previous next

As to West Virginia.

Mr. Hunter enquired of Mr. Lincoln what, according to his idea, would be the result of the restoration of the Union as to West Virginia. Mr. Lincoln said he could only give his individual opinion, which was that West Virginia would continue to be recognized as a separate State in the Union. Mr. Hunter then very forcibly summed up the conclusions which seemed to him to be logically deducible from the conference. In his judgment, they amounted to nothing as a basis of peace but an unconditional surrender on the part of the Confederate States, and their people. Mr. Seward insisted that no words like unconditional surrender had been used or any importing or justly implying degradation or humiliation to people of the Confederate States. He did not think that yielding to the execution of the laws under the Constitution of the United States, with all its guarantees and securities for personal and political rights as they might be declared by the courts, could be properly considered as unconditional submission to conquerors, or as having anything humiliating in it. After considerable discussion on that point between Mr. Hunter and Mr. Seward, Mr. Lincoln said that so far as the Confiscation Acts and other penal acts were concerned their enforcement would be left entirely to him, and he should exercise the power of the executive with the utmost liberality. He said he would be willing to be taxed to remunerate the Southern people for their slaves; that he believed the people of the North were as responsible for slavery as the people of the South; that if the war should then cease with the voluntary abolition of slavery by the States he should be in favor individually of the payment by the government of a fair indemnity for the loss to the owners; that he believed this feeling was very extensive at the North, but on this subject he said he could give no assurance and enter into no stipulation. The conference, after a session of about four hours, then terminated, and the parties took formal and friendly leave of each other. Mr. Lincoln and Mr. Seward returned to Washington, and Messrs. Stephens, Hunter and Campbell went back to City Point under the escort of Col. Babcock. They there again met General Grant and he was evidently disappointed that nothing had been accomplished in the effort to bring about a suspension of hostilities. It is proper to say that the facts [192] herein stated have been gathered from the report of the commissioners, bearing date February 5, 1865, from the message of Mr. Davis to the Confederate Senate and House of Representatives, communicated on February 6, 1865, from the message of Mr. Lincoln to the United States House of Representatives, sent in answer to a resolution soon after his return from Fortress Monroe, from conversations held with two of the commissioners and from the narrative of Mr. Stephens published soon after the termination of the war.

The failure of the conference was a great disappointment, not only to the authorities at Richmond, but to the people generally. Mr. Davis1 in his message to the Confederate Senate and House of Representatives transmitting the report of the commissioners accepted the action of President Lincoln and Secretary Seward as showing that they refused to enter into negotiations with the Confederate States, or any of them separately, or to give to our people any other terms or guarantees than those which the conqueror may grant, or to permit us to have peace on any other basis than our unconditional submission to their rule, coupled with the acceptance of their recent legislation on the subject of the relations between the white and black populations of past States. In a public address delivered before a large audience at the African church, in Richmond, soon after the return of the commissioners, he aroused the people to the highest pitch of enthusiasm, and incited them to renewed determination to continue the struggle and stake all upon the issue. His speech was characterized by the boldest and most defiant tone, and was delivered in his loftiest and most captivating style: As a specimen of real oratory it has never been surpassed, not even by the fiery eloquence of Rienzi, when he stirred the hearts of the Romans to their utmost depths, or by the burning words of Demosthenes, when he moved the Athenians to cry out against Philip. There [193] were other speakers on the occasion referred to, and among them were Gustavus A. Henry, the ‘Eagle Orator’ of Tennessee, then a member of the Senate, and the silver-tongued Judah P. Benjamin, of Louisiana, then Secretary of State. The circumstances under which the meeting was held and the fervid eloquence of the speakers made a profound impression, and those present with one heart and one voice resolved that there was no alternative left but to fight on to the bitter end. The end came within two months, when General Lee and the remnant of his gallant army having fought to the point of complete exhaustion, furled their banners and laid down their arms at Appomattox.

1 It has been a question of momentous consideration, as to the statement, ever and anon put forward, that Mr. Davis instructed the commissioners to consider no proposition that did not recognize absolutely the independence of the Southern Confederacy—an instruction to be deemed autocratical at least—if he gave such instruction. Our commissioners could scarcely have been so tethered when the gravity of the situation of the Southern Confederacy then, should have impressed—from confronting circumstances—alike President, Commander-in-Chief Lee—(peerless in nobility and sublime in self-immolation) to the private in the van-guard—all-but naked and famishing, but steadfastly holding in check the elate, increasing, perfectly-equipped, encompassing foe.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide People (automatically extracted)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
February 6th, 1865 AD (2)
February 5th, 1865 AD (2)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: