James M. McPherson

James McPhersonPresident of the Association, 2003

This presidential address was delivered at the 118th annual meeting of the American Historical Association, held in Washington, DC, January 3, 2004.

No Peace without Victory, 1861–1865

For at least the past two centuries, nations have found it harder to end a war than to start one. Americans relearned that bitter lesson in Vietnam and, having apparently forgotten it, have been forced to learn it all over again in Iraq. The difficulties of achieving peace are compounded when the war aims of a belligerent include regime change in the enemy polity. In the Napoleonic Wars, the coalition forces finally ended the conflict when they forced Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte to abdicate—twice. In World War I, Woodrow Wilson insisted that the Allies would negotiate only with a democratic government in Germany, and the armistice did not go into effect until the kaiser abdicated. In World War II, the Allies demanded the unconditional surrender of Axis governments in order to destroy these governments and install new ones in their place. Both sides in the American Civil War feared that regime change would be the result of losing the war. Defeat would blot the Confederate States of America from the face of the earth. Confederate victory would destroy the United States and create a precedent for further balkanization of the territory once governed under the Constitution of 1789. Both antagonists foresaw these potential consequences in 1861 and embraced war as the only alternative. By 1863, however, the death or wounding of half a million soldiers had replaced the rage militaire of 1861 with a longing for peace. This longing was expressed in music, especially the songs Tenting on the Old Camp Ground and When This Cruel War Is Over. Both expressed a profound desire for an end to the killing and suffering. “Weeping, Sad and Lonely,” begins the refrain of “When This Cruel War Is Over.” “We are tired of war on the old Camp ground,” sang those at home and in the armies. “Many are the hearts that are weary tonight, Wishing for the war to cease.”1 Yet the war did not cease; many wondered whether this cruel war would ever be over.

The American Civil War could not end with a negotiated peace because the issues over which it was fought—Union versus Disunion, Freedom versus Slavery—proved to be non-negotiable. This was a new experience for Americans. The American Revolution, the War of 1812, and the Mexican-American War had all been brought to an end by peace treaties. The Confederate government would have been happy to bring the Civil War to an end in the same way, for a negotiated treaty with the United States would have constituted de jure as well as de facto recognition of Confederate sovereignty as a separate nation. For that reason, the Lincoln administration refused to consider formal negotiations as a means to end the war.

This refusal did not prevent numerous efforts to achieve peace through negotiations, official or otherwise. These efforts proceeded through three stages: foreign mediation, unofficial contacts, quasi-official conversations. All failed.

Most civil wars tempt foreign powers to intervene either to end a conflict that threatens their own interests or to support one side or the other. The American Civil War was no exception. The French and British governments believed their nations had a large stake in the bloodbath occurring across the Atlantic. Emperor Napoleon III’s intervention in Mexico's own civil war would go better if a Disunited States could not enforce the Monroe Doctrine. The Union naval blockade and Confederate contracts for the building of warships in English shipyards threatened to drag Britain into an unwanted war with the United States. The American South had furnished three-quarters of the cotton for the textile industries that were leading sectors in the economies of both countries, especially Britain. In 1861, key officials in Britain and France believed that the North could never reestablish control over 750,000 square miles of territory defended by a determined and courageous people. For all these reasons, the world’s two leading powers contemplated making an offer of mediation to bring an end to the American war. Such an offer would have been tantamount to recognition of Confederate independence.

The remarkable string of Northern naval and military victories from February to May 1862, however, forced a temporary reconsideration of this position. Union arms captured parts of the south Atlantic coast, gained control of much of the South’s interior river system and of at least 50,000 square miles of Confederate territory, captured New Orleans, Nashville, and Memphis, won the major battles of Fort Donelson, Pea Ridge, and Shiloh, while General George B. McClellan’s powerful Army of the Potomac penetrated to within six miles of Richmond, whose fall seemed imminent.

These events had a signal impact abroad. From Paris, the American minister to France wrote to Secretary of State William H. Seward in April 1862 that “the change in the condition of affairs at home has produced a change, if possible more striking abroad. There is little more said just now as to ... the propriety of an early recognition of the south.”2 And Charles Francis Adams, American minister to Britain, reported that, as a consequence of Union victories, “the pressure for interference here has disappeared.” His son Henry Adams, private secretary to the minister, added that “the talk of intervention, only two months ago so loud as to take a semi-official tone, is now out of the minds of everyone.”3

But in the summer of 1862, the Confederacy picked itself up from the mat at the count of nine and counterpunched so hard that by September it had knocked Union forces back on the ropes. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia drove McClellan away from Richmond in the Seven Days Battles, humiliated Union arms at Second Manassas, and invaded Maryland, while western Confederate armies recaptured part of Tennessee and invaded Kentucky. These developments reopened the question of foreign mediation. The semi-official government newspaper in Paris, the Constitutionnel, urged Northern leaders to “listen at last to the voice of humanity” and “accept mediation” to end “a war disastrous to the interests of humanity.”4

In London, the powerful Times demanded that the British Cabinet “stop this effusion of blood by mediation,” while the Morning Post, semi-official voice of Prime Minister Palmerston’s government, proclaimed bluntly that the Confederacy had “established its claim to be independent.”5 Chancellor of the Exchequer William Gladstone agreed. “Jefferson Davis and other leaders of the South,” said Gladstone in a speech at Newcastle, “have made an army; they are making, it appears, a navy; and they have made what is more than either; they have made a nation.” Gladstone privately urged his colleagues to acknowledge “that the South cannot be conquered ... It is our absolute duty to recognise ... that Southern independence is established.”6

By September 1862, Palmerston and his foreign secretary, Lord John Russell, the two men whose opinion counted most, were well-nigh ready to agree with Gladstone. As the Army of Northern Virginia crossed the Potomac into Maryland, Palmerston wrote to Russell that Union forces had “got a very complete smashing” at Second Manassas, “and it seems not altogether unlikely that still greater disasters await them, and that even Washington or Baltimore might fall into the hands of the Confederates.” If something like that happened, “would it not be time for us to consider whether England and France might not address the contending parties and recommend an arrangement on the basis of separation?” Russell concurred. Palmerston thereupon informed Gladstone of a plan to hold a Cabinet meeting in October to hammer out a joint proposal with France to the Union and Confederate governments for “an Armistice and Cessation of the Blockades with a View to Negotiations on the basis of Separation,” to be followed by official diplomatic recognition of the Confederacy.7

Secretary of State Seward had previously made clear that the United States would reject any offer of mediation and would break relations with any government that recognized the Confederacy. But if the invasions of Maryland and Kentucky were crowned with success, the Lincoln administration might be forced by circumstances and by the growing antiwar movement in the North to change its tune. As Palmerston put it: “If the Federals sustain a great defeat ... [their] Cause will be manifestly hopeless ... and the iron should be struck while it is hot.”8

As matters turned out, however, the Federals did not sustain a great defeat. Quite the contrary, they turned back the Confederate invasions at the Battle of Antietam on September 17 and the Battle of Perryville in Kentucky on October 8. These events, especially Antietam, caused Palmerston to back away from the idea of mediation. The necessary condition for such an endeavor, he said, would have been “the great success of the South against the North. That state of things seemed ten days ago to be approaching,” but at the Battle of Antietam “its advance has been lately checked.” Thus “the whole matter is full of difficulty,” and nothing could be done until the situation became more clear. By October 22, it was clear to Palmerston that Confederate defeats had ended any chance for successful mediation. “I am therefore inclined,” Palmerston wrote Lord Russell, “to change the opinion I wrote you when the Confederates seemed to be carrying all before them ... We must continue to be lookers-on till the war shall have taken a more decided turn.“9

Russell and Gladstone, along with Louis Napoleon, did not give up so easily. The French asked the British government to join in a proposal for a six months’ armistice in the American war during which the blockade would be lifted, cotton exports would be renewed, and peace negotiations could begin. France also approached Russia, which refused to take part in such an obviously pro-Confederate scheme. On November 12, the British Cabinet also rejected it.10

Even then, Napoleon did not give up. Unrest among unemployed French textile workers inspired a new effort in January 1863 to bring the belligerents together for talks. There was no proposal this time for an armistice and no French offer of mediation. Rather, France’s foreign minister sent a note to the U.S. State Department urging negotiations with the Confederates even as the fighting continued. Good precedents existed for such a procedure. The Americans and British had negotiated during the revolution and the War of 1812; the United States and Mexico had done the same during the war of 1846–1848. Horace Greeley, quixotic editor of the powerful New York Tribune, who fancied himself a peacemaker, threw his support to this effort and met personally with the French minister to the United States.

An angry Seward urged Henry Raymond, editor of the New York Times, to stomp hard on Greeley for practicing diplomacy without a license. Raymond was a political ally of Seward, and the Times was a quasi-official spokesman for the Lincoln administration. Having no love for Greeley, Raymond was happy to oblige. In an editorial on January 29, he condemned Greeley as a fool and declared that no peace was possible except on the basis of the Confederacy’s unconditional surrender. “The war must go on until the Rebellion is conquered,” he wrote. “There is no alternative ... Our people will ... never sell or betray their national birthright, and above all they will never consent, under any circumstances, that any foreign Power shall dictate the destiny or decide the fate of this Republic.”11 For his part, Seward told a colleague that he would consent to hold discussions with Confederate representatives “when Louis Napoleon was prepared to consider the dismemberment of France, but not till then!” Seward made the same point in more diplomatic language to the French foreign minister.12

That ended the matter. Meanwhile, the British developed alternative sources of raw cotton from Egypt and India. A growing trickle of cotton from the South also made it through the blockade. Never again did the Confederacy come so close to foreign intervention and recognition as in the fall of 1862. Thereafter, the burden of peacemaking efforts shifted to the protagonists themselves. However, so long as the Lincoln administration insisted on the unconditional surrender of the Confederacy and Jefferson Davis’s administration insisted on unconditional recognition of Confederate independence, the chances for a negotiated peace appeared nil. And Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, raised the stakes of victory or defeat for both antagonists. Nevertheless, Union military triumphs at Gettysburg, Vicksburg, Chattanooga, and in Arkansas during the second half of 1863 encouraged a belief in the North that war-weary Southerners might be ready to throw in the towel and return to the Union. In December 1863, Lincoln issued a Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction, offering pardons to most Confederates who would take an oath of allegiance to the United States and agree to obey all laws and proclamations concerning emancipation.13 In effect, this was a retail policy of unconditional surrender.

Because only a small percentage of Confederates took advantage of Lincoln’s offer, however, it did not promise to bring this cruel war to an end anytime soon. More promising were the military campaigns planned for 1864. With Ulysses S. Grant now in Virginia as general in chief of Union armies and his principal subordinate William T. Sherman in command of an army group in Georgia, the Northern people expected these heavy hitters to crush the rebellion by the Fourth of July. The initial over-optimistic reports from the front seemed to confirm this confidence. “GLORIOUS NEWS ... IMMENSE REBEL LOSSES,” blazoned the headlines in the usually restrained New York Times. “The Virginia Campaign approaches a Glorious consummation,” added the New York Herald. “Our long night of doubt and suspense is past.” Horace Greeley's New York Tribune proclaimed that “Lee's Army as an effective force has practically ceased to exist” and “LIBERTY—UNION—PEACE” were nigh.14 At the end of May 1864, Greeley remained confident that this “mortal” contest between “Truth and Error, between Absolute Right and Absolute Wrong,” would soon end with “the unconditional surrender of the ‘Confederacy.’”15

Within six weeks, however, the mood of the mercurial Greeley had swung by 180 degrees. And Greeley’s growing despair reflected that of the Northern people. Instead of winning the war by the Fourth of July, the two principal Union armies were bogged down in front of Richmond and Atlanta after suffering a combined 95,000 casualties in the most concentrated carnage of the war. In the Army of the Potomac, the number of casualties during the two months from May 5 to July 4 were nearly two-thirds of their total in the previous three years.

Northern despondency was all the greater because of the euphoric expectations at the beginning of these campaigns. “Who shall revive the withered hopes that bloomed at the opening of General Grant’s campaign?” asked an editorial in the New York World on July 12. The stalemate had become “a national humiliation,” declared the World. “This war, as now conducted, is a failure without hope of other issue than the success of the rebellion.”16 With unhappy timing, Lincoln on July 18 issued a call for 500,000 more volunteers, with the deficiencies in meeting quotas to be met by a new draft. This call was “a cry of distress,” lamented the World. “Who is responsible for the terrible and unavailing waste of life which renders five hundred thousand new men necessary so soon after the opening of a campaign that promised to be triumphant?”17

The World was a Democratic newspaper, and with the presidential election approaching it left readers with no doubt that Lincoln was responsible for this humiliating failure. But many Republicans were equally despondent. “The immense slaughter of our brave men chills and sickens us all,” wrote Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles. “It is impossible for the country to bear up under these monstrous errors and wrongs.” A State Department translator visited Philadelphia in early August. “What a difference between now and last year!” he wrote in his diary. “No signs of any enthusiasm, no flags; most of the best men gloomy and almost despairing.”18 The staunch New York Republican George Templeton Strong could “see no bright spot anywhere.” Even Sarah Butler, wife of General Benjamin Butler, a favorite of radical Republicans, wondered “what is all this struggling and fighting for? This ruin and death to thousands of families? ... What advancement of mankind to compensate for the present horrible calamities?”19

Sarah Butler’s plaintive question has been asked in all wars. But it had special force in the terrible summer of 1864. As before in this war, the peace wing of the Democratic Party—the so-called Copperheads who opposed war as a means to restore the Union—came to the fore when events on the battlefield did not go well for Union arms. The plunge in Northern morale augured well for a Democratic victory on a peace platform in the presidential election. “Stop the War!” demanded editorials in Copperhead newspapers. “If nothing else would impress upon the people the absolute necessity of stopping this war, its utter failure to accomplish any results ... would be sufficient.” A Boston Peace Democrat believed Northerners were becoming convinced that “the Confederacy perhaps can never really be beaten, that the attempts to win might after all be too heavy a load to carry, and that perhaps it is time to agree to a peace without victory.”20

Several Democratic district conventions passed resolutions calling for a cease-fire and peace negotiations. Confederate agents in Canada, who were subsidizing several Democratic newspapers and politicians across the border, encouraged the belief that such negotiations might pave the way for eventual reunion. First might come “a treaty of amity and commerce,” suggested one of the Confederate agents, Clement C. Clay, followed “possibly” by “an alliance defensive, or even, for some purposes, both defensive and offensive.” If Peace Democrats were taken in by such doubletalk, wrote Clay to Confederate Secretary of State Judah Benjamin, who oversaw these Canadian operations, he was careful not to dispel their “fond delusion.”21

By July 1864, the peace contagion had spread well beyond the Copperheads. The observation by the Richmond Dispatch, the Confederacy’s largest newspaper, that a majority of Northern voters would support peace even at the price of Confederate independence may not have been far wrong. “They are sick at heart of the senseless waste of blood and treasure,” declared the Dispatch. In New York, George Templeton Strong was “most seriously perturbed” by the “increasing prevalence” of “aspirations for ‘peace at any price.’” The astute Republican politico Thurlow Weed wrote to Seward in August that Lincoln’s reelection was “an impossibility” because “the people are wild for peace.”22

Horace Greeley agreed with this assessment. In early July, he launched a bizarre, failed peace initiative that nevertheless had large consequences. From a self-styled “intermediary,” Greeley received word that two of the Confederate agents in Canada were accredited by Jefferson Davis to negotiate a peace settlement. The credulous editor enclosed this information in a letter to Lincoln on July 7. “Our bleeding, bankrupt, almost dying country,” Greeley declaimed, “longs for peace—shudders at the prospect of fresh conscriptions, of further wholesale devastations, and of new rivers of human blood.” Therefore, “I entreat you to submit overtures for pacification to the Southern insurgents.”23

Lincoln did not believe for a moment that the Confederate agents had genuine negotiating powers. And even if they did, the Union president knew that his Southern counterpart’s inflexible condition for peace was Confederate independence. Yet, given the despondent Northern mood, Lincoln could not appear to rebuff any peace overture, however spurious. He also thought he saw a chance to rally Northern opinion by demonstrating that an acceptable peace was possible only through military victory. So Lincoln immediately sent Greeley a telegram authorizing him to bring to Washington under safe conduct “any person anywhere professing to have any proposition of Jefferson Davis in writing, for peace, embracing the restoration of the Union and abandonment of slavery.”24

This put Greeley on the spot by making him a guarantor of the agents’ credentials and a witness to Lincoln’s good-faith willingness to negotiate. Greeley balked, but Lincoln prodded him into action by sending his private secretary John Hay to join Greeley at Niagara Falls, Canada, to meet with the Confederates. The president was willing to compromise his principle of refusing to acknowledge officially the existence of the Confederate government by insisting on restoration of the Union as a prerequisite for negotiations. Hay carried to Niagara Falls a letter from Lincoln addressed “To Whom It May Concern,” stating that “Any proposition which embraces the restoration of peace, the integrity of the whole Union, and the abandonment of slavery, and which comes by and with an authority that can control the armies now at war with the United States will be received and considered by the Executive government of the United States, and will be met by liberal terms on other substantial and collateral points.”25

This was an immensely important document that framed all discussions of peace for the rest of the war. Lincoln intended it not only to lay out his own conditions but also to elicit and publicize the Confederacy’s unacceptable counteroffer. But on this occasion, the rebel agents outmaneuvered Lincoln. They admitted to Greeley and Hay that they had no authority to negotiate peace but then released to the press a letter to Greeley accusing Lincoln of sabotaging the negotiations by prescribing conditions he knew to be unacceptable to the Confederacy. Shedding crocodile tears, they expressed “profound regret” that the Confederacy’s genuine desire for a peace “mutually just, honorable, and advantageous to the North and South” had not been met with equal “moderation and equity” by Presiden Lincoln. Instead, his “To Whom It May Concern” letter meant “no bargaining, no negotiations, no truces with rebels except to bury their dead ... If there be any citizen of the Confederate States who has clung to the hope that peace is possible,” Lincoln’s terms “will strip from their eyes the last film of such delusion.” The Confederate agents urged those “patriots and Christians” in the North “who shrink appalled from the illimitable vistas of private misery and public calamity” presented by Lincoln’s policy of perpetual war to “recall the abused authority and vindicate the outraged civilization of their country” by voting Lincoln out of office in November.26

This letter was, as the New York Times noted editorially, “an electioneering dodge on a great scale” to damage Lincoln “by making him figure as an obstacle to peace.” It worked. As Clement C. Clay reported with satisfaction to Judah Benjamin, Northern Democratic newspapers “denounce Mr. Lincoln's manifesto in strong terms, and many Republican presses (among them the New York Tribune) admit it was a blunder ... From all that I can see or hear, I am satisfied that this correspondence has tended strongly toward consolidating the Democracy and dividing the Republicans.”27

Greeley did indeed criticize Lincoln both publicly and privately. The president, he wrote in an editorial, made “a very grave mistake” by announcing his own terms instead of asking the rebels to state their terms first.28 In a remarkable letter to Lincoln on August 9, Greeley chastised the president for giving the impression that his policy was “No truce! No armistice! No negotiation! No mediation! Nothing but [Confederate] surrender at discretion! I never heard of such fatuity before.” Greeley probably had in mind an editorial in the New York Times that clearly spoke for the administration. “Peace is a consummation devoutly to be wished,” declared the Times, but not peace at the price of Union. “War alone can save the Republic ... If the Southern people will not give us peace as their fellow-countrymen, we shall secure it as their conquerors. We know this is not gracious language. But it is native fact.” Greeley deplored such language, he told Lincoln, because “to the general eye, it now seems the rebels are anxious to negotiate and that we repulse their advances ... If this impression be not removed we shall be beaten out of sight next November.”29

Greeley was right about the potential political consequences of this affair. The Confederates had scored a propaganda triumph and given the Copperheads a boost. Lincoln sought to neutralize the setback by sanctioning publication of the results of another and almost simultaneous peace contact. On July 17, two Northerners met under flag of truce with Jefferson Davis and Judah Benjamin in Richmond. They were James R. Gilmore, a journalist, and Colonel James Jaquess of the Seventy-third Illinois, on furlough and temporarily resuming his peacetime vocation as a Methodist clergyman who wished to stop fellow Christians from slaughtering each other. Lincoln had given them a pass through Union lines in Virginia with the understanding that their mission was strictly unofficial—although they were well acquainted with Lincoln's preconditions for peace. Davis decided to meet with them because, like Lincoln, he had to consider the desire for peace among his own people and could not appear to spurn ny opportunity for negotiations.

Gilmore and Jaquess informally repeated the terms Lincoln had offered in his amnesty proclamation the previous December: reunion, emancipation and amnesty. According to Gilmore’s account, Davis responded angrily: “Amnesty, Sir, applies to criminals. We have committed no crime. At your door lies all the misery and crime of this war ... We are fighting for Independence—and that, or extermination, we will have ... You may emancipate every negro in the Confederacy, but we will be free. We will govern ourselves ... if we have to see every Southern plantation sacked, and every Southern city in flames.”30

Upon his return north, Gilmore published a brief account of the meeting in a Boston newspaper and a subsequent detailed narrative in the Atlantic Monthly. Lincoln approved these publications because they shifted part of the burden of refusing to negotiate from Lincoln’s shoulders to Davis’s.31 The New York Times immediately grasped this point. The Gilmore-Jaquess mission, declared the Times, “proved of extreme service ... because it established that Jeff. Davis will listen to no proposals of peace that do not embrace disunion ... In view of the efforts now being made by the Peace Party of the North to delude our people into a belief that peace is now practicable without disunion,” Davis’s words were “peculiarly timely and valuable.”32

The Richmond Enquirer also recognized that Gilmore and Jaquess had “provoked” Davis into “expressions of hostility which might be represented as a refusal on our part to treat of peace” in order to “rally the war party” in the North. The Enquirer then proceeded to use this incident to fire up the Southern war party. To the Northern demand for unconditional surrender, declared this newspaper, the Southern people responded with the “sole and simple condition” of “unconditional recognition of Confederate independence ... They will die with arms in their hands before they disgrace this demand by any qualification of their rights.”33

The publicity surrounding these peace overtures should have put to rest the Copperhead argument that the North could have peace and reunion without military victory. But it did not. At the rock-bottom point of Northern morale in August 1864—when, as Thurlow Weed observed, “the people are wild for peace”—Democrats were able to slide around the awkward problem of Davis’s conditions by pointing to Lincoln’s second condition—“abandonment of slavery”—as the real stumbling block to peace. Across the spectrum from Copperheads to War Democrats, and even beyond to conservative Republicans, came denunciations of the president for his “prostitution of the war for the Union into an abolition crusade.”34 Democratic newspapers proclaimed that “tens of thousands of white men must bite the dust to allay the negro mania of the President.” For that purpose, “our soil is drenched in blood ... the widows wail and the children hunger.” Emancipation was now Lincoln’s sole purpose; “the idea of restoring the Union no longer troubles the Executive brain.”35

The most powerful Democratic newspaper was the New York World, which was closely affiliated with General George B. McClellan, whom the party was about to nominate for president. The World claimed that Lincoln “prefers to tear a half million more white men from their homes ... to continue a war for the abolition of slavery rather than entertain a proposition for the return of the seceded states with their old rights.” Never mind that no such proposition existed; Democratic newspapers convinced thousands of Northern voters that the South would have accepted such a proposition if Lincoln had not made abolition a condition of peace. The New York Herald, an independent but Democratic-leaning paper with the country’s largest circulation, opined that Lincoln had signed his political death warrant by making abandonment of slavery “a ne plus ultra in the terms of peace.”36

Even some Republican editors expressed “painful and perplexing surprise” that Lincoln had made “the abolition of slavery the principal object of prosecuting the war.”37 Horace Greeley, who two years earlier had criticized Lincoln’s slowness to act agains slavery, now condemned him for insisting on what Greeley had then demanded. “We do not contend,” wrote Greeley in a widely reprinted Tribune editorial, “that reunion is possible or endurable only on the basis of Universal Freedom ... War has its exigencies which cannot be foreseen ... and Peace is often desirable on other terms than those of our own choice.“ George Templeton Strong sadly concluded that Lincoln’s emancipation condition was a “blunder” that “may cost him his election ... [It has] given the disaffected and discontented a weapon that doubles their power of mischief.”38

Henry J. Raymond of the New York Times, who doubled as Republican national chairman for this election campaign, thought he saw a way out of the dilemma. Lincoln “did say that he would receive and consider propositions for peace ... if they embraced the integrity of the Union and the abandonment of Slavery,” wrote Raymond in an important editorial, “but he did not say he would not embrace them unless they embraced both conditions.” If Jefferson Davis were suddenly to offer peace and reunion, wrote Raymond, “we believe that President Lincoln would thereupon stop the war. We do not believe he would continue it for an hour longer, for the abolition of Slavery or for any other purpose.”39

As a lawyer, Lincoln was no stranger to such hairsplitting. And the enormous pressure on him from all sides to drop his abandonment of the slavery condition almost caused him to succumb. On August 17, Lincoln drafted a letter to a Wisconsin newspaper editor who had previously supported the administration but could no longer do so if the president intended the war to continue until slavery was abolished. “To me,” Lincoln began his letter, “it seems plain that saying re-union and abandonment of slavery would be considered, if offered, is not saying that nothing else or less would be considered.” Lincoln concluded the letter with these words: “If Jefferson Davis wishes ... to know what I would do if he were to offer peace and re-union, saying nothing about slavery, let him try me.”40

In the same draft, however, and in an interview two days later with a pair of Wisconsin Republicans, Lincoln explained forcefully and eloquently why he included abandonment of slavery as a precondition for peace. “No human power can subdue this rebellion without using the Emancipation lever as I have done,” he insisted. Lincoln pointed out that 100,000 or more black soldiers and sailors were fighting for the Union. “If they stake their lives for us they must be prompted by the strongest motive—even the promise of freedom. And the promise being made, must be kept.” To abandon emancipation would “ruin the Union cause itself,” Lincoln continued. “All recruiting of colored men would instantly cease, and all colored men in our service would instantly desert us. And rightfully too. Why should they give their lives for us, with full notice of our purpose to betray them? ... I should be damned in time and eternity for so doing. The world shall know that I will keep my faith to friends and enemies, come what will.”41

Recognizing the inconsistency of these sentiments with his “let Jefferson Davis try me” challenge, Lincoln filed that letter away unsent. When he did so, he and everyone else believed that he would be defeated for reelection on the peace issue. “I m going to be beaten,” he told a visitor, “and unless some great change takes place badly beaten.” On August 23, Lincoln wrote his famous “blind memorandum” and asked Cabinet members to endorse it sight unseen: “This morning, as for some days past, it seems exceedingly probable that this Administration will not be re-elected. Then it will be my duty to so co-operate with the President elect, as to save the Union between the election and the inauguration; as he will have secured his election on such ground that he can not possibly save it afterwards.”42

This memorandum may have been prompted by a letter Lincoln received that day from Henry Raymond. “The tide is setting strongly against us,” wrote the editor. “Two special causes are assigned to this great reaction in public sentiment,—the want of military success, and the impression ... that we can have peace with Union if we would ... [but] that we are not to have peace in any event under this administration until Slavery is abandoned.” To allay this impression, Raymond urged Lincoln to appoint a commissioner to “make distinct proffers of peace to Davis ... on the sole condition” of reunion, leaving “all the other questions to be settled in a convention of all the people of all the States.” Of course, Raymond added, Davis would reject such a proffer, and this rejection would “dispel all the delusions about peace that prevail in the North ... [and] reconcile public sentiment to the War, the draft, & the tax as inevitable necessities.”43

Once again, Lincoln seemed to yield to such pressure. On August 24, he drafted instructions for Raymond himself to go to Richmond and “propose, on behalf [of] this government, that upon the restoration of the Union and national authority, the war shall cease at once, all remaining questions to be left for adjustment by peaceful modes.” Lincoln’s private secretaries and later biographers, John G. Nicolay and John Hay, maintain that Lincoln had no intention of sending Raymond to Richmond. His purpose in drafting this document, they assert, was to make the editor a “witness of its absurdity.”44

In any event, Raymond and the rest of the Republican National Committee met with Lincoln and three Cabinet members on August 25. The committeemen, according to Nicolay, were “laboring under a severe fit of despondency and discouragement ... almost the condition of a disastrous panic.” Lincoln convinced them that the proposed commission to Richmond “would be utter ruination ... worse than losing the Presidential contest—it would be ignominiously surrendering it in advance.”45 To back away from emancipation would not only betray a promise, it would also give the impression of an administration floundering in panic and would alienate the radical wing of the Republican Party.46 After all, Lincoln had been renominated on a platform pledging a constitutional amendment to abolish slavery and calling for the “unconditional surrender” of the rebels. For weal or woe, Lincoln intended to stand on that platform.47

For a week after that fateful meeting at the White House, woe seemed to be the fate of Lincoln’s reelection prospects. On August 31, the Democrats nominated McClellan for president and a Peace Democrat for vice president on a platform that declared, “After four years of failure to restore the Union by the experiment of war ... [we] demand that immediate efforts be made for a cessation of hostilities, with a view to an ultimate convention of the states, or other peaceable means, to the end that, at the earliest practicable moment, peace may be restored on the basis of the Federal Union.”48 This last phrase was little more than window dressing; almost everyone recognized that an appeal by the U.S. government for an armistice would be tantamount to confessing defeat.49 McClellan himself recognized this, and his letter accepting the nomination made peace negotiations contingent on prior agreement to reunion as a basis for such negotiations.50

Whether these internal Democratic contradictions would be put to the test suddenly became moot. On September 3, a telegram from General Sherman arrived in Washington: “Atlanta is ours, and fairly won.” This news turned morale around 180 degrees in both North and South. “Glorious news this morning,” wrote George Templeton Strong in his diary. “Atlanta taken at last!!! ... It is (coming at this political crisis) the greatest event of the war.”51 The Richmond Examiner reflected with despair that “the disaster at Atlanta” came “in the very nick of time” to “save the party of Lincoln from irretrievable ruin ... [It] obscures the prospect of peace, late so bright. It will diffuse gloom over the South.” One of the North’s foremost clergymen, Joseph P. Thompson, delivered a widely published sermon whose title summed up the meaning of Atlanta: “Peace through Victory.”52

Few in the North urged this policy with more determination than Union soldiers themselves. Although many of them had a lingering affection for McClellan, most denounced the war-failure plank of the Democratic platform, and a remarkable 78 percent of them voted for Lincoln. “To ellect McClellan would be to undo all that we have don in the past four years,” wrote a Michigan corporal. “Old Abe is slow but sure, he will accept nothing but an unconditional surrender.” A New York lieutenant, a former Democrat, repudiated his party. “I had rather stay out here a lifetime (much as I dislike it),” he wrote, “than consent to a division of our country ... We all want peace, but none any but an honorable one.”53

Prospects for that honorable peace—a peace through victory—continued to brighten through the fall and winter. General Philip Sheridan’s Army of the Shenandoah won several important victories in September and October. Lincoln was triumphantly reelected in November. General George Thomas’s Union Army of the Cumberland virtually destroyed the Confederate Army of Tennessee at the battle of Nashville in mid-December. A month later, a combined assault by Union naval and army forces captured Fort Fisher in North Carolina, closing the port of Wilmington, which had been the principal remaining terminus for blockade runners. In his annual message to Congress in December, Lincoln promised no let-up in the war. Northern determination to see the matter through “was never more firm, nor more nearly unanimous, than now,” said the president. But this consummation could not be achieved by negotiations with “the insurgent leader,” Jefferson Davis, who “does not attempt to deceive us. He affords us no excuse to deceive ourselves. He cannot voluntarily reaccept 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.”54

Nevertheless, one more bid to end the war by mutual agreement took place. This one was launched by Francis Preston Blair, the old Jacksonian Democrat whose powerful family had become Republicans in the mid-1850s. Blair had maintained his ties across party lines, however, and even across the bloody chasm of war. With Lincoln’s tacit consent, Blair traveled to Richmond under flag of truce in January 1865 to visit his former friend and political associate Jefferson Davis. Although the content of their conversations remained secret, Blair’s presence in Richmond gave rise to endless speculation in the press both North and South. Blair’s purpose was to see whether there might be some way to reunite Union and Confederacy in order to put an end to the internecine bloodletting.

Signs abounded that the Southern people, if not President Davis, were prepared to give up. Desertions from Confederate armies soared. The previously indefatigable chief of Confederate ordnance, Josiah Gorgas, made despairing entries in his diary during January: “Where is this to end? No money in the Treasury, no food to feed Gen. Lee’s Army, no troops to oppose Gen. Sherman ... There is a strong disposition among members of congress to come to terms with the enemy, feelin that we cannot carry on the war any longer with hope of success. Wife & I sit talking of going to Mexico to live out the remnant of our days.”55

Mexico was also on Blair’s mind. That country experienced its own civil war in the 1860s, prompting Louis Napoleon to send 35,000 French troops and to install Austrian Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian s emperor of Mexico in 1864. Blair seemed obsessed with the idea that a joint campaign of Union and Confederate armies to throw the French out of Mexico would pave the way to reunion. Hints of Blair’s suggestion to Davis of such a project leaked out and elicited cautious approval by Richmond newspapers and more enthusiastic endorsement by the jingo press in the North.56 Davis returned a cool response to this Mexican scheme, but he did give Blair a letter for Lincoln’s eyes offering to appoint commissioners to “enter into conference with a view to secure peace to the two countries.”57

Lincoln wanted nothing to do with Blair’s proposed Mexican adventure. But the president thought he saw an opportunity to end the war on his own terms without compromising his refusal to recognize the legitimacy of the Confederacy. He authorized Blair to return to Richmond with an offer to receive any commissioner that Davis “may informally send to me with the view of securing peace to the people of our one common country.”58

Davis overlooked the discrepancy between “two countries” and “one common country.” He appointed a commission composed of Vice President Alexander H. Stephens, President pro tem of the Senate Robert M. T. Hunter, and Assistant Secretary of War John A. Campbell, a former U.S. Supreme Court justice. Davis expected their efforts to fail because he knew Lincoln would stick to his terms of Union and freedom. This was the outcome Davis wanted, for it would enable him to rally flagging Southern spirits to keep up the fight as the only alternative to degrading submission.59

This peace effort almost foundered before it was launched. Lincoln sent word to military commanders in Virginia that the Confederate commissioners should not be allowed through the lines for an “informal conference” with Secretary of State Seward, whom he had sent to Virginia, unless they agreed in advance to Lincoln's “one common country” phrase as a basis for talks. The commissioners instead showed to the army major Lincoln dispatched to meet them their “two countries” instructions from Davis. The major therefore barred them from crossing Union lines.

That would seem to have ended the matter. But this affair had generated huge coverage in the press—more even than the peace flurries of the previous summer—and had raised hopes that this cruel war might soon be over. On the morning of February 2, Lincoln read a telegram from General Grant: “I am convinced, upon conversation with Messrs Stevens & Hunter that their intentions are good and their desire sincere to restore peace and union ... I am sorry however that Mr. Lincoln cannot have an interview with [them] ... I fear now their going back without any expression from anyone in authority will have a bad influence.”60

Grant’s intervention was decisive. On the spur of the moment, Lincoln decided to go to Virginia to join Seward for a personal meeting with the commissioners. This extraordinary, “informal” four-hour meeting of the five men took place February 3 on the Union steamer River Queen anchored in Hampton Roads. No aides were present and no formal record was kept, although Seward and Campbell wrote brief summaries and Stephens later penned a lengthy account, which must be used with care.61 Despite an underlying tension, the mood was relaxed. Lincoln and Stephens had been friends and fellow Whigs in Congress nearly two decades earlier, providing a basis for a cordial atmosphere.

Lincoln nevertheless stuck to the terms he had written out for Seward before the president had decided to join him: “1 The restoration of the National authority throughout all the States. 2 No receding by the Executive of the United States, on the Slavery question ... 3 No cessation of hostilities short of an end of the war, and the disbanding of all forces hostile to the government.”62 Stephens tried to change the subject by alluding to Blair’s Mexican project; Lincoln promptly disavowed it. What about an armistice while peace negotiations took place? asked the Confederates. No armistice, replied Lincoln, reiterating his third condition. Well, then, said Hunter, would it be possible to hold official negotiations while the war went on? After all, he noted, even King Charles I had entered into agreements with rebels in arms during the English civil war. “I do not profess to be posted in history,” replied Lincoln—probably with a twinkle in his eye. “All I distinctly recollect about the case of Charles I, is, that he lost his head.”63

On questions of punishing Confederate leaders and confiscating Southern property, Lincoln promised generous treatment based on his power of pardon. With respect to slavery, Lincoln even suggested that if Confederate states abolished it themselves as part of a peace settlement, he would ask Congress for partial compensation. In any event, the Union Congress had passed the Thirteenth Amendment three days earlier, and several states, including Lincoln’s Illinois as the first, had already ratified it.64 Slavery was dead, implied Lincoln, and to avoid further bloodshed the Confederate leaders should recognize that the Confederacy itself would soon be in the same condition.

Whatever their personal convictions, the commissioners had no authority to concede the death of their nation. They returned sadly to Richmond and admitted their failure to President Davis—who was neither surprised nor disappointed. Davis reported to the Confederate Congress that Lincoln’s terms required “degrading submission” and “humiliating surrender.” Richmond newspapers echoed the president’s angry words. The Examiner paraphrased Lincoln in this fashion: “Down upon your knees, Confederates! ... your mouths in the dust; kiss the rod, confess your sins.” Davis addressed a rally in Richmond. He predicted that Seward and “His Majesty Abraham the First” would find “they had been speaking to their masters,” for Southern armies would yet “compel the Yankees, in less than twelve months, to petition us for peace on our own terms.”65

War fever in Richmond rose higher than at any time since April 1861. “Every one thinks the Confederacy will at once gather up its military strength and strike such blows as will astonish the world,” wrote the War Department clerk John Jones. One of the more moderate Richmond newspapers declared that “to talk now of any other arbitrament than that of the sword is to betray cowardice and treachery.” We must “conquer or die,” declared another. “There is no alternative. We must make good our independence, defend our institutions ... or give up the ... lands we have tilled, the slaves we have owned ... all indeed that makes existence valuable.”66

So be it, responded the Northern press. Davis had made it clear, conceded the one-time peace negotiator Horace Greeley, that we could only have “Peace through War.“ The New York Times pointed out that “we have always demanded ‘unconditional surrender’ ... We must fight it out.”67 Fight it out they did, for two more months, during which several thousand more young men died. In his second inaugural address, Lincoln acknowledged that in 1861 “neither party expected for the war, the magnitude, or theduration, which it has already attained” or “a result [so] fundamental and astounding.” The same can be said of many wars. None of the nations that opened fire with the Guns of August 1914 foresaw the magnitude or duration of that war. The Germans who invaded Poland in 1939 and the Japanese who bombed Pearl Harbor two years later surely did not expect such a fundamental and astounding result of their actions. Nor, presumably, did the U.S. government when it sent American troops to South Vietnam in the 1960s. As historians, we cannot know—though we can certainly speculate—that the leaders of these nations would have acted differently if they could have foreseen the consequences. It is also quite possible that Americans in 1861 would have chosen a different course if they knew that the war into which they plunged would last four years and cost 620,000 lives. In any event, when Lincoln was inaugurated for a second term on March 4, 1865, he remained committed to the fundamental and astounding results of a Union victory, no matter what it cost and how long it took. He served notice that, if necessary, the war would continue “until all the wealth piled by the bond-man’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword.”68

Mercifully, it did not take that long. Three months after Jefferson Davis had breathed defiance to “His Majesty Abraham the First,” the ex-Confederate Ordnance Chief Josiah Gorgas pronounced his nation’s epitaph: “The calamity which has fallen upon us in the total destruction of our government is of a character so overwhelming that I am as yet unable to comprehend it ... It is marvelous that a people that a month ago had money, armies, and the attributes of a nation should to-day be no more ... Will it be so when the Soul leaves the body behind it?”69

James M. McPherson is George Henry Davis ’86 Professor of American History at Princeton University, where he has taught since 1962. He received his PhD in 1963 from Johns Hopkins University, where he studied with C. Vann Woodward. McPherson has written 14 books, mostly focusing on the American Civil War and Reconstruction, including Battle Cry of Freedom, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 1989, and For Cause and Comrades, which won the Lincoln Prize in 1998. In addition to serving as president of the American Historical Association, he has been president of Protect Historic America and the Society of American Historians. He is currently working on a book about the navies in the Civil War.


1. Paul Glass and Louis C. Singer, Singing Soldiers: A History of the Civil War in Song (New York, 1975), 152–53, 267–69; Willard A. Heaps and Porter W. Heaps, The Singing Sixties: The Spirit of Civil War Days Drawn from the Music of the Times (Norman, Okla., 1960), 159–60, 224–26.

2. William L. Dayton to William H. Seward, April 17, 1862, in Papers Relating to the Foreign Affairs of the United States, 1862, part 1 (Washington, D.C., 1863), 333.

3. Charles Francis Adams to William H. Seward, March 13, 1862, in Papers Relating to the Foreign Affairs of the United States, 1862, part 1, 48; Henry Adams to Charles Francis Adams, Jr., March 15, 1862, in The Letters of Henry Adams, vol. 1: 1858–1868, ed. J. C. Levenson (Cambridge, Mass., 1982), 284–85.

4. Constitutionnel, July 19, June 7, 1862.

5. Times, July 17, 1862; Morning Post, quoted in New York Tribune, July 30, 1862.

6. Times, October 9, 1862; Gladstone to Lord John Russell, August 30, 1862, Gladstone to William Stuart, September 8, 1862, in Gladstone Letterbooks, quoted in Howard Jones, Abraham Lincoln and the New Birth of Freedom (Lincoln, Neb., 1999), 93.

7. Palmerston to Russell, September 14, 1861, Russell to Palmerston, September 17, 1862, Lord Russell Papers, Public Record Office, London, quoted in James V. Murfin, The Gleam of Bayonets: The Battle of Antietam and the Maryland Campaign of 1862 (Baton Rouge, La., 1965), 394, 396–97; Palmerston to Gladstone, September 24, 1862, in Gladstone and Palmerston, Being the Correspondence of Lord Palmerston with Mr. Gladstone, 1861–1865, ed. Phillip Guedalla (Covent Garden, 1928), 232–33.

8. Palmerston to Russell, September 23, 1862, Russell Papers, quoted in Murfin, Gleam of Bayonets, 399–400.

9. Palmerston to Russell, October 2, 22, 1862, Russell Papers, quoted in Ephraim Douglass Adams, Great Britain and the American Civil War, 2 vols. (New York, 1925), 2: 43–44, 54–55.

10. Howard Jones, Union in Peril: The Crisis over British Intervention in the Civil War (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1992), 210–23. See also Frank Merli and Theodore A. Wilson, “The British Cabinet and the Confederacy: Autumn 1862,” Maryland Historical Magazine 65 (1970): 239–62.

11. New York Times, January 29, 1863. See also New York Tribune, January 9, 14, 22, 1863.

12. Seward quoted in The Diary of George Templeton Strong, vol. 3: The Civil War 1860–1865, Allan Nevins and Milton Halsey Thomas, eds. (New York, 1952), 293, entry of February 1, 1863. This affair is analyzed at length in Lynn M. Case and Warren F. Spencer, The United States and France: Civil War Diplomacy (Philadelphia, 1970), 384–97; and in Daniel B. Carroll, Henri Mercier and the American Civil War (Princeton, N.J., 1971), 251–69.

13. Roy C. Basler, ed., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, 9 vols. (New Brunswick, N.J., 1952–55), 7: 53–56.

14. New York Times, May 9, 1864; New York Herald, May 14, 1864; New York Tribune, May 14, 1864.

15. New York Tribune, May 31, 1864.

16. New York World, July 12, 30, August 6, 1864.

17. Basler, Collected Works of Lincoln, 7: 448–49; New York World, July 19, 1864.

18. Diary of Gideon Welles, 3 vols., Howard K. Beale, ed. (New York, 1960), 2: 44, 73, entries of June 2 and July 11, 1864; Adam Gurowski, Diary, 3 vols. (Boston, 1862–66), 3: 254, entry of August 19, 1864.

19. Diary of George Templeton Strong, 474, entry of August 19, 1864; Sarah Butler to Benjamin Butler, June 19, 1864, in Private and Official Correspondence of General Benjamin F. Butler during the Period of the Civil War, 5 vols., Jesse A. Marshall, ed. (Norwood, Mass., 1917), 4:418.

20. Columbus Crisis, August 24, 1864, quoted in Wood Gray, The Hidden Civil War: The Story of the Copperheads (New York, 1942), 174; Boston Pilot, quoted in Thomas H. O'Connor, Civil War Boston: Home Front and Battlefield (Boston, 1997), 202.

21.Clement C. Clay to Judah P. Benjamin, August 11, 1864, in War of the Rebellion ... Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, 128 vols. (Washington, D.C., 1880–1901), Series IV, vol. 3, p. 585 (hereafter, OR). For the activities of Confederate agents in Canada, see Oscar A. Kinchen, Confederate Operations in Canada and the North (North Quincy, Mass., 1970), esp. 35–103.

22. Richmond Dispatch, July 23, 1864; Diary of George Templeton Strong, 470, entry of August 6, 1864; Weed to Seward, August 22, 1864, in Abraham Lincoln Papers (Robert Todd Lincoln Collection), Library of Congress.

23. Greeley to Lincoln, July 7, 1864, Lincoln Papers.

24. Lincoln to Greeley, July 9, 1864, in Basler, Collected Works of Lincoln, 7:435.

25. Basler, Collected Works of Lincoln, 7: 440–42, 451; Michael Burlingame and John R. Turner Ettlinger, eds., Inside Lincoln’s White House: The Complete Civil War Diary of John Hay, (Carbondale, Ill., 1997), 224–29, two memoranda written by Hay circa July 21 and after July 22, 1864; John G. Nicolay and John Hay, Abraham Lincoln: A History, 10 vols. (New York, 1890), 9: 184–92.

26. Clement C. Clay and James Holcombe to Greeley, July 21, 1864, in New York Times, July 22. This letter was published in many Northern newspapers on July 22 or 23 and appeared in Southern newspapers soon after, with extensive editorial commentary. In a letter to Jefferson Davis on July 25, Clay and Holcombe explained that their purpose in this affair had been to “throw upon the Federal Government the odium of putting an end to all negotiations.” Clement C. Clay Papers, Perkins Library, Duke University, Durham, N.C., quoted in Larry E. Nelson, Bullets, Ballots, and Rhetoric: Confederate Policy for the United States Presidential Contest of 1864 (University, Ala., 1980), 67.

27. New York Times, July 23, 1864; Clay to Benjamin, August 11, 1864, in OR, Series IV, vol. 3, pp. 585–86.

28. Independent, July 26, 1864; New York Tribune, August 5, 1864.

29. Greeley to Lincoln, August 9, 1864, Lincoln Papers; New York Times, July 25, 1864.

30. No official record of this meeting was kept. This account and the quotation are taken from Gilmore’s article in the Atlantic Monthly 8 (September 1864): 372–83. Gilmore wrote a briefer version describing the meeting for the Boston Transcript of July 22, 1864, and a longer one in his memoirs many years later. These versions vary slightly in detail but agree in substance, as does Judah Benjamin’s account in a circular sent to Confederate envoys abroad after Gilmore’s article was published in the Atlantic. Benjamin to James M. Mason, August 25, 1864, in Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion, 30 vols. (Washington, D.C., 1894–1922), Series II, vol. 3, pp. 1190–94.

31. James R. Gilmore, “A Suppressed Chapter of History,” Atlantic Monthly 59 (April 1887): 435–36; Gilmore, Personal Recollections of Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War (Boston, 1898), 289.

32. New York Times, August 20, 1864.

33. Semi-Weekly Richmond Enquirer, August 26, 30, 1864.

34. New York World, August 15, 1864.

35. Columbus Crisis, August 3, 1864; New York News, quoted in Washington Daily Intelligencer, July 25, 1864.

36. New York World, July 25, 1864; New York Herald, August 7, 1864.

37. Newark Daily Advertiser and Ann Arbor Journal, quoted in Washington Daily Intelligencer, August 8, 1864.

38. New York Tribune, July 28, 1864; Diary of George Templeton Strong, 474, entry of August 19, 1864.

39. New York Times, August 18, 24, 1864.

40. Lincoln to Charles D. Robinson, dated August 17, 1864, in Basler, Collected Works of Lincoln, 7: 499–501.

41. Basler, Collected Works of Lincoln, 7: 500, 506–07.

42. William Frank Zornow, Lincoln and the Party Divided (Norman, Okla., 1954), 112; Basler, Collected Works of Lincoln, 7: 514.

43. Raymond to Lincoln, August 22, 1864, Lincoln Papers.

44. Basler, Collected Works of Lincoln, 7: 517; Nicolay and Hay, Abraham Lincoln, 9: 220.

45. Nicolay to Hay, August 25, 1864, Nicolay to Theresa Bates, August 28, 1864, in With Lincoln in the White House: Letters, Memoranda, and Other Writings of John G. Nicolay, 1860–1865, ed. Michael Burlingame (Carbondale, Ill., 2000), 152–53.

46. On this matter, see Burlingame, ed., Inside Lincoln’s White House, 238, Hay's diary entry of October 11, 1864; and Charles A. Dana to Henry J. Raymond, date not specified, in Francis Brown, Raymond of the Times (New York, 1951), 260n.

47. For the platform, see Edward McPherson, The Political History of the United States during the Great Rebellion, 2d ed. (Washington, D.C., 1865), 406–07.

48. E. McPherson, Political History of the United States, 419–20.

49. Harper’s Weekly 8 (August 30, 1864): 530; New York Times, August 17, 1864; New York Tribune, September 2, 1864.

50. McClellan struggled to strike a balance between the platform and his own commitment to reunion as a prerequisite for negotiations. For an analysis of the successive drafts of McClellan’s acceptance letter, see Charles R. Wilson, “McClellan’s Changing View on the Peace Plank of 1864,” AHR 38 (1933): 498–505. Drafts of McClellan’s letter are in the McClellan Papers, Library of Congress, and in the Samuel L. M. Barlow Papers, Huntington Library, San Marino, Calif.

51. Sherman to Henry W. Halleck, September 3, 1864, in OR, Series I, vol. 38, part 5, p. 777; Diary of George Templeton Strong, 480–81, entry of September 3, 1864.

52. Richmond Examiner, September 5, 1864; New York Times, September 19, 1864, published the sermon.

53. Delos Lake to his mother, July 12, November 1, 1864, Lake Papers, Huntington Library; John Berry to Samuel L. M. Barlow, August 24, 1864, Barlow Papers.

54. Basler, Collected Works of Lincoln, 8:149, 151.

55. Sarah Woolfolk Wiggins, ed., The Journals of Josiah Gorgas, 1857–1878, (Tuscaloosa, Ala., 1995), 147–49, entries of January 6, 18, 1865.

56. Richmond Enquirer, January 19, 1865; Richmond Sentinel, rpt. in New York Herald, January 24, 1865; New York Herald, January 25, 1865; New York World, January 23, 1865; John B. Jones, A Rebel War Clerk’s Diary, ed. Earl Schenck Miers (New York, 1958), 489–90, entry of January 30, 1865.

57. Basler, Collected Works of Lincoln, 8:275.

58. Basler, Collected Works of Lincoln, 8:275–76. Italics added.

59. William J. Cooper Jr., Jefferson Davis, American (New York, 2000), 510–11.

60. Grant to Edwin M. Stanton, February 2, 1865, in Basler, Collected Works of Lincoln, 8: 282.

61. “Memorandum of the Conversation at the Conference in Hampton Roads,“ in John A. Campbell, Reminiscences and Documents Relating to the Civil War during the Year 1865 (Baltimore, 1877), 11–17; Seward to Charles Francis Adams, February 7, 1865, in OR, Series I, vol. 46, part 2, pp. 471–73; Alexander H. Stephens, A Constitutional View of the Late War between the States, 2 vols. (Philadelphia, 1870), 2: 598–619. The best study of the Hampton Roads Conference is William C. Harris, “The Hampton Roads Peace Conference: A Final Test of Lincoln’s Presidential Leadership,” Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association 21 (2000): 31–61.

62. Basler, Collected Works of Lincoln, 8: 279.

63. Stephens, Constitutional View, 2: 613.

64. In his account, Stephens maintained that Lincoln had urged him to go home to Georgia and persuade the legislature to take the state out of the war and to ratify the Thirteenth Amendment prospectively, to take effect in five years. This claim cannot be accepted; Lincoln was too good a lawyer to suggest any such absurdity as a “prospective” ratification of a constitutional amendment. The president had just played a leading part in getting Congress to pass the Thirteenth Amendment, and he was using his influence to get every Republican state legislature as well as those of Maryland, Missouri, and Tennessee to ratify it. Stephens, Constitutional View, 2: 611–12. See also Harris, “Hampton Roads Peace Conference,” 51.

65. Richmond Examiner, February 6, 1865; Dunbar Rowland, ed., Jefferson Davis, Constitutionalist: His Letters, Papers, and Speeches, 10 vols. (Jackson, Miss., 1923), 6: 465–67.

66. Jones, War Clerk’s Diary, 493, entry of February 6, 1865; Richmond Dispatch, February 7, 1865; Richmond Whig, February 6, 1865.

67. New York Tribune, February 7, 1865; New York Times, January 18, February 13, 1865. See also Harper’s Weekly 9 (February 4, 1865): 66: “The government does insist on an unconditional surrender. That was the exact issue before the people in the late election. There was to be no compromising, no compounding, no convention, no waving of olive boughs.”

68. Basler, Collected Works of Lincoln, 8:332–33.

69. Journals of Josiah Gorgas, 167, entry of May 4, 1865.