August 1864 was the darkest month of the Civil War. Ulysses S. Grant, once the aggressive attacker, was now besieging Petersburg; William T. Sherman, who had forced his way through the mountains of northwestern Georgia, was slowly slogging his way to Atlanta; Washington, D.C., threatened in July by Confederate forces, needed a strong military commander to clear the Shenandoah Valley of enemies; a peace movement in the North was growing; members of Lincoln's party were scheming to replace him as presidential nominee; and Lincoln himself despaired of reelection. In this August gloom, as Alexander K. McClure, a Pennsylvania politician, recalled, Lincoln said that of all Republican members of the House of Representatives he could name but one in whose personal and political friendship he could absolutely confide. That one man was Isaac N. Arnold of Illinois. A Chicago lawyer and Republican, Arnold was a member of Congress from 1861–65.

Born in Hartwick, Otsego County, New York, on November 30, 1815, Arnold was the son of Sophia M. and Dr. George Washington, natives of Rhode Island. His grandfather had served in the American Revolution. Isaac attended local schools and turned to teaching. While teaching he studied law, first in the offices of Richard Cooper, and later with Judge E. B. Morehouse of Cooperstown. At the age of twenty Arnold was admitted to the bar and became Morehouse's partner.

One early notable case was his defense of an African American named Dacit. Accused of murdering his brother in a jealous rage, a rival for the love of the same woman, Dacit accepted Arnold's volunteered service. Believing Dacit innocent, Arnold won an acquittal. It was the start of a criminal practice in which Arnold won every capital case.

With only a few hundred dollars and some law books, the twenty-one-year-old Arnold in autumn 1836 moved to Chicago. Page  [End Page 39] Opening a law office, he soon formed a partnership with Mahlon D. Ogden. When Chicago was incorporated in 1837, Ogden was elected mayor and Arnold city clerk. Before his term expired Arnold resigned office to attend to his growing legal practice.

Chicago was a small village, and northern Illinois thinly populated. On foot and on horseback, in pursuing his practice, Arnold made dangerous journeys, menaced by Indians. After Lincoln's marriage Arnold recalled with much sentiment dinners and evenings at Lincoln's Springfield home. He praised the excellence of Mary Lincoln's table and nostalgically spoke of the "cordial and hearty Western welcome" of "both host and hostess," "her genial manners" and his "wit and humor, anecdote and unrivalled conversation."[1]

In a congressional eulogy of Stephen A. Douglas in 1861, Arnold reminisced how twenty years earlier "a very remarkable combination of men" practiced law at the same bar in Springfield, gathered "around the pine table of a frontier courthouse." Besides Douglas and Lincoln, they numbered men of future eminence: Senators Lyman Trumbull and Orville H. Browning, Douglas's successor in the Senate; Lincoln's close friend, Senator E. D. Baker of Oregon, killed at the battle of Ball's Bluff in 1861; James A. McDougall, senator from California; James Shields, Mexican war hero and senator from Illinois, Minnesota, and Missouri; and Richard Yates, Civil War governor of Illinois. [2]

Arnold's legal skill earned recognition in 1841, when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld an Illinois stay law preventing foreclosure if land at auction did not fetch two-thirds of its appraised value. The following year he was caught up in the state's excitement over the question of whether Illinois, heavily in debt from expenditures on public works, should repudiate the debt.

Deeply opposed to repudiation and at the time a Democrat, Arnold won election to the state legislature as an antirepudiation champion. Asserting "the legal and moral obligation of the State to pay its debts," he with others developed a plan under which funds were pledged to pay holders of state canal bonds. Aided by Page  [End Page 40] his plan, the Illinois and Michigan Canal was completed. Arnold continued to serve in the state legislature until 1845.

Preferring Martin Van Buren as the Democratic presidential candidate in 1844, he reluctantly gave his support as a presidential elector to the nominee, James K. Polk. Four years later Arnold was a delegate to the Free-Soil Convention that drew up an antislavery platform and nominated Van Buren. Helping organize the new third party, Arnold with others called the Free-Soil Convention at Ottawa, Illinois, which formally launched the antislavery movement in the state. A vigorous stump speaker for the ticket, he helped carry Cook County for the Free-Soilers.

Continuing to practice law, Arnold was outraged by the new Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 that tilted toward slaveholders and withheld court protection from alleged fugitives. As a member of the committee named to formulate resolutions he presented the protest to a Chicago meeting. [3]

Arnold's reputation as a lawyer spread, as did the reputation of Abraham Lincoln. In a law case involving the McCormick Reaper Company, Arnold was the first choice as an Illinois associate by the Philadelphia defense lawyer, George Harding. When Arnold declined, a Springfield substitute identified as "A. Lincoln" was suggested to Harding. [4]

In 1856 the Republican party emerged, inspired by the Kansas-Nebraska Act that repealed the Compromise of 1820 and opened the Louisiana purchase territory to the expansion of slavery. Arnold, a Free-Soiler who became a Republican and was described by Lincoln as "a talented, practiced debater," was now serving in the state legislature.[5]

He threw himself into the Republican cause. After Kansas invaders sacked the town of Lawrence, Kansas, Chicagoans on May 31 gathered in the courthouse. Prominent figures, including Norman B. Judd, Jim Lane, and Arnold, spoke. The crowd heard that 125 citizens stood ready to depart to settle in Kansas. Subscriptions were needed, and within minutes $8,000 had been pledged. Arnold then cried, "Now make it $10,000." Eleven subscribers raised the pledge to that figure, and the crowd, led by a favorite singer, sang Page  [End Page 41] "The Star-Spangled Banner" and added another $5,000 to the purse.[6]

A little over a month later, a large concourse of citizens under the banner of the Kansas Settlers' Society came together in Dear-born Park to hear Arnold and others speak. The speakers demanded that both the state and federal governments protect people migrating to Kansas. Later in the month Arnold went to Buffalo, New York, as a delegate to a "Kansas Convention." Cook County Republicans in October nominated him as state representative on what they described as "a most capital ticket." In the election, Cook County voted in favor of all antislavery nominees, including John C. Frémont, the Republican presidential candidate, while the state went for James Buchanan, the Democratic candidate.[7]

Though deeply involved in politics, Arnold continued to practice law. In 1857, he wrote to Lincoln, requesting him to take a deposition from Norman B. Judd. That same year after the Illinois Central Railroad refused to pay Lincoln's fee for legal services, Lincoln sued for $5,000 and costs. Arnold and other prominent members of the Illinois bar certified in writing that Lincoln's bill was reasonable. The jury promptly awarded the full fee, which Lincoln invested in land.[8]

Arnold and Lincoln continued to be associated in legal matters. In 1859, Arnold requested the firm of Lincoln and Herndon—the latter was Lincoln's partner and future biographer—to serve and return a legal document. The following year Arnold represented a plaintiff in litigation in which Lincoln was among the defense counsel for the defendant, the Illinois Central Railroad.[9]

In American history, 1860 was a turning point. The infant Republican party won the presidency and placed Lincoln, Arnold, and others in federal offices. A Republican nominating convention in February had witnessed a bitter battle between supporters of Arnold and John Wentworth for the Chicago mayoralty. In desperation both men were asked to withdraw, but both refused. In what the Chicago Daily Journal described as "a body blow to Arnold," Page  [End Page 42] Wentworth prevailed. The newspaper consolingly observed that Arnold did not want the nomination and was being saved as the next representative in Congress.

When the Republican national nominating convention met in Chicago, Arnold joined Norman Judd and Joseph Medill, publisher of the Chicago Tribune, in furthering Lincoln's nomination.[10] As the canvass heated up, Arnold spoke in Springfield for "Lincoln and Liberty." [11] Arnold became the nominee for Congress, and both Lincoln and Arnold swept to victory, Arnold with a tiny margin over Lincoln.[12]

With the prospect of the first Republican administration, in December, Arnold, recognizing that many offices were to be filled, recommended to Lincoln that he appoint Nathaniel P. Banks of Massachusetts to his cabinet. Reciting the qualities of the former Know-Nothing, first Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, and then governor of Massachusetts, Arnold insisted that "no man in all New England would be so useful to your administration." Lincoln, however, on the advice of his vice president–elect, Hannibal Hamlin, appointed Gideon Welles of Connecticut as secretary of the navy, observing, "I need a man of Democratic antecedents from New England." When Lincoln arrived in Chicago to confer with Hamlin, he attended St. James Church with Arnold.[13]

Early in 1861 the Republican members of the Illinois delegation convened for the purpose of limiting competition with one another for patronage in overlapping constituencies. Arnold, now congressman from the First District of Illinois, furnished Lincoln a list of recommendations for Illinois appointments as district attorneys and marshals and for some territorial offices.[14]

Hearing that Lincoln intended to appoint the Chicago postmaster without consulting him, Arnold forcefully wrote, "As the immediate representative of the people of Chicago I desire to be heard in regard to the appointment of the Post Master at that place." Lincoln was impaled on the horns of a dilemma. On one horn was Arnold, an old friend and congressman from Chicago, invoking the custom of being consulted on local appointments. On the other was Page  [End Page 43] John Locke Scripps, editor of the Chicago Press and Tribune and author of a campaign biography of Lincoln. [15]

The conflicting claims troubled Lincoln. When Secretary of State William H. Seward introduced Charles Francis Adams to Lincoln as the future U.S. Minister to England, Adams felt insulted by the president who, after some brief complimentary remarks adressing Seward, "turned to the main idea," Adams noted in his diary, "and announced his decision in the Chicago case." Perceiving that the president was about to continue on topics other than the Adams appointment, Seward indicated that Adams should leave. Lincoln had made his decision, fateful for Arnold's political future, in favor of Scripps, who would control broad patronage.[16]

Though disappointed, Arnold remained loyal to Lincoln as well as the Republican party. When the Confederates assaulted Fort Sumter, Arnold telegraphed the president, "Chicago a unit standing by the government at this crisis." As the war developed Arnold took a special interest in Colonel David Hunter, a West Pointer who had accompanied Lincoln on his inaugural trip to Washington. Arnold recommended that Lincoln appoint Hunter as brevet general with "a high position in any expedition the Government may undertake in the Valley of the Mississippi." At the battle of First Bull Run, Arnold served as aide to Hunter, who commanded the Second Division. In early August, accompanied by Senator Orville H. Browning and others, Arnold called on Lincoln and succeeded in getting Hunter appointed major general. [17]

During the special session of Congress in summer 1861, Arnold as the representative from Chicago was called upon to deliver a eulogy on Stephen A. Douglas. He asserted that throughout the Lincoln-Douglas debates the two rivals in their "personal relations [were] cordial and friendly." At the inaugural, Arnold continued, Douglas "whispered in the ear of the President that, come what might in the dark and cloudy future ... he would stand by the Government."[18] Page  [End Page 44]

Arnold became chairman of the select committee on the defenses of the great rivers and lakes. As the regular session drew near he penned a ten-page letter to the president describing the Northwest's exports, military manpower furnished to the Union, the section's grievances against past federal expenditures for the South, and listed three needs. One was for a national armory and naval depot in Chicago to protect the huge, defenseless food distribution center. A second was fortification of the Straits of Mackinaw, vulnerable to a British attack. Third was enlargement of the Illinois and Michigan Canal. [19]

In his annual message, Lincoln recommended that Congress provide fortifications and arms depots at well-selected points. Arnold introduced a motion to refer that section of the message not to the Committee on Military Affairs but to a select committee. For the next three years, Arnold strove to secure presidential and congressional support for an appropriation for a steamboat and gunboat canal linking Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River. He won endorsement by three House committees and secured sanction by the president in the annual message of 1862. Becoming chairman of the committee on roads and canals, Arnold saw the House pass his canal enlargement bill in January 1865. By that time, however, the threat of war with England had faded, the Mississippi River had been opened to the Gulf of Mexico, and the Senate refused its approval.[20]

Arnold, the committed foe of slavery, vigorously endorsed confiscation of enemy property, including slaves. Slavery, he asserted in February 1862, was the cause of the war. It was also the backbone of the rebellion. Congress should divest the rebels of the strength of their four million contrabands. Returning to the subject three months later, he cited constitutional and international law as justification for confiscation of slaves.[21]

In March Arnold earned a lasting place in history books by introducing a bill to prohibit slavery in every place subject to national authority—a Free-Soil objective. Amended by his Illinois colleague Owen Lovejoy to apply only to the territories—a Republican objective—the measure became law on June 19, 1862. Arnold contin- Page  [End Page 45] ued to support the president's seemingly slow transit to emancipation. About to return to Chicago at the congressional session's end, not knowing Lincoln had determined upon proclaiming freedom, Arnold said to his old friend, "In the olden time you mauled rails; now the time has come to maul Rebels." Lincoln replied, "Tell the people of Illinois that I'll do it." [22]

The Cook County Republican Convention in August renominated Arnold for Congress. His political opponents branded him "the abolition candidate." Not unjustified, the phrase, however, suggested a greater degree of radicalism than warranted. Allan Bogue's close analysis of Republican voting on slavery questions in this second session placed Arnold in a group of fifteen, fourth highest group in radicalism, exceeded by thirty-six Republican members.[23]

In November, though the Democrats captured the Illinois legislature (and thereafter passed a resolution condemning the Emancipation Proclamation), Arnold was returned to Congress. He sent a triumphant telegram to Lincoln, "Cook Co. endorses your proclamation by about two thousand majority." [24]

Elsewhere in the North, the Proclamation and Union military reverses, including the disastrous battle of Fredericksburg, drove many Republican congressmen to criticize the president bitterly. The Ohio radical Albert G. Riddle noted that at the end of the March session "there were in the House but two men, capable of being heard, who openly and everywhere, defended" the president—himself and Arnold.[25]

Returning to Washington, Arnold dined with Lincoln late Sunday afternoon, December 7. Gratified by the president's endorsement, he pressed Congress to approve his ship canal bill and, together with Congressman Riddle, called a Chicago ship convention that Vice President Hamlin attended. [26]

Turning his attention to military matters, "as one of your old and true friends," on May 18 Arnold wrote to Lincoln, suggesting either discontinuance of the office of general-in-chief or replacement of the incumbent, General Henry W. Halleck. General Joseph Page  [End Page 46] Hooker's defeat at Chancellorsville with heavy casualties, and General U. S. Grant's prolonged siege of Vicksburg "whatever of disaster ... has befallen our arms," Arnold wrote, the people attribute to Halleck. He went on to charge that Halleck had driven from the public service such popular generals as Benjamin F. Butler, John C. Frémont, and Franz Sigel. [27]

In an unusually tart reply to his old friend Lincoln said, reciting facts, what the people attribute to Halleck was false. He praised Grant's Vicksburg campaign—"one of the most brilliant in the world." Concluding, the president wrote, "without claiming to be your superior, which I do not, my position enables me to understand my duty in all these matters better than you possibly can." He signed the letter, "Your friend, as ever."[28]

In summer 1863, General Ambrose Burnside, already notorious for arresting the Ohio "Copperhead," ex-congressman Clement L. Vallandigham, suppressed the Chicago Times for "disloyal and incendiary sentiments." Indignant and prominent Chicagoans drew up resolutions in protest on June 3. They asked Arnold and Senator Lyman Trumbull to transmit the resolutions to Lincoln. The following day Arnold sought to disengage himself from the resolutions. He telegraphed the president that in sending the dispatch, "I did not intend to express an opinion that the order suppressing the Times should be abrogated." Lincoln rescinded the order and acknowledged that the protest had strongly influenced him.

Days later Arnold informed the president, "Your order revoking it [the Burnside suppression order] has caused much excitement of which I am the special object." He enclosed strongly phrased resolutions protesting Lincoln's order passed by the German League Club of Chicago. "Time," he added, "will correct these extravagances." His prophecy would prove wrong. [29]

Ever serving his constituents, in October, on behalf of the ladies in charge of the Northwestern Sanitary Fair, Arnold asked Lincoln to donate the original manuscript of the Emancipation Proclamation for auction at the fair. Arnold himself had been appointed to the subcommittee of the U.S. Sanitary Commission. Prodded by a telegram a week later Lincoln made the donation; the manuscript was destroyed in the great Chicago fire. [30] Page  [End Page 47]

Saying "the people are looking to your message with the most intense solicitude," on December 4, 1863, Arnold urged that the annual message include "such decided words that so far as you have the power, its [slavery's] days are numbered."Whether or not Arnold influenced Lincoln is impossible to say. In a proclamation on reconstruction accompanying the message, the president, after reviewing the laws on confiscating slaves and his own emancipation edict, required rebel states in reconstructing themselves to "recognize and declare their [the freed people's] permanent freedom." [31]

Two days after the message, Arnold spent an evening with Lincoln, relished "a magnificent law story," and discussed comments on the annual message. He was doubtless pleased to hear the president's firm statement that Kentucky's treatment of escaped freed-men as slaves must be ended. [32]

Four days later, Arnold introduced a bill prohibiting reenslavement of any person declared free by the Emancipation Proclamation. Referred to the Committee on the Judiciary it was not enacted into law.[33]

Side by side with presidential reconstruction measures moved a bill for congressional reconstruction. Thrust forward by two Radicals, Senator Benjamin Wade of Ohio and Representative Henry Winter Davis of Maryland, it challenged the president's authority to reconstruct the Union and emancipate slaves. In response Arnold urged, let Congress confirm the executive proclamation, broaden its reach to the parts of the Confederate states excepted from the proclamation, and provide for amending the Constitution to prohibit slavery throughout the Union.

Arnold's speech sought shared powers between the executive and legislative branches. The president as commander-in-chief had a duty to suppress rebellion, maintain the Union, and carry out the guarantee to each state of a republican form of government, when necessary by force. The Congress had full authority to make all laws necessary and proper to carry into full execution the war powers. The two branches of government could act together to free the slaves. The guarantee clause of the Constitution gave Congress the power to make good that guarantee, he argued.

Holding this view, as did many other congressmen, Arnold Page  [End Page 48] joined the majority in the 74 to 66 vote for the Wade-Davis bill. He was, however, one of twenty-two Republicans who voted against a radical preamble devised by Thaddeus Stevens. [34]

Pursuing his abolition aim, Arnold on February 15, 1864, introduced a resolution to abolish slavery forever throughout the United States. When the joint resolution, approved by the Senate, returned to the House, Arnold said passage "will strike the rebellion at the heart." The House failed to muster the two-thirds majority required by the Constitution. Endorsement both by the party platform and Lincoln and victory in the 1864 election provided an impetus that affected House approval of the Thirteenth Amendment nearly a year after Arnold had initially proposed the resolution.[35]

Reelecting Lincoln and himself stood as major goals for Arnold in 1864. Early in the year he bestirred himself to see that the president be returned to the presidency. In mid-March he delivered a speech in Congress that wove together three themes: "Reconstruction: Liberty the cornerstone and Lincoln the architect." Printed as a campaign document by the Union Executive Congressional Committee, the speech, Arnold told Lincoln, became "in greater demand than any other document published by them."

Addressing the rift between the executive and legislature over Reconstruction, Arnold praised the amnesty proclamation and portrayed it as an invitation to Congress to cooperate in restoring national unity. Looking at his then-pending abolition resolution, he urged, "We can have no national Union and harmony without freedom." Defending the president against "studied and persistent efforts ... to disparage" him, he upheld Lincoln's suspension of civil liberties, the emancipation proclamation, and employment of African Americans as soldiers. In contrast to the Confederate cry, "Anybody but Lincoln," Arnold declaimed, let us reply,"Nobody but Lincoln." [36]

Lincoln opponents sought to postpone the nominating convention, hoping war weariness would make renomination impossible. Arnold vigorously fought the move in a letter to the Evening Post that contributed to defeat the schemers. [37] Page  [End Page 49]

Lincoln's chances of reelection swirled uncertainly about Union victory at arms. Grant's huge losses in the Wilderness Campaign darkened the prospect of victory at the polls. Arnold and Lincoln grieved at the evidence of heavy casualties. At twilight on May 13, Lincoln stopped his carriage to talk with Arnold. As wounded soldiers passed by, Lincoln, disheartened, said, "I cannot bear it. This suffering, this loss of life is dreadful." [38]

The next night Arnold and others spoke for his party, now called the Union party, at the Cooper Institute in New York City. When matters worsened, Arnold on July 13 from Chicago telegraphed the president, "The people of the northwest earnestly request that half a million men may be called to the field. Ills is ready to fill her quota immediately." [39] Five days later Lincoln called for half a million volunteers, any insufficiency to be made up by a draft.

Arnold's own reelection was jeopardized by three challenges. One sprang from his alleged role the preceding year in the revocation of General Burnside's order suppressing the Chicago Times. A second was a charge that Lincoln was "indifferent or more than indifferent about my re-election," as Arnold wrote the president. Though it had renominated Arnold, the Cook County Republican Convention had not acted on a resolution to endorse Arnold's "able and patriotic conduct." Perhaps prompted by Arnold, a majority of the convention delegates sent him an assurance of support. On the same day, Arnold introduced a resolution that the House Committee on the Judiciary inquire whether legislation was necessary to punish those who provide information to the press that would aid and comfort the rebels. [40]

In response to an appeal from an anguished Arnold, Lincoln wrote a letter that on July 14 Arnold read to a party gathering. The letter declared that Arnold had sent the protest on behalf of his constituents and that it did not express his own opinion that the Burnside order should be abrogated. Lincoln made public assurance he was not indifferent to Arnold's reelection, saying, "Your devotion to ... the Administration cannot be questioned."[41] Page  [End Page 50]

As the historian James G. Randall observed, "In terms of the purposes of President Lincoln it was no small matter to lose the support of such a man as Arnold." It was in the dark month of August, when Lincoln penned a gloomy memorandum that he himself probably would not be reelected, that he divulged his belief that of all the Republican members of the House, Arnold was the only one in whose friendship he could absolutely confide. [42]

Amid these threats to his reelection, Arnold learned that the Chicago postmaster, John L. Scripps, whose appointment he had opposed, was about to become his rival as a candidate for Congress and was using his large patronage to gain support. Arnold relayed to Lincoln a letter written by a post office employee who said he feared for his job if he voted for Arnold. Scripps, Arnold complained, was employing his patronage "of over one hundred appointees" to "crush" Arnold's candidacy. Two days later Lincoln wrote Scripps a note to be delivered by Arnold, instructing him "not to constrain any of your subordinates." Arnold reported that Scripps had received Lincoln's note "in a storm of rage & passion." Scripps asked Lincoln to give to other heads of offices the same instructions given him. Lincoln replied that his note to Scripps was copied from an identical letter to another postmaster.[43]

Fighting for his political life, Arnold sent a desperate appeal to Lincoln on August 23. He declared that, since Lincoln's last call for troops, the Illinois Staats-zeitung had been attacking the enrollment law and especially Arnold. After Arnold sent copies of the attacks to Washington, the secretary of war had dropped the German American paper from receiving War Department advertising. In retaliation, the editors threatened that if Arnold was nominated they would not support him. Arnold appealed to Lincoln not to renew advertising to the paper until after the nominating convention had been held. [44]

Arnold was doubtless conscious that the German American vote figured largely in his constituency. By 1860, German Americans comprised more than a quarter of the adult male population in Page  [End Page 51] twenty-five of the twenty-eight townships in Cook County outside Chicago.[45]

Before the convention met, Arnold withdrew from the contest. He explained to his friend Lincoln that the Germans had been divided on his candidacy between the "antis" and "ins." The antis most violently opposed him; so too did the post office clerks and the Chicago Tribune. The president's call for 500,000 men brought fresh denunciations of Arnold, and the editor of the German paper announced that should Arnold be nominated, he would abandon Lincoln and "go for Fremont," who had been nominated by a third party made up largely of German Americans. "Under the circumstances," Arnold confided, "although the nomination was in my power I declined." [46]

With his term about to expire, Arnold, all the while speaking in the northwestern states on behalf of Lincoln and his party, turned to Lincoln for an appointment. Anticipating that Gustave Koerner, a fellow Illinoisan, might give up the Spanish mission, he requested that post. When in November Edward Bates resigned as attorney general, Arnold asked to be named assistant attorney general. He explained he was preparing memoirs of the Lincoln administration and wanted to observe, as he put it, "the close of the drama." He quickly followed this request with a disclaimer that he wanted to be attorney general. [47]

Neither of these requests bore fruit. Increasingly anxious, in mid-December Arnold wrote a letter, almost fawning in tone, reminding Lincoln of his loyalty from the beginning of the administration to the present. Meanwhile, he continued to support the president's efforts to persuade the House to pass the pending Thirteenth Amendment. When in a dramatic session the House gave its endorsement, Arnold and other close friends of the president repaired to the executive mansion to celebrate their joint success.[48]

Arnold's quest for an appointment continued. When the secretary of the interior resigned, friends pressed Arnold's name on Lincoln. The post, however, went to James Harlan, head of the congressional campaign committee. As the session was expiring, Lincoln and Arnold discussed possible positions; and on February Page  [End Page 52] 28, 1865, Arnold agreed that he would gratefully accept the office of solicitor of the Court of Claims. That appointment was not made, however, and after conferring again, Lincoln offered and Arnold accepted the position of auditor for the Treasury Department. The matter was not entirely closed. A week later Lincoln asked Secretary of the Navy Welles whether he would accept Arnold as solicitor of the Navy Department. Welles declined, preferring to keep the incumbent. Arnold's appointment in the Treasury Department became effective April 29. [49]

By that date, he had lost his patron and old friend. On the night of his assassination, Lincoln, while entering his carriage to go to Ford's Theatre, had a brief conversation with his new appointee. Disappointed in Lincoln's successor, Arnold resigned September 29, 1866. By early 1866 he was crying for Andrew Johnson's impeachment. Never again holding public office, he was active in 1871 in urging that the repeal of a law allowing a husband to commit his wife to an insane asylum merely with the consent of the superintendent. [50]

His federal job afforded him time to write, and after resigning he returned to Chicago to complete his book. Writing rapidly, he had the work ready for the publisher at the end of 1866. Entitled A History of Abraham Lincoln and the Overthrow of Slavery, it bore a heavy freight of general history. It stressed the theme suggested in the title and did not convey much research. Arnold included some of his own views on Andrew Johnson. As he watched the developing split between the president and Congress, he expressed regret that a plan of Reconstruction had not become law before Johnson acceded to the presidency. He further declared that "there would have been no division between Congress" and Lincoln over Reconstruction. The book enjoyed three printings (1866, 1867, 1871).[51]

During the next several years Arnold devoted much of his attention to Lincoln subjects. "I am again in the practice of my profession & happier, than when in Congress," he wrote a friend. He spent time giving lectures and collecting Lincoln material. He secured from General William T. Sherman a valuable letter of recol- Page  [End Page 53] lection about the City Point, Virginia, conference held by Lincoln, Sherman, Grant, and Admiral David D. Porter. Robert Todd Lincoln, the president's eldest son, sent him some books that had belonged to his father. [52]

The lectures and writings of two other Lincoln contemporaries, William H. Herndon, Lincoln's law partner, and Ward Hill Lamon, a Lincoln intimate, jarred the filiopietistic Arnold. Herndon's account of Lincoln's supposed love affair with Ann Rutledge provoked Arnold's reproach to Herndon, "I know you could not intentionally do him injustice." Lamon's insider's biography of Lincoln caused Arnold to exclaim, "It seems to me [the book] is filled up with trivial and insignificant matters which only prurient curiosity would care for." [53]

Arnold determined to write a new biography, and his Life of Lincoln appeared in 1884. As a biographer he possessed advantages over Herndon, having known his subject "from early manhood to his death, on the stump, in private and in public life." After Lincoln left Springfield for his inauguration, Herndon never saw him again and had virtually no correspondence with him as president. In Springfield, Herndon knew Lincoln best as lawyer and colleague in their law office. He was excluded from Lincoln's home. Despite their differences, Arnold turned to Herndon for information about Lincoln, sending him numerous questions.

Arnold collected material through a wide correspondence and drew on his memory and experience incorporating his four years in Congress while Lincoln was president. The biographer knew the congressmen, critics, and colleagues. He visited Lincoln in the executive mansion and the summer retreat. More balanced in judgment than Herndon and Lamon, and more scholarly in outlook, he avoided the extremes of the two earlier biographers. Arnold's own account was admiring, even eulogistic at times, and informed with a deep appreciation of Lincoln's ordeal as president. Both Herndon and Lamon were prone to shock readers. Arnold devoted about three-fifths of his book to Lincoln the president. The biography stressed Lincoln the politician, emancipator, commander-in-chief, and human being. Proceeding chronologically, Arnold ably narrated Lincoln's presidency from first-hand experience. Page  [End Page 54]

Arnold dismissed as "gossip and imagination" the belief that the Ann Rutledge romance "cast a shadow over his [Lincoln's] whole after life" (12). Concerning Mary Todd Lincoln, Arnold wrote a strong defense against the press's abuse of her. Moreover, having attended church with Lincoln and having read his writings with their frequent references to religion, he defended the president against the charge that he lacked religious feeling. "In the great fundamental principles of religion, of the Christian religion, he was a firm believer" (447).

In examining the relationship between Lincoln and General George B. McClellan, Arnold praised "the patience and forbearance of the president" (284). "History will censure him for adhering to the General too long rather than for any failure to support him" (300). Arnold wrote with great admiration for General Ulysses S. Grant. From the time Grant became lieutenant general in March 1864, there was "energy in attack, rapidity in pursuit, and everywhere a fit man in the fittest place for him," Arnold crisply summarized (372). Arnold omitted his own complaining letter that asked for Halleck's removal and made only an indirect reference to the Scripps rivalry in 1864.

Historians and biographers still turn to Arnold's life of Lincoln for information on Lincoln and patronage, evaluation of congressional support for the president, suppression of the Chicago Times, the legislative history of emancipation, the 1864 election, and Reconstruction. Writers cite Arnold's vignettes of Lincoln suffering after learning of the casualties in the Wilderness and of departing the executive mansion on April 14, 1865, for Ford's Theatre.

In examining Lincoln the emancipator, the present-day scholar could fault Arnold for not making clear that Lincoln was not an abolitionist, was willing to uphold the Fugitive Slave Law, but revise it, was slow in joining the antislavery Republican party, sanctioned a proposed constitutional amendment guaranteeing slavery in the states, and that the Emancipation Proclamation freed only rebels' slaves, exempting those in regions and states under federal control.

Moreover, though correcting errors about Lincoln, the book was not free from errors. David Davis was never vice president of the United States (57); the United States purchased Florida in 1819, not 1809; and the United States never acquired lower California (106).

Arnold's biography made a deep impression on contemporaries. The Spectator of London judged, "Mr. Arnold has done his work in a manner worthy of his subject." Writing in the Dial the critic Page  [End Page 55] and noted librarian W. F. Poole declared, "Of the lives of President Lincoln which have thus far appeared, Mr. Arnold's is the fullest and most satisfactory." A more recent appraisal by Mark E. Neely Jr. pronounced the book "still valuable for Arnold's first-hand views of the Lincoln administration." A fuller analysis of the book's contents appears in the introduction to its 1994 printing.[54]

Isaac Newton Arnold is perhaps best remembered as an antislavery congressman, friend of Lincoln, and author of a life of Abraham Lincoln that, as David M. Potter observed, "remains one of the best of the early biographies." No substantial biography of Arnold himself exists; many of his papers were apparently destroyed in the disastrous Chicago fire. He, however, stands as a significant figure in the history of Chicago, of Illinois, and of the United States.[55]

He figured importantly in the Lincoln administration, adding his force loyally to promote Lincoln's policies, sometimes ahead of the president, supporting the second confiscation act, pushing emancipation forward in the territories and nation, defending the president (sometimes almost in isolation) against critics in his own party, aiding in Lincoln's reelection, and seeking conciliation between Congress and president on Reconstruction policy. Page  [End Page 56]


  1. Allen Johnson and Dumas Malone, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, 20 vols. and supplements (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1928–), 1:368–69 (hereinafter cited as DAB); Mark E. Neely Jr., ed., The Abraham Lincoln Encyclopedia (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1982), 8–9; Chicago Tribune, Apr. 4, 1884; Biographical Directory of the American Congress, 1774–1971 (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1971), 525. return to text
  2. Congressional Globe, 37th Cong., lst sess., 37, pt. 1 (hereinafter cited as CG). return to text
  3. DAB, 1:368–69; A. T. Andreas, History of Chicago, 3 vols. (1884–86; New York: Arno Press, 1975); Chicago Tribune, Apr. 4, 1884; Bessie L. Pierce, A History of Chicago, 3 vols. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1937–57), 2:197n. return to text
  4. Albert J. Beveridge, Abraham Lincoln, 1809–1858, 2 vols. (Cambridge, Mass.: Houghton Mifflin, 1928), 1:577–78. return to text
  5. Neely, Encyclopedia, 8. return to text
  6. Chicago Tribune, June 1, 2, and 3, 1856; Allan Nevins, Ordeal of the Union, 2 vols. (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1947), 2:479; Andreas, History, 1:611–12. return to text
  7. Pierce, History, 2:32, 219–21. return to text
  8. Earl Schenck Miers, and William E. Baringer (vols. 1 and 2); C. Percy Powell (vol. 3), eds., Lincoln Day by Day: A Chronology, 1809–1865, 3 vols. (Washington, D.C.: Lincoln Sesquicentennial Commission, 1960), 2:187–88 (hereinafter cited as Day by Day). return to text
  9. Arnold to Lincoln, May 16, 1859, Robert Todd Lincoln Papers, Library of Congress (hereinafter cited as RTLP); Beveridge, Lincoln, 2:598. return to text
  10. Pierce, History, 2:239, 244. return to text
  11. Illinois State Journal (Springfield, Ill.), Sept. 21, 1860. I am indebted to Kenneth Winkle for this citation. return to text
  12. Andreas, History, 1:436. return to text
  13. Arnold to Lincoln, Dec. 29, 1860, RTLP; Day by Day, 2:299. return to text
  14. Allan G. Bogue, The Congressman's Civil War (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 33. return to text
  15. Arnold to Lincoln, Mar. 21, 1861, RTLP. return to text
  16. Lincoln Lore, Jan. 1977, 2. return to text
  17. Arnold to Lincoln, Apr. 13 and June 3, 1861, RTLP; Biographical Directory, 525; Orville Hickman Browning, The Diary of Orville Hickman Browning, ed. Theodore Pease and James G. Randall, 3 vols. (Springfield: Illinois State Historical Society, 1925–33), 1:493; War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, 128 vols. (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1880–1901), series 1, 2:382–83. return to text
  18. CG, 37th Cong., 1st sess., 37, pt. 1. return to text
  19. Arnold to Lincoln, Nov. 16 and 25, 1861, RTLP. return to text
  20. Roy P. Basler, ed., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, 9 vols. (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1955), 5:37; CG, 37th Cong., 2d sess., 21, pt. 4, 56:3024–27, 3033; Arnold to Lincoln, Nov. 20, 1862, RTLP; CG, 37th Cong., 3d sess., pt. 1, 463–65. return to text
  21. CG, 37th Cong., 2d sess., pt. 1, 858–59; appendix, 182. return to text
  22. Ibid., 1340; appendix 364, 2042; Chicago Tribune, July 31, 1862. return to text
  23. Pierce, History, 2:267; Chicago Tribune, Aug. 14, 1862; Bogue, Congressman's Civil War, 136–39. return to text
  24. Arnold to Lincoln, Nov. 5, 1862, RTLP. return to text
  25. A. G. Riddle, Recollections of War Times: Reminiscences of Men and Events in Washington, 1860–1865 (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1895), 218. return to text
  26. Browning, Diary, 1:592;CG, 37th Cong., 3d sess., pt. 1, 463–465; Riddle, Recollections, 232–33. return to text
  27. Arnold to Lincoln, May 18, 1863, Chicago Historical Society, Box 11, RTLP. return to text
  28. Lincoln to Arnold, May 26, 1863, Collected Works, 6:230–31. return to text
  29. Trumbull and Arnold to Lincoln, June 3, 1863; Arnold to Lincoln, June 4, 5, and 9, 1863, RTLP. return to text
  30. Arnold to Lincoln, Oct. 13 and 21, 1863, RTLP. return to text
  31. Arnold to Lincoln, Dec. 4, 1863, RTLP; Collected Works, 7:53–56 (quotation from 55). return to text
  32. Day by Day, 3:226 (Dec. 10, 1863); Tyler Dennet, ed., Lincoln and the Civil War in the Diaries and Letters of John Hay (New York: Da Capo Press, 1988), 134–36. return to text
  33. CG, 38th Cong., 1st sess., pt. 1, 20. return to text
  34. CG, 38th Cong., 1st sess., pt. 1, 113–17 (Jan. 1864 speech), pt. 3, 2107–8 (May 4, 1864, vote). return to text
  35. CG, 38th Cong., 1st sess., pt. 1, 659 (Feb. 15, 1864), pt. 4, 2989 (June 15, 1864). return to text
  36. CG, 38th Cong., 1st sess., pt. 2, 1196–1204 (Mar. 19, 1864); Arnold to Lincoln, Dec. 12, 1864, RTLP. return to text
  37. Isaac N. Arnold, The Life of Abraham Lincoln (1884; Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1994), 387–89; Neely, Encyclopedia, 9. return to text
  38. Arnold, Life, 375. return to text
  39. Allan Nevins, The Ordeal of the Union, 8 vols. (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1947–71), 8:29; Arnold to Lincoln, July 13, 1864, Arnold Papers, Chicago Historical Society. return to text
  40. Arnold to Lincoln, Apr. 24 and May 23, 1864, RTLP; Edward McPherson, ed., The Political History of the United States during the Great Rebellion, 2d ed. (Washington, D.C.: Philp and Solomons, 1865), 194. return to text
  41. Lincoln to Arnold, May 25, 1864, RTLP. return to text
  42. James G. Randall, Lincoln the President, 4 vols. (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1945–55), 3:130–31; Alexander K. McClure, Abraham Lincoln and Men of War Times, 4th ed. (Philadelphia: Times, 1892), 125–26. return to text
  43. A. Kenyon to Arnold, June 27, 1864; Arnold to Lincoln, July 2, 1864; Lincoln to Scripps, July 4, 1864; Arnold to Lincoln, July 18, 1864, RTLP. return to text
  44. Arnold to Lincoln, Aug. 23, 1864, RTLP. return to text
  45. J. M. Berquist, "The Political Attitudes of German Immigrants of Illinois, 1848–1860" (Ph.D. dissertation, Northwestern University, 1966), 353. return to text
  46. Arnold to Lincoln, Sept. 3, 1864, RTLP. return to text
  47. Arnold to Lincoln, Sept. 7 and Oct. 24, 1864; Arnold to John P. Usher, Nov. 28, 1864; Arnold to Lincoln, Dec. 1, 1864, RTLP. return to text
  48. Arnold to Lincoln, Dec. 12, 1864, RTLP; Arnold, Life, 365–66. return to text
  49. Day by Day, 3:316 (Feb. 27, 1865); Arnold to Lincoln, Feb. 28, 1865, RTLP; Day by Day, 3:320 (Mar. 12, 1865); Howard K. Beale and Alan Brownsword, eds., Diary of Gideon Welles, 3 vols. (New York: W. W. Norton, 1960), 2:262. return to text
  50. Arnold, Life, 430–31; Pierce, History, 2:291–92, 457. return to text
  51. Arnold, The History of Abraham Lincoln and the Overthrow of Slavery (Chicago: Clarke, 1866), 474–75, 655. return to text
  52. Arnold to Pomeroy, Aug. 6, 1867; to Robert T. Lincoln, Nov. 9, 1871, Arnold Papers, Chicago Historical Society. return to text
  53. Quoted in Benjamin P. Thomas, Portrait for Posterity: Lincoln and His Biographers (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1947), 18–19, 60–61. return to text
  54. Arnold, Life, with an introduction by James A. Rawley (1994 reprint). return to text
  55. David M. Potter, The Lincoln Theme and American National Historiography (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1948), 9. return to text