Tuesday, November 5, 2013

November 2, 1863 (Tuesday): Schenck and the Maryland Elections

General Robert A. Schenck

WASHINGTON, November 2, 1863.
His Excellency A. W. BRADFORD,
Governor of Maryland:
     SIR: Yours of the 31st ultimo was received yesterday about noon, and since then I have been giving most earnest attention, to the subject-matter of it. At my call General Schenck has attended, and he assures me it is almost certain that violence will be used at some of the voting places on election day, unless prevented by his provost guards. He says that at some of those places the Union voters will not attend at all or run a ticket unless they have some assurance of protection. This makes the Missouri case of my action, in regard to which you express your approval.
    The remaining point of your letter is a protest against any person offering to vote being subjected  to any test not found in the laws of Maryland . This brings us to a difference between Missouri and Maryland. With the same reason in both States, Missouri has by law provided a test for the voter with reference to the present rebellion, while Maryland has not. For example, General Trimble, captured fighting us at Gettysburg, is, without recanting his treason, a legal voter by the laws of Maryland. Every General Schenck's order admits, him to vote, if he recants upon oath. I think that is cheap enough. My order in Missouri, which you approve, and General Schenck's order here, reach precisely the same end. Each assures the right of voting to all loyal men, and whether a man is loyal, each allows that man to fix by his own oath.
     Your suggestion that nearly all the candidates are loyal I do not think quite meets the case. In this struggle for the nation's life I cannot so confidently reply on those whose elections may have depended upon disloyal votes. Such men, when elected, may prove true; but such votes are given them in the expectation that they will prove false. Nor do I think to keep the peace at the polls and to prevent the persistently disloyal from voting continues just cause of offense to Maryland. I think she has her own example for it. If I mistake not it is precisely what General Dix did when Your Excellency was elected Governor.
     I revoke the first of the three propositions in General Schenck's General Orders, Numbers 53, not that it is wrong in principle, but becausy exclusive judges as to who shall be arrested, the provisions is too liable to abuse. For the revoked part I substitute the following:
     That all provost-marshals and other military officers do prevent all disturbance and violence at or about the polls, whether offered by such persons as above described, or by any other person or persons whomsoever.
     The other two propositions of the order I allow to stand.
     General Schenck is fully determined, and has my strict orders besides, that all loyal men may vote, and vote for whom they please.
     Your obedient servant,

    President of the United States.

Official Records, Series III., Vol. 3, Part 1, Page 982.

Schenck's was a political general whose military command in Maryland had placed him in position to enforce his views of how the war should be waged.  He armed African-American soldiers and encouraged their recruitment, despite the fact they technically could not be freed under the Emancipation Proclamation since the state was not in rebellion.  With the elections coming up and great unrest over his actions, Schenck decided to enforce a loyalty oath in order to vote and issued orders for the arrest of disloyal individuals.  Lincoln took the language regarding those arrest out of the General Orders Schenck issued, but let stand the loyalty test.

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