To the House of Representatives:
In compliance with the resolution adopted yesterday by the House of Representatives, requesting any further correspondence the President "may have had with General U. S. Grant, in addition to that heretofore submitted, on the subject of the recent vacation by the latter of the War Office," I transmit herewith a copy of a communication addressed to General Grant on the 10th instant, together with a copy of the accompanying papers.
EXECUTIVE MANSION, February 10, 1868 .
General U. S. GRANT,
Commanding Armies of the United States, Washington, D.C.
GENERAL: The extraordinary character of your letter of the 3d instant would seem to preclude any reply on my part; but the manner in which publicity has been given to the correspondence of which that letter forms a part and the grave questions which are involved induce me to take this mode of giving, as a proper sequel to the communications which have passed between us, the statements of the five members of the Cabinet who were present on the occasion of our conversation on the 14th ultimo. Copies of the letters which they have addressed to me upon the subject are accordingly herewith inclosed.
You speak of my letter of the 31st ultimo as a reiteration of the "many and gross misrepresentations" contained in certain newspaper articles, and reassert the correctness of the statements contained in your communication of the 28th ultimo, adding--and here I give your own words--"anything in yours in reply to it to the contrary notwithstanding."
When a controversy upon matters of fact reaches the point to which this has been brought, further assertion or denial between the immediate parties should cease, especially where upon either side it loses the character of the respectful discussion which is required by the relations in which the parties stand to each other and degenerates in tone and temper. In such a case, if there is nothing to rely upon but the opposing statements, conclusions must be drawn from those statements alone and from whatever intrinsic probabilities they afford in favor of or against either of the parties. I should not shrink from this test in this controversy; but, fortunately, it is not left to this test alone. There were five Cabinet officers present at the conversation the detail of which in my letter of the 28th (31st) ultimo you allow yourself to say contains "many and gross misrepresentations." These gentlemen heard that conversation and have read my statement. They speak for themselves, and I leave the proof without a word of comment.
I deem it proper before concluding this communication to notice some of the statements contained in your letter.
You say that a performance of the promises alleged to have been made by you to the President "would have involved a resistance to law and an inconsistency with the whole history of my connection with the suspension of Mr. Stanton." You then state that you had fears the President would, on the removal of Mr. Stanton, appoint someone in his place who would embarrass the Army in carrying out the reconstruction acts, and add:
"It was to prevent such an appointment that I accepted the office of Secretary of War ad interim , and not for the purpose of enabling you to get rid of Mr. Stanton by withholding it from him in opposition to law, or, not doing so myself, surrendering it to one who would, as the statements and assumptions in your communication plainly indicate was sought."
First of all, you here admit that from the very beginning of what you term "the whole history" of your connection with Mr. Stanton's suspension you intended to circumvent the President. It was to carry out that intent that you accepted the appointment. This was in your mind at the time of your acceptance. It was not, then, in obedience to the order of your superior, as has heretofore been supposed, that you assumed the duties of the office. You knew it was the President's purpose to prevent Mr. Stanton from resuming the office of Secretary of War, and you intended to defeat that purpose. You accepted the office, not in the interest of the President but of Mr. Stanton. If this purpose, so entertained by you, had been confined to yourself; if when accepting the office you had done so with a mental reservation to frustrate the President, it would have been a tacit deception. In the ethics of some persons such a course is allowable. But you can not stand even upon that questionable ground. The "history" of your connection with this transaction, as written by yourself, places you in a different predicament, and shows that you not only concealed your design from the President, but induced him to suppose that you would carry out his purpose to keep Mr. Stanton out of office by retaining it yourself after an attempted restoration by the Senate, so as to require Mr. Stanton to establish his right by judicial decision.
I now give that part of this "history" as written by yourself in your letter of the 28th ultimo:
"Some time after I assumed the duties of Secretary of War ad interim the President asked me my views as to the course Mr. Stanton would have to pursue, in case the Senate should not concur in his suspension, to obtain possession of his office. My reply was, in substance, that Mr. Stanton would have to appeal to the courts to reinstate him, illustrating my position by citing the ground I had taken in the case of the Baltimore police commissioners."
Now, at that time, as you admit in your letter of the 3d instant, you held the office for the very object of defeating an appeal to the courts. In that letter you say that in accepting the office one motive was to prevent the President from appointing some other person who would retain possession, and thus make judical proceedings necessary. You knew the President was unwilling to trust the office with anyone who would not by holding it compel Mr. Stanton to resort to the courts. You perfectly understood that in this interview, "some time" after you accepted the office, the President, not content with your silence, desired an expression of your views, and you answered him that Mr. Stanton "would have to appeal to the courts." If the President reposed confidence before he knew your views, and that confidence had been violated, it might have been said he made a mistake; but a violation of confidence reposed after that conversation was no mistake of his nor of yours. It is the fact only that needs be stated, that at the date of this conversation you did not intend to hold the office with the purpose of forcing Mr. Stanton into court, but did hold it then and had accepted it to prevent that course from being carried out. In other words, you said to the President, "That is the proper course," and you said to yourself, "I have accepted this office, and now hold it to defeat that course." The excuse you make in a subsequent paragraph of that letter of the 28th ultimo, that afterwards you changed your views as to what would be a proper course, has nothing to do with the point now under consideration. The point is that before you changed your views you had secretly determined to do the very thing which at last you did surrender the office to Mr. Stanton. You may have changed your views as to the law, but you certainly did not change your views as to the course you had marked out for yourself from the beginning.
I will only notice one more statement in your letter of the 3d instant--that the performance of the promises which it is alleged were made by you would have involved you in the resistance of law. I know of no statute that would have been violated had you, carrying out your promises in good faith, tendered your resignation when you concluded not to be made a party in any legal proceedings. You add:
"I am in a measure confirmed in this conclusion by your recent orders directing me to disobey orders from the Secretary of War, my superior and your subordinate, without having countermanded his authority to issue the orders I am to disobey."
On the 24th ultimo you addressed a note to the President requesting in writing an order given to you verbally five days before to disregard orders from Mr. Stanton as Secretary of War until you" knew from the President himself that they were his orders."
On the 29th, in compliance with your request, I did give you instructions in writing "not to obey any order from the War Department assumed to be issued by the direction of the President unless such order is known by the General Commanding the armies of the United States to have been authorized by the Executive."
There are some orders which a Secretary of War may issue without the authority of the President, there are others which he issues simply as the agent of the President, and which purport to be "by direction" of the President. For such orders the President is responsible, and he should therefore know and understand what they are before giving such "direction." Mr. Stanton states in his letter of the 4th instant, which accompanies the published correspondence, that he "has had no correspondence with the President since the 12th of August last;" and he further says that since he resumed the duties of the office he has continued to discharge them "without any personal or written communication with the President;" and he adds, "No orders have been issued from this Department in the name of the President with my knowledge, and I have received no orders from him."
It thus seems that Mr. Stanton now discharges the duties of the War Department without any reference to the President and without using his name.
My order to you had only reference to orders "assumed to be issued by the direction of the President." It would appear from Mr. Stanton's letter that you have received no such orders from him. However, in your note to the President of the 30th ultimo, in which you acknowledge the receipt of the written order of the 29th, you say that you have been informed by Mr. Stanton that he has not received any order limiting his authority to issue orders to the Army, according to the practice of the Department, and state that "while this authority to the War Department is not countermanded it will be satisfactory evidence to me that any orders issued from the War Department by direction of the President are authorized by the Executive."
The President issues an order to you to obey no order from the War Department purporting to be made "by the direction of the President" until you have referred it to him for his approval. You reply that you have received the President's order and will not obey it, but will obey an order purporting to be given by his direction if it comes from the War Department . You will not obey the direct order of the President, but will obey his indirect order. If, as you say, there has been a practice in the War Department to issue orders in the name of the President without his direction, does not the precise order you have requested and have received change the practice as to the General of the Army? Could not the President countermand any such order issued to you from the War Department? If you should receive an order from that Department, issued in the name of the President, to do a special act, and an order directly from the President himself not to do the act, is there a doubt which you are to obey? You answer the question when you say to the President, in your letter of the 3d instant, the Secretary of War is "my superior and your subordinate," and yet you refuse obedience to the superior out of a deference to the subordinate.
Without further comment upon the insubordinate attitude which you have assumed, I am at a loss to know how you can relieve yourself from obedience to the orders of the President, who is made by the Constitution the Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy, and is therefore the official superior as well of the General of the Army as of the Secretary of War.
(Letter addressed to each of the members of the Cabinet present at the conversation between the President and General Grant on the 14th of January, 1868, and answers thereto.)
Washington, D.C., February 5, 1868.
SIR: The Chronicle of this morning contains a correspondence between the President and General Grant reported from the War Department in answer to a resolution of the House of Representatives.
I beg to call your attention to that correspondence, and especially to that part of it which refers to the conversation between the President and General Grant at the Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, the 14th of January, and to request you to state what was said in that conversation.
Very respectfully, yours,
WASHINGTON, D.C., February 5, 1868.
SIR: Your note of this date was handed to me this evening. My recollection of the conversation at the Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, the 14th of January, corresponds with your statement of it in the letter of the 31st ultimo in the published correspondence.
The three points specified in that letter, giving your recollection of the conversation, are correctly stated.
TREASURY DEPARTMENT, February 6, 1868.
SIR: I have received your note of the 5th instant, calling my attention to the correspondence between yourself and General Grant as published in the Chronicle of yesterday, especially to that part of it which relates to what occurred at the Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, the 14th ultimo, and requesting me to state what was said in the conversation referred to.
I can not undertake to state the precise language used, but I have no hesitation in saying that your account of that conversation as given in your letter to General Grant under date of the 31st ultimo substantially and in all important particulars accords with my recollection of it.
With great respect, your obedient servant,
Washington, February, 6, 1868.
SIR: I am in receipt of your letter of the 5th of February, calling my attention to the correspondence published in the Chronicle between the President and General Grant, and especially to that part of it which refers to the conversation between the President and General Grant at the Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, the 14th of January, with a request that state what was said in that conversation.
In reply I have the honor to state that I have read carefully the correspondence in question, and particularly the letter of the President to General Grant dated January 31, 1868. The following extract from your letter of the 31st January to General Grant is, according to my recollection, a correct statement of the conversation that took place between the President and General Grant at the Cabinet meeting on the 14th of January last. In the presence of the Cabinet the President asked General Grant whether, "in conversation which took place after his appointment as Secretary of War ad interim, he did not agree either to remain at the head of the War Department and abide any judicial proceedings that might follow the nonconcurrence by the Senate in Mr. Stanton's suspension, or, should he wish not to become involved in such a controversy, to put the President in the same position with respect to the office as be occupied previous to General Grant's appointment, by returning it to the President in time to anticipate such action by the Senate." This General Grant admitted.
The President then asked General Grant if at the conference on the preceding Saturday he had not, to avoid misunderstanding, requested General Grant to state what he intended to do, and, further, if in reply to that inquiry he (General Grant) had not referred to their former conversations, saying that from them the President understood his position, and that his (General Grant's) action would be consistent with the understanding which had been reached.
To these questions General Grant replied in the affirmative.
The President asked General Grant if at the conclusion of their interview on Saturday it was not understood that they were to have another conference on Monday before final action by the Senate in the case of Mr. Stanton.
General Grant replied that such was the understanding, but that he did not suppose the Senate would act so soon; that on Monday he had been engaged in a conference with General Sherman, and was occupied with "many little matters," and asked if General Sherman had not called on that day.
I take this mode of complying with the request contained in the President's letter to me, because my attention had been called to the subject before, when the conversation between the President and General Grant was under consideration.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
ALEX. W. RANDALL,
DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR,
Washington, D.C., February 6, 1868.
SIR: I am in receipt of yours of yesterday, calling my attention to a correspondence between yourself and General Grant published in the Chronicle newspaper, and especially to that part of said correspondence "which refers to the conversation between the President and General Grant at the Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, the 14th of January," and requesting me "to state what was said in that conversation."
In reply I submit the following statement: At the Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, the 14th of January, 1868, General Grant appeared and took his accustomed seat at the board. When he had been reached in the order of business, the President asked him, as usual, if he had anything to present.
In reply the General, after referring to a note which he had that morning addressed to the President, inclosing a copy of the resolution of the Senate refusing to concur in the reasons for the suspension of Mr. Stanton, proceeded to say that he regarded his duties as Secretary of War ad interim terminated by that resolution, and that he could not lawfully exercise such duties for a moment after the adoption of the resolution by the Senate; that the resolution reached him last night, and that this morning he had gone to the War Department, entered the Secretary's room, bolted one door on the inside, locked the other on the outside, delivered the key to the Adjutant-General, and proceeded to the Headquarters of the Army and addressed the note above mentioned to the President, informing him that he (General Grant) was no longer Secretary of War ad interim .
The President expressed great surprise at the course which General Grant had thought proper to pursue, and, addressing himself to the General, proceeded to say, in substance, that he had anticipated such action on the part of the Senate, and, being very desirous to have the constitutionality of the tenure-of-office bill tested and his fight to suspend or remove a member of the Cabinet decided by the judicial tribunals of the country he had some time ago, and shortly after General Grant's appointment as Secretary of War ad interim , asked the General what his action would be in the event that the Senate should refuse to concur in the suspension of Mr. Stanton, and that the General had then agreed either to remain at the head of the War Department till a decision could be obtained from the court or resign the office into the hands of the President before the case was acted upon by the Senate, so as to place the President in the same situation he occupied at the time of his (Grant's) appointment.
The President further said that the conversation was renewed on the preceding Saturday, at which time he asked the General what he intended to do if the Senate should undertake to reinstate Mr. Stanton, in reply to which the General referred to their former conversation upon the same subject and said: "You understand my position, and my conduct will be conformable to that understanding;" that he (the General) then expressed a repugnance to being made a party to a judicial proceeding, saying that he would expose himself to fine and imprisonment by doing so, as his continuing to discharge the duties of Secretary of War ad interim after the Senate should have refused to concur in the suspension of Mr. Stanton would be a violation of the tenure-of-office bill; that in reply to this he (the President) informed General Grant he had not suspended Mr. Stanton under the tenure-of-office bill, but by virtue of the powers conferred on him by the Constitution; and that, as to the fine and imprisonment, he (the President) would pay whatever fine was imposed and submit to whatever imprisonment might be adjudged against him (the General); that they continued the conversation for some time, discussing the law at length, and that they finally separated without having reached a definite conclusion, and with the understanding that the General would see the President again on Monday.
In reply General Grant admitted that the conversations had occurred, and said that at the first conversation he had given it as his opinion to the President that in the event of nonconcurrence by the Senate in the action of the President in respect to the Secretary of War the question would have to be decided by the court--that Mr. Stanton would have to appeal to the court to reinstate him in office; that the ins would remain in till they could be displaced and the outs put in by legal proceedings; and that he then thought so, and had agreed that if he should change his mind he would notify the President in time to enable him to make another appointment, but that at the time of the first conversation he had not looked very closely into the law; that it had recently been discussed by the newspapers, and that this had induced him to examine it more carefully, and that he had come to the conclusion that if the Senate should refuse to concur in the suspension Mr. Stanton would thereby be reinstated, and that he (Grant) could not continue thereafter to act as Secretary of War ad interim without subjecting himself to fine and imprisonment, and that he came over on Saturday to inform the President of this change in his views, and did so inform him; that the President replied that be had not suspended Mr. Stanton under the tenure-of-office bill, but under the Constitution, and had appointed him (Grant) by virtue of the authority derived from the Constitution, etc; that they continued to discuss the matter some time, and finally he left, without any conclusion having been reached, expecting to see the President again on Monday.
He then proceeded to explain why he had not called on the President on Monday, saying that he had had a long interview with General Sherman, that various little matters had occupied his time till it was late, and that he did not think the Senate would act so soon, and asked: "Did not General Sherman call on you on Monday?"
I do not know what passed between the President and General Grant on Saturday, except as I learned it from the conversation between them at the Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, and the foregoing is substantially what then occurred. The precise words used on the occasion are not, of course, given exactly in the order in which they were spoken, but the ideas expressed and the facts stated are faithfully preserved and presented.
I have the honor to be, sir, with great respect, your obedient servant,
O. H. BROWNING.
DEPARTMENT OF STATE.
Washington, February 6, 1868.
SIR: The meeting to which you refer in your letter was a regular Cabinet meeting. While the members were assembling, and before the President had entered the council chamber, General Grant on coming in said to me that he was in attendance there, not as a member of the Cabinet, but upon invitation, and I replied by the inquiry whether there was a change in the War Department. After the President had taken his seat, business went on in the usual way of hearing matters submitted by the several Secretaries. When the time came for the Secretary of War, General Grant said that he was now there, not as Secretary of War, but upon the President's invitation; that he had retired from the War Department. A slight difference then appeared about the supposed invitation, General Grant saying that the officer who had borne his letter to the President that morning announcing his retirement from the War Department had told him that the President desired to see him at the Cabinet, to which the President answered that when General Grant's communication was delivered to him the President simply replied that he supposed General Grant would be very soon at the Cabinet meeting. I regarded the conversation thus begun as an incidental one. It went on quite informally, and consisted of a statement on your part of your views in regard to the understanding of the tenure upon which General Grant had assented to hold the War Department ad interim and of his replies by way of answer and explanation. It was respectful and courteous on both sides. Being in this conversational form, its details could only have been preserved by verbatim report. So far as I know, no such report was made at the time. I can give only the general effect of the conversation. Certainly you stated that, although you had reported the reasons for Mr. Stanton's suspension to the Senate, you nevertheless held that he would not be entitled to resume the office of Secretary of War even if the Senate should disapprove of his suspension, and that you had proposed to have the question tested by judicial process, to be applied to the person who should be the incumbent of the Department under your designation of Secretary of War ad interim in the place of Mr. Stanton. You contended that this was well understood between yourself and General Grant; that when he entered the War Department as Secretary ad interim he expressed his concurrence in a belief that the question of Mr. Stanton's restoration would be a question for the courts; that in a subsequent conversation with General Grant you had adverted to the understanding thus had, and that General Grant expressed his concurrence in it; that at some conversation which had been previously held General Grant said he still adhered to the same construction of the law, but said if he should change his opinion he would give you seasonable notice of it, so that you should in any case be placed in the same position in regard to the War Department that you were while General Grant held it ad interim . I did not understand General Grant as denying nor as explicitly admitting these statements in the form and full extent to which you made them. His admission of them was rather indirect and circumstantial, though I did not understand it to be an evasive one. He said that, reasoning from what occurred in the case of the police in Maryland, which he regarded as a parallel one, he was of opinion, and so assured you, that it would be his right and duty under your instructions to hold the War Office after the Senate should disapprove of Mr. Stanton's suspension until the question should be decided upon by the courts; that he remained until very recently of that opinion, and that on the Saturday before the Cabinet meeting a conversation was held between yourself and him in which the subject was generally discussed.
General Grant's statement was that in that conversation he had stated to you the legal difficulties which might arise, involving fine and imprisonment, under the civil-tenure bill, and that he did not care to subject himself to those penalties; that you replied to this remark that you regarded the civil-tenure bill as unconstitutional and did not think its penalties were to be feared, or that you would voluntarily assume them; and you insisted that General Grant should either retain the office until relieved by yourself, according to what you claimed was the original understanding between yourself and him, or, by seasonable notice of change of purpose on his part, put you in the same situation which you would be if he adhered. You claimed that General Grant finally said in that Saturday's conversation that you understood his views, and his proceedings thereafter would be consistent with what had been so understood. General Grant did not controvert, nor can I say that he admitted, this last statement. Certainly General Grant did not at any time in the Cabinet meeting insist that he had in the Saturday's conversation, either distinctly or finally, advised you of his determination to retire from the charge of the War Department otherwise than under your own subsequent direction. He acquiesced in your statement that the Saturday's conversation ended with an expectation that there would be a subsequent conference on the subject, which he, as well as yourself, supposed could seasonably take place on Monday. You then alluded to the fact that General Grant did not call upon you on Monday, as you had expected from that conversation. General Grant admitted that it was his expectation or purpose to call upon you on Monday. General Grant assigned reasons for the omission. He said he was in conference with General Sherman; that there were many little matters to be attended to; he had conversed upon the matter of the incumbency of the War Department with General Sherman, and he expected that General Sherman would call upon you on Monday. My own mind suggested a further explanation, but I do not remember whether it was mentioned or not, namely, that it was not supposed by General Grant on Monday that the Senate would decide the question so promptly as to anticipate further explanation between yourself and him if delayed beyond that day. General Grant made another explanation--that he was engaged on Sunday with General Sherman, and I think, also, on Monday, in regard to the War Department matter, with a hope, though he did not say in an effort, to procure an amicable settlement of the affair of Mr. Stanton, and he still hoped that it would be brought about.
I have the honor to be, with great respect, your obedient servant,
WILLIAM H. SEWARD.
Andrew Johnson, Special Message Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/202261