Mea Culpa

A few years ago, in my Seward book, I wrote the following about the presidential campaign of 1860: “Some Republican leaders, such as Edward Bates of Missouri, refused to give speeches at all; others such as Salmon Chase of Ohio gave one or two speeches; but Seward traveled thousands of miles and gave dozens of speeches.”

I was right about Seward but wrong about Chase.

In fact, the more I research 1860, the more I realize that Chase worked as hard as Seward for the election of Lincoln. Chase’s speeches did not get quite as much press coverage as those of Seward. But like Seward, Chase traveled thousands of miles and gave dozens of speeches. Indeed just yesterday I discovered that he spoke in Exeter, New Hampshire, where I lived and studied, and in Middlebury, Vermont. I will work to find reports in local papers to include in the book.

Chase spent most of September campaigning in Ohio.  In response to a letter begging him to come to New York, Chase explained that he could not do so before the October 9 state election. “We have a number of doubtful congressional districts and I feel bound to contribute all in my power to securing a Republican Congress to sustain the administration of a Republican President.”

In October, Chase agreed to travel to New York, because it was the critical state. If the Democrats prevailed there, Lincoln could not win enough electoral votes in other northern states to become president. Chase started in upstate New York, speaking in places such as Troy and Poughkeepsie and Goshen, and then gave a couple of speeches in the New York City area, including one in Brooklyn. The New York Tribune reported on October 26 that Chase “has been speaking daily in our state for the last fortnight, mainly in the close congressional districts, and has done yeoman service.  He speaks very plainly, without parade or ornament; but no man better understands the great principles which underlie the canvass, or a better faculty for making others understand them.”

When he returned to Ohio, Chase decided to make one more speech, on hostile ground, in Covington, Kentucky. As a slave state, Kentucky was not friendly to Republicans; Lincoln would receive less than one percent of the vote there. But Chase went to Covington on November 1, 1860, assuring his audience that the Republicans did not intend to interfere with slavery in the slave states, that they only intended to exclude it from the western territories.

Alluding to reports that southern states would secede after the election of Lincoln, Chase pleaded for Union. However the election turned out, “let no sacrilegious hand be laid on the Union of the States. Let no rash and reckless experiment be made on the Constitution of our country. Let us of Ohio and you of Kentucky dwell together in our old concord. . . . never, never shall the beautiful river that now rolls between us run red with fraternal blood, but in all time to come it shall flow onward to the Gulf, bearing on its bosom our common commerce, laving either share with the benediction of peace, and uniting forever while it divides our states.”

There will be more in the Chase book, but I wanted to give a taste to my eager readers.