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Scott resigned, and General McClellan was put at the head of the army. His confidence in his own opinion was unlimited; he felt that his troops were not ready; and he cared nothing for political considerations. Therefore, he began to exasperate the North beyond endurance, but the President, sensitive as he was to popular feeling, did not finally force his general into action until many months later.
Meanwhile he did quietly one of the most useful deeds of wisdom in his whole career. Just as he had checked Seward's pertness to England in the instructions to Adams he now reined in the fury of the North at British hostility, when the capture of Mason and Slidell brought the bitter feelings on both sides to the front. These two men were the Confederate envoys to England and France, respectively. They ran the blockade at Charleston, went to Havana, and sailed from that city November 7, by the British mail steamship Trent. Captain Wilkes, of the United States war sloop San Jacinto, on November 8, took the delegates off the Trent, after firing a shot across her bows and receiving a protest. Mason and Slidell were confined in Fort Warren, Boston Harbor, and the whole North broke out in enthusiastic approval of the deed, and Secretary Welles sent Wilkes the official approval of the Navy Department. Not so
Lincoln. He knew the difference between popular clamor and immovable popular will. He saw that the act was unwise and wrong, and he lost no time in saying so. On the day the news was received, he said in private: “I fear the traitors will prove to be white elephants. We must stick to American principles concerning the rights of neutrals. We fought Great Britain for insisting, by theory and practice, on the right to do precisely what Captain Wilkes has done. If Great Britain shall now protest against the act, and demand their release, we must give them up, apologize for the act as a violation of our doctrines, and thus forever bind her over to keep the peace in relation to neutrals, and so acknowledge that she has been wrong for sixty years.”
England was not slow in showing her resentment. The British government ordered immediate preparations for war and demanded reparation within seven days. Lincoln wished arbitration, but the British demand was for immediate yielding. The Federal government yielded, and the President dropped a most astute phrase to help public opinion reconcile itself to the submission. “One war at a time,” said he, thus allowing anybody who was hungry for an international fight to live in hope, although the President himself had never lost sight of the fact that British insolence did not change the truth that the United States was in the wrong. He, supported by Seward, acted in defiance both of the mass of the people and of the leaders, and thus avoided giving the South the active aid of Great Britain and probably of France. John Stuart Mill wrote of this deed : “ If reparation were made at all, of which few of us felt more than a hope, we thought that it would be made obviously as a concession to prudence, not to principle. We thought that there would have been truckling to the newspaper editors and supposed fire-eaters who were crying out for retaining the prisoners at all hazards. We expected everything, in short, which would have been weak, and timid, and paltry. The only thing which no one seemed to expect is what has actually happened. Mr. Lincoln's government have done none of these things. Like honest men they have said in direct terms that our demand was right; that they yielded to it because it was just; that if they themselves had received the same treatment, they would have demanded the same reparation; and if what seemed to be the American side of the question was not the just side, they would be on the side of justice, happy as they were to find after their resolution had been taken, that it was also the side which America had formerly defended. Is there any one capable of a moral judgment or feeling, who will say that his opinion of America and American statesmen is not raised by such an act, done on such grounds ?
When Congress met in December Lincoln in his message said: “In considering the policy to be adopted for suppressing the insurrection, I have been anxious and careful that the inevitable conflict for the purpose shall not degenerate into a violent and remorseless revolutionary struggle. I have, therefore, in every case thought it proper to keep the integrity of the Union prominent as the primary object of the contest on our part; leaving all questions which are not of vital military importance to the more deliberate action of the legislature.” The Secretary of War did not agree in this policy, however, and his differences with the President speedily made his place too hot for him. As Cameron was an ordinary machine politician, whom Lincoln had appointed purely to satisfy certain party leaders, he naturally in such a crisis caused no end of trouble by his inefficiency and lack of business integrity. His meddling with emancipation was the final step which led to a change of the greatest moment in the history of the rebellion and in the life of Lincoln, bringing into his cabinet one of the big figures of the war. In his first annual report Cameron, without the knowledge of the President, recommended the arming of the slaves and sent the report in printed form to the post
masters all over the country for delivery to the newspapers, before it had been delivered to Congress. Lincoln, as soon as he heard of this, ordered the copies recalled by telegraph, had the report revised, and a new edition printed. In its final form the recommendation stood thus:
" It is as clearly a right of the government to arm slaves when it may become necessary, as it is to use gunpowder taken from the enemy. What to do with that species of property is a question that time and circumstance will solve, and need not be anticipated further than to repeat that they cannot be held by the government as slaves.
It would be useless to keep them as prisoners of war; and self-preservation, the highest duty of a government or of individuals, demands that they should be disposed of or employed in the most effective manner that will tend most speedily to suppress the insurrection and restore the authority of the government. If it shall be found that the men who have been held by the rebels as slaves are capable of bearing arms and performing efficient military service, it is the right, and may become the duty, of the government to arm and equip them, and employ their services against the rebels under proper military regulation, discipline, and command.
" It is already a grave question what shall be done with those slaves who were abandoned by