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him up to "the point of fixing peace as the policy of the Lincoln government." Until pacific negotiations should be reached, it was "unimportant what may be his subsequent hopes and plans."

Their "agent" was instructed to represent it as his opinion that the commissioners were "ready to accept war," and could not admit of delay while the flag of the United States was flying over Forts Sumter and Pickens and while ships and troops seemed to be preparing for hostilities, unless the most reliable guaranty should be received. It was reported that Seward replied that the administration could not then act upon so important a question; for it was "besieged by applicants," "surrounded by all the difficulties and confusion incident to the first days of a new government," and the pressure of hordes of the most radical Republicans gave an advantage to his opponents in the party. Therefore, if compelled to take a stand then, he could not answer for the result. It required no great cleverness on the part of the commissioners to see that their best chance lay in playing boldly when Seward was hampered and fearful. So, by their direction, as they complacently reported, the agent told Seward, much as Ward had done a few days before, that "without proper assurances we [the commission] should be bound to precipitate the issue at once upon the administration and force it to define its policy. Would he give such assurances? It was finally agreed that the agent should bring to Mr. Seward a memorandum stating the terms upon which we would consent to, and stipulate for, a brief respite."1

Accordingly, the agent called at the Department of

their respective states. Saving the border states to the Union by moderation and justice, the people of the cotton states, unwillingly led into secession, will rebel against their leaders, and reconstruction will follow." 1 Commissioners to Toombs, March 8th.

State at nine o'clock on the morning of the 8th with the memorandum. It stated that the commissioners would agree to postpone the consideration of the subject of their mission for a period not exceeding twenty days, provided that the existing military status should be preserved in every respect. The commissioners imagined that Seward would soon be in their trap; for, as they wrote to Toombs, "the signing of the mutual agreement and stipulations contained in the memorandum would be a virtual recognition of us as the representatives of a power entitled to be treated with by this government." Unfortunately for them, the Secretary was not at the Department, but at home, and too ill to transact any business. Here this intermediary dropped


Seward soon recovered, and Senator Hunter became the go-between. The commissioners represented to their

1 This referred to Fort Pickens as much as to Fort Sumter. 52 Ibid.; Crawford, 323.

'Gwin was the only "late distinguished Senator of the United States" with whom Seward is known to have had dealings of this character, and Gwin's recollections (18 Overland Monthly, 469) show that he quit the negotiations at exactly the point the "agent" did--i. e., when Seward's illness interfered, which was on the 8th. Crawford (Genesis, etc., 322) and Rhodes (vol. iii., p. 328) erroneously speak of Hunter as if he were the intermediary in the effort to have Seward agree to the memorandum. These sentences from the commissioners' despatch of March 12th should have precluded such an inference: "At the date of our last communication we were awaiting the convalescence of Mr. Seward. He was at the State Department on Monday (yesterday), when we proposed to place in his hands the memorandum of terms of delay, a copy of which has been transmitted to you. The gentleman who was to carry it had, however, left the city; and feeling unwilling to lose time in waiting for him, we availed ourselves of the kind consent of Senator Hunter, of Virginia, to see Mr. Seward and learn if he would consent to an informal interview with us."

It is not strange that Gwin was inaccurate as to the date and some other minor features. Many years after the incident occurred he saw a reference in Jefferson Davis's Confederate Government to a call that


a distinguished Senator" made March 11th on Seward in behalf of

government that Seward was "perceptibly embarrassed and uneasy" when Hunter appeared at the Department of State, March 11th; for the Secretary "seemed to apprehend the formal presentation of the issue we have in charge." Because it was believed that the evacuation of Sumter was certain, the commissioners concluded to drop the demand for the preservation of the military status and to insist on an informal interview. In reply, Seward said that before he could consent, he would have to consult the President, and that he would give Hunter an answer the next day.' As agreed, he wrote, March 12th: "It will not be in my power to receive the gentlemen of whom we spoke yesterday. You will please explain to them that this decision proceeds solely on public grounds, and not from any want of personal respect."" Again Confederate hopes were blasted.

The commissioners seem to have concluded that Seward was not to be caught with a pin-hook, and that

the commissioners, and supposed the reference was to himself, for he had never heard of Hunter's services. See 18 Overland Monthly, 465.

1 Commissioners to Toombs, March 12th.

2 This entry of March 7th, in the “Diary of a Public Man," says of Seward: "He seemed inclined to think that a mode might be found of receiving them and negotiating with them, without in any way committing the government to a recognition of the government which they assume to represent.

I found it difficult, indeed I may say impossible, to make him admit the hopelessness of looking for such a thing—[not italicized in the original]-but I told him frankly that I saw no earthly reason why he should not informally and in a private way obtain from these gentlemen-all of them, as he knew, honorable and very intelligent mensome practical light on the way out of all this gathering perplexity, if, indeed, they have any such practical light to give. He then gave me to understand that this was exactly what he had done and meant to do, and he repeated his conviction that the evacuation of Fort Sumter would clear the way for a practical understanding out of which an immediate tranquillization of the country must come, and in the not distant future a return of all the seceding states to their allegiance."-129 North American Review, 490.

their dignity demanded a formal announcement of their presence in Washington and a request for an official audience, so as to state the object of their mission. Such a communication was left at the Department of State on March 13th, with the statement that an answer would be called for on the next day. When the secretary of the commission came for the answer, he was told that time had not been found to prepare it, but that its prompt delivery at the hotel of the commissioners might be relied on. As it did not come, the secretary went to the department, on the 15th, to learn the cause of the delay. He was told that a reply was then preparing.'

The immediate rejection of the request of the commissioners seemed inevitable. Whenever it should come, they would have to withdraw. Then the channel of peaceful communication between the two governments would close and warlike demonstrations must soon follow. This would mark the end and utter failure of Seward's policy. Unless he could control the patience of the commissioners it would be impossible for him to carry out his plans. This prospect must have been most painful. In his whole public career there was nothing to which he had clung so fondly. He had a great reputation as a political seer, and his pride did not lag behind his reputation.

While still distressed by the dilemma, on March 15th, Justice Nelson, of the United States Supreme Court, laid before him some opinions to the effect that there were serious constitutional objections to the employment of coercive measures. Shortly afterward Nelson met his colleague, Justice John A. Campbell, and took him to Seward, hoping that he might help to overcome the immediate difficulties. Twelve years later Campbell described what occurred at the department: the


1 Commissioners to Toombs, March 22d.


Justices urged Seward to receive the commissioners; Seward regretted his inability to do so, and asked them to see Lincoln, Bates, and Blair; he was confident that Jefferson Davis would not have sent the commissioners if he had known the true state of affairs; and he declared further that the evacuation of Sumter was as much as the administration could bear at one time. Campbell saw the force of the suggestion as to Sumter. Seward assured him, when he spoke of writing to Davis and of speaking to the commissioners, that Sumter would be evacuated before a letter could reach Montgomery, and that no action was contemplated as to the forts in the Gulf of Mexico.1

Accordingly, Campbell immediately reported to the commissioners Seward's desire to preserve the peace, and left with them a written statement expressing "perfect confidence" that Sumter would be "evacuated in the next five days"; "that no measure changing the existing status of things prejudicially to the Southern Confederate States is at present contemplated"; that an immediate demand for an answer to their communication would "be productive of evil and not of good"; and he asked for a delay of ten days until the effect of the evacuation of Fort Sumter could be ascertained." Of course the commissioners understood that Campbell obtained his information from Seward; in fact, all concerned must have known that there was no other source for such assurances.

Heretofore it has sometimes been claimed that Campbell said more to the commissioners than he was authorized to do, and that Seward knew nothing about it. There is no basis for the claim. Only a few hours after Campbell, who was acting at Seward's request, received his instructions, he reported that he had told Crawford

' Crawford, 327, 328.

* Crawford, 330.

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