NOTHING GAINS THEIR TRUST AND LOYALTY MORE.
The first example of this advice that Abraham Lincoln might offer was painfully obvious: The Union Army defended Washington D.C., Pennsylvania, and Maryland from General Robert E. Lee’s incursions into the North.
That Lincoln, through the Union Army, was able to successfully protect Union soil added a great sense of security to Northern citizens who were in despair of the South actually conquering them instead of vice versa.
Despite their want for offensive success, Generals George McClellan and George Meade proved to be very good when it came to defense of their own territory, and their respective victories at Antietam, Maryland and Gettysburg, Pennsylvania were no small thing to the people of the Union.
On a personal level, no incident better illustrates Lincoln defending his people than the situation with the so-called “Committee of Nine,” which grew out of frustration from the disappointing mid-term elections of 1862.
A stagnant war, as well as the controversial Emancipation Proclamation and suspension of habeas corpus almost cost the Republicans their majority in Congress, and, of course, people look for a scapegoat in tough times.
As stated in the post, “Get What You Can Out of Your Troublemakers,” Chase had been feeding his abolitionist Republican friends in the Senate a steady diet of lies about Seward’s undue influence on Lincoln; practically blaming him for all of the administration’s political and military failures of the first two years.
A group of nine senators stirred into frenzy, initially calling for Seward’s removal, but later modifying the language to a “reconstructing of the cabinet.”
One of Seward’s allies in Congress notified him about the proclamation that would be directed toward the President, so the Secretary of State submitted his resignation to Lincoln, realizing the potential for embarrassment to the administration.
The President was stunned and saddened at first, as Seward had become his closest, most trustworthy advisor.
Lincoln did not immediately accept it.
Instead, he met with the so-called “Committee of Nine” senators and heard them out – then smelled a rotten egg, a rat, or something bad all the way over in Denmark.
So, he then asked the senators to meet with his entire cabinet without Seward, which mortified Chase, as it was his back-stabbing comments that had inflamed the situation in the first place.
At the meeting, the composition of the cabinet was defended fiercely by the members themselves.
They talked about how well the cabinet worked together, trusted each other’s judgments, respected each other’s talents, and while often times disagreeing, eventually acquiesced to the expertise of others or the President.
In other words, the members told the senators that they were very functional and, furthermore, the senators had no right to interfere with the executive’s cabinet.
As to Lincoln’s management, the cabinet members reiterated that the President always made the final decision, even in cases where the majority of the cabinet would be against it.
For example, if it had been up to the cabinet, McClellan would have been fired a long time before.
Even Chase was forced to admit much of it was true in front of the very people he had lied to.
Seward, in the meantime, had his resignation “filed” away by the President and was soon back to work.
Whether Lincoln knew for a fact that Chase was behind this particular incident, there is no clean evidence, but when you consider today how many times we have all heard how everybody knows everybody else in Washington (and D.C. was a much smaller city back then), it is probable that Lincoln knew where the trouble started.
In Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book, A Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, she analyzes how the cabinet reacted to the inquisition :
“Like family members who would fault one another within the confines of their own household while fiercely rejecting external criticism, the cabinet put aside its quarrel with Seward, based largely on jealousy over his intimacy with Lincoln, to resist the interference of outsiders.”[i]
Lincoln himself nurtured this familial way by protecting his subordinates, like a father resisting the influence of outsiders on his quarreling children.
While Chase was covertly chasing the presidency in the spring of 1864, one of his department employees accused Frank Blair, Postmaster General Montgomery Blair’s brother, of illegally obtaining $8,000 worth of liquor and tobacco while serving under General William Tecumseh Sherman.
Whether the motive was discrediting the Lincoln Administration or a personal vendetta against Blair’s family (all of whom were supporters of Abraham Lincoln), Frank, who was also a member of Congress, took the floor of the House of Representatives, and called out Chase, much to the delight of Democrats who envisioned a serious rupture in the Republican Party between the Conservatives and the Radicals.
After Blair “accused Chase of corruption, treachery against Lincoln, lack of patriotism, and sordid ambition for the presidency,” friends of Chase threatened that unless Lincoln repudiated Blair publicly, Chase would be “honor-bound” to resign. [ii]
Lincoln told them that he would do nothing to Blair or Chase – leaving both sides to privately decide who was right and who was wrong, while not allowing either party’s supporters the public satisfaction they desired.
The representatives relented and the incident was soon forgotten, yet it was this type of reaction by Lincoln that solidified the loyalty of his cabinet members.
In the Presidential campaign of 1864, former Republican John C. Frémont was running a third-party candidacy; threatening to split the Republican vote, thereby giving McClellan, the Democratic candidate, a real chance at victory.
Frémont agreed to back out of the race if Lincoln would do him a favor: fire Montgomery Blair (presumably for the grudge Frémont still held against the Blair brothers for being instrumental in his removal as general earlier in the war).
Understanding Lincoln’s predicament, Blair resigned, yet then proceeded to campaign for Lincoln’s reelection.
In Team of Rivals, Goodwin illustrates the affection Blair had for his boss:
“Monty (Blair) would never forget that Lincoln had stood by him after the mortifying publication of his private letter to Frémont three years earlier, which contained passages demeaning the president. He knew that his father had never been turned away when he requested a private audience with Lincoln, and that his sister, Elizabeth, was always welcome at the White House. His entire family would forever appreciate Lincoln’s support for Frank during his continuing battle with the radicals in Congress. Indeed, Lincoln’s countless acts of generosity and kindness had cemented a powerful connection with the close-knit Blair family that even Monty’s forced resignation could not break. In the end, Lincoln gained the withdrawal of Frémont and the backing of the radicals without losing the affection and support of the conservative and powerful Blairs.”[iii]
- Lincoln’s defense of his people resulted in a bonding mind-set of mutual protection and a sense of security.
- This security allowed Lincoln’s people to do their work without fear of how the outside world would react against them.
- Conflicts within Lincoln’s realm were not for public consumption, leaving subordinates free to resolve disputes between themselves.
- Lincoln gained the loyalty and trust of his people because they knew he had their backs.
Conflicts and problems are often best solved inside the house. Your people need not fear the outside world as long as they’re doing what they’ve been asked to do. Humans thrive best in this type of nurturing, safe environment.
For more on building trust with your subordinates, visit “Prescription for Leaders – building trust with your employees / team,” by Brandon Smith at theworkplacetherapist.com.
For more excellent tips on protecting your people, visit “10 ways to gain and keep the loyalty of your staff,” by Calvin Sun at techrepublic.com.
[ii] Ibid (p. 621-622).