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Doc. 208.-letters of Edward Bates to John Minor Botts.

Dear Sir: * * * You and I, Mr. Botts, know each other's characters very well. Heretofore yours has been marked by bold, frank, and manly traits, which won for you many friends and admirers all over the country, and hence my astonishment on receiving from you such a note with such an enclosure. I do not impute the blame to you, for I cannot avoid the conclusion that you are acting under duress — that you have become the victim of a set of desperadoes, who, having wantonly plunged into the guilt of treason and the danger of ruin, would gladly sacrifice you and me, and ten thousand such men, if thereby they can make a way of escape for themselves from the least of the dangers which they have so wickedly incurred.

Here at Washington, perhaps, we know a little more about the machinations of the conspirators at Richmond than they are aware of. But besides that, the documents (your note to Colonel Russell, your note to me, and the printed slip) bear internal evidence of a concerted plan, a scheme invented (not by the bold and patriotic Botts, but) by those same conspirators, who, failing to intimidate the Government by bullying violence, have changed their tactics, and still hope to win the victory and destroy the nation by a less hazardous but more cunning process.

1. Your note to Colonel Russell (which he showed me) imports that you are safe and comfortable at Richmond, while we have melancholy testimony that such men as you are neither safe nor comfortable there.

2. Your note to me of April 23d (covering the printed letter, but not mentioning it) contains several phrases which I am persuaded you would not have used if left to your own free action. The note begins by stating its main object thus--“I write hurriedly to say that I have consented to the publication of my letter to you, with the hope, &c.” Which letter to me? I have received several letters from you, but none of the 19th of April. “Consented to the publication” --at whose instance? The phrase and the context invite the inference that the publication was made at my instance and that inference was, I believe, generally drawn in this city, and will probably be drawn all over the country; whereas, you do know that I had nothing to do with the publication.

The note concludes with this very suggestive line:--“I am not at liberty to speak of what is going on here.” I can easily comprehend that humiliating fact; and I do painfully sympathize with you and with all good and faithful men in my native State, when I behold the capital of the once free and proud Virginia subjected to the tyranny of a lawless mob.

3. The printed letter. Alas! that I should live to see such a letter under the hand of the gallant and gifted John M. Botts! I shall not go into any minute criticism of the letter — to show how it contradicts all the main facts in your high and honorable political history, and countermarched the whole line of your active and useful career, onward and upward for the last thirty years. My personal regard and my great respect for your character forbid me to do that. But I cannot forbear to say that the whole scope and tendency of the letter, if not its design, is an argument in favor of dissolving the Union, and blotting from the map of the world the nation of the United States. It is a silent approval, by failing to condemn, of the violent and revolutionary proceedings of the people of the Southern States, in several of them before the idle form of secession was gone through with, in plundering the money and [305] arms, and other property of the United States; in seizing upon our ungarrisoned forts; in making open war upon such as refused to surrender; in firing upon, and in some instances actually degrading, the flag of our country; and in schemes and projects boastfully announced in the public press, and partially acted out in military preparations, to seize this capital by violence, and break up the Government.

Your letter does not in terms assert, but by necessary implication assumes, that this Administration can, if it will, restore the peace of the country, by the cheap and easy experiment of issuing a proclamation “proposing a truce of hostilities and the immediate assembling of a national convention!” It seems to me, my dear sir, that there are some serious objections to this cheap plan of peace; and first, the President has no power to call a national convention. Second, if he did call it, there is not the remotest probability that the insurgent States would obey the call. Third, if they did obey it, there is little hope that they would agree to come in equal terms with the other States, by recanting their recent assumptions of separate and absolute sovereignty, and by restoring all that they have taken by violence from the United States. In short, after all that is past, it seems to me that there are but two alternatives left to this Administration: first, to submit implicitly to all the claims of the insurgent States, and quietly consent to a dismemberment of the nation; or second, to do its best to restore peace, law, and order, by supporting “the Constitution and the Union, and the enforcement of the laws.” Let the nation judge which horn of the dilemma the Administration ought to take, in view of all its obligations in regard to the permanent interests of the country, and to its own patriotism and constitutional duty.

I am amazed at the course of things in Virginia. Your convention was not called to dissolve the Union, nor trusted with the power of secession. By the act of its creation that sovereign power was reserved to the people of Virginia. Yet as soon as the convention had secretly acted upon the subject, without any promulgation of the ordinance, and while the people were yet ignorant of its existence, the executive officers of Virginia rushed, incontinently, into open war against the United States. They endeavored to obstruct the harbor of Norfolk, in order to secure the plunder of the Navy Yard at Gosport, and sent a military power to complete the work of its spoliation. The enterprise failed indeed to clutch the spoil, but it caused the destruction of millions of dollars' worth of public property. The same thing was, substantially, done at Harper's Ferry. Virginia troops were marched upon the place to seize the arsenal. They did not get possession, as John Brown did, only because the vigilant little garrison, knowing its inability to resist such superior numbers, destroyed the property and made good its retreat. They menaced this capital by open threats of military force, by obstructing the roads leading to it, and by active endeavors to command the navigation of the Potomac. And all this was done while the State, according to the letter of its own law, remained a member of the Union. Think you, my dear sir, that men who do these things in open day, and in contempt of the rights and powers of the people of Virginia, have such a reverence for “reason, order, law, liberty, morality, and religion,” as to give much heed to the President's “proclamation proposing a truce?” I lack the faith to believe it.

In conclusion, I assure you in all sincerity that I do deeply sympathize in your present distress. I love the people of my native State, and mourn over the guilt and wretchedness into which they thoughtlessly allow themselves to be plunged by their reckless misleaders,

With long cherished respect and regard,

I remain your obedient servant,



Second letter.

my dear Sir :--In answer to your letter of May 2d I have not and ought not to have much to say. This much, however, both my inclination and my duty require me to say, my personal respect for you remains undiminished. My friendly feelings toward you are not only not diminished, but are made more deep and tender by the distressing circumstances which surround you. And these facts make me regret very much that I should have been compelled by circumstances to write you such a letter as to inflict any pain or mortification, and especially to the degree indicated by your answer, and explained more at large by the friend who bore it. I disclaim all intention to wound your feelings, or to offer you the slightest indignity, and if there be any thing in my letter from which an intention to insult you can possibly be inferred, I retract it.

This much I say with the intention and hope of preventing any breach, or even weakening, of the personal relations between us. Let us be friends still.

But it seems now that we differ so widely in opinion upon matters of fact that it is impossible for us to reason upon the same line of argument. You think that the Union is already dissolved — the nation already destroyed. On the contrary, I believe no such thing. You believe that a peaceful dissolution of the Union, in the manner and by the means already employed, is possible. I believe it impossible. I believe that the insane effort at national destruction persisted in, will involve a war more terrible than any the world has witnessed since the thirty years war in Germany. You think that a great nation like this can consent to die, and may hope to die an easy death. I think that nations, like individuals, are under God's great law of self-defence, and when pressed [306] down by superior force will die in convulsive agonies. You seem to think that Virginia can go out of the Union, and still preserve her integral Statehood. I think that when she dismembers the nation she will herself be dismembered. But I will not continue the contrast. My heart is sorrowful when I contemplate the present degradation of Virginia. “How are the mighty fallen?” With the loss of her power she has lost all prestige also, and can no longer lead the people and direct the counsels of other States. She remembers her patriots and sages of former times only to boast of them — not to imitate their talents and virtues — but (by implicit faith) to impute to the present generation the posthumous reputation of the glorious dead. Formerly she proudly marched in the van of all the States; now she creeps in the rear of South Carolina, and consents to be detailed as a picket guard, to man al outpost of the “Cotton States.” Poor old Virginia! In my heart I pity her. Already they boast in the South that they have transferred the seat of war from their homes to yours. And soon their devouring legions will be upon you to eat up your substance and do your voting at the disunion election. Now mark my prophecy. Unless Virginia by a rapid revolution redeems herself from the gulf that lies open just before her, she will be degraded, impoverished, and dismembered. For her I hope almost against hope.

And for you, I remain, as heretofore,

Your friend,


--Wheeling (Va.) Intelligencer, May 28.

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