« PreviousContinue »
the preparation of this bill, Henry Winter Davis of Maryland and Benjamin F. Wade of Ohio were prominently active. A good deal of time and discussion had been expended upon it, but it was passed and sent to the President less than one hour before the close of the session. He failed to approve it, and, on the eighth of July, issued a proclamation on the subject. In this proclamation, the President declared that he was unprepared, by a formal approval of the bill, to commit himself to any single plan of reconstruction, or to set aside the free state governments already formed in Arkansas and Louisiana on other plans. At the same time, he was willing that the plan embodied in the bill should be recognized as one among others; and so promulgated the bill itself, as a part of his proclamation. To the people of any rebel state who should adopt the plan provided by the bill, he pledged the executive assistance. The action of the President in this matter exceedingly offended Messrs. Wade and Davis, who joined in a bitter manifesto against him, and published it in the New York Tribune of August fifth. “The President,” they declared, “by preventing this bill from becoming a law, holds the electoral votes of the rebel states at the dictation of his personal ambition.” Furthermore: “A more studied outrage on the legislative authority of the people, has never been perpetrated.” In its attack upon Mr. Lincoln's motives, it was an offensive paper, and pained the friends of the administration no less than it rejoiced its enemies.
Mr. Lincoln, himself, never permitted attacks of this character to trouble him. If they were very bitter, he did not read them at all; and many men of mark who wrote things for his particular eye, failed of their object utterly by his refusal to read, or listen to, their fulminations. After the Wade and Davis manifesto was issued, it was, on one occasion, the subject of conversation between him and a number of gentlemen who had called at the White House. After all the gentlemen had retired, save one, who was an intimate personal friend, Mr. Lincoln turned to him, and said: “The Wade and Davis matter troubles me very little. Indeed, I feel a good deal about it as the old man did about his cheese, when his very smart boy found, by the aid of a microscope, that it was full of maggots. Oh father!' exclaimed the boy, "how can you eat that stuff? Just look in here, and see 'em wriggle!' The old man took another mouthful, and, putting his teeth into it, replied grimly: ‘let 'em wriggle!""
The evident anxiety of the people for peace was a subject of deep solicitude with the administration. Mr. Lincoln had no faith in the desire of the Richmond government for any peace which would be accepted by the loyal people of the country. It was, however, for the interest of the rebels to create a peace party in the northern states, in order to weaken the administration; and it was their policy to appear to be ready to make or receive propositions for peace. There were two things to which the administration was, in all good faith, irrevocably committed, viz: the restoration of the Union under the Constitution, and the abolition of slavery. Without being false to his oath of office and to the American people who had poured out life and treasure to save the nation, and without being faithless to an oppressed race to whom he had pledged emancipation, Mr. Lincoln could entertain no propositions for peace, and could make none, which were not based on the essential conditions of national unity and freedom to the blacks. This state of facts tied his hands; yet he was made by his enemies to appear to be averse to peace; and some of his friends, of the more timid sort, felt that, unless he could be placed in a different light before the people, his chances of re-election were slender.
On the fifth of July, one W. C. Jewett wrote a letter from Niagara Falls to Horace Greeley of New York, stating that there were, in Canada, two ambassadors of the rebel government, with full powers to negotiate a peace; and requesting that Mr. Greeley proceed to Niagara for a conference, or secure from the President a safe-conduct for them to New York. Mr. Greeley. inclosed the letter to Mr. Lincoln, remarking that he thought the matter deserved attention. He also wrote: “I venture to remind you that our bleeding, bankrupt, almost dying country, longs for peace-shudders at the prospect of fresh conscriptions, of further wholesale devastations, and of new rivers of human blood; and a wide-spread conviction that the government and its supporters are not anxious for peace, and do not improve proffered opportunities to achieve it, is doing great harm now, and is morally certain, unless removed, to do far greater in the approaching elections.” Mr. Greeley subjoined to his letter a plan of adjustment which he deemed proper and practicable, the first two items of which covered the restoration of the Union and the abolition of slavery. Certainly, if these were leading and essential parts of the plan, it could make no difference whether they were made conditions precedent to negotiation, or essentials in any adjustment to be procured by negotiation.
The President replied to this communication, on the ninth: “If you can find any person, anywhere, professing to have any proposition of Jefferson Davis, in writing, embracing the restoration of the Union and abandonment of slavery, whatever else it embraces, say to him that he may come to me with you." On the thirteenth of July, Mr. Greeley wrote to the President, stating that he had information upon which he could rely, that two persons, duly commissioned and empowered to negotiate for a peace, were not far from Niagara Falls, and were desirous to confer with the President, or such persons as he might appoint. Their names were Clement C. Clay of Alabama and Jacob Thompson of Mississippi. If these persons could be permitted to see Mr. Lincoln, they wished a safe-conduct for themselves and for George N. Saunders to Washington. In the course of the letter, Mr. Greeley said: “I am, of course, quite other than sanguine that a peace can now be made; but I am quite sure that a frank, earnest, anxious effort to terminate the war on honorable terms, would immensely strengthen the government in case of its failure, and would help us in the eyes of the civilized world.” George N. Saunders wrote to Mr. Greeley on the twelfth, that he was authorized to say that Mr. Clay and Professor Holcombe of Virginia were ready, with himself, to go to Washington, provided they should have a safe-conduct. To Mr. Greeley's letter of the thirteenth, Mr. Lincoln replied on the fifteenth: “I am disappointed that you have not already reached here with those commissioners. If they would consent to come on being shown my letter to you of the ninth inst., show that and this to them; and, if they will consent to come on the terms stated in the former, bring them. I not only intend a sincere effort for peace, but I intend that you shall be a personal witness that it is made.” This note was taken to Mr. Greeley by Major Hay, who, having been empowered by telegraph to write a safe-conduct for the commissioners, embraced in his paper the names of Messrs. Clay, Thompson, Holcombe, and Saunders. With this, Mr. Greeley started for Niagara Falls, and, on arriving there on the seventeenth, addressed to the first three of these gentlemen, at the Clifton House, on the Canada side of the river, a note, stating that he was informed that they were duly accredited from Richmond as the bearers of propositions looking to the establishment of peace; that he understood, also, that they desired to visit Washington in the fulfillment of their mission, and that they wished George N. Saunders to accompany them. If these were the facts, he declared himself authorized by the President to offer them a safe-conduct and to accom
On the following day, this note was replied to by Messrs. Clay and Holcombe, who frankly acknowledged that the safeconduct of the President had been offered under a misapprehension of facts. They were not accredited from Richmond at all, as the bearers of propositions looking to the establishment of peace. They professed, however, to be in the confidential employ of their government, and to be familiar with its wishes and opinions on the subject; and they declared that, if the circumstances disclosed in the correspondence were communicated to Richmond, they, or others, would at once be invested with the requisite authority to negotiate. It should be remembered, at this point, that these men had not been made fully acquainted with the conditions on which the President had offered them a safe-conduct. Mr. Greeley had evi
dently forgotten to inform them concerning the terms of Mr. Lincoln's letter of the ninth, in which he promised a safeconduct only to those who should be duly accredited with propositions for peace, conditioned upon the restoration of the Union and the abolition of slavery. These, it must be remembered, were the original and unaltered conditions on which Mr. Lincoln had consented to receive them.
Mr. Greeley replied to Messrs. Clay and Holcombe, on the eighteenth, that the state of facts differed materially from Mr. Lincoln's understanding of them, and that he should telegraph for fresh instructions, which he did at once. On receiving the dispatch, Mr. Lincoln sent Major Hay to Niagara, with the following letter:
" EXECUTIVE MANSION, Washington, July 18th, 1864. 6 TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN:
Any proposition which embraces the restoration of peace, the integrity of the whole Union, and the abandonment of slavery, and which comes by and with an authority that can control the armies now at war against the United States, will be received and considered by the Executive government of the United States, and will be met on liberal terms on substantial and collateral points; and the bearer or bearers thereof shall have safe-conduct both ways.
66 ABRAHAM LINCOLN."
Major Hay, on his arrival at Niagara, went with Mr. Greeley to the Clifton House, and delivered the above missive to Professor Holcombe. Then Mr. Greeley returned to New York, where he soon afterwards received the response of Messrs. Clay and Holcombe. Their letter was exactly what might have been expected. They had supposed that a safeconduct had been offered them on the ground that they were " duly accredited from Richmond, as bearers of propositions looking to the establishment of peace;" and, when they found conditions insisted on precedent to negotiation, they could see only a “sudden and entire change in the views of the President," and a “rude withdrawal of a courteous overture for negotiation, at the moment it was likely to be accepted.” It will be noticed by the reader that the President had made no