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Jacob D. Cox Post by :cssmith1951 Category :Essays Author :James Ford Rhodes Date :November 2011 Read :3435

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Jacob D. Cox

A paper read before the Massachusetts
Historical Society at the October meeting of 1900.


A useful member of the legislature of his state, a general in the army during the Civil War, governor of his state, Secretary of the Interior in President Grant's Cabinet, a member of Congress, the president of a large railroad, a writer of books, dean and teacher in a law school, and a reviewer of books in the Nation,--such were the varied activities of General Cox. All this work was done with credit. He bore a prominent part in the battle of Antietam, where Ropes speaks of his "brilliant success"; he was the second in command at the battle of Franklin, and bore the brunt of the battle. "Brigadier-General J. D. Cox," wrote Schofield, the commanding general, in his report, "deserves a very large share of credit for the brilliant victory at Franklin."

The governor of the state of Ohio did not then have a great opportunity of impressing himself upon the minds of the people of his state, but Cox made his mark in the canvass for that office. We must call to mind that in the year 1865, when he was the Republican candidate for governor, President Johnson had initiated his policy of reconstruction, but had not yet made a formal break with his party. Negro suffrage, which only a few had favored during the last year of the war, was now advocated by the radical Republicans, and the popular sentiment of the party was tending in that direction. Cox had been a strong antislavery man before the war, a supporter of President Lincoln in his emancipation measures, but soon after his nomination for governor he wrote a letter to his radical friends at Oberlin in opposition to negro suffrage. "You assume," he said, "that the extension of the right of suffrage to the blacks, leaving them intermixed with the whites, will cure all the trouble. I believe it would rather be like the decision in that outer darkness of which Milton speaks where

"'chaos umpire sits,
And by decision more embroils the fray.'"

While governor, he said in a private conversation that he had come to the conclusion "that so large bodies of black men and white as were in presence in the Southern States never could share political power, and that the insistence upon it on the part of the colored people would lead to their ruin."

President Grant appointed General Cox Secretary of the Interior, and he remained for nearly two years in the Cabinet. James Russell Lowell, on a visit to Washington in 1870, gave expression to the feeling among independent Republicans. "Judge Hoar," he wrote, "and Mr. Cox struck me as the only really strong men in the Cabinet." This was long before the Civil Service Reform Act had passed Congress, but Secretary Cox put the Interior Department on a merit basis, and he was ever afterwards an advocate of civil service reform by word of mouth and with his pen. Differences with the President, in which I feel pretty sure that the Secretary was in the right, caused him to resign the office.

Elected to Congress in 1876, he was a useful member for one term. He has always been known to men in public life, and when President McKinley offered him the position of Minister to Spain something over three years ago, it was felt that a well-known and capable man had been selected. For various reasons he did not accept the appointment, but if he had done so, no one could doubt that he would have shown tact and judgment in the difficult position.

As president of the Wabash Railroad, one of the large railroads in the West, he gained a name among business men, and five or six years ago was offered the place of Railroad Commissioner in New York City. This was practically the position of arbitrator between the trunk lines, but he was then Dean of the Cincinnati Law School and interested in a work which he did not care to relinquish.

Besides a controversial monograph, he wrote three books on military campaigns: "Atlanta"; "The March to the Sea; Franklin and Nashville"; "The Battle of Franklin"; and he wrote four excellent chapters for Force's "Life of General Sherman." In these he showed qualities of a military historian of a high order. Before his death he had finished his Reminiscences, which will be brought out by the Scribners this autumn.

His differences with President Grant while in his Cabinet left a wound, and in private conversation he was quite severe in his strictures of many of the President's acts, but he never let this feeling influence him in the slightest degree in the consideration of Grant the General. He had a very high idea of Grant's military talents, which he has in many ways emphatically stated.

Since 1874 he had been a constant contributor to the literary department of the Nation. In his book reviews he showed a fine critical faculty and large general information, and some of his obituary notices--especially those of Generals Buell, Grant, Sherman, Joseph E. Johnston, and Jefferson Davis--showed that power of impartial characterization which is so great a merit in a historian. He was an omnivorous reader of serious books. It was difficult to name any noteworthy work of history or biography or any popular book on natural science with which he was not acquainted.

As I saw him two years ago, when he was seventy years old, he was in the best of health and vigor, which seemed to promise many years of life. He was tall, erect, with a frame denoting great physical strength, and he had distinctively a military bearing. He was an agreeable companion, an excellent talker, a scrupulously honest and truthful man, and a gentleman.

(The end)
James Ford Rhodes's essay: Jacob D. Cox

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