January 12, 1865 (Thursday)
Francis Preston Blair, Sr., father of Lincoln’s retired Postmaster General Montgomery Blair, and General Francis Blair, who was now with Sherman’s army. The elder Blair, though a former Democrat from Virginia, he had helped found the Republican Party and supported Lincoln in 1860. Though a Unionist, he maintained friendships across the lines, including with Confederate President Jefferson Davis.
He believed that this friendship might be able to convince Davis that a peace conference was in order. And so with Lincoln’s blessing, though not his official support, Blair made his way to City Point, and was then ushered into the fortified city. The next morning, he arrived at the Confederate White House to the friendly salutations of the Davis’.
Since he was not authorized to speak for the Lincoln Administration, Blair confessed that what he had to say “were perhaps merely the dreams of an old man.” With that, he read from a prepared draft, hoping to get all of his points before Davis. Blair wished for the cessation of hostilities and for both armies to be united as one against a common enemy: Mexico.
This wasn’t the first time such an idea was batted around. In fact, even before the war, such a thing was hoped to unite the entire country. Just how this might be accomplished was another thing altogether. Blair revealed that Lincoln was now ready to accept peace commissioners for talks. He assured Davis that Lincoln wasn’t nearly as radical as the Southern press exclaimed him to be. He didn’t wish to enslave the south, but was more willing for a reconciled peace.
To President Davis, “it was evident that he [Blair] counted on the disintegration of the Confederate States if the war continued, and that in any event he regarded the institution of slavery as doomed to extinction.” Davis was more than willing to discuss the first part, but refused to talk about slavery.
“Throughout the conference,” continued Davis in a memo written shortly after the meeting, “Mr. Blair appeared to be animated by a sincere desire to promote a pacific solution of existing difficulty, but claimed no other power than that of serving as a medium of communication between those who had thus far had no intercourse and were therefore without the co-intelligence which might secure an adjustment of their controversy.” In other words – Blair wanted to achieve peace by getting the North and South talking, but in truth had no means to accomplish this.
Davis agreed that the cessation of hostilities was needed to substitute “reason for passion, [a] sense of justice for a desire to injure, and that if the people were subsequently engaged together to maintain a principle recognized by both, if together they should bear sacrifices, share dangers, and gather common renown, new memories would take the place of those now placed by the events of this war and might in the course of time restore the feelings which preexisted.”
And so it can be seen that neither Blair nor Davis wished for an end to hostilities, but an end to hostilities against each other. The hostilities would still continue, only against Mexico. Blair even suggested that the Southern states might be expanded through this new war to all of Mexico and even to the Isthmus of Darien [Panama].
Davis was more or less on board with the idea, and he drafted a letter for Blair to give to Lincoln. Addressed to Blair, it read:
“I have no disposition to find obstacles in forms and am willing, as heretofore, to enter into negotiations for the restoration of peace, am ready to send a commission whenever I have reason to suppose it will be received or to receive a commission if the United States government shall choose to send one; that, notwithstanding the rejection of our former offers, I would, if you could promise that a commissioner, minister, or other agent would be received, appoint one immediately and renew the effort to enter into conference with a view to secure peace to the two countries.”
Peace was, of course, a very important goal. However, if peace came upon Davis’ stated terms – “to the two countries,” it was, in fact, a Confederate victory. The South would have won the war, and a new and separate nation would remain broken off from the Union of old.
There was no chance at all that Lincoln would agree to such a deal.1
- Sources: Memorandum” by Jefferson Davis, written January 12, 1865, as appearing in The Confederate Veteran, Vol. 24; Our One Common Country by James B. Conroy. [↩]