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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

Cabinet-Making with Mr. Lincoln

By Thurlow Weed (1797–1882)

[Born in Cairo, N. Y., 1797. Died in New York, N. Y., 1882. Autobiography of Thurlow Weed. Edited by his Daughter, Harriet A. Weed. 1883.]

AFTER this subject had been talked up, and over, and out, Mr. Lincoln remarked, smiling, “that he supposed I had had some experience in cabinet-making; that he had a job on hand, and as he had never learned that trade, he was disposed to avail himself of the suggestions of friends.” Taking up his figure, I replied, “that though never a boss cabinet-maker, I had as a journeyman been occasionally consulted about State cabinets, and that although President Taylor once talked with me about reforming his cabinet, I had never been concerned in or presumed to meddle with the formation of an original Federal cabinet, and that he was the first President elect I had ever seen.” The question thus opened became the subject of conversation, at intervals, during that and the following day. I say at intervals, because many hours were consumed in talking of the public men connected with former administrations, interspersed, illustrated, and seasoned pleasantly with Mr. Lincoln’s stories, anecdotes, etc. And here I feel called upon to vindicate Mr. Lincoln, as far as my opportunities and observation go, from the frequent imputation of telling indelicate and ribald stories. I saw much of him during his whole presidential term, with familiar friends and alone, when he talked without restraint, but I never heard him use a profane or indecent word, or tell a story that might not be repeated in the presence of ladies.

Mr. Lincoln observed that “the making of a cabinet, now that he had it to do, was by no means as easy as he had supposed; that he had, even before the result of the election was known, assuming the probability of success, fixed upon the two leading members of his cabinet, but that in looking about for suitable men to fill the other departments, he had been much embarrassed, partly from his want of acquaintance with the prominent men of the day, and partly, he believed, that while the population of the country had immensely increased, really great men were scarcer than they used to be.” He then inquired whether I had any suggestions of a general character affecting the selection of a cabinet to make. I replied that along with the question of ability, integrity, and experience, he ought, in the selection of his cabinet, to find men whose firmness and courage fitted them for the revolutionary ordeal which was about to test the strength of our government; and that in my judgment it was desirable that at least two members of his cabinet should be selected from slave-holding States. He inquired whether, in the emergency which I so much feared, they could be trusted, adding that he did not quite like to hear Southern journals and Southern speakers insisting that there must be no “coercion;” that while he had no disposition to coerce anybody, yet after he had taken an oath to execute the laws, he should not care to see them violated. I remarked that there were Union men in Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee, for whose loyalty, under the most trying circumstances and in any event, I would vouch. “Would you rely on such men if their States should secede?” “Yes, sir; the men whom I have in my mind can always be relied on.” “Well,” said Mr. Lincoln, “let us have the names of your white crows, such ones as you think fit for the cabinet.” I then named Henry Winter Davis, of Maryland; John M. Botts, of Virginia; John A. Gilmer, of North Carolina; and Bailey Peyton, of Tennessee. As the conversation progressed, Mr. Lincoln remarked that he intended to invite Governor Seward to take the State, and Governor Chase the Treasury Department, remarking that, aside from their long experience in public affairs, and their eminent fitness, they were prominently before the people and the convention as competitors for the presidency, each having higher claims than his own for the place which he was to occupy. On naming Gideon Welles as the gentleman he thought of as the representative of New England in the cabinet, I remarked that I thought he could find several New England gentlemen whose selection for a place in his cabinet would be more acceptable to the people of New England. “But,” said Mr. Lincoln, “we must remember that the Republican party is constituted of two elements, and that we must have men of Democratic as well as of Whig antecedents in the cabinet.”

Acquiescing in this view the subject was passed over. And then Mr. Lincoln remarked that Judge Blair had been suggested. I inquired, “What Judge Blair?” and was answered, “Judge Montgomery Blair.” “Has he been suggested by any one except his father, Francis P. Blair, Sr.?” “Your question,” said Mr. Lincoln, “reminds me of a story,” and he proceeded with infinite humor to tell a story, which I would repeat if I did not fear that its spirit and effect would be lost. I finally remarked that if we were legislating on the question, I should move to strike out the name of Montgomery Blair, and insert that of Henry Winter Davis. Mr. Lincoln laughingly replied, “Davis has been posting you up on this question. He came from Maryland, and has got Davis on the brain. Maryland must, I think, be like New Hampshire, a good State to move from.” And then he told a story of a witness in a neighboring county, who, on being asked his age, replied, “Sixty.” Being satisfied that he was much older, the judge repeated the question, and on receiving the same answer, admonished the witness, saying that the court knew him to be much older than sixty. “Oh,” said the witness, “you’re thinking about that fifteen year that I lived down on the eastern shore of Maryland; that was so much lost time, and don’t count.” This story, I perceived, was thrown in to give the conversation a new direction. It was very evident that the selection of Montgomery Blair was a fixed fact; and although I subsequently ascertained the reasons and influences that controlled the selection of other members of the cabinet, I never did find out how Mr. Blair got there.