Lincoln’s Northern Opposition
After Sharpsburg in mid-1862, and especially Fredericksburg in late December 1862, the tremendous casualties all but stopped volunteering in the North and Lincoln considered conscription – in reality a whip to encourage enlistments. Northern governors feared electoral defeat at the hands of their constituents, which Lincoln solved by allowing paid substitutes, generous enlistment bounties and captured Southern blacks to meet State quotas.
Horatio Seymour, himself elected governor of New York during the tidal wave of Democratic Party victories in the fall of 1862, rightly felt that a majority of Northerners did not support Lincoln in his prosecution of the war. To combat Northern Democrats who questioned his war, Lincoln, his Republican governors and political generals tarred them with treasonous activities and threats of imprisonment. Northern newspapermen who editorialized against the war found the latter a reality.
In an early October 1864 speech in Philadelphia, Seymour told his audience that the Northern armies crushing the South would imperil their own liberties, stating that “only then would the deluded people of the North see the full extent of Lincoln’s dictatorial administration – the price of the South’s conquest would be a government by bayonets.
“These victories will only establish military governments at the South, to be upheld at the expense of Northern lives and treasure. They will bring no real peace if they only introduce a system of wild theories, which will waste as war wastes; theories which will bring us to bankruptcy and ruin. The [Lincoln] administration cannot give us union or peace after victories.”
Calling attention to the fact that Senator Charles Sumner would “reduce the Southern States to the condition of colonies” – whereas the President planned to receive them back into the Union whenever one-tenth of the population should declare itself loyal – Seymour foresaw the stubborn conflict which followed the murder of one President and provoked a brazen plan to remove another.
Pointing to the words and acts of members of Congress like Thaddeus Stevens, he declared that “neither Mr. Lincoln nor his Cabinet” now had “control over National affairs.” They were powerless to induce Congress to undo all it had done; the President’s hands were now manacled.”
If the voters returned the Republicans to power, they would learn two bitter lessons: first, that it “is dangerous for a government to have more power than it can exercise wisely and well,” and second, that they could not “trample upon the rights of the people of another state without trampling on [their] own as well.”
Seymour was the Democratic candidate for president in 1868, opposing Grant. The latter won a close victory by a majority of 300,000 votes out of 5,700,000 cast; historians credit Republican regimes in the South with disenfranchising whites while delivering the 500,000 freedmen votes which lifted Grant to victory.
(See: Horatio Seymour of New York, Harvard University Press, 1938, pp. 374-375)