President Lincoln Discusses Peace Negotiations and Politics with Henry J. Raymond

August 25, 1864

Presidential aide John G. Nicolay writes colleague John Hay: “Hell is to pay. The N.Y. politicians have got a stampede on that is about to swamp everything. Raymond [Henry G. Raymond, editor of the New York Times] and the National Committee are here today. R. thinks a commission to Richmond is about the only salt to save us — while the Tycoon sees and says it would be utter ruination. The matter is now undergoing consultation. Weak-kneed d–d fools like Chas. Sumner are in the movement for a new candidate – to supplant the Tycoon. Everything is darkness and doubt and discouragement. Our men see giants in the airy and unsubstantial shadows of the opposition and are about to surrender without a fight.

I think that today and here is the turning-point in our crisis. If the President can infect R. and his committee with some of his own patience and pluck, we are saved. If our friends will only rub their eyes and shake themselves and become convinced that they themselves are not dead we shall win the fight overwhelmingly.

Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles writes in his diary: “Calling on the President near eleven! o’clock, I went in as usual unannounced, the waiter throwing open the door as I approached. I found Messrs. Seward, Fessenden, and Stans ton with Raymond, Chairman of the Executive NationaliCommittee, in consultation with the President. The President was making some statement as to a document of his, and said he supposed his style was peculiar and had its earmarks, so that it could not be mistaken. He kept on talking as if there had been no addition to the company, and as if I had been expected and belonged there. But the topic was not pursued by the others when the President ceased. Some inquiry was put to me in regard to intelligence from the fleet at Mobile and the pursuit of the Tallahassee. Mr. Fessenden rose and, putting his mouth to the ear of the President, began to whisper, and as soon as I could answer the brief inquiries, I left the room.” Nicolay writes in a memo: “The President and the stronger half of the Cabinet, Seward, Stanton, and Fessenden, held a consultation with him [Raymond] and showed him that they had thoroughly considered and discussed the proposition of his letter of the 22d; and on giving him their reasons he very readily concurred with them in the opinion that to follow his plan of sending a commission to Richmond would be worse than losing the Presidential contest—it would be ignominiously surrendering it in advance. Nevertheless the visit of himself and committee here did great good. They found the President and Cabinet much better informed than themselves, and went home encouraged and cheered.”

Historian David Long wrote in Jewel of Liberty that before Republican Chairman Henry Raymond arrived at the White House, “We will never know how seriously Lincoln considered the idea. In their history of the Lincoln presidency, Nicolay and Hay claimed that he wrote the draft of instructions solely to facilitate examination and discussion of the question. Lincoln was well aware of Raymond’s importance and would have given his suggestion serious consideration. Or, the draft written on August 24 may simply have been Lincoln again playing devil’s advocate with himself regarding a difficult question.” Historian Francis Brown wrote in Raymond of the Times that: “That day, August 25, the National Committeemen met in Washington amid rumors that they were going to win the Administration to a policy of peace. They arrived, Lincoln’s secretaries recalled, in ‘depression and panic.’ Lincoln, however, persuaded them that the outlook was not so dark as they supposed. For one thing, the Wade-Davis Manifesto had not won the support that its authors had expected. Moreover, there was still chance for victory in the field: Sherman was close to Atlanta, and the country had taken heart from the recent destruction of the famed Confederate raiser Alabama and the naval successes in Mobile Bay. In the end, ‘encouraged and cheered,’ the committee issued an optimistic statement of confidence in Lincoln’s reelection (though the President himself thought reelection unlikely), and the Times next day denied that the Government had had any thought of peace negotiations. ‘Its sole and undivided purpose is to prosecute the war until the rebellion is quelled.”

Published in: on August 25, 2014 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

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