Sunday, June 08, 2008

James Watson Webb to Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Transcribed and Annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College. Galesburg, Illinois.

James Watson Webb to Abraham Lincoln, Wednesday, February 06, 1861 (Political affairs and threat to Washington).

[Webb, James Watson (1802-1884): American journalist and diplomat; owner/editor or Morning Courier and New York Enquirer, New York City (1829-61); U.S. minister to Brazil (61-69).]


February 6. 1861

My Dear Sir,

By this time, you have doubtless, become accustomed to being troubled about a thousand matters, which, if not official, still indirectly, appertain to the Presidency. Among these is the being bored to sit for your Portrait. We are all pleased that you intend to take New York in your way to Washington; and of course, you must expect to be bored with applications to sit for your Photograph. Brady is the best known to fame; but beyond all question, within a year, Messrs. " Lockwood and Rantoul," will be admitted to be without any equals on either side of the Atlantic; & simply because they are the most scientific & best artists, and young & full of enterprise. Already they have the largest business in this City; and in time, must have the best reputation. In their behalf, and because I want to see you Photographed in the best manner, I venture to request that when here, you will give them half an hour at such time as will best suit your convenience.

When Mrs Lincoln was first announced to be at the Astor, Mrs Webb accompanied me to town, to pay her respects to her, taking with us, a large basket of Flowers from our Green House; but we could not find her at the Astor, Metropolitan, or any other Hotel.-- When subsequently, Mrs Lincoln was at the Metropolitan, I was confined to my House, & Mrs. Webb, could not get to town, which is 30 miles distant. Will you make our apologies to her.

My nephew, Col. Morell,1 who graduated No. 1. at West Point, and is now the Engineer of our first Division, has reported to Genl. Scott,2 full details of this Division, the probable time it would require to get to Washington &. &. He called yesterday, and showed me a private letter from a member of Genl. Scott's staff, communicating the intelligence, that Mr. Buchanan peremptorily refuses to call for the aid Genl. Scott requires, and that the Genl. anticipates the loss of the Capital if the border slave states secede! And such will be the case unless they are greater fools than I give them credit for being. If they have worked up a Southern Confederacy, they ought to know that they can only succeed by bold measures. Being in strength in Washington, they can attack it with five times the force, and carry it; and then having the capital & archives, they become the Government de facto; and of course, evry foreign Representative must & will acknowledge them as such. True, we can & would recapture Washington & make all right; but the prestige would be with them. Now, I have never for a moment, felt that Disunion is possible -- & have no such fears. But from the beginning, I have felt that Washington is in danger, and that its loss would disgrace & dishonor the Country. I know that if I was a secessionist, I could & would get possession of the capitol; & I am in the habit of judging others by myself. Surely they cannot fail to discern all the advantages of getting possession of Washington; and it is equally certain that if absolutely resolved upon seperation, they will not be so weak as to shrink from striking the first blow. And if this be so, why will they not like reasonable men, knowing precisely our strength, take the necessary steps to insure success? So I have argued from the beginning; and so argues Genl. Scott, as I judge from the confidential letter from his Private Secretary.

What is to be done? Buchanan blocks all official actions in behalf against the Traitors; & what is done must be accomplished through concert on the part of your friends & the Wide-Awakes. I yesterday, sent for several of our active young men, and suggested to them the state of affairs; and that the only mode which occurred to me of counteracting the contemplated movement, is to arrange to have at least five thousand persons in Washington, a week previous to the inauguration, ready in case of necessity, to offer their services to Genl. Scott, to be organized by him -- he having plenty of arms in the U. S. Arsenal.

If a movement be made on the Capital, it will be known there some two or three days in advance of its taking place, but not time enough to get troops to its relief. If therefore, our friends be in force as spectators of the coming inauguration, they can be organized in time to meet the crisis. It is the right of all our people to be at Washington on the 4" March; & it is usual on such occasions; and bearing in mind that "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," I would have you place this letter in the hands of a confidential friend, and I would have him tell our friends in evry place where you stop, that it is desirable to have as many of our reliable friends at Washington a week in advance of the fourth of March as can be collected there -- not for assaults upon or to irritate the South, but for defense if necessary, and with the means of defense on their persons. There can be nothing wrong in being prepared to protect the property & to defend the Institutions of the Country.

I have only to repeat, that Genl. Scotts private secretary, in acknowledging the official report of Col. Morell, says distinctly, that the Genl. expects to see the capital fall, & that Buchanan peremptorily refuses to furnish the means to protect & defend it. Most assuredly, it can and will be taken from us if they desire it; & they would indeed be fools were they not to seize it, [bent?] as they are [on?] Rebellion.

Yours very Truly

J. Watson Webb.

[Note 1 ID: George W. Morell was a West Point graduate who commanded a division in Fitz John Porter's corps during the Civil War. Morell rose to the rank of major general but his loyalty to Porter after the fiasco at Second Bull Run effectively ended his career as a field commander and he resigned from the army in 1864.]

[Note 2 Winfield Scott]



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