Lincoln and Peace in 1864
As the year 1864 wore on, and despite increased Southern territory being overrun by Northern armies, the Northern people were war-weary and appalled at Lincoln and Grant’s mounting casualty numbers. Lincoln’s re-election platform called for the unconditional surrender of the South, and an unpopular constitutional amendment to abolish slavery – referred to as Lincoln’s “rescript” of war aims. Lincoln’s narrow election victory was attributed not only to mass army furloughs of men sent home to police the polls, but also that Assistant Secretary of War “Charles A. Dana testifies that the whole power of the War Department was used to secure Lincoln’s reelection in 1864.” Clement C. Clay, Jr., below, was one of three Confederate Commissioners sent to Canada in April 1864 to find a means to spark a Northern front, draw enemy troops from the South, and nurture the growing peace movement in the North.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com
Lincoln and Peace in 1864
Saint Catherine’s, Canada West, September 12, 1864.
To: Hon. J.P. Benjamin, Secretary of State, Richmond Virginia, C.S.A.
“Sir – I addressed you on the 11th August last in explanation of the circumstance inducing, attending and following the correspondence of Mr. [James P.] Holcombe and myself with Hon. Horace Greeley. Subsequent events have confirmed my opinion that we lost nothing and gained much by that correspondence. It has, at least, formed an issue between Lincoln and the South, in which all her people should join with all their might and means.
All of the many intelligent men from the United States with whom I have conversed, agreed in declaring that it had given a stronger impetus to the peace party of the North than all other causes combined, and had greatly reduced the strength of the war party.
Indeed, Judge [Jeremiah] Black [of Pennsylvania], stated to us that [Secretary of War Edwin] Stanton admitted to him that it was a grave blunder, and would defeat Lincoln [in 1864] unless he could . . . [demonstrate his] willingness to accept other terms – in other words, to restore the Union as it was.
Judge Black wished to know if Mr. [Jacob] Thompson would go to Washington to discuss the terms of peace, and proceed thence to Richmond; saying that Stanton desired him to do so, and would send him safe conduct for that purpose. I doubt not that Judge Black came at the instance of Mr. Stanton.
You may have remarked that the New York Times maintains, as by authority, that the rescript declares one mode of making peace, but not the only one. The abler organs of the Administration seize this suggestion and hold it up in vindication of Lincoln from the charge that he is waging war to abolish slavery, and will not agree to peace until that end is achieved.
Mr. [William] Seward, too, in his late speech at Auburn [New York], intimates that slavery is no longer an issue of the war, and that it will not be interfered with after peace is declared. These and other facts indicate that Lincoln is dissatisfied with the issue he has made with the South and fears its decision.
I am told that [Lincoln’s] purpose is to try to show that the Confederate Government will not entertain a proposition for peace that does not embrace a distinct recognition of the Confederate States, thereby expecting to change the issue from war for abolition to war for the Union.
It is well enough to let the North and European nations believe that reconstruction is not impossible. It will inflame the spirit of peace in the North and will encourage the disposition of England and France to recognize and treat with us.
At all events, [Lincoln’s opponent, Democrat George McClellan] is committed by the platform to cease hostilities and to try negotiations. An armistice will inevitably result in peace – the war cannot be renewed if once stopped, even for a short time. The North is satisfied that war cannot restore the Union, and will destroy their own liberties and independence if prosecuted much longer.
The Republican papers now urge Lincoln to employ all of his navy, if necessary, to seal up the port of Wilmington, which they say will cut us off from all foreign supplies and soon exhaust our means for carrying on the war . . . I do not doubt, whether we could support an army for six months after the port of Wilmington was sealed.
[The North] will not consent to peace without reunion while they believe they can subjugate us. Lincoln will exert his utmost power to sustain Sherman and Grant in their present positions, in order to insure his reelection. He knows that a great disaster to either of them would defeat him.
I have the honor to be, &c., &c.,
C. C. Clay, Jr.”
(Correspondence, Confederate State Department; Southern Historical Society Papers, Volume VII, Rev. J. W. Jones, Broadfoot Publishing Company, 1990, excerpts pp. 338-340; 342)