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The Peace conference [from the Richmond, Va., Dispatch, February 25, 1900.]

In Hampton Roads, January 31, 1865.

Lincoln did not offer to pay for our slaves.

To the Editor of the Dispatch.
Did Abraham Lincoln, at the Hampton Roads conference, offer any compensation whatever for slaves?

R. C. W.
The above inquiry having been referred to me, I answer with pleasure.

On January 29, 1865, the Confederate commissioners—Stephens, Hunter and Campbell—left Richmond to meet the Federal commissioners at Fort Monroe. There, on January 31st, they met in conference President Lincoln and Mr. Seward, Secretary of State.

The conference lasted four hours, and Mr. Stephens, Vice-President of the Confederate States, has left on record a detailed report of the discussion there.

Mr. Stephens pressed for a secret military convention between the two belligerents, with the object of uniting the people of the whole country in the defense of the Monroe doctrine, by expelling the French from Mexico, which would of necessity produce a truce, and that would lead to peace. Mr. Lincoln was peremptory that the [375] first condition of negotiation should be that the Confederates should acknowledge supremacy of the Constitution and the laws of the United States. That must be the first step, he said.

To the Confederate objection that this was unconditional surrender, he replied that obedience to the laws of the land would not be ‘unconditional surrender’ at all, but merely submission to law. To Hunter's objection that our submission would not be accompanied by the guarantee that we should be secured the protection of the Constitution of the United States, Lincoln replied: ‘That so far as the confiscation acts and other penal acts were concerned, their enforcement was left entirely with him, and in that point he was perfectly willing to be full and explicit, and on his assurance perfect reliance might be placed. He should exercise then the power of the Executive with the utmost liberality—that is, that pardons should be plentiful and hangings scarce.’—--The War Between the States, by A. H. Stephens, Volume II, page 617.

“He went on to say,” says Mr. Stephens, ‘that he would be willing to be taxed to remunerate the Southern people for their slaves. He believed the people of the North were as responsible for slavery as the people of the South, and if the war should then cease, with the voluntary abolition of slavery by the States, he should be in favor, individually, of the government paying a fair indemnity for the loss to the owners. He said he believed this feeling had an extensive existence at the North. He knew some who were in favor of an appropriation as high as four hundred millions of dollars for this purpose. I could mention persons, said he, whose names would astonish you, who are willing to do this if the war shall now cease, without further expense, and with the abolition of slavery, as stated. But, on this subject, he said, he could give no assurance; enter into no stipulation. He barely expressed his own feelings and views, and what he believed to be the views of others upon the subject.’ Page 617.

Mr. Seward said the Northern people were weary of the war. They desired peace and a restoration of harmony, and, he believed, would be willing to pay, as an indemnity for the slaves, what would be required to continue the war, but stated no amount (page 618). After a four hours talk, the subject of exchange of prisoners of war was brought up, and Mr. Lincoln said he would put the whole matter in the hands of General Grant, who was then at City Point, and then the conference broke up.

I do not consider this an offer to pay for slaves. [376]

Within a week after this conference I met Mr. Stephens at Burkeville, on the Richmond & Danville railroad. I was on my way to Salisbury, N. C., where my headquarters then were, and he to his home in Georgia. The train was very slow, and we missed the connection at Danville, and therefore stayed all night at the tavern there.

Mr. Stephens was full of the conference and the great meeting, which he had attended the night before, or two or three other nights before, at the African church, on Broad street in Richmond, and on the train and at night at the tavern he talked constantly and frankly, and I am gratified to find how accurate my memory is about what he told me of what had happened at the conference, in testing that memory by the statements in his book.

But he told me something else that is not in the book. He said: Mr. Lincoln told us, “you may take a blank sheet of paper and write on it, first, submission to the Constitution and the laws of the United States, and second, emancipation of the slaves, and then write any other laws you please below those two, and I will sign it.”

He did not mention the names of those who were willing to pay $400,000,000 for the slaves, but gave us to understand that Horace Greeley and the Tribune would support such a proposition, said Mr. Stephens.

Mr. Stephens was very emphatic in impressing on me his views and purpose in urging an armistice. I do not think much of the scheme of uniting to enforce the Monroe doctrine and driving the French out of Mexico. In fact, I hoped the Yanks would get into a row with Napoleon III, for that would bring recognition, open ports, and independence to us, and told him so. I do not remember what he said about the Monroe doctrine, but I am very clear about the armistice. ‘If we can get them to stop fighting,’ said he, ‘for six months, three months, one month, the war will stop. Both sides are tired of it. They now know what war is, and they'll stop it. A general truce, to include all the armies and the whole country, will inevitably force peace. When Henry IV of France got a truce —an armistice—a cessation of fighting between Catholics and Protestants—he secured permanent peace and the kingdom for himself.’ I did not know much about Henry IV, in truth, except that he was a gentleman who swapped his religion for a kingdom, saying, ‘a crown is worth a mass,’ so I said what I thought—that a man who would change his faith for pay was a poor pattern to follow, and I had no idea of making professions to secure profits. But Stephens [377] laughed, and said it would be perfectly justifiable to profess submission to the laws if thereby we could secure independence.

I agreed to his proposition, though I could not understand it, nor do I now.

Bradley T. Johnson. The Woodlands, Amelia Courthouse, Va.

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