Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

The Peace That Almost Was: The Forgotten Story of the 1861 Washington Peace Conference and the Final Attempt to Avert the Civil War

Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

The Peace That Almost Was: The Forgotten Story of the 1861 Washington Peace Conference and the Final Attempt to Avert the Civil War

Article excerpt

The Peace That Almost Was: The Forgotten Story of the 1861 Washington Peace Conference and the Final Attempt to Avert the Civil War. By Mark Tooley (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, 2015, Pp. xvi, 299. $26.99.)

Methodist historian Mark Tooley has written a fascinating account of an event that is little known today, a last ditch effort to avert a civil war through the efforts of a conference held in Washington, DC in February 1861. We know, of course, that such an effort proved futile, but a study of this now obscure conference yields new insights into the events surrounding the beginning of the war and the mood of the country at the time.

With the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860, the state of South Carolina, as it had promised, seceded from the Union. Six other southern states followed suit. These state governments began to seize federal property within their borders. The nation was on the brink of war, but in such an unprecedented situation no one knew what would happen, particularly once Lincoln was inaugurated in March 1861. The last-minute attempt to work out some sort of political compromise, i.e. the Peace Conference, was the brainchild of former president John Tyler. Tyler was from Virginia, a state which had not yet seceded but was considering it. The invitation to the conference came from Virginia and delegates were appointed by their own state governments. None of the seceded states attended, not did three northern states, but twenty-one states (fourteen free and seven slave) did send delegates, a number of whom had served in Congress. So while many of the delegates were current or former government officials, and the Conference had the lukewarm blessing of lame-duck president James Buchanan, it was not a government-sanctioned body and had no authority to do anything. Any proposals would have to go through Congress. Not surprisingly, the conference foundered on the issue of slavery. In response to those who claim that the Civil War was caused by issues other than slavery, i.e. industrialization or tariffs, Tooley convincingly demonstrates that the nation's split was about slavery and only slavery. No proposals about any other issue were discussed. The positions of north and south were so set by this time that compromise was impossible. …

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