At the meeting of the Cabinet to-day the President took out a paper from his desk, and said:— “Gentlemen, do you remember last summer I asked you all to sign your names to the back of a paper of which I did not show you the inside? This is it? Now, Mr. Hay, see if you can get this open without tearing it.” He had pasted it up in so singular style that it required some cutting to get it open. He then read as follows:—
Washington, Aug. 23, 1864.
This morning, as for some days past, it seems exceedingly probable that this Administration will not be re-elected. Then it will be my duty to so co-operate with the President elect, as to save the Union between the election and the inauguration; as he will have secured his election on such ground that he cannot possibly save it afterwards.
This was indorsed :—
William H. Seward,
W. P. Fessenden,
Edwin M. Stanton,
J. P. Usher.
The President said:— “You will remember that this was written at a time (six days before the Chicago nominating Convention) when as yet we had no adversary, and seemed to have no friends. I then solemnly resolved on the course of action indicated above. I resolved, in case of the election of General McClellan, being certain that he would be the candidate, that I would see him and talk matters over with him. I would say, “General, the election has demonstrated that you are stronger, have more influence with the American people than I. Now let us together, you with your influence, and I with all the executive power of the government, try to save the country. You raise as many troops as you possibly can for this final trial, and I will devote all my energies to assisting and finishing the war.”
Seward said:— “And the General would answer you ‘Yes, Yes;’ and the next day when you saw him again, and pressed these views upon him, he would say, ‘Yes, Yes;’ and so on forever, and would have done nothing at all.”
“At least,” added Lincoln, "I should have done my duty and have stood clear before my own conscience."
The speeches of the President at the last two serenades are very highly spoken of. The first I wrote after the fact, to prevent the “loyal Pennsylvanians” getting a swing at it themselves. The second one, last night, the President himself wrote late in the evening, and read it from the window :— “Not very graceful,” he said: “but I am growing old enough not to care much for the manner of doing things.”
To-day I got a letter from Raymond breathing fire and vengeance against the Custom House which came so near destroying him in his district. I read it to the President. He answered that it was the spirit of such letters as that, that created the faction and malignity of which Raymond complained.
It seems utterly impossible for the President to conceive of the possibility of any good resulting from a rigorous and exemplary course of punishing political dereliction. His favorite expression is:— “I am in favor of short statutes of limitations in politics.”
SOURCES: Clara B. Hay, Letters of John Hay and Extracts from Diary, Volume 1, p. 242-5; Michael Burlingame & John R. Turner Ettlinger, Editors, Inside Lincoln’s White House: The Complete Civil War Diary of John Hay, p. 247-9.