Heard on the Hill

Flashback Friday: First Lady Makes Her Case

Even presidents in the 1800s got pre-election jitters

First lady Mary Todd Lincoln asked her husband, President Abraham Lincoln, to sack George B. McClellan as commander of the Army of the Potomac days before the 1862 congressional elections. (Courtesy Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division)

President Abraham Lincoln had much on his mind in 1862, including that year’s midterms.

In a letter to her husband dated Nov. 2, 1862, first lady Mary Todd Lincoln wrote, “Many say they would almost worship you, if you would put a fighting general in the place of McClellan.”

But the cautious president was waiting for the results of that month’s congressional election before he would fire George B. McClellan, who commanded the Army of the Potomac. The letter from his wife suggested McClellan’s removal was a popular sentiment in New York.

The first lady — and apparently most of New York — had lost faith in the Union general after he was reluctant to capitalize on the advantage gained over Confederate forces in the Battle of Antietam, less than two months earlier.

And New York was a key midterm state that year. Lincoln removed McClellan from his command a few days later on Nov. 5. But that came a day after Empire State Republicans suffered losses in the House.


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