Doc. 92. the Niagara peace conference.
Major Hay would respectfully inquire whether Professor Holcomb, and the gentleman associated with him, desire to send to Washington by Major Hay any message in reference to the communication delivered to him on yesterday, and in that case, when he may expect to be favored with such message. international Hotel, Thursday. Mr. Holcomb presents his compliments to Major Hay, and greatly regrets if his return to Washington has been delayed by any expectation of an answer to the communication which Mr. Holcomb received from him yesterday, to be delivered to the President of the United States. This communication was accepted as a response to the letter of Messrs. Holcomb and Clay to Hon. Horace Greeley, and to that gentleman has been transmitted.
Southern view of the affair.For the first time we have the pleasure of heartily approving a State paper of Abraham Lincoln. It is his letter addressed “To whom it May Concern.” It concerns Messrs. Holcomb, C. C. Clay and George N. Saunders, and we would fondly believe, no other person, or persons whomsoever. When officious individuals go creeping round by back doors, asking interviews with Lincoln for “a full interchange of sentiments,” it gives us sincere gratification to see them spurned, yes kicked, from the said back door. To Abraham, we deliberately say “Bravo,” or, if he likes it better, “Bully.” Think of an ex-Senator from Alabama, and a Virginian member of Congress — for we say nothing of the third “negotiator” --exposing themselves gratuitously, idly and unbidden, to receive such an ignominious rebuff at the hands of the truculent buffoon of Illinois. It is suggested that perhaps the cunning device of Mr. Saunders was only a contrivance for helping the peace party in the enemy's country; that the answer of Mr. Lincoln was just the very kind of answer which the “many-counselled” George expected, and that it is to be used to show how ferociously and unrelentingly the present Yankee administration is bent on war, and repulses the slightest hint of peace. As usual with such excessively cunning schemes, this one not only defeats itself, but helps the cause which it was possibly intended to damage. To exhibit an ex-Senator and member of Congress of the rebel States thus timidly crawling by a roundabout way to the footstool of the Emperor of the Yahoos, whining and snivelling about peace and “liberal negotiations,” and haughtily refused even admittance to the sovereign presence, will serve, not the peace, but the war party, because it will be used to create the impression that the Confederacy must be in the agonies of death when two such distinguished legislators make so pitiful an attempt to reach the ear of offended majesty. If such was the idea, then, in this case, as in the other, “those whom it may concern” have got what they deserve. Has any one seen the Reverend Colonel Jacques and one Edmund Kirke? What are the detectives about? Here have been two spies, manifestly spies, “at the Spottswood Hotel, Richmond, on a secret mission,” and now, instead of being in Castle Thunder, Kirke and the Reverend Colonel are again in their own country, giving mysterious hints to the Washington correspondents about their three days entertainment in Richmond, and about two “interviews” which they say they had with Mr. Davis. They cannot disclose “for the present” --those deep diplomats — what passed at these interviews, but “it is intimated” --and here is truly a startling fact--“that Mr. Davis would consent to nothing short of the recognition of the Southern Confederacy.” Of course, these two Yankees were spies, or else they wanted to sell something in Richmond which they had run through the lines; or probably they combined the two objects. Our passport system, we fear, is but little protection, and the detectives are not sufficiently vigilant. Howsoever that may be, there is now certainly a renewal of these vague whisperings of peace which have several times before circulated through society. Many think that peace is in the air. Peace and rumors of peace float around us, and men dream of peace at night. We have seen here unauthorized persons, both Union and rebel, repair respectively North and South, about the same moment, as it were, snuffing peace, as horses snuff water in the desert. If gold declines a little in New York, even in the teeth of military disaster, the News says it is because there is a sort of instinctive feeling that we are on the eve of peace. This is not unnatural; the plain avowals of the enemy's press four months ago, that this year's campaign must be the final one, the near approach of Lincoln's bloody term, the imminent financial ruin of the United States, all combine to produce, not so much a conviction as a presentiment, that we are soon to have peace. And it may be so. Peace may be nearer to us than we think, and may come suddenly, though one cannot see precisely how. One thing, however, is clear. So desirable an event cannot be hastened by amateur negotiators “exchanging sentiments” with Mr. Lincoln; nor by blockade runners thrusting “interviews” on Mr. Davis; nor by any possible or conceivable correspondence between George Saunders and Horace Greeley.
Statement of Horace Greeley.Mr. Greeley in the Independent of July twenty-sixth, 1864, gives the following account of his negotiation: * * * In the other effort for peace I was a participant, as follows: Some time since it was announced by telegraph from Halifax that Messrs. C. C. Clay, of Alabama, Jacob Thompson, of Mississippi (ex-United States Senators), Professor J. P. Holcombe of the University of Virginia, and George N. Saunders of Kentucky, had reached that city  from Dixie, via Bermuda on important business; and all of these but Mr. Thompson (who is in Toronto), were soon quartered at the Clifton, on the Canada side of Niagara Falls. I heard soon after of confidential interviews between some or all of these gentlemen and leading democrats from our own and the neighboring States, and there were telegraphic whispers of overtures for “reconstruction,” and conditions were set forth as those on which the Confederates would consent to reunion. (I cannot say that any of these reports were authentic.) At length, after several less direct intimations, I received a private letter from Mr. Saunders, stating that Messrs. Clay, Holcombe, himself, and another, desired to visit Washington, “upon complete and unqualified protection being given by the President or the Secretary of War.” As I saw no reason why the opposition should be the sole recipients of these gentlemen's overtures, if such there were (and it is stated that Mr. Clay aforesaid is preparing or to prepare an important letter to the Chicago Convention), I wrote the President, urging him to invite the rebel gentlemen aforesaid to Washington, there to open their budget. I stated expressly that I knew not what they would propose if so invited, but I could imagine no offer that might be made by them which would not conduce, in one way or another, to a restoration of the integrity and just authority of the Union. The President ultimately acquiesced in this view, so far as to consent that the rebel agents should visit Washington, but directed that I should proceed to Niagara and accompany them thence to the capital. This service I most reluctantly undertook, feeling deeply and observing that almost any one else might better have been sent on this errand. But time seemed precious, and I immediately started. Arrived on this side of the Falls, I wrote across to Messrs. Clay & Co., stating that, on the understanding that they had the needful powers from the authorities at Richmond, I was authorized and ready to give them a safe conduct to Washington. They responded that though in the confidential employment of their government, and fully conversant with its views and purposes, they had not the specific powers I required, but would get them, if permitted, and desired, in order to save time, to proceed at once to Washington, and be permitted thence to communicate with Richmond for the purpose. Not feeling at liberty to concede this, I telegraphed to Washington for further instructions, and was duly informed that Major Hay, the President's Private Secretary, would soon be on his way to me. He reached the Falls on the twentieth, and we crossed over to the Clifton, where Major Hay, after mutual introductions, handed Professor Holcombe the following paper, in the handwriting of the President:
I left the Falls by the next train, leaving Major Hay to receive any response to the President's proffer, should any be made; but there was none. Messrs. Clay and Holcombe addressed to me a letter of sharp criticism on the President's proffer above quoted, which I first read in the columns of the daily journals of this city. And here the matter closed, despite all rumors of further or other negotiations. Messrs. Clay, Holcombe and Saunders remain at the Falls, or at the adjacent watering place of St. Catherine's, and are still in the receipt of many visits from democratic politicians, who cross the border on purpose. I heartily approve the President's bases of negotiation, and think them calculated to exert a salutary influence at the South; and yet I think it would have been wiser to have interposed no conditions, but asked the Confederates to perfect and verify their credentials, and then make their proposition. For, thus brought to book, what could they have proffered that would not have strengthened the upholders of the Union cause? It looks to me as though a rare opportunity was lost for compelling either the democracy of the loyal States or the despots of Europe to forego further manifestations of sympathy with the rebels in their desperate struggle. I may be mistaken in this, but I cannot be in my conviction that every indication of a desire on our part to arrest bloodshed and restore amity tends to disabuse and conciliate the great perverted mass of those now fighting to divide and destroy their and our country.