus led away from the real question, and will probably decide it, not on its merits, but on this false issue, raised by the man who is the author of the difficulty.

SOURCE: Gideon Welles, Diary of Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy Under Lincoln and Johnson, Vol. 1: 1861 – March 30, 1864, p. 286-7

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