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Chapter 6: peace propositions.

The Provisional Congress, before the arrival of Mr. Davis, passed a law that the Government should immediately take steps to settle everything appertaining to the common property, debts, and common obligations of the late Union upon “principles of right, justice, equity, and good faith.” On February I th Congress also advised and ordained that three persons be appointed as early as the President conveniently could, and sent to the Government of the United States, to “negotiate friendly relations.”

As the minds of the Western people had been much excited about the free navigation of the Mississippi River and its tributaries, on February 25, 1861, an act was passed “to declare and establish free navigation of the Mississippi River without any duty or hinderance except light-money, pilotage, and other like charges.”

“All laws imposing discriminating duties on foreign vessels or goods imported in them were rejected.” The hope cherished by the [49] Congress that peace would be maintained inclined them rather to overstep the bounds of duty to their own country, and grant privileges greater than those considered due to any other nation. The President hoped for reunion, with guarantees against aggression by the stronger section of the much-beloved Union.

Within a week after his inauguration, on February 25, 1861, Peace Commissioners were appointed, and on the same day Messrs. A. B. Roman, of Louisiana, Martin J. Crawford, of Georgia, and John B. Forsyth, of Alabama, were confirmed by Congress. The politics of these Commissioners represented strangely the three phases of opinion which most generally prevailed in the United States when the difference arose between the States. Judge Roman had been a Whig, Mr. Crawford a States Rights Democrat, and Mr. Forsyth a zealous Douglas man. No secret instructions were given. Their own convictions and honest and peaceful purpose were to be their guide.

In the meanwhile Virginia, through the General Assembly, on January 19, 1861, adopted a series of resolutions deprecating disunion and inviting all States that were moved by a like desire to appoint Commissioners to unite with her. Ex-President John [50] Tyler, Messrs. William C. Rives, John W. Brockenbrugh, George W. Summers, and James A. Seddon, “five of the most distinguished citizens of the State, were appointed to represent Virginia in the proposed conference.” If any agreement could be made they were to report to the Confederate Congress for ratification by each State severally.

The border States acceded and others followed. Twenty-one States were represented. They met, debated, made propositions and counter-propositions, and adjourned February 27th. Texas and Arkansas were not of the number, because they were at that time passing ordinances of secession. Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and the two Pacific States--Oregon and California--held aloof. The two senators from Michigan opposed the Peace Convention, as was afterward learned from a correspondence read in the Senate on February 27th, because it would be “a step toward obtaining that concession which the imperious slave power so insolently demands.” 1 Finally the writer changed his policy and recommended that “true, unflinching men” be sent, who would be “in favor of the Constitution as it is,” or, in other phrase, [51] oppose any effort at pacification of the contending parties. The other Senator wanted “stiff-backed” delegates, and added that “without a little blood-letting” the Union would not be “worth a rush.”

Mr. Z. Chandler wrote that Governor Bingham telegraphed him, at the request of Massachusetts and New York, to send “delegates to the Peace or Compromise Congress. Ohio, Indiana, and Rhode Island are coming in, and there is danger of Illinois; and now they beg us, for God's sake, to come to their rescue, and save the Republican party from rupture.” 2

A plan was finally agreed upon by the majority of the States present. Its provisions were nearly like the resolutions of Mr. Crittenden, which were still under consideration in the Senate, though rather less favorable to the South. But the extreme Radicals objected even to considering it; they failed to prevent its being debated, but, both Mr. Crittenden's resolutions and the plan of the Peace Conference, were defeated on a vote, and so these efforts at pacification came to naught, except that the fierce pulse-beat of the aggressive North was felt.

Mr. Lincoln came into office, elected by a [52] sectional party; very soon after he took the oath to administer impartial justice. There were not wanting men of all parties in the North who boldly adhered to the provisions of the Constitution, notably the New York Tribune, the Albany Argus, the New York Herald, and others.

A great meeting was held in New York, January 31, 1861, where Governor Seymour asked the pertinent question, “If successful coercion by the North is less revolutionary than successful secession by the South?” The Detroit Free Press suggested that a fire would be opened on the rear of troops raised to coerce a State. The Union of Bangor, Me., spoke much to the same effect, and even Mr. Lincoln did not care to advocate coercion in his inaugural. “Something new and strange” was making its home among us, and freemen had not yet learned its name or determined to bid it welcome. Mr. Lincoln deemed it better to forego filling the offices in the South, because it would be “irritating, and so nearly impracticable withal.”

Thus far the conservative men of the North, who, though they differed from the Confederates, mingled no fanaticism with the divergence of policies, were making strenuous efforts to stay the ill-advised policy of coercion. In the United States Senate Stephen [53] A. Douglas offered a resolution recommending the “withdrawal of the garrisons from all forts within the limits of the States which had seceded, except those at Key West and the Dry Tortugas, needful to the United States for coaling stations.” He said unless we intended to reduce the seceding States to subjection, that Sumter must revert to the power that should hold Charleston. Pensacola was entitled to Fort Pickens. “I proclaim boldly,” said the eloquent Senator, “the policy of those with whom I act. We are for peace.”

Mr. Douglas knew that the occupation of the fort was a standing menace and provocation to the people of the South.

The Southern people had never as yet given up the hope that the better feelings of the masses at the North would assert themselves, and constantly the expression was heard, “Secession was a last resort; would to God it could yet be prevented.” The Southern people did not believe that the rank and file of the North desired to oppress them, or forcibly seize their property and destroy their prosperity. But the Republicans, excited by the sound of their own threats, became more and more intolerant and overbearing. Mr. Clarke, of New Hampshire, announced in his place that amendments to [54] the Constitution were not needful-what was required was obedience to its provisions, not amendments to it, and advised a rigorous enforcement of the law.

His resolutions passed both houses of Congress without demurrers from the Southern members. The Republicans refused all suggestions for compromise, and ignored the right of the South to property in slaves, or their rights in the Territories.

The most notable of these projects for pacification was the series of resolutions offered by Mr. Crittenden, of Kentucky, which soon came to be known as the “Crittenden compromise.”

“ They proposed to amend the Constitution by introducing articles declaring that south of a given latitude neither Congress nor any electoral legislature should have power to abolish, modify, nor interfere with slavery in the Territories; that Congress should have no power to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia, or wherever else the Federal Government had exclusive jurisdiction; and, finally, by an amendment providing that in case of failure, from violence to the officer of the law, to arrest any fugitive from labor, the community where such failure took place should be compelled to pay the value of such alleged fugitive to the owner thereof, and may [55] be prosecuted for that purpose or to that effect.” “The adoption of this compromise in the existing state of affairs was the last hope of saving the Union; but the North rejected it, and even refused to entertain a series of propositions still less favorable to the South that were offered by Mr. Etheridge.”

The Confederate Commissioners had been sent to Washington. Mr. Crawford left Montgomery on February 27th, and reached there two or three days before the expiration of Mr. Buchanan's term. He bore a letter to the President from Mr. Davis. Mr. Buchanan had sent an intimation that he would be happy to receive Commissioners from the Confederate States, and would refer their communications to the Senate. Mr. Crawford found Washington in a state of great excitement, and an army of office-seekers blocking the pavement in order to interview the President-elect Mr. Lincoln. Care and foreboding sat upon every brow in Congress. Mr. Buchanan “was in a state of most thorough alarm, not only for his home at Wheatland, but for his personal safety.” He had previously expressed to Mr. Davis his fear of his homeward route being lighted by burning effigies of himself. Actuated by this dread, he refused to receive the Commissioners or send any message to the Senate. [56]

Eight days after the inauguration of Mr. Lincoln the Commissioners announced their presence and object.

The most concise account is found in a message of the Confederate President, sent April 29, 1861.

Scarce had you assembled in February last, when, prior even to the inauguration of the Chief Magistrate, you had elected, you expressed your desire for the appointment of Commissioners, and for the settlement of all questions of disagreement between the two Governments upon principles of right, equity, and good faith.

It was my pleasure, as well as my duty, to co-operate with you in this work of peace. Indeed, in my address to you, on taking the oath of office before receiving from you the communication of this resolution, I had said that, as a necessity, not as a choice, we have resorted to the remedy of separating, and henceforth our energies must be directed to the conduct of our own affairs, and the perpetuity of the Confederacy which we have formed. If a just perception of mutual interest shall permit us to peaceably pursue our separate political career, my most earnest desire will then have been fulfilled.

It was in furtherance of these accordant views of the Congress and the Executive [57] that I made choice of three discreet, able, and distinguished citizens, who repaired to Washington. Aided by their cordial co-operation and that of the Secretary of State, every effort compatible with self-respect and the dignity of the Confederacy was exhausted, before I allowed myself to yield to the conviction that the Government of the United States was determined to attempt the conquest of this people, and that our cherished hopes of peace were unobtainable.

On the arrival of our Commissioners in Washington, on March 5th, they postponed, at the suggestion of a friendly intermediator, doing more than giving informal notice of their arrival. This was done with a view to afford time to the President of the United States, who had just been inaugurated, for the discharge of other pressing official duties in the organization of his administration, before engaging his attention to the object of their mission.

It was not until the twelfth of the month that they officially addressed the Secretary of State, informing him of the purpose of their arrival, and stating, in the language of their instructions, their wish to make to the Government of the United States overtures for the opening of negotiations, assuring the Government of the United States that the [58] President, Congress, and people of the Confederate States desired a peaceful solution of these great questions; that it was neither their interest nor their wish to make any demand which was not founded on the strictest principles of justice, nor to do any act to injure their late confederates.

To this communication no formal reply was received until April 8th. During the interval the Commissioners had consented to waive all questions of form, with the firm resolve to avoid war, if possible. They went so far even as to hold, during that long period, unofficial intercourse through an intermediary, whose high position and character inspired the hope of success, and through whom constant assurances were received from the Government of the United States of its peaceful intentions, of its determination to evacuate Fort Sumter; and, further, that no measure would be introduced, changing the existing status, prejudicial to the Confederate States; that, in event of any change in regard to Fort Pickens, notice would be given to the Commissioners.

The crooked path of diplomacy can scarcely furnish an example so wanting in courtesy, in candor, and directness as was the course of the United States Government toward our Commissioners in Washington. [59] For proof of this I refer to the annexed documents, taken in connection with further facts, which I now proceed to relate.

Early in April the attention of the whole country was attracted to extraordinary preparations, in New York and other Northern ports, for an extensive military and naval expedition. These preparations were commenced in secrecy for an expedition whose destination was concealed, and only became known when nearly completed; and on the 5th, 6th, and 7th of April, transports and vessels of war, with troops, munitions, and military supplies, sailed from Northern ports, bound southward.

Alarmed by so extraordinary a demonstration, the Commissioners requested the delivery of an answer to their official communication of March 12th, and the reply, dated on the 15th of the previous month was obtained, from which it appears that, during the whole interval, while the Commissioners were receiving assurances calculated to inspire hope of the success of their mission, the Secretary of State and the President of the United States had already determined to hold no intercourse with them whatever, to refuse even to listen to any proposals they had to make; and had profited by the delay created by their own assurances, in order to [60] prepare secretly the means for effective hostile operations.

About this time a letter was written by Major Anderson as noble as it was unselfish.

Fort Sumter, S. C., April 8, 1861.
To Colonel L. Thomas, Adjutant-General, United States Army. Colonel:
I have the honor to report that the resumption of work yesterday (Sunday) at various points on Morris Island, and the vigorous prosecution of it this morning, apparently strengthening all the batteries which are under the fire of our guns, shows that they either have just received some news from Washington which has put them on the qui vive, or that they have received orders from Montgomery to commence operations here. I am preparing, by the side of my barbette guns, protection for our men from the shells which will be almost continually bursting over or in our works.

I had the honor to receive by yesterday's mail the letter of the Honorable Secretary of War, dated April 4th, and confess that what he there states surprises me greatlyfollowing, as it does, and contradicting so positively, the assurance Mr. Crawford telegraphed he was “authorized” to make. I [61] trust that this matter will be at once put in a correct light, as a movement made now, when the South has been informed that none such would be attempted, would produce most disastrous results throughout our country. It is, of course, now too late for me to give any advice in reference to the proposed scheme of Captain Fox. I fear that its result cannot fail to be disastrous to all concerned. Even with his boat at our walls, the loss of life (as I think I mentioned to Mr. Fox) in unloading her will more than pay for the good to be accomplished by the expedition, which keeps us, if I can maintain possession of this work, out of position, surrounded by strong works which must be carried to make this fort of the least value to the United States Government.

We have not oil enough to keep a light in the lantern for one night. The boats will have to, therefore, rely at night entirely upon other marks. I ought to have been informed that this expedition was to come. Colonel Lamon's remark convinced me that the idea, merely hinted at to me by Colonel Fox, would not be carried out.

We shall strive to do our duty, though I frankly say that my heart is not in this war, which I see is to be thus commenced. That God will still avert it, and cause us to resort [62] to pacific means to maintain our rights, is my ardent prayer.

I am, Colonel, very respectfully, Your obedient servant, Robert Anderson, Major, First Artillery, commanding.

The Count of Paris libels the memory of Major Anderson, and perverts the truth of history in this, as he has done in other particulars, by saying, with reference to the visit of Captain Fox to the Fort, that, “having visited Anderson at Fort Sumter, a plan had been agreed upon between them for revictualling the garrison” ( “Civil War in America,” authorized translation, vol. 1., p. 137). Fox himself says, in his published letter, “I made no arrangements with Major Anderson for supplying the fort, nor did I inform him of my plan;” and Major Anderson, in the letter above, says the idea had been “merely hinted at” by Captain Fox, and that Colonel Lamon had led him to believe that it had been abandoned.

When General Beauregard discovered that Major Anderson was endeavoring to strengthen, in place of evacuating, Fort Sumter, the Commissioners wrote an interrogatory note to discover the facts, and were assured by Mr. Seward that the Government had not receded [63] from his promise. On April 7th, Mr. Seward sent the message, “Faith as to Sumter fully kept; wait and see.” On that day the Federal fleet with a large force sailed for Sumter, and the Commissioners left Washington, hopeless of accomplishing anything.

“That these assurances were given has been virtually confessed by the Government of the United States, by its act of sending a messenger to Charleston to give notice of its purpose to use force, if opposed, in its intention of supplying Fort Sumter.” 3

No more striking proof of the absence of good faith in the conduct of the Government of the United States toward the Confederacy can be required than is contained in the circumstances which accompanied this notice.

According to the usual course of navigation, the vessels composing the expedition, and designed for the relief of Fort Sumter, might be looked for in Charleston harbor on April gth. Yet our Commissioners in Washington were detained under assurances that notice should be given of any military movement. The notice was not addressed to them, but a messenger was sent to Charleston to give notice to the Governor of South [64] Carolina, and the notice was so given at a late hour on April 8th, the eve of the very day on which the fleet might be expected to arrive.

That this manoeuvre failed in its purpose was not the fault of those who controlled it. A heavy tempest delayed the arrival of the expedition and gave time to the commander of our forces at Charleston to ask and receive instructions of the Government. ...

1 See letter of S. K. Bingham to Governor Blair of Michigan, Congressional Globe, Second Session, 36th Congress, Part II., page 1147.

2 See the Congressional Globe, ut supra.

3 See Rise and Fall of the Confederacy, Appendix L, p. 675, vol. 1.

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