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President Lincoln Vouches for a Maryland Unionist Congressman
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I esteem Gov. Francis Thomas, as an able, and very true man. I do not know that he agrees with me in everything—perhaps he does not; but he has given me evidence of sincere friendship, & as I think, of patriotism.

ABRAHAM LINCOLN. Autograph Letter Signed, to Robert C. Schenck, May 31, 1863, Washington, D.C. 1 p.

Inventory #25464       Price: $45,000

Complete Transcript

Private

Executive Mansion,

            Washington, May 31, 1863.

Major Gen. Schenck

Baltimore, Md.

            I have been requested to say, what I very truly can, that I esteem Gov. Francis Thomas, as an able, and very true man. I do not know that he agrees with me in everything—perhaps he does not; but he has given me evidence of sincere friendship, & as I think, of patriotism.

Yours truly

A. Lincoln.

Historical Background

Lincoln had served in Congress together with fellow Whig Robert C. Schenck in the 1840s, and made Schenck a Major General at the beginning of the war. Severely wounded at the Second Battle of Bull Run in August 1862, Schenck was given command of the Middle Department. He firmly supported the Unconditional Unionists from his headquarters in Baltimore, and despite the necessity of tact in the politically sensitive border state of Maryland, had little tolerance for middle ground.

In July 1861, Secretary of War Simon Cameron, with the president’s encouragement, had authorized Thomas to raise four regiments of loyal citizens from western Maryland for the protection of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. A month later, Thomas recommended and Lincoln endorsed three officers for the 1st Maryland Regiment, Potomac Home Guard.[1]

In early September 1862, Thomas sent Lincoln a lengthy private letter: “Our acquaintance is very limited…[and] it may be presumptuous, in me, to write this letter.” Nevertheless, he continued, “In my humble judgment, all the evils now threatening seriously the utter ruin of the country, are to be traced, to the error consumatted in the organization of your Cabinet. There is not, so far as my knowledge extends, at the head of any one of the Departments, a single individual who has come into your Administration, under the right influences…” “Now I have watched, with the deepest anxiety,” Thomas informed Lincoln, “all, or nearly all of your difficulties have their origin in the fact that you have Presidential aspirants in your cabinet, and Presidential aspirants, in your own party, outside of your cabinet, all of whom have their partisans in the Senate and House of Representatives.” The “vast interests at stake” demanded that Lincoln reorganize his cabinet and announce his own candidacy for reelection.[2]

Two months later, Lincoln’s cabinet crisis reached a boiling point when Radical Republican senators demanded Secretary of State William H. Seward’s resignation. Lincoln called the senators to a meeting with every member of the cabinet except Seward, who had offered his resignation. Lincoln asked if the cabinet had freely debated issues and offered input before important decisions were made. The cabinet agreed that they had. Chase, who had painted a picture to the senators of Seward and Lincoln running roughshod over the cabinet, was cleverly chastened and offered his resignation. Lincoln refused the resignations of Seward and Chase, thus maintaining intact his now famous “team of rivals,” and keeping the senate at bay.

Despite his criticism, Thomas was also supportive. On April 23, 1863, he was one of the speakers at a mass meeting of Unconditional Union men of Allegany County, Maryland. Thomas “accorded to President Lincoln the purest motives, and a patriotic determination to crush the rebellion and restore peace and prosperity to the country.... He said that power and responsibility must rest somewhere, and that he was willing to confide in the President, and sustain him to the fullest extent, in carrying out the measures adopted by Congress for prosecuting the war. He spoke of the emancipation proclamation of the President as a retaliatory measure for the confiscation acts of the southern conspirators, and said it was a war measure calculated to subdue the rebels who had raised the standard of rebellion, without any justifiable cause....”[3]

Despite the unsolicited advice and criticism, Lincoln offered this honest testimonial. It isn’t clear if this answered a request of Thomas, or a mutual contact, or if Lincoln wrote it to send Thomas with his own purpose in mind. In mid-April, Schenck, who had a reputation for ham-handed harshness, ordered at least eight persons charged with “using treasonable language” or “disloyal practices” in Baltimore to be exiled to the South. Less than a week later, he had two newspaper editors from smaller towns in Maryland sent South for “having published treasonable articles.” On May 28, three days before Lincoln penned this letter, Schenck and Maryland Governor Augustus W. Bradford visited Pennsylvania Governor Andrew G. Curtin in Harrisburg to discuss “the more effectual protection of the southern borders of Pennsylvania and Maryland against any further incursions of rebel cavalry.” Schenck and the two governors then left for Washington.[4] Within a month, the entire Confederate Army of Northern Virginia was in Pennsylvania, heading for a conflict at Gettysburg.

In mid-July 1863, a few weeks after writing this private letter, Lincoln told his secretary John Hay that General Henry W. Halleck “thinks Schenck never had a military idea & never will learn one.... however you may doubt or disagree with Halleck he is very apt to be right in the end.”[5]

Schenck resigned from the army in December 1863, after again winning election to Congress. On the other hand, Lincoln maintained his trust of Thomas.

On July 5, 1864, Confederate General Jubal Early crossed the Potomac River at Harper’s Ferry with a corps of the Army of Northern Virginia, aiming at Washington. General Lew Wallace’s determined resistance near Frederick, Maryland, delayed the advance by a day, providing defenders in Washington critical time to prepare. After the Confederate army withdrew into Virginia on July 14, Major General David Hunter ordered the provost marshal in Frederick to arrest “all male secessionists with their families” and force those who had given “undue sympathy” to the Confederates to sell their furniture for the benefit of Union families who had lost possessions during the incursion, and to seize the sympathizers’ houses for government use. By August 1, Major John I. Yellott had placed twenty-three southern sympathizers and their families under house arrest.[6]

On August 3, Lincoln ordered the Secretary of War to suspend Hunter’s order and have Hunter send a report of the charges against each individual. Hunter requested to be relieved of command, a wish that was soon granted.[7] On August 13, Thomas protested to fellow Marylander and Postmaster General Montgomery Blair, writing that the arrests of “quiet, inoffensive citizens, who have not, publicly, given, by words or acts, encouragement to the enemy, cannot but be mischievous.” The President asked Thomas to investigate.

In September, Thomas reported back. With the exception of two already discharged and two others charged with “a grave offence” who “ought to have an opportunity to establish their innocence,” Thomas recommended that the President order the release of all the others on the list. Thomas followed up later that year reporting that specific charges had been made against only John W. Baughman, an editor of the Republican Citizen newspaper in Frederick, who had been sent South, and against John Ruck and Isaack Ruck, who were, like the others on the list, still under arrest at their homes in Frederick. On January 21, 1865, Lincoln ordered all but Baughman discharged.[8]

Lincoln’s unmatched ability to take advice from all sides, and to work with capable men whose own ambitions sometimes conflicted with Lincoln’s views, is reflected in our letter.

Robert C. Schenck (1809-1890) was born in Ohio and graduated from Miami University in 1827. He received a master’s degree in 1830, studied law under Thomas Corwin, and gained admission to the bar in 1831. He moved to Dayton, Ohio, and opened a successful law practice. After serving in the state legislature, he represented his district in Congress from 1841 to 1851, when President Millard Fillmore appointed him as U.S. Minister to Brazil. Schenck served there until 1853. In 1859, he gave perhaps the first public endorsement of Lincoln for the Presidency in a speech in Dayton. At the beginning of the Civil War, Lincoln commissioned Schenck as a brigadier general, and he served in both Battles of Bull Run and in the 1862 Valley Campaign. He was wounded at the Second Battle of Bull Run and held an administrative post in Maryland while recovering. He resigned his commission in December 1863 after election to Congress, where he served again until 1871. President Ulysses S. Grant appointed him as U.S. Minister to Great Britain, a position he held until 1876, though his involvement in an American mining scandal left him thoroughly discredited.

Francis Thomas (1799-1876) was born in Frederick County, Maryland, attended college in Annapolis, and was admitted to the bar in 1820. He began a practice in Frankville in western Maryland and served in the state legislature in 1822, 1827, and 1829. From 1831 to 1833, he served in the U.S. House of Representatives. Thomas served as governor of Maryland from 1842 to 1845, but his term and political future was marred by his public and contentious divorce from his much younger wife Sally Campbell Preston McDowell, the daughter of the governor of Virginia.[9] Thomas was a strong opponent of slavery, which was unusual in a border state like Maryland. Defeated for reelection in 1844, he served in the state constitutional convention of 1850. He was again elected to Congress in 1860, serving until 1869 as a Unionist, an Unconditional Unionist, and then a Republican. From 1870 to 1872, he was collector of internal revenue for Maryland, and then U.S. Minister to Peru from 1872 to 1875. He was killed when struck by a locomotive near his estate in Frankville.


[1] Francis Thomas to Abraham Lincoln, n.d., endorsement of Abraham Lincoln, August 20, 1861, Abraham Lincoln Papers, Library of Congress, Washington, DC.

[2] Francis Thomas to Abraham Lincoln, September 6, 1862, Abraham Lincoln Papers.

[3] Civilian and Telegraph (Cumberland, Maryland), April 30, 1863, 2:2.

[4] The Baltimore Sun (Maryland), April 13, 1863, 1:7, April 15, 1863, 1:7, April 20, 1863, 1:6, May 30, 1863, 1:3.

[5] Michael Burlingame and John R. Turner Ettlinger, eds., Inside Lincoln’s White House: The Complete Civil War Diary of John Hay (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1997), 63 (July 16, 1863).

[6] Francis Thomas to Montgomery Blair, August 13, 1864, Lincoln Papers; New-York Times, August 2, 1864, 3:1.

[7] Abraham Lincoln to Edwin M. Stanton, August 3, 1864, Roy P. Basler et al., eds., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, 8 vols. (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1953), 7:477-78.

[8] Francis Thomas to Abraham Lincoln, September 6, 1864, Abraham Lincoln Papers; Francis Thomas to Abraham Lincoln, January 19, 1865, Record Group 94, Entry 12: Correspondence, 1800-1947, Letters Received by the Office of the Adjutant General (Main Series), 1861-1870, National Archives Building, Washington, DC.

Baughman returned to publishing and editing the Republican Citizen in 1865.

[9] Francis Thomas, Statement of Francis Thomas Frederick County, MD: George Johnston, 1845).


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