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ABRAHAM LINCOLN: A HISTORY."
BLAIR'S MEXICAN PROJECT-THE HAMPTON ROADS
BY JOHN G. NICOLAY AND JOHN HAY, PRIVATE SECRETARIES TO THE PRESIDENT.
BLAIR'S MEXICAN PROJECT.
HE triumphant reëlection of Mr. Lincoln in November, 1864, greatly simplified the political conditions as well as the military prospects of the country. Decisive popular majorities had pointedly rebuked the individuals who proclaimed, and the party which had resolved, that the war was a failure. The verdict of the ballot-box not only decided the continuance of a war administration and a war policy, but renewed the assurance of a public sentiment to sustain its prosecution. When Congress convened on the 6th of December, and the President transmitted to that body his annual message, he included in his comprehensive review of public affairs a temperate but strong and terse statement of this fact and its potent significance. Inspired by this majestic manifestation of the popular will to preserve the Union and maintain the Constitution, he was able to speak of the future with hope and confidence. But, with characteristic prudence and good taste, he uttered no word of boasting and indulged in no syllable of acrimony; on the contrary, in terms of fatherly kindness, he again offered the rebellious States the generous conditions he had previously tendered them by various acts and declarations, and specifically in his amnesty proclamation of December 8, 1863. The statement of the whole situation with its alternative issues was so admirably compressed into the closing paragraphs of his message as to leave no room for ignorance or misunderstanding.
of severance of the Union-precisely what we will not and cannot give. His declarations to this effect are explicit and oft-repeated. He does not attempt to deceive us. He affords us no excuse to deceive ourselves. He cannot voluntarily re-accept the Union; we cannot voluntarily yield it. Between him and us the issue is distinct, simple, and inflexible. It is an issue which can only be tried by war, and decided by victory. If we yield, we are beaten; if the Southern people fail him, he is beaten. Either way, it would be the victory and defeat following war. What is true, however, of him who heads the insurgent cause is not necessarily true of those who follow. Although he cannot re-accept the Union, they can. Some of them, we know, already desire peace and reunion. The number of such may increase. They can, at any moment, have peace simply by laying down their arms, and submitting to the national authority under the Constitution. After so much, the Government could not, if it would, maintain war against them. The loyal people remain, we would adjust them by the peaceful means would not sustain or allow it. If questions should of legislation, conference, courts, and votes, operating only in constitutional and lawful channels. Some certain, and other possible, questions are, and would be, beyond the Executive power to adjust; as, for instance, the admission of members into Congress, and whatever might require the appropriation of money. The Executive power itself would be greatly diminished by the cessation of actual war. Pardons and remissions of forfeitures, however, would still be within Executive control. In what spirit and temper this control would be exercised can be fairly judged of by the past. A year ago general pardon and amnesty, upon specified terms, were offered to all, except certain designated classes; and it was, at the same time, made known plation of special clemency. . . . In presenting the that the excepted classes were still within contemabandonment of armed resistance to the national authority, on the part of the insurgents, as the only indispensable condition to ending the war on the part of the Government, I retract nothing heretoThe national resources, then [he said], are un- fore said as to slavery. I repeat the declaration made exhausted, and, as we believe, inexhaustible. The a year ago, that "While I remain in my present public purpose to reëstablish and maintain the na- position I shall not attempt to retract or modify the tional authority is unchanged, and, as we believe, Emancipation Proclamation, nor shall I return to unchangeable. The manner of continuing the effort slavery any person who is free by the terms of that remains to choose. On careful consideration of all proclamation, or by any of the acts of Congress." the evidence accessible, it seems to me that no at- If the people should, by whatever mode or means, tempt at negotiation with the insurgent leader could make it an Executive duty to reënslave such perresult in any good. He would accept nothing short sons, another, and not I, must be their instrument 1 Copyright by J. G. Nicolay and John Hay, 1886. All rights reserved.
to perform it. In stating a single condition of peace, I mean simply to say that the war will cease on the part of the Government whenever it shall have ceased on the part of those who began it.1
The country was about to enter upon the fifth year of actual war; but at length all the indications were pointing unmistakably to a speedy collapse of the rebellion. This foreshadowed disaster to the Confederate armies gave rise to another volunteer peace project and negotiation, which, from the boldness of its animating thought and the official prominence of its actors, assumes a special historical importance.
The veteran politician Francis P. Blair, senior, who as a young journalist, thirty-five years before, had helped President Jackson throttle the South Carolina nullification; who, from his long political and personal experience at Washington, perhaps knew better than almost any one else the individual characters and tempers of Southern leaders; and who, moreover, was ambitious to crown his remarkable career with another dazzling chapter of political intrigue, conceived that the time had arrived when he might perhaps take up the rôle of a successful mediator between the North and the South. He gave various hints of his desire to President Lincoln, but received neither encouragement nor opportunity to unfold his plans. "Come to me after Savannah falls," was Lincoln's evasive reply; and when, on the 22d of December, Sherman announced the surrender of that city as a national Christmas gift, Mr. Blair hastened to put his design into execution. Three days after Christmas the President gave him a simple card bearing the words:
HEADQUARTERS ARMIES OF THE UNITED STATES,
JEFFERSON DAVIS, President, etc., etc.
MY DEAR SIR: The fact stated in the inclosed note may serve to answer inquiries as to the object of my visit, which, if allowed by you, I would not communicate fully to any one but yourself. The main purpose I have in seeing you is to explain the views I entertain in reference to the state of the affairs of our country, and to submit to your consideration ideas which in my opinion you may turn to good and possibly bring to practical results—that may not only repair all the ruin the war has brought upon the nation, but contribute to promote the welfare of other nations that have suffered from it. In candor I must say to you in advance that I come to you wholly unaccredited except in so far as I may be by having permission to pass our lines and to offer to you my own suggestions-suggestions which side the lines, and will not, without my conversation I have submitted to no one in authority on this with you may lead me to suppose they may lead to something practicable. With the hope of such result, if allowed, I will confidentially unbosom my heart frankly and without reserve. You will of course hold in reserve all that is not proper to be said to one coming, as I do, merely as a private citizen and addressing one clothed with the highest responsibilities. Unless the great interests now at stake induce you to attribute more importance to my application than it would otherwise command I could not expect that you would invite the intrusion. I venture however to submit the matter to your judgment. Your most obedient servant,
F. P. BLAIR.4
Mr. Davis returned a reply with permission. did not reach Mr. Blair till after his patience to make the visit; but by some mischance it had become exhausted by waiting and he had returned to Washington. Proceeding then to Richmond he was received by Jefferson Davis in a confidential interview on the 12th of Janu
Allow the bearer, F. P. Blair, Sr., to pass our ary, 1865,5 which he so thoroughly described lines, go south, and return. December 28, 1864.2
With this single credential he went to the camp of General Grant, from which he forwarded, by the usual flags of truce, the following letters to Jefferson Davis at Richmond:
HEADQUARTERS Armies of the United STATES,
JEFFERSON DAVIS, President, etc., etc.
MY DEAR SIR: The loss of some papers of importance (title papers), which I suppose may have been taken by some persons who had access to my house when Genl. Early's army were in possession of my place, induces me to ask the privilege of visiting Richmond and beg the favor of you to facilitate my inquiries in regard to them.
in a written report that it is quoted in full:
"I introduced the subject to Mr. Davis by obtained leave to go through the lines, telling giving him an account of the mode in which I him that the President stopped me when I told him I had kindly relations with Mr. Davis, and at the proper time I might do something towards peace,' and said, 'Come to me when Savannah falls' how after that event he shunned an interview with me, until I perceived he did not wish to hear me, but desired I should go without explanation of my object. I then told Mr. Davis that I wanted to know, if he thought fit to communicate it, whether he had any commitments with European powers which would control his conduct in making arrangements with the Government of the United States. He said in the most de
is a proposal of an armistice, that, with proper conditions arranged to accommodate it to the feelings, the wishes, the interests of all concerned, might facilitate a restoration of perfect harmony among the parties to the war and lead on again the prosperity which has been so unhappily interrupted.
cisive manner that there were none, that he them, with the designs it was meant to accomhad no commitments; and expressed himself plish. This, simply as the first step to peace, with some vehemence that he was absolutely free and would die a freeman in all respects. This is pretty much his language; it was his sentiment and manner certainly. I told him that that was an all-important point, for if it were otherwise I would not have another word to say. I then prefaced the reading of the paper-which I had intended to embody in a letter to him, or present in some form if I could not reach him, or if I were prevented from seeing him personally by saying that it was somewhat after the manner of an editorial and was not of a diplomatic character, and that I was like a shoemaker who sticks to his last, and could not change my mode of expressing my thoughts; moreover, I had become an old man, and what I was about to submit to him might be the dreams of an old man, but that I depended upon his practical good sense to assure me whether they were dreams that could be realized or not; that I had no doubt that he would deal with me with the utmost frankness, and give me credit for the like candor; that he knew that every drop of my blood and that of my children flowed from a Southern source; that I loved my whole country, but could not help feeling the force of the affections which my native instincts, enforced by habit, had attached me to the South. He replied that he gave me his full confidence, knew that I was an earnest man, and believed I was an honest man, and said he reciprocated the attachment which I had expressed for him and his family; that he was under great obligations to my family for kindnesses rendered to his, that he would never forget them, and that even when dying they would be remembered in his prayers. I then read the paper to him.1
"Suggestions submitted to Jefferson Davis,
President, etc., etc.
"The amnesty proclamation of President Lincoln in connection with his last message to Congress, referring to the termination of the rebellion, presents a basis on which I think permanent peace and union between the warring sections of our country may be reëstablished. The amnesty offered would doubtless be enlarged to secure these objects and made to embrace all who sincerely desired to renew and confirm their allegiance to the Government of the United States by the extinction of the institution which originated the war against the National Republic. The proposition of the message is, that the war should be no longer waged by the United States against those who began it, after it had been relinquished by 1 Unpublished MS.
"Slavery no longer remains an insurmountable obstruction to pacification. You propose to use the slaves in some mode to conquer a peace for the South. If this race be employed to secure the independence of the Southern States by risking their lives in the service, the achievement is certainly to be crowned with their deliverance from bondage. But why should blacks or whites, the slaves or the free, be offered as victims to slaughter to acquire freedom and independence, when both objects are now attainable without such sacrifice? The white race of the South for almost a century have justly considered themselves, both as individuals and States, free and independent. If that proud eminence can again be reached, with the addition of all the material prosperity which has distinguished the free States, without making hecatombs of either whites or blacks, merely by the manumission of the latter, why should the atonement by blood be further insisted on? Slavery, "the cause of all our woes," is admitted now on all sides to be doomed. As an institution all the world condemns it.
"This expiation made, what remains to distract our country? It now seems a free-will offering on the part of the South as essential to its own safety. Being made, nothing but military force can keep the North and South asunder. The people are one people, speak a common language, are educated in the same common law, are brought up in one common habitude, the growth of republican representative institutions, all fixed in freeholds rooted in the soil of a great luxuriant continent bound as one body by backbone mountains, pervaded in every member with gigantic streams running in every direction to give animation and strength like arteries and veins in the human system. Such an embodiment, in such a country, cannot be divided. The instruction of all ages appealing to the intelligence of the race brings conviction that union is strengthstrength to build up the grandeur of the Republic; strength essential to secure the peace, the safety, the prosperity and glory of a great Republic. At the birth of the Government the necessities of commerce and the influence of social relations among a people of the same origin overcame the repugnance generated between the Northern and Southern States by the presence of negro slavery in the latter, and
brought them together as one people under a general government in spite of the revolting principle of slavery incorporated into the free system, which made liberty its essential element. Now that the ingredient, adverse to union, which produced disruption is removed, there is nothing left to counteract the powerful attraction that even as colonies brought our people together as a nation and which still resists victoriously the frenzy of revolution. The instincts of kindred, the bonds of commerce delineated on our maps, rivers, railroads, canals, which mark its transit, are circulating the life's blood of a gigantic race which claims the continent for its pedestal. The love of liberty nurtured by popular institutions, so dear to the Anglo-Saxon race, makes its attachments indestructible on this continent. We see them coming together again, after momentary rupture, along the Ohio, the Mississippi, upon the Gulf, the Potomac, and gradually in the interior wherever defense is assured from the military power that at first overthrew the Government. It is now plain to every sense that nothing but the interposition of the soldiery of foreign tyrannies can prevent all the States from resuming their places in the Union, casting from them the demon of discord. The few States remaining in arms that made the war for slavery as the sine qua non now propose to surrender it, and even the independence which was coveted to support it, as a price for foreign aid.
"Slavery abandoned, the issue is changed, and war against the Union becomes a war for monarchy; and the cry for independence of a government that assured the independence of the Southern States of all foreign powers and their equality in the Union, is converted into an appeal for succor to European potentates, to whom they offer, in return, homage as dependencies! And this is the price they propose to pay for success in breaking up the National Government! But will the people who have consented to wage this war for an institution once considered a property, now that they have abandoned it, continue the war to enslave themselves? Would they abandon slavery to commend themselves to the protection of European monarchies, and thus escape the embrace of that national Republic as a part of which they have enjoyed almost a century of prosperity and renown? The whole aspect of the controversy upon this view is changed. The patriarchal domestic institution given up and the idea of independence and being let alone in happy isolation surrendered to obtain the boon of foreign protection under the rule of monarchy! The most modern exemplification of this programme for discontented republican States defeating their popular in
stitution by intestine hostilities is found in the French emperor's Austrian deputy, Maximilian, sent to prescribe for their disorders. Certainly a better choice for a vice-royalty under the auspices of France and Germany could not have been made. This scion of the house of Hapsburg must have inherited from a line of ancestors extending to the Dark Ages the very innate instincts of that despotism which has manacled the little republics of Italy and the little principalities of Germany, and subjected them to the will of the Kaiser for more than a thousand years. With the blessing of Heaven, the great American Republic will foil this design of the central despotism of Europe to destroy all that remains of liberty on the civilized continents of the earth. Great Britain's jealousy and apprehension of her ancient enemy, and the ambition of Russia, looking to the South for aggrandizement, will unite in arresting the strides to power of this new Holy Alliance in the heart of Europe. England, for her wars in Europe, draws her armies from India and America. She will never consent to see France, which is a laboratory of soldiers, add to her means of creating armies by making military colonies of Mexico and the Southern States of this Union for the purpose.
"The design of Louis Napoleon in reference to conquest on this continent is not left to conjecture. With extraordinary frankness he made a public declaration that his object was to make the Latin race supreme in the southern section of the North American continent. This is a Napoleonic idea. The great Napoleon, in a letter or one of his dictations at St. Helena, states that it had been his purpose to embody an army of negroes in San Domingo, to be landed in the slave States with French support to instigate the blacks there to insurrection, and through revolution effect conquest. Louis Napoleon saw revolution involving the struggle of races and sections on the question of slavery made to his hand, when he instantly recurred to his uncle's ideas of establishing colonies to create commerce and a navy for France and to breed the material for armies to maintain his European empire. The moment he perceived our frenzied people engaged in perpetrating a national suicide he invaded Mexico to take up a position on the southern flank of this Republic, to avail himself of its distractions as well as those of Mexico, to give effect to the darling scheme of the Bonapartist dynasty to make for the Latin race in all our regions on the Gulf a seat of power under the auspices of France. His phrase "Supremacy of the Latin race" was to conciliate to his object the whole Spanish as well as the French and the mixed populations which originally founded and built up the colonies that introduced civ
ilization around the Gulf of Mexico and on the streams of its wilderness interior. Jefferson Davis is the fortunate man who now holds the commanding position to encounter this formidable scheme of conquest, and whose fiat can at the same time deliver his country from the bloody agony now covering it in mourning. He can drive Maximilian from his American throne, and baffle the designs of Napoleon to subject our Southern people to the "Latin race." With a breath he can blow away all pretense for proscription, conscription, or confiscation in the Southern States, restore their fields to luxuriant cultivation, their ports to the commerce of the world, their constitutions and their rights under them as essentially a part of the Constitution of the United States to that strong guaranty under which they flourished for nearly a century not only as equals, but down to the hour of conflict the prevalent power on the continent. All this may be achieved by means which, so far from subjecting the weaker section of our Republic to humiliation or those asserting its cause by secession to dishonor, will add to the glory of both.
"To accomplish this great good for our common country President Lincoln has opened the way in his amnesty proclamation and the message which looks to armistice. Suppose the first enlarged to embrace all engaged in the war; suppose secret preliminaries to armistice enable President Davis to transfer such portions of his army as he may deem proper for his purpose to Texas, held out to it as the land of promise; suppose this force on the banks of the Rio Grande, armed, equipped, and provided, and Juarez propitiated and rallying the Liberals of Mexico to give it welcome and support-could it not enter Mexico in full confidence of expelling the invaders, who, taking advantage of the distractions of our own Republic, have overthrown that of Mexico and established a foreign despotism to rule that land and spread its power over ours? I know Romero, the able, patriotic minister who represents the Republic of Mexico near our Government. He is intimate with my son Montgomery, who is persuaded that he could induce Juarez to devolve all the power he can command on President Davis-a dictatorship, if necessary -to restore the rights of Mexico and her people and provide for the stability of its government. With such hopes inspiring and a veteran army of invincibles to rally on, such a force of Mexicans might be embodied as would make the conquest of the country the work of its own people under able leading. But if more force were wanted than these Mexican recruits and the army of the South would supply, would not multitudes of the army of the North, officers and men, be found ready to embark in an
enterprise vital to the interests of our whole Republic? The Republican party has staked itself on the assertion of the Monroe doctrine proposed by Canning and sanctioned by a British cabinet. The Democrats of the North have proclaimed their adhesion to it, and I doubt not from the spirit exhibited by the Congress now in session, however unwilling to declare war, it would countenance all legitimate efforts short of such result to restore the Mexican Republic. I think I could venture to pledge my son General Blair, now commanding a corps against the Confederacy, to resign his commission, expatriate himself, and join all the force he could draw to the standard borne on a crusade for the expulsion of the European despotism now threatening our confines. There is no cause so dear to the soul of American patriotism as that which embodies resistance to the intrusion of a foreign tyranny. Its infancy, nurtured in the sternest trials of a war against dictation from potentates of another hemisphere, has grown to a manhood that will never permit its approaches. He who expels the Bonaparte-Hapsburg dynasty from our southern flank, which General Jackson in one of his letters warned me was the vulnerable point through which foreign invasion would come, will ally his name with those of Washington and Jackson as a defender of the liberty of the country. If in delivering Mexico he should model its States in form and principle to adapt them to our Union and add a new Southern constellation to its benignant sky while rounding off our possession on the continent at the Isthmus, and opening the way to blending the waters of the Atlantic and Pacific, thus embracing our Republic in the arms of the ocean, he would complete the work of Jefferson, who first set one foot of our colossal government on the Pacific by a stride from the Gulf of Mexico. Such achievement would be more highly appreciated in the South, inasmuch as it would restore the equipoise between the Northern and Southern States-if indeed such sectional distinctions could be recognized after the peculiar institution which created them had ceased to exist.'"
It is of course possible that the hard mental processes in political metaphysics through which Jefferson Davis had forced his intellect in pursuing the ambitious hallucinations which led him from loyalty to treason, had blighted all generous sentiment and healthy imagination. But if his heart was yet capable of a single patriotic memory and impulse, strange emotions must have troubled him as he sat listening to the reading of this paper by the man who had been the familiar friend, the trusted adviser, it might almost be said the confidential voice, of Andrew Jackson. It was as