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.

February 13, 2014

Diary of Gideon Welles

February 13, Saturday. Senator Hale called on me today. Was very plausible and half-confidential. Baker, the detective, had been before his committee. Had told many things of men in the Department. Lowering his voice, Hale said, “He tells some things about your Chief Clerk that are very suspicious.” I cautioned the Senator about receiving all the gossip and suspicion of Baker, who had no powers of discrimination, little regard for truth, believed everything bad, suspected everybody, and had no regard for the character and rights of any man. Told him I would be answerable for the honesty of Faxon, that no truthful man could doubt it, and that, having heard Baker’s scandal and suspicion, I requested him to bring me a fact, or find one if he could from his lying detective.

This pitiful Senator is devoting his time and that of his committee in a miserable attempt to bring reproach upon the Navy Department, to make points against it, to pervert facts, and to defame men of the strictest integrity. A viler prostitution of Senatorial position and place I have never witnessed. The primary object is to secure a reelection for himself, and a love of defamation attends it. Had a pleasant half-hour with Preston King, who made a special call to see me. Few men in Congress are his equal for sagacity, comprehensiveness, sound judgment, and fearlessness of purpose. Such statesmen do honor to their State and country. His loss to the Senate cannot be supplied. I like his successor, Morgan, who has good sense and will, in the main, make a good Senator, but he cannot make King’s place good. I know not who can. Why are the services of such men set aside by small politicians? But King is making himself useful, and has come to Washington from patriotic motives to advise with our legislators and statesmen, and to cheer and encourage the soldiers.

I sometimes think he is more true to principles than I am myself. Speaking of Fernando Wood, we each expressed a common and general sentiment of surprise and disgust that any district could elect such a Representative. But the whole city of New York is alike leprous and rotten. This brought the question, How can such a place be regenerated and purified? What is the remedy? While I expressed a reluctant conviction, which is gradually coming over me, that in such a vicious community free suffrage was abased, and it was becoming a problem whether there should not be an outside movement, or some restriction on voting to correct palpable evil in municipal government, King maintained the old faith and would let the evil correct itself. If factious or partisan violence will go so far as to elect men like Wood or Brooks; if men of property and character will prostitute themselves to vote for them and consent to have their city misgoverned and themselves misrepresented, let them take the consequences. The evil will correct itself. After they have disgraced themselves sufficiently and loaded themselves with taxes and debt, they will finally rouse to a sense of duty, and retrieve the city from misrule and bad management and their district from misrepresentation. Such is the reasoning of Preston King.

I felt a return of old enthusiasm of former years, when in the security of youth I believed the popular voice was right, and that the majority would come to right results in every community; but alas! experience has shaken the confidence I once had. In an agricultural district, or a sparse population the old rule holds, and I am not prepared to deny King’s conclusions, but my faith in the rectitude of the strange material that compose a majority of the population of our large cities is not strong. The floating mass who have no permanent abiding-place, who are the tools of men like Wood and Brooks, who are not patriots but party demagogues, who have no fixed purpose or principle, should not by their votes, control and overpower the virtuous and good. Yet they do. Some permanent element is wanting in our system. We need more stability and character. In our municipalities there needs some modification for good government.

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