Vote-buying in Congress for consititutional amendment?
July 10, 2016 3:15 PM   Subscribe

In a recent Lincoln biography, Sidney Blumenthal asserts that William Henry Seward (Lincoln's Sec'y of State) used "lobbyists and slush funds" to help pass the Thirteenth Amendment. What have you read on the point?

Blumenthal offers no notes on the source of this information. Being no slouch as a political operative himself, Blumenthal is likely to know it when he sees it. Are you familiar with this story from other sources?
posted by John Borrowman to Law & Government (7 answers total)
In the movie Lincoln from a few years ago, which was based on Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, James Spader and Tim Blake Nelson play lobbyists that bribe Democrats with federal jobs to vote for the 13th Amendment.
posted by donajo at 5:48 PM on July 10, 2016

Not directly related to Seward, but after the amendment passing the Senate:
He [Lincoln] assigned two of his allies in the House to deliver the votes of two wavering members. When they asked how to proceed, he said, "I am President of the United States, clothed with great power. The abolition of slavery by constitutional provision settles the fate, for all coming time, not only of the millions now in bondage, but of unborn millions to come--a measure of such importance that those two votes must be procured. I leave it to you to determine how it shall be done; but remember that I am President of the United States, clothed with immense power, and I expect you to procure those votes" It was clear to his emissaries that his powers extended to plum assignments, pardons, campaign contributions, and government jobs for relatives and friends of faithful members. Brooklyn Demorat Moses F. Odell agreed to change his votes; when the session ended, he was given the lucrative post of navy agent in New York. Elizabeth Blair noted that her father has successfully joined in the lobbying effort, persuading several members.
Team of Rivals, Doris Kearns Goodwin, p 687.

Insofar as Seward is concerned, I have no direct references (or recollections specific to the 13th amendment), but if I were to dig deeper, one of the first places I would look (aside from Seward biographies) is at the relationship of Seward and Thurlow Weed. Weed was close to Seward and was a fixer at first in New York and later more broadly in the new-ish Republican party. If there was arm-twisting going on, Weed was often involved.
posted by CincyBlues at 6:01 PM on July 10, 2016

On preview, donajo and I are referring to the same episode.
posted by CincyBlues at 6:02 PM on July 10, 2016

Best answer: It appears in "Team of Rivals" (and in a dramatized, fictionalized form in Spielberg's Lincoln), starting around page 685. Lincoln and Seward were definitely offering patronage jobs to lame-duck Congressmen who were willing to vote for the amendment -- but patronage jobs were still part of the normal landscape of the country and not yet considered seriously ethically problematic. Offering them to people outside your own party was notable, but not corrupt per se.

Goodwin relies heavily on the papers of Nicolay and Hay, who were Lincoln's secretaries and had exclusive access to his papers for several decades after his death; I assume in addition to the actual records of patronage placements of lame-duck Democrats (who voted in favor of the Amendment), she sources to Nicolay and Hay. (Obviously I don't have the book handy or I'd check for you!)

Seward worked with what today we'd call lobbyists from New York throughout his political career, including "Boss Weed" (Thurlow Weed); his dealings with them appear in just about every biography of him. Again, to a large degree it was a function of how parties worked back then, and how patronage was expected, and how personal relationships were considered very important in negotiating.

I have seen the direct vote-buying and slush fund accusations repeated (including by a congressman in a much later floor speech who was under fire for having voted to keep slavery intact; he claimed he was offered the money and so HAD TO vote against freeing the slaves because otherwise he'd be a bought man and also peace would come quicker without freedom and also he knew it had the votes to pass, so take it with the appropriate grain of salt), but AFAIK those lack clear documentary evidence. Lots of implication and reference but no direct testimony from anyone involved in the alleged process, except a few scattered self-justifying congressmen on the wrong side of history with no evidence to offer but their own claims. Plenty of implication, though -- like, Thaddeus Stevens famously commented that "The greatest measure of the nineteenth century was passed by corruption, aided and abetted by the purest man in America," which Spielberg quotes directly in Lincoln, but Stevens was frequently kind-of a dick and had an ear for the quotable.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:04 PM on July 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

Also, Blair was a significant background player during Lincoln's administration. In an earlier incarnation, he was a member of Jackson's "Kitchen Cabinet."

It's fair to say that Lincoln wanted a "full press" on the amendment and that a number of his supporters provided it. I, too would be interested in more specifics with regard to Seward.
posted by CincyBlues at 6:05 PM on July 10, 2016

Just checked the sourcing in my copy and Goodwin sources the passage I quoted to John B. Alley, Reminiscences of Abraham Lincoln, [ed. Rice] 1886 edition, pp 585-86.
posted by CincyBlues at 6:12 PM on July 10, 2016

Response by poster: Thank you all. Have read Team of Rivals and seen Lincoln, the movie. Had forgotten the episodes noted above. Puzzling why Blumenthal did not credit Kearns in his notes.
posted by John Borrowman at 7:17 AM on July 11, 2016

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