President Pushes Publication of Niagara Peace Proceedings

August 9, 1864

President Lincoln writes New York Tribune Horace Greeley regarding the aborted Niagara Falls peace negotiations in July: “Herewith is a full copy of the correspondence, and which I have had privately printed, but not made public. The parts of your letters which I wish suppressed, are only those which, as I think give too gloomy an aspect to our cause, and those which present the carrying of elections as a motive of action. I have, as you see, drawn a red pencil over the parts I wish suppressed.

As to the A.H. Stephens matter, so much pressed by you, I can only say that he sought to come to Washington in the name of the ‘Confederate States,’ in a vessel of ‘The Confederate States Navy,’ and with no pretence even, that he would bear any proposal for peace; but with language showing that his mission would be Military, and not civil, or diplomatic. Nor has he at any time since pretended that he had terms of peace, so far as I know, or believe. On the contrary, Jefferson Davis has, in the most formal manner, declared that Stephens had no terms of peace. I thought we could not afford to give this quasi acknowledgement of the independence of the Confederacy, in a case where there was not even an intimation of any thing for our good. Still, as the parts of your letters relating to Stephens contain nothing worse than a questioning of my action, I do not ask a suppression of those parts.”

Greeley writes Lincoln: “Your dispatch of Saturday only reached me on Sunday, when I immediately answered by letter [dated Monday, August 8]; yesterday I was out of town; and I have just received your dispatch of that date. . . . I will gladly come on to Washington whenever you apprise me that my doing so may perhaps be of use. `But I fear that my chance for usefulness has passed.”

Greeley responds to Lincoln’s new telegram: “I do not feel disposed to let my letters to you go to the public with such suppressions as you indicate by the red pencil marks. I cannot see that you are at all implicated in my anxiety that a generous offer should be made and a kindly spirit evinced in season for effect on the North Carolina election…I…think…the…suppressions…weaken the agreement, which I wish tohave indeed as I made it, if at all. I prefer…not to print the correspondence, unless as it was written.” He added: “I give free and full consent to the publication…of your letters and dispatches only, should you choose to have them published…’

Navy Secretary Gideon Welles writes in his diary: At the Cabinet to-day there was no special business. Seward and Stanton were not present. Mr. Fessenden is absent in Maine. Governor [Michael] Hahn of Louisiana was present a short time.

Alluding to the Niagara peace proceedings, the President expressed a wiling that all should be published. Greeley had asked it, and when I went into the President’s room Defrees was reading the proof of the correspondence. I have admired its entire publication from the first moment I had knowledge of it. Whether it was wise or expedient for the President to have assented to Greeley’s appeal, or given his assent to any such irregular proceedings, is another thing, not necessary to discuss. Mr. Seward was consulted in this matter, and no other one was called in that I am aware. Mr. Fessenden says he happened, accidentally and uninvited, to come in and was knowing to it. No other member of the Cabinet was consulted, or advised with, until after the meeting took place at Niagara.

Presidential aide John Hay writes General Carl Schurz that he had shown President Lincoln his letters: “I wish to assure you that your correspondence is always carefully placed before the President as soon as received, if marked Private, without inspection, & that it is always a pleasure for me to be honored by any request from you within my power to execute.”

President Lincoln decides to ask Schurz, an influential German-American politician, to visit. Historian H. L. Trefousse wrote in Carl Schurz: A Biography: “Schurz, who had taken leave…did not have to be asked twice. He rushed to Washington, where the President took him to the Soldiers Home for a confidential conference.   Fully aware that efforts were being made to replace him, Lincoln said he might even step down if he were certain that somebody more qualified would take his place But so far he had failed to see such a candidate; consequently, he would stay on. Offering to find a command for Schurz in Rosecrans’s inactive department, he was not surprised when the general turned it down. The meeting ended with an agreement that Schurz would make a series of campaign speeches for the administration — always with the understanding that after the election he would return to the army.”

Indiana Governor Oliver Morton writes President Lincoln: “I trust it will not be deemed a Decimation, if I say that a prudent and wise Statesman can make good points by mere luck sometimes; I have come to the conclusion, Your late letter to “Whom it may concern” was a fortunate thing; it has disarmed a class of Democrats of one important weapin, all who preached up, that you would not be for, or yield your assent to an honorable peace;1 The German opposition is fast wasting away in many localities, in this city particularly– Carney owns the only German paper in this State that hangs out for Fremont & Cochran; his other two papers The Evening Bullitin (which he Bribed in his Senatorial fraud, after I had committed it first of all papers in the State for you) still keeps our Ticket at its Colums head — but writes bad articles under the name of supporting our ticket; but it of course is harmless and has no influence in the State, The Times ” Old man Vaughan” does the same thing — neither can do us harm, Kansas will be certain to give you her vote, Lane is now carrying a vigerous canvass, having a perfect triumph where ever he goes for our ticket.”

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