Thursday, April 6, 2017

Diary of Gideon Welles: Tuesday, May 26, 1863

Much of the time at the Cabinet meeting was consumed in endeavoring to make it appear that one Cuniston, tried and condemned as a spy, was not exactly a spy, and that he might be let off. I did not participate in the discussion. It appeared to me, from the statement on all hands and from the finding of the court, that he was clearly and beyond question a spy, and I should have said so, had my opinion been asked, but I did not care to volunteer, unsolicited and without a thorough knowledge of all the facts, to argue away the life of a fellow being.

There was a sharp controversy between Chase and Blair on the subject of the Fugitive Slave Law, as attempted to be executed on one Hall here in the district. Both were earnest, Blair for executing the law, Chase for permitting the man to enter the service of the United States instead of being remanded into slavery. The President said this was one of those questions that always embarrassed him. It reminded him of a man in Illinois who was in debt and terribly annoyed by a pressing creditor, until finally the debtor assumed to be crazy whenever the creditor broached the subject. “I,” said the President, “have on more than one occasion, in this room, when beset by extremists on this question, been compelled to appear to be very mad. I think,” he continued, “none of you will ever dispose of this subject without getting mad.”

I am by no means certain that it is wise or best to commence immediate operations upon Charleston. It is a much more difficult task now than it was before the late undertaking. Our own men have less confidence, while our opponents have much more. The place has no strategic importance, yet there is not another place our anxious countrymen would so rejoice to see taken as this original seat of the great wickedness that has befallen our country. The moral effect of its capture would be great.

SOURCE: Gideon Welles, Diary of Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy Under Lincoln and Johnson, Vol. 1: 1861 – March 30, 1864, p. 313-4

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