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Opinion

June 7, 2014

Shribman: Lincoln's three campaigns

(Continued)

And yet the stream Lincoln was crossing was perilous indeed and, by midsummer, no one, especially the president, had a clear view of the perilous twin campaigns ahead -- one military, one political. In the White House, Swett asked the president if he expected to be re-elected. “Well,” Lincoln said, “I don’t think I ever heard of any man being elected to an office unless someone was for him.”

But it was not apparent that enough people were for him. On Aug. 22, Thurlow Weed, the prominent publisher and politico, wrote to Secretary of State William H. Seward that Lincoln couldn’t possibly be re-elected, as “People are wild for Peace.” In the entire 886 pages of the Library of America anthology, there is no document more poignant than this one, dated Aug. 23, 1864, written from the executive mansion and quoted here in its sorrowful entirety:

“This morning, as for some days past, it seems exceedingly probable that this Administration will not be re-elected. Then it will be my duty to so co-operate with the President-elect, as to save the Union between the election and the inauguration; as he will have secured his election on such ground that he can not possibly save it afterwards.”

It is signed: A. Lincoln.

Lincoln pressed this memo in half, passed it among members of his cabinet, and insisted they sign the folded piece of paper without reading it.

The campaign went on, in both senses of the word. The Union’s General William Tecumseh Sherman entered Atlanta, the Confederacy’s Nathan Bedford Forrest mounted an attack on a Union supply base in Tennessee. The Democratic campaign that once called for an armistice shifted course as Sherman advanced and, as Election Day neared, the party’s core position -- that Lincoln had presided over four years of failure -- looked small-minded, and wrongheaded.

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