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Speech at a Serenade. Reply to a Presentation Address

CHAPTER XXIII.

TIGHTENING THE LINES.

Speech at a Serenade—Reply to a Presentation Address—Peace Rumors—Rebel Commissioners—Instructions to Secretary Seward—The Conference in Hampton Roads— Result—Extra Session of the Senate—Military Situation—Sherman—Charleston—Col. umbia—Wilmington—Fort Fisher—Sheridan—Grant—Rebel Congress—Second Inaug. uration—Inaugural—English Comment—Proclamation to Deserters.

As illustrative of the genial, pleasant manner of the President, take the following, in response to a serenade, December 6th, 1864:

“FRIENDS AND FELLOW-CITIZENS :—I believe I shall never be old enough to speak without embarrassment when I have nothing to talk about. I have no good news to tell you, and yet I have no bad news to tell. We have talked of elections until there is nothing more to say about them. The most interesting news we now have is from Sherman. We all know where he went in at, but I can't tell where he will come out at. I will now close by proposing three cheers for General Sherman and his army.”

On the 24th of January, 1865, having been made the recipient of a beautiful vase of skeleton leaves, gathered from the battle-field of Gettysburg, which had been subscribed for at the great Sanitary Fair, held in Philadelphia during the previous summer, in reply to the warmly sympathetic and appreciative address of the Chairman of the Committee entrusted with the presentation, he said:

“REVEREND SIR, AND LADIES AND GENTLEMEN:—I accept, with emotions of profoundest gratitude, the beautiful gift you have been pleased to present to me. You will, of course,

Reply to a Presentation Address. Women of America. Peace Rumors,

expect that I acknowledge it. So much has been said about Gettysburg, and so well said, that for me to attempt to say more may, perhaps, only serve to weaken the force of that which has already been said.

“A most graceful and eloquent tribute was paid to the patriotism and self-denying labors of the American ladies, on the occasion of the consecration of the National Cemetery at Gettysburg, by our illustrious friend, Edward Everett, now, alas ! departed from earth. His life was a truly great one, and, I think, the greatest part of it was that which crowned its closing years.

“I wish you to read, if you have not already done so, the glowing, and eloquent, and truthful words which he then spoke of the women of America. Truly the services they have rendered to the defenders of our country in this perilous time, and are yet rendering, can never be estimated as they ought to be. *

“For your kind wishes to me, personally, I beg leave to render you, likewise, my sincerest thanks. I assure you they are reciprocated. And now, gentlemen and ladies, may God bless you all.”

With the opening of the new year, the air—as often before —was filled with rumors that the insurgents were anxious to negotiate for peace.

Some there were, even among Mr. Lincoln's friends and supporters, who were apprehensive that his “To whom it may concern” announcement of the previous year, was somewhat too curt and blunt. Without claiming to have as good an opportunity as the President for judging in the premises, they could not yet divest themselves of the idea that something definite and tangible might result from an interview with representatives from rebeldom ; if nothing more, at least a distinct understanding that no peace could be attained, without separation, unless it were conquered.

Rebel Commissioners. Secretary Seward’s Instructions

Thoroughly familiar with the designs and purposes of the leading rebels as Mr. Lincoln was, and well aware that any such attempt must prove futile, he was nevertheless determined that no valid ground for censure should be afforded by himself, in case a favorable opening presented itself.

Accordingly, when he learned—as he did during the last week of January, from his friend, Francis P. Blair, who had visited Richmond, with the President's permission—that the managers there were desirous of sending certain persons as commissioners to learn from the United States Government upon what terms an adjustment of difficulties could be made, and that A. H. Stephens, of Georgia, R. M. T. Hunter, of Virginia, and J. A. Campbell, of Alabama, had been sent through the enemy's lines by Davis for the purpose of a conference upon the subject, Mr. Lincoln, not choosing that the commissioners should visit Washington, entrusted the matter to Secretary Seward, furnishing him with the following letter of instructions, dated Executive Mansion, Washington, January 31st, 1865:

“HoN. WILLIAM H. SEwARD, Secretary of State:—You will proceed to Fortress Monroe, Virginia, there to meet and informally confer with Messrs. Stephens, Hunter, and Campbell, on the basis of my letter to F. P. Blair, Esq., of January 18, 1865, a copy of which you have. “You will make known to them that three things are indispensable, to wit: “1. The restoration of national authority throughout all the States. “2. No receding by the Executive of the United States, on the slavery question, from the position assumed thereon in the late annual message to Congress, and in preceding documents. “3. No cessation of hostilities short of an end of the war and the disbanding of all forces hostile to the Government.

Secretary Seward's Instructions. Conference in Hampton Roads. Conference Informal

“You will inform them that all propositions of theirs not inconsistent with the above, will be considered and passed upon in a spirit of sincere liberality. “You will hear all they may choose to say, and report it to Ine. “You will not assume to definitely consummate any thing “Yours truly, A. LINCOLN.”

On the 2d of February, the President himself left for the point designated, and on the morning of the 3d, attended by Mr. Seward, received Messrs. Stephens, Hunter, and Campbell, on board a United States steamer anchored in Hampton Roads. The conference that ensued was altogether informal. There was no attendance of Secretaries, clerks, or witnesses. Nothing was written or read. The conversation, although earnest and free, was calm and courteous and kind, on both sides. The Richmond party approached the discussion rather indirectly, and at no time did they make categorical demands or tender formal stipulations or absolute refusals; nevertheless, during the conference, which lasted four hours, the several points at issue between the Government and the insurgents were distinctly raised and discussed fully, intelligently, and in an amicable spirit. What the insurgent party seemed chiefly to favor was a postponement of the question of separation, upon which the war was waged, and a mutual direction of the efforts of the Government as well as those of the insurgents, to some extraneous policy or scheme for a season, during which passions might be expected to subside, and the armies be reduced, and trade and intercourse between the people of both sections be resumed. It was suggested by them that through such postponement we might have immediate peace, with some, not very certain, prospect of an ultimate satisfactory adjustment of politica. relations between the Government and the States, section or

Canference in Hampton Roads. The Anti-Slavery Policy. Result.

people engaged in conflict with it. The suggestion, though deliberately considered, was nevertheless regarded by the President as one of armistice or truce, and he announced that we could agree to no cessation or suspension of hostilities except on the basis of the disbandonment of the insurgent forces, and the restoration of the national authority throughout all the States in the Union collaterally, and in subordination to the proposition which was thus announced. The anti-slavery policy of the United States was reviewed in all its bearings, and the President announced that he must not be expected to depart from the positions he had heretofore assumed in his proclamation of emancipation and other documents, as these positions were reiterated in his annual message. It was further declared by the President that the complete restoration of the national authority everywhere was an indispensable condition of any assent on our part to whatever form of peace might be proposed. The President assured the other party that while he must adhere to these positions he would be prepared, so far as power was lodged with the Executive, to exercise liberality. Its power, however, is limited by the Constitution, and when peace should be made Congress must necessarily act in regard to appropriations of money and to the admission of representatives from the insurrectionary States. The Richmond party were then informed that Congress had, on the 31st of January, adopted, by a constitutional majority, a joint resolution submitting to the several States the proposition to abolish slavery throughout the Union, and that there was every reason to expect that it would soon be accepted by three-fourths of the States, so as to become a part of the national organic law. The conference came to an end by mutual acquiescence, without producing an agreement of views upon the several matters discussed, or any of them.

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