Following the American Civil War Sesquicentennial with day by day writings of the time, currently 1863.

Diary of Gideon Welles

June 30, Thursday. All were surprised to-day with the resignation of Secretary Chase and the nomination of Governor David Tod as his successor. I knew nothing of it till the fact was told me by Senator Doolittle, who came to see and advise with me, supposing I knew something of the circumstances. But I was wholly ignorant. Chase had not thought proper to consult me as to his resignation, nor had the President as to his action upon it, or the selection. My first impression was that he had consulted Seward and perhaps Blair. I learn, however, he advised with none of his Cabinet, but acted from his own impulses. I have doubts of Tod’s ability for this position, though he has good common sense and was trained in the right school, being a hard-money man. Not having seen the President since this movement took place, I do not comprehend his policy. It can hardly be his intention to reverse the action of Chase entirely without consulting those who are associated with him in the Government. And yet the selection of Tod indicates that, if there be any system in the movement. The President has given but little attention to finance and the currency, but yet he can hardly be ignorant of the fact that Chase and Tod are opposites. The selection of Tod is a move in the right direction if he has made the subject a sufficient study to wield the vast machine. On this point I have my doubts. His nomination will disturb the “Bubbles,” – the paper-money men, – and the question was not acted upon but referred to the Finance Committee, who have been with the Senate. I have no doubt their astonishment at the obtrusion of a hard-money man upon them was made manifest.

Blair and Bates both called at my house this evening and gave me to understand they were as much taken by surprise as myself. Mr. Bates says he knows nothing of T. Blair expresses more apprehensions even than myself, who have my doubts.

The retirement of Chase, so far as I hear opinions expressed, – and they are generally freely given, – appears to give relief rather than otherwise, which surprises me. I had thought it might create a shock for a brief period, though I did not fear that it would be lasting. I look upon it as a blessing. The country could not go on a great while longer under his management, which has been one of expedients and of no fixed principles, or profound and correct financial knowledge.

It is given out that a disagreement between himself and the President in relation to the appointment of Assistant Treasurer at New York was the cause of his leaving. I think likely that was the occasion of his tendering his resignation, and I have little doubt he was greatly surprised that it was accepted. He may not admit this, but it is none the less true, I apprehend. Yet there were some circumstances to favor his going, – there is a financial gulf ahead.

June 29, Wednesday. Nothing from the army. We hear that the pirate Alabama is at Cherbourg. Is she to remain there to be repaired? Seward tells me he knows one of the French armed vessels recently sold is for Sweden, and he has little doubt both are; that the French government is not deceitful in this matter.

Congress is getting restive and discontented with the financial management. The papers speak of the appointment of Field, Assistant Secretary, to be Assistant Treasurer at New York, in the place of Cisco. I doubt if any one but Chase would think of him for the place, and Chase, as usual, does not know the reason. But Field has talents, and Chase takes him from association. Morgan prefers Hillhouse, and Seward wants Blatchford.

The closing hours of Congress are crowded, as usual, but I believe matters are about as square as usual. Our naval bills have mostly been disposed of.

June 28, Tuesday. We have bad news from Sherman to-day. Neither Seward, Chase, nor Stanton was at the Cabinet-meeting. The President, like myself, slightly indisposed.

Mrs. General Hunter was at our house this evening and has tidings of a favorable character from her husband, who is in the western part of Virginia. Has done great mischief to the Rebels, and got off safely and well. This small bit of good news is a relief, as we are getting nothing good from the great armies.

Gold has gone up to 240. Paper, which our financiers make the money standard, is settling down out of sight. This is the result of the gold bill and similar measures, yet Chase learns no wisdom. We are hurrying onward into a financial abyss. There is no vigorous mind in Congress to check the current, and the prospect is dark for the country under the present financial management. It cannot be sustained.

June 27, Monday. I sent Mr. Eames to New York last evening to consult with Mr. Wilson in the New York and Boston cases, giving my views in each. Henderson will struggle hard to get clear, and no effort must be spared to elicit the truth. Scofield’s case must be straightened, or rather court must be straightened in his case. In the case of the Smiths at Boston, I fear there has been unnecessary harshness. Olcott has made an ostentatious display of authority and been, I apprehend, tyrannical and oppressive. He is a harsh, rough instrument, and I shall be glad when he shall have done service with me. Yet in saying this I admit from what I have seen he has some good qualities as a detective. I have seen nothing to doubt his honesty; he is industrious and indefatigable, but vain, reckless, regardless of private rights, and all his qualities have been exercised in the case of the Smiths, who are shrewd, piously honest, self-righteous, and wary as well as sharp. It will not surprise me if they prove an overmatch for him and the lawyers.

I have a very earnest letter to-day from William C. Bryant in behalf of his partner and publisher, Henderson. It was handed to me by Mr. Odell, Representative from Brooklyn, and inclosed was also an open letter to the President, which he wished me to deliver. Mr. O. is, like H., a prominent member of the Methodist Church. They are of opposite politics. Of course Mr. H. stimulated Mr. B. to write these letters, and, having got them, sends them through his religious associate. Mr. B. evidently believes H. innocent and injured. This is natural. Odell knows he is not. Morgan believes that both Bryant and Godwin are participants in the plunder of Henderson. I have doubts as regards B., who is feeling very badly, and thinks there is a conspiracy in which Seward and Thurlow Weed are chiefs. I am supposed to be an instrument in their hands, and so is the President. But it so happens that neither of them knew any of the facts until the arrest of Henderson and his removal were ordered.

It grieves me that the Evening Post and Mr. Bryant should suffer by reason of the malfeasance of Henderson. As regards Godwin, I cannot say that my faith in him is much greater than in Henderson, and yet I know but little of him. The Evening Post does not sustain the character which it had under Bigelow and Leggett. Bryant is a good general editor in many respects, but the political character of the paper has been derived in a great degree from others. Of late there have been some bad surroundings. Opdyke, J. G. C. Gray, D. D. Field, and others of like complexion have been the regents and advisers of Godwin, until the paper is losing some of its former character, – perhaps more than any of us are aware.

I dined to-day with Attorney-General Bates, and after my return this evening wrote a reply to Bryant’s letter, disabusing his mind of some of its errors, provided his convictions are open to the truth.

Mrs. Franklin J. Smith of Boston sends me through Senator Sumner a touching and affecting letter in behalf of her husband. I gave Mr. Bryant’s letter to the President, who read it aloud to me and said he would reply.

June 25, Saturday. There are some blunders in the finding of the court in Scofield’s case that I do not like. I telegraphed to Wilson, Judge-Advocate, to come here for consultation and explanation, but a telegram just received says he is unable from indisposition.

The Treasury management is terrible, ruinous. Navy requisitions are wantonly withheld for weeks, to the ruin of the contractor. In the end the government will suffer greatly, for persons will not under these ruinous delays deal with the government at ordinary current rates. The pay of the sailors and workmen is delayed until they are almost mutinous and riotous. There is no justifiable excuse for this neglect. But Mr. Chase, having committed blunders in his issues, is now desirous of retiring certain paper, and avails himself of funds of creditors on naval account to accomplish this. It is most unjust. The money honestly due to government creditors should not be withheld for Treasury schemes, or to retrieve its mistakes.

I am daily more dissatisfied with the Treasury management. Everything is growing worse. Chase, though a man of mark, has not the sagacity, knowledge, taste, or ability of a financier. Has expedients, and will break down the government. There is no one to check him. The President has surrendered the finances to his management entirely. Other members of the Cabinet are not consulted. Any dissent from, or doubts even, of his measures is considered as a declaration of hostility and an embarrassment of his administration. I believe I am the only one who has expressed opinions that questioned his policy, and that expression was mild and kindly uttered. Blair said about as much and both [he and I] were lectured by Chase. But he knew not then, nor does he know now, the elementary principles of finance and currency. Congress surrenders to his capricious and superficial qualities as pliantly as the President and the Cabinet. If they do not legalize his projects, the Treasury is to be closed, and under a threat, or something approaching a threat, his schemes are sanctioned, and laws are made to carry them into effect; but woe awaits the country in consequence.

June 24, Friday. Telegraphed to Wilson directly on reaching Department (and finding no letter from Wilson), directing him to bail the Smiths in sums of $20,000 each.

Have given some examination of the Scofield trial, which is very voluminous, and had Watkins investigate, review, and report. I conclude to approve the finding, though there may be some irregularities and mistakes adverse to the Government. Mr. Bliss, counsel for S., filed a document, excepting to some legal points, yesterday. To-day, after learning my conclusion and looking at the finding, he takes stronger exceptions and declares the finding not conformable to facts and evidence. He wishes me to submit the legal questions to the Attorney-General or some one else. Alluded to Mr. Eames. Wishes Mr. Watkins to examine the evidence. To Eames he says that it is the intention of Scofield and his counsel to prosecute the members of the court individually for false imprisonment. To Watkins, he further says that it is their intention to hold me accountable, and to have me arrested when I am in New York. All this does not induce me to change my conclusion of approving the verdict of the court martial, but I think it may be proper to advise the court that it is in error on the subject of jurisdiction, – that they can take cognizance of open-market purchases as well as others, and though, had they done so, the punishment might have been greater, yet I will still approve the finding. Let him have the benefit of the mistake the court has made.

Fox is much dissatisfied with the verdict. Thinks it inadequate; should have been imprisoned five years and fined one hundred thousand dollars. He wishes me to return the papers for revision, and to state the punishment is inadequate. But this is not advisable, even were it strictly correct and allowable. The ends desired will be accomplished by this punishment. A more severe one, such as he suggests, will endanger a reaction.

The President was in very good spirits at the Cabinet. His journey has done him good, physically, and strengthened him mentally and inspired confidence in the General and army. Chase was not at the Cabinet-meeting. I know not if he is at home, but he latterly makes it a point not to attend. No one was more prompt and punctual than himself until about a year since. As the Presidential contest approached he has ceased in a great measure to come to the meetings. Stanton is but little better, if he comes, it is to whisper to the President, or take the dispatches or the papers from his pocket and go into a corner with the President. When he has no specialty of his own, he withdraws after some five or ten minutes.

Mr. Seward generally attends the Cabinet-meetings, but the questions and matters of his Department he seldom brings forward. These he discusses with the President alone. Some of them he communicates to me, because it is indispensable that I should be informed, but the other members are generally excluded.

June 23, Thursday. A call in force this A. M. from a large portion of the Massachusetts delegation in behalf of the Smith brothers, now in Fort Warren, wanting them to be bailed, but at the same time admitting a bail bond to be useless or valueless. They proposed, however, the whole Massachusetts delegation should unite in a bond, guaranteeing the appearance of the Smiths for trial. Told them I thought this not a proper proceeding, that it was perhaps doubtful whether bail could properly be taken, that I had written to Mr. Wilson that I wished, if it could be done, that there should be bail, etc., etc. The interview was long; Senator Wilson, Mr. Rice, Mr. Dawes were the principal speakers.

In the afternoon Mr. Rice called at my house with a telegram to the effect that Mr. Wilson would be willing to take bail, but that Assistant Secretary Fox, who has the matter in special charge, had written him not to do so without the consent of Colonel Olcott, etc. I told Mr. Rice, I thought there must be some misapprehension, that I thought Mr. Wilson would act discreetly and properly, that we should probably hear from him by to-morrow morning’s mail. He was earnest, sensitive, and expressed great distrust, or want of confidence in Mr. Fox. I told him, while Mr. Fox was very earnest and persevering, I thought it an error to impute to him personal enmity against the Smiths and others.

Admiral Lee sends me some papers relative to a permit issued by General Butler to one Lane, of the steamer Philadelphia, to trade in Chowan River, North Carolina. It was a little, dirty, speculating intrigue, initiated as early as last March, in a letter from General Butler addressed to the President, proposing to send in ploughs, harrows, and farming utensils to loyal farmers in North Carolina, in exchange for cotton and products of the country, – plausible and taking rascality. The President indorsed that he approved the object. On this General Butler granted a permit. Captain Smith, senior officer in the Sounds, declined to recognize it, but detained the boat and sent the papers to Admiral Lee. The latter failed – called the paper many names, said President’s permit must be respected.

I showed the papers to Seward and Blair, and was disposed to telegraph and detain the vessel. B. was inclined, though doubtingly, to favor my views, S. advised waiting the arrival of the President, but both condemned the proceedings as wholly improper.

Some warm discussion took place, Rice tells me, in the House on the currency and financial questions, showing serious differences in the Ways and Means Committee and between them and the Secretary of the Treasury. It will not surprise me should radical differences be developed. The whole system is one of error, ruinous error to the country.

June 22, Wednesday. Much sensational news concerning delay of army movements. I am inclined to think our people have learned caution from dear experience, – dear in the best blood of the country.

Gold had gone up to-day to 230. Legislation does not keep down the price or regulate values. In other and plainer terms, paper is constantly depreciating and the tinkering has produced the contrary effect from that intended by our financiers.

June 21, Tuesday. The President being absent, there was no Cabinet-meeting to-day. Massachusetts Representatives are sensitive and sore concerning the arrest of the Smiths. I wrote Mr. Wilson not to be severe and to take bail.

June 20, Monday. A very busy and eventful week has passed without my having time to jot down incidents, much less observations and reflections. Among other matters, on representations made by attorneys, detectives, and others, I directed the arrest of Smith Brothers, in Boston. It is stated they have attempted to defraud the government in the delivery of the articles under contract. Mr. Wilson, Mr. Goodman, Mr. Eames, Mr. Watkins, Mr. Fox, Mr. Faxon, Admiral Smith, all concur in opinion as to the criminality of the Smiths. Yet they stand high in Boston as pious, sharp men, who profess great honesty and much religion. The arrest will bring down abuse and hostility upon me from many. But duty demanded action, however unpleasant.

Mr. Rice called on me early Saturday morning with a telegram received at midnight from Mrs. Smith, concerning the arrest of her husband. She is in great distress and has the earnest sympathy of Mr. Rice, who believes the Smiths innocent. He says the arrest has ruined forever the families, whether innocent or guilty. Mr. Gooch soon came in with a similar telegram, received at midnight, and went over the same story more briefly. Gooch felt bad and had slept but little. I told Mr. Rice that the parties should have the benefit of bail, or rather that I had written Mr. Wilson, authorizing bail. Colonel Olcott writes Fox, to whom these matters are specially committed, opposing bail; wants them confined in Fort Warren, where they have been sent, until he has examined their papers. He is a cormorant, searching papers, utterly reckless. I told Fox that I wished a firm but mild man; that I would not be oppressive. But Fox is violent against these men, who, he believes, are hypocrites and rascals. While I may not differ with him in that respect, they have rights in common with us all that must be respected and not rudely violated.

Preliminary measures for the arrest and trial of Henderson, Navy Agent at New York, have been taken. From the statements of Savage, Stover, and others he has been guilty of malfeasance, although standing high in the community as a man of piety and purity. It has been with reluctance that I have come to the conclusion that it was my duty to ask his removal and take measures against him. But I am left no alternative. That he, like all the Navy Agents, was getting rich at the public expense I have not doubted, – that there were wrong proceedings in this matter I fully believed, – and yet to break with old friends was and is unpleasant. My own impression is that Henderson has kept more accurate accounts than his predecessors, and I expect his books will square up faithfully, -– accurate in dollars and cents, – but the wrong has been in another way. His representative, and friend, and fellow church-member Odell has looked into the subject, and says he has committed great frauds.

The gold bill, as it is called, has been finally enacted and we shall soon ascertain whether it effects any good. Chase and his school have the absurd follies of the Whigs and John Law in regard to money and finance. I have no confidence in his financial wisdom or intelligence on those subjects.

We get no good army news from Petersburg. Our troops have suffered much and accomplished but little, so far as I can learn. But there is disinclination to communicate army intelligence, as usual. Were the news favorable, it would be otherwise.

The President in his intense anxiety has made up his mind to visit General Grant at his headquarters, and left this P. M. at five. Mr. Fox has gone with him, and not unlikely favored and encouraged the President in this step, which I do not approve. It has been my policy to discourage these Presidential excursions. Some of the Cabinet favored them. Stanton and Chase, I think, have given them countenance heretofore.

He can do no good. It can hardly be otherwise than harmful, even if no accident befalls him. Better for him and the country that he should remain at his post here. It would be advantageous if he remained away from the War Department and required his Cabinet to come to him.