Abraham Lincoln and Peace


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(Johns Hopkins Press, 2008)

In his desire to bring the Civil War to a close while maintaining northern support for the war while it lasted, President Abraham Lincoln in 1864-1865 tolerated what the New York Herald called “amateur peace negotiators” to open channels of communication with the Confederate government.1 Mr. Lincoln’s opponents, both in the North and South, had an interest in projecting the Lincoln Administration as the real impediment to a serious peace process. It was a difficult balancing act for Mr. Lincoln because he could neither afford to appear to be seeking accommodation with the Confederate government nor appear to be spurning an accommodation with the Confederate government. It was in his interest to let peace missions go forward without his official blessing. It was also his interest for their failure subsequently to receive public notice and affirmation.

The Gilmore Initiative

The first active peace commission involving President Lincoln was floated in May 1863. New York journalist and businessman James R. Gilmore spent two weeks with General William S. Rosecrans and the Army of Tennessee. Gilmore recalled: “One morning, as we sat at breakfast together, Rosecrans handed me a letter he had that moment received, saying, ‘Here is an application from one of my officers for a furlough. It explains itself. I have to be at the front all day, and I wish you would stay and see him. If you think well of it, I will telegraph the Department for the furlough. The colonel was a prominent member of the Western Methodist Church, and, though a clergyman, is one of my best and bravest officers. You will be glad of his acquaintance.” Gilmore met with the Rev. James Jaquess, who gave him a copy of his furlough request, which stated in part:

A considerable part of the territory occupied by the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, is now in possession of our armies. This has brought a large number of that communion within our lines…From these persons I have learned personally the following facts…That they consider the rebellion has destroyed the Methodist Church, South; that it has virtually abolished slavery; that they are sincerely desirous of returning to the ‘Old Church,’ and that their brethren within the rebel lines are most heartily tired of the rebellion, and most ardently desire peace, and the privilege of returning to their allegiance to Church and State, and will do so whenever they are assured of amnesty for the past….From these considerations…I would submit to the proper authorities the following proposition, viz: To go into the Southern Confederacy, and return within ninety days with proposal of peace that will be acceptable to our Government.”2

Preacher Jaquess, who had known Mr. Lincoln back in Illinois before the Civil War, proposed his mission to General James Garfield, who in turn referred the idea to General William Rosecrans, who wired President Lincoln May 21: “The Rev. Dr. Jaques[s] Col of Seventy third (73) Illinois, a man of high character & great influence in the Methodist Church has proposed a mission to the South which in my judgment is worthy of being laid before you. Will you authorize me to send him to Washington for that purpose.” President Lincoln was cautious and wired back “For certain reasons it is thought best for Rev. Dr. Jaques [sic] not to come here. Present my respects to him, and ask him to write me fully on the subject he has in contemplation.”3 Lincoln scholar Ervin S. Chapman wrote “that while refusing to confer with Colonel Jaquess personally relative to his proposition, he did not refuse to encourage and aid the proposed embassy of peace. In this, as in all of President Lincoln’s relations to this movement, there was revealed his double purpose of having Colonel Jaquess visit Richmond as he proposed, but of having him do so without any manifestation of governmental approval. These two purposes so seemingly in conflict, and yet so fully in accord, are seen at every stage of these proceedings. To accomplish these two results Mr. Lincoln made provision in his first telegram to General Rosecrans relative to the matter, by requesting Colonel Jaquess to explain his purposes in writing while declining to permit him to visit Washington in the interest of the movement.”4

Meanwhile Jaquess had urged Gilmore (who wrote for publication under the pen name “Edmund Kirke”) to go to Washington: “I’ve know Mr. Lincoln for years; but I might write him forty letters, and accomplish nothing. Writing won’t do it. Mr. Kirke must go to him.” With the agreement of General Rosecrans, Gilmore brought letters from Jaquess and Rosecrans to President Lincoln. Rosecrans wrote: “I do not anticipate the results that he [Jaquess] seems to expect, but I believe that a moral force will be generated by his mission that will more than compensate us for his temporary absence from his regiment.”5 Jaquess also wrote a letter for Gilmore to deliver President Lincoln:

It is a fact well known to me and others, perhaps to yourself, that much sympathy exists in the minds of many good people, both in this country and England, for the South, on the ground of their professed piety. They say, ‘Mr. Davis is a praying man,’ ‘Many of his people are devotedly pious,’ etc., etc. Now, you will admit that, if they hear me, I have gained a point. On the other hand, if Mr. Davis and his associates in rebellion refuse me, coming to them in the name of the Lord on a mission of peace, the question of their piety is settled at once and forever. Should I be treated with violence, and cast into prison, shot, or hanged, – which may be part of my mission, – then the doom of the Southern Confederacy is sealed on earth and in heaven forever. My dear Mr. Lincoln will excuse me when I say that I am ready for any emergency, and though not Samson, I should, like him, slay more at my death than in all my life at the head of my regiment. NO, the mission cannot fail. God’s hand is in it. I am not seeking a martyr’s crown, but simply to meet the duty that has been laid upon me.”6

Gilmore talked to President Lincoln for several hours late on Sunday, May 24, 1863 and again on May 28. “I can’t talk with you about that Jaquess matter,” said Mr. Lincoln. “We can make no overtures to the rebels. If they want peace, all they have to do is lay down their arms.”7 President Lincoln refused to meet directly with Jaquess.

President Lincoln told Gilmore: “Something will come of it, perhaps not what Jaquess expects, but what will be of service to the right.” At the second meeting, Mr. Lincoln told Gilmore: “I’ve kept you over to consider about that Jaquess matter. I’ve about concluded to let him go. My only fear is that he may compromise me; but I don’t see how he can if I refuse to see him, and he goes altogether on his own responsibility. But he must understand distinctly that I have nothing to do with his project, either directly or indirectly. If the impression should go abroad that I had, it might complicate matters badly.” Mr. Lincoln explained: “You see, I don’t want to be like the dog that crossed the brook with the piece of meat in his mouth, and dropped it to catch its enlarged shadow in the water. I want peace; I want to stop this terrible waste of life and property; and I know Jaquess well, and see that, working in the way he proposes, he may be able to bring influence to bear upon Davis that he cannot well resist, and thus pave the way for an honorable settlement; but I can’t afford to discourage our friends and encourage our enemies, and so, perhaps, make it more difficult to save the Union.”8 President Lincoln described Jaquess as “very far from being a fanatic. He is remarkably level-headed; I never knew a man more so.”9

On the day of the second meeting with Gilmore, President Lincoln wrote General Rosecrans in reply to a letter written by Colonel Jaquess on May 19. Lincoln’s letter provided a cover for Jacquess and a cover for himself: “I have but a slight personal acquaintance with Col. Jaquess, though I know him very well by character. Such a mission as he proposes I think promises good, if it were free from difficulties, which I fear it can not be. First, he can not go with any government authority whatever. This is absolute and imperative. Secondly, if he goes without authority, he takes a great deal of personal risk—he may be condemned, and executed as a spy. If, for any reason, you think fit to give Col. Jaquess a Furlough, and any authority from me, for that object, is necessary, you hereby have it for any length of time you see fit.”10 Gilmore wrote that President Lincoln told him: “In writing to Rosecrans…Let him say what he thinks best to Colonel Jaquess; but the colonel must not understand he has the terms from me. We want peace, but we can make no overtures to the rebels. They already know what the country would welcome them back, and treat them generously and maganimously.”11

On June 17, 1863, General Garfield wrote Gilmore: “Colonel Jaquess has gone on his mission. The President approved it, though, of course, he did not make it an official matter. There are some very curious facts relating to his mission which would particularly interest your friend Judge [John W.] Edmonds, and which I hope to tell you of some day. It will be sufficient for me to say that enough of the mysterious is in it to give me almost a superstitious feeling of half faith, and certainly a very great interest, in his work. He is most solemnly in earnest, and has great confidence in the result of his mission.”12 Jaquess, however, was not heard from for several months. Gilmore recalled visiting Washington on two occasions “during the summer, and on each occasion saw the President, who at our last interview expressed much concern about Jaquess. He feared some evil had befallen him, and regretted having let him go, for just then such men could be poorly spared by the country.”

After Garfield’s letter was written, Jaquess’s mission took another month to get underway. Jaquess left Tennessee for Baltimore, where he met with commanding general, Robert C. Schenck, who wrote the President on July 13, 1863 that Jaquess “desires me to send him on to Fortress Monroe[.] Shall I do so He says you understand.” The next day, President Lincoln wrote Schenck: “Mr. Jaquess is a very worthy gentleman, but I can have nothing to do, directly or indirectly, with the matter he has in view.” Jaquess himself wrote President Lincoln before he left for Fortress Monroe: “I have obtained valuable information, and proposals for peace through the channel I proposed. Unofficial, but from men of character and great influence in the south, residents there. He added: “Would it be consistent – for me to communicate them to you? If so, how? By Telegraph – Mail or in person? Latter greatly preferred if through [thought] propper [sic] I am moving strictly private. I await your ans.”13 The prudent President apparently did not respond, but Jaquess nevertheless left for Fortress Monroe soon thereafter.

According to Gilmore, “There he explained to General [John A.] Dix his object in going into the Confederacy, and he, after some delay (probably to secure instructions from Washington), allowed him to go on board a flag-of-truce boat, which was about to start for the Confederate lines. He was in his uniform, but was courteously treated, and a message from to General [James] Longstreet was promptly conveyed to that officer. Before the return of the boat General Longstreet came down to meet him, received him cordially, and invited him to his own quarters. There he met many of the Confederate leaders, with all of whom he discussed the situation frankly and freely. To all of them he said, ‘Lay down your arms, go back to your allegiance, and the country will deal kindly and generously by you.’ He could not say more, for he was restricted from going into details. From all he had, in effect the same answer: ‘We are tired of the war. We are willing to give up slavery. We know it is gone; but so long as our Government holds out, we must stand by it. We cannot betray it and each other.’ It was this sentiment of loyalty to their Government which made the Southern people follow so blindly the lead of Jefferson Davis, and it throws upon him the responsibility of the two years of carnage that followed. It will also appear… that it was altogether owing to the blind obstinacy and insane ambition of that man that the Southern people came out of the war stripped, without payment, of their slaves, and with scarcely more that they could call their own than the ground they trod upon.”

Colonel Jaquess failed to gain audience of Mr. Davis, and was told that it would be useless to approach him without having distinct proposals from Mr. Lincoln. But if he brought those, and they were on a liberal basis, they would without doubt be accepted. To obtain more definite proposals, Jaquess, forgetful of my warning, returned to Baltimore, from where he wrote to Mr. Lincoln. He waited a fortnight, but, no answer coming, and thinking that he was needed with his regiment, – it being on the eve of a great battle, that of Chattanooga, – he returned to the army.”14

Chapman wrote: “Learning that he could not proceed further on his mission without additional authority, Colonel Jaquess, after a brief sojourn in the South, returned to Baltimore, and from that city sent a letter to President Lincoln stating that he had valuable information to impart, and requesting an interview for that purpose.” 15 As Jaquess recounted his experiences to Gilmore: “I obtained some very valuable information, which appears more so to me now, since events have transpired to which I need not now refer.

I returned to Baltimore, with a view to communicating with President Lincoln. I wrote him – without stating that I had been within the enemy’s lines – “that I had valuable information. Can I have permission to communicate it? If so, how, – by telegraph, mail, or in person? I await an answer at Barnum’s Hotel, Baltimore, Md.”
I waited there two weeks; no answer came. General Schenck, to whom I had made known my business when outward bound, was absent. I did not feel at liberty to report to any one else.
At this time I learned from parties here that a battle, at or near this place, would be fought soon, and that my regiment very much desired me to be with them. I hastened to join them, which I did just in time to be the most desperate and bloody battle fo the war. I lost over two hundred of my men, nineteen commissioned officers in killed and wounded, and I had two horses shot under me. I was not touched.
I cannot perceive why President L. should decline any communication with me. I can give him some most valuable information; no one else need know it, and he be uncommitted.”16

So ended the Jacquess initiative. “Lincoln approved a similar mission in the fall of 1863, undertaken by his chiropodist and troubleshooter, Issachar Zacharie, who did meet with Confederate cabinet members. The details of this venture are murky, and nothing came of it,” according to Lincoln biographer Michael Burlingame.17

The Greeley Initiative

More peace efforts would follow in the last half of 1864. Lincoln’s secretaries and biographers John G. Nicolay and John Hay, called the Jaquess letter “absurd” and contended “Mr. Lincoln did not need any further report from Colonel Jaquess. To his quick eye this brief letter told all the writer intended to communicate, and much more which his blinded enthusiasm could not comprehend. Admitting that he had actually been within the rebel lines, it was preposterous to suppose that in the brief space of a single week he could have gathered any considerable information concerning public sentiment; and the vague intimations of half a dozen private individuals in Richmond were worthless as exponents of the political will of the States in rebellion.”18 Gilmore met with President Lincoln in the early spring of 1865: “I asked of Mr. Lincoln why he had not replied to Colonel Jaquess’s letter.

“I never received his letter,” was the unexpected answer. The person to whom it had come had not thought it of sufficient importance to bring it to the notice of the President. I then handed him Jaquess’s letter to me of Nov. 4, 1863. He read it carefully, and then said, ‘He’s got something worth hearing. What a pity it is they didn’t give me that letter!”19

Greeley biographer Robert C. Williams wrote that because of the stalemate between the Union and the Confederate armies in the summer of 1864, “There was general war weariness in both North and South. Lincoln’s first term in office would end in November. The time was right for a peace settlement to become a national political issue, to divide the Republican Party, and perhaps to overturn the Lincoln administration.”20

Navy Secretary Gideon Welles recalled: “In the summer of 1864 vague and indefinite rumors were circulated that peace was attainable, and actually desired by the rebels, but that the administration would not listen to overtures or receive propositions which might lead to an adjustment. Some leading and over-officious persons interested themselves in these matters, which were merely subsidiary aids to the peace democrats, projected by the rebels to divide the republicans and to promote democratic success in the pending election. For a brief period these rumors undoubtedly made an impression unfavorable and unjust, as regarded the president, Horace Greeley, often credulous and always ready to engage in public employment, was entrapped by the most skillfully contrived of these intrigues. He became the willing agent of certain prominent rebels who resorted to Canada, and from thence persuaded him that they were authorized by the rebel government to negotiate peace, and desired his assistance. They asked for full protection to proceed to Washington to effect that object, and made Greeley the medium to convey to the president their application and purpose.”21

The New York Tribune editor was influenced by an old journalist friend, George N. Sanders, who was handling diplomatic chores for the Confederacy, as well as William “Colorado” Jewett, a self-appointed peace advocate and western adventurer who had peppered both Lincoln and Jefferson Davis with letters about peace. Civil War journalist Charles Carleton Coffin describe Jewett as “an adventurer, a busybody, who imagined he was of great importance to the country.22 From Niagara Falls, Jewett had written Greeley: “I am authorized to state to you, for your use only, not the public, that two ambassadors of Davis & Co. are now in Canada, with full and complete powers for a peace.”23 According to Robert C. Williams, Sanders “became the unofficial intermediary between Confederate agents in Canada and Peace Democrats in the United States.”24 Sanders began an offensive to convince journalists and politicians in New York that the peace effort he, Clement Clay and Jacob Thompson represented was genuine.

Greeley was a willing dupe for Sanders’ and Jewett’s effort to establish the legitimacy of his efforts. Lincoln chronicler John Waugh wrote that Jewett “been to Europe three times attempting to persuade the leading powers to intervene between the two warring sides. Failing that, he had returned to promote a scheme for an armistice and a convention of states. Clement Clay, one of the rebel commissioners in Canada, described Jewett as ‘a man of fervent and fruitful imagination and very credulous of what he wishes to be true’ – rather like Greeley.”25 Greeley wrote President Lincoln on July 7:

“I venture to inclose you a letter and telegraphic dispatch that I received yesterday from our irrepressible friend, Colorado Jewett, at Niagara Falls. I think they deserve attention. Of course, I do not indorse Jewett’s positive avertment that his friends…have ‘full powers’ from J.D., though I do not doubt that he thinks they have. I let that statement stand as simply evidencing the anxiety of the Confederates everywhere for peace. So much is beyond the doubt.”
“And thereupon I venture to remind you that our bleeding, bankrupt, almost dying country also longs for peace – shudders at the prospect of fresh conscriptions, of further wholesale devastations, and of new rivers of human blood. And a wide-spread conviction that the Government…are not anxious for Peace, and do not improve proferred opportunities to achieve it, is doing great harm now, and is morally certain, unless removed, to do far greater in the approaching Elections…”
“I entreat you, in your own time and manner, to submit overtures for pacification to the Southern insurgents which the impartial must pronounce frank and generous. If only with a view to the momentous Election soon to occur in North Carolina, and of the Draft to be enforced in the Free States, this should be done at once.”
“I would give the safe conduct required by the Rebel envoys at Niagara…but you may see reasons for declining it. But, whether through them or otherwise, do not, I entreat you, fail to make the Southern people comprehend that you and all of us are anxious for peace…”
“Mr. President, I fear you do not realize how intently the people desire any peace consistent with the national integrity and honor…With United States stocks worth but forty cents in gold per dollar, and drafting about to commence on the third million of Union soldiers, can this be wondered at?”
“I do not say that a just peace is now attainable, though I believe it to be so. But I do say, that a frank offer by you to the insurgents of terms…will…prove an immense and sorely needed advantage to the national cause; it may save us from a northern insurrection…”
“I beg you to invite those now at Niagara to exhibit their credentials and submit their ultimatum.”26


Mr. Lincoln could not allow himself to be perceived as rebuffing a peace overture nor could he seem desperate in accepting one. Nor could he allow Greeley to act as a critic and observer. The president determined to turn Greeley into a participant in his scheme. On July 9, Mr. Lincoln replied: “Your letter of the 7th, with inclosures, received. If you can find, any person anywhere professing to have any proposition of Jefferson Davis in writing, for peace, embracing the restoration of the Union and abandonment of slavery, what ever else it embraces, say to him he may come to me with you, and that if he really brings such proposition, he shall, at the least, have conduct, with the paper (and without publicity, if he choose) to the point where you shall met him. The same, if there be two or more persons.”27 The president was playing a high stakes game at the same time he was teaching Greeley a lesson in real politics.

Historian James M. McPherson wrote: “Lincoln did not believe for a moment that the Confederate agents had genuine negotiating powers. And even if they did, the Union president knew that his Southern counterpart’s inflexible condition for peace was Confederate independence. Yet, given the despondent Northern mood, Lincoln could not appear to rebuff any peace venture, however spurious. He also thought he saw a chance to rally Northern opinion by demonstrating that an acceptable peace was possible only through military victory.”28 Mr. Lincoln needed to expose the insincerity of the Confederate peace “commissioners” while exposing Greeley to potential political embarrassment. Union chaplain John Eaton wrote that President Lincoln “told me of his motive in sending Mr. Greeley to deal with Mr. Thompson, ex-Secretary of the Interior, and at that time agent for the Confederacy in Canada. Nothing resulted from Mr. Greeley’s mission, – nor had Mr. Lincoln expected that anything would result, – but it gave Mr. Greeley certain definite and vivid ideas of the difficulties of practical politics.”29 Greeley wrote President Lincoln on July 10, 1864:

“I have yours of yesterday. Whether there be persons at Niagara (or elsewhere) who are empowered to commit the rebels by negotiation, is a question; but if there be such, there is no question at all that they would decline to exhibit their credentials to me, much more to open their budget and give their best terms. Green as I may be, I am not quite so verdant as to imagine, anything of the sort. I have neither purpose nor desire to be made a confidant, far less an agent, in such negotiations. But I do deeply realize that the rebel chiefs achieved, a most decided advantage in proposing or pretending to propose to have [Confederate Vice President] A[lexander]. H. Stephens visit Washington as a peacemaker, and being rudely repulsed; and I am anxious that the ground lost to the national cause by that mistake shall somehow be regained in season for effect on the approaching North Carolina election. I will see if I can get a look into the hand of whomsoever may be at Niagara; though that is a project so manifestly hopeless that I have little heart for it, still I shall try.”
“Meantime I wish you would consider the propriety of somehow apprising the people of the South, especially those of North Carolina, that no overture or advance looking to peace and reunion has ever been repelled by you, but that such a one would at any time have been cordially received, and favorably regarded and would still be.”30

(A year earlier, Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens had been sent by Davis to Washington on the pretext of discussing prisoner exchanges. Although Stephens was an old friend of President Lincoln, the Union cabinet forcefully rejected admitting Stephens as a negotiator. After all, the Union had just won impressive victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg.)

The persistent Greeley wrote President Lincoln again on July 13: “I have now information on which I can rely that two persons duly commissioned and empowered to negotiate for peace are at this moment not far from Niagara Falls, in Canada, and are desirous of conforming with yourself, or with such persons as you may appoint and empower to treat with them. Their names (only given in confidence) are Hon. Clement C. Clay, of Alabama, and Hon. Jacob Thompson, of Mississippi. If you should prefer to meet them in person, they require safe-conducts for themselves, and for George N. Sanders, who will accompany them. Should you choose to empower one or more persons to treat with them in Canada, they will of course need no safe-conduct; but they cannot be expected to exhibit credentials save to commissioners empowered as they are. In negotiating directly with yourself, all grounds of cavil would be avoided, and you would be enabled at all times to act upon the freshest advices of the military situation. You will of course understand I know nothing, and have proposed nothing as to terms, and that nothing is conceded or taken for granted by the meeting of persons empowered to negotiate for peace. All that is assumed is a mutual desire to terminate this wholesale slaughter, if a basis of adjustment can be mutually agreed on, and it seems to me high time that an effort to this end should be made. I am of course quite other than sanguine that a peace can now be made, but I am quite sure that a frank, earnest, anxious effort to terminate the war on honorable terms would immensely strengthen the Government in case of its failure, and would help us in the eyes of the civilized world, which now accuses us of obstinacy, and indisposition even to seek a peaceful solution of our sanguinary, devastating conflict. Hoping to hear that you have resolved to act in the premises, and to act so promptly that a good influence may even yet be exerted on the North Carolina election next month.”31

President Lincoln replied succinctly – again to put Greeley on the spot: “Yours of the 13th. is just received; and I am disappointed that you have not already reached here with those Commissioners, if they would consent to come, on being shown my letter to you of the 9th Inst. Show that and this to them; and if they will come on the terms stated in the former, bring them. I not only intend a sincere effort for peace, but I intend that you shall be a personal witness that it is made.”32

Lincoln aide John Hay telegraphed President Lincoln from New York at 9 A.M. on July 16, having discovered that Greeley was perturbed about the nature of the safe conduct for the Confederate negotiators: “Arrived this morning at 6 a m and delivered your letter few minutes after. Although he thinks some one less known would create less excitement and be less embarrassed by public curiosity, still he will start immediately if he can have an absolute safe conduct for four persons to be named by him. Your letter he does not think will guard them from arrest and with only those letter he would have to explain the whole matter to any officer who might choose to hinder them. If this meets with your approbation I can write the order in your name as A. A. G. or you can send it by mail.”33

It was not simply the form of any negotiation that was a problem. The abolition of slavery was an insuperable barrier to negotiations. Hay arrived in Niagara Falls with a statement designed to bring the non-negotiations to a conclusion. The document stated: “Any proposition which embraces the restoration of peace, the integrity of the whole Union, and the abandonment of slavery, and which comes by an with an authority that can control the armies now at war against the United States will be received and considered by the Executive government of the United States, and will be met by liberal terms on other substantial and collateral points; and the bearer, or bearers thereof shall have safe conduct both ways.”34

The game was almost up. When Greeley arrived in Niagara Falls on July 17, he found that the Clay and Holcombe lacked the requisite authorization to conduct negotiations. Greeley wrote the Confederates: “I am informed that you are duly accredited from Richmond as the bearers of propositions looking to the establishment of peace; that you desire to visit Washington in the fulfilment of your mission; and that you further desire that Mr. George N. Sanders shall accompany you. If my information be thus far substantially correct, I am authorized by the President fo the United States to tender you his safe-conduct on journey proposed, and to accompany you at the earliest time that will be agreeable to you.”35 Nicolay and Hay wrote of the impasse in their Lincoln biography:

No clearer proof can be given than is afforded in this letter that Mr. Greeley was absolutely ignorant of all the essential facts appertaining to the negotiation in in which he was engaged. As it turned out, he had been misinformed even as to the personnel of the embassy, Jacob Thompson not being, not having been, in company with the others; none of them had any authority to act in the capacity attributed to them; and, worse than all this, Mr. Greeley kept out of view, in his missive thus shot at a venture, the very conditions which Mr. Lincoln had imposed in his letter of the 9th and repeated in that of the 15th. Yet, with all the advantages thus afforded them, Clay and Holcombe felt themselves too bare and naked of credentials to accept Mr. Greeley’s offer, and were therefore compelled to answer that they had not been accredited from Richmond as assumed in his note. They made haste to say, however, that they were acquainted with the views of their Government, and could easily get credentials, or other agents could be accredited in their place, if they could be sent to Richmond armed with “the circumstances disclosed in this correspondence.”36

Lincoln knew he was playing a dangerous game in the eyes of 1864 voters. On July 18, President Lincoln addressed the supposed commissioners directly in a note he addressed to “Whom it May Concern” and sent to Hay. Lincoln wrote: “Any proposition which embraces the restoration of peace, the integrity of the whole Union, and the abandonment of slavery, and which comes by and with an authority that can control the armies now at war against the United States will be received and considered by the Executive government of the United States, and will be met by liberal terms on other substantial and collateral points; and the bearer, or bearers thereof shall have safe-conduct both ways.”37 Historian Harry J. Maihaifer wrote: “Since it seemed quite possible that the letter would eventually be published, Lincoln couched it in terms that would look good on the public record. (The London Spectator called the president’s letter ‘a model of diplomatic adroitness.’)”38

President Lincoln had positively stated his willingness to negotiate, but include the poison pill of emancipation. Historian Michael Vorenberg wrote: “The president…had hoped that the peace scheme would die without his intervention, but now he was forced to say something to the ‘ambassadors.’ To say nothing would allow Greeley to return to New York City and proclaim in the Tribune’s pages that the president had turned his back on a possible peace….Greeley read the letter and knew that the negotiations were over before they had begun.”39 Historian James M. McPherson wrote that Lincoln’s “To Whom It May Concern” letter “was an immensely important document that framed all discussions of peace for the rest of the war. Lincoln intended it not only to lay out his own conditions but also to elicit and publicize the Confederacy’s unacceptable counteroffer. But on this occasion, the rebel agents outmaneuvered Lincoln. They admitted to Greeley and Hay that they had no authority to negotiate peace but then released to the press a letter to Greeley accusing Lincoln of sabotaging the negotiations by prescribing conditions he knew to be unacceptable to the Confederacy.”40 Lincoln had drawn a line. As historian Michael Burlingame observed: “Lincoln’s moral sense dictated this bold insistence on emancipation as a basis for peace. If he had been motivated by political expediency alone, he could simply have avoided mentioning the slavery issue; he knew that the Confederates would reject any peace terms denying them independence.”41

Clearly, Greeley was being used by the Confederates. Historian Harry J. Maihaifer wrote: “Holcombe and Clay’s lengthy letter to Greeley was given to Jewett, who immediately turned it over to the press. It was a masterpiece of ‘spin,’ making it appear, among other things, that the North had made the initial overtures.” But, noted Maihaifer, “two could play at communicating through the media, and Lincoln, ably assisted by Hay, was a master of the game. The White House immediately moved to repudiate Jewett. A note from John Hay firmly told Jewett that no letters of his would be ‘submitted to the personal attention of the President,’ and any effort to send such letters would be ‘a waste of time on your part.’ Hay’s note was given to the press, along with a statement referring to ‘an irresponsible person named Jewett.'”42

The resulting imbroglio in the press reflected very badly on Greeley and somewhat badly on the President, who avoided opportunities to further blacken Greeley’s image. Greeley biographer Harry C. Williams wrote: “The northern press promptly attacked Greeley for a foolish, if not treasonous, attempt to negotiate with Confederate agents in Canada. Greeley denied any wrongdoing, claimed that the talks might have helped move the nation toward peace, and blamed Jewett for the fiasco. Greeley had supported the ‘best possible peace’ on the basis of ‘Universal Freedom.'”43 Journalist Noah Brooks, who was close to the President, later wrote that “the muddle which Horace Greeley had succeeded in creating by his futile mission to the rebel emissaries at Niagara Falls, had so worried the people that nobody appeared to know what was in the air – a compromise in the interest of peace, or a more vigorous prosecution of the war.”44

Greeley was backed into the corner by criticism by fellow New York City editors and responded: “We cannot be bullied nor slandered into approval or rejection of hypothetical terms of conciliation. The business of negotiation is devolved by the Constitution on the President and Senate of the United States, and to them we leave it.”45 Clearly, Greeley understood that his attempt to leave the sidelines of journalism and get onto the playing field of negotiation had backfired and he desperately sought to restore his reputation. On July 22, the same day that Greeley printed in the New York Tribune some of the letters leading up to the non-negotiations, President Lincoln met with his cabinet to discuss the aborted peace negotiations. Historian Robert C. Williams wrote that “Lincoln gave his cabinet a blow-by-blow description of the ‘(pretended) attempt to negotiate for peace,’ in the words of Attorney General Edward Bates. Lincoln read all the letters to and from Jewett and Greeley.”46

Historian David Long wrote that Greley “claimed that the safe-conduct letter given him on July 16 had constituted a waiver by Lincoln of any conditions stated in previous correspondence. He figured this freed him from announcing the conditions in Lincoln’s letters of July 9 and 15. Greeley’s shallow and transparent argument did both the president and the country a disservice. His unwillingness to accept responsibility for his part in the unfortunate affair damaged the prospects of an already troubled administration.”47 The Confederate negotiators in whom Greeley had placed such hope further undermined him. Jewett claimed Greeley “also authorized him to express to the rebel commissioners his regrets, that the negotiation should have failed in consequence of the President’s ‘change of views.'”48 Greeley, as often happened with the impetuous editor, had gotten carried away by his own enthusiasm. The Confederates had tried to box in the President, but instead Lincoln had boxed in Greeley and the Confederates.

Gilmore-Jacquess Initiative

At the same time in July that Greeley was trying to kick-start his negotiations, another familiar set of actors had reappeared in Richmond on another peace mission. When James Gilmore met with President Lincoln in April 1864, Gilmore argued that southerners were “ripe for peace. Let him [James Jaquess] go again. There is no telling what he may accomplish.” According to Gilmore, President Lincoln “turned about on his chair, and on a small card wrote as follows: “…The bearer, Colonel James F. Jaquess, 73d Illinois, has leave of absence until further orders.” Gilmore said he would talk to Jaquess and have him report on his activities through James Garfield, a general now a congressman. Jaquess, who was heavily involved in military operations, finally contacted Gilmore in mid-June and arranged to meet him in early July. Gilmore then notified President Lincoln, “adding that the more I thought of it, the more it seemed to me important that Jaquess should have fuller and more definite instructions. I hoped also that he would change his mind about giving him a personal interview. Should I not bring Jaquess on to Washington, and he then decide what to do in the premises.” Gilmore sent the letter to Garfield, who went to see President Lincoln and wrote Gilmore that he had been told: “Tell Gilmore to bring Jaquess here, and I will see him. Of course it should be done very quietly.”

Jaquess went to Washington and then Baltimore, where he arranged for Gilmore to meet him: “He informed me that he had brought despatches from General Sherman to Washington, and, being there, had sent in his name to Mr. Lincoln, who had declined to see him, but advised his seeing me in Boston. He had telegraphed to me to come on, he said, because he was fearful that some unforeseen difficulty had arisen in the way of his return into the Confederacy. This apprehension I quieted by assuring him that Mr. Lincoln was more anxious for peace than any one in the country.” 49

Jaquess and Gilmore then took the train to Washington. “I called at once upon Mr. Lincoln,” wrote Gilmore. “About his first remark was that on the very day he had told Garfield to write me that he would see Jaquess, General [Robert C.] Schenck [another former Ohio general turned congressman] had called upon him with some volunteer advice as to the terms he should offer the rebels through Colonel Jaquess. On subsequent inquiry the President had learned that Schenck had spoke of the subject freely and everywhere. ‘This,’ he said, ‘may greatly embarrass me. I therefore refused to see Jaquess, and shall countermand his furlough and send him back to his regiment.”50

Gilmore argued with President Lincoln to let Jaquess go to Richmond because the Methodist minister would draw out Jefferson Davis’s unwillingness to settle for anything less than independence. The President was unconvinced. “Mr. Lincoln had sat with one of his long legs upon the corner of the table, but now he drew the leg down, and leaned slightly forward, looking directly into my eyes, but with an absent, far-away gaze, as if unconscious of my presence. Thus he sat, for a fully a couple of minutes, in absolute silence. Then, relapsing into his usual manner, he said, ‘There is something in what you say. But Jaquess couldn’t do it, – he couldn’t draw Davis’s fire; he is too honest. You are the man for that business.” Gilmore demurred and but said: “Ah! I see, sir, You propose that I shall go upon this mission.” President Lincoln now demurred: “I do not propose anything. I can’t propose anything about such a business. I can only say that I will give you a pass into the rebel lines, and then – ask Jaquess to pray for you.'” Gilmore told President Lincoln that he wanted to think about the idea and discuss it with Congressman Garfield and Salmon P. Chase. Gilmore came back to the President and said that he was ready to go to Richmond “on the condition that you allow me to make such overtures to Davis as will put him entirely in the wrong if he should reject them.” President Lincoln, however, was looking for plausible deniability and asked: “Do you understand that I neither suggest nor request, nor direct you to take this journey?” He also told Gilmore that should he be arrested or detailed “that I shall be absolute powerless to help you.”51

President Lincoln met with Gilmore on July 6 and gave him a pass to get through Union lines: “Will General Grant allow J. R. Gilmore and friend to pass our lines, with ordinary baggage, and go South?”52 At the same time, he wrote a leave for Jaquess: “To whom it may concern: The bearer, Col. James F. Jaquess, Seventy-third Illinois, has leave of absence until further orders.”53 The President told Gilmore: “Tell Colonel Jaquess that I omit his name on account of the talk of his previous trip; and I wish you would explain to him my refusal to see him. I want him to feel kindly to me.” He added that “if you get into trouble I can in no way help you, that I shall be obliged to say that, while I have given you the terms on which I am personally willing to settle this thing, I have not authorized you to offer these, or any terms whatever.”54

Lincoln aides John G. Nicolay and John Hay noted: “President Lincoln saw clearly enough the futility of all such projected negotiations. But he also understood the necessity of silencing clamors for peace. He therefore again gave Jaquess leave of absence, and to both permission to pass the lines; refusing, however, all authority, instruction, or any promise of protection. He would not even give the colonel a personal interview.55 Instead, President agreed verbally with Gillmore and Chase on a series of proposals:

“First. The immediate dissolution of the armies of the Southern Government, and disbandment of its armies; and the acknowledgment by all the States in rebellion of the supremacy of the Union.
“Second. The total and absolute abolition of slavery in every one of the late Slave States and throughout the Union. This is to be perpetual.
“Third. Full amnesty to all who have been in any way engaged in the rebellion, and their restoration to all the rights of citizenship.
“Fourth. All acts of secession to be regarded as nullities; and the late rebellious States to be, and be regarded, as if they had never attempted to secede from the Union. Representation in the House from the recent Slave States to be on the basis of their voting population.
“Fifth. The sum of five hundred millions, in United States stock, to be issued and divided between the late Slave States, to be used by them in payment to slave-owners, loyal and disloyal, for the slaves emancipated by my proclamation. This sum to be divided among the late slave-owners, equally and equitably, at the rate of one-half the value of the slaves in the year 1860; and if any surplus should remain, it to be returned to the United States Treasury.
“Sixth. A national convention to be convened as soon as practicable, to ratify this settlement, and make such changes in the Constitution as may be in accord with the new order of things.
“Seventh. The intent and meaning of all the foregoing is that the Union shall be fully restored, as it was before the Rebellion, with the exception that all slaves within its borders are, and shall forever be, freemen.”56

Historian William Zornow wrote: “The two erratic visionaries set out with high hopes of ending the conflict, but like Greeley’s excu[r]sion to Niagara, their mission was doomed to failure.” 57 Historian Robert C. Williams wrote that “Gilmore and Jaquess arrived in Richmond and had an interview with Judah Benjamin, Secretary of State of the Confederacy. Jefferson Davis was unwilling to interview them as private citizens without authorization to negotiate, but he did meet briefly and informally with them. As expected, Lincoln’s terms were unacceptable.”58 Under instructions from their Confederate hosts, the two Yankees passed themselves off in public as Georgians. They met with Benjamin and Davis on the second night after their arrival – at 9 PM. after Davis had returned from church. Davis greeted them cordially but spoke of the irreconcilable differences between the North and South. “How can we feel anything but bitterness towards men who deny us our rights” asked Davis. He said to Colonel Jaquess: “It is with your own people you should labor. It is they who desolate our homes, burn our wheat fields, break the wheels of wagons carrying away our women and children, and destroy supplies meant for our sick and wounded. At your door lies all the misery and the crime of this war, and it is a fearful, fearful account.” He made clear that only southern independence was a permissible outcome of the war: “We will govern ourselves! We will do it, if we have to see every Southern plantation sacked, and every Southern city in flames?.” Gilmore understood that he had “drawn Mr. Davis’s fire” and clarified that peace was not possible without recognition of southern independence. Davis told Jaquess and Gillmore as they were leaving: “Say to Mr. Lincoln from me, that I shall at any time be pleased to receive proposals for peace on the basis of our independence. It will be useless to approach me with any other.”59

According the Rev. Thomas Miers Eddy, Jaquess told Davis: “Mr. President, I came on my own responsibility to prepare the way, and I hope that we, as Christian gentlemen, may succeed in discussing the question fully, freely, and frankly. I have long believed that our troubles were necessary to teach a three-fold lesson:”

First. That the North might believe that the terms ‘secession,’ ‘separation,’ and ‘independence,’ when employed by Southerners, mean something.
Second. That the South should learn that one Southerner can not whip five Yankees. And –
Third. That foreign nations might learn that the United States can never be defeated, or insulted with impunity.
Mr. Davis then remarked, with a degree of satisfaction, that ‘the south had done its own fighting without aid or foreign sympathy.’ Colonel Jaquess replied with a commendable desire to assure Mr. Davis that the South would not lack further opportunities for display of valor, that ‘we in the North have but one sentiment, viz, that of a vigorous prosecution of the war, and that no man could be elected President upon any other platform. We regard you as the aggressor, and if one party must lose its life, we feel not only at liberty but under obligations to take yours. We have a ‘Peace Party,’ but you can not afford to trust it; for our masses are against you, and, Mr. Davis, you mistake the spirit of our people. We respect and love you, and in case of the sudden termination of the war, millions of Northern money would flow south to relieve your destitute and suffering. Indeed we would sustain our President should he, in such case, issue his proclamation of universal amnesty.’ Mr. Davis, with the evident expectation of shaming this speech, replied, ‘You have poorly manifested your ‘love’ in your conduct of the war.’ Replied the colonel promptly, ‘O, we are not just now making friends – we are fighting rebellion.’ Mr. Davis asserted that he foresaw this struggle, this bloodshed, etc., and while in Congress strove to avert it. ‘Before God,’ said he, ‘I have not a drop of this blood on my skirts. The colonel says he barely escaped the impulse of replying that ‘this would be a dangerous appeal to carry before God. Davis then proceeded with a long dissertation on ‘States’ rights,’ etc., alluding to the Declaration of American Independence and its initial principle, that the right to govern depends upon the consent of the governed, and added, ‘If we of the South talk of peace and continued union, we will thereby confess that we have blundered in beginning this war.’ Colonel Jaquess thinks that Mr. Davis’s harangue would compared favorably with the prevailing style of Copperhead speeches in the North, and would be fully indorsed by the late Peace Party.”60

New York businessman Gilmore recalled that upon arriving at City Point, Jaquess remained behind while Gilmore went directly back to Washington, reporting to President Lincoln on July 18. “On the way down the river, and while the facts were fresh in my mind, I wrote out the interview with Davis and Benjamin, which I proposed to read to Mr. Lincoln, to avoid the omissions and inaccuracies that might occur in a verbal recital. Arrived in Washington, I hurried to the White House. Mr. [Charles] Sumner was closeted with the President, but my name was no sooner announced than a kindly voice said, ‘Come in. Bring him in.’ As I entered his room he rose and, grasping my hand, said: ‘I’m glad you’re back. I heard of your return two nights ago, but they said you were non-committal. What is it, – as we expected?'”

“Exactly, sir,” I answered. “There is no peace with separation. Coming down on the boat, I wrote out the interview to read to you when you are at leisure.”
“I am at leisure now,” he replied. “Sumner, too, would be glad to hear it.”
When I had finished the reading, he said, ‘What do you propose to do with this?”
Put a beginning and an end to it, sire, on my way home, and hand it to the Tribune.”
“Can’t you get it into the Atlantic Monthly?” he asked. “It would have less of a partisan look there.”
“No doubt I can, sir,” I replied; ‘but there would be some delay about it.”
“And it is important that Davis’s position should be known at once,” said Mr. Lincoln. “It will show the country that I didn’t fight shy of Greeley’s Niagara business without a reason; and everybody is agog to hear your report. Let it go into the Tribune.’
“Permit me to suggest,” said Mr. Sumner, “that Mr. Gilmore put at once a short card, with the separation declaration of Davis, into one of the Boston papers, and then, as soon as he can, the fuller report into the Atlantic.”
“That is it,” said Mr. Lincoln. “Put Davis’s ‘We are not fighting for slavery; we are fighting for independence,’ into the card, – that is enough; and send me the proof of what goes into the Atlantic. Don’t let it appear till I return the proof. Some day all this will come out, but just now we must use discretion.”
As I rose to leave, Mr. Lincoln took my hand, and while he held it in his said, ‘Jaquess was right, – God’s hand is in it. This may be worth as much to us as half a dozen battles. Get the thing out as soon as you can; but don’t forget to send me the proof of what you write for the Atlantic. Good-by. God bless you.”61

In their History of the Thirty-third Regiment Illinois Veteran Volunteer Infantry, Isaac Elliott and Virgil Way wrote: “The tourists returned in safety to the North, and Colonel Jaquess reported the result of his mission to President Lincoln, who received with lively satisfaction this authentic and significant declaration, direct from the lips of the rebel chieftain, that no terms of peace short of absolute independence would be accepted or considered….Newspaper reports of the trip and its leading incidents, laying special stress on the vital point, were at once published in New York, and instantly telegraphed to the press of the whole country…..The rebel papers in Richmond and elsewhere took hold of the mater with vigor, and unable to deny the truthfulness of the report, contented themselves with bitterly criticizing the Confederate authorities for allowing themselves to be ‘hoodwinked by a couple of Yankee spies.'”62

Mr. Lincoln showed himself a master of both politics and media. Historian William Zornow concluded: “Through these missions…Lincoln accomplished one important result. He silenced many of the critics who insisted that the South was eager for peace and would yield if given fair terms. The Jaquess-Gilmore mission especially brought back conclusive proof that this was not so. Jefferson Davis had told the envoys that nothing short of independence would satisfy the Confederacy.”63 Not everyone understood or appreciated Lincoln’s deft maneuver. Navy Secretary Gideon Welles commented in his diary: “Colonel Jaquess is another specimen of inconsiderate and unwise, meddlesome interference. The President assented to his measure and gave him a card, or passport, to go beyond our lines. There is no doubt that the Colonel was sincere, but he found himself unequal to the task he had undertaken. Instead of persuading Jeff Davis to change his course, Davis succeeded in persuading poor Jaquess that the true course to be pursued was to let Davis & Co. do as they please. The result was that Jaquess and his friend Gilmore (alias Kirke) who went to Richmond to shear, came back shorn.”64

Historian James M. McPherson noted that “Gilmore published a brief account of the meeting in a Boston Newspaper and a subsequent detailed narrative in the Atlantic Monthly. Lincoln approved these publications because they shifted part of the burden of refusing to negotiate from Lincoln’s shoulders to Davis’s. The New York Times immediately grasped this point. The Gilmore-Jaquess mission, it declared, ‘proved of extreme service…because it established that Jeff Davis will listen to no proposals of peace that do not embrace disunion…'”65 Harry J. Maihaifer wrote: “The ‘card’ ran in the Boston Transcript on July 22 and proofs of the Atlantic article went to Lincoln a few days later. The president once again demonstrated the importance he attached to what appeared in the media. He kept the proofs for a week, screened them closely, and personally deleted a page and a half before returning them to Gilmore. There was a delicious irony to the situation, with the president himself, officially ‘unaware’ of the Jacques-Gilmore mission, nevertheless editing what in effect was its press release.”66

Not everyone around the President approved or appreciated his deft handling of the situation, however. Four weeks after their meeting with Davis, Secretary Welles complained in his diary: “Have just read the account of the interview at Richmond between Jaquess and Gilmore on one side and Jeff Davis and Benjamin on the other. What business had these fellows with such a subject? Davis asserts an ultimatum that is inadmissible, and the President in his note, which appears to me not as considerate and well-advised as it should have been, interposes barriers that were unnecessary.”67

President Lincoln, however, understood that he was really in the middle of a public relations campaign, not a peace campaign. Nicolay and Hay wrote: “The peace negotiations at Niagara Falls and at Richmond, which in a fragmentary way were immediately noticed and commented upon by the newspapers, met a quick and sensitive public interest, and directed special inquiry to President Lincoln himself. Every one whose political or personal standing warranted it was desirous of ascertaining the truth at first hand. How the President felt and talked upon this topic is best shown by a letter written to a personal friend in New York at the time.”68 On July 25, President Lincoln wrote New York Republican Abram Wakeman, who was trying to reconcile the President with New York Herald owner James Gordon Bennett:

I feel that the subject which you pressed upon my attention in our recent conversation is an important one. The men of the South, recently (and perhaps still) at Niagara Falls, tell us distinctly that they are in the confidential employment of the rebellion; and they tell us as distinctly that they are not empowered to offer terms of peace. Does any one doubt that what they are empowered to do, is to assist in selecting and arranging a candidate and a platform for the Chicago convention? Who could have given them this confidential employment but he who only a week since declared to Jaquess and Gilmore that he had no terms of peace but the independence of the South – the dissolution of the Union? Thus the present presidential contest will almost certainly be no other than a contest between a Union and a Disunion candidate, disunion certainly following the success of the latter. The issue is a mighty one for all people and all time; and whoever aids the right, will be appreciated and remembered.69

President Lincoln was dangling the possibility of a diplomatic appointment in France before Bennett, to whom Wakeman duly showed the letter. At the same time, the president was assuring his own reelection in November.

August 1864

Peace agitation, however, continued. Historian James M. McPherson wrote: “The publicity surrounding these peace overtures should have put to rest the Copperhead argument that the North could have peace and reunion without military victory. But it did not. At the rock-bottom point of Northern morale in August 1864 – when, as Thurlow Weed observed, ‘the people are wild for peace’ – Democrats were able to slide around the awkward problem of Davis’s conditions by pointing to Lincoln’s second condition – ‘abandonment of slavery’ – as the real stumbling block to peace. Across the spectrum from Copperheads to War Democrats, and even beyond to conservative Republicans, came denunciations of the president for his ‘prostitution of the war for the Union into an abolition crusade’.”70 Black abolitionist Frederick Douglass reported: “The country was struck with one of those bewilderments which dethrone reason for the moment. Everybody was thinking and dreaming of peace, and the impression had gone abroad that the President’s antislavery policy was about the only thing which prevented a peaceful settlement with the Rebels…men were ready for peace almost at any price. The President was pressed on every hand to modify his letter, ‘To whom it may concern.'”71

In mid-August, President Lincoln made two attempts to deal with these criticisms by laying out his conditions for peace in letters to Wisconsin political leaders and journalists. The first letter he drafted on August 17. It was addressed to but never sent to Charles D. Robinson, the editor of the Green Bay Advocate. Lincoln scholar Ervin S. Chapman wrote: “The extent to which loyal democrats were disturbed by the antislavery trend of the times is indicated in a letter addressed to President Lincoln by…a staunch Union man of sterling character and a zealous adherent and champion of the democratic party. His support of the Government in its efforts to suppress the Rebellion had been unequivocal and cordial. But after Mr. Lincoln had been renominated on a platform that endorsed the Constitutional Amendment and had in his Niagara falls correspondence declared that there would be no receding from the positions taken relative to slavery, Mr. Robinson, on the 7th of August 1864, sent the President a frank and manly statement of the difficulties he was confronting in his efforts to remain loyal to the administration in its attitude to slavery.”72 In his draft reply to Robinson, President Lincoln argued:

To me it seems plain that saying re-union and abandonment of slavery would be considered, if offered, is not saying that nothing else or less would be considered, if offered. But I will not stand upon the mere construction of language. It is true, as you remind me, that in the Greeley letter of 1862, I said: “If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some, and leaving others alone I would also do that.” I continued in the same letter as follows: “What I do about slavery and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union. I shall do less whenever I shall believe what I am doing hurts the cause; and I shall do more whenever I shall believe doing more will help the cause.” All this I said in the utmost sincerety; and I am as true to the whole of it now, as when I first said it. When I afterwards proclaimed emancipation, and employed colored soldiers, I only followed the declaration just quoted from the Greeley letter that “I shall do more whenever I shall believe doing more will help the cause” The way these measures were to help the cause, was not to be by magic, or miracles, but by inducing the colored people to come bodily over from the rebel side to ours. On this point, nearly a year ago, in a letter to Mr. Conkling, made public at once, I wrote as follows: “But negroes, like other people, act upon motives. Why should they do anything for us if we will do nothing for them? If they stake their lives for us they must be prompted by the strongest motive–even the promise of freedom. And the promise, being made, must be kept.” I am sure you will not, on due reflection, say that the promise being made, must be broken at the first opportunity. I am sure you would not desire me to say, or to leave an inference, that I am ready, whenever convenient, to join in re-enslaving those who shall have served us in consideration of our promise. As matter of morals, could such treachery by an possibility, escape the curses of Heaven, or of any good man? As matter of policy, to announce such a purpose, would ruin the Union cause itself. All recruiting of colored men would instantly cease, and all colored men now in our service, would instantly desert us. And rightfully too. Why should they give their lives for us, with full notice of our purpose to betray them. Drive back to the support of the rebellion the physical force which the colored people now give, and promise us, and neither the present, nor any coming administration, can save the Union. Take from us, and give to the enemy, the hundred and thirty, forty, or fifty thousand colored persons now serving us as soldiers, seamen, and laborers, and we can not longer maintain the contest. The party who could elect a President on a War & Slavery Restoration platform, would, of necessity, lose the colored force; and that force being lost, would be as powerless to save the Union as to do any other impossible thing. It is not a question of sentiment or taste, but one of physical force, which may be measured, and estimated as horsepower, and steam power, are measured and estimated. And by measurement, it is more than we can lose, and live. Nor can we, by discarding it, get a white force in place of it.
There is a witness in every white mans bosom that he would rather go to the war having the negro to help him, than to help the enemy against him. It is not the giving of one class for another. It is simply giving a large force to the enemy, for nothing in return. In addition to what I have said, allow me to remind you that no one, having control of the rebel armies, or, in fact, having any influence whatever in the rebellion, has offered, or intimated a willingness to, a restoration of the Union, in any event, or on any condition whatever. Let it be constantly borne in mind that no such offer has been made or intimated. Shall we be weak enough to allow the enemy to distract us with an abstract question which he himself refuses to present as a practical one? In the Conkling letter before mentioned, I said: “Whenever you shall have conquered all resistance to the Union, if I shall urge you to continue fighting, it will be an apt time then to declare that you will not fight to free negroes.” I repeat this now. If Jefferson Davis wishes, for himself, or for the benefit of his friends at the North, to know what I would or for the benefit of his friends at the North, to know what I would do if he were to offer peace and re-union, saying nothing about slavery, let him try me.”73

President Lincoln, however, reconsidered the impact of this letter and tried a different approach – one which was did not put emancipation in jeopardy or commit his words directly to paper. On August 19, he met with former Wisconsin Governor Alexander W. Randall and Judge Joseph T. Mills. Mills reported on their conversation for a Wisconsin newspaper. It was subsequently reprinted in the New York Tribune.

“The President was free & animated in conversation. I was astonished at his elasticity of spirits. Says Gov Randall, why cant you Mr P. seek some place of retirement for a few weeks. You would be reinvigorated. Aye said the President, 3 weeks would do me no good – my thoughts my solicitude for this great country follow me where ever I go. I don’t think it is personal vanity, or ambition – but I cannot but feel that the weal or woe of this great nation will be decided in the approaching canvas. My own experience has proven to me, that there is no program intended by the democratic party but that will result in the dismemberment of the Union. But Genl McClellan is in favor of crushing out the rebellion, & he will probably be the Chicago candidate. The slightest acquaintance with arithmetic will prove to any man that the rebel armies cannot be destroyed with democratic strategy. It would sacrifice all the white men of the north to do it. There are now between 1 & 200 thousand black men now in the service of the Union. These men will be disbanded, returned to slavery & we will have to fight two nations instead of one. I have tried it. You cannot concilliate the South, when the mastery & control of millions of blacks makes them sure of ultimate success. You cannot conciliate the South, when you place yourself in such a position, that they see they can achieve their independence. The war democrat depends upon conciliation. He must confine himself to that policy entirely. If he fights at all in such a war as this he must economise life & use all the means which God & nature puts in his power. Abandon all the posts now possessed by black men surrender all these advantages to the enemy, & we would be compelled to abandon the war in 3 weeks. We have to hold territory. Where are the war democrats to do it. The field was open to them to have enlisted & put down this rebellion by force of arms, by concilliation, long before the present policy was inaugurated. There have been men who have proposed to me to return to slavery the black warriors of Port Hudson & Olustee to their masters to conciliate the South. I should be damned in time & in eternity for so doing. The world shall know that I will keep my faith to friends & enemies, come what will. My enemies say I am now carrying on this was for the sole purpose of abolition. It is & will be carried on so long as I am President for the sole purpose of restoring the Union. But no human power can subdue this rebellion without using the Emancipation lever as I have done. Freedom has given us the control of 200 000 able bodied men, born & raised on southern soil. It will give us more yet. Just so much it has sub[t]racted from the strength of our enemies, & instead of alienating the south from us, there are evidences of a fraternal feeling growing up between our own & rebel soldiers. My enemies condemn my emancipation policy. Let them prove by the history of this war, that we can restore the Union without it. The President appeared to be not the pleasant joker I had expected to see, but a man of deep convictions & an unutterable yearning for the success of the Union cause. His voice was pleasant – his manner earnest & cordial. As I heard a vindication of his policy from his own lips, I could not but feel that his mind grew in stature like his body, & that I stood in the presence of the great guiding intellect of the age, & that those huge Atlantian shoulders were fit to bear the weight of mightiest monarchies. His transparent honesty, his republican simplicity, his gushing sympathy for those who offered their lives for their country, his utter forgetfulness of self in his concern for his country, could not but inspire me with confidence, that he was Heavens instrument to conduct his people thro this red sea of blood to a Canaan of peace & freedom…. It is such social tete a tetes among his friends that enables Mr Lincoln to endure mental toils & application that would crush any other man.”74

Raymond Initiative

Meanwhile, New York Times editor Henry J. Raymond, who had been harshly critical of Tribune editor Greeley’s actions at Niagara Falls, had his own temptation to push peace negotiations. (The feud between the two was long-standing.) Raymond served as national chairman of the Republican Party, and he became increasingly worried about his party’s prospects. Within a month of the Greeley peace fiasco, Raymond himself expressed his political doubts about the President’s reelectability in letters to former Secretary of War Simon Cameron. He said voters were begin think that President Lincoln “does not seek peace, that he is fighting not for the Union but for the abolition of slavery.”75 Raymond pressured President to conduct peace negotiations, writing: “I am in active correspondence with your staunchest friends in every state and from them all I hear but one report. The Tide is setting strongly against us. Hon. E. B. Washburne writes that ‘were an election to be held now in in Illinois we should be beaten.’ Mr. Cameron writes that Pennsylvania is against us. Gov. Morton writes that nothing but the most strenuous efforts can carry Indiana. This State (New York), according to the best information I can get, would go 50,000 against us to-morrow. And so of the rest.”

Two special causes are assigned for this great reaction in public sentiment – the want of military successes, and the impression in some minds, the fear and suspicion in others, that we are not to have peace in any event under this administration until Slavery is abandoned. In some way or other the suspicion is widely diffused that we can have peace with Union if we would. It is idle to reason with this belief – still more idle to denounce it. It can only be expelled by some authoritative act, at once bold enough to fix attention and distinct enough to defy incredulity & challenge respect.76

Mr. Lincoln drafted an official letter for Raymond to his use in traveling to Richmond and conducting another peace mission – before reconsidered the wisdom of such a mission under pressure from the Cabinet. Tentatively, President Lincoln wrote to Raymond: “You will proceed forthwith and obtain, if possible, a conference for peace with Hon. Jefferson Davis, or any person by him authorized for that purpose.

“You will address him in entirely respectful terms, at all events, and in any that my be indispensable to secure the conference.
At said conference you will propose, on behalf this government, that upon the restoration of the Union and the national authority, the war shall cease at once, all remaining questions to be left for adjustment by peaceful modes. If this be accepted hostilities to cease at once.
“If it is not accepted, you will then request to be informed what terms, if any embracing the restoration of the Union, would be accepted. If any such be presented you in answer, you will forthwith report the same to this government, and await further instructions.
If the presentation of any terms embracing the restoration of the Union be declined, you will then request to be informed what terms of peace would, be accepted; and on receiving any answer, report the same to this government, and await further instructions.77

During these weeks Republicans were shaken by the prospect of defeat by General George B. McClellan. Historian Brooks D. Simpson wrote: “Raymond’s proposal had its advantages. Davis had sought to damage Lincoln in the eyes of those northern voters who retained their racist attitudes by reminding them that the president was willing to sacrifice white lives for black freedom. Now Lincoln could turn the tables and encourage growing evidence of Confederate dissent by ostensibly removing slavery as an obstacle to reunion, safe in the knowledge that Davis would not abandon his dream of national independence.”78 In effect, Mr. Lincoln could respond to the worries of Republican party leaders and of the general electorate at the same time. Lincoln aides Nicolay and Hay wrote: “The party anxiety of certain Republican leaders had at this juncture become unusually sensitive. The Democratic National Convention was about to meet in the city of Chicago, and the nomination of McClellan as its candidate was strongly foreshadowed. In anticipation, Democratic leaders, newspaper, and delegates were specially active and boastful. Their unwonted confidence and bold prophecies created general uneasiness among Republicans and in a few instances, produced a downright panic.”79 Leaders of the Republican National Committee visited Lincoln on August 25. William Zornow wrote: “In the light what had occurred at Niagara Falls and the fruitless visit of Jacquess and Gilmore to Richmond, Raymond’s suggestion seemed wholly unfeasible, and Lincoln finally convinced the committee that to begin peace overtures would have serious and costly consequences. Lincoln was careful to reveal none of his anxiety over his impending defeat; after a few smiles and probably a few of his customary stories, he dismissed the committee, which, according to Nicolay, ‘went home encouraged and cheered.”s80 Historian James M. McPherson wrote that Nicolay and Hay “maintain[ed] that Lincoln had no intention of sending Raymond to Richmond. His purpose in drafting this document, they assert, was to make the editor a ‘witness of its absurdity.'”81 McPherson concluded: “Even though the president was convinced in August 1864 that he would not be re-elected, he decided that to give the appearance of backing down on emancipation ‘would be worse than losing the Presidential contest.'”82

Lincoln wanted Union, emancipation, peace, and reelection – in that order. Historian Michael Burlingame wrote that ” if Lincoln did really consider abandoning emancipation as a prerequisite for peace, it is not to be wondered at, for he may well have believed that insisting on it as a war aim guaranteed that the Democrats would win the election. To him it may have seemed preferable to save the Union by abandoning emancipation rather than losing both reunion and abolition by insisting on the latter. If such thoughts did occur to him, his keen moral sense trumped them. He hated slavery just as he hated to renege on promises. Even if it meant his defeat, he would not abandon emancipation.”83

Horace Greeley still continued to press for peace negotiations, writing President Lincoln on August 29: “Mr. [Waldo] Hutchins, who returned this morning, tells me that you asked him why Mr. Baylor did not come directly to you at Washington instead of loitering in this city. Perhaps I am partially responsible for that delay. I was very anxious that he should meet with no rebuff when he did reach Washington, and to that end advised him to call first on such men here as Mr. [Moses] Grinnell and Mr. [William] Evarts, who are known not only to be your warm friends but fully in the confidence of the Secretary of State. In this matter, time seemed to me of far less consequence than a proper start, which should preclude future failure.”

I saw nothing of Mr. Baylor’s papers, and did not seek to know his propositions. These may be of consequence; but they were not essential to my view of the matter. What I absorbingly desire is, that the Government shall offer to the revolted States conditions which they ought to accept, which the civilized world will approve, and which will tend to develop and embolden whatever Union feeling may be latent among them. It seems to me essential that the odium of continuing this horrible War shall be thrown on those who so wantonly commenced it. I perceive, but do not greatly value, the awkwardness of negociating with the Confederate organization which we are fighting to break down, and am very glad, for the sake of those who think more of it than I do, to avoid it. Mr. Baylor’s mission, however authorized, unquestionably affords an fair opportunity for appealing to the better disposed people of the South to end this wholesale carnage. He may be disavowed, [denounced?], execrated; but whatever terms may be agreed on between you and him will be diffused throughout the South, and will open the eyes of thousands to the desirability and the feasibility of Peace.
Above all let nothing be said or done which can touch the pride of the Southrons. They have fought splendidly, and should be treated magnanimously.84

In a letter that Lincoln wrote but did not send in mid-September 1864, he wrote: “Much is being said about peace; and no man desires peace more ardently than I. Still I am yet unprepared to give up the Union for a peace which, so achieved, could not be of much duration. The preservation of our Union was not the sole avowed object for which the war was commenced. It was commenced for precisely the reverse object—to destroy our Union. The insurgents commenced it by firing upon the Star of the West, and on Fort Sumpter, and by other similar acts. It is true, however, that the administration accepted the war thus commenced, for the sole avowed object of preserving our Union; and it is not true that it has since been, or will be, prossecuted by this administration, for any other object.”85

Singleton Initiative

While advising President Lincoln on how to conduct negotiations, Greeley had been actively seeking in August a replacement for him as the Republican presidential nominee. But, the Democrats and the Union army relieved the political assault on the President. The Democrats passed a strong peace platform at their National Convention in Chicago at the end of August which embarrassed some members of their own party, including their presidential nominee, George B. McClellan. It effectively identified the Democratic Party with its Copperhead, anti-war wing. Even Greeley became a Lincoln supporter again. The presidential campaign coupled with Union victories – the capture of Atlanta, the of Mobile, the Battles of Winchester and Nashville – helped take the peace pressure off President Lincoln during the fall.

After his reelection in November, Mr. Lincoln again received proposals for peace initiatives in December – one of them pushed again by Horace Greeley and another effort advanced by longtime friends from the Illinois legal community. General James Washington Singleton, an Illinois attorney, was an old acquaintance of Mr. Lincoln. Mr. Lincoln did not, however, have a high opinion of Singleton, whom he once called “a miracle of meanness.” 86 Historian Michael Burlingame wrote: “During the war, the Virginia-born Singleton, whose brother served in the Confederate Congress, became the leader of Illinois’s radical Peace Democrats. In the fall of 1864, Browning had entered a business deal with Singleton, New York Senator Edwin D. Morgan, Robert E. Coxe, and Judge James Hughes of the federal court of claims; they planned to purchase cotton and tobacco in Virginia and sell it for a hefty profit to Northern merchants and manufacturers. Such commerce was legal under the 1863 Captured and Abandoned Property Act. Lincoln felt obligated to Singleton for helping to undermine McClellan’s 1864 presidential campaign by refusing to support the general’s candidacy.”87

Burlingame wrote: “Shortly after the October elections, James W. Singleton urged Lincoln to announce that Confederate states could be restored without abandoning slavery. The president replied through their mutual friend Ebenezer Peck that while he respected the integrity of Singleton’s motives, he could not take his advice. According to Peck, the president said that the ‘favorable results of the recent elections, might subject him to the imputation of being willing now, to disregard the desires of the radical men, who have so reluctantly come in to his support, and thus subject him to the imputation of catering to new elements [i.e., Conservatives] in disregard of their opinion.”88

Some scholars have viewed Singleton’s motives with disdain and concluded that profit rather than peace was primary in Singleton’s mind. Singleton was indeed a strange beneficiary of presidential favor. He had shifted from a Clay Whig to a Douglas Democrat to an incendiary Copperhead Democrat. Historian Philip Van Doren Stern wrote: “Throughout the war Singleton was associated with the subversive Copperhead organization known as the Sons of Liberty, and in November 1864, he went to Canada to confer with the Confederate commissioners who had been sent with secret service funds to make war upon the United States from outside its borders.” But Singleton now pretended to be on a peace mission when he “was really involved in a gigantic plot to make millions from speculation in cotton and tobacco.”89

Lincoln scholar Harry E. Pratt, however, contended that Singleton’s “intentions were sincere and honest, though he was denounced as a Copperhead. He continued his efforts for peace in…October [1864], requesting Ebenezer Peck, an old friend of Lincoln’s, to set before the President a peace proposal which he had drawn up.” Peck reported to Singleton on his meeting with President Lincoln on October 14:

I received yours yesterday and this morning I had an interview with the President in relation to its contents; with every desire on his part to comply with your request in the premises; he does not deem it compatible to do so. The favorable results of the recent elections, might subject him to the imputation of being willing now, to disregard the desires of the radical men, who have so reluctantly come in to his support, and thus subject him to the imputation of catering to new element in disregard of their opinion.
He stated during the conversation, that a prominent and sensible radical, had stated to him, in a conversation upon this subject; and had while he (the radical might afford to make the hazard of such a declaration as you desire, that the President could not.
Mr. L. spoke very kindly of you expressing his full confidence in your integrity of purpose, and intentions – he could not under advice, in the present juncture of affairs, do what you, and I might add, he desired.
I asked him if he could not say that if any state in rebellion, Georgia for instance, would cease hostilities, elect her senators and representatives, and then ask to be recognized as a state of the Union; to enjoy her full rights and immunities as such (now obstante slavery) in all respects, as before the rebellion, he would be for recognizing such state, and restore the people thereof, as if no difficulties had intervened; he said, although there would be no hesitation on his part so to say and act, if the fact should so be, and the event should occur, yet he did not feel justified so to avow in advance especially where so many imputations would rest upon a declaration, having the appearance of propitiating votes, from men who are not cordial, in support of his general administration.
I might add much more of expressions [of] Mr. L only of kindness to yourself and your motives; but in favor of a policy which I suppose you to have, and I know I have thoroughly at heart; an honest continued and beneficient [sic] peace, one which will bring to the country prosperity, permanency, unity and of consequence a happiness now apparently departed.”90

Singleton had another, more persuasive advocate, former Illinois Senator Orville H. Browning. On Christmas Eve 1864, Browning went to the White House to push for permission for Singleton to engage in cotton buying in Richmond. Three days later on December 27, Browning again met with President Lincoln: “President sent for me and I went there. He wished to talk to me about Singleton going through the lines to Richmond to buy cotton &c and about releasing Mrs Symingtons Son who is a prisoner at Fort Lafayette.”91 Browning met with President Lincoln again on January 5, 1865 and wrote in his diary: ” I had previously talked with him about permitting Singleton to go South to buy Cotton, tobacco &c a scheme out of which he, Singleton, Judge [James] Hughes of the Court of Claims, Senator [Edwin D.] Morgan myself and some others hope to make some money, and do the Country some service. He wished to see me upon this subject now. We talked it all over, and before leaving him he gave me two cards for Singleton…to pass our lines with ordinary baggage, and go South.” Browning added: “He gave me a history of two of the half sisters of Mrs. Lincoln who are rebels[,] Mrs[.] Helm and Mrs. White[,] and wished some of us to see Mrs. Helm, and make some arrangement with her about 600 bales of cotton she claims to have somewhere in the South.”92 (The President thought kindly of Mrs. Helm, but not Mrs. White.)

Browning wrote President Lincoln January 30 – the day that Singleton returned to Washington: “Singleton has returned. Has letters & messages for you, and much to tell that it will be interesting to hear. We will call at 7 O’clock this evening, or any other time that will that may suit your convenience.” On January 31 and February 1, Singleton came to the White House with Browning. Singleton eventually got his desired pass. Singleton claimed that President Lincoln supported his mission to promote peace in Richmond. He contended that President Lincoln said “that he would be glad if he would do so; that he did not desire to subjugate the South; that he wanted that they should come back feeling that they had done so of their own accord; that he anticipated much trouble from the subject of reorganization, unless he could bring the states back in some sort of freedom; that he disliked the idea of governing the South by military satraps; that it would cost an already burdened country too much, and would not pay expenses.”

Historian Michael Burlingame wrote: “Singleton later claimed that he had made four or five trips to Richmond at Lincoln’s behest. When the president asked him what could be done to expedite peace, he replied that the Confederate leadership entertained false hopes inspired by some Northern Democrats who claimed that the war-weary North was on the verge of revolt. Lincoln, who viewed Singleton as ideally qualified to disabuse them of such a notion, told him: ‘if there is anybody in the country who can have an influence on those people, and bring about any good, you are the man. They must have confidence in you; you have been as much their friend as it was possible for you to be and yet be loyal to the government under which you live.’ Singleton responded that he was honored and would do his best to enlighten the Davis administration.”93 Singleton claimed he carried a presidential paper with him to Richmond where he met with top Confederates. However, Don E. and Virginia Feherenbacher wrote: “Singleton’s purpose in visiting Richmond was to launch a speculative trade in cotton and tobacco. It is doubtful that he had any authority from Lincoln to engage in peace negotiations.”94 Singleton’s operations were stopped by General Ulysses S. Grant who believed that Singleton was involved in smuggling. Grant was not opposed to negotiations as he demonstrated.

Blair Initiative

Another, more substantial peace mission was launched in December 1864 with Horace Greeley’s help and with a more substantial emissary. Francis P. Blair, Sr., had been involved in national politics for more than three decades; he was a Washington institution. His son Montgomery had been President Lincoln’s postmaster general until the President decided in September 1864 that he needed Montgomery’s resignation in order to keep peace in the fractious Republican Party. Another son Frank was a Missouri congressman and general who was a terror both on the battlefield and in the halls of Congress. In December 1864, the senior Blair decided to broker a peace deal by which the Confederacy would join the Union in redirecting their military energies against the French-imposed emperor of Mexico, Maximillian. After the Greeley mission the previous summer, President Lincoln was very reluctant to give an official sanction to such peace overtures.

Blair had corresponded with Greeley about his peace proposal. He wrote that his plan would resolve “the cause of the war, the war itself, and the men & the means essential to carrying it on against us.” 95 In their biography of President Lincoln, John G. Nicolay and John Hay wrote: “The veteran politician, Francis P. Blair, Sr., who, as a young journalist, thirty-five years before, had helped President Jackson throttle the South Carolina nullification; who, from his long political and personal experience at Washington, perhaps knew better than almost any one else the individual characters and tempers of Southern leaders; and who, moreover was ambitious to crown his remarkable career with another dazzling chapter of political intrigue, conceived that the time had arrived when he might perhaps take up the role of a successful mediator between the North and the South. He gave various hints of his desire to President Lincoln, but received neither encouragement nor opportunity to unfold his plans. “Come to me after Savannah falls,’ was Lincoln’s evasive reply; and when, on the 22d of December, Sherman announced the surrender of that city as a National Christmas gift Mr. Blair hastened to put his design into execution.”96

Mr. Lincoln did not hold out much hope for such peace missions, but neither did he want to dismiss them. Historian Michael Vorenberg wrote that President “Lincoln hoped that the missions, by their certain failure, would shatter northern dreams of an easy peace while simultaneously nurturing southern dissatisfaction with Confederate leaders.”97 President Lincoln, as always, was skeptical, reluctant to give the Blair plan any official status, but just as reluctant to block it completely. So, Blair was given a pass on December 28 to go to Richmond to discuss questions regarding property taken from him when Confederate forces invaded his mansion in July 1864 – but the President avoided seeing Blair before his departure. Blair departed for the Union headquarters at City Point on December 29. Meanwhile, he wrote Jefferson Davis, with whose family he had previously been close, for a permission to come to Richmond. When he arrived at City Point, he received a Confederate pass to visit Richmond – but only to look for his missing papers. He was back in Washington by January 2. Thereafter, President Lincoln first made and then broke two appointments for Blair to see him.

Blair tried again to visit Richmond in early January. He made his pitch to Jefferson Davis on January 12 and 14. Blair’s fanciful plan included a joint Union-Confederate invasion of Mexico to remove the French-installed “emperor.” Davis wrote a note for Blair to take back: “I have no disposition to find obstacles in forms and am willing now as heretofore to enter into negotiations for the restoration of peace; and am ready to send a commission whenever I have reason to suppose it will be received, or to receive a commission if the United States government shall choose to send one. That, notwithstanding the rejection of our former offers, I would, if you could promise that a commissioner, minister, or other agent, would be received, appoint one immediately, and renew the effort to enter into conference with the view to secure peace to the two countries.”98 Davis’s reference to “two countries” clearly implied recognition of Confederate independence that was clearly unacceptable to President Lincoln and most northerners.

Blair returned to Washington on January 16 and gave a report to President Lincoln the same day. Mr. Lincoln wrote on it: “I having no intimation as to what Mr. Blair would say or do while beyond our military lines.”99 The President himself wrote a note for Blair: “Your having shown me Mr. Davis’ letter to you of the 12th. Inst., you may say to him that I have constantly been, am now, and shall continue, ready to receive any agent whom he, or any other influential person now resisting the national authority, may informally send to me, with the view of securing peace to the people of our one common country.”100 The phrase “one common country” would clearly be unacceptable to Davis.

Meanwhile, according to Blair biographer Elbert Smith, “The Blair Mission easily became the exciting topic of the day. The New York Tribune ran big single-column headlines on the front page, one of which was ‘The Blair Mission. Mr. Blair Returns to Washington. He Makes no Revelations. What the Rebels Say of Him….He is Silent but in Good Humor.’ An editorial in the National Intelligencer on ‘The Blair Mission’ began: ‘That the Blair Mission has become the national excitement is evident enough from the reflection of the leading press of the country.’ At the same time the Richmond Examiner was trying hard to convince the South that Blair was on his own authority. ‘We have reason to think – to know…that he has no authentication from the Yankee Government either written or verbal,’ wrote the editor of that sheet. But the excitement rose higher and higher.”101

Blair left Washington on the steamer Don again on January 20. He hurried back to Richmond where he met with Jefferson Davis again on January 21 and blamed radical Republicans for limiting President Lincoln’s freedom to negotiate. Historian Michael Burlingame wrote: “On February 1, when Henry Ward Beecher called at the White house to express alarm at Blair’s peace overtures, Lincoln explained that ‘Blair thinks something can be done, but I don’t, but I have no objection to have him try his hand. He has no authority whatever but to go and see what he can do.'”102 Neither the Union nor the Confederate leader saw any real opportunity for negotiation but nor could they completely close the door.

Davis could not afford to cave to the Union President on southern independence any more than Mr. Lincoln could yield to Confederate secession. So, noted historian James McPherson, “Davis overlooked the discrepancy between ‘two countries’ and ‘one common country.'”103 These were desperate times for Confederate leaders, many of whom saw that defeat was near. Michael Burlingame wrote: “Many members of the Confederate Congress, persuaded that the war was lost, had urged the appointment of peace commissioners to effect a surrender. Much later, they were surprised to learn of Davis’s unyielding instructions, which doomed the conference to failure before it began.”104

In the wake of the Blair mission, three Confederate commissioners, including Vice President Alexander H. Stephens, were to dispatched for what became known as the “Hampton Roads Conference,” with a note from Davis that “in conformity with the letter of Mr. Lincoln of which the foregoing is a copy, you are requested to proceed to Washington City for an informal conference with him upon the issues involved in the existing war, and for the purpose of securing peace to the two countries.” Stephens later contended that “there were no instructions whatever given by Mr. Davis to the commissioners as to the terms which they should agree to treat upon the subject of peace.”105

In response to the Blair mission, the Confederate commissioners arrived at Union lines on January 29, where they were detained by military officials waiting for approval from Washington. President Lincoln had Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton send a telegram to General Edward O. C. Ord: “This Department has no knowledge of any understanding by Genl Grant to allow any person to come within his lines as Commissioners of any sort. You will therefore allow no one to come into your lines under such character or profession, until you receive the President’s instructions, to whom your telegram will be submitted for his directions”.106 The next day, Stanton telegraphed General Ord: “By direction of the President you are instructed to inform the three gentlemen, Messrs Stephens, Hunter and Campbell, that a messenger will be dispatched to them at, or near where they now are, without unnecessary delay”. 107 President Lincoln was cautious – sending Major Thomas Eckert to City Point to operate under his direct orders. In his memoirs, General Grant wrote:

On the last of January, 1865, peace commissioners from the so-called Confederate States presented themselves on our lines around Petersburg, and were immediately conducted to my headquarters at City Point. They proved to be Alexander H. Stephens, Vice President of the Confederacy, Judge Campbell, Assistant-Secretary of War, and R.M. T. Hunter, former United States Senator and then a member of the Confederate Senate.
It was about dark when they reached my headquarters, and I at once conducted them to the steamer Mary Martin, a Hudson River boat which was very comfortably fitted up for the use of the use of passengers. I at once communicated by telegraph with Washington and informed the Secretary of War and the President of the arrival of these commissioners and that their object was to negotiate terms of peace between the United States and, as they termed it, the Confederate Government. I was instructed to retain them at City Point, until the President, or some one whom he would designate, should come to meet them. They remained several days as guests on board the boat. I saw them quite frequently, though I have no recollection of having had any conversation whatever with them on the subject of their mission. It was something I had nothing to do with, and I therefore did not wish to express any views on the subject. For my own part I never had admitted, and never was ready to admit, that they were the representatives of a government. There had been too great a waste of blood and treasure to concede anything of the kind. As long as they remained there, however, our relations were pleasant and I found them all very agreeable gentlemen. I directed the captain to furnish them with the best the boat afforded, and to administer to their comfort in every way possible. No guard was placed over them and no restriction was put upon their movements; nor was there any pledge asked that they would not abuse the privileges extended to them. They were permitted to leave the boat when they felt like it, and did so, coming up on the bank and visiting me at my headquarters.
I had never met either of these gentlemen before the war, but knew them well by reputation and through their public services, and I had been a particular admirer of Mr. Stephens. I had always supposed that he was a very small man, but when I saw him in the dusk of evening I was very much surprised to find so large a man as he seemed to be. When he got down on to the boat I found that he was wearing a coarse gray woolen overcoat, a manufacture that had been introduced into the South during the rebellion. The cloth was thicker than anything of the kind I had ever seen, even in Canada. The overcoat extended nearly to his feet, and was so large that it gave him the appearance of being an average-sized man. He took this off when he reached the cabin of the boat, and I was struck with the apparent change in size in the coat and out of it.
After a few days, about the 2d of February, I received a dispatch from Washington, directing me to send the commissioners to Hampton Roads to meet the President and a member of the cabinet. Mr. Lincoln met them there and had an interview of short duration. It was not a great while after they met that the President visited me at City Point. He spoke of his having met the commissioners, and said he had told them that there would be no use in entering into any negotiations unless they would recognize, first: that the Union as a whole must be forever preserved, and second: that slavery must be abolished. If they were willing to concede these two points, then he was ready to enter into negotiations and was almost willing to hand them a blank sheet of paper with his signature attached for them to fill in the terms upon which they were willing to live with us in the Union and be one people. He always showed a generous and kindly spirit toward the Southern people, and I never heard him abuse an enemy. Some of the cruel things said about President Lincoln, particularly in the North, used to pierce him to the heart; but never in my presence did he evince a revengeful disposition – and I saw a great deal of him at City Point, for he seemed glad to get away from the cares and anxieties of the capital.
Right here I might relate an anecdote of Mr. Lincoln. It was on the occasion of his visit to me just after he had talked with the peace commissioners at Hampton Roads. After a little conversation, he asked me if I had seen that overcoat of Stephens’s. I replied that I had. ‘Well,’ said he, ‘did you see him take it off?’ I said ye. ‘Well,’ said he, ‘didn’t you think it was the biggest shuck and the littlest ear that ever did see?’ Long afterwards I told this story to the Confederate General J.B. Gordon, at the same time a member of the Senate. He repeated it to Stephens, and, as I heard afterwards, Stephens laughed immoderately at the simile of Mr. Lincoln.”108

Rumors of the Confederates’ mission reached Washington. Historian James A. Rawley wrote: “On the day of the crucial House vote [on the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery], January 31, 1865, Representative James M. Ashley, who had introduced the bill, sent a worried appeal to Lincoln. A rumor was circulating in the House that peace commissioners were en route to Washington, and the rumor ‘is being used against us.’ Ashley requested authorization to contradict the rumor. Lincoln promptly replied in a single sentence, ‘So far as I know, there are no peace commissioners in the city, or likely to be in it.’ His reply was disingenuous, for Lincoln was aware that peace commissioners were en route to Fortress Monroe.”109 They were not, however, en route to Washington. Ashley himself wrote: “Mr. Lincoln knew that the Commissioners were then on their way to Ft[.] Monroe where he expected to meet them and afterwards did meet them. You see how admirably he answered my note for my purposes and yet how truly.”110

At 10 P.M. on February 1, Major Eckert, who had earned President Lincoln’s confidence at head of the War Department’s telegraph office, telegraphed President Lincoln to report a letter delivered to General Grant from the Commissioners: “We desire to go to Washington City to confer informally with the President personally in reference to the matters mentioned in his letter to Mr Blair of the eighteenth 18th January ultimo, without any personal compromise on any question in the letter, We have the permission to do so from the authorities in Richmond-“. Eckert wrote: “At nine thirty (9:30) P. M. I notified them that they could not proceed further unless they complied with the terms expressed in my letter. The point of meeting designated, in above note, would not in my opinion, be insisted upon[.] Think Fort Monroe would be acceptable. Having complied with my instructions, I will return to Washington to-morrow unless otherwise ordered.” Eckert telegraphed Washington a half hour later that the Confederate commissioners were willing to ignore their previous statement that a meeting would constitute recognition of the Confederate government.111

Eckert recalled that “Stephens was very civil in his reception, more so than the others. He asked if they might not begin to the discuss the subject. I said, ‘Yes, what is the subject you want to discuss?’ He said, ‘We of the South lay great store by our State rights.’ I turned to him and said, ‘Excuse me, but we in the North never think of that, we cannot discuss that subject at all.'”

I told them that all the proceedings of the conference must be in writing. I then submitted a copy of my instruction from the President which they took saying they would like to consider it and reply later. Hunter was the chief spokesman, but my communications were always to Stephens, his name being the first on the list of three. Campbell had the least to say. He was, however, a close listener. Before the conference we came very near getting into a difficulty that would have forced me to have done something that might have raised a row, because General Grant wanted to be a party to the conference. I told him no. I said, ‘You are the commanding general of the army. If you make a failure or say anything that would be subject to criticism it would be very bad. If I make a mistake I am nothing but a common business man and it will go for naught. I am going to take the responsibility, and I advise you not to go to the conference.’ He finally said, ‘Decency would compel me to go and see them.’ I said that for the purpose of introduction I should be pleased to have him go with me but not until after I had first met the gentlemen. Grant was vexed with me because I did not tell him exactly what my mission was.
Grant went with me on my second visit a few hours later and after he was introduced, one of the commissioners, I am sure it was Hunter, said to Grant, ‘We do not seem to get on very rapidly with Major Eckert. We are very anxious to go on to Washington, and Mr. Lincoln has promised to see us there.’ General Grant started to make reply when I interrupted him and said, “Excuse me, General Grant, you are not permitted to say anything officially at this time,” and I stopped him right there. I added, ‘If you will read the instructions under which I am acting you will see that I am right.'”
After listening a while to what the commissioners were saying, Grant got up and went out. He was angry with me for years afterward, and this has been a source of sincere regret to me, because in his responsible position as commanding general of the army he had some reason for chagrin at the action of a mere major in questioning his ranking authority in the presence of representatives of the government whose army he was fighting. But at the time I gave no thought to this feature of the case, remembering only my explicit orders written and oral from the President. When Grant was stopped from making a reply to Hunter he and the other commissioners doubtless thought that if they could have presented the matter direct to Grant they would likely get his approval. This view is sustained by Grant’s telegram of 10:30 P.M., February 1, 1865.112

Operating under presidential instructions, Eckert would have killed the negotiations before they began, but General Grant convinced President Lincoln that some useful discussion was possible. Grant telegraphed Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton on February 1: “Now that the interview between Maj. Eckert, under his written instructions, and Mr Stephens & party has ended I will state confidentially, but not officially to become a matter of record, that I am convinced upon conversation with Messrs Stephens & Hunter that their intentions are good and their desire sincere to restore peace and union. I have not felt myself at liberty to express even views of my own or to account for my reticence. This has placed me in an awkward position, which I could have avoided by not seeing them in the first instance. I fear now their going back without any expression from anyone in authority will have a bad influence. At the same time, I recognize the difficulties in the way of receiving these informal Commissioners at this time, and do not know what to recommend. I am sorry, however, that Mr. Lincoln cannot have an interview with the two named in this despatch, if not all three now within our lines. Their letter to me was all that the President’s instructions contemplated to secure their safe conduct if they had used the same language to Maj[.] Eckert.” 113 According to James M. McPherson, “Grant’s intervention was decisive. On the spur of the moment, Lincoln decided to go to Virginia to join Seward for a personal meeting with the commissioners.”114

Grant’s intervention on behalf of peace has puzzled some observers. Grant biographer William S. McFeely wrote: “Critics of the peace conference claim it lengthened the war by strengthening the will of Confederates who saw Lincoln, not Davis, as the obdurate force. Why then had Grant, whose job was to win the war, worked so hard to bring the conference about? The answer is that he truly thought the enemy, or at least the saner enemy leaders, ready to stop the fighting, and he believed the peace conference had a chance of succeeding; he believed Lincoln and the three Confederates would find a way to say that enough was enough.”115

The President sent Secretary of State William H. Seward to confer with the Confederate leaders. “The position of control and command so firmly held by Mr. Lincoln was strikingly shown when the Peace Conference was about to assemble at Fortress Monroe,” Maine Congressman James G. Blaine later wrote. The President “dispatched Mr. Seward to the place of meeting in advance of his own departure from Washington, giving him the most explicit instruction as to his mode of actions, – prescribing carefully the limitations he should observe, and concluding with these words: ‘You will hear all they may choose to say, and report it to me. You will not assume to definitely consummate any thing.” Assuredly this is not the language of deference. It does not stop short of being the language of command. It is indeed the expression of one who realized that he was clothed with all the power belonging to his great office. No one had a more sincere admiration of Mr. Seward’s large qualities than the President; no one more thoroughly appreciated his matchless powers. But Mr. Lincoln had not only full trust in his own capacity, but a deep sense of his own responsibility – a responsibility which could not be transferred and for which he felt answerable to his conscience and to God.”116

The President’s own decision to travel to Hampton Roads was sudden and secret, according to Lincoln aide Edward D. Neill. Neill wrote that “on the morning of 2d of February, 1865, between nine and ten o’clock, as I was ascending the stairs to the second story, to reach my room, I met [Charles] Forbes, an intelligent servant, descending with a small valise in his hand and I asked, ‘Where are you going?’ Looking up to see that no one was near, he whispered, “Fortress Monroe,’ and hurried on. When I reached the upper hall I met the President with his overcoat, and going to my room, looked out of the window, and saw him quietly walking around the curved pavement which leads to Pennsylvania Avenue, while Forbes was following at a distance of two or three hundred feet, as his valet. Waiting for some time, I then crossed the hall to the room of the principal secretary, Mr. John G. Nicolay, and quietly said, ‘The President has left the city.’ ‘What do you mean?’ he asked; and I replied, “Just what I have said.’ Rising quickly, he opened the door which communicated with the president’s room, and was astonished to find the chair of Mr. Lincoln vacant. The President had received a despatch which convinced him that it was proper to go to Fortress Monroe and confer with the rebel commissioners, Alexander Stephens, R. M. T. Hunter, and J. A. Campbell, and at nine o’clock that morning sent the following telegram to Secretary Seward, already there: ‘Induced by a despatch from General Grant, I join you at Fortress Monroe.'”117

President Lincoln met the Confederate trio at Fortress Monroe on February 3. Confederate Vice President Stephens recalled: “The meeting took place in the saloon of the steamer which lay anchored neared Fortress Monroe. Mr. Lincoln and Mr. Sewart [sic], were already on board. The commissioners were escorted into the saloon and soon after, Mr. Lincoln and Mr. Sewart entered. After the usual salutation on the part of those who were previously acquainted and the introductions of the others who had never met, the conversation immediately opened by the revival of reminiscence and association of former days.” 118 Stephens recalled that he began the serious discussion by saying: “Well Mr. President, is there no way of putting an end to the present trouble, and bringing about a restoration of the general good feelings and harmony that had existed between the states and the country?” Secretary of State Seward replied: “It is understood, gentlemen, that this is to be an informal conference. There is to be no clerk or secretary, no writing or records of anything that is said. All is to be verbal.” According to Stephens, “all consented.”119

President Lincoln quickly disabused the Confederate commissioners that Francis Blair’s earlier mission to Richmond had any official standing. Stephens said that Mr. Lincoln rejected any diplomatic or military diversion of the type suggested by the elder Blair: “Mr. Lincoln replied with considerable earnestness. He could entertain no proposition for ceasing active military operations, which was not based upon a pledge first given for the ultimate restoration of the Union. He considered the question of an armistice fully and he could not give his consent to any proposition of that sort, on the basis suggested. The settlement of our existing difficulties was a question now of supreme importance. The only basis on which he would entertain a proposition for a settlement was the recognition and re-establishment of the National Authority throughout the land.”120

According to Stephens, Mr. Lincoln said: “Now it is proper to state at the beginning, that whatever he [Blair] said was of his own accord and without the least authority from me. When he applied for a passport to go to Richmond with certain ideas, which he wished to make known to me, I told him flatly that I did not want to hear them. If he desired to go to Richmond of his own accord I would give him a passport but he had no authority to speak for me in any way whatsoever. When he returned and brought Mr. Davis’s letter, I gave him the one to which your alluded to in your application for permission to cross the battle lines. I am willing to hear propositions for peace on the conditions of this letter and on no other. The restoration of the Union is a Sine Qua Non with me and hence my instructions that no conference was to be held except upon this basis.” 121 Interior Secretary John Palmer Usher recalled how President Lincoln related the results of the peace conference to the Cabinet:

“When he returned from the James, where he met Messrs. Stephens, Campbell, and Hunter, he related some of his conversations with them. He said that at the conclusion of one of his discourses, detailing what he considered to be the position in which the insurgents were placed by the law, they replied: ‘Well, according to your view of the case we are all guilty of treason, and liable to be hanged.’
Lincoln replied: ‘Yes, that is so.’
They, continuing, said: ‘Well, we suppose that would necessarily be your view of our case, but we never had much fear of being hanged while you were President.’
From his manner in repeating this scene he seemed to appreciate the compliment highly. There is no evidence in his record that he ever contemplated executing any of the insurgents for their treason. There is no evidence that he desired any of them to leave the country, with the exception of Mr. Davis. His great, and apparently his only object was to have a restored Union. Soon after his return from the James, the cabinet was convened, and he read to it for approval a message which he had prepared to be submitted to Congress, in which he recommended that congress appropriate $300,000,0000 to be apportioned among the several slave States, in proportion to slave population to be distributed to the holders of slaves in those States upon condition that they would consent to the abolition of slavery, the disbanding of the insurgent army, and would acknowledge and submit to the laws of the United States.
The members of the Cabinet were all opposed. He seemed somewhat surprised at that, and asked: ‘How long with the war last?’ No one answered, but he soon said: ‘A hundred days. We are spending now in carrying on the war $3,000,000 a day, which will amount to all this money, besides all the lives.’
With a deep sigh he added: ‘But you are all opposed to me, and I will not send the message.”122

Secretary of the Navy Welles wrote after the meeting that President Lincoln proposed a new plan for compensated emancipation to the Cabinet: “It did not meet with favor, but was dropped. The earnest desire of the President to conciliate and effect peace was manifest, but there may be such a thing as so overriding as to cause a distrust or adverse feeling. In the present temper of Congress the proposed measure, if a wise one, could not be carried through successfully.”123

At the Hampton Roads conference, Stephens says he had pressed President Lincoln on the question of slavery in the seceded states as affected by the Emancipation Proclamation: “Mr. Lincoln said that was a judicial question. How the courts would decide it, he did not know, and could give no answer. His own opinion was that, as the Proclamation was a war measure and would have effect only from it being an exercise of war powers, as soon as the war ceased it would be inoperative for the future. It would be held to apply only to such slaves as had come under its jurisdiction at the time. This was his individual opinion, but the courts might decide otherwise and hold that it effectually emancipated all the slaves in the United States to which it applied at the time. So far as he was concerned, he would leave it to the courts to decide. He would never change or modify the terms of the Proclamation in the slightest.” At that point, Secretary Seward disclosed that Congress had just passed the Thirteenth Amendment, which when ratified would abolish slavery throughout the country.124

Secretary Seward recalled that President Lincoln told the Confederate commissioners that “he must not be expected to depart from the positions he had heretofore assumed in his proclamation of emancipation and other documents.” 125 According to Stephens, “Mr. Lincoln said that so far as the confiscation acts and other penal acts were concerned, their enforcement was left entirely with him, and on that point he was perfectly willing to be full and explicit, and on his assurance perfect reliance might be placed. He should exercise the power of the Executive with the utmost liberality.”126

Stephens wrote that Mr. Lincoln “went into a prolonged series of remarks about the Proclamation. He said it was not his intention in the beginning to interfere with slavery in the states. He never would have done it if he had not been compelled by necessity to do it to maintain the Union. This subject presented many difficult and perplexing questions to him. He had hesitated for some time and had resorted to his measure only when driven to it by public pressure. He had been in favor of the general government prohibiting the extension of slavery into the territories, but did not think that the government possessed power over the subject in the states, except as a war measure. He had always, himself, been in favor of emancipation but not immediate emancipation, even by states. Many evils attending this appeared to him.”127 Historian William C. Harris wrote: “Stephens’s account generally conforms to Lincoln’s position on reconstruction and his conservative concerns regarding the disruptions that could occur with emancipation. A succinct report of the Confederate commissioners to President Davis immediately after their return to Richmond indicates that Lincoln anticipated no change in his reconstruction plan, set forth in December 1863.”128

As the Hampton Roads meeting broke up, according to presidential aide Edward D. Neill, “a negro was sent in a row-boat by Mr. Seward with a basket of champagne, to be presented with his compliments. After the man reached the deck [of their steamboat], the commissioners read the note, and waved their handkerchiefs in acknowledgment, and then Mr. Seward, speaking through a boatswain’s trumpet, said, ‘Keep the champagne, but return the negro.’ The status of the negro, in case of cessation of hostilities, had been one of the subjects discussed in the conference.” 129 Artist Francis B. Carpenter recalled: “It was reported at the time that the President told a “little story” on that occasion, and the inquiry went around among the newspapers, “What was it?” The New York Herald published what purported to be a version of it, but the “point” was entirely lost, and it attracted no attention. Being in Washington a few days subsequent to the interview with the Commissioners (my previous sojourn there having terminated about the first of last August), I asked Mr. Lincoln one day if it was true that he told Stephens, Hunter and Campbell a story.”

“Why, yes,” he replied, manifesting some surprise, “but has it leaked out? I was in hopes nothing would be said about it, lest some over-sensitive people should imagine there was a degree of levity in the intercourse between us.” He then went on to relate the circumstances which called it out.
“You see,” said he, “we had reached and were discussing the slavery question. Mr. Hunter said, substantially, that the slaves, always accustomed to an overseer, and to work upon compulsion, suddenly freed, as they would be if the South should consent to peace on the basis of the ‘Emancipation Proclamation,’ would precipitate not only themselves, but the entire Southern society, into irremediable ruin. No work would be done, nothing would be cultivated, and both blacks and whites would starve!”
Said the President: “I waited for Seward to answer that argument, but as he was silent, I at length said: ‘Mr. Hunter, you ought to know a great deal better about this argument than I, for you have always lived under the slave system. I can only say, in reply to your statement of the case, that it reminds me of a man out in Illinois, by the name of Case, who undertook, a few years ago, to raise a very large herd of hogs. It was a great trouble to feed them, and how to get around this was a puzzle to him. At length he hit on the plan of planting an immense field of potatoes, and, when they were sufficiently grown, he turned the whole herd into the field, and let them have full swing, thus saving not only the labor of feeding the hogs, but also that of digging the potatoes. Charmed with his sagacity, he stood one day leaning against the fence, counting his hogs, when a neighbor came along.
“‘Well, well,’ said he, ‘Mr. Case, this is all very fine. Your hogs are doing very well just now, but you know out here in Illinois the frost comes early, and the ground freezes for a foot deep. Then what you going to do?’
“This was a view of the matter which Mr. Case had not taken into account. Butchering time for hogs was ‘way on in December or January! He scratched his head, and at length stammered: ‘Well, it may come pretty hard on their snouts, but I don’t see but that it will be “root, hog, or die.”‘”130

Emancipation was coming and slaveholders would have to adjust to new economic realities. Raymond’s New York Times reported: “The President and Mr. SEWARD are very reticent about the result of their negotiations with the rebel ‘commissioners,’ and no particulars are yet known of the details of the interview. There is, however, a general feeling of satisfaction among those in the President’s confidence, and the result of the negotiations is regarded as highly favorable to peace.”131

Congress – led by Pennsylvania Congressman Thaddeus Stevens – wanted a report on the Hampton Roads negotiations, which President Lincoln duly sent to the Capitol. House Speaker Schuyler Colfax wrote President Lincoln: “The Senate have been hesitating for two days about Mr. Sumner’s resolution, asking for information as to the recent Conference at Hampton Roads, & I see that a discussion is possible upon it. I stated therefore to Mr. Stevens this morning that I understood from you that you had no objection to communicating the information, & a resolution has been passed unanimously, asking for it, if not incompatible with the public interest. Under the circumstances, even if the Senate pass the resolution to day, I hope you will reply to the House Resolution, in duplicate, if you feel required to answer the delayed Senate Resolution to that Body. I know it the answer cannot fail to increase the confidence of the American people in you.”132 Stevens biographer Fawn M. Brodie wrote that “when Lincoln returned, and at Stevens’ specific request reported to Congress the results of the Hampton Road talks, the old Commoner arose with praise upon his lips: ‘The President has made the peace effort,’ he said, ‘in such a masterly style, upon such a firm basis and principle, that I believe even those who thought his mission was unwise will accord to him sagacity and patriotism, and applaud his action.”133

Northern agitation about the talks extended beyond congressional leaders before Mr. Lincoln issued his explanation. Journalist Noah Brooks recalled that “when it was found that not only had Secretary Seward gone to Hampton Roads to meet the so-called rebel commissioners, Stephens, Campbell, and Hunter, but that the President of the United States had actually followed him, the perturbation in Washington was something which cannot be readily described. The Peace Democrats went about the corridors of the hotels and the Capitol, saying that Lincoln had at last come to their way of thinking, and had gone to Hampton Roads to open peace negotiations. The radicals were in a fury of rage. They bitterly complained that the President was about to give up the political fruits which had been already gathered from the long and exhausting military struggle, It was asserted that the policy of confiscation and emancipation was to be abandoned, and that as a further concession to the ‘returning prodigal,’ the abolition of slavery by the action of States that had not yet voted as to be blocked then and there. There were, however, not a few moderate, and I may say conservative, Republicans whose faith in the sagacity and patriotism of Abraham Lincoln still remained unshaken; but these were in a minority, and it was apparently with feeble hope that they admonished radical Republicans and Copperhead Democrats to wait until Lincoln had returned from Hampton Roads and was ready to tell his story. Among the bitterest to denounce the course of Lincoln was Thaddeus Stevens, who, a few days before had said in his place in the House of Representatives that if the country were to vote over again for President of the United States, Benjamin F. Butler, and not Abraham Lincoln, would be their choice. Others of the same uncompromising and unreasonable stripe actually hinted at Impeachment and trial. Colonel John W. Forney unwittingly added fuel to the flames by publishing in the Washington Chronicle a series of editorial articles ablaze with all the clap-trap of double leads and typographical device, in which it was sought to prepare the public mind for the sacrifice of something vaguely dreadful and dreadfully vague. These articles counseled popular acquiescence in the repeal of the confiscation law and other kindred measures as a condition of peace, and were telegraphed all over the country, and indorsed by thoughtless men as the outgivings of President Lincoln. They were read by astonished and indignant thousands, were flouted and scouted by the followers of Wade and Davis, and they filled with alarm and dejection the minds of multitudes of readers not conversant with the facts. It must be remembered that the war upon President Lincoln for his alleged slowness in regard to the slavery question having no longer that excuse for being, the ultra-radicals had flown to Negro suffrage and a more vigorous system of retaliation upon rebel prisoners as convenient weapons in a new aggressiveness; and when it was confidently state that Lincoln had gone to Hampton Roads because he feared that Seward would not make his terms ‘liberal enough,’ the excitement in and around the Capitol rose to fever heat.” Brooks observed that the conclusion of the conference brought a slight relaxation to “the tenseness of political feeling in Congress.”134

The New York Times editorialized: “After Mr. Blair’s volunteer diplomacy had, to a certain extent, committed the Government to a conference, nothing could be wiser, more patriotic, or more satisfactory, than the course pursued by President Lincoln. He gives the strongest possible justification of his desire for peace by meeting personally with the rebel commissioners, and by giving the fullest most liberal consideration to every proposition and suggestion they had to offer. Yet he did not permit them for a single moment to believe, or even suppose, that peace was possible at the cost of separation.”135

After the President issued his report to Congress, Harper’s Weekly reported: “If there is any man in the country who comprehends the scope of the war more fully than the President, who is he?…We venture to say that there is no man in our history who has shown a more felicitous combination of temperament, conviction, and ability to grapple with a complication like that in which this country is involved than Abraham Lincoln.” 136 Both sides had been stymied at the Hampton Roads conference. Historian James M. McPherson wrote: “Whatever their personal convictions, the commissioners had no authority to concede the death of their nation. They returned sadly to Richmond and admitted their failure to president Davis – who was neither surprised nor disappointed. Davis reported to the Confederate Congress that Lincoln’s terms required ‘degrading submission’ and ‘humiliating surrender.’ Richmond newspapers echoed the president’s angry words.”137 Historian Jennifer L. Weber wrote: “The conference may have been a failure in terms of ending the war, but according to New Yorker George Templeton Strong, it made great headway in ‘silencing or converting’ many Copperheads. Finally, it seemed, Peace Democrats had started to realize that the Confederates wanted independence, not peace. Having recognized that, many of them, now believed there was nothing to do but fight until the South surrendered.”138

On April 11 Mr. Lincoln delivered his final public address to a group of serenaders outside the White House. The wife of Treasury Secretary Hugh McCulloch recalled: “The news of the surrender had come; the city was excited, bonfires burning everywhere, and before the White House a crowd so dense that I and the friends with me went around to the basement door and were let in there, then made our way upstairs to the window where the President stood speaking to the people outside packed about the portico. Mr. Lincoln had written out some remarks on about half a dozen pages. Tad sat at a little table by the window; and when his father finished the sheets he took them and placed them carefully on the table, one by one, until Mr. Lincoln had ended. I remember well that all through Mr. Lincoln’s speech there was uppermost kindly feeling for the South and dissuasion for the excited crowd outside from all bitterness and hard feeling. Mr. Lincoln was followed by Mr. [James Harlan], Secretary of the Interior, who, however, did not follow Mr. Lincoln’s line of thought and words; and when Mr. Harland [sic] said, ‘What shall we do with the rebels? What shall we do with them?’ The hoarse voices outside shouted up: ‘Hang them!’ Tad Lincoln looked at his father and said, quickly: ‘No, papa; not hang them, but hang on to them.'”

Mr. Lincoln replied: “Tad has got it. We must hang on to them.”139


  1. William C. Harris, “The Hampton Roads Peace Conference: A Final Test of Lincoln’s Presidential Leadership,” Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association, Winter 2000, p. 34
  2. James R. Gilmore, Personal Recollections of Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War, pp. 137-138.
  3. CWAL, Volume VI, p. 225 (Letter from Abraham Lincoln to William S. Rosecrans, May 21, 1863).
  4. Ervin S. Chapman, Latest Light on Abraham Lincoln, and War-time Memories: Including Many Heretofore Unpublished, pp. 88, 90.
  5. James R. Gilmore, Personal Recollections of Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War, pp. 161.
  6. James R. Gilmore, Personal Recollections of Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War, pp. 148-149. (Letter from James F. Jaquess to Abraham Lincoln, May 23, 1863).
  7. James R. Gilmore, Personal Recollections of Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War, pp. 150.
  8. James R. Gilmore, Personal Recollections of Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War, pp. 156-157.
  9. James R. Gilmore, Personal Recollections of Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War, pp. 160.
  10. Roy P. Basler, editor, Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (CWAL), Volume VI, p. 236 (Letter from Abraham Lincoln to William S. Rosecrans, May 28, 1863).
  11. James R. Gilmore, Personal Recollections of Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War, p. 161.
  12. James R. Gilmore, Personal Recollections of Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War, pp. 140-141.
  13. CWAL, Volume VI, p. 328 (Letter from Abraham Lincoln to Robert C. Schenck, July 14, 1862).
  14. James R. Gilmore, Personal Recollections of Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War, pp. 165-166.
  15. Ervin S. Chapman, Latest Light on Abraham Lincoln, and War-time Memories: Including Many Heretofore Unpublished, p. 98.
  16. James R. Gilmore, Personal Recollections of Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War, pp. 233-234 (Letter from J. F. Jaquess to James R. Gilmore, November 4, 1863).
  17. Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life, Volume II, p. 672.
  18. John G. Nicolay and John Hay, Abraham Lincoln: A History, Volume IX, p. 204.
  19. James R. Gilmore, Personal Recollections of Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War, p. 235.
  20. Robert C. Williams, Horace Greeley: Champion of American Freedom, p. 251.
  21. Gideon Welles, “Lincoln’s Triumph in 1864,” The Atlantic Monthly, April 18978, p. 454.
  22. Charles Carleton Coffin, Abraham Lincoln, p. 427.
  23. Carl Sandburg, Abraham LIncoln: The Prairie and the War Years, p. 553. (Letter from William Cornell Jewett to Greeley, July 5, 1864).
  24. Robert C. Williams, Horace Greeley: Champion of Freedom, p. 250.
  25. John Waugh, Reelecting Lincoln, p. 247.
  26. CWAL, Volume VII, p. 435 (Letter from Horace Greeley to Abraham Lincoln, July 7. 1864).
  27. CWAL, Volume VII, p. 435 (Letter to Horace Greeley, July 9. 1864).
  28. James M. McPherson, This Mighty Scourge: Perspectives on the Civil War, p. 172.
  29. John Eaton, Grant, Lincoln and the Freedmen: Reminiscences of the Civil War, p. 176.
  30. CWAL, Volume VII, pp. 440-441 (Letter from Horace Greeley to Abraham Lincoln, July 10, 1864).
  31. Harlan Hoyt Horner, Lincoln and Greeley, pp. 300-301.
  32. Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Transcribed and Annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College. Galesburg, Illinois (Letter from Abraham Lincoln to Horace Greeley, July 15, 1864).
  33. CWAL, Volume VII, p. 443 (Letter from John Hay to Abraham Lincoln, July 16, 1864).
  34. CWAL, Volume VII, p. 451 (July 18, 1864).
  35. John G. Nicolay and John Hay, Abraham Lincoln: A History, Volume IX, p. 190 (Letter from Horace Greeley, July, 17 1864).
  36. John G. Nicolay and John Hay, Abraham Lincoln: A History, Volume IX, p. 191.
  37. CWAL, Volume VII, p. 451 (Letter from Abraham Lincoln to Whom it May Concern, July 18, 1864).
  38. Harry J. Maihaifer, War of Words: Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War Press, p. 191.
  39. Michael Vorenberg, “‘The Deformed Child’: Slavery and the Election of 1864,” Civil War History, September 2001, pp. 247-248.
  40. James M. McPherson, “No Peace without Victory, 1861-1865,” This Mighty Scourge: Perspectives on the Civil War, p. 173.
  41. Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life, Volume II, p. 672.
  42. Harry J. Maihaifer, War of Words: Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War Press, p. 192.
  43. Robert C. Williams, Horace Greeley: Champion of American Freedom, p. 254.
  44. Herbert Mitgang, editor, Washington in Lincoln’s Time: A Memoir of the Civil War Era by the Newspaperman Who Knew Lincoln Best, p. 158.
  45. Harry J. Maihaifer, War of Words: Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War Press, p. 193.
  46. Robert C. Williams, Horace Greeley: Champion of American Freedom, p. 254.
  47. David E. Long, The Jewel of Liberty, p. 124.
  48. David E. Long, The Jewel of Liberty, p. 124.
  49. James R. Gilmore, Personal Recollections of Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War, p. 239.
  50. James R. Gilmore, Personal Recollections of Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War, p. 237.
  51. James R. Gilmore, Personal Recollections of Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War, pp. 241-243.
  52. CWAL, Volume VII, p. 429 (pass, July 6, 1864).
  53. CWAL, Volume VII, p. 429 (“To Whom It May Concern”, July 6, 1864).
  54. James R. Gilmore, Personal Recollections of Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War, p. 247.
  55. John G. Nicolay and John Hay, Abraham Lincoln: A History, Volume IX, p. 206.
  56. James R. Gilmore, Personal Recollections of Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War, pp. 243-244.
  57. William Zornow, Lincoln and the Party Divided, p. 110.
  58. Robert C. Williams, Horace Greeley: Champion of American Freedom, p. 253.
  59. James R. Gilmore, Personal Recollections of Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War, pp. 266, 271, 272.
  60. Isaac Elliott and Virgil Way. History of the Thirty-third Regiment Illinois Veteran Volunteer Infantry, p. 543.
  61. James R. Gillmore, Personal Recollections of Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War, pp. 288-289.
  62. Elliott, Isaac, and Virgil Way. History of the Thirty-third Regiment Illinois Veteran Volunteer Infantry, pp. 554-555.
  63. William Zornow, Lincoln and the Party Divided, pp. 109-110.
  64. Gideon Welles, Diary of Gideon Welles, Volume II, pp. 83-84 (July 22, 1864).
  65. James M. McPherson, This Might Scourge: Perspectives on the Civil War, pp. 174-175.
  66. Harry J. Maihafer, War of Words: Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War Press, p. 197.
  67. Gideon Welles, Diary of Gideon Welles, Volume II, p. 109 (August 17, 1864).
  68. John G. Nicolay and John Hay, Abraham Lincoln: A History, Volume IX, p. 213.
  69. CWAL, Volume VII, p. 461 (Letter from Abraham Lincoln to Abram Wakeman, July 24, 1863).
  70. James M. McPherson, This Mighty Scourge: Perspectives on the Civil War, p. 175.
  71. Philip S. Foner, The Life and Writings of Frederick Douglass, editor, Volume II, pp. 422-424 (Letter from Frederick Douglass to Theodore Tilton, October 15, 1864).
  72. Erwin S. Chapman, Latest Light on Lincoln, p. 255.
  73. CWAL, Volume VII, pp. 499-501 (Unsent Letter to Charles D. Robinson, August 17, 1864).
  74. CWAL, Volume VII, pp. 506-508 (Interview with Alexander W. Randall and Joseph T. Mills, August 19, 1864).
  75. Adam I.P. Smith, “Review Essay,” Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association, Winter 1999, p. 75 (Letter from Henry J. Raymond to Simon Cameron, August 21, 1864 ).
  76. CWAL, Volume VII, pp. 517-518 (Letter from Henry J. Raymond to Abraham Lincoln, August 22, 1864).
  77. CWAL, Volume VII, p. 517 (Letter from Abraham Lincoln to Henry J. Raymond, August 24, 1864).
  78. Brooks D. Simpson, The Reconstruction Presidents Simpson, p. 51.
  79. John G. Nicolay and John Hay, Abraham Lincoln, A History, Volume IX, p. 218.
  80. William Zornow, Lincoln & the Party Divided, p. 113.
  81. James M. McPherson, This Mighty Scourge: Perspectives on the Civil War, p. 178.
  82. James M. McPherson, Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution, p. 89.
  83. Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life, Volume II, p. 680.
  84. Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Transcribed and Annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College. Galesburg, Illinois (Letter from Horace Greeley to Abraham Lincoln, August 29, 1864).
  85. CWAL, Volume III, p. (Letter from Abraham Lincoln to Isaac M. Schemerhorn, September 12, 1864).
  86. Michael Burlingame and John R. Turner Ettlinger, editors. Inside Lincoln’s White House: The Complete Civil War Diary of John Hay, p. 19 (May 7, 1861).
  87. Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life, Volume II, p. 754.
  88. Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life, Volume II, p. 721.
  89. Philip Van Doren Stern, An End to Valor: The Last Days of the Civil War, pp. 33-34.
  90. Harry E. Pratt, editor, Concerning Lincoln, pp. 112-114 (Letter from Ebenezer Peck to James W. Singleton, October 14, 1864).
  91. Theodore Calvin Pease, editor, Diary of Orville H. Browning, Volume I, p. 699 (December 27, 1864).
  92. Theodore Calvin Pease, editor, Diary of Orville H. Browning, Volume II, pp. 1-2.
  93. Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life, Volume II, p. 755.
  94. Don E. and Virginia E. Fehrenbacher, editors, Recollected Words of Abraham Lincoln, pp. 407-408.
  95. Elbert B. Smith, Francis Preston Blair, p. 363.
  96. John G. Nicolay and John Hay Abraham Lincoln: A History, Volume X, pp. 93-94.
  97. Michael Vorenberg, Final Freedom: The Civil War, the Abolition of Slavery, and the Thirteenth Amendment, p. 186.
  98. Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Transcribed and Annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College. Galesburg, Illinois (Letter from Jefferson Davis to Francis P. Blair, Sr., January 12, 1865).
  99. Linda Laswell Crist, editor, The Papers of Jefferson Davis, September 1864-May 1865, Volume XI, p. 320.
  100. CWAL, Volume VIII, pp. 220-221 (Letter from Abraham Lincoln to Francis P. Blair, Sr., January 18, 1865).
  101. Elbert B. Smith, The Francis Preston Blair Family in Politics, Volume II, pp. 309-310.
  102. Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life, Volume II, p. 753
  103. James M. McPherson, This Mighty Scourge: Perspectives on the Civil War, p. 180.
  104. Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life, Volume II, p. 752.
  105. Clement A. Evans, editor, A Confederate Military History, Volume I, p. 552.
  106. Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Transcribed and Annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College. Galesburg, Illinois (Telegram from Edwin M. Stanton to Edward O. C. Ord, January 30, 1865).
  107. Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Transcribed and Annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College. Galesburg, Illinois (Telegram from Edwin M. Stanton to Edward O. C. Ord, January 29, 1865).
  108. Ulysses S. Grant, Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant, pp. 404-405
  109. James A. Rawley, Abraham Lincoln and a Nation Worth Fighting For, p. 206.
  110. Douglas L. Wilson and Rodney O. Davis, editors, Herndon’s Informants, p. 414 (Letter from James M. Ashley to William H. Herndon, November 23, 1866).
  111. Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Transcribed and Annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College. Galesburg, Illinois. (Letter from Thomas T. Eckert to Abraham Lincoln, February 1, 1865).
  112. David H. Bates, Lincoln in the Telegraph Office, pp. 335-338.
  113. Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Transcribed and Annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College. Galesburg, Illinois (Letter from Ulysses S. Grant to Edwin M. Stanton, February 1, 1865).
  114. James M. McPherson, “No Peace without Victory, 1861-1865,” The American Historical Review, February 2004.
  115. William S. McFeely, Grant: A Biography, p. 208.
  116. James G. Blaine, Twenty Years of Congressman from Lincoln to Garfield, Volume I, p. 546.
  117. Theodore C. Blegen, editor, Abraham Lincoln and His Mailbag: Two Documents by Edward D. Neill, One of Lincoln’s Secretaries, pp. 26-27.
  118. John H. Barlett, editor, The Hampton Roads Conference, p. 6.
  119. John H. Barlett, editor, The Hampton Roads Conference, pp. 6-7
  120. John H. Barlett, editor, The Hampton Roads Conference, p. 8-9
  121. John H. Barlett, editor, The Hampton Roads Conference, p. 7.
  122. John P. Usher, Reminiscences of Abraham Lincoln, pp. 97-98.
  123. Gideon Welles, Diary of Gideon Welles, Volume II, p. 237 (February 6, 1865).
  124. John H. Barlett, editor, The Hampton Roads Conference, pp. 14-15.
  125. Bruce Levine, Confederate Emancipation: Southern Plans to Free and Arm Slaves During the Civil War, p. 112.
  126. Alexander Stephens, War Between the States, Volume II, pp. 609, 612, 617.
  127. John H. Barlett, editor, The Hampton Roads Conference, p. 17.
  128. William C. Harris, With Charity for All, Lincoln and the Restoration of the Union, p. 239.
  129. Theodore C. Blegen, editor, Abraham Lincoln and His Mailbag: Two Documents by Edward D. Neill, One of Lincoln’s Secretaries, p. 27.
  130. Colonel Alexander K. McClure, “Abe” Lincoln’s Yarns and Stories, pp. 83-84.
  131. David Herbert Donald and Harold Holzer, editors, Lincoln in the Times; The Life of Abraham Lincoln as Originally Reported in The New York Times, p. 221. (New York Times, February 4, 1865).
  132. Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Transcribed and Annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College. Galesburg, Illinois. (Letter from Schuyler Colfax to Abraham Lincoln, February 8, 1865).
  133. Fawn M. Brodie, Thaddeus Stevens: Scourge of the South, p. 213.
  134. Noah Brooks, Washington, D.C. in Lincoln’s Time: A Memoir of the Civil War Era by the Newspaperman Who Knew Lincoln Best, pp. 202-203.
  135. Hans L. Trefousse, “First Among Equals” Abraham Lincoln’s Reputation During His Administration, pp. 124-125.
  136. Doris Kearns Goodwin, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, p. 694-695 (Harper’s Weekly, February 25, 1865).
  137. James M. McPherson, This Mighty Scourge: Perspectives on the Civil War, p. 182.
  138. Jennifer L. Weber, Copperheads: The Rise and Fall of Lincoln’s Opponents in the North, p. 209.
  139. Abraham Lincoln: Tributes from His Associates, pp. 258-259 (Jane Jennings, “Incidents Recalled in Washington”).

In 2010 Michael Burlingame won the Lincoln Prize for his two-volume biography: Abraham Lincoln: A Life. In addition to The Inner Life of Abraham Lincoln, he is the editor of nearly a score of books of writings by Lincoln contemporaries. Currently, he is Chancellor Naomi B. Lynn Distinguished Chair in Lincoln Studies at the University of Illinois – Springfield. James M. McPherson is George Henry Davis 1886 Professor of American History Emeritus, Princeton University. He is the author of Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford University Press, 1988), Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution and Ordeal by Fire: The Civil War and Reconstruction (2000). In 1998, he won the Lincoln Prize for his book For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War. In 2009 McPherson and Craig Symonds were co-winners of the Lincoln Prize.

Featured Book (continued)

James M. McPherson, This Mighty Scourge: Perspectives on the Civil War
(Oxford University Press, 2007)