Washington, Aug. 23, 1864.
This morning, as for some days past, it seems exceedingly probable that this Administration will not be reelected. Then it will be my duty to so cooperate with the President elect, as to save the Union between the election and inauguration; as he will have secured his election on such ground that he can not possibly save it afterwards.
(Source: The Civil War: The Final Year Told by Those Who Lived It; Brooks D. Simpson, Editor, 2013, pages 324.)
An Uncertain Election
1864 was a presidential election year. Elections offer opportunities for voters to show their support or disapproval for the administration, especially if the seated president runs for a second term. As we think about Abraham Lincoln and look back on all that he accomplished, it can be difficult to realize that his reelection was far from guaranteed, especially in the summer months of 1864.
Confederates hoped and some Northern Democrats angled for an election platform that might end the war, letting the South go its own way. Meanwhile, Lincoln and the Republican Party stuck to their watchword of “Union” and insisted that the end of slavery secured by military force and then a Constitution amendment could justify the conflict.
Most elections bring big ideas for debate, but the 1864 election offered exceptional debate about America’s future. In that summer, Union military hopes fell short, leaving doubt of a Lincoln/Republican victory.
The Blind Memorandum
Why’s it called “blind”? Because Lincoln convinced his cabinet members to sign what he wrote without seeing it. Then he put away the paper, planning to reveal it if his expected outcome became reality. They unknowingly signed a promise to work to restore the Union in a few short weeks if Lincoln lost the election.
The Blind Memorandum gives us greater insight into the political situation and Lincoln’s views:
- Lincoln doubted he would win the 1864 election
- Lincoln remained steadfast to his belief that the Union – unity of the country – must be restored at all costs
- Lincoln resolved to push the war and national reunification so far that any successor could not undo the steps.
- Lincoln would attempt to accomplish his goal without actually contesting another candidate’s election victory
I’ve heard lectures about “The Blind Memorandum” and fascinating theories about how Lincoln got the to sign without knowing what they signed. There’s still a lot of mystery surrounding the document and the actual situation.
However, one of the things I find most interesting is the parallels of Lincoln’s steadfast resolve to force the restoration of the Union while also agreeing not to contest election results if it did not go in his favor. He acknowledged the importance of a peaceful transition of power in the executive branch, but he was prepared to create a situation that would ultimately force a successor to follow through with the principle of unity.