Matthew Fontaine Maury made earnest efforts to avert war, maintain peace and insure to the South her equal rights in the Union. He addressed pathetic appeals to the governors of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland and Delaware “to stand in the breach and stop this fratricidal strife.” Governor William F. Packer of Pennsylvania believed a national convention of the States be called to settle the sectional difficulties peacefully.
The February 1861 Washington Peace Conference led by ex-President John Tyler attempted to find compromise, but failed due to hardline Republican opposition. Robert H. Hatton, a Tennessee Unionist in early 1861, summed up the Conference’s work: “We are getting along badly with our work of compromise – badly. We will break, I apprehend, without anything being done. God will hold some men to a fearful responsibility. My heart is sick.”
Governor Packer’s term ended on January 15, 1861; he was succeeded by Republican Governor Andrew G. Curtin who chose party above country.
Let the People Save the Union
To Governor Packer, Maury wrote: Observatory, Washington, January 3, 1861
“Dear Sir: When the affairs of a nation are disturbed, quiet people, however humble their station, may be justified in stepping a little out of their usual way. You recollect that, in the nullification times of South Carolina, Virginia stepped forward as mediator and sent her commissioners to that State with the happiest results.
But we are now in the midst of a crisis more alarming to the peace and integrity of the Union than those memorable times. We have the people in no less than seven of those States assembling, or preparing to assemble, in their sovereign capacity to decide, in the most solemn manner known to them, whether they will remain in the Union or no.
It does appear to me that in and out of Congress we are all at sea with the troubles that are upon us; that the people, and the people alone, are capable of extricating us. You, my dear sir, and your State – not Congress – have it in your power to bring the people into the “fair way” of doing this.
This brings me to the point of my letter: Then why will not the great State of Pennsylvania step forth as a mediator between the sections? Authorize your commissioner to pledge the faith of his State that their ultimatum shall not only be laid before the people of the Keystone State, assembled likewise in their sovereign capacity, but that she will recommend it to her sister States of the North for like action on their part, and so let the people, and not the politicians, decide whether this Union is to be broken up.
I am sanguine enough to believe that the great body of the Southern people entertain opinions, sentiments and feelings in conformity with my own in this matter.
With distinguished consideration, I have the honour to be, Respectfully, etc., M.F. Maury”
(From “Life of Matthew Fontaine Maury,” by his daughter, Mrs. Diana Corbin, Confederate Veteran, February 1924, excerpts pg. 48)