The 1864 GOP National Convention and ‘the Little Squad of Bolters’

250px-Republican_presidential_ticket_1864b.jpgEvery four years the American political parties gather to nominate their presidential candidate. The months preceding the conventions are often the most fractious periods in American politics as spring turns to summer and internecine squabbles turn to feuds. This was particularly true in 1864.

As the National Union Party convention in Baltimore neared the young Republican Party was at risk of being torn apart. An uncompromising faction of the party, the Radical Republicans, opposed nominating President Lincoln for a second term and even held their own convention in Cleveland. They objected to the president’s policy on slavery, his administration of the war, and his post-war plans which they found too lenient.

Most Radical Republican leaders expected the Confederates to be treated severely after the war. In early January 1864, under the headline “The Logic of History: Bloodthirsty Venom of the ‘Loyalists,’” the Wisconsin Daily Patriot printed the following:

During the summer of 1863, according to the Washington Chronicle, Jim Lane, a Republican United States Senator from Kansas, made a speech in Washington, in which he gave utterance to the following bloodthirsty sentiments:

“I would like to live long enough to see every white man in South Carolina, in hell, and the negroes inheriting their territory.”

[Loud applause.]

“It would not wound my feelings any day to find the dead bodies of rebel sympathizers [this is the term applied by the radicals to all democrats] pierced with bullet holes in every street and alley of Washington. [Applause.] Yes, I would regret this for I would not like to witness all this waste of powder and lead. I would rather have them hung, and the ropes saved! Let them dangle until their stinking bodies rot and fall to the ground piece by piece.

[Laughter and applause.][1]

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In the spring of 1864, the Radicals met in Illinois in hopes of encouraging John Frémont to accept their eventual nomination. They also sought to cast aspersions upon the sitting president. In April the Norwich Aurora reported, “…Col. Moss, of Missouri…flatly accused Mr. Lincoln of having managed the military discomfiture of Gen. Fremont in order to kill him off as a rival for the Presidency.”[2]

The article describes the next speaker, Mr. Casper Butz of Chicago, as one of the strongest men of the radical faction:

So far as he (Mr. Butz) was personally concerned, he did not want any such man for President of the United States. [Cheers.] He thought Abraham Lincoln was the weakest and worst man that ever filled the Presidential chair. [Great cheering.] He had no merits that were worthy of emulation, and had no more sense than a child. [Loud laughter and applause.] He considered him a perfect imbecile. [Renewed applause.][3]

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The Norwich Aurora article concludes:

The resolutions, which were adopted amid great cheering, denounce the conspiracy of Mr. Lincoln for his own renomination; declare that if Lincoln is the choice of the Baltimore Convention, “it will be impossible to prevent a division of the liberal vote, and finally present Frémont as pre-eminently the man to be elected and to secure the free future of the Union.”

The Chicago meeting is but a part of the universal system of organization now being put in force by the radicals all over the country. The movement has…already had at least one good effect, in scouting out of existence the absurd claim of the Administration party that loyalty to the government and servile worship of Mr. Lincoln are synonymous terms.[4]

In May The New York Herald characterized the two factions:

The advocates for the renomination of Mr. Lincoln are active, arrogant and dictatorial. Those who are looking to the Cleveland Convention as the power which is to decide the fate of the coming campaign are active, confident and jubilant. The former class is composed almost exclusively of the officeholders, contractors, professional lobbyists and the hordes who have been speculating and enriching themselves upon the necessities of government….The feuds between the different wings of the party are already exceedingly bitter. The criminations and recriminations are upon the verge of an open warfare, which can hardly fail to split the party asunder.[5]

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The New York Herald went on to describe the Radicals’ strategy for convening in Cleveland prior to the moderates’ gathering in Baltimore:

They are preparing to attend the Cleveland Convention in a body, and will there unite in a movement that will completely swamp the Baltimore Convention….If, as now seems, the result of the convention…will sweep the country like a tornado, and force the Baltimore Convention to endorse the [Radical Republican] ticket or adjourn without accomplishing anything. The nomination of Lincoln by the jobbers, contractors and officeholders, after that, will only make the perpetration of the deed the laughing stock of the people.[6]

The following day the Columbus Crisis accused Lincoln supporters of corrupting the nomination process:

We never had a doubt of the success of Lincoln and his myriads of shoddy office thieves being able to pack the Baltimore Convention with their friends. We were only surprised that any one was green enough to doubt it.[7]

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However, Lincoln and the moderate wing of the party were not without support. On June 1 The Boston Herald editorialized:

There is much talk and figuring among the politicians to arrange the programme for the Presidential Election which takes place next November. A crowd of hot-heads and sore-heads have gone to Cleveland and nominated John C. Frémont for the purpose of controlling the Republican Union Convention which will assemble in Baltimore on Tuesday, June 7th. These sore-heads do not like Honest Old Abe because he could not or would not give them all offices and because he would not allow them to control him,—hence they are busy to break him down in the Baltimore Convention….It is difficult to say which party denounce the President the most—the radical Abolition sore-heads or the radical Democrats….It is these extremists who have deluged the country with blood and brought the present disaster upon the nation. They both are now standing upon the same platform and are as full of mischief as ever.[8]

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On the same day the Herald was criticizing the Radicals the Crisis was again attacking Lincoln’s supporters. This time reprinting an article titled “A Gathering of Ghouls,” which had appeared in the New York Herald on May 20:

The Lincoln meeting...last Friday evening was one of the most disgraceful exhibitions of human depravity ever witnessed in this wicked world. It was a gathering of ghouls, vultures, hyenas, and other feeders upon carrion, for the purpose of surfeiting themselves upon the slaughter of the recent battles. We remember nothing like it in the history of politics. The great ghoul at Washington, who authorized the meeting, and the little ghouls and vultures who conducted it, have succeeded in completely disgusting the people of this country, and have damaged themselves irretrievably.[9]

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Five days before the Baltimore Convention opened, the Daily Constitutional Union quoted a Radical saying:

The Republican party is dead, and you and I will spit upon the platform of 1860, if we are half up to the times….That convention has no room for us. That man must be very gullible who thinks we can go to the Baltimore Convention, and I think you will find out when you get there that you are, as Uncle Abraham said, “dirty reptiles and insincere time-servers, and we don’t want you.”[10]

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By the weekend before the convention, rumors were rampant.

Is this to be the Dodge? It is whispered in certain circles that the Baltimore Convention will endeavor to heal the breach in the Shoddy party by nominating Lincoln and Frémont. We shall see.[11]

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On Saturday the New York World described a recent shift in the opinion of some Lincoln supporters on the influence the Radicals would have on the convention.

“The Little Squad of Bolters” Thus you see that the sneers that were so freely bestowed upon the Cleveland convention before it met have given place to well-grounded alarm and apprehension. “Nothing formidable,” said one Lincolnite paper, “can come of the Cleveland convention…” But the “little squad of bolters,” as another Lincolnite paper called them, have already quite upset the calculations of Mr. Lincoln’s advisors. They have “bolted” to some purpose. And the most judicious friends of Mr. Lincoln fear the renomination of the great ex-rail-splitter, will, in consequence by bolted by many of those whose vote they have heretofore confidently counted.[12]

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The Springfield Weekly Republican declared the “End of the Frémont Movement.”

No man ever suffered worse at the hands of his friends than Gen. Fremont. He has some strong and unquestionable elements of popularity, but his partisans have put his nomination out of the question by any party intending to succeed. Whatever prospect he might have had of a nomination at Baltimore they have destroyed. They made a false start; they got the absurd notion into their head that they could dictate to the republican party and compel its acquiescence in their wishes, and so they began by saying: It must be Fremont or nobody; we will not vote for Lincoln under any circumstances, and unless you take Fremont we are against you. Finding that this bluff game would not work, they determined to make their nominations first, and see if they could not compel the republican party to accept them. The result is, they have isolated themselves, and become a faction too unprincipled to be respected and too weak to be feared.[13]

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The article continues, articulating the bitterness of a hard-fought campaign:

We call the faction unprincipled because it has proved itself so. With lofty pretensions of exclusive regard for liberty and the Union, it has raised false and deceptive issues against the president and the administration….It has proved a failure in its very inception, and it deserved nothing better. Its pretense to speak for radical republicans is unfounded. The republicans of Massachusetts and New England are as radical as any in the country, but they had nothing to do with the convention. The only eastern men in it were crazy non resistants and come-outers, men who do not vote, who do not believe in human government at all, and whose avowed aim is the overthrow of all laws and institutions and the reign of absolute individual liberty. They are infidels in religion, anarchists in politics, and destructive of everything. Such men cannot in good faith join any political party, and they do not intend to, but they are always on hand whenever there is to be a free fight and mischief is afoot. That’s why they went to Cleveland, and they were not out of place there.[14]

However, such harsh words could no longer describe accurately every man who had self-applied the Radical label. The Cincinnati Daily Commercial printed a “Letter from Baltimore” the day before the convention began:

The Kansas men are here in their Sunday clothes and, lest the fact of their presence might be overlooked by others, they have spanned the street, in front of their stopping-place, with a banner bearing this inscription: “Kansas 5,000 ahead of all drafts. Kansas casts her vote for the distinguished statesman, patriot and champion of human liberty, Abraham Lincoln.” Jim Lane is with the Kansas men, of course. In his own emphatic language, “Great God! what would Abraham Lincoln be without Jim Lane? Great God.”[15]

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William Osborn Stoddard, one of Lincoln’s private secretaries, offers another perspective on the 1864 campaign, one tempered by the passage of time. In his book Inside the White House in War Times, available in The American Civil War Collection (and cross-searchable with Early American Newspapers using Readex AllSearch), he reflects on those hostile to Lincoln’s nomination and the president’s reaction to them:

The opposition elements inside the Republican party are many, and it would be shallow stupidity to question the patriotic sincerity of many of them. Good men, as good as any in the land, fail to appreciate Lincoln, and honestly disapprove his methods and his management. It is not easy for his immediate supporters to put aside their hot partisanship just now, and to hear him abused without loss of temper, but he is keeping his own temper very well. So well that no man you know, among even his personal advisers, can repeat to you a dangerous word which has fallen from his prudent lips.[16]

 

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Stoddard also offers insight into the machinations of political conventions:

Is this the Republican National Convention?

It is and it is not. The men upon these benches are the majority in number, and the overwhelming preponderance in power of the body of delegates which will gather…to-morrow. All the debating for the National Convention is to be transacted here this evening, for the good of the party, to secure an appearance of unanimity before the country…The Presidential nomination is to be fought over, and practically made beforehand, and the action of this Grand Council of the Union League will surely be ratified. It is the place where all the anti-Lincoln steam is to be let off, so that it will not scald the work [of the convention]. There was never a wiser provision made for the escape of dangerous vapors.[17]

Stoddard also writes about the role of Kansas Senator Jim Lane at the pre-convention meeting. After emphatically and publicly voicing his support for Lincoln earlier that afternoon, as reported by the Cincinnati Daily Commercial, Lane attempted to further fortify Lincoln’s position by speaking before the Grand Council of the Union League later that night. From Inside the White House in War Times:

That is Jim Lane, who assailed the President so bitterly in the Grand Council a year ago at Washington. You saw him at the White House yesterday. He had quite a talk with Mr. Lincoln, and then he came over and talked with you, but he did not tell you exactly what he meant to do here.

He is making an uncommonly long pause, and he seems to be looking all along the benches, as if he peered into face after face, studying its meaning. His own glance is peculiarly searching at any time, and his voice as he begins would go through a wall.

“For a man to stir up sore and wounded hearts to bitterness requires no skill, no power of oratory. For a man to address the minds of men sickened by disaster, wearied by long trial, heated by passion, bewildered by uncertainty, heavy with grief, and cunningly to turn them into one vindictive channel, into one blind rush of senseless fury—that requires no great power of oratory. It may be the mere trick of a charlatan.”

Jim Lane has a peculiar faculty for saying an offensive, insolent thing in the most gallingly-offensive and insolent manner, and he has rehearsed this first point with so positively brutal a harshness that a hundred faces blaze with wrath.

“For a man to address himself to an assembly like this, goaded almost to madness by long suffering, sorrow, disaster, humiliation, perplexity, and now aroused by venomous art to an all but unanimous condemnation of the innocent, and to turn them in their tracks and force them to go the other way—that would indeed by a feat of transcendent oratorical power. I am no orator at all, but that is the very thing I am now about to do.”[18]

The outcomes of the convention, the election, and the war are well known. Less so is the role of Lane and other Radicals who eventually supported the moderate Republican ticket. But whether Lane accomplished a feat of transcendent oration may be simply a matter of opinion and subject of debate between “the jobbers, contractors and officeholders” and “the little squad of bolters.”


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[1] The Logic of History: Bloodthirsty Venom of the "Loyalists", Wisconsin Daily Patriot (Madison, Wisconsin), January 9, 1864, p. 2.

[2] The Fremont Movement In Illinois, Norwich Aurora (Norwich, Connecticut), April 16, 1864, p. 3.

[3] The Fremont Movement In Illinois, Norwich Aurora (Norwich, Connecticut), April 16, 1864, p. 3.

[4] The Fremont Movement In Illinois, Norwich Aurora (Norwich, Connecticut), April 16, 1864, p. 3.

[5] The Origin of the Lincoln Movement and the Confusion in the Republican Ranks, New York Herald, published as The New York Herald (New York, New York), May 24, 1864, p. 4.

[6] The Origin of the Lincoln Movement and the Confusion in the Republican Ranks, New York Herald, published as The New York Herald (New York, New York), May 24, 1864, p. 4.

[7] The Packed Government Convention At Baltimore, Crisis (Columbus, Ohio), May 25, 1864, p. 140.

[8] Political, Boston Herald, published as The Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), June 1, 1864, p. 2.

[9] A Gathering Of Ghouls, Crisis (Columbus, Ohio), June 1, 1864, p. 145.

[10] Mr. Lincoln Severely Denounced, Evening Union, published as Daily Constitutional Union (Washington (DC), District of Columbia), June 2, 1864, p. 1.

[11] Is this to be the Dodge?, Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), June 4, 1864, p. 2.

[12] World, published as The World (New York, New York), June 4, 1864, p. 1.

[13] End of the Fremont Movement, Springfield Republican, published as Springfield Weekly Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), June 4, 1864, p. 4.

[14] End of the Fremont Movement, Springfield Republican, published as Springfield Weekly Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), June 4, 1864, p. 4.

[15] Letter from Baltimore, Cincinnati Commercial Tribune, published as Cincinnati Daily Commercial (Cincinnati, Ohio), June 9, 1864., p. 1.

[16] American Civil War Collection, 1860-1922: From the AAS, no. 379, Inside the White House in War Times (1890), by William Osborn Stoddard, p. 236-237.

[17] American Civil War Collection, 1860-1922: From the AAS, no. 379, Inside the White House in War Times (1890), by William Osborn Stoddard, p. 238-239.

[18] American Civil War Collection, 1860-1922: From the AAS, no. 379, Inside the White House in War Times (1890), by William Osborn Stoddard, p. 240-241.

 


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