Andrew Johnson: A Study in Courage

By Lloyd Paul Stryker | Go to book overview

XVIII
THE CONFERENCE AT HAMPTON ROADS

LINCOLN did not need Greeley's abortive peace efforts to convince him that in 1864 the time for peace had not arrived. "It seems to me," he wrote in December of that year, "that no attempt at negotiation with the insurgent leader could result in any good. He would accept nothing short of severance of the Union, precisely what we will not and cannot give. . . . He cannot voluntarily reaccept the Union; we cannot voluntarily yield it."1

Nevertheless at Hampton Roads on February 3rd of the following year, Lincoln and Seward met three Commissioners of the Confederacy to explore the possibilities of peace. Their conference was one of the dramatic episodes of the war. The Confederate Commissioners were Alexander H. Stephens, R. T. M. Hunter and Judge Campbell. For four hours Lincoln and his Secretary of State conferred with the Vice-President of the Confederacy and his two associates on board the River Queen. "Mr. President, is there no way of putting down an end to the present trouble?" Stephens asked. "There is but one way," Lincoln answered, "and that is for those who are resisting the laws of the Union to cease that resistance. . . . The restoration of the Union is a sine qua non with me."2 Judge Campbell inquired on what terms the Southerners could have peace. "By disbanding their armies and permitting the national authorities to resume their functions," Lincoln answered.3

In the discussion of slavery Lincoln declared that "he never would change or modify the terms of the proclamation in the slightest particular," and Seward called attention to the thirteenth amendment abolishing slavery just passed by Congress and awaiting action by the states.4

Would the Southern states if they abandoned war "be admit

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