Civil War and Reconstruction in Alabama

Civil War and Reconstruction in Alabama

Civil War and Reconstruction in Alabama

Civil War and Reconstruction in Alabama

Excerpt

In 1911, a diary kept by Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy in both Lincoln's and Johnson's administrations, was published in three volumes. It had a literary flair, set forth portraits of notables like a novel, and maintained points of view that have been part and parcel of those held by subsequent historians. (The keeping of diaries by cabinet members was not a new practice.) Its fame is second only to that of the diaries of John Quincy Adams, Secretary of State under Monroe. There had also been literary men in cabinets before Welles: novelists like John P. Kennedy and James K. Paulding, and historians like George Bancroft. Welles, however, was not exactly a literary man; he was a journalist and an owner and editor of newspapers.

It is amusing to recall some mild controversies of the 1830's that Welles, a Jackson supporter and editor of the Hartford Times, had with the youthful Whittier, then editor of another Hartford paper, the New England Review, and an anti-Jackson man. Once, when Welles copied an editorial of Whittier's on dreams without indicating the source, Whittier called attention to the lapse in not giving him credit, adding: "Dreams are not always in the market, but we should think the said editor sufficiently a dreamer, and his faculties sufficient somniferous to manufacture his own night visions." However, they later saw eye to eye on several matters, namely, the abolition of imprisonment for debt and a hatred of slavery. When the Republican Party was founded in the early fifties, both joined it.

After Welles retired from Johnson's cabinet, he wrote a number of articles for the Galaxy and the Atlantic Monthly from 1870 to 1878, in which year he died at the age of seventy-six. Richard West, Jr., who has written the only life of Welles, an excellent work, states that the chief motive in writing these articles was to correct mistaken views held by contemporary historians. Howard K. Beale, in his article on Welles in the Dictionary of American Biography, calls the Galaxy, articles "important historical documents." In 1874, Welles published in book . . .

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