There has been a little ferment in military circles, as newspaper correspondents write. Blair told me a few days since that Cutts came on his steps to sympathize and express his regret that the vandals should have burnt his (Blair's) house. Blair said that nothing better could be expected while poltroons and cowards had the management of military affairs. Cutts left abruptly. I now hear it stated that General Halleck reported the remark to Stanton, and Stanton forwarded Halleck's letter to the President, who remarked that men would speak their minds freely in this country. I have no idea that either Halleck or Stanton will press the subject farther. It would please Blair, I think, if they would.
Mr. Solicitor Whiting spent an hour at my house last evening. The principal topic of discussion was that of Reconstruction. He maintains that the States which have seceded have no rights, - that they cannot resume position in the Union without consent, and the formation of a new constitution in each which excludes slavery. I denied the right of Congress to impose that condition on a State, like North Carolina for instance, and insisted that the States must be equal in political rights, — that if Massachusetts or any of the old States reserved and retained that power, it belonged as well to North Carolina. An amendment of the Constitution would be necessary abolishing slavery in all. Without meeting that point, he expressed a disbelief in the reserved right of Massachusetts on that subject. He denied that a majority, or the whole people, of North Carolina could establish or reëstablish a government and continue to be or to become a member of the Union after having been in rebellion, except by consent or permission. “Then," said I, "you recognize the right and the fact of secession.” This he was unwilling to admit, but dwelt on international law, belligerent attitudes, and matters outside of the Constitution to punish States inside. I asked what he would do with loyal citizens in Rebel States, those who had never borne arms or done any act to forfeit their allegiance, men like John Minor Botts or Andrew Johnson, for instance. He maintained that being in States that rebelled they were to be treated like the Rebels.
Solicitor Whiting is self-sufficient but superficial, with many words, some reading, but no very sound or well-founded political views. Yet he considers himself a pater conscriptus, a teacher learned in the law and wise on the subject of government. Seward consults him, and Stanton uses him. He writes letters and opinions to order, gets up pamphlets; is serving without pay, and is careful to tell that fact. One of these years, sooner or later, let no one be surprised to find all his services fully compensated. Men who profess to serve the government gratuitously are usually better paid than others.
Met General Emory at Blair's. Has just come in from pursuit of the raiders, without overtaking them. Had quite a talk concerning matters on the Red River and our disaster there. He gives an interesting detail. Tells the old story of a multitude of fussy men who accompanied Banks with little carpet-bags filled with greenbacks, etc.
Donald McKay publishes a letter defending the Navy Department from newspaper attacks on the subject of the monitors. It is very well done and unexpected. The Evening Post publishes it, and so does the Times copy it, but not yet the Tribune.
Blair is sore and vexed because the President frequently makes a confidant and adviser of Seward, without consulting the rest of the Cabinet. I told him this had been the course from the beginning; Seward and Chase had each striven for the position of Special Executive Counsel; that it had apparently been divided between them, but Seward had outgeneraled or outintrigued Chase. The latter was often consulted when others were not, but often he was not aware of things which were intrusted to Seward (who was superserviceable) and managed by him.
SOURCE: Gideon Welles, Diary of Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy Under Lincoln and Johnson, Vol. 2: April 1, 1864 — December 31, 1866, p. 84-6