S. P. Chase



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President doesn't tell him about state of the war because administration is departmental; War Department tells him only what is "thought fit to impart" so he can't give McIlvaine any information; discusses his notion of an administration




letter, McIlvaine, Chase, Civil War



Washington Jany 25, 1863

My dear Bishop,

Your letter should have been answered at once, but I need not apologize to you for delay; for you know my hindrances. Ever since writing this initial sentence I have been interrupted half a dozen times by half a dozen callers on various business.

It is impossible for me to express my anxiety concerning the state of the country; but my ignorance of the real condition except so far as my own department is concerned is almost as great as my anxiety. Our Administration, under the President’s system, if system it be, is Departmental. There are some important matters which the president reserves substantially to himself—for example those relating to slavery for the most part. He also not unfrequently determines important questions concerning the War; and decides on many appointments. Whatever he then does, he does generally, though not always, without consultation so far as I am advised. If there is consultation except in a few cases I do not know it. With these reservations, I repeat, the Administration is Departmental: that is to say I administer the Treasury, Mr. Blair the Post Office Mr. Welles the Navy & so on. The President sustains me kindly and cordially when I ask him; but, in general, does not interfere at all or even care to be informed as to the line of action I adopt. What is true of the President is true of other Heads of the Departments as a general statement. And what is true of my Department is true of all, except that the President naturally takes most interest in the progress of the War & of course in the action of the War Department and also, though not so marked, in that of the Navy Department. The Heads of Departments are not expected to exert much, if any, influence, on the action of any other Departments than their own: of course, they do not expect to be consulted, except very rarely, in relation to any important matter involved in such action. Not being consulted, they are not informed. I can get more or less information touching the war by going to the War & Navy Departments & making particular enquiries. I receive what it is thought fit to impart and am left in ignorance of what it is thought fit to withhold. How much is imparted—how much withheld I can only judge by developments. Such information under such circumstances is not pleasant, nor very profitable. So I content myself generally with what I learn from the public prints.

I see it for example announced this morning that Gen Burnside is relieved from command & Gen. Hooker appointed in his stead. I had heard nothing from any body in the Administration indicating that such event was likely to take place.

Of course I can give you no information. I try to administer my department as well as I can; but feel that I am of little use outside of it; and that to be considered as a responsible member of administration is as unjust as it is natural. If my service here is useful I shall thank God who enables me to be useful; but it is far from agreeable or, in my judgment, creditable to be the Head of a Department under existing circumstances

My notion of an administration is, a President supreme under the Constitution & Laws; Heads of Departments capable & faithful in their several administrations, and fit to be counsellors of the Chief Magistrate; measures gravely & fully considered by all & determined on after such consideration by the Head & then vigorously executed by concert of all—light & heat focalized. I may be all wrong, in this.

But I must stop. I send the reports & some other pamphlets.

Affy & faithfully your friend
S P Chase

Rt. Rv. C.P. McIlvaine

Letter to Charles Petit McIlvaine



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