Fessenden on Lincoln

I am trying, in the next two months, to get to some of the libraries near Exeter that have key sources for my Stanton biography.

Yesterday I was up on the lovely campus of Bowdoin, in Maine, reviewing the papers of William Pitt Fessenden there.  I was reminded, as I often am, of what incredible resources for Civil War history lie hidden in archives.  Fessenden not only had interesting things to say about Stanton; he had fascinating things to say about Lincoln, in whose cabinet Fessenden would serve as Treasury Secretary from July 1864 through early March 1865.

Here, for example, is a quote from a letter of December 20, 1862, at the time of the cabinet crisis:  “Our great trouble, after all, is not so much in the Cabinet as in the President.  He is an earnest and true man, but lacks dignity, order, and vigor—three terrible defects in times like these.  We suffer, too, in having our military operations directed by men who are not fighting for an idea—indeed, have no feeling in common with the true cause.”

Here is another quote, this time from January 10, 1863.  I had seen the first part of the quote in another book, but not the second, comparing Lincoln with the King of Siam.  “The simple truth is there never was such a shambling, half and half set of incapables collected in one government before since the the world began.  I saw a letter this morning written in good English by the King of Siam to Admiral Foote, which had more good sense in it, & a better comprehension of our troubles, I do verily believe, than Abe has had from the beginning.  But it’s of no use to scold.”

And one more, this time from December 1863, reacting to Lincoln’s proclamation of amnesty and reconstruction.  I could not make out some of the handwriting.  “The Army of the Potomac is stuck in the mud for the winter.  I think Abraham’s proclamation, take it altogether, was a silly performance, but he [is slowly, & I hope it may] work well.  Think of telling the rebels they may fight as long as they can, and take a pardon when they have had enough of it.  He is funny.  Speaking of his small-pox, he said he had one thing that nobody wants.”

It would be wonderful if someone would transcribe, annotate, and publish the Fessenden family Civil War letters.  They deserve it.