Page images

[From the Richmond (Va.) Dispatch, July 27, 1897.]


Judge Reagan on the Hampton Roads Conference.


No Offer Made to Pay for the Slaves-The Testimony of President Davis, Vice-President Stephens and Others.

To the Editor of the Dispatch:

AUSTIN, TEXAS, July 20, 1897.

In the address delivered by me at the annual reunion of Confederate veterans at Nashville, Tenn., on the 22d of June, discussing the question as to why the war was not brought to an end sooner than it was by a compromise, it became necessary for me to refer to a story often told, that President Lincoln, at the Hampton Roads Conference, February 3, 1865, offered to pay $400,000,000 for the slaves of the South to secure peace and a restoration of the Union. This statement has been often made for the purpose of showing that the Southern people might have been paid that sum for their slaves, and that the war might have been terminated and its sacrifices avoided, if President Davis and the Confederate authorities had accepted this offer from President Lincoln. I felt that it was due to the Confederate authorities, due to truth, and necessary as a historic fact, that I should declare, on that great occasion, "that no such offer in any form was made."

The Nashville American newspaper, of the 26th of June, 1897, published a communication from Mr. R. H. Baker, of Watertown, Tenn., under the head lines, "Judge Reagan in Error," in which he took issue with me on that question, thereby necessarily assuming that President Lincoln had made such an offer.

The day on which Mr. Baker's article was published I sent a note to the American, stating that on my return home I would send to that paper a statement of the authorities on which I made the denial that any such offer had been made.

Pursuant to that promise, on the 7th day of July, 1897, I sent my letter of that date to the American, giving some of the authorities on which I based my denial that President Lincoln had offered

$400,000,000 to pay for the loss of the slaves. I quoted what was said by the five members of the Hampton Roads Conference, the only persons who were present and knew what was said in that Conference; and by them showed that no such offer was made, and that no terms were offered the Confederates but unconditional submission to Federal authority. I will not go over that presentation of facts again, but will add to it two more statements-one by President Davis and one by President Lincoln.


In submitting to the Confederate Congress the report of our commissioners to the Hampton Roads conference, President Davis said: "I herewith transmit, for the information of Congress, the report of the eminent citizens above named (Stephens, Hunter, and Campbell), showing that the enemy refused to enter into negotiations with the Confederate States, or any one of them separately, or to give to our people any other terms or guarantees than those which the conquerer 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 each State. Such is, as I understand it, the effect of the amendment to the Constitution, which has been adopted by the Congress of the United States."

In response to a resolution adopted by the Congress of the United States, on the 8th of February, 1865, requesting information from President Lincoln in relation to what occurred in the conference held at Hampton Roads, Mr. Lincoln said:

"On my part, the whole substance af the instructions to the Secretary of State, hereinbefore recited, was stated and insisted upon, and nothing was said inconsistent therewith."

In the above, reference is made to the instructions given by President Lincoln, to Secretary of State Seward, on the 31st of January, 1865, as to what he was authorized to do in the conference with the Confederate commissioners. Mr. Lincoln said:

"You will make known to them that three things are indispensible -to-wit: First, the restoration of the national authority throughout all the States; second, 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 the preceding documents;

third, no cessation of hostilities short of an end of the war, and the disbanding of all the forces hostile to the government."

The reference in the second of the above propositions, was to Mr. Lincoln's annual message to Congress, of December, 1864, and his reference to documents, is to his emancipation proclamations of September 22, 1862, and of January 1, 1863.

It was the policy indicated in these proclamations and in this message, which he informed the Confederate commissioners he would not recede from.


And are not these two authorities conclusive proof, independently of all the other proofs presented in my letter of July 7th, that no proposition was made by Mr. Lincoln to the Confederate commissioners to pay $400,000,000 for the slaves to secure peace and union?

Now I will add that of all the persons who met in that conference, no one of them has ever said that such an offer was made; but all of them show a state of facts absolutely inconsistent with the making of such an offer. Henceforward, any one who may assume that such an offer was made, must do so in the face of, and in defiance of, all the facts connected with that conference. The only interest I feel in this matter is to see to it that the historic facts connected with that conference shall not be perverted and misrepresented, so as to throw on President Davis and the Confederate authorities the responsibility of having rejected such a proposition.

The Hon. Henry Watterson, editor of the Courier-Journal, gave to the public in that paper, on the 12th of July, under the display heading, "The Truth of History," over four columns' criticism and reply to my letter of the 7th of July.

I cannot descend from the consideration of an important historical question to a reply to what he says about my vehemence" and "volubility" and a number of other merely ill-natured and ungracious personal flings at me. I am only concerned in the settlement of the historical question.

Replying to my denial that President Lincoln, at the Hampton Roads conference, offered to the Confederate commissioners $400,000,000 to pay for the slaves, to secure peace and the return of the Southern States to the Union, Mr. Watterson says:

"Since no one that we have ever heard of has intimated that Mr. Lincoln did, it is difficult to understand just why Judge Reagan should be so inconsistent."

Let us see as to this. My letter of July 7th was a reply to Mr. R. H. Baker, who questioned the truthfulness of my denial that such an offer was made. It is also true that a considerable portion of the people of the Southern States have been induced to believe that such an offer was made, and was rejected by President Davis and the Confederate authorities. And since the delivery of my address at Nashville, and the publication of my letter of the 7th instant, I have received many letters from persons in a number of States, thanking me for having shown that no such an offer was made. And in a lecture delivered by Mr. Watterson, in Kansas City, some two or three years ago, he said, under the heading "New Birth of Freedom," that:

"In the preceding conversation Mr. Lincoln had intimated that payment for the slaves was not outside of a possible agreement for reunion and peace. He based that statement upon a proposal he already had in hand to appropriate $400,000,000 for this purpose. I am not going to tell any tales out of school. I am not here for controversy, but when we are dead and gone the private memorabilia of those who know what terms were really offered the Confederacy, within ninety days of its total collapse, will show that in the individual judgment of all of them the wisdom of the situation said 'Accept.'

Accept what? Why surely he means the $400,000,000. Had Mr. Watterson forgotten this? Does not this language show that he meant to charge the Confederate authorities with having refused this offer, and that posterity would say the offer ought to have been accepted? I think it safe to say that Mr. Watterson, whether he meant to be so understood or not, is, through his newspaper and lectures, more responsible than any other living man for the belief by others of the truth of this fable about the offer of $400,000,000 by Mr. Lincoln and its rejection by the Confederacy.

How does the above queston agree with Mr. Watterson's statement that he had never heard it intimated that Mr. Lincoln did make such an offer? If Mr. Watterson agrees with me that no such offer was made, why did he write four or five columns of editorial to combat my statement on this question? In that I said nothing about Mr. Watterson or his views. I was discussing an interesting historical question. Was he indulging in a mere display of dialectics to show how ski'fully he could avoid a real issue, or did he mean by it to controvert what I had said?

Mr. Watterson states that the day after Mr. Lincoln's return from

the Hampton Roads conference, he submitted to his Cabinet the form of a joint resolution empowering him to pay, on the terms proposed, $400,000,000 for the slaves, if the Confederate States would abandon the war. And he follows the quotation of that proposed joint resolution by the following statement:


'Thus it will be seen that Mr. Lincoln did, at the Fortress Monroe conference, intimate that payment for the slaves might be considered as a basis for reunion and peace, and Mr. Lincoln did embody the proposition in an official document, notwithstanding Judge Reagan's confident assertion that neither President Lincoln nor any other man on the Federal side would have dared to make such an offer at that time."


I must call attention to two views in reference to the foregoing extraordinary statement. The first is that Mr. Watterson assumes that because Mr. Lincoln submitted the form of a joint resolution to his Cabinet, proposing to pay $400,000,000 for the slaves, that this is evidence that he did intimate, at the Hampton Roads conference, payment for the slaves. Is the one evidence of the truth of the other? What connection is shown between these two facts? Was this not a mere play on words intended to mislead? The other is that the submission by Mr. Lincoln of the form of such a joint resolution to his Cabinet was a refutation of my statement that no such offer was made at Hampton Roads. What sort of logic is this, coming from a great editor and an experienced writer? Does Mr. Watterson expect his readers to believe that because Mr. Lincoln may have submitted such a form of joint resolution to his Cabinet that this is evidence of his having made such a proposition in the conference at Hampton Roads?

Let us look at another piece of Mr. Watterson's logic and facts. He says: Now, let us see how much more accurate and authoritative Judge Reagan is, when he flatly contradicts the statement that Mr. Lincoln, in his private interview with Mr. Stephens at Fort Monroe, said to Mr Stephens, 'Let me write "Union" at the top of this page, and you may write whatever else you please.'

I have never found it necessary to dispute anything which has been said about private interviews between Mr. Lincoln and Mr. Stephens. My position was, and is, that no such statement was made to the Confederate Commissioners as an inducement to bring

« PreviousContinue »