Unique for having a complete provenance, having been purchased at the Northern Ohio Sanitary Fair by abolitionist and friend of John Brown, E.N. Sill.
President Lincoln’s original cabinet included all four of his major rivals for the Republican nomination for President in 1860—William H. Seward (Secretary of State), Salmon P. Chase (Secretary of the Treasury), Simon Cameron (Secretary of War), and Edward Bates (Attorney General). It also included potential rival Indiana favorite son Caleb Smith (Secretary...
President Lincoln’s original cabinet included all four of his major rivals for the Republican nomination for President in 1860—William H. Seward (Secretary of State), Salmon P. Chase (Secretary of the Treasury), Simon Cameron (Secretary of War), and Edward Bates (Attorney General). It also included potential rival Indiana favorite son Caleb Smith (Secretary of the Interior), who on the morning of the day when the nominations were made (May 18), declined to have the Indiana delegation support him for president, and Gideon Welles (Secretary of the Navy), head of the Connecticut delegation and a chief Chase supporter. Some of these men had been effectively promised positions as part of the negotiations that led to Lincoln’s nomination at the Republican national convention in May 1860. Many of them objected to the inclusion of each other in the cabinet. There were worries about both geographic distribution and balance between former members of the Whig and Democratic Parties. There were also differences over ideology, ethics and personality. Simon Cameron came under particular attack because of his reputation for political and financial shenanigans. “No President ever had a Cabinet of which the members were so independent, had so large individual followings, and were so inharmonious,” noted New York politician Chancey Depew. Getting them to work together in harmony would require the skill of a brilliant and masterfull leader, and the country had that man in its new president – Abraham Lincoln.
In 1862 Cameron was replaced as Secretary of War by Edwin M. Stanton, who had met Lincoln when they were both attornies in the same case. Stanton snubbed Lincoln, called him “a low cunning clown” and nicknamed Lincoln “the original gorilla.” This appointment was very much of one piece with his original cabinet selections – chosing a man he knew to be superlatively qualified regardless of that man’s opinion of him or opposition to him. Smith resigned to become a federal district judge at the end of 1862. Lincoln appointed John P. Usher as his successor; Usher had been Smith’s assistant secretary. During 1864, Lincoln resisted pressure to replace Usher as Secretary of the Interior with someone of greater stature and political influence.
How could Lincoln do this, look past the politics, oppositions, insults, snubs and the rest? Certainly he was no man to hold a grudge, and he was known as a shrewd judge of people who understood human nature. He also possessed an extraordinary ability to put himself in the place of other men, to experience what they were feeling, to understand their motives and desires. But really the reason was much more than that. Joseph Medill, the editor of The Chicago Tribune and one of Lincoln’s most loyal supporters, asked the President after the 1860 convention why he had made these appointments. “We needed the strongest men of the party in the cabinet,” Lincoln replied. “These were the very strongest men. I had no right to deprive the country of their services.” He further expanded on his motivations on May 9, 1864, saying “There is enough yet before us requiring all loyal men and patriots to perform their share of the labor…and sink all personal considerations for the sake of the country.” And that was the heart of it, the ability and indeed willingness to “sink all personal considerations.”
It was this capacity that enabled Lincoln as president to bring his disgruntled opponents together, create the most unusual cabinet in history, and marshal their talents to the task of preserving the Union and winning the war. And the results? Of these men, three are considered the greatest ever to hold their offices, and one the second greatest. Seward is considered the best Secretary of State in the country’s history, keeping Britain out of the Civil War (which would have had ruinous consequences) and later acquiring Alaska; Stanton is likewise viewed as incomparable as Secretary of War, organizing and operating the largest and most complex machinery of war the country had ever seen; and Welles managed the naval effort that effectively blockaded the Confederacy, the success of which is held by many to have been the most significant factor in winning the war. Coming in second at his post was Chase, who ran the entire financial structure of the wartime government and invented the concept of paper fractional currency to help pay for it. He is ranked as Secretary of the Treasury only by Alexander Hamilton himself. Bates was key in defending the legality of the war, and in sustaining wartime measures proposed by Lincoln, such as the arrest of southern sympathizers in the northerners. He is known for writing an attorney general opinion that repudiated the Dred Scott opinion, and held that race and color could not disqualify a person from citizenship under the Constitution. Usher at Interior championed the cause of Native Americans on reservations in the Southwest.
The United States Sanitary Commission cared for the Union’s sick and wounded soldiers and promoted clean and healthy conditions and army camps. It held fairs in certain large cities around the country, mainly in 1863-4, to raise funds for its activities. Lincoln’s personal assistance to benefit these fairs is well known, as he contributed notes, documents and signatures to be sold or auctioned at the fairs.
Elisha N. Sill was an Akron (Summit County), Ohio banker, abolitionist, and Ohio state senator. Renowned abolitionist John Brown called Akron home for the better part of the decade preceding the Civil War, and the two men became friendly. The relationship of Sill and Brown was close enough that during Brown’s trial in 1859, Sill gave a famous deposition offering his opinion that Brown might be mentally unbalanced. He likely hoped, unavailingly, that it would save Brown’s life. During the Civil War Sill was active in the Soldiers’ Aid Society of Northern Ohio, and he was a member of the committee for the Northern Ohio Sanitary Fair held between February 22 and March 10, 1864. Lincoln and Chase corresponded in June 1864 about an appointment for Sill.
Northern Ohio Sanitary Fair was organized by women of the Soldiers’ Aid Society to raise funds to assist soldiers during the Civil War. It was held in Cleveland and was housed in a specially constructed building in the shape of a Greek cross, and the building housed exhibits, including floral, artistic, and war-souvenir displays. Single admission tickets cost $.25. Local railroads cooperated with the Soldiers’ Aid Society by selling tickets at their stations and promising free return rail fare to any visitor purchasing more than $1 worth of admission tickets. The fair, opened formally by Major General and future President James A. Garfield, was more popular than expected and extended longer than planned. Total proceeds were the then-huge sum of $78,000. The book “Historical Sketch of the Soldiers Aid Society of Northern Ohio” states: “MONDAY, February 22d, 1864, the anniversary of the birthday of WASHINGTON, and henceforth to be remembered by Clevelanders as the inaugural day of the great SANITARY FAIR, opened inauspiciously with clouds and rain. But by nine o clock the sun peered through the clouds, the sky cleared, the morning air was balmy and spring-like, and nature smiled in happiest mood. Above the fair building, around and in which the workers still clustered, thickly and busily as bees, floated the flag of the Union, and from housetops and flagstaffs throughout the city the stars and stripes were flung out. The streets were thronged with citizens and strangers. The crowd was especially great at the ticket offices for the fair, which were located at the halls of the great building and in theprincipal music and bookstores.” It continues, “Several fine engravings adorn the walls, autographs of LINCOLN are for sale here, and useful and fancy goods of every variety.”
Document Signed, Washington, entitled “Autographs of the President and Cabinet, 1864,” likely signed February 1864, being one of the Lincoln autographs mentioned as on sale at the Northern Ohio Sanitary Commission Fair, donated by Lincoln and his Cabinet, and purchased at that time by Sill. Sill placed it in his two volume set of ”The American Conflict” by Horace Greeley, and there it remained for almost one and a half centuries. The books are included.
Sill died in the 1880s, and the books remained in the Akron area, perhaps in his family. About 100 years ago the books, with the autograph sheet, were obtained by Summit County Probate Judge Lewis D. Slusser, a Lincoln scholar. They remained in his family until a few weeks ago, when we acquired them from his granddaughter.
This piece itself is a great rarity, as we can only find four meeting its description in records going back 40 years. But it is unique in having a complete provenance, and it stands in a class by itself for having originated with a friend of John Brown.
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