Fessenden & Hyde
The American people would never vote for a man whose first name was Salmon. And Senator William Pitt Fessenden of Maine (Bowdoin class of 1823) believed just that. Of course his basis for thinking that Secretary of Treasury Salmon P. Chase would not win the Republican nomination for president in 1864 was rooted more on Chase's policies and popularity. While not yet a firm supporter of Abraham Lincoln, by the end of 1863 Fessenden was slowly coming to understand the greatness of the man in the White House.
Union victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg over the summer
months had boosted Northern morale. That fall, the Battle of Chattanooga
was also fought and won by the Union armies of Ulysses Grant. In that
fight, one of Fessenden's sons, James, served as a staff officer to Union
General Joseph Hooker. The general praised the Senator's son by writing,
"I have a chip of yours on my staff, and I am happy to inform you
he escaped all the perils of our late battles, though much exposed
son is a trump."
In the Senate that winter a bill was introduced that would
reinstate the military rank of lieutenant generaL and bestow it upon Grant.
While not entirely sure of Grant's capability and the necessity for giving
such power to one man, Fessenden voted for the bill, which in turn passed
and changed the course of the Civil War.
Fessenden still held the chair of the Senate Finance Committee
and within the next year a number of tax bills would pass to keep the
War running. One of the most important was the Internal Revenue Bill.
The bill raised taxes for manufacturers within the country but also helped
shield American businesses from European competition.
Controversy came before the Senate in this session when
the issue of equal pay for black soldiers was presented. The normal salary
for a Union soldier, per month, was thirteen dollars. But in the case
of black troops, the pay was ten dollars. Many Northerners still held
very strong prejudices and the administration knew that they required
some way to show the people that blacks were not yet being treated as
equals. Paying them three dollars less than white troops was one of those
Fessenden was all for the equal pay plan but fought off
the idea of making these payments retroactive. The budget was already
in crisis and paying black soldiers for time already served did not seem
to the Maine senator like a good idea. But despite Fessenden's objections
to this clause, in June 1864 Congress agreed to pay black and white soldiers
equally, beginning from January of that year.
The other controversial issue in the Senate that year was
the expulsion of Kentucky senator Garrett Davis. That senator had voiced
his opinion that the citizens of the North should rise up and take over
the government. The fact that Davis had long fought the government's control
over the issue of slavery did not help matters. To his colleagues, Davis
was a pest and with the overwhelming Republican majority there, the idea
came that the Kentuckian should be expelled.
Fessenden believed that there was no reason to remove Davis.
To the Maine senator the Senate was a place where men came from different
view points to debate their ideas and when one man stood against the majority,
there was no right to try to get rid of him. Fessenden maintained that
he did not support the senator's ideas but if he could not "defend
it [the administration] against any attacks, which the Senator from Kentucky
or any other Senator on this floor may choose to make, then he must have
the advantage of me
Fessenden believed that Davis loved his country and hated
the rebellion as much as he himself did. But he also knew that in winning
the War, it was important that the peace that was won was worth it. The
freedom of speech, Fessenden believed, should not be limited in the Senate.
The bill to remove Senator Davis was eventually withdrawn. Elsewhere in
the Union, away from the work of the Senate things were moving. Thanks
to the elevation of Grant, the armies of the United States were preparing
for an offensive all over the country. The rebel armies were also moving
to counter Grant's advances. Tom Hyde- Bowdoin class of 1861- would be
in one of the main prongs of Grant's overall plan. Serving on the staff
of Union General John Sedgwick, Hyde would find himself in the thickest
fighting when he rode into the Wilderness on that day in May 1864.
Next Time: Hyde in the Field and Fessenden gets invited
into Lincoln's Cabinet.
Some editing (by the Orient staff) may have occurred before
this piece was published. To view a full version of the entire series
(including source citations) please visit my website. (This site includes
the Chamberlain and Howard Series and is updated weekly during the school
year) at: http://www.bowdoin.edu/~kwongsri
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