November 11, 1864: Lincoln Recalls His Memorandum of Defeat



Blind Memorandum


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. A. LINCOLN

John Hay, one of Lincoln’s two private secretaries, made the falling diary entry in regard to the cabinet meeting on November 11, 1864, following the re-election of the President:

“At the meeting of the Cabinet today, the President took out a paper from his desk and said, `Gentlemen, do you remember last summer when 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. Now, Mr Hay, see if you can get this open without tearing it?’ He had pasted it up in so singular style that it required some cutting to get it open. He then read as follows: [memorandum]

“The President said, `You will remember that this was written at a time (6 days before the Chicago nominating Convention) when as yet we had no adversary, and seemed to have no friends. I then solemnly resolved on the course of action indicated above. I resolved, in case of the election of General McClellan, being certain that he would be the candidate, that I would see him and talk matters over with him. I would say, “General, the election has demonstrated that you are stronger, have more influence with the American people than I. Now let us together, you with your influence and I with all the executive power of the Government, try to save the country. You raise as many troops as you possibly can for this final trial, and I will devote all my energies to assisting and finishing the war.” ‘

“Seward said, `And the General would answer you “Yes, Yes;” and the next day when you saw him again and pressed these views upon him, he would say, “Yes, Yes;” & so on forever, and would have done nothing at all.’

“ `At least,’ added Lincoln, `I should have done my duty and have stood clear before my own conscience.’ . . . .”

The scenario Lincoln said he would have followed would likely have been what actually happened but for military success by the Union armies in the fall of 1864.  On such slender reeds are the fates of nations balanced.

Published in: on November 11, 2022 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on November 11, 1864: Lincoln Recalls His Memorandum of Defeat  
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