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[411]

Correspondence between Governor Vance, of North Carolina, and President Jefferson Davis.

[General Sherman's friends, in their vain efforts to extricate him from the web of mendacity, which he has woven for himself in his controversy with Mr. Davis, have been the occasion of the publication of a number of the letters of the great Confederate chief. But they all tend to brand Sherman's slander and make clearer President Davis's position. The following are worth preserving:]

State of North Carolina, Executive Department, Raleigh, N. C., December 30, 1863.
His Excellency, President Davis:
My dear Sir,—After a careful consideration of all the sources of discontent in North Carolina, I have concluded that it will be perhaps impossible to remove it, except by making some effort at negotiation with the enemy. The recent action of the Federal House of Representatives, though meaning very little, has greatly excited the public hope that the Northern mind is looking towards peace. I am promised by all men, who advocate this course, that if fair terms are rejected, it will tend greatly to strengthen and intensify the war feeling, and will rally all classes to a more cordial support of the government. And although our position is well known, as demanding only to be let alone, yet it seems to me that for the sake of humanity, without having any weak or improper motives attributed to us, we might with propriety constantly tender negotiations. In doing so, we would keep conspicuously before the world a disclaimer of our responsibility for the great slaughter of our race, and convince the humblest of our citizens—who sometimes forget the actual situation—that the government is tender of their lives and happiness, and would not prolong their sufferings unnecessarily one moment. Though statesmen might regard this as useless, the people will not, and I think our cause will be strengthened thereby. I have not suggested the method of these negotiations or their terms. The effort to obtain peace is the principal matter. Allow me to beg your earnest consideration of this suggestion.

Very respectfully yours,

(Signed)


[412]

Executive office, Richmond, January 8, 1864.
His Excellency, Z. B. Vance, Governor of North Carolina, Raleigh, N. C.:
dear Sir,—I have received your letter of the 30th ult. containing suggestions of the measures to be adopted for the purpose of removing ‘the sources of discontent’ in North Carolina. The contents of the letter are substantially the same as those of the letter addressed by you to Senator Dortch, extracts of which were by him read to me.

Apart from insuperable objection to the line of policy you propose (and to which I will presently advert), I cannot see how the mere material obstacles are to be surmounted. We have made three distinct efforts to communicate with the authorities at Washington, and have been, invariably, unsuccessful. Commissioners were sent before hostilities were begun, and the Washington government refused to see them or hear what they had to say. A second time I sent a military officer with a communication addressed by myself to President Lincoln. The letter was received by General Scott, who did not permit the officer to see Mr. Lincoln, but who promised that an answer would be sent. No answer has ever been received. The third time, a few months ago, a gentleman was sent whose position, character, and reputation were such as to insure his reception, if the enemy were not determined to receive no proposal whatever from this government. Vice-President Stephens made a patriotic tender of his services in the hope of being able to promote the cause of humanity, and although little belief was entertained of his success, I cheerfully yielded to his suggestion, that the experiment should be tried. The enemy refused to let him pass through their lines or to hold any conference with them. He was stopped before he even reached Fortress Monroe on his way to Washington. To attempt again (in the face of these repeated rejections of all conference with us), to send commissioners or agents to propose peace, is to invite insult and contumely, and to subject ourselves to indignity, without the slightest chance of being listened to. No true citizen, no man who has our cause at heart can desire this, and the good people of North Carolina would be the last to approve of such an attempt, if aware of all the facts. So far from removing ‘sources of discontent,’ such a course would receive as it would merit the condemnation of those true patriots who have given their blood and treasure to maintain the freedom, equality and independence which [413] descended to them from the immortal heroes of King's Mountain and other battlefields of the Revolution.

If, then, proposals cannot be made through envoys because the enemy would not receive them, how is it possible to communicate our desire for peace otherwise than by the public announcements contained in almost every message I ever sent to Congress. I cannot recall, at this time, one instance in which I have failed to announce that our only desire was peace, and the only terms which formed a sine qua non, were precisely those that you suggest, namely, ‘a demand only to be let alone.’

But suppose it were practicable to obtain a conference through commissioners, with the Government of President Lincoln, is it at this moment that we are to consider it desirable, or even at all practical? Have we not just been apprised by that despot that we can only expect his gracious pardon by emancipating all our slaves, swearing allegiance and obedience to him and his proclamations, and becoming in point of fact the slaves of our own negroes? Can there be in North Carolina one citizen so fallen beneath the dignity of his ancestors as to accept or enter into conference on the basis of these terms? That there are a few traitors in the State who would be willing to betray their fellow-citizens to such a degraded position in the hope of being rewarded for treachery by an escape from the common doom may be true. But I do not believe the vilest wretch would accept such terms for himself.

I cannot conceive how the people of your State, than which none has sent nobler or more gallant soldiers to the field of battle (one of whom it is your honor to be), can have been deceived by anything to which you refer in the recent action of the Federal House of Representatives. I have seen no action of the house that does not indicate by a very decided majority the purpose of the enemy to refuse all terms to the South except absolute, unconditional subjugation or extermination. But if it were otherwise, how are we to treat with the House of Representatives? It is with Lincoln alone that we could confer, and his own partisans at the North avow unequivocally that his purpose, as his message and proclamation was to shut out all hope that he would ever treat with us on any terms If we will break up our government, dissolve the Confederacy, disband our armies, emancipate our slaves, and take an oath of allegiance binding ourselves to obedience to him, and to disloyalty to our own States, he proposes to pardon us, and not to plunder us of anything more than the property already stolen from us and such slaves as still [414] remain. In order to render his proposals so insulting as to secure their rejection, he joins to them a promise to support with his army one-tenth of the people of any State who will attempt to set up a government over the other nine-tenths, thus seeking to sow discord and suspicion among the people of the several States, and to excite them to civil war in furtherance of his ends.

I know well that it would be impossible to get your people, if they possessed full knowledge of these facts, to consent that proposals should now be made by us to those who control the Government at Washington. Your own well known devotion to the great cause of liberty and independence, to which we have all committed whatever we have of earthly possessions, would induce you to take the lead in repelling the bare thought of abject submission to the enemy. Yet peace on other terms is now impossible. To obtain the sole terms to which you or I could listen, this struggle must continue until the enemy is beaten out of his vain confidence in our subjugation. Then, and not till then, will it be possible to treat of peace. Till then all tender of terms to the enemy will be received as proof that we are ready for submission, and will encourage him in the atrocious warfare which he is waging.

I fear much from the tenor of the news I receive from North Carolina, that an attempt will be made by some bad men to inaugurate movements which must be considererd as equivalent to ‘aid and comfort to the enemy,’ and which all patriots should combine to put down at any cost. You may count on my aid in every effort to spare your State the scenes of civil war, which will devastate its homes if the designs of these traitors be suffered to make headway. I know you will place yourself in your legitimate position in the lead of those who will not suffer the name of the old North State to be blackened by such a stain. Will you pardon me for suggesting that my only source of disquietude on the subject, has arisen from the fear that you will delay too long the action, which now appears inevitable, and that by an over-earnest desire to reclaim by conciliation men whom you believe to be sound at heart, but whose loyalty is more than suspected elsewhere, you will permit them to gather such strength as to require more violent measures than are now needed? With your influence and position, the promoters of the unfounded discontents, now prevalent in your State, would be put down without the use of physical force if you would abandon the policy of conciliation and set them at defiance. In this course, frankly and firmly pursued, you would rally around you all that is best and noblest in [415] your State, and your triumph would be bloodless. If the contrary policy be adopted, I much fear you will be driven to the use of force to repress treason. In either event, however, be assured that you will have my cordial concurrence and assistance in maintaining with you the honor and dignity and the fair name of your State, in your efforts to crush treason, whether incipient, as I believe it now to be, or more mature, as I believe, if not firmly met, it will in our future inevitably become.

I have the honor to be, very respectfully,

(Signed)


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