Lincoln and Hamlin Finally Talk Shop

Saturday, November 24, 1860

Lincoln had been in Chicago since the afternoon of Wednesday the 21st. He and Vice-President-Elect Hannibal Hamlin spent much of the time meeting and greeting friends, well-wishers and office-seekers.

Finally on Saturday, they had a chance to discuss their main reason for meeting: The Cabinet. This was originally supposed to be the day of his departure, however due to the endless hand shaking, he decided to extend the trip. The office-seekers, however, didn’t know about the extension. According to the previous night’s New York Herald, Lincoln would “have some peace tomorrow, as many of the vultures left tonight, supposing Mr. Lincoln would leave in the morning train.”

It was decided that Hamlin and Senator Lyman Trumbull (who traveled from Springfield with Lincoln) would return to Washington, reporting the goings on in that city. As for the cabinet, it was left undecided to everyone but Lincoln himself (if even he knew at this point).

They talked at length about it, throwing around names like Simon Cameron from Pennsylvania, William Seward from New York, Salmon Chase of Ohio, Nathanial Banks of Massachusetts, Edward Bates of Missouri and several other once-contenders for the Republican Party nomination for President.

But what of the Southerners? Should Lincoln entertain the notion of bringing possible secession states to his cabinet? He did, to an extent. Joshua Fry Speed, an old friend of Lincoln’s from Kentucky who had almost no political history, was asked by Lincoln to come to Chicago. After the meeting with Hamlin about the cabinet, Lincoln attempted to talk Speed into taking a cabinet seat.

Speed declined the position, but agreed to talk to James Guthrie, also of Kentucky, about accepting a place in the Lincoln administration. In short time, Guthrie would also decline.

Kentucky, Lincoln’s home state, was the farthest south he would look for advisers come March in Washington.1


President Buchanan in Washington had received Major Anderson’s request for re-enforcements for Forts Moultrie and Sumter. He was alarmed; events were happening quickly. What alarmed him even more was a letter from Robert Barnwell Rhett, a die-hard and long-time secessionist from South Carolina. His letter to Buchanan served as a warning, a threat: “South Carolina, I have not a doubt, will go out of the Union – and it is in your power to make this event peaceful or bloody. If you send any more troops into Charleston Bay, it will be bloody.”

Anderson would need troops to defend the forts – an attack, according to Buchanan’s sources, could happen any day now. But sending troops could lead to a very real slaughter. If there were to be blood, Anderson should have his troops. He ordered Secretary of War, John Floyd to send re-enforcements to Charleston.

Floyd knew what this would mean and strongly urged the President to wait until General Scott, commander of all US Army forces, arrived in Washington (which wouldn’t be until December 12). This gave everyone some time. Floyd had William Henry Trescot, Assistant Secretary of State and a South Carolinian, write to his state’s governor, William Henry Gist, to assure the President that no blood would be spilled just yet.2

  1. Mostly from Lincoln; President-Elect by Harold Holzer, Simon & Shuster, 2008. []
  2. From Days of Defiance by Maury Klein, Vintage Press, 1997 as well as Allegiance: Fort Sumter, Charleston, and the Beginning of the Civil War by David Detzer, Harcourt 2002. []
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Lincoln and Hamlin Finally Talk Shop by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International


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