On August 23, 1864, the outcome of the Civil War was very much in doubt. The two grand campaigns initiated by Ulysses S. Grant in the spring, twin offensives towards Richmond, Virginia and Atlanta, Georgia, were sputtering in the face of heavy Confederate resistance. Abraham Lincoln was up for re-election in November, and he expected to lose to a candidate who would seek a negotiated peace with the Confederacy. On August 23, Lincoln wrote the memo below, folded it into an envelope, and asked his cabinet members to sign the envelope without reading the memo.
Washington, Aug. 23, 1864.
This morning, as for some days past, it seems exceedingly probable that this Administration will not be re-elected. Then it will be my duty to so co-operate with the President elect, as to save the Union between the election and the inauguration; as he will have secured his election on such ground that he can not possibly save it afterwards.