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The peace Commission.-letter from Ex-President Davis.

[The following letter will be read with deep interest. Any thing emanating from the patriotic statesman and gallant Soldier-President of the Confederacy will command attention, and our readers will be especially glad to get his version of the important events of which his letter treats.]

Mississippi City P. O.,. 16th August, 1877.
to the Secretary of the Southern Historical Society:
Sir: The article of the Hon. R. M. T. Hunter in regard to the Peace Commission of 1865, published in a Philadelphia paper a few months ago and republished in the Southern Historical Papers of April last, is of such character as seems to me to require that a correction should be sent to your readers, and filed with it in your archives.

Mr. Hunter's position as formerly a member of my Cabinet, afterwards a Confederate Senator, and one of those selected by me as a commissioner to whom the interests and the honor of our country and of its administration might be entrusted, constitute this an exceptional case which seems to call for a departure from the rule to which I have heretofore adhered; that is, to leave all attacks upon myself in connection with the Government of the Confederacy to be answered by time or by other persorrs.

A further and not less powerful reason for this departure from the rule of silence, is the fact that this article has been republished in the Papers of the Southern Historical Society, which is expected to be a repertory of trustworthy data for the use of the future historian who may treat of our cause and the manner in which it was maintained.

The article opens with a statement of the diminished hopes of certain persons at the period indicated, and of the effect produced by the description given by Mr. F. P. Blair to his old associates of the immense resources of the Government of the United States, and of the destructive spirit which further resistance by the Confederacy would arouse. That Mr. Hunter may be a fair exponent of the despondence he describes, and was influenced by the threatenings to which he refers, may be readily conceded; but it does not follow that in these respects he was a fair representative of the [209] prevalent feelings of the country, and, least of all, of its gallant army.

Be this as it may, he proceeds to ascribe to “President Davis and his friends,” under the pressure of public opinion, the beginning of a feeling that it was expedient to exhibit some pacific inclinations. “The talk about peace” (he states), “became so earnest and frequent in the capital of the Confederacy, and the indications of a desire for it among many members of the Confederacy became so plain and obvious, that President Davis and his friends began to feel that it was expedient that the Confederate Government should show some desire for peace on fair terms. To show no sense of responsibility for the terrible conflict then waging, and no desire for peace on any terms, would injure the Confederate Government in the eyes of its own people.”

Drawing perhaps, as men frequently do, upon his own consciousness as an index of the general feelings he ascribes to the “many” alarm at the talk of conscribing negroes [to the enactment of a law for which it will be remembered Mr. Hunter's opposition was a chief obstacle]; and he does injustice to the heroic mothers of the land in representing them as flinching from the prospect of having their boys of sixteen “or under” exposed to the horrors and hardships of military service. He proceeds accordingly, “the President in January, 18q5, determined to appoint three commissioners, and proposed a conference between them and others to be appointed by the United States Government, on the subject of peace.”

When Mr. Hunter penned these statements he must have known that the inaugural address of President Davis under the Provisional Government, delivered four.years prior to the period of which he writes, expressed a strong desire for peace; that a few days after his inauguration he appointed commissioners to go to Washington with full authority to negotiate for a peaceful and equitable settlement between the two governments; that in many, if not in all, of his messages to Congress there was shown the same desire to terminate the war by any settlement that would be fair and honorable to both parties; that, hoping something from the relations of personal friendship formerly existing between President Lincoln and Vice-President Stephens, the latter was sent to seek an interview with Mr. Lincoln, in which, beginning with [210] the subject of suffering prisoners, it was expected that other questions might be reached in the interests of peace. And yet again, Mr. Hunter knew it was the assurance brought by Mr. Blair that a commission sent to discuss the question of establishing amicable relations would be received by the President of the United States that led to the appointment of the commission of which Mr. Hunter was a member, and which he describes as originating in a desire to allay the anxieties of our people, and as being a proposition initiated by the President of the Confederacy for a conference. It is not correct, as stated by Mr. Hunter, that the commissioners were expected to meet Messrs. Lincoln and Seward at “Old point.” It was expected that they would be passed through the lines and received in Washington.

Mr. Hunter's instructions requested him, totidem verbis--“To proceed to Washington city for informal conference” with Mr. Lincoln.

A true-hearted Confederate, it might have been thought reasonably, instead of seeking to put his President in the attitude of renewing efforts for conference after previous rejections without any intervening overtures from the other side indicating a more conciliatory spirit, would the rather have made prominent the fact that it was the assurance of one coming directly from President Lincoln which led to the appointment at that time of the Commission.

With regard to the instructions to the commissioners, Mr. Hunter notices that they were “to treat on the basis of two countries,” thus precluding any idea of “reunion,” a provision which, he says, gave rise to difficulties; and he adds: “It was rumored that Mr. Benjamin, Secretary of State, foreseeing this, had endeavored in vain to have it stricken out.” If Mr. Hunter then believed all that he now asserts, why did he not frankly state his views to the President and decline to serve on the Commission? If he wished to go for the purpose of promoting “reunion” --that is to say, to surrender the Confederacy-he knew, or might easily have learned, that his views were too little in accord with those of the President for his employment in the confidential service to which he was commissioned.

The letter of Mr. Benjamin, hereunto subjoined, with the copies of his original draft of instructions to the commissioners and the [211] modification made by the President, gives a correct statement of the case and of the reasons for which that modification was made. It shows that there was no effort made by Mr. Benjamin to have any thing “stricken out,” and that there was no difference whatever between him and the President in any except a minor quession of expediency, and that even this difference disappeared on conference and comparison of views. Nay, if Mr. Hunter has been correctly reported, he himself was at that time of one mind with the President and Secretary of State in regard to this point. In a speech of stirring and patriotic tone, delivered by him in Richmond after his return from Old Point, he is represented (the quotations are from the report given in the Annual Cyclopaedia for 1865) as saying, among other expressions of fiery indignation: “And now, after three years of waste and destruction, we have been lately informed by the President of the United States that there can be no peace except upon the conditions of laying down our arms and absolute submission; to come in as rebels, &c., &c.”

And again, “If anything more was wanting to stir the blood, it was furnished when we were told that the United States would not consent to entertain any proposition coming from us as a people; that Government which makes treaties with the meanest and weakest of nations tells us, a nation of seven millions of men, with arms in their hands, that it cannot entertain any proposition coming from rebels. Even upon the theory that we were rebels, upon what authority could they refuse to treat with us? There has been no civil war of any magnitude which has not been terminated by treating. It would seem possible that Lincoln might have offered something to a people with two hundred thousand soldiers-and such soldiers — under arms.”

The truth is that the phraseology of the instructions to the commissioners constituted no embarrassment to them at all. Vice- President Stephens, who was at the head of the Commission, in his War between the States, (Vol. II, p. 577,) referring to the charge that their hands were so tied with instructions that nothing could be accomplished, with other rumors of the same sort, says they are “utterly unworthy of notice.” Yet this is the charge in substance which Mr. Hunter has revived. In his minute account of the origin, progress, and termination of the conference, [212] Mr. Stephens no where makes any reference to the letter of the insti uctions at all, and it is evident from his account of the conversation with Messrs. Lincoln and Seward that there was no “difficulty” whatever on this score; and finally, how did it happen that the report of the commissioners to the President of the Confederacy contained no reference to embarrassment caused by the terms of their instructions?

With palpable inconsistency it will be observed, that Mr. Hunter first presents the terms of the instructions as the impediment to negotiation, and then shows that Mr. Lincoln refused to treat with us on any terms, or accept any thing less from the Confederate States than a surrender at discretion.

What, then, could a different form of credentials have availed in the matter of negotiation; and why, if it would have availed, was the fact not communicated to the Executive at that time?

Yours respectfully,



Letter from Hon. J. P. Benjamin.

My dear friend: Your letter of the 29th March arrived whilst I was temporarily absent from London, and pressure of engagements interfered with my search for old papers necessary to enable me to answer with any confidence in the accuracy of my statements.

I enclose you herewith a copy-

1st. Of original draft of instructions as prepared by me; 2d. Of instructions as sent after modification by you; 3d. Of the report of the commissioners (I have the original in my possession).

I think you will see, by comparing my draft and your amendment, the cause of Mr. Hunter's statement, which is partially but not entirely accurate.

The instructions were, if my memory does not betray me, discussed in the presence of one or more of the commissioners; but, however that may be, my idea was to make them as vague and [213] general as possible, so as to get at the views and sentiments of Mr. Lincoln and to test the reality of the peace intentions represented by Mr. Blair to actuate him. You feared that, under the purposely vague language which [ had proposed, it might be represented that you had impliedly assented to the import of the last sentence of Mr. Lincoln's letter-“peace to the people of our one common country” --and were unwilling to subject yourself to such misconstruction, as involving an apparent betrayal of the trust reposed in you as the President of the Confederate States. I could not but yield to an objection based on such a motive, and to .this extent, and no more, Mr. Hunter's statenlent is correct; but if the idea conveyed by his whole statement (which, unfortunately, you did not send me) is that I in any way dissented from or disapproved of a refusal to confer on the basis of our being “one country,” the rumor is entirely unfounded. You thought, from regard to your personal honor, that your language ought to be such as to render impossible any malignant comment on your actions. I did not anticipate the possibility of such a perversion of your motives, and was anxious to keep out of view any topic that might defeat the object of the proposed conference, but not at the risk of any assault on your character or honor. As soon as the possibility of such a result was pointed out by you, I at once abandoned all dissent from the proposed amendment.

The above is, I believe, a perfectly accurate statement of what occurred; but human memory is fallible, and after a lapse of twelve years of a very busy life it is just possible that I may have omitted, but I certainly have not misstated any thing.

Yours, ever faithfully,

(Signed) J. P. Benjamin.


Draft of instructions prepared by the Secretary of State for Messrs. Stevens, Hunter and Campbell.

[Copy.]

Washington, January 13, 1865.
F. P. Blair; Esq.:
Sir: You having shown me Mr. Davis' letter to you of the 12th instant, you may say to him that I have constantly been, am now, [214] and shall continue ready to receive any agent whom he or any other influential person now resisting the national authority may send to me with the view of securing peace to the people of our one common country. Yours, &c.,

(Signed) A. Lincoln.

Richmond, January 28th, 1865.
Hon. R. M. T. Hunter:
Sir: In compliance with the letter of Mr. Lincoln, of which the foregoing is a copy, you are hereby requested to proceed to Washington city for conference with him upon the subject to which it relates.

With great respect, your obedient servant, [The above draft of letter to Mr. Hunter was amended by the President, and the letter as amended and signed by him was as follows:] In conformity with the letter of Mr. Lincoln, of which the foregoing is a copy, you are requested to proceed to Washington city for informal conference with him upon the issues involved in the existing war, and for the purpose of securing peace to the two countries. Your obedient servant,

(Signed) Jefferson Davis.

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