Lincoln’s Election, Southern Secession: 1860 to April 1861

Lincoln’s Journey, Davis’ Speech

Was Lincoln truly in charge right from the first day of his administration?

“I am loath to close,” he said. “We are not enemies but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.” This was classic Lincoln, giving something away in order to attain a desirable result. But, like practically everything he had said a year earlier at the Cooper Union, it fell on deaf ears. The South believed what it wanted to believe.

No. Lincoln lacked Washington experience, and he needed to find his feet in that truly complicated arena. In the first two, or even three, weeks of his presidency, Lincoln frequently turned to William H. Seward, the secretary of state, for advice. Because of Lincoln’s excessively humble and deferential attitude, Seward began to think that he would become the real force of the Lincoln government, with Lincoln as its figurehead. This notion was dispelled when Lincoln sent a return letter to Seward, who had proposed all sorts of alterations in policy.

“I must do it” was the key phrase employed in Lincoln’s letter. Though it would take some time for Seward to realize that Lincoln fully intended to exercise the powers of the presidency, he became—to his great credit—the president’s right-hand man. As so often, Lincoln deftly turned what could have been a confrontation into an opportunity for cooperation.


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