September 1864: "I can see no relief nor peace for our unhappy country by merely military success under Mr. Lincoln..."

By Joan Fink, volunteer

Letter from William C. Endicott to Robert C. Winthrop, 21 September 1864

Letter from William C. Endicott to Robert C. Winthrop, 21 September 1864

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    In this letter of 21 September 1864 William C. Endicott writes to Robert C. Winthrop, praising the latter’s recent speech. Winthrop delivered a keynote address four days earlier at a meeting held in New York City in support of George B. McClellan, the Democratic presidential candidate in the election of 1864.

    In his speech, delivered 17 September 1864--the second anniversary of McClellan’s victory at the Battle of Antietam--Winthrop extols the virtues of General McClellan, crediting him with saving the nation’s capital from the Confederate invaders. Winthrop notes that “forgetting, everything but his country’s dangers and his own determination to stand or fall with its flag,” McClellan responded “without a murmur or a moment’s delay to the personal appeal of President, gathered up the scattered fragments of his brave but broken army, reorganized their shattered battalions, as by the waving of a magician's wand, drove back the invaders across the Potomac, and once more secured the safety of the Washington and of the Government.”

    In 1864, the Democratic Party was deeply divided between the so-called pro-war division and the peace at any cost faction. As a compromise, the party nominated McClellan, who favored continuing the war but leaving the door open for reconciliation as long as the rebellious states pledged their allegiance to the Constitution of the United States. Representative George Pendleton of Ohio, who favored an immediate end to the war without securing a Union victory, was selected as the vice-presidential candidate. Notwithstanding McClellan’s more moderate views, the Democratic Party adopted a platform proclaiming that “the experiment of restoring the Union by war has proved a failure” and providing for the immediate cessation of all military activities. As such, McClellan was left in the uniquely difficult position of repudiating his own party’s platform while running as a candidate for the presidency representing that party.

    Several Union military defeats and the high death toll of the war had left many people frustrated with the Lincoln administration, but in Republican strongholds like Massachusetts, McClellan and the Democrats needed all the support they could muster if there was to be any hope of winning the election. Winthrop’s support of McClellan was welcomed by the Democrats, but it came at enormous personal and professional risk. After giving his New York speech, Winthrop was vilified in the Republican press in Massachusetts, and many of his personal relationships suffered as well. Winthrop persisted in supporting McClellan and his platform, giving additional speeches as the campaign continued on. In a letter of 20 September 1864 McClellan writes to thank Winthrop for his speech as well as his support, noting “it matters not to me, personally, whether I am elected or not – but it is all important that my course should meet the approval of good men” (page 2).  Please see an online presentation of a carte de visite photograph of McClellan.

    The election proved to be a decisive and overwhelming victory for President Lincoln. He received 55.1% of the popular vote with 212 electoral votes, while McClellan received 44.9% of the popular vote and only 21 electoral votes. In Massachusetts, Lincoln’s victory was even more pronounced as he won 72% of the popular vote to General McClellan’s 27%.

    Robert C. Winthrop was born on 12 May 1809 in Boston to Thomas Lindall and Elizabeth Bowdoin Temple Winthrop. After graduating from Harvard College, he studied law under Daniel Webster and was admitted to the Massachusetts bar. He served in the Massachusetts General Court from 1835-1840, the last two years as Speaker of the House. On 12 March 1832, Winthrop married Elizabeth Cabot Blanchard, with whom he had three children. After Elizabeth’s death in 1842, he married Adele Granger Thayer. Winthrop served as a member of the Whig party in the United States House of Representatives from 1840-1850 and in the Senate from 1850-1851. In his later years, Winthrop devoted himself to historical, literary, and philanthropic pursuits. He served as President of the Massachusetts Historical Society for thirty years from 1855 to 1885 during which time he wrote a biography of his ancestor, John Winthrop. Robert C. Winthrop died on 16 November 1894 and is buried in the Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

    William Crowninshield Endicott was born in Salem, Massachusetts, on 19 November 1826 to William P. and Mary Crowninshield Endicott. After graduating from Harvard College, Endicott attended Harvard Law School. He married Ellen Peabody in 1859 and they had two children. A self-proclaimed “old Whig,” Endicott did not gravitate toward the Republican Party when it formed, but “acted with no political organization for many years” (page 1). Endicott served on the Masachusetts Supreme Judicial Court and was Secretary of War during Grover Cleveland’s administration. He died on 16 May 1900 and is buried in Salem’s Harmony Grove Cemetery.

    Sources For Further Reading

    This letter is from the large collection of Winthrop family papers, a multi-generational collection spanning from 1537 to 1990. There is some Civil War era material in the collection including the rich correspondence of Robert C. Winthrop.

    Long, David E. Jewel of Liberty: Abraham Lincoln's Re-Election and the End of Slavery. New York: DaCapo, 1997.

    Waugh, John C. Reelecting Lincoln: The Battle for the 1864 Presidency. New York: Crown Publishers, 1997.

    Weber, Jennifer. Copperheads: The Rise and Fall of Lincoln’s Opponents in the North. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.