The Hampton Roads Peace Conference During the War Between the States

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Most establishment
historians today might as well be the Orwellian historians writing
for the Ministry of Truth in George Orwell's novel 1984,
especially in relation to the War Between the States. They rarely,
if ever, mention the Hampton Roads Peace Conference which occurred
in February of 1865, because it brings into question most of the
mythology promoted today which states that Lincoln and the North
fought the war for the purpose of abolishing slavery and the South
fought for the purpose of protecting it, and therefore, it was a
great and noble war.

The story
of the peace conference is related by a participant who was vice-president
of the Confederacy, Alexander H. Stephens, in volume two of his
work entitled A
Constitutional View of the War Between the States: Its Causes, Character,
Conduct and Results
, at pages 589 through 625.

The story
begins in early January of 1865 which was before Sherman left Savannah
on his march through the Carolinas. Mr. Francis P. Blair, Sr., instigated
the conference by obtaining President Lincoln's permission to contact
Confederate President, Jefferson Davis, concerning a possible temporary
halt in the war. Mr. Blair was closely connected to the Lincoln
administration and he was concerned about the efforts on the part
of the French to establish a military presence in Mexico in order
to help them reconquer the territory that had been lost in the war
with America. Mr. Blair made his proposal to President Jefferson
Davis that a secret military conference take place and that all
hostility cease between the North and South for the purpose of letting
the American army enforce the Monroe Doctrine by directing all of
its efforts to evicting the French from Mexico, thereby stopping
any assault by the Mexicans on the southwest corner of America.
President Lincoln gave his permission to Mr. Blair to talk with
Jefferson Davis but indicated to him that he did not endorse Mr.
Blair's ideas; however, he would not stand in the way of some military
conference to discuss peace terms and to stop hostilities while
the conference was in session. Jefferson Davis listened to Mr. Blair's
proposal, met with his cabinet and it was decided that three delegates
were to be appointed to meet with President Lincoln and his Secretary
of State, William Seward. The three Confederate delegates were Mr.
Stephens, John Campbell, a former U.S. Supreme Court Justice from
Alabama, and a Mr. R. M. T. Hunter, a member of the Confederate
Senate. The Confederate delegates were given safe passage through
Northern lines and met directly with General Grant, who put them
on a boat to go to Fortress Monroe. When they reached Fortress Monroe
near Hampton Roads, Virginia, they were then escorted to another
steamer where President Lincoln and Mr. Seward were to meet with
them. The actual meeting occurred on February 3, 1865.

Mr. Seward
indicated that this was to be an informal conference with no writing
or record to be made, all was to be verbal, and the Confederates
agreed. President Lincoln announced in the beginning that the trip
of Mr. Blair was approved by him but that he did not endorse the
idea to halt the hostilities for the purpose of the American army
going to Mexico to enforce the Monroe Doctrine; however, he had
no objection to discussing a peace offer at this time. President
Lincoln stated that he had always been willing to discuss a peace
offer as long as the first condition was met and that would be for
the Confederacy to pledge to rejoin the Union. If that condition
was agreed upon then they could discuss any other details that were
necessary. Mr. Stephens responded by suggesting that if they could
come up with some proposal to stop the hostilities, which might
lead to the restoration of the Union without further bloodshed,
would it not be advisable to act on that proposal, even without
an absolute pledge of ultimate restoration being required at the
beginning? President Lincoln replied firmly that there would be
no stopping of the military operations unless there was a pledge
first by the Confederacy to rejoin the Union immediately.

Judge Campbell
then asked what would be the terms offered to the South if they
were to pledge to rejoin the Union and how would they be taken back
into the Union. Since there was no immediate response by either
President Lincoln or Mr. Seward, Vice-President Stephens stated
that it would be worthwhile to pursue stopping the hostilities to
have a cooling off period so that the peace terms might be investigated
without the passions of the war. Mr. Stephens indicated that should
the hostilities stop for some extended period of time, he felt that
there would be a good chance that many of the states would rejoin
the Union on the same terms as they had when they joined in the
beginning, but that the sovereignty of the states would have to
be recognized upon rejoining the Union. Mr. Seward objected that
a system of government founded upon the right of secession would
not last and that self-preservation of the Union was a first law
of nature which applies to nations as well as to individuals. He
brought up the point that if all the states were free to secede,
they might make a treaty with some foreign nation and thus expose
the Union to foreign aggression. Mr. Stephens responded that the
principle of self-preservation also applied to every state by itself
and it would never be in the interest of any single state or several
states to join with some foreign power against those states which
remained in the Union.

Mr. Hunter
then brought up the question of whether President Lincoln would
require the Confederate army to join with the Union army to go to
war in Mexico and stated before Lincoln answered that it was the
view of all three commissioners that the Confederates would never
agree to join with the Union army in an invasion of Mexico. Both
President Lincoln and Mr. Seward responded that the feeling was
so strong in the North to enforce the Monroe Doctrine, that they
felt that the South would not be needed in the invasion.

The subject
of slavery then came up and Mr. Stephens asked President Lincoln
what would be the status of the slave population in the Confederate
states, and especially what effect the Emancipation Proclamation
would have if the Confederates rejoined the Union. President Lincoln
responded that the Proclamation was only a war measure and as soon
as the war ceased, it would have no operation for the future. It
was his opinion that the Courts would decide that the slaves who
were emancipated under the Proclamation would remain free but those
who were not emancipated during the war would remain in slavery.
Mr. Seward pointed out that only about two hundred thousand (200,000)
slaves had come under the operation of the Proclamation and this
would be a small number out of the total. Mr. Seward then brought
up the point that several days before the meeting, there had been
a proposed 13th constitutional amendment to cause the
immediate abolition of slavery throughout the United States, but
if the war were to cease and the Confederates rejoined the Union,
they would have enough votes to kill the amendment. He stated that
there would be thirty-six (36) states and ten (10) could defeat
the amendment. The reader should be reminded at this point that
President Lincoln, in his Inaugural Address before the war, gave
his support to the first 13th amendment pending at that
time which would have explicitly protected slavery where
it already existed.

Mr. Stephens
then inquired as to what would be status of the states in regard
to their representation in Congress and President Lincoln replied
that they would have their full rights restored under the Constitution.
This would mean that there would be no punishment or reconstruction
imposed. President Lincoln then returned to the slavery question
and stated that it was never his intention to interfere with slavery
in the states where it already existed and he would not have done
so during the war, except that it became a military necessity. He
had always been in favor of prohibiting the extension of slavery
into the territories but never thought immediate emancipation in
the states where it already existed was practical. He thought there
would be "many evils attending" the immediate ending of
slavery in those states. Judge Campbell then asked Mr. Seward if
he thought there would be good race relations in the South upon
immediate emancipation and inquired about what would happen to the
freed slaves. President Lincoln responded by telling an anecdote
about an Illinois farmer and how he avoided any effort in finding
food for his hogs, and his method would apply to the freed slaves,
in other words "let'em root!" The Confederate delegation
showed no interest in protecting slavery in the Confederacy with
their only interest being independence from the Union and the protection
of the right to secede, which raised the subject of West Virginia.
Mr. Hunter asked President Lincoln whether West Virginia, which
had seceded from the State of Virginia, would be allowed to remain
a separate state and President Lincoln stated that it would. Lincoln
had once been a strong proponent of secession, and as a first-term
congressman from Illinois, he spoke in a session of the House of
Representatives in 1848 and argued that:

"Any
people anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the
right to rise up and shake off the existing government and form
a new one that suits them better. This is a most valuable and
most sacred right, a right which we hope and believe is to liberate
the world." (emphasis supplied).

Lincoln recognized
the right of West Virginia to secede but refused to recognize the
right of the South to secede. Mr. Hunter indicated that President
Lincoln's proposal amounted to an unconditional surrender but Mr.
Seward responded that the North would not be conquerors but rather
the states would merely have to recognize national authority and
the execution of the national laws. The South would regain full
protection of the Constitution like the rest of the states.

President
Lincoln returned to the question of slavery stating that he thought
the North would be willing to be taxed to compensate the Southern
people for the loss of their slaves. He said that he had many conversations
to the effect that if there was a voluntary abolition of slavery
the American government would pay a fair indemnity and specified
that four hundred million dollars ($400,000,000) would probably
be appropriated for this purpose. Mr. Seward said that the Northern
people were weary of the war and they would be willing to pay this
amount of indemnity rather than continuing to pay for the war.

Mr. Stephens
wrote that the entire conversation took about four hours and the
last subject was the possible exchange of prisoners. President Lincoln
stated he would put that question in the hands of General Grant
and they could discuss it with Grant as they left. Finally, Mr.
Stephens asked President Lincoln to reconsider stopping the hostilities
for a period of time so that the respective sides could "cool
off," and while cooling off, investigate further possibilities
for ending the war other than by simply having the South pledge
to rejoin the Union. President Lincoln stated he would reconsider
it but he did not think his mind would change on that point. Thus,
ended the Peace Conference and the Confederates returned to meet
with General Grant and were escorted back to the Confederate lines.

In summary,
the South wanted independence, not the protection of slavery, and
the North wanted reunion rather than abolition of slavery. This
is what President Lincoln had stated in the very beginning before
the war and again what he had stated near the end of the war.

It was
generally recognized in both the North and the South by 1865 that
slavery was a dying institution, not just in America, but throughout
Western Civilization. It was also obvious to both the North and
the South that slavery would be hard to maintain in a separate Confederate
South without the constitutional and statutory fugitive slave provisions
which had required free states to return escaped slaves. In fact,
many abolitionists had advocated Northern secession before the war
as a means to end slavery by depriving the Southern states of the
benefits of the fugitive slave clause in the Constitution and the
laws relating thereto. The offer of the North to pay for the freed
slaves was merely an added inducement to rejoin the Union but Lincoln
had always been willing to accept slavery where it already existed
if the South would remain in, or later, rejoin the Union. The right
of a state to secede clearly had been accepted in the North and
the South at the time of the formation of the Union and up until
the time of the War Between the States. For example, the New England
states frequently asserted the right of secession and threatened
to use it on five occasions: in 1803 because of President Jefferson's
Louisiana Purchase; in 1807 over the Embargo Act; in 1812 over the
admission of Louisiana as a state; in 1814 at the Hartford Convention
because of the War of 1812; and finally, in 1845 over the annexation
of Texas.

If the
agricultural South rejoined the industrial North, they would again
be subject to economic exploitation of the protective tariff, which
was paid primarily by the South and was by far the main tax to operate
the central government in Washington, D.C. The North, due to their
increased representation in Congress, was able to control where
the money was spent, which was primarily for internal improvements
in the North, a practice the South considered unconstitutional.
The protective tariff and internal improvements had been two of
the key problems between the two sections since 1828, along with
the general disagreement about the size and power of the central
government in Washington.

Finally,
in order to bring into clear focus the significance of the Hampton
Roads Conference, it should be recalled that on April 4, 1861, before
the start of the war on April 12, the Secession Convention in Virginia,
which had convened in February of 1861, sent a delegate to visit
President Lincoln in the White House to discuss the results of the
action recently taken in Virginia. When the State of Virginia originally
voted on its ratification ordinance approving the U.S. Constitution,
it contained a specific clause protecting their right to secede
in the future. The delegate was Colonel John B. Baldwin, who was
a strong opponent of secession by Virginia, although he recognized
the right. His message communicated privately to the president on
April 4, was that the convention had voted not to secede if President
Lincoln would issue a written pledge to refrain from the use of
force in order to get the seceded states back into the Union. President
Lincoln told Colonel Baldwin that it was four days too late now
to take that action. Unknown to all except a few insiders of the
administration, meaning that members of the Congress did not know,
the president had already issued secret orders on April 1, to send
a fleet of ships to Fort Sumter in order to provoke the South into
firing the first shot in order to start the war. (For more details
see my chapter "Lincoln and the First Shot: A Study of Deceit
and Deception" in the book Reassessing the Presidency.)
Lincoln stated that he could not wait until the seceded states decided
what to do and added:

"But
what am I to do in the meantime with those men at Montgomery?
Am I to let them go on?"

Baldwin replied:

"Yes
sir, until they can be peaceably brought back."

Lincoln then
replied:

"And
open Charleston, etc., as ports of entry, with their ten percent
tariff . . ." (as opposed to the much higher forty percent
Federal tariff). "What then would become of my tariff?"
(For more details on this meeting and a subsequent meeting with
President Lincoln by other delegates of the Virginia Secession
Convention, again see my chapter "Lincoln and the First Shot")

The original
Constitution, still in effect before the war, prohibited all "direct"
taxes on the people, i.e. income, estate, gift, etc., so almost
all the revenue to operate the Federal government in Washington
was derived from an "indirect" tax on imports. The South,
being agricultural, had to import almost all manufactured goods
from Europe (primarily England) or buy the products from the North.
The higher the tax on imports, the more protection the North got
to raise its prices for its manufactured goods and for this reason
a high import tax was called a "protective tariff." As
long as, the import tax was ten percent or less it was classified
as a "revenue tax" to which the South did not object.
In fact, the new Confederate Constitution adopted in March of 1861,
placed a maximum tax on imports of ten percent. However, when an
import tax or tariff exceeded ten percent, it became known as a
"protective tariff" for the protection of domestic (Northern)
industry. Shortly before the war, the Chicago Daily Times
was only one of many newspapers predicting a calamity for federal
revenue and business in the North if the South was allowed to secede
with its ten percent limit on import taxes which would attract trade,
especially from abroad, to the South rather than the North. In an
editorial it stated:

"In
one single blow our [Northern] foreign commerce must be reduced
to less than one-half what it now is. Our coastwise trade will
pass into other hands . . . We should lose our trade with the
South, with all of its immense profits. Our manufactories will
be in utter ruins. Let the South adopt the free-trade system,
or that of a tariff for revenue (ten percent or less), and these
results would likely follow."

In a debate
in England, two notable British citizens, Charles Dickens and John
Stuart Mill, took opposing views on the cause of the American War
Between the States with Mill stating that the purpose of the war
was the abolition of slavery and Dickens maintained that "The
Northern onslaught upon slavery was no more than a piece of specious
humbug designed to conceal its desire for economic control of the
Southern states."

The meeting
at Hampton Roads in 1865 and the meeting with Colonel Baldwin in
1861 both showed that President Lincoln's concern was preventing
the secession of the South in order to protect Northern manufacturers
and to retain the tax source for the Federal government. The abolition
of slavery was not the purpose of the war. In his Inaugural Address
he promised he would invade the South for the purpose of collecting
taxes and recovering the forts but he would support the first 13th
amendment which protected slavery in the states where it already
existed.

The War
Between the States was not a noble war to abolish slavery, but instead
was a war of conquest to require the Southern states to continue
paying the taxes which paid for the federal government and to change
the system of government given to us by our Founders and instead
replace it with a strong national government thereby removing most
of the political power from the states and the people. When the
famous British historian, Lord Acton, wrote to Robert E. Lee after
the war, in a letter dated November 4, 1866, he inquired about Lee's
assessment of the meaning of the war and the result that would follow.
Lord Acton's letter stated, in part, that:

"I saw
in State Rights the only availing check upon the absolutism of
the sovereign will, and secession filled me with hope, not as
the destruction but as the redemption of Democracy . . . . Therefore
I deemed that you were fighting the battles of our liberty, our
progress, and our civilization; and I mourn for the stake which
was lost at Richmond more deeply than I rejoice over that which
was saved at Waterloo."

Lee replied
in a letter dated December 15, 1866, and stated, in part, what the
result would be:

" .
. . [T]he consolidation of the states into one vast republic,
sure to be aggressive abroad and despotic at home,
will be the certain precursor of the ruin which has overwhelmed
all those that have preceded it." (emphasis supplied).

Never have
truer words ever been written or spoken.

Rarely
do any governments, or the politicians, intellectuals and news media
who support their wars, tell the truth about the real motives for
the wars. After all, the citizens must be convinced either that
their safety is being protected from an aggressor or that the war
serves some noble purpose, because it's the citizens who fight,
die and pay the taxes. The Orwellian historians have falsified the
true purposes or motives behind most of America's wars, and have
instead given us glorified accounts designed to mislead the public
in order to justify the sacrifices the people have made. All wars,
whether won or lost, tend to centralize and increase the power into
the national government, increase the debts and taxes and diminish
the civil liberties of the citizens. It is time we begin to see
through the myths and false propaganda about American wars so that
we can prevent future wars. Americans have a strong tendency to
accept as true the false wartime propaganda which now appears in
the history books and which is repeated by politicians and intellectuals
to the effect that all of America's wars have been just, necessary
and noble. This tendency of the Americans to accept this false propaganda
tends to prevent them from questioning the alleged reasons for current
wars. There is also a strong tendency by Americans to measure a
person's patriotism by how much that person supports an American
war rather than how much the person supports the concept of American
freedom and the ideas of our Founders, which includes a noninterventionist
foreign policy

It
is time that Americans learn the truth about the real reasons behind
our wars, and particularly, the War Between the States, because
of the price that we have paid in the long-term loss of liberty
in that war. The deaths of over 600,000 American young men in that
war is not exactly inconsequential. This high death total is more
than the total of all the deaths of American soldiers in all the
other wars America has fought. The Hampton Roads Peace Conference
is a necessary piece to the puzzle of learning that truth.

The
abolition of slavery by the 13th amendment was a great
step forward in the struggle for individual freedom and it eliminated
a horrible evil in America which had been practiced for centuries
throughout the world, but the passage of that amendment was not
the purpose of the war and slavery would certainly have died soon
without a war as it did elsewhere throughout Western Civilization
without wars. It is the War Between the States which was the first
great turning point in American history away from the system of
government and the individual freedom that our Founders provided
for us. We need a new "Reformation and Renaissance," but
this time, it needs to be about government, especially the American
government. We need a new "turning point" to go in the
right direction to recover the original ideas about individual freedom
advocated by our Founders before it is too late; or have we already
passed the point of no return?

January
10, 2006

John
V. Denson [send him
mail
] is the editor of two books, The
Costs of War
and Reassessing
the Presidency
. In the latter work, he has chapters especially
relevant for today, on how Lincoln and FDR lied us into war.

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