Davis ‘Preferred to Let the Edifice Fall into Ruins’

February 4, 1865 (Saturday)

The Confederate Peace Commissioners – Vice President Alexander Stephens, Assistant Secretary of War John Campbell, and Senator Robert Hunter – returned to Richmond on this date, and met with President Jefferson Davis in the evening. According to Stephens, Davis thought that Lincoln had “acted in bad faith” concerning the rejection of Francis Blair, Sr.’s plan to invade Mexico.

"The Constitution did not allow him to treat for his own suicide."
“The Constitution did not allow him to treat for his own suicide.”

Davis attributed this to the fall of Fort Fisher, though in truth, Lincoln was never really game for combining the two opposing armies for an invented war. Back when Lincoln was a congressman, he vehemently opposed the Mexican War for many of the same reasons.

Regardless, Stephens told Davis all about the meeting. Though it was technically a failure, Stephens “thought the publicity of the Mission was enough to account for its failure, without attributing it to any bad faith, either on the part of Mr. Blair or Mr. Lincoln.” He also told Davis that Lincoln had agreed to reconsider the idea of an armistice.

So now the Confederacy had to decide their next move. It was clear that Lincoln would accept no peace without Reunification. Davis, by Stephens’ words, held the opinion “that Richmond could still be defended, notwithstanding Sherman had already made considerable progress on this march from Savannah; and that our Cause could still still be successfully maintained….”

Senator Hunter, however, sided more with Davis. A few days later, he would make a speech calling for the South to continue the war, lest they be stripped of their slaves and be made slaves themselves.

But Judge Campbell fully disagreed, telling Davis that both reunion and abolition were inevitable. “When I came from Hampton Roads,” wrote Campbell a few months later, “I recommended the return of our commission or another commission to adjust a peace. I believed that one could be made upon the concession of union and the surrender of slavery, upon suitable arrangements.”

Davis, he continued, seemed to hold “a superstitious dread of any approach to the one important question of settlement by negotiation.” The President apparently stated that, as Campbell related, “the Constitution did not allow him to treat for his own suicide. All that he could do would be to receive resolutions and submit them to the sovereign States; that his personal honor did not permit him to take any steps to make such a settlement as was proposed.”

Campbell so concluded that the peace efforts “failed, principally through Mr. Davis, who had no capacity to control himself to do an irksome, exacting, humiliating, and, in his judgment, dishonoring act, however called for by the necessities of his situation. He preferred to let the edifice fall into ruins, expecting to move off with majesty before the event occurred.”

The Judge was through with the war. If Davis truly understood what was best for the South, he would, in Campbell’s mind, halt the war and humble himself before the Union. There was no way to continue the fight, and no chance at all of victory. Davis’ pride, it now seemed, took precedence over what was actually best for the Southern people.1



  1. Sources: Our One Common Country by James B. Conroy; A Constitutional View of the Late War Between the States by Alexander Hamilton Stephens; The Papers of Jefferson Davis; Letter From Judge John A. Campbell, July 20, 1865. []

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