Inside the White House in War Times: Memoirs and Reports of Lincoln's Secretary

By William O. Stoddard; Michael Burlingame | Go to book overview

Sketch 4

My Dear General--I have so frequently heard European gentlemen of great intelligence express their surprise, and often their admiration, at the stern simplicity with which business is transacted by the Chief Magistrate of the Great Republic, that I am inclined to believe that some account thereof may be interesting.

The building popularly known as the White House, is, in legal and official documents, designated as "the Executive Mansion." It is necessarily not only the President's residence, but also his business office, and all official documents bearing his signature must be dated therefrom. In fact, however, as will soon appear, the several Department buildings, and the offices of the members of the Cabinet, are a part of the "Executive" office, and in them the vast preponderance of the business of that branch of the Government is carried on.

Probably no public servant is daily compelled to attend to so much and so great a variety of business as the President, nor did any other President labor under such an accumulation of duties as did Mr. Lincoln; and yet, by the law, the President is allowed but one Private Secretary, with no Assistant, and one Secretary, to sign Land Patents. This is partially remedied by drafting clerks and army officers to the White House to perform special duty, and these frequently take full rank, by courtesy, as Secretaries;1 but the whole thing should be remodeled by special act, and proper provision made for the performance of the necessary work. The salary of the Private Secretary, a necessarily expensive office, is but $2,500, and of the other but $1,500; these should be largely increased, and the services of the very best men secured. Our legislators cannot be unaware of the vast power for good or evil which is placed in the hands of a man constantly in the President's confidence, able at any time to "obtain his ear," sure to be listened to without suspicion or prejudice, and always in possession of current State secrets.

-156-

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