Lincoln’s Soldier Vote
New York Governor Horatio Seymour vetoed the Republican effort to enable soldiers absent in the field to vote, believing that this would open the door to vote fraud and manipulation by politically-appointed officers. New York Secretary of State Chauncey Depew, a Republican, writes of Lincoln’s assistance to locate New York’s soldiers and delivered Republican ballots to them via American Express – though Democratic ballots were lost, and agents sent by the Democratic governor were arrested by Lincoln’s political machine.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com
Lincoln’s Soldier Vote
“The secretaryship of the State of New York is a very delightful office. Its varied duties are agreeable, and the incumbent is brought in close contact with the State administration, the legislature and the people.
In view of the approaching presidential election, the [New York] legislature passed a law, which was signed by the governor, providing machinery for the soldiers’ vote. New York had at that time between three and four hundred thousand soldiers in the field, who were scattered in companies, regiments, brigades, and divisions all over the South.
This law made it the duty of the secretary of state to provide ballots, to see that they reached every unit of a company, to gather the votes and transmit them to the home of each soldier. The State government had no machinery by which this work could be done.
I then sent for old [bankrupt freight and mail operator] John Butterfield [and] he at once organized what was practically an express company . . . for the sole purpose of distributing the ballots and gathering the soldiers’ votes.
Of course, the first thing was to find out where the New York troops were, and for that purpose I went to Washington, remaining there for several months before the War Department would give me the information. The interviews were brief and disagreeable, and the secretary of war very brusque.
[I then] met Elihu B. Washburne, who was a congressman from Illinois and an intimate friend of the president. I told him my story [and that] “I must report to the people of New York that the provision for the soldiers’ voting cannot be carried out because the administration refuses to give information where the New York soldiers are located.”
“Why,” said Mr. Washburne, “that would beat Mr. Lincoln. You don’t know him . . . he is also the keenest politician alive. If it could be done no other way, the president would take a carpet-bag and go around and collect those votes himself. I will go at once and see the president.”
In about an hour a staff officer stepped up to me . . . “The Secretary of War wishes to see you at once, he said.” [The secretary of war] gave a preemptory order to one of his staff that I should receive the documents in time for me to leave Washington on the midnight train.
The magical transformation was the result of a personal visit of President Lincoln to the secretary of war. Mr. Lincoln carried the State of New York by a majority of only 6,749, and it was the soldiers’ vote that gave him the Empire State.”
(My Memories of Eighty Years, Chauncey M. Depew, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1924, pp. 52-55)