January 18, 1865 (Wednesday)
Francis P. Blair Sr. had just returned from Richmond. There, he had spoken with a few Confederate congressmen, as well as the Vice-President, Alexander Stephens. His main purpose for going, however, was to meet with Jefferson Davis, which he did twice.
Blair and Davis had a long history together, which “began as far back as when I was a schoolboy at Lexington, Kentucky,” recalled Davis, “and he a resident at that place. In later years we had belonged to the same political party, and our views had generally coincided. There was much, therefore, to facilitate our conference.” Both held each other not only in high respect, but as close friends.
For instance, Varina Davis had greeted Blair with: “Oh you Rascal, I am overjoyed to see you,” or so the story goes. The Davis’ even sent baby clothes for Blair’s grandson home with the patriarch.
Blair arrived back in Washington on the 16th, reporting to Lincoln that night the results of the meeting with Davis. Lincoln made no comments, but wrote on the paper Blair gave him that he “had no intimation as to what Mr. Blair would say or do while beyond our military lines.” Blair had told Lincoln all about his idea that both countries join together to invade Mexico and route out Napoleon III. This was done, Blair reminded Lincoln, “with the express understanding by the other party that it was to be confined to you.”
Perhaps jesting, Lincoln asked Blair whether Davis had thought to send a copy of this idea to Napoleon. Blair said that he didn’t, and his plan was quickly looking worse by the day. It seemed impossible that Lincoln would want peace between two countries who each wanted to wage war on another.
Davis had told Blair that he was willing “to enter into negotiations for the restoration of peace,” and that he would appoint and accept commissioners to “renew the effort to enter into conference with a view to secure peace to the two countries.”
The biggest thing to come out of this meeting was Blair letting slip that nearly every one of importance in Richmond was in some way against Davis. The cause was lost, it was without hope, and now many, even most, were looking for a way out. Smelling a victory, Lincoln immediately wanted Blair to return to Richmond.
When Blair met with Lincoln on this date, they discussed the letter (and possibly the Mexico idea), but no matter what was discussed, there was a fundamental difference between Davis and Lincoln’s thoughts on peace.
Davis wanted peace between the two countries, which meant that the war would end and the South would have successfully seceded from the Union. This did not stand with Lincoln.
Writing to Blair in response to Davis’ proposal, ignoring the Mexico plan, he said: “You having shown me Mr. Davis’s letter to you of the 12th instant, you may say to him that I have constantly been, am now, and shall continue, ready to receive any agent whom he, or any influential person now resisting the national authority, may informally send to me with a view of securing peace to the people of our one common country.”
Lincoln was clever in this exchange, addressing Davis with the title of “Mr.” not “President.” Not only that, he was more than willing to meet with any “influential person.” He knew that Blair wouldn’t simply show this letter to Davis, but would pass it around Richmond to those in opposition to Davis. This was Lincoln’s design, and with that, Blair was soon on his way back to Richmond.1
- Sources: Letter from Abraham Lincoln to Francis P. Blair Sr., Wednesday, January 18, 1865; The Diplomatic History of the Southern Confederacy by James Morton Callahan; Our One Common Country by James B. Conroy. [↩]