From the Macon (Georgia) Weekly Telegraph, 4/19/1870, p. 8, c. 6
Mr. Lincoln’s Basis of Restoring the Union
To the Editor of the World – SIR: Now that Texas is reconstructed according to modern Congressional ideas, and all the States but Georgia are permitted representation in Congress, which has not been the case before since the Radical party assumed control of the government, and as the Fifteenth Amendment is proclaimed as the completion of the work that has for so many years troubled Congress, it may be well to glance at the initiatory steps in this protracted labor of loilty.
When Richmond was evacuated by the Confederate forces, President Lincoln was at City Point. He made haste to visit the fallen capital, where he was guest of Major-General Weitzel, then commanding the old army of Gen. Butler, and in occupancy of the city. On the evening of the day of the President’s arrival, April 4, 1865, he was waited upon by Hon. John A. Campbell, then Assistant Secretary of War for the Confederacy, and one of the Hampton Roads peace commissioners.
Admiral Porter and General Weitzel were then with the President, but rose to retire. The President, however, detained them, remarking that it might be better to have witnesses to what might pass between himself and the Confederate commissioner.
The Judge greeted the President with the most studied politeness and respect. The President rose, shook hands cordially with his visitor, inquired after his health, and then introduced Admiral Porter. After a few ordinary common-place remarks, Mr. Lincoln said:
“General Weitzel informs me that you have been particularly desirous of seeing me.”
“I have remained in Richmond,” replied the Judge, “mainly for the purpose of exerting that influence I could to bring this war to an end. I believe that, if your views as to the terms upon which peace can be had were made clear to the Southern people, an adjustment of all our difficulties could be effected and the war ended.”
“Are you authorized to speak for Mr. Davis or the Southern people?” asked Mr. Lincoln.
“I have no authority to speak for any one but myself, and appear here wholly in my individual character,” was the reply.
“Have you any propositions to make?”
“Not formally. I have thought of the difficulties of the present situation a great deal, and have considered several plans that seemed feasible for effecting a reconciliation. I think I understand the desperation of the Southern cause. I am not prepared to say that the Confederacy can hold out longer, nor am I willing to admit that it must now necessarily collapse. But I think I may say that, in view of the reverses it has recently met with, an appeal to the armies, made in the right spirit and under auspicious circumstances, would be most influential for good. You will remember, Mr. President, that at the Hampton Roads conference I suggested and urged a truce or armistice for a specified time. That suggestion was not accepted. If you will allow me I would urge it again now. If a truce could now be proclaimed for six months or a year, the armies be withdrawn and permitted temporarily to disband and return to their homes, and the inhabitants of the two sections of the country allowed to visit and communicate with each other, and interchange sentiments, I believe it would be virtually the end of the war. The Southern army, I am satisfied, could never again be assembled. The men are sick of the war, disheartened with defeats, worn down with hunger and privations, and anxious to get out of the army to better their condition. Once out they would never return, provided any reasonable inducements were offered them to remain out. I am persuaded, sir, that the most gratifying results would flow from such a truce.”
Mr. Lincoln heard the Judge through without interruption, though listening attentively and respectfully to all he said. When he had concluded, the President simply asked, “Have you any other proposition to make?”
“I have another suggestion,” he replied. “It relates mainly to Virginia and her quota in the Southern army. It has occurred to me that, even should my first suggestion be unacceptable, something may yet be done through individual State action. The Virginia troops were enlisted only for the defence of Virginia. They are not satisfied with being marched out of the State; but there is no authority at present that they can recognize to bring them back. If the gentlemen composing the Virginia Legislature could be assembled, I have no doubt they would promptly pass an act recalling their quota from the Confederate armies. This authority the Virginia troops would recognize, and, if they were not discharged at once, they would desert and come home. The Legislature would, I think, also repeal the act of secession, and put the State back in the Union. It would be eminently fitting that the same authority that put the State out of the Union should put it back. Such a course would avoid many legal complications that must elsewise ensue, and retain unbroken the succession of the government. I may add, Mr. President, that to avoid any embarrassment that might arise from the semi-recognition of the existing government of this State, implied in the permission to its Legislature to assemble and carry out these specific objects, the members might obligate themselves to resign so soon as these objects are effected, and give place to a new body, to be elected under the United States flag.”
“Are there any other Southern gentlemen of influence now in the city?” asked the President.
“I don’t think there are any of prominence throughout the Confederacy now here,” replied the Judge.
“I would like you to call on me again in the morning,” said the President. “In the meantime, if you know of any influential citizens who will accompany you, I would be glad to meet them also. Why you have said shall be candidly considered and my answer will be given you to-morrow.
And so the interview ended.
It was then announced that the Malvern had reached the city, whereupon the President and Admiral Porter repaired on board, the vessel being anchored in the stream off the wharf at Rocketts.
On the morning of the 5th of April, soon after breakfast, “Judge Campbell and a friend” were announced to the President in the cabin of the Malvern. They were at once admitted. – Judge Campbell introduced his friend as Mr. Gustavus A. Meyers, a prominent merchant, formerly Mayor of Richmond, and at that time a member of the State Legislature, who, remarked, in the limited time afforded him, and in consequence of the unsettled state of the city, was the only gentleman of sufficient standing he had been able to find to accompany him. The President shook hands with Mr. Meyers and then invited his visitors to seats, offering them chairs near the long dining table in the cabin, which was also used as a writing table. Mr. Lincoln took his seat near the end of the table furthest from the door. The Admiral, who had been smoking and chatting with the President when the visitors arrived, made a movement as if to leave the cabin, but was invited by his distinguished guest to remain. He excused himself for a moment, and went out, but soon returned, and, though taking no part in the interview, was present during the greater part of its continuance.
When the company were fully disposed and at their ease from a few interchanges of ordinary remarks about the weather, the condition of the city, and other usual generalities, the President introduced the subject matter of the interview by addressing Judge Campbell substantially as follows:
“Referring to the suggestions you offered yesterday on the occasion of you call upon me, I have given the matter my most careful consideration. As to the first suggestion, I deem it one of great importance, but fraught with many embarrassments. The question of a truce was fully considered at the Hampton Roads conference, and I then became satisfied that I could not entertain it. It would necessarily involve the recognition of a separate government within the jurisdiction of the Unites States. For that reason, if for no other, it could not then be entertained; and if not then, certainly not now. If the matter of recognition could be overcome, I should still deem it impolitic to entertain the suggestion. It strikes me that it would only tend to prolong the difficulty. Even if, as you now urge, the result should be the disbandment of the armies, and an inability to reassemble the Southern army, such an ending of the contest would settle nothing. The questions in dispute would remain undecided, to breed trouble in the future. But if your people are sincerely anxious to terminate the war, the government will receive their surrender of the contest with the largest magnanimity. And I deem it but proper that those men now in rebellion against the constituted authorities of the land should fully understand the disposition of the government towards them. I will therefore give to you my final offer to them, embodying what I conceive to be indispensable terms of peace, which, if you have any means of reaching them, I trust you will lay before them.” Mr. Lincoln here drew from the inside breast pocket of his coat a manuscript written on parts of two pages of foolscap paper, in his own handwriting, without date, signature of address, and, unfolding it, read as follows:
"As to peace, I have said before, and I repeat, that three things are indispensible:
“I. The restoration of the national authority throughout all the States.
“II. No receding by the Executive of the United States on the slavery question from the position assumed thereon in the late annual message to Congress, and in preceding documents.
“III. No cessation of hostilities short of the end of the war, and the disbanding of all forces hostile to the government.
“That all propositions coming from those in hostility to the government, and not inconsistent with the foregoing, will be respectfully considered, and passed upon in a spirit of sincere liberality. I now add that it seems useful for me to be more specific with those who do not say they are ready for the indispensible terms, even on conditions to be named by themselves. If there be any who are ready for the indispensible terms, on any conditions whatever, let them say so, and state their conditions so that such conditions can be distinctly known and considered.
“It is further added that, the remission of confiscations being within the executive power, if the war be now further persisted in by those opposing the government, the making of confiscated property at the least to bear the additional cost, will be insisted on; but that confiscations (except in cases of third party interfering interests) will be remitted to the people of any State which shall now promptly, and in good faith, withdraw its troops and other support from further resistance to the government.
“What is now said as to remission of confiscations has no reference to supposed property in slaves.”
The President read this document deliberately and clearly, explaining and elaborating the points it contained as he proceeded. When he had finished the reading, he handed the manuscript to Judge Campbell, and then proceeded to remark that,
“These indispensible terms are, in my estimation, exceedingly liberal. They demand only what is now almost attained, and what the government is absolutely certain to attain. It is merely a question of a few days or a few weeks, more or less. If the people opposed to the government now yield, they will save the [nation] their expenditure in blood and treasure, and will be treated with liberality. As I have intimated, they may accept the terms on almost any conditions. Indeed, most anybody can now have most anything they ask for. [But] what is not worth asking for is not worth [having].” This remark was understood to apply to pardons, and was prompted by a reported remark of Jeff Davis that he would never ask a pardon from the President of the United States.
The President concluded the interview, saying:
“I have been considering the question of permitting the Legislature of Virginia to assemble as you suggested yesterday. I deem it exceedingly appropriate and desirable that the same power that attempted to take the State out of the Union should put it back. If I can work the matter out satisfactorily to my own mind, I will let you know.”
This ended the conversation on political subjects, and very soon after, Judge Campbell and his friend withdrew with warm expressions of respect towards the President.
On the following morning the President went to City Point. After spending a short time in his own vessel, he proceeded to General Grant’s headquarters, to which the victorious General had not yet returned, and there penned the following letter to General Weitzel, showing that he had “worked out” the Virginia question in his own mind, and evidently to his own satisfaction:
HEADQUARTERS ARMIES OF THE UNITES STATES
CITY POINT, April 6, 1865.
Major General Weitzel, Richmond, Va.:
It has been intimated to me that the gentlemen who have acted as the Legislature of Virginia in support of the rebellion, may now desire to assemble at Richmond and take measures to withdraw the Virginia troops and other support from resistance to the general government. If they attempt it give them permission and protection until, if at all, they attempt some action hostile to the United States, in which case you will notify them and give them reasonable time to leave, and at the end of which to arrest any who may remain. Allow Judge Campbell to see this, but do not make it public.
This letter was promptly dispatched to its destination, and was in the hands of General Weitzel on that evening, and also read and copied to Judge Campbell. The latter at once interested himself in preparing a call for the “Legislature of Virginia” to assemble at an early day in Richmond, which call was signed by as many of the members of that body as could conveniently be found. It was then published in the Richmond papers and issued in circular form, accompanied by the authorization of General Weitzel and proffer of safe conduct through the military lines, and to and from the city, to all the members who should attend. The promulgation to this call created a profound sensation throughout the country, and many and bitter were the denunciations that were heaped upon Gen. Weitzel for what was termed his “unauthorized assumption of authority.” The General was placed in an unpleasant predicament. He was but carrying out his written instructions from the Commander-in-chief of the army, which left him no alternative; and yet those instructions, which expressly charged him not to make them public, required him to shoulder all the responsibility and whatever of odium there might be attending the initiative political reconstruction movement.
In the meantime the President returned to Washington, where he at once laid before his Cabinet a report or statement of his official acts during his absence. These acts, so far as they have been related in this paper, were con??? by the majority of the constitutional actions of the President, and he was constrained by the advice to revoke his own acts, and withdraw official papers that he had issued in the process, which he did in the following executive order, transmitted by telegraph:
OFFICE UNITED STATES MILITARY TELEGRAPH, WAR DEPARTMENT,
WASHINGTON, D. C., April 12, 1865.
Major General Weitzel, Richmond, Va.:
I have just seen Judge Campbell's letter to you of the 7th. He assumes, as appears to me, that I have called the insurgent legislature of Virginia together, as the rightful legislature of the State, to settle all differences with the United States. I have done no such thing. I spoke of them, not as a legislature, but as "the gentlemen who have acted as the legislature of Virginia in support of the rebellion." I did this on purpose to exclude the assumption that I was recognizing them as a rightful body. I deal with them as men having power de facto to do a specific thing, to wit: "To withdraw the Virginia troops and other support from resistance to the General Government," for which, in the paper handed Judge Campbell, I promised a specific equivalent, to wit: a remission to the people of the State, except in certain cases, of the confiscation of their property. I meant this, and no more. Inasmuch, however, as Judge Campbell misconstrues this, and is still pressing for an armistice, contrary to the explicit statement of the paper I gave him, and particularly as General Grant has since captured the Virginia troops, so that giving a consideration for their withdrawal is no longer applicable, let my letter to you and the paper to Judge Campbell both be withdrawn, or countermanded, and he be notified of it. Do not now allow them to assemble, but if any have come, allow them safe return to their homes.
Thus terminated Mr. Lincoln’s first and last actual effort at political reconstruction, and thus ended in nothing all the good results he hoped to accomplish by his visit to the rebel capital.