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Abraham Lincoln. Library of Congress, Words and Deeds in American History Collection Alternate: The first reading of the Emancipation Proclamation before the cabinet

[Detail] The first reading of the Emancipation Proclamation

President Lincoln's Reelection

Despite progress in the war, Lincoln and most political pundits were convinced that he would lose his bid for reelection in 1864. The country was war weary and the Democratic Party's nominee, George McClellan, was likely to negotiate a peace treaty with the Confederacy if elected.

Lincoln's colleagues within the Republican Party also had doubts about his reelection. In February 1864 newspapers printed a letter by Senator Samuel C. Pomeroy in which he argued that Lincoln could not win reelection and advocated nominating Salmon P. Chase for president. Search on Pomeroy circular for a series of pertinent letters.

By August, the outlook was so grim that Thurlow Weed wrote William H. Seward, "Ten or eleven days since, I told Mr Lincoln that his re-election was an impossibity.... The People are wild for Peace. They are told that the President will only listen to terms of Peace on condition Slavery be 'abandoned.'" Search on reelection 1864 for letters expressing contemporary opinions about Lincoln's reelection, including a letter by an opposer of Lincoln, J. W. Alden, who enclosed a list of "Ten Reasons why Abraham Lincoln should not be elected President of the United States a second term."

  • Why do you think so many northerners suspected that Lincoln was unwilling to establish peace without destroying slavery? Do you think Lincoln's statements or policies warranted such suspicion?
  • Do you agree or disagree with the ten reasons why Lincoln should not be reelected? How would you argue for or against these reasons? What evidence would you use to support your argument?

Many people agreed with Weed's assessment of public opinion and pressured Lincoln to attempt peace negotiations. Search on peace negotiations 1864 for discussions of the option and an attempt at negotiations at Niagara Falls. In a letter written to Lincoln on August 22, 1864, the New York Times editor, Henry J. Raymond advocated making a proffer of peace to President Davis "on the sole condition of acknowledging the supremacy of the Constitution, — all other questions to be settled in convention of the people of all the States:"

"If the proffer were accepted (which I presume it would not be,) the country would never consent to place the practical execution of its details in any but loyal hands, and in those we should be safe.

If it should be rejected, (as it would be,) it would plant seeds of disaffection in the South, dispel all the delusions about peace that previal in the North, silence the clamorous & damaging falsehoods of the opposition, take the wind completely out of the sails of the Chicago craft, reconcile public sentiment to the War, the draft, & the tax as inevitable necessities, and unite the North as nothing since firing on Fort Sumter has hitherto done."

From "Henry J. Raymond to Abraham Lincoln, August 22, 1864 (Political affairs)," Page 4.

  • According to Raymond, why would making an offer of peace be a sure-fire way of helping Lincoln's reelection?
  • Do you think that negotiating peace in order to get reelected would have been ethical? Why or why not?

Despite doubts within the Party, Lincoln won the Republican nomination. Nevertheless, he feared he had no chance of winning the election. He also feared that as President, McClellan would negotiate a settlement with the Confederacy that would allow the South to maintain the institution of slavery. On August 23, Lincoln wrote and sealed a memorandum, which he then asked his cabinet to endorse, not knowing the contents. After winning the election in November, Lincoln revealed to his cabinet that the memorandum pledged his cooperation with the president-elect for the sake of the nation.

Anticipating McClellan's election, Lincoln also asked Frederick Douglass to draft a plan for helping as many slaves as possible to escape from the South before the November election. Douglass submitted the plan on August 29, 1864, but it was never implemented because Lincoln's prospects for reelection soon improved with the capture of Atlanta and with General John C. Fremont's withdrawal from the presidential campaign.

  • What do Lincoln's memorandum and request for a plan from Frederick Douglass suggest about his character and values?

On March 4, 1865, Lincoln gave his second inaugural address at the Capitol. A Search on inauguration 1865 yields only a few items, including a program for the inauguration ceremony, an invitation to the inaugural ball, and a letter from Salmon P. Chase to Mrs. Lincoln. Chase sent Mrs. Lincoln the bible that her husband kissed in taking the oath of office, writing:

"I hope the Sacred Book will be to you an acceptible souvenir of a memorable day; and I most earnestly pray Him, by whose Inspiration it was given, that the beautiful SunShine which just at the time the oath was taken dispersed the clouds that had previously darkened the sky may prove an auspicious one of the dispersion of the clouds of war and the restoration of the clear sunlight of prosperous peace under the wise & just administration of him who took it."

From "Salmon P. Chase to Mary Todd Lincoln, March 4, 1865
(Sends Bible kissed by Lincoln at Inauguration; endorsed by Abraham Lincoln)

Less than two months later, and only five days after General Lee's surrender, on the evening of April 14, Lincoln was fatally wounded while attending a performance at Ford's Theater in Washington, D.C. James Knox was seated in the second row of the orchestra seats just under the presidential box at the theater. In a letter to his father, dated April 15, 1865, Knox described the assassination:

"Just after the 3d Act, and before the scenes were shifted, a muffled pistol shot was heard, and a man sprang wildly from the national box, partially tearing down the flag, then shouting '"sic semper tyrannis", the south is avenged' with brandished dagger rushed across the stage and disappeared The whole theatre was paralyzed. ...The shrill cry of murder from Mrs Lincoln first roused the horrified audience, and in an instant the uproar was terrible. The silence of death was broken by shouts of 'kill him', 'hang him' and strong men wept, and cursed, and tore the seats in the impotence of their anger, while Mrs. Lincoln, on her knees uttered shriek after shriek at the feet of the dying President."

From "James S. Knox to Knox, April 15, 1865 (Eyewitness account of Lincoln's assassination)," Page 2.

Search on assassination for numerous letters warning Lincoln of the danger of assassination throughout his presidency. Learn more about the public reaction to Lincoln's assassination in the Collection Connections for The Alfred Whital Stern Collection of Lincolniana.

Search on assassination for numerous letters warning Lincoln of the danger of assassination throughout his presidency. Learn more about the public reaction to Lincoln's assassination by doing a search using the term assassination in The Alfred Whital Stern Collection of Lincolniana.