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Official correspondence of Confederate State Department.

Letters from Honorable C. C. Clay, Jr.

Saint Catherine's, C. W., August 11, 1864.
Hon. J. P. Benjamin, Secretary of State, Richmond, Va., C. S. A.:
Sir — I deem it due to Mr. Holcombe and myself to address you in explanation of the circumstances leading to and attending our correspondence with Hon. Horace Greeley, which has been the subject of so much misrepresentation in the United States, and, if they are correctly copied, of at least two papers in the Confederate States.

We addressed a joint and informal note to the President on this subject, but, as it was sent by a messenger under peculiar embarrassments, it was couched in very guarded terms, and was not so full or explicit as we originally intended or desired to make it. I hope he has already delivered it, and has explained its purpose and supplied what was wanting to do us full justice.

Soon after the arrival of Mr. Holcombe, Mr. Thompson and myself in Canada West, it was known in the United States, and was the subject of much speculation there as to the object of our visit. Some politicians of more or less fame, and representing all parties in the United States, came to see Mr. Holcombe and myself--Mr. Thompson being at Toronto and less accessible than we were at the Falls — either through curiosity or some better or worse motive.

They found that our conversation was mainly directed to the mutual injury we were inflicting on each other by war, the necessity for peace in order to preserve whatever was valuable to both sections, [334] and probability of foreign intervention when we were thoroughly exhausted and unable to injure others, and the dictation of a peace less advantageous to both belligerents than they might now make, if there was an armistice of sufficient duration to allow passion to subside and reason to resume its sway.

In the meantime, Mr. George N. Sanders, who had proceeded us to the Falls, was addressing, directly or indirecty, his ancient and intimate party friends, and others in the United States supposed to be favorably inclined, assuring them that a peace mutually advantageous to the North and the South might be made, and inviting them to visit us, that we might consider and discuss the subject. He informed us that Mr. Greeley would visit us if we would be pleased to see him. Believing from his antecedents that he was a sincere friend of peace, even with separation if necessary, we authorized Mr. Sanders to say that we would be glad to receive him. Mr. Greeley replied, as we were told, through Mr. Jewett--who had been an active and useful agent for communicating with citizens of the United States--that he would prefer to accompany us to Washington city to talk of peace, and would do so, if we would go. We did not then believe that Mr. Greeley had authorized this proposal in his name, for neither we nor Mr. Sanders had seen it in any telegram or letter from Mr. Greeley, but had it only from the lips of Mr. Jewett, who is reported to be a man of fervid and faithful imagination and very credulous of what he wishes to be true. Notwithstanding, after calm deliberation and consultation, we thought that we could not in duty to the Confederate States decline the invitation, and directed Mr. Sanders to say that we would go to Washington, if complete and unqualified protection was given us.

We did not feel authorized to speak for Mr. Thompson, who was absent, and we, moreover, deemed it necessary that he or I should remain here to promote the objects that the Secretary of War had given us and another in charge.

Mr. Sanders responded in his own peculiar style, as you have seen, or will see by the inclosed copy of the correspondence, which was published under my supervision. We did not expect to hear from Mr. Greeley again upon the subject, and were greatly surprised by his note from the United States side of the Falls, addressed to us as “duly accredited from Richmond as the bearers of propositions looking to the establishment of peace.”

How, or by whom, that character was impute to us, we do not know. We suspect, however, that we are indebted for the attribution [335] of the high and responsible office to Mr. Jewett, or to that yet more credulous and inventive personage, Dame Rumor. Certainly, we are not justly chargeable with having assumed or affected that character, or with having given any one sufficient grounds to infer that we came clothed with any such powers. We never sought or desired a safe conduct to Washington, or an interview with Mr. Lincoln. We never proposed, suggested or intimated any terms of peace, to any person, that did not embrace the independence of the Confederate States. We have been as jealous of the rights, interest and power of our Government as any of its citizens can be, and have never wittingly compromised them by act, word or sign. We have not felt it our duty to declare to all who have approached us upon the subject that reunion was impossible under any change of the constitution or abridgement of the powers of the Federal Government. We have not dispelled the fond delusion of most of those with whom we have conversed, that some kind of common government might at some time hereafter be re-established. But we have not induced or encouraged this idea. On the contrary, when obliged to answer the question--“Will the Southern States consent to reunion?” --I have answered, “Not now. You have shed so much of their best blood, have desolated so many homes, inflicted so much injury, caused so much physical and mental agony, and have threatened and attempted such irreparable wrongs, without justification or excuse, as they believe, that they would now prefer extermination to your embraces as friends and fellow citizens of the same government. You must wait till the blood of our slaughtered people has exhaled from the soil, till the homes which you have destroyed have been rebuilt, till our badges of mourning have been laid aside, and the memorials of our wrongs are no longer visible on every hand, before you propose to rebuild a joint and common government. But I think the South will agree to an armistice of six or more months and to a treaty of amity and commerce, securing peculiar and exclusive privileges to both sections, and possibly to an alliance defensive, or even for some purposes both defensive and offensive.”

If we can credit the asseverations of both peace and war Democrats, uttered to us in person or through the presses of the United States, our correspondence with Mr. Greeley has been promotive of our wishes. It has impressed all but fanatical Abolitionists with the opinion that there can be no peace while Mr. Lincoln presides at the head of the Government of the United States. All concede [336] that we will not accept his terms, and scarcely any Democrat and not all the Republicans will insist on them. They are not willing to pay the price his terms exact of the North. They see that he can reach peace only through subjugation of the South, which but few think practicable; through universal bankruptcy of the North; through seas of their own blood as well as ours; through the utter demoralization of their people, and destruction of their Republican government; through anarchy and moral chaos — all of which is more repulsive and intolerable than even the separation and independence of the South.

All the Democrat presses denounce Mr. Lincoln's manifesto in strong terms, and many Republican presses (and among them the New York Tribune) admit it was a blunder. Mr. Greeley was chagrined and incensed by it, as his articles clearly show. I am told by those who profess to have heard his private expressions of opinion and feeling, that he curses all fools in high places and regards himself as deceived and maltreated by the Administration. From all that I can see or hear, I am satisfied that the correspondence has tended strongly towards consolidating the Democracy and dividing the Republicans and encouraging the desire for peace. Many prominent politicians of the United States assure us that it is the most opportune and efficient moral instrumentality for stopping the war that could have been conceived or exerted, and beg us to refrain from any vindication of our course or explanation of our purposes.

At all events, we have developed what we desired to in the eyes of our people,--that war, with all its horrors, is less terrible and hateful than the alternative offered by Mr. Lincoln. We hope that none will hereafter be found in North Carolina, or in any other part of the Confederate States, so base as to insist that we shall make any more advances to him in behalf of peace; but that all of our citizens will gird themselves with renewed and redoubled energy and resolution to battle against our foes until our utter extermination, rather than halt to ponder the terms which he haughtily proclaims as his ultimatum. If such be the effect of our correspondence, we shall be amply indemnified for all the misrepresentation which we have incurred or ever can incur.

Mr. Greeley's purpose may have been merely to find out our conditions of peace, but we give him credit for seeking higher objects. While we contemplated and desired something more, yet it was part of our purpose to ascertain Mr. Lincoln's condition of [337] peace. We have achieved our purpose in part; Mr. Greeley has failed altogether. He correctly reports us as having proposed no terms. We never intended to propose any until instructed by our Government. We have suffered ourselves to be falsely reported as proposing certain terms — among them reunion — for reasons that our judgment approved, hoping that we would in due time be fully vindicated at home.

If there is no more wisdom in our country than is displayed in the malignant articles of the Richmond Examiner and Petersburg Register, approving of the ukase of Mr. Lincoln, the war must continue until neutral nations interfere and command the peace. Such articles are copied into all the Republican presses of the United States, and help them more in encouraging the prosecution of the war than anything they can themselves utter.

If I am not deceived, the elements of convulsion and revolution existing in the North have been greatly agitated by the pronunciamento of the autocrat of the White House. Not only Democrats, but Republicans are protesting against a draft to swell an army to fight to free negroes, and are declaring more boldly for State-rights and the Union as it was. Many say the draft cannot and shall not be enforced. The Democracy are beginning to learn that they must endure persecution, outrage and tyranny at the hands of the Republicans, just as soon as they can bring back their armed legions from the South. They read their own fate in that of the people of Kentucky,Missouri and Maryland. They are beginning to lean more on the side of our people as their natural allies and as the champions of State-rights and of popular liberty. Many of them would gladly lock arms with our soldiers in crushing their common enemy, the Abolitionists. Many of them would fall into our lines if our armies occupied any States north of the Ohio for a month, or even a week. Many of them are looking to the time when they must flee their country, or fight for their inalienable rights. They are preparing for the latter alternative.

The instructions of the Secretary of War to us and the officer detailed for special service have not been neglected. We have been arranging for the indispensable co-operation. It is promised, and we hope will soon be furnished. Then we will act. We have been disappointed and delayed by causes which I cannot now explain.

I fondly trust that our efforts will not be defeated or hindered by unwise and intemperate declarations of public opinion, by newspaper editors or others who are regarded as its exponents [338] We have a difficult role to play, and must be judged with charity until heard on our own defence.

I am much indebted to Mr. Holcombe, Mr. Sanders and Mr. Tucker for the earnest and active aid they have given me in promoting the objects of Mr. Thompson's and my mission.

Mr. Thompson is at Toronto, and Mr. Holcombe is at the Falls. If here, or if I could delay the transmission of this communication, I should submit it to them for some expression of their opinions.

As I expect this to reach the Confederate States by a safe hand I do not take the time and labor necessary to put it in cipher — if, indeed, there is anything worth concealing from our enemies.

I have the honor to be, &c., &c.,

Saint Catherine's, C. W., September 12, 1864.
Hon. J. P. Benjamin, Secretary of State, Richmond, Va., C. S. A.:
Sir — I addressed you on the 11th August last in explanation of the circumstances inducing, attending and following the correspondence of Mr. Holcombe and myself with the Hon. Horace Greeley. Subsequent events have confirmed my opinion that we lost nothing and gained much by that correspondence. It has, at least, formed an issue between Lincoln and the South, in which all her people should join with all their might and means. Even his Northern opponents believed, up to the meeting of the Chicago Convention, that the same issue would be decided against him by the people of the United States in November next. All of the many intelligent men from the United States with whom I conversed, agreed in declaring that it had given a stronger impetus to the peace party of the North than all other causes combined, and had greatly reduced the strength of the war party. They thought that not even a majority of the Republicans would sustain Lincoln's ultimatum, laid down as his rescript “To whom it may concern.” Indeed, Judge Black stated to us that Stanton admitted to him that it was a grave blunder, and would defeat Lincoln unless he could countervail it by some demonstration of his willingness to accept other terms — in other words, to restore the Union as it was. Judge Black wished to know if Mr. Thompson would go to Washington to discuss the terms of peace, and proceed thence to Richmond; saying that Mr. Stanton desired him to do so, and would send him a safe conduct for that purpose. I doubt not that Judge Black came at the instance of Mr. Stanton. [339]

Mr. William C. Templeton--professedly an acquaintance of the President, a planter in the Mississippi bottoms and a temporary resident of New Jersey, and reputedly a man of wealth before the war — has been here, representing that C. G. Baylor is in New York and was at the Chicago Convention, claiming to be a peace commissioner from the State of Georgia, duly accredited by Governor Brown, and urging an armistice and convention of States. Templeton wishes to see Mr. Thompson and to urge him to accept a safe conduct to Washington, which Baylor was authorized to say would be furnished, with a view of arranging such preliminaries for peace. Templeton has gone to Toronto to see Mr. Thompson on the subject. I had no acquaintance with Mr. Templeton before meeting him here. I have known Mr. Baylor well enough not to place implicit reliance upon his statements. Still, as he is walking abroad in New York and traveling ad libitum in the United States I believe he has been to Washington, and has the authority he claims from there. I do not credit his being sent out by Governor Brown.

Templeton said Baylor objected to his communicating the above facts to me, because I was identified with the Davis dynasty, and not likely to agree to any terms of peace that would be unacceptable to the President.

You may have remarked that the New York Times maintains as by authority, that the rescript declares one mode of making peace, but not the only one. The abler organs of the Administration seize this suggestion and hold it up in vindication of Lincoln from the charge that he is waging war to abolish slavery, and will not agree to peace until that end is achieved. Mr. Seward, too, in his late speech at Auburn, New York, intimates that slavery is no longer an issue of the war, and that it will not be interfered with after peace is declared. These and other facts indicate that Lincoln is dissatisfied with the issue he has made with the South and fears its decision.

I am told that his purpose is to try to show that the Confederate Government will not entertain a proposition for peace that does not embrace a distinct recognition of the Confederate States, thereby expecting to change the issue from war for abolition to war for the Union. He thinks a majority of the Northern people will oppose him on the issue he has made, but may support him on that he desires to make. It is thought that he will send commissioners to Richmond in order to develop the ultimatum of our Government. [340]

If he does, it seems to me our true policy is not to make such development, or receive commissioners unless they come duly accredited to make peace, and in that event to demand their conditions and respond to them without suggesting ours. It is well enough to let the North and European nations believe that reconstruction is not impossible. It will enflame the spirit of peace in the North and will encourage the disposition of England and France to recognize and treat with us.

Most of our true friends from the Chicago Convention whom I saw, thought it would be very unwise in the South to do anything tending to the defeat of McClellan. They argued thus:

Peace may be made with him on terms you will accept. At all events, he is committed by the platform to cease hostilities and to try negotiations. That is a great concession from him and the war Democracy. An armistice will inevitably result in peace — the war cannot be renewed if once stopped, even for a short time. The North is satisfied that war cannot restore the Union, and will destroy their own liberties and independence if prosecuted much longer.

If McClellan be elected, the real indebtedness of the Government will be exposed, for his own sake and to damn the Republicans. The war must stop when that is known.

(Judge Black says it is not now less than five thousand millions, and such is the common opinion expressed to me).

Again, your showing a preference for McClellan will aid him, increase the desire and disposition for peace in the North, and will foster the revolutionary spirit in the Northwest in case of Lincoln's election — which may be effected by force or fraud.

The platform means peace, unconditionally; Vallandigham and Weller framed it. It is recognized as satisfactory by nearly all the delegates at the Convention and by the New York News and other peace papers. McClellan will be under the control of the true peace men. Horatio or T. H. Seymour is to be Secretary of State; Vallandigham Secretary of War. McClellan is privately pledged to make peace even at the expense of separation, if the South can not be induced to reconstruct any common government.

They also assure me that the speeches and the prevailing sentiment of the people at Chicago were for peace, unconditionally, and this was the impression of the escaped prisoners there — of whom there were near seventy--with whom I have conversed. They say McClellan was nominated for his availability. [341]

On the other hand, some of our friends expressed a hope that Lincoln will be elected on these grounds: “That McClellan has at West Point and Ticonderoga declared for war till the Union is restored, and can accept peace only with reunion; that he can raise an army and money to carry on the war, but Lincoln cannot; that the Republicans will sustain him in making war, and, in addition to them, many Democrats; that he will infuse new life, hopes and vigor into the war party; that foreign nations will wait longer on him than on Lincoln before intervening or recognizing the South; that the platform is in accordance with McClellan's speeches and does not commit him to peace, except on the basis of Union; that Vallandigham betrayed them for the promise of a seat in McClellan's Cabinet; that Lincoln's election will produce revolution in the Northwest--McClellan's will not.” Such are the arguments briefly stated of the peace men who support or who oppose McClellan's election.

Perhaps our true policy is to keep our own counsels, withhold any further declaration of purpose, and let the so-called peace party of the North have no excuse for laying its defeat at our door, if Lincoln should be re-elected. By declaring for Lincoln rather than McClellan, we may divide the friends of the latter into a position of hostility to us as implacable and bitter as that of the Republicans. Yet, since reading McClellan's letter of acceptance, I see reason for preferring him to Lincoln.

I am induced to think, from the intimations of the peace papers and of individuals, that there will be a considerable minority of the Democracy of the North who will not vote for McClellan, and that they may put up some other candidate. His nomination has not been greeted as cordially as was anticipated, and the Republicans are evidently in better spirits than they were before the Convention at Chicago. Perhaps the fall of Forts Gaines and Morgan and of Atlanta may have caused the apparent change of feeling in the North. It is thought those events caused McClellan to ignore the platform, or the construction given it by the unconditional peace men, in his letter of acceptance. I remember that Dr. Mackay said, during his visit here, about three weeks since, that the Northern people were as unstable and capricious as spoiled children, and that although a large majority seemed resolved on peace, the capture of Richmond or Atlanta would cause most of them to renew their shouts for war. Certainly they are greatly encouraged by those captures and seem persuaded that the end of the “rebellion” is near at hand. [342]

The Republican papers now urge Lincoln to employ all of his navy, if necessary, to seal up the port of Wilmington, which they say will cut us off from all foreign supplies and soon exhaust our means for earring on the war.

You may look with confidence to an attack on Fort Fisher ere long. I have been frequently asked by men of Southern birth, residing in the North, whose desire for our independence I do not doubt, whether we could suppot an army for six months after the port of Wilmington was sealed.

Upon the whole, I am confirmed in the opinion I entertained and often expressed before coming here — that the peace feeling of the North fluctuates with the vicissitudes of the war, increasing with their reverses and diminishing with ours. They will not consent to peace without reunion while they believe they can subjugate us. As to revolution in the Northwest, or anywhere in the United States, I am growing skeptical. The men who gave us strongest assurances of the purpose of the “sons of liberty” to rush to arms if any other illegal arrest was made, or any other abuse of private rights committed, are now in prison or fugitives in Canada. Their houses have been broken open, their arms and private papers seized, and other wrongs done them, without exciting anything more than a feeble protest from their friends. The people who would resist such outrages need a leader, and I fear they will not find one. Many of them would join our army if they could get to it; but they may be forced into that of our enemy. They would resist the draft if they were not deterred by the large police force that is sent to enforce it.

I am assured by those who have been on the Ohio river and the roads leading across it, that recruits for the army of Sherman are being sent forward daily. Lincoln will exert his utmost power to sustain Sherman and Grant in the present positions, in order to insure his re-election. He knows that a great disaster to either of them would defeat him.

Mr. Thompson will, I presume, explain how the plans for the release of the prisoners failed. He took that matter under his peculiar and almost exclusive control, and I knew scarcely anything of it until everything was determined save the time of execution.

Mr. Holcombe will, probably, carry this communication to you and can explain more fully than I can do on paper our operations here. He has remained here at the instance and request of Mr. Thompson and myself, to await the result of the enterprise alluded to above. [343]

He has co-operated with us earnestly and actively in all our efforts, and has sometimes expended the public money in his hands to promote the objects of our mission. Indeed, I am indebted to him for most of the money which I have used; but Mr. Thompson has, since Mr. Sanders was started to Richmond, put in my hands all the funds I asked for and more than I shall probably employ.

When Mr. Holcombe left the result of the measures for the release of our prisoners was not known, and, on that account, he transferred to me the balance of money on deposit to his credit in the bank at this place, that I might use it in affording those who had escaped, or might escape, the necessary transportation to Wilmington. He left here at the instance of Mr. Thompson and myself for reasons which he will explain.

I have the honor, &c., &c.,

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