Lincoln and Leadership: Military, Political, and Religious Decision Making

By Randall M. Miller | Go to book overview
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3
Seeing Lincoln’s
Blind Memorandum

Matthew Pinsker

A few days after his reelection on Tuesday, November 8, 1864, President Abraham Lincoln made a startling revelation to his inner circle. According to the diary of aide John Hay, the president “took out a paper from his desk” at the Friday morning cabinet meeting, and said, ‘Gentleman 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.” Lincoln then directed Hay to open the mysterious note, which had been “pasted up in so singular a style that it required some cutting to get it open.” The text of the document, dated from the Executive Mansion on Tuesday, August 23, 1864, read in its entirety: “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 can not possibly save it afterwards.”1 The sixty-word statement had been signed “A. Lincoln” and was endorsed on the reverse side by the seven cabinet officers at that time. Postmaster General Montgomery Blair, one of August signers, had since been fired. Lincoln now explained to the others that his original purpose had been to outline a “course of action,” which he had “solemnly resolved on” during a period “when as yet we had no adversary, and seemed to have no friends.” Lincoln described how he had been expecting the Democrats to nominate General George McClellan, and planned in the event of Little Mac's victory to confront his former subordinate “and talk matters over with him.” Lincoln suggested that he had been prepared to concede that McClellan was “stronger” and had “more influence with the American people than I,” but since he retained the “executive power of the Government” until March 4, the two men would need to work together “to try to save the country.” Lincoln’s proposal to McClellan would have been straightforward: “You raise as many troops as you possibly can for this final trial, and I will devote all of my energies to assisting and finishing the war.”

Hay refrained from commenting on this unprecedented offer, but the twentyseven-year-old made sure to include within his diary a withering response from

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