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seeing them in the first instance. I fear now their going back without any expression from any one in authority will have a bad influence. At the same time I recognize the difficulties in the way of receiving these informal commissioners at this time, and do not know what to recommend. I am sorry, however, that Mr. Lincoln cannot have an interview with the two named in this dispatch, if not with all three, now within our lines. Their letter to me was all that the President's instructions contemplated to secure their safe conduct, if they had used the same language to Major Eckert.
On reading this, Lincoln determined to go to meet the commissioners, and telegraphed Grant: “Say to the gentlemen I will meet them at Fortress Monroe as soon as I can get there.” The correspondence shows that Mr. Seward was not justified in connecting his own mission on that occasion (as seemed to be implied in a dispatch to Minister Adams on the 7th) with Grant's report of his conversation with the commissioners. This report was not sent until Seward had already arrived at Fort Monroe. It prevented his recall, but led to the President's taking the matter under his own immediate direction.
Responding (on the ioth) to a Congressional resolution of inquiry — which Thaddeus Stevens had introduced two days before — Lincoln fully reported the circumstance and correspondence which led to this meeting, and continued:
On the night of the ad I reached Hampton Roads; found the Secretary of State and Major Eckert on a steamer anchored off shore in the Roads, and learned from them that the Richmond gentlemen were on another steamer, also anchored off shore in the Roads, and that the Secretary of State had not yet seen or communicated with them. ..
On the morning of the 3d the gentlemen, Messrs.
Stephens, Hunter and Campbell, came aboard of our steamer, and had an interview with the Secretary of State and myself of several hours' duration. No question of preliminaries to the meeting was then and there made or mentioned. No other person was present; no papers were exchanged or produced, and it was, in advance, agreed that the conversation was to be informal, and verbal merely.
On our part, the whole substance of the instruction to the Secretary of State, hereinbefore recited, was stated and insisted upon, and nothing was said inconsistent therewith; while by the other party it was not said that, in any event, or on any condition, they ever would consent to reunion, and yet they equally omitted to declare that they never would consent. They seemed to desire a postponement of that question, and the adoption of some other course first, which, as some of them seemed to argue, might or might not lead to reunion, but which course, we thought, would amount to an indefinite postponement. The conference ended without result.
The Southern official version of this affair was published in the Richmond papers on the 7th, and a large public meeting adopted resolutions indignantly spurning the specified terms of peace, declaring the proffer a premeditated insult. Mr. Davis violently declaimed to the assemblage against “reconstruction”; predicted the triumph of his cause; and solemnly assured his auditors that “with the Confederacy he would live or die"; indeed, “if it were possible, he would yield up his life a thousand times rather than succumb." Said he: “We will teach them that when they talk to us, they talk to their masters.”
On the whole, Mr. Blair as a peacemaker was thought to have gained no considerable interest in the Beatitudes.
Mr. Stephens retired to Georgia in silence, for the moment. At Richmond it was alleged that he had gone
to canvass the State for a more vigorous prosecution of the war." But he made no speeches in that vein. On the contrary, he took into his confidence the leading men, who, since the capture of Atlanta and Savannah, would gladly have seceded from the Confederacy, as Governor Vance, of North Carolina, had earlier been charged with wishing on behalf of his own State. Directly after the war, Mr. Stephens gave to the editor of an Augusta journal a version of the Hampton Roads meeting, more in detail than the report he had signed under a degree of official constraint. Speaking of his preliminary waiting at Grant's headquarters, we are told:
Possibly but for the indorsement of the peace wishes of Stephens and Hunter by General Grant the interview would not have been granted. The reason why the General did not include Mr. Campbell in his indorsement was, that Mr. C. was perfectly satisfied that the country was whipped then, and preferred to take what we could get, and therefore did not talk; while Mr. Hunter, who was not much for reconstruction, talked the most.
Mr. Lincoln stated fairly that the only ground on which he could rest the justice of the war, either with his own people or with foreign powers, was that it was not a war for conquest, but that the States had never been separated from the Union. Consequently he could not recognize another government inside of the one of which he alone was President, nor admit the separate independence of States that were yet a part of the Union." That,” he said,
“That,” he said, “would be doing what you have so long asked Europe to do in vain, and be resigning the only thing the armies of the Union are fighting for.” To that Mr. Hunter replied at length, in rather Congressional style, urging that the recognition of Mr. Davis's power to make a treaty was the first and indispensable step to peace, and referring to the correspondence between King Charles I. and his Parliament as a reliable precedent of a constitutional ruler treating with rebels. Mr.
Lincoln's face bore that indescribable expression which generally preceded his hardest hits, and he remarked: “Upon questions of history I must refer you to Mr. Seward, for he is posted in such things, and I don't profess to be bright. My only distinct recollection of the matter is that Charles lost his head." This settled Mr. Hunter for a while.
Mr. Hunter stated that he had never entertained any fears for his person or life from so mild a government as that of the United States, to which Mr. Lincoln retorted that he also had felt easy as to the rebels, but not so easy about the lamp-posts around Washington - a hint that he had already done more favors for the rebels than was exactly popular with the radical men of his own party.
Mr. Lincoln had almost assumed the tone of argument, and intimated that the States might do much better to return to the Union at once than to stand the chances of continued war and the increasing bitterness of feeling in Congress; and that the time might come when we would cease to be an erring people invited back to the Union as citizens, but looked upon perhaps as enemies, to be exterminated or ruined. Mr. Seward then remarked: “Mr. President, it is as well to inform these gentlemen that yesterday Congress acted upon the amendment to the Constitution abolishing slavery.” Mr. Lincoln stated that was true, and suggested that there was a question as to the right of the insurgent States to return at once and claim a right to vote upon the amendment, to which the concurrence of two-thirds of the States was required. He stated that it would be desirable to have the institution of slavery abolished by the consent of the people as soon as possible — he hoped within six years. He also stated four hundred millions of dollars might be offered as compensation to the owners, and remarked: “You would be surprised were I to give you the names of those who favor that."
Mr. Hunter said something about the inhumanity of leaving so many poor old negroes and young children destitute by encouraging the able-bodied negroes to run away, and asked: “What are they — the helpless — to do?” Mr. Lincoln said that reminded him of an old friend in Illinois, who had a crop of potatoes and did not want to dig them. So he told a neighbor that he would turn in his hogs and let them
dig for themselves. “But,” said the neighbor, “ the frost will soon be in the ground, and when the soil is hard frozen, what will they do then?” To which the worthy farmer replied: “Let 'em root!” Mr. Stephens said he supposed that was the original of "Root, hog, or die," and a fair indication of the future of the negro.
Before Mr. Lincoln's death he (Mr. Stephens) thought he was doing a favor to him not to include that offer of four hundred millions in gold for the Southern slaves in the published report, for it would be used to the injury of Mr. Lincoln by those of his enemies who would talk about taxation and the debt. ... He spoke of Mr. Lincoln as an old friend who had generally voted with him in Congress, and who had a good heart and fine mind, and was undo::btedly honest.
Mr. Stephens must have thought the “four hundred millions” proposition quite hopeless, as viewed from either side. Lincoln only suggested it as a possibility at most. It was a scheme of Mr. Greeley's, and had the quasi-indorsement of Mr. Chase. While Congress was at one time disposed to grant compensation to loyal owners of slaves voluntarily emancipated, it would have been useless to address any argument to Congress in favor of the proposition alleged by Mr. Stephens. Such action was not attempted, or ever more than dubiously contemplated by the President.