Commentary: This article explains how Andrew Johnson was nominated for
Vice-President on the Union ticket in 1864, even though he was a Democrat.
THE PRESIDENT AND THE SECRETARY OF STATE
For some time after the late terrible events
it was feared that Mr. Seward might have been so seriously injured by his accident and the
subsequent murderous assault as to be compelled to retire from the public service. As that
apprehension has been happily dispelled, and as the characteristic assertion of some of
the Northern friends of the rebellion that Mr. Seward ought to retire because his presence
in the Cabinet would be so distasteful to Messrs. Lee, Davis, Wigfall, & Company as to
disincline them to submission, has also disappeared in derisive laughter, it is now
insinuated by those who suggest what they desire that President Johnsons policy will
not have the cordial support of the Secretary, and that therefore Mr. Seward will resign.
Those who say this are not aware, perhaps, that Mr. Sewards friends in the Baltimore
Convention of last June secured the nomination of Mr. Johnson as Vice-President, and that
it is therefore a great waste of ingenuity to assume any grave difference between the
President and Secretary in their general policy.
Mr. Johnson and Mr. Seward had served
together in the Senate, where they were firm personal friends. There Mr. Seward had seen
that his fellow-Senator, a land-reformer, a stern Union man, a trusted representative of
the people of the South as distinguished from the planting aristocracy, was the very kind
of leader by whom the political power of the aristocracy was ultimately to be overthrown
in its own section. Mr. Seward had watched Mr. Johnsons heroic position in the dark
winter of 1860-61. He had heard his terrible denunciation of the conspirators in the
Senate. As Secretary of State Mr. Seward had supported Mr. Lincolns
"Border-State policy," as it was impatiently called; and it was while pursuing
that policy that Mr. Lincoln had appointed his friend Mr. Johnson Military Governor of
Tennessee. With his administration there Mr. Seward had been, of course, officially
As the time for the meeting of the Union
nominating Convention approached, the perilous chances of the civil war made it essential
that a candidate for the Vice-Presidency should be named whose character and career
certified that, in case of his succession to the Presidency, the established policy of the
Government would not be changed or menaced. And we venture to say that the man whose
nomination Mr. Seward most earnestly desired was Andrew Johnson.
When the Convention assembled the
nomination of Mr. Lincoln was a foregone conclusion. But the candidate for the
Vice-Presidency was not so easily determined. One point, however, was universally admitted
by the wiser part of the Convention. Pure and honorable as Mr. Hamlins career had
been, and personally unexceptionable as he was, his nomination was not advisable. As the
Convention was composed of men who had heretofore acted with different political parties,
political comity required that the Union Convention of 1864 should not repeat the party
action of the Republican Convention of 1860, but, by naming a candidate formerly
identified with the Democratic party, should prove that it appealed to no partisan
traditions, but to the hearty sympathy of all Union men in the country. Who should this
candidate be? It was upon this question that the caucusing of the Convention turned. For
whom would the sixty-six votes of New York be cast? As they went, so would the Convention
probably go. It was soon clear that the choice practically lay between Mr. Johnson and Mr.
Dickinson of New York, and it seems to us indisputable that the final decision was made in
the caucus of the New York delegation, and made by the friends of Mr. Seward in favor of
Mr. Lyman Tremaine, the old political
friend of Mr. Dickinson, very properly and very powerfully led the Dickinson movement. Mr.
Dickinsons long identification with the Democratic party; his instant and entire
devotion of all his powers to the cause of the Union and the Government; his incessant and
effective service from the outbreak of the war; his vast majority of one hundred and eight
thousand votes in his own State as the Union candidate for Attorney General showing his
great popularity in the State which it was necessary to carry at the Presidential
election; his national fame; his spotless character; his heroic repudiation of old party
ties; all these arguments were pungently and impressively presented by Mr. Tremaine,
without an unkind word against any other candidate, and with an applause both in the
caucus and Convention which showed how hearty was the appreciation of Mr. Dickinsons
claims and character among that great representative body of faithful American citizens.
In the caucus of the New York delegation Mr. Tremaine was supported by some who had no
sympathy whatever with the party to which he and Mr. Dickinson had belonged, but who
regarded that latter gentleman as a conspicuous national representative of what was called
the War Democracy, and who thought that his nomination would greatly strengthen the ticket
in the State of New York.
The discussion in the caucus was animated
and exciting. It betrayed the differences and animosities which prevail in New York
politics. But the one thing steadily obvious in all the tumultuous conflict of opinion was
that the friends of Mr. Seward were favorable to Andrew Johnson. Mr. Preston King and Mr.
Raymond tranquilly urged the irresistible advantages of a candidate who was a Southerner,
a Border-State man, an old Democrat, yet a Union man who had been tried in the fire of the
hate of the rebel chiefs whom he had denounced. They pleaded his solitary fidelity in the
midst of the defection of his old associates in the Senate; his actual sufferings in the
cause; the great confidence reposed in him by Mr. Lincoln, who had intrusted to him one of
the most difficult and delicate of responsibilities at a most critical time. They depicted
the cordial sympathy between the President and Mr. Johnson, and the rare popularity among
the people of a man who had been born and bred in the humblest circumstances, yet who had
risen to merited distinction. They recounted his services and his long practical
experience of public life. They pointed to his administration of Tennessee, which only the
bitter enemies of the Government and friends of the rebellion condemned, and contended
that by selecting a candidate who did not live in the State of New York the dangers of
political division in that State would be avoided. They did not forget to recall also
that, in all the long course of a public life during which he had been an ardent and
conspicuous actor, his personal character had been unsullied by suspicion. No man could
deny that Andrew Johnson was a name so identified with unswerving devotion and willing
sacrifice to the country that it would be hailed with vast popular enthusiasm.
Meanwhile Mr. Dickinsons friends
were not idle, and his chances were imposing. Mr. Simon Cameron came to offer the
fifty-two votes of Pennsylvania for Mr. Dickinson if New York would unite upon him. Many
of the New England delegations were ready to adopt him upon the same condition. But the
friends of Mr. Seward, without denying the claims of Mr. Dickinson, still held firmly that
it was wiser to nominate Mr. Johnson. Had they yielded. Mr. Johnson would not be President
of the United States. It is pleasant to remember that when afterward in the Convention it
appeared that Mr. Johnson had a larger vote than any other candidate, the friends of Mr.
Dickinson at once acquiesced. The vote of New York was thrown as a unit, and it was Mr.
Tremaine who promptly and honorably moved that the nomination of Mr. Johnson should be
made unanimous by the Convention. Nor is it less agreeable to record that one of the last
acts of President Lincoln, at the earnest request of the Secretary of State, was the
appointment of Mr. Dickinson, to his own great surprise, to his present responsible post.
If, therefore, Mr. Seward retires from
the Cabinet, it will not be because the President is not of his choice. And why should he
retire? He is in the ripeness of his powers, and his work is not yet done. Who would do it
so well as he?
Articles relating to Johnson's Background:
Andrew Johnson (small bio)
June 25, 1864, page 402
The Union Nominations
June 25, 1864, page 402
President Andrew Johnson
May 13, 1865, page 289
The President and the Secretary
May 20, 1865, page 306
September 15, 1866, page 583
September 15, 1866, page 584
September 14, 1867, page 578
December 7, 1867, page 770