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 15, 2014

Diary of Gideon Welles

February 15, Monday. Mr. Sedgwick on Friday wished a pass to visit Stover, the convict in Fort Lafayette, and would get from him statements that would open frauds and misdeeds upon the government. I disliked to give him such pass, and yet was not fully prepared to deny him, because he might be useful in aiding the Department to bring offenders to light. I therefore put him off with a suggestion that he might consult the marshal, and telegraph me if necessary. I gave a permit, however, to Colonel Olcott, and Baker, the detective. To-day Colonel Olcott telegraphs me that he visited Stover at Fort Lafayette, and found Sedgwick with him by permission of General Dix.

There is evidently a desire among the officials of the War Office to make difficulty, and no disposition to aid the Navy Department in ferreting out offenders. These committees in Congress are like them in many respects.

The movements of parties and partisans are becoming distinct. I think there are indications that Chase intends to press his pretensions as a candidate, and much of the Treasury machinery and the special agencies have that end in view. This is to be regretted. The whole effort is a forced one and can result in no good to himself, but may embarrass the Administration. The extreme radicals are turning their attention to him and also to Fremont. As between the two, Chase is incomparably the most capable and best, and yet I think less of his financial ability and the soundness of his political principles than I did. The President fears Chase, and he also respects him. He places a much higher estimate on the financial talents of Chase than I do, because, perhaps, we have been educated in different schools. The President, as a follower of Clay, and as a Whig, believes in expedients. I adhere to specie as the true standard of value. With the resources of the nation at his disposal, Chase has by his mental activity and schemes contrived to draw from the people their funds and credit in the prosecution of a war to which they willingly give their blood as well as their treasure.

Some late remarks in the Senate have a mischievous tendency, and there is no mistaking the fact that they have their origin in the Treasury Department. The Administration is arraigned as a departmental one in its management of affairs, and unfortunately the fact is so, owing chiefly to the influence of Seward. But Chase himself is not free from blame in this matter. He did not maintain, as he should have done, the importance of Cabinet consultations and decisions at the beginning, but cuddled first with Cameron, then with Stanton, but gained no strength. Latterly his indifference is more manifest than that of any other one, not excepting Stanton. This being the case, it does not become his special friends to assail the President on that score. Chase himself is in fault.

The President commenced his administration by yielding apparently almost everything to Seward, and Seward was opposed to Cabinet consultations. He made it a point to have daily or more frequent interviews with the President, and to ascertain from him everything that was being done in the several Departments. A different course was suggested and pressed by others, but Chase, who should, from his position and standing, have been foremost in the matter and who was most decidedly with us then, flinched and shirked the point. He was permitted to do with his own Department pretty much as he pleased, and this reconciled him to the Seward policy in a great degree, though he was sometimes restless and desired to be better informed, particularly in regard to what was doing in the War Department. Things, however, took such a course that the Administration became departmental, and the result was the President himself was less informed than he should have been and much less than he ardently craved to be, with either the War or the Treasury. The successive Generals-in-Chief he consulted constantly, as did Seward, and, the military measures being those of most absorbing interest, the President was constantly seeking and asking for information, not only at the Executive Mansion, but at their respective offices and headquarters. Scott, and McClellan, and Halleck, each influenced him more than they should have done, often in a wrong direction, for he better appreciated the public mind and more fully sympathized with it than any of his generals. Neither of the three military men named entered into the great political questions of the period with any cordiality, or in fact with any correct knowledge or right appreciation of them. Yet they controlled and directed military movements, and in some respects the policy of the government, far more than the Cabinet.

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