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

Post image for Diary of Gideon Welles.

Diary of Gideon Welles.

December 15, 2013

Diary of Gideon Welles

December 15, Tuesday. Seward and Chase were not present at the Cabinet-meeting. The President was well and in fine spirits.

Mr. John P. Hale called this afternoon, much excited; said there was something in the New York Herald respecting him and myself which he was told came from the Department. I asked if he meant to say the statement, which I had not seen, whatever it was, originated with me. He answered no, emphatically no, for he considered me a gentleman, and had always experienced gentlemanly treatment from me; but he could not say as much of Fox, whom he denounced as coarse, impudent, and assuming, — constantly trespassing on my unsuspicious nature. Told me of incidents and intrigues which he had personally witnessed; alluded to Grimes, who, he said, favored Fox, and Fox favored Grimes; both were conspiring against me. For me, he declared he entertained high respect. He said that we may have sometimes differed, but it was an honest difference; that he had never opposed my administration of the Department, etc., etc. I listened to his eulogies calmly, and told him frankly I was not aware he had ever favored me or the Department, during the long and severe struggle we had experienced; that in this unparalleled war we had received no aid or kind word from him, though he was in a position above all others from which we might reasonably have expected it; that from no man in Congress had we received more hostility than from him. I reminded him how I had invited him to my confidence and assistance in anticipation of the extra session of 1861, and of the manner in which my warm, cordial, sincere invitation had been met; that I had, without reserve, and in honest zeal laid open to him our whole case, — all our difficulties; that I was grieved because he had not responded to my invitation and repaired to Washington as the chairmen of the committees of the other Departments had done; that my friendly greetings had been slighted or designedly treated with indifference; that in that great crisis he declined to enter into any examination of affairs, declined to prepare, or to assist in preparing, necessary laws, or to inform himself, or to consult respecting estimates; but that, as soon as the Senate met, and before any communication was received from the President, he, the Chairman of the Naval Committee, hastened to introduce a resolution, the first of the extra session, directing the Secretary of the Navy to communicate a statement of all contracts made from the day I entered upon my duties, whether they were legal, what prices I had paid, how the purchases compared with former purchases, and a variety of detail, all of which I had proposed to give him, that he should have it in his power to explain to the Senate and defend the Department from virulent violent assault; that I had invited him to come to Washington, as other Senators had come on a like request from the heads of Departments with which they were connected, but he did not come; that when he did arrive, I requested him to examine the records and papers, and all my acts, which he neglected to do; and that it was plain to me and to all others that his purpose in introducing that resolution, the first business movement of the session, was to cast suspicion on my acts, and to excite prejudice against me. He did not succeed in doing me serious injury, though he was an old Senator, and I a new Secretary, — though I had a right, in my great trials, to expect that he, the Chairman of the Naval Committee, would take me by the hand instead of striking a blow in my face. The hostility manifested and the malignity of that resolution were so obvious that it reacted. It was my belief that from the time he aimed that blow he had fallen in public estimation. I knew the President and many Senators had thought less of him. For myself I had never, from that day, expected, nor had I received, any aid or a word of encouragement from him. Neither the Department nor the Navy, in this arduous and terrific war, had been in any way benefited by him, but each had experienced indifference and hostility. Occupying the official relations which we did to each other, I had a right to have expected friendly, cordial treatment, but it had been the reverse. If the Department and the Navy had been successful, he had not in the least contributed to that success and his opposition had been ungenerous and without cause.

He listened with some surprise to my remarks, for I had always submitted to his injustice without complaint, had always treated him courteously if not familiarly, and forborne through trying years any harsh expression or exhibition of resentment or wounded feelings. My frank arraignment was, therefore, unexpected. He had, I think, come to me with an expectation that we would lock hands, for a time at least, and go forward together. He spoke of having differed on the matter of the Morgan purchases, but said it was an honest difference. I asked wherein we had differed, what there was wrong in those purchases, whether there had been through the whole war, in the expenditure of hundreds of millions, any transactions so favorable to the country? He declared he had never imputed any wrong to me; that he considered Morgan sharp and as having received a great compensation for the services performed; that he differed with me in my arrangement to pay commission instead of a salary; thought I could have employed naval officers or a competent merchant to have done the services. I requested him to name to me the man who could have done that service better or as well, or to mention a single instance where the government in any Department had done as well or been as successful. The War Department had made extensive contracts for vessels at exorbitant prices; their commissions were never less, but generally, I thought always, higher, than I paid Morgan, and the rates paid by them for vessels were from twenty-five to fifty per cent higher than I paid; .yet neither he nor any one else had taken exceptions to those war purchases. I assured him such was the fact, and defied him to show the contrary; that no transactions of a pecuniary nature with the government by any Department had been so well and so advantageously managed for the government as this for which he had labored to bring censure upon me; that, had he come to the Department and informed himself, he could not have made the statements he did, then and other times, but that he, the Chairman, the organ of the Department, had seldom darkened our doors, and never on any important public measure. He had preferred to assail and denounce us in the Senate and to compliment the War Department, which had been grossly extravagant in its contracts and its purchases.

As regarded Mr. Grimes and Mr. Fox, my feelings towards them were different from his. They were my friends, and I was glad of it. They were, I was rejoiced to say, earnest and sincere in their labors for the government and the country. The people were under great obligations to both. I assured him that I intended no one should so strike, or stir up enmities, between them and me. Mr. Fox was a valuable assistant, and if, from any cause, we were to lose him, it would be difficult to supply his place in some respects. Hale said it would not be at all difficult; repeated that Fox was insolent, coarse, and repulsive, unfit for his position, made the Department unpopular. Says Fox told him last fall it was his, Hale’s, duty to communicate the views of the Department to the Senate and defend them. I suggested that this was probably stronger than the case perhaps warranted, that he probably stated the Navy Department relied on him, as other Departments did on their respective Chairmen, to inform himself and state the views, purpose, and object of the Department in regard to any measure pertaining to our service. I told him that I certainly thought we were entitled to that comity, unless the Chairman was opposed, and even then a fair statement might be expected, but that he had never spoken for the Department, never came near it, never possessed himself of the facts; that it appeared to me he, having been trained and practiced in opposition, preferred to criticize and oppose, rather than support the measures of the Administration. Fox, being faithful and a strict disciplinarian, could not believe it possible that any sincere friend of the Administration and of the Navy could, without cause, persistently oppose both.

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