TO FINISH THE TASK
IT IS DIFFICULT today to appreciate Abraham Lincoln's political situation at the beginning of 1864. Blessed with hindsight, the modern observer marvels at his growth in office, at his ability to deal with a discordant group of advisers, at his skillful handling of a wide variety of difficult problems, and at his resolute determination to see the war through to victory. Yet Lincoln's contemporaries, who were denied the advantage of knowing the future, were increasingly critical of the president and his policies. The war had lasted much longer and proven far more costly, in terms of both lives and money, than anyone had anticipated in 1861, and yet after almost three years of fighting the Confederacy remained strong and defiant. The growing frustration over the war welled up in 1864 on the northern home front and seriously threatened Lincoln's chances of reelection.
THROUGHOUT HIS LIFE, Lincoln's ambition to be somebody had driven him ahead. Believing that his leadership was necessary for the Union to be preserved, he was anxious to win a second term in office, but he felt compelled to observe the nineteenth-century propriety of not seeming to seek the nomination. Having endured a torrent of criticism since assuming office, he could not fail but be personally satisfied by the popular endorsement that a victory in November would represent.
While Lincoln had enjoyed a certain measure of support among common citizens, he had never exercised the same hold over party leaders in Washington, who were not in awe of him either personally or politically. Even many Republicans in the capital believed that he