The topic of the meeting was likely the disposition of the Prize Cases, that would, with Davis’s vote, upheld both the naval blockade of Southern ports, and seizure of Southern ships, which had been ordered by the President without congressional authorization
David Davis was elected to the Illinois legislature in 1844 on the Whig ticket. The following year he began a 14-year career as a circuit judge. It was as a judge that Davis became a close friend of Abraham Lincoln, who argued cases before his bench. At the Republican convention of 1860,...
David Davis was elected to the Illinois legislature in 1844 on the Whig ticket. The following year he began a 14-year career as a circuit judge. It was as a judge that Davis became a close friend of Abraham Lincoln, who argued cases before his bench. At the Republican convention of 1860, Davis led the effort to secure Lincoln the nomination. Lincoln was a real dark horse, but with Davis’s enthusiastic help he emerged from the pack and won a surprising victory. In the presidential campaign that followed, Davis worked assiduously for Lincoln’s election. In February 1861, he accompanied the president-elect to Washington, D.C., and served as Lincoln’s adviser until late 1862.
Supreme Court Justice John A. Campbell of Alabama resigned in protest of Lincoln’s intent to go to war with seceding Southern states. On October 17, 1862, Lincoln named Davis to fill that seat in a recess appointment, which was an interim appointment since Congress was not in session. Congress received Davis’s formal nomination on December 3, 1862, the day after returning to session, and five days later, on December 8, confirmed him on a voice vote.
On that very same day the nomination was received by Congress, Lincoln wrote this note to Salmon Chase himself, then Secretary of the Treasury, asking him to see Davis. Less than two years later, Chase would himself be nominated for the position of Chief Justice.
Autograph note signed, Washington, December 3, 1862, to Chase, calling Davis his friend and making the request. “Sec. of Treasury, please see my friend Judge Davis. A. Lincoln.” It is an unpublished letter, not appearing in any of the papers of Lincoln.
We cannot be certain what the subject matter of the meeting was, but the answer seems to suggest itself. An important case was pending (the first of the Prize cases), and the issue at stake was the U.S. Navy’s seizure of Southern ships in 1861 and the sale the their contents, the proceeds of which went into the Treasury. This was pursuant to the Lincoln administration’s blockade of Southern ports, even absent a formal declaration of war. The likely topic was an update from Davis relating to this key case, or strategy concerning it. Davis soon proved to be part of the slender five-member majority that upheld both the seizure of the ships and the naval blockade of Southern ports, which had been ordered by the President without congressional authorization. A loss in the Court would have invalidated the grounds for the blockade, and other executive actions taken as the Civil War got underway. The only other credible topic we can ascertain would have related to the budget for Davis’s office or the Court in general.
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