Supposed Peace Talks Collapse

July 18, 1864

President Lincoln calls for 500,000 volunteers. Historian David Long writes in The Jewel of Liberty: “Since the draft would come on the eve of the all-important state elections in Ohio, Indiana, and Pennsylvania, it was the greatest blow yet against the prospects of Union victory. Many Republicans feared electoral defeat because the administration had said that earlier draft calls would be the last.”   President Lincoln declared:

Whereas, by the act approved July 4, 1864, entitled ‘an act further to regulate and provide for the enrolling and calling out the National forces and for other purposes,’ it is provided that the President of the United States may, ‘at his discretion, at any time hereafter, call for any number of men as volunteers, for the respective terms of one, two and three years for military service,’ and ‘that in case the quota of [or] any part thereof, of any town, township, ward of a city, precinct, or election district, or of a county not so subdivided, shall not be filled within the space of fifty days after such call, then the President shall immediately order a draft for one year to fill such quota or any part thereof which may be unfilled.’

And whereas, the new enrolment, hertofore ordered, is so far completed as that the aforementioned act of Congress may now be put in operation for recruiting and keeping up the strength of the armies in the field for garrison, and such military operations as be required for the purpose of suppressing the rebellion, and restoring the authority of the United States Government in the insurgent States:

Now, therefore, I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, do issue this my call for five hundred thousand volunteers for the military service, Provided, nevertheless, that this call shall be reduced by all credits which may be established under section 8 of the aforesaid act on account of persons who have entered the naval service during the present rebellion, and by credits for men furnished to the military service in excess of calls heretofore made. Volunteers will be accepted under this call for one, two or three years, as they may elect, and will be entitled to the bounty provided by the law, for the period of service for which they enlist.

And I hereby proclaim, order and direct, that immediately after the fifthday of September, 1864, being fifty days from the date of this call, a draft for troops to serve for one year shall be had in every town, township, war of a city, precinct or election district or county not so subdivided to fill the quota which shall be assigned to it under this call, or any part thereof, which may be unfilled, by volunteers on the said fifty day of September 1864.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this eighteenth day of July,

in the year of Our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty four, and of the Independence of the United States the eighty-ninth.

Smelling a rat, President Lincoln insists that New York Tribune editor Greeley take the lead in the negotiations so Greeley had gone to Niagara Falls. President Lincoln writes the supposed Confederate peace commissioners: “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 against 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; and the bearer, or bearers thereof shall have safe-conduct both ways.” The Confederates reject the message which is delivered by Greeley, accompanied by John Hay.

Greeley writes President Lincoln: “I have communicated with the Gentlemen in question & do not find them so empowered as I was previously assured they say that—

We are however in the confidential employment of our Government & entirely familiar with its wishes & opinions on that subject & we feel authorized to declare if the circumstances disclosed in this correspondence were communicated to Richmond we would at once be invested with the authority to which your letter refers or other Gentlemen clothed with full power would immediately be sent to Washington with the view of hastening a consumation so much to be desired & terminating at the earliest possible moment the calamities of war We respectfully solicit through your intervention a safe conduct to Washington & thence by any route which may be designated to Richmond—

President Lincoln understood the supposed peace effort to be a political canard designed to influence the presidential election, not a serious effort at negotiation. Historian William Hanchett wrote in The Lincoln Murder Conspiracies: “With carefully contrived indignation, the Confederate commissioners announced publicly that they had been betrayed by Lincoln. His first communication promising safe conduct passes had included no conditions for negotiations. His second note, rudely addressed ‘To Whom It May Concern’ rather than to the individuals concerned, had destroyed any possibility of peace by stating the conditions of negotiation in advance. The president, they said, was simply pursuing his old and discredited policy of trying to force the South to submit unconditionally to the United States. The people of the Confederate States sincerely wanted peace, the commissioners stated, but few of them would ‘purchase it at the expense of liberty, honor, and self-respect.’ Lincoln was demanding that the people of the southern states give up their constitutions and ‘barter away their priceless heritage of self-government.’

Lincoln biographer Ida M. Tarbell wrote: “After the episode had been dropped from public consideration, Senator Harlan of Iowa is reported to have said to Lincoln: ‘Some of us think, Mr. Lincoln, that you didn’t send a very good ambassador to Niagara.’ ‘Well, I’ll tell you about that, Harlan,’ replied the President. ‘Greeley kept abusing me for not entering into peace negotiations. He said he believed we could have peace if I would do my part and when he began to urge that I send an ambassador to Niagara to meet Confederate emissaries, I just thought I would let him go up and crack that nut for himself.’ Reviewing the record, we cannot escape the conviction that Lincoln’s chief object was to give the troublesome editor an opportunity to make a fool of himself. If that be the fact, it is comforting evidence, despite the myths surrounding his memory, that Lincoln was not infallible.”

President Lincoln writes General William T. Sherman in Georgia: “I have seen your despatches objecting to agents of Northern States opening recruiting stations near your camps. An act of congress authorizes this, giving the appointment of agents to the States, and not to this Executive government. It is not for the War Department, or myself, to restrain, or modify the law, in it’s execution, further than actual necessity may require. To be candid, I was for the passage of the law, not apprehending at the time that it would produce such inconvenience to the armies in the field, as you now cause me to fear. Many of the States were very anxious for it, and I hoped that, with their State bounties, and active exertions, they would get out substantial additions to our colored forces, which, unlike white recruits, help us where they come from, as well as where they go to. I still hope advantage from the law; and being a law, it must be treated as such by all of us. We here, will do what we consistently can to save you from difficulties arising out of it. May I ask therefore that you give your hearty co-operation?”

Published in: on July 18, 2014 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

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