Reply To A Delegation From The National Union League Quotes

Abraham Lincoln

"It Is Not Best To Swap Horses While Crossing The River"

Context: Between May 4 and June 8, 1864, General Ulysses S. Grant had suffered a number of serious defeats–the Battles of The Wilderness, Spotsylvania, and Cold Harbor, his losses running as high as 55,000 men. Such events, occurring as they did in an election year, could have spelled serious trouble for incumbent President Abraham Lincoln. Moving quickly and before the country had comprehended the full significance of Grant's defeats, the Republican Party (its name changed briefly to National Union Party) met in convention at Baltimore. Lincoln's party had not been solidly behind him; on the contrary, there was considerable opposition to his policies, and the party's more radical element had been giving him trouble. Nonetheless, those meeting at the convention realized that Lincoln had a better chance of winning the election than anyone else they might propose, and he was accordingly nominated for a second term by unanimous vote. Andrew Johnson, War Governor of Tennessee, was named his running mate. Among the various groups lending Lincoln their support was the Union League of America, or National Union League. This organization had been founded as a secret society during the early days of the war, its purpose being to organize and consolidate loyalty to the Union. Its National Grand Council met in Baltimore at the same time as the National Union convention and stood solidly for Lincoln's re-election. Lincoln, beset by numerous problems, was deeply gratified by the support given him–even though he knew the campaign of 1864 would be a difficult one. His gratitude and relief are evident in his humble, humorous reply to the Union League's delegation:

. . . I am very grateful for the renewed confidence which has been accorded to me both by the convention and by the National League. I am not insensible at all to the personal compliment there is in this, and yet I do not allow myself to believe that any but a small portion of it is to be appropriated as a personal compliment. That really the convention and the Union League assembled with a higher view–that of taking care of the interests of the country for the present and the great future–and that the part I am entitled to appropriate as a compliment is only that part which I may lay hold of as being the opinion of the convention and of the League, that I am not entirely unworthy to be intrusted with the place which I have occupied for the last three years. But I do not allow myself to suppose that either the convention or the League have concluded to decide that I am either the greatest or best man in America, but rather they have concluded that it is not best to swap horses while crossing the river, and have further concluded that I am not so poor a horse that they might not make a botch of it in trying to swap.