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Secretary Seward's Instructions.
Thoroughly familiar with the designs and purposes of the leading rebels as Mr. Lincoln was, and well aware that any such attempt must prove futile, he was nevertheless determined that no valid ground for censure should be afforded by himself, in case a favorable opening presented itself.
Accordingly, when he learned-as he did during the last week of January, from his friend, Francis P. Blair, who had visited Richmond, with the President's permission that the managers there were desirous of sending certain persons as commissioners to learn from the United States Government upon what terms an adjustment of difficulties could be made, and that A. H. Stephens, of Georgia, R. M. T. Hunter, of Virginia, and J. A. Campbell, of Alabama, had been sent through the enemy's lines by Davis for the purpose of a conference upon the subject, Mr. Lincoln, not choosing that the commissioners should visit Washington, entrusted the matter to Secretary Seward, furnishing him with the following letter of instructions, dated Executive Mansion, Washington, January 31st, 1865:
"HON. WILLIAM H. SEWARD, Secretary of State :-You will proceed to Fortress Monroe, Virginia, there to meet and informally confer with Messrs. Stephens, Hunter, and Campbell, on the basis of my letter to F. P. Blair, Esq., of January 18, 1865, a copy of which you have.
"You will make known to them that three things are indispensable, to wit:
"1. The restoration of national authority throughout all the States.
"2. No receding by the Executive of the United States, on the slavery question, from the position assumed thereon in the late annual message to Congress, and in preceding documents.
"3. No cessation of hostilities short of an end of the war and the disbanding of all forces hostile to the Government.
Secretary Seward's Instructions.
Conference in Hampton Roads. Conference Informal.
"You will inform them that all propositions of theirs not inconsistent with the above, will be considered and passed upon in a spirit of sincere liberality.
"You will hear all they may choose to say, and report it to
"You will not assume to definitely consummate any thing "Yours truly, A. LINCOLN."
On the 2d of February, the President himself left for the point designated, and on the morning of the 3d, attended by Mr. Seward, received Messrs. Stephens, Hunter, and Campbell, on board a United States steamer anchored in Hampton Roads.
The conference that ensued was altogether informal. There was no attendance of Secretaries, clerks, or witnesses. Nothing was written or read. The conversation, although earnest and free, was calm and courteous and kind, on both sides. The Richmond party approached the discussion rather indirectly, and at no time did they make categorical demands or tender formal stipulations or absolute refusals; nevertheless, during the conference, which lasted four hours, the several points at issue between the Government and the insurgents were distinctly raised and discussed fully, intelligently, and in an amicable spirit. What the insurgent party seemed chiefly to favor was a postponement of the question of separation, upon which the war was waged, and a mutual direction of the efforts of the Government as well as those of the insurgents, to some extraneous policy or scheme for a season, during which passions might be expected to subside, and the armies be reduced, and trade and intercourse between the people of both sections be resumed.
It was suggested by them that through such postponement we might have immediate peace, with some, not very certain, prospect of an ultimate satisfactory adjustment of politica. relations between the Government and the States, section or
Canference in Hampton Roads.
The Anti-Slavery Policy.
people engaged in conflict with it. The suggestion, though deliberately considered, was nevertheless regarded by the President as one of armistice or truce, and he announced that we could agree to no cessation or suspension of hostilities except on the basis of the disbandonment of the insurgent forces, and the restoration of the national authority throughout all the States in the Union collaterally, and in subordination to the proposition which was thus announced.
The anti-slavery policy of the United States was reviewed in all its bearings, and the President announced that he must not be expected to depart from the positions he had heretofore assumed in his proclamation of emancipation and other documents, as these positions were reiterated in his annual message.
It was further declared by the President that the complete restoration of the national authority everywhere was an indispensable condition of any assent on our part to whatever form of peace might be proposed. The President assured the other party that while he must adhere to these positions be would be prepared, so far as power was lodged with the Executive, to exercise liberality. Its power, however, is limited by the Constitution, and when peace should be made Congress must necessarily act in regard to appropriations of money and to the admission of representatives from the insurrectionary States.
The Richmond party were then informed that Congress had, on the 31st of January, adopted, by a constitutional majority, a joint resolution submitting to the several States the proposition to abolish slavery throughout the Union, and that there was every reason to expect that it would soon be accepted by three-fourths of the States, so as to become a part of the national organic law.
The conference came to an end by mutual acquiescence, without producing an agreement of views upon the several matters discussed, or any of them.
On the following morning the President and Secretary returned to Washington, and shortly afterward, in compliance with a resolution to that effect, Congress was informed in detail of all that had led to the interview and its issue.
Thus was spiked the last gun bearing upon the terms on which the rebels would consent to peace. Whatever might have been the impression previously it was then well understood that to the armies in the field then converging toward Richmond, and not to the Executive of the nation, resort was to be had for peace upon any basis which loyal men would indorse.
On the 17th of February, in accordance with the general custom at the expiration of a Presidential term, the Senate was convened in active session by the following proclamation:
"WHEREAS, objects of interest to the United States require that the Senate should be convened at twelve o'clock on the fourth of March next, to receive and act upon such communications as may be made to it on the part of the Executive
"Now, therefore, I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, have considered it to be my duty to issue this my proclamation, declaring that an extraordinary occasion requires the Senate of the United States to convene for the transaction of business, at the Capitol, in the city of Washington, on the fourth day of March.next, at twelve o'clock at noon on that day, of which all who shall at that time be entitled to act as members of that body are hereby required to take notice.
"Given under my hand and the seal of the United States, at Washington, the 17th day of February, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-five, and of the Independence of the United States of America, the eighty ninth.
"By the President: ABRAHAM LINCOLN. "WILLIAM H. SEWARD, Secretary of State."
The Military Sitnation.
Thomas at Nashville.
Sherman at Goldsborough.
At this time, the military situation was very interesting to every friend of the Union, whatever might have been the feelings it created among those who had so long been in arms against the Government.
Sherman had "come out" at Savannah, capturing it and presenting it as a Christmas gift to the nation, after an extraordinary march from Atlanta-which he had deprived of all power for harm-directly through the heart of Georgia; a march as to which the rebel journalists made ludicrous efforts to be oracular in advance, predicting all manner of mishaps from the Georgia militia and the various "lions" in his way.
Thomas had fallen back leisurely to Nashville, forcing Hood, his antagonist, who had supplanted Johnston on account of his fighting qualities, to the loss of almost his entire army in a sanguinary battle which occurred near that city, Thomas being the attacking party. With the remnants of his discomfited force, the fighting general had fallen back, where was not definitely known, but evidently to some secure support.
Sherman having recuperated his army, had left Savannah and marched into South Carolina, where, according to the beforenamed veracious chroniclers, he was to flounder in bogs and quagmires, at the mercy of his valorous foes. He floundered on, truly-floundered, so as to flank Charleston, that nursery and hot-bed of treason, which had so long insulted the land-and compel its hurried evacuation; floundered, so as to capture and occupy Columbia, the capital of the Palmetto State; floundered, so as to threaten Raleigh, the capital of North Carolina; and at the time of which we write, had at last floundered to Goldsborough, where he had effected a connection with another column, which had pierced to that point after the capture of Wilmington, North Carolina, the pet port of disinterested blockade-runners-a capture rendered certain by the storming of Fort Fisher, commanding