A New Nation of Men of Lesser Minds
The brief Gettysburg address of Lincoln was described by listeners as “a wet blanket” after Edward Everett’s stirring oration, but it did announce the end of the original confederation of States. While Northern governors expected words of appreciation for the sacrifices of the various States supporting his war, “Lincoln rose at Gettysburg to talk of the nation.” He did not “mention that four score and seven years before, the Father had brought forth thirteen independent States.” As Lincoln spoke of government of the people and by the people, few were aware that a hundred miles away General Robert Schenck’s blue-clad soldiers were patrolling the election polls in Delaware.
A New Nation of Men of Lesser Minds
“Only three times did groups of [Northern] governors assemble to formulate policy. The Cleveland meeting of Western governors and [Pennsylvania’s Governor] Curtin in May 1861 came at the height of initial enthusiasm for the war, and the governors merely demanded that more attention be given to the West. Lincoln accepted their pledge of cooperation and gave the governors so much work in raising troops that they had no time for further consultation over campaign strategy.
The Providence meeting of New England governors sent a committee to Lincoln to demand cabinet changes, but the President skillfully . . . turned them away. [Massachusetts Governor] Andrew led his neighbors from Providence to Altoona, but was unable to get agreement from other governors for schemes to use Negro troops [to avoid drafting white men] and replace McClellan with Fremont.
On the eve of the conference Lincoln issued the preliminary emancipation proclamation and cut the ground out from under Andrew’s radical plot. Thereafter the governors attempted no meeting, and Lincoln dealt with them separately.
Lincoln had an enormously swollen patronage to dispense . . . but no part of the patronage was at the disposal of the governors. Moreover, the military patronage was at the President’s disposal. Governors might appoint company and regimental officers, but promotions from grade to grade and the selection of general officers depended on the President. The army and the civil patronage – as the experiences in the Border States, in Ohio in 1863, and in the campaign of 1864 proved – put the Republican Party exclusively in Lincoln’s hands.
But in the long run Lincoln’s victory over the governors was the triumph of a superior intellect. Of the sixty-three chief executives of the States only [New York’s] Horatio Seymour could approach the President in quality of mind. Seymour’s partial success in blocking conscription was a tribute to his intellectual power [and he] might have prevented the destruction of States’ rights [in the North]. But Seymour stood alone [and most] of the others were mediocrities who owed their positions to “availability” rather than to ability.
And this, above all, made Lincoln the architect of the new nation. The victory of nationalism over localism, of centralization over States’ rights, was, in the last analysis, a victory of a keener intellect over men of lesser minds. The new nation that emerged from the Civil War was not solely the result of the military defeat of the armies of Robert E. Lee. It was equally the result of the political victory that Abraham Lincoln’s mind and personality won over the governors of the Northern States.”
(Lincoln and the War Governors, William B. Hesseltine, Albert A. Knopf, 1955, pp. 391-392)