Sunday, July 23, 2017

Diary of Gideon Welles: Thursday, August 13, 1863

Laird's friend Howard telegraphs Fox that he has a letter of F.'s which conflicts with my letter to Sumner, and, while he does not want to go counter to the country, does not wish to be sacrificed. Faxon, who has charge of Fox's letters and correspondence, is disturbed by this; says that Fox has been forward, and too ready with his letters substituted for those of the Secretary or chiefs of bureaus; has an idea that Fox took upon himself to correspond with Howard and perhaps L. when I turned them off.

There may be something in these surmises, not that Fox intended to go contrary to my decision, but he was perhaps anxious to do something to give himself notoriety. At times he is officious. Most men like to be, or to appear to be, men of authority, he as well as others. I have observed that when he knows my views and desires he likes to communicate them to the parties interested as his own. Orders which I frequently send to chiefs of bureaus and others through him, he often reduces to writing, signing his own name to the order. These are little weaknesses which others as well as Faxon detect, and I permit to give me no annoyance; but Faxon, who is very correct, is disturbed by them and thinks there is an ulterior purpose in this. Admiral Smith, Lenthall, and Dahlgren have been vexed by them, and not infrequently, perhaps always, come to me with these officious, formal orders signed by the Assistant Secretary, as if issued by himself. Faxon thinks Fox may have taken upon himself to correspond with Howard, and committed himself and the Department. There can, I think, have been no committal, for Fox is shrewd, and has known my policy and course from the beginning. He doubtless wrote Howard, from what the latter says, but without any authority, and he saw my letter to Sumner without a suggestion that he had given other encouragement.

Chase spent an hour with me on various subjects. Says the Administration is merely departmental, which is true; that he considers himself responsible for no other branch of the Government than the Treasury, nor for any other than financial measures. His dissent to the War management has become very decisive, though he says he is on particularly friendly terms with Stanton. In many respects, he says, Stanton has done well, though he has unfortunate failings, making intercourse with him at times exceedingly unpleasant; thinks he is earnest and energetic, though wanting in persistency, steadiness. General Halleck Chase considers perfectly useless, a heavy incumbrance, with no heart in the cause, no sympathy for those who have. These are Chase's present views. They are not those he at one time entertained of Halleck, but we all know H. better than we did.

We had some talk on the policy that must be pursued respecting slavery and the relation of the State and Federal Governments thereto. It was, I think, his principal object in the interview, and I was glad it was introduced, for there has been on all sides a general avoidance of the question, though it is one of magnitude and has to be disposed of. His own course, Chase said, was clear and decided. No one of the Rebel States must be permitted to tolerate slavery for an instant. I asked what was to be done with Missouri, where the recent convention had decided in favor of emancipation, but that it should be prospective, — slavery should not be extinguished until 1870. He replied that the people might overrule that, but whether they did or not, Missouri is one of the excepted States, where the Proclamation did not go into effect.

“What, then,” said I, “of North Carolina, where there is beginning to be manifested a strong sentiment of returning affection for the Union? Suppose the people of that State should, within the next two or three months, deliberately resolve to disconnect themselves from the Confederacy, and by a popular vote determine that the State should resume her connection with the Union, and in doing so, they should, in view of the large slave population on hand, decide in favor of general but prospective emancipation, as Missouri has done, and enact there should be an entire abolition of slavery in 1875.” He said he would never consent to it, that it conflicted with the Proclamation, that neither in North Carolina, nor in any other State must there be any more slavery. He would not meddle with Maryland and the excepted States, but in the other States the evil was forever extinguished.

I said that no slave who had left his Rebel master could be restored, but that an immediate, universal, unconditional sweep, were the Rebellion crushed, might be injurious to both the slave and his owner, involving industrial and social relations, and promoting difficulties and disturbances; that these embarrassments required deliberate, wise thought and consideration. The Proclamation of Emancipation was justifiable as a military necessity against Rebel enemies, who were making use of these slaves to destroy our national existence; it was in self-defense and for our own preservation, the first law of nature. But were the Rebellion now suppressed, the disposition of the slavery question was, in my view, one of the most delicate and important problems to solve that had ever devolved on those who administrated the government. Were all the Slave States involved in the Rebellion, the case would be different, for then all would fare alike. The only solution which I could perceive was for the Border States to pass emancipation laws. The Federal Government could not interfere with them; it had with the rebellious States, and should morally and rightfully maintain its position. They had made war for slavery, had appealed to arms, and must abide the result. But we must be careful, in our zeal on this subject, not to destroy the great framework of our political governmental system. The States had rights which must be respected, the General Government limitations beyond which it must not pass.

SOURCE: Gideon Welles, Diary of Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy Under Lincoln and Johnson, Vol. 1: 1861 – March 30, 1864, p. 401-3

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