“The Debtor Assumed to be Crazy”

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May 26, Tuesday.
Much of the tune at the Cabinet-meeting was consumed in endeavoring to make it appear that one Cuniston, tried and condemned as a spy, was not exactly a spy, and that he might be let off. I did not participate in the discussion. It appeared to me, from the statement on all hands and from the finding of the court, that he was clearly and beyond question a spy, and I should have said so, had my opinion been asked, but I did not care to volunteer, unsolicited and without a thorough knowledge of all the facts, to argue away the life of a fellow being.
There was a sharp controversy between Chase and Blair on the subject of the Fugitive Slave Law, as attempted to be executed on one Hall here in the district. Both were earnest, Blair for executing the law, Chase for permitting the man to enter the service of the United States instead of being remanded into slavery. The President said this was one of those questions that always embarrassed him. It reminded him of a man in Illinois who was in debt and terribly annoyed by a pressing creditor, until finally the debtor assumed to be crazy whenever the creditor broached the subject. “I,” said the President, “have on more than one occasion, in this room, when beset by extremists on this question, been compelled to appear to be very mad. I think,” he continued, “none of you will ever dispose of this subject without getting mad.”

Quoted in entry for May 26, 1863, Welles diary, Vol. I (1960 edn.), p. 313. 

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