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1862 Cabinet Crisis
December 16, 1862 In a Republican caucus Senators vote 13-11 support a resolution calling for the resignation of William Seward.
  William Seward
  Republican Party
December 17, 1862 Republicans vote to ask for a reconstruction of Lincoln's cabinet. During the meeting, Secretary of State William Seward and his son, the Assistant Secretary of State, resign.
  William Seward
  Republican Party
December 19, 1862 An evening meeting at the White House, 8 Republican Senators and Lincoln's Cabinet discuss the reorganization of the Cabinet.
  Republican Party
December 20, 1862 Salmon Chase offers his resignation. Lincoln rejects both Seward's and Chase's resignations.
  Salmon P. Chase
  William Seward
December 21, 1862 Seward resumes his duties as Secretary of State
  William Seward
December 22, 1862 Salmon Chase resumes his duties as Secretary of the Treasury
  Salmon P. Chase


The federal loss at Fredericksburg gave the developing coalition in the Senate known as the Radical Republicans the chance to exert some power. After the regular meeting of the Senate on Tuesday, Republicans were told of a caucus as they left the floor. At the caucus, Senator James Grimes of Iowa took the floor and spoke to 24 Republicans attending. Although the speech is not recorded, it is generally agreed that Grimes blamed the loss at Fredericksburg on Secretary of State William Seward. Others then spoke against Abraham Lincoln's friend Seward including William Pitt Fessenden, Lyman Trumbull, and Ben Wade.

Among the charges leveled at Seward were that he had engineered the transfer of Nathaniel Banks to New Orleans, that he resisted the Emancipation Proclamation, and that if Lyons had been in Virginia the battle of Fredericksburg would have ended vastly differently.

Preston King of New York spoke against hasty action against Seward, as did others. Before the caucus adjourned, they voted 13 to 11 to support a resolution to call for the resignation of the Secretary of State. On Wednesday, December 17, a second caucus was called but by this time word had reached all Senators (and Lincoln and Seward) of the reason for the meeting.

James Grimes, aware of the objection of the more conservative members of the caucus, proposed changing the request to Lincoln to be more general, "...a reconstruction of the Cabinet." Other proposals began flying. For example, Fessenden wanted the word "partial" inserted before the word reconstruction, to keep Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase on the Cabinet, the group's strongest supporter. Senator Grimes pointed out that Seward did not object to the Emancipation Proclamation (and that he had added some of the most important wording) and had nothing to do with Banks assignment to New Orleans.

After the end of the Wednesday meeting Lincoln received the resignation of Seward and that of his son, Fred Seward, the Assistant Secretary. Lincoln walked over to Seward's home where he spoke with his reticent Secretary, pointing out that he might be the real target of the attack on Seward. That night a group of senators, led by Jacob Collamer of Vermont, met with President Lincoln on the subject of reconstruction of the cabinet.

On Friday night, December 18, Lincoln met with a slightly different (and larger) group of Senators and the Cabinet with Seward. Lincoln told the assemblage of the resignations of the Secretary and Assistant Secretary of State. The Senators, it turned out, were not a bold in the presence of Lincoln and the Cabinet as the had been in caucus - only four of eight supported Lincoln accepting Seward's resignation.

Secretary of War Edwin Stanton rose and addressed the entire group.
This Cabinet, gentlemen, is like yonder window. Suppose you allow it to be understood that passers by might knock out one pane of glass just one at a time. How long do you think any panes would be left in it?
The Life of William H. Seward by Frederic Bancroft

This Brady-Handy photograph of Salmon Chase was probably taken during Chase's Presidential bid in 1860
Salmon Chase
Apparently, Stanton's statement affected Salmon Chase, who had supported the Radical Republicans. After the meeting, Chase wrote out his resignation and presented it the following day in a Cabinet meeting. Lincoln then wrote a letter rejecting both resignations as not being in the interest of the people. On December 21, 1862, William Seward wrote Lincoln that he would cheerfully resume his duties. Chase did not accept until Monday, December 22. On Tuesday, the New York Herald ran a story blaming Salmon Chase for the Senators' actions, but Abraham Lincoln's Cabinet crisis was over.

Links appearing on this page:

Abraham Lincoln
Edwin Stanton
Emancipation Proclamation
Nathaniel Banks
Radical Republicans
Salmon P. Chase

1862 Cabinet Crisis was last changed on - January 6, 2008
1862 Cabinet Crisis was added on - December 5, 2007



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