The Diary of a Public Man revisited

I recently revisited "The Diary of a Public Man: Unpublished Passages of the Secret History of the American Civil War"

It seems to be the journal of a Buchanan official during the transition to Republican administration; the author met Lincoln and was regarded as a friend of William Seward's.

I was impressed with how close the tone of this is to the diaries of Welles and Chase - that the atmosphere captured here was not a temporary jostling of loose ends during incomings and outgoings but that we were dealing with a real taste of McClellan's "sink of iniquity."

I am occasionally cautioned (usually by Centennial readers) not to put my trust in diaries or newspapers. I trust them absolutely - to convey to me the "noise" and atmosphere in which decisions were made. In reading the material below, imagine yourself a general trying to formulate policy, plans or directions, or a Cabinet officer drafting goals. Here are some highlights from the articles that appeared in North American Review:
* Stephen Douglas tells the author that Abner Doubleday is Ben Wade's creature and that Doubleday (and Wade) incited Major Anderson's evacuation of Fort Moultrie in favor of Sumter. [Remember that Doubleday writes Lincoln questioning Anderson's loyalty later during the Sumter crisis.]

* Douglas explains that "Wade and that gang are infuriated with Seward's coming into the Cabinet, and their object is to make it impossible for Lincoln to bring him in." The move from Moultrie to Sumter – and its ratcheting up of Charleston's outrage – is seen as sabotaging moderation, hence Seward's usefulness.

* Douglas holds Buchanan to be duplicitous and cowardly: "He likes to have the people deceived in him – he enjoys treachery, sir, enjoys it as other men enjoy a good cigar…"

* Thurlow Weed, Seward's Richelieu, comments on a New York politician, "Do I know him personally? I should rather think I do. I invented him!"

* Weed says of abolitionist Horace Greeley that he was a Northern secessionist who thought he could be elected president of a rump republic.

* Winfield Scott tells Lincoln, before the inauguration, that Italian assassins were after him.

* Douglas tells the author that Scott runs Seward and Scott himself is run by the Blairs, who were "moving heaven and earth to get control of Mr. Lincoln's Administration."

* Douglas says the Blairs are cooperating with the Radicals in Washington and New York, to remove Seward from consideration.

* Douglas says Lincoln "is eminently a man of the atmosphere which surrounds him."

* The author runs into Stanton on the street after Lincoln's arrival: "It is impossible to be more bitter or malignant than he [Stanton] is; every word was a suppressed and a very ill-suppressed sneer…" Stanton slimes Lincoln.

* The author thinks Lincoln "more tightly" held by Chase than by Seward.

* He writes on 2/28/61, "Half an hour with Mr. Lincoln today, which confirms all my worst fears. I should say he is at his wit's end."

* The Radicals already constitute a "rule or ruin" faction before the administration is formed.

* Sumner calls Cameron a "political Judas" before he is appointed. He has an obtuse interview with the author, trying to get him to talk with Lincoln against Cameron. Sumner warns that the combination of Seward and Cameron might produce a negotiated settlement instead of a complete separation from the South.

* The author is "mortified" by the heavy-handed security surrounding Lincoln's inauguration. He says the country has become a Latin American republic. He says Douglas held Lincoln's hat.

* He repeatedly returns to the Radicals' formula that labels the US Constitution "a covenant with death and an agreement with Hell." (Isaiah 28:18, "And your covenant with death shall be annulled, and your agreement with hell shall not stand when the overflowing scourge shall pass through.")
That was Washington in early 1861, certainly Washington as I have come to know it in my McClellan researches. I recognize that this account bears no relation to our noiseless, clean and tidy Civil War histories, where rational actors make optimal decisions based on straightforward information and due consideration; where a wise president holds all decisions in his hands; where modern Civil Service norms somehow thrive in the throes of political chaos; that's not my Civil War and I would like to see it retired.

I will expand on this tomorrow, marrying this post to the McClellan at Gettysburg motif in a piece about the damage we do to historic truth in Civil War history.

Meanwhile, the Public Man offers some strong medicine - drink it, please.