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SELECTED LETTERS OF SALMON P. CHASE

NEW ORLEANS, November 25, 1864.

MY DEAR MR. CHASE: Your welcome letter of the 11th inst. from Cincinnati, is received - I have time to reply to only a portion of it now.
Enclosed I send back the draft of your letter to Gen. Banks as you request. Banks' statement in his letter to Senator Lane, that "the principal officer of the Treasury in New Orleans held a commission in the Rebel Army", refers to Mr. May, but is entirely incorrect. Mr. May never held a commission in the Rebel Army nor any commission of any kind under the Rebel Gov't.
I escaped from the South in the Spring of 1862, just as the Conscription Act was being enforced. At that time Mr. May was on his plantation. All outlet was difficult and Mr. May by force of circumstances was compelled to serve as private in a Cavalry company, which was sent to Northern Mississippi. Mr. M. was at that time 19 or 20 years old and was in service a little more than four weeks but never in any engagement. As soon as he learned of the Capture of New Orleans, he escaped to the Mississippi River, got ot possession of a skiff, in which he came down the River seven or eight hundred miles to New Orleans, and was here in time to give the first public greeting to Gen. Butler, by a dinner given to the General by himself and Judge Whitaker. Immediately thereafter he hired at fair wages his slaves, being the first man in Louisiana to adopt a system of free, paid, voluntary labor with negroes.
If any man can see anything in this record to be ashamed of, he is either ignorant of circumstances surrounding any young man in Louisiana at that terrible time, or possesses a judgment more exacting than reasonable. Everybody knows that Mr. May was always an out spoken Union man - If he had been less outspoken, he might not have been compelled into the army. As it was it cost him $15,000 to stay out as long as he did, and to get out when once in. I have these statements from Mr. May himself and from others also.
I think your letter to Gen. Banks is just and correct.
I did not intend that what I wrote you about Mr. Flanders should go to the Secretary, but I have nothing to retract.
I repeat also what I said about the clause of the Constitution - authorizing the Legislature to confer suffrage on colored men. It is not all perhaps that could be wished, and yet it is more than reasonably could have been expected. At first the majority against this clause, in the Convention, was overwhelming, and it was only by unremitting efforts by Gov. Hahn, Gen. Banks and others that nearly forty votes were changed whereby this clause, once rejected, was adopted. In this matter Gov. Hahn worked faithfully and well. The result, I think, will be that when the rest of the State comes in, and the opposite party strives to get the power, the present dominant party, through the Legislature, will immediately confer suffrage on all colored men, so that by their assistance they may retain control of public affairs.
When I first saw you in Washington in '62, you expressed the opinion that slavery should everywhere be abolished as a means of finishing the war. I then thought this unwise, but it has been done. I had changed my opinion however, long before it was done. I do not see that you change your opinions at all, but mine change almost with every increase of knowledge and I come round to your platform at last. Perhaps, therefore, you are more nearly right than I am, about the expediency of unlimited colored suffrage. I see that public opinion is growing in favor of it. But I cannot yet give up the opinions on this subject expressed in my last letter.
Since the receipt of your letter full and complete returns of the election and of Mr. Lincoln's triumphant re-election, have reached us. I should have despaired of the Country and its liberties, if McClellan, that weak tool of wicked men, had been the successful candidate. It seems to me that the hand of Providence is plainly visible in all the great events of this war, nor will he permit its prosecution to cease until great and good principles are firmly established. Defeat at the first battle of Bull's Run then seemed a great calamity, but now we see that Victory instead would have been a greater calamity.
The election of Mr. Lincoln seems to me another link in the chain, and is part of God's plan in working out great and good results.
Indeed, I hope the Chief Justiceship will be offered you. It does seem to me that above all other men, you are entitled to it. But I have no means of judging what Mr. Lincoln will do.
I shall write to you as often as I can and, as you request tell you about leading men here.
The Senators elected by the Legislature are R. King Cutler, and ____ Smith. R. King Cutler is not a good and not an able man, but in my opinion, an unprincipled demagogue. Very disreputable things are said of him, as to his career before coming to Louisiana, and I have seen what purports to be certified copies of a Criminal Court in Illinois or Indiana, in which the name R. K. Cutler is repeated pretty often. In secession time he organized and was Captain of a Confederate Company called the King Cutler Guards. He was elected Senator for the unexpired term of Slidell, but it is now said that Slidell's term expired in '61. Ignorance of this fact, if it be a fact, is not very creditable to the Legislature. I do not know therefore whether Cutler will go to Washington, or whether the Legislature will elect another Senator. They will not, I think, re-elect Mr. Cutler.
Gov. Hahn intended that Judge Durell and another person (Bullitt) should be elected Senators, but the Legislature took the bit in their teeth, and refusing to mind the reins, elected Cutler and Smith. I do not know much about Smith, but guess he does not amount to much. I believe him to be a man of pretty good common sense - no experience - not much education - and I never heard anything against him.
One of the Representatives elect is Judge A. P. Field. He was in Washington with Dr. Cottman; as you will remember Field is a pretty good speaker, and the ablest man in the whole delegation. He is not very radical, but judging by his speeches, be will do well enough. He has more experience than any of the others and is a fair lawyer.
Dr. Bonzano is another representative, and as you know, is a pure man, of great learning - with little experience in public affairs. He is thoroughly radical and would sooner give up his life than his principles. The other representative I do know, but will write more about this in my next letter.
I shall write you frequently in compliance with the wish expressed by you.
A friend of mine told me that Mr. Fessenden expressed one objection to me, which was that I had written you declining to act as Asst. Treasurer, because I could not give the bond for $100,000.
I declined to act as Asst. Treasurer for two reasons. 1st. I would not take that office unless I could give my personal attention to it. I was already over-worked and it was expected to perform the duties of Asst. Treasurer in addition to all my other official duties. This without salary. 2d. I had already given various bonds amounting to nearly two hundred thousand ($200,000) dollars. This was a good deal for me, comparatively a stranger and without property, to do, considering the distrustful and disturbed condition of things here at that time, and to give bonds for that amount was as difficult as for five times that amount in New York. If I told you I could not give additional bonds, I meant by that, that I could not with propriety (and therefore, would not) ask business men to become my securities for any additional amounts. If I had disregarded such propriety, I could have given the bond without much trouble. Will you do me the favor to mention this matter to the Secretary?
I believe that Sherman is on the way to Apalachicola, or Pensacola, Florida--probably the former place. I see that preparations are being made for an immense number of troops in this Department and from some signs about the Ordinance Offices. I should judge that a large number of new troops are to be armed. As there are no new troops here, or likely to come here, I conclude that a great number of negroes are to be collected and armed. I judge the war is to become more bitter and severe - and am glad of it, for sharp severity is really the most efficient as well as most merciful policy.
This letter is long and should have been short, and is much more hastily written than letters to you ought to be.

P. S. Please regard what I say of prominent men here, as entirely confidential. I do not object, however, to Mr. Fessenden seeing what I may write, on the same condition.

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Annual Report of the American Historical Association; Volume II; Washington, Government Printing Office; 1903

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