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[537] 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:

Executive mansion, Washington, July 18, 1864.
To whom it may concern:
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 substantial and collateral points; and the bearer thereof shall have safe conduct both ways.

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.

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