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Abraham Lincoln by George Haven Putnam

McClellan was president of the Illinois Central Railroad


of action. He advised that the

commissioners should be surrendered at once rather than to leave to Great Britain the opportunity for making a dictatorial demand. Lincoln admitted the risk of such demand and the disadvantage of making the surrender under pressure, but he took the ground that if the United States waited for the British contention, a certain diplomatic advantage could be gained. When the demand came, Lincoln was able, with a rewording (not for the first time) of Seward's despatch, to take the ground that the government of the United States was "well pleased that Her Majesty's government should have finally accepted the old-time American contention that vessels of peace should not be searched on the high seas by vessels of war." It may be recalled that the exercise of the right of search had been one of the most important of the grievances which had brought about the War of 1812-1814. In the discussion of the Treaty of Ghent in 1814, the English and American commissioners, while agreeing that this right of search must be given up, had not been able to arrive at a form of words, satisfactory to both parties, for its revocation. Both sets of commissioners were very eager to bring their proceedings to a close. The Americans could of course not realise that if they had waited a few weeks the news of the battle of New Orleans, fought in January, 1815, would have greatly strengthened their position. It was finally agreed "as between gentlemen" that the right of search should be no longer exercised by
Great Britain. This right was, however, not formally abrogated until December, 1861, nearly half a century later. This little diplomatic triumph smoothed over for the public of the North the annoyance of having to accept the British demand. It helped to strengthen the administration, which in this first year of the War was by no means sure of its foundations. It strengthened also the opinion of citizens generally in their estimate of the wise management and tactfulness of the President.

Some of the most serious of the perplexities that came upon Lincoln during the first two years of the War were the result of the peculiar combination of abilities and disabilities that characterised General McClellan. McClellan's work prior to the War had been that of an engineer. He had taken high rank at West Point and later, resigning from the army, had rendered distinguished service in civil engineering. At the time of the Lincoln-Douglas debates, McClellan was president of the Illinois Central Railroad. He was a close friend and backer of Douglas and he had done what was practicable with the all-important machinery of the railroad company to render comfortable the travelling of his candidate and to insure his success. Returning to the army with the opening of the War, he had won success in a brief campaign in Virginia in which he was opposed by a comparatively inexperienced officer and by a smaller force than his own. Placed in command of the army of the Potomac shortly after the Bull Run campaign, he had shown exceptional ability in bringing the troops into a state of organisation. He was probably the best man in the United States to fit an army for action. There were few engineer officers in the army who could have rendered better service in the shaping of fortifications or in the construction of an entrenched position. He showed later that he was not a bad leader for a defeated army in the supervision of the retreat. He had, however, no real capacity for leadership in an aggressive campaign. His disposition led him to be full of apprehension of what the other fellow was doing. He suffered literally from nightmares in which he exaggerated enormously the perils in his paths, making obstacles where none existed, multiplying by two or by three the troops against him, insisting upon the necessity of providing not only for probable contingencies but for very impossible contingencies. He was never ready for an advance and he always felt proudly triumphant, after having come into touch with the enemy, that he had accomplished the task of saving his army.


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