Negotiations during the American Civil War

Or the War Between the States. Often in war when one side is losing they will prefer offer terms to end the asskicking, Googling reveals a peace conference on board a steamer in February 1865 - were there any earlier attempts to end the bloodiest war in American history initiated by either side? Were any proposals made to the Confederacy to tempt them back in the fold, or did the Confederacy advance any diplomatic efforts to get the Union to recognise them as an independent nation?

As the war dragged on, people on both sides grew weary of the fighting and death, and groups on both sides of the lines started looking for ways to end the conflict. Lincoln began facing political heat from the northern Democrats, who claimed that Lincoln was intentionally prolonging the war. Jefferson Davis faced similar dissent among some southerners.

In 1863, Lincoln allowed two men, a journalist named James R. Gilmore and James Jaques, a clergyman and colonel of an Illinois regiment, to cross the lines into Confederate territory with the purpose of determining what Jefferson Davis’s conditions for peace were. Davis really didn’t want to meet with them, but he didn’t want to be seen as spurning a potential peace offering, so he agreed to talks. Gilmore and Jaques repeated Lincoln’s well-known conditions for peace, which were restoration of the Union and the complete abolition of slavery. In return, Lincoln offered the south complete amnesty for treason and other crimes related to secession. Davis basically told them they could stick their conditions where the sun doesn’t shine, and was very offended at the offer of amnesty, saying that was for criminals, and the South was fighting for independence. They were not criminals.

Lincoln allowed the two men to publish the result of their meeting, and that publication made it clear that Lincoln’s conditions for peace required restoration of the Union, and Davis’s conditions for peace required that the North recognize Confederate independence.

This helped to take some of the political pressure off of Lincoln, as it was clear that Jefferson Davis would never accept peace terms that were acceptable to the north.

In 1864, Horace Greeley, the influential editor of the New York Tribune, put pressure on Lincoln (along with the northern Democrats) to again try to find some path for peace. Lincoln drafted a letter saying that he would welcome any peace proposal from the confederacy, as long as it restored the Union and abolished slavery. Greeley took this letter to a group of Confederates that he met in Niagra Falls, only to find that those Confederates didn’t actually have the authority to negotiate a peace settlement. So basically there were a bunch of people on both sides negotiating for peace, while none of them actually had the authority to do so.

The northern Democrats used Lincoln’s letter against him for a while, claiming that he put so many conditions on negotiations that peace wasn’t possible. Meanwhile, Jefferson Davis kept loudly proclaiming that peace wasn’t possible until the North recognized the Confederacy, which ended up helping Lincoln politically against the northern Democrats.

Throughout 1864, Lincoln made it known that he was willing to negotiate for peace, but he always made it clear that any peace solution would have to restore the Union and abolish slavery. Jefferson Davis wasn’t about to agree to either of those.

And to this day we still have Apologists saying that the cause of the Secession wasn’t slavery. :rolleyes:

Thanks for the detailed reply engineer_comp_geek, just the kind of thing I was after.

So am I right in thinking that while the Union was willing to offer terms for the seceding states to rejoin, the Confederacy was unwilling to budge on any notion of rejoining no matter what terms were offered (realistically, I mean - or would they even have told the North to shove it if they passed an Amendment allowing states to keep slaves?)?

It was well known at the time that slavery was the issue. Review of the newspapers and the various declarations of secession from the seceding states make that undisputeable. However since “the late unpleasantness” there has been a substantial, sustained and unceasing propaganda effort to paint the seceders as something other than slavers, so a number of fig-leaves of philosophy have done their duty, the most prominent of which is the notion of “states-rights”. Prior to hostilities “states-rights” was the rallying cry of the abolitionists who argued that their state had no obligation to enforce in its own courts the return of human beings within their jurisdiction to a state of chattel-hood in the land of Dixie. Dred Scott, often considered the worst USSC decision ever, held that states have no such rights. Had the issue not been slavery in Dred Scott, but let’s say, an escaping falcon, I think it was correctly decided. In my opinion the worst USSC decision ever was Shelby County v. Holder in which the USSC struck down a portion of the Voting Rights Act which had recently been renewed by Congress by an overwhelming majority on the basis that five of the justices personally knew that such legal protections were no longer needed by majorities. Within hours and days several states passed laws resuming the Voter ID practices, the Jim Crow practices, that the Voting Rights Act had previously addressed and been upheld by previous courts. This partisan opinion is far worse than even the bare faced sell-off of the Republic in Citizens United which decided that money is speech.

Lincoln gave them that offer before the war even started. They seceded anyway.

The Civil War wasn’t just about slavery. For the South, it was pretty much all about slavery and continuing their way of life, which was based on slavery. Their economy was based on slavery. Their social structure was based on slavery. By keeping their lowest class as slaves, who weren’t ordinary citizens and didn’t have the same rights, they kept that lowest class completely under control.

For the North, things are a lot more complicated. There was an abolitionist movement that had been growing all throughout the 1800s, but they were not the majority, and the North did not go to war simply because of slavery. There were two other factors that made the North willing to go to war. One was the idea that the U.S. should remain a Union to remain strong, and that dividing the country was bad for everyone. The other factor was the northern industrialists, who saw the South as holding up progress as the U.S. tried to move into the modern industrial world. Many of the northern industrialists didn’t give two hoots about slavery and didn’t care at all about the rights of slaves as people. For a lot of the industrialists, the war was about the South ruining the country both politically and economically, and had nothing at all to do with slavery, other than the fact that the southern economy, which the northern industrialists were fighting, was slave based. In reality, the problem that the industrialists had with the southern economy was more that it was agriculture based rather than slave based. But the northern industrialists were more than happy to ally themselves with the abolitionists and the unionists so that everyone could get what they wanted.

The reason we had the Civil War in the 1860s and not in the 1830s was mostly due to the fact that it took a few of decades of back and forth fighting in Washington over control to piss off everyone enough to pick up guns and start shooting at each other (plus the abolitionists were significantly weaker in the early 1800s). Then, just as now, instead of trying to reach any kind of compromise, like maybe trying to find a way to transition the South from an agriculture to an industrial economy without destroying it, what they did instead was whoever had the most votes rammed their policies down the throats of the other. It got so bad that when the northern industrialists passed tariffs and such that favored industry and hurt agriculture, South Carolina basically said screw you and passed their own law saying those federal tariffs didn’t apply in their state.

One of the key issues in the late 1850s was the new western territories that were becoming states. The folks who lived in say, Alabama, really didn’t give two hoots about whether or not someone far out west had slaves or not. But the folks in Alabama cared how those people out west voted. Part of Lincoln’s platform was that the new western states would be free states. That would make them side with the northern industrialists. The South could see the writing on the wall. Even when Lincoln promised that the South could keep its slaves, with the new western states voting against them, the South was doomed. The northern industrialists and the abolitionists would be able to out-vote them, and soon the policies of the entire U.S. would shift to favor industrialism. Southern plantations would be hurt financially, the South would lose wealth and power, and then the South would have even less control in Washington, until the South was so weak that the North could easily pass laws against slavery and the South would be doomed.

Simply offering to allow slavery in the South wasn’t enough. Lincoln would have had to offer not only to allow slavery to continue in the South, but also to let it expand out into the West. And even then, most people in the South were so pissed off at all of the political fighting from the past few decades that many of them just wanted independence no matter what. They were sick and tired of northerners trying to tell them what to do.

Peace realistically wasn’t possible.

I’m not sure that’s entirely fair. Any grade-school American history textbook will talk about the big compromises-with-a-capital-C in the run-up to the Civil War (the Missouri Compromise in 1820, the Compromise of 1850). It was only in the mid-1850’s and the Kansas-Nebraska Act that attempts at sectional compromise began to totally break down. (And to be fair to Stephen Douglas, the Kansas-Nebraska Act seems to have been intended as a way to defuse the issue, however disastrously it backfired.) Similarly, even the Dred Scott decision in 1857 seems to have been intended by Chief Justice Taney to settle the issue once and for all and save the Union, hooray! The road to hell (or Civil War) being paved with good intentions and all that.

In the end, I don’t think the South was remotely interested in any gradual transition away from a slave-based and (in the Deep South) commodity-farming-based economy. From the Revolution into the early 19th century, a number of Northern states had managed to pass various sorts of emancipation (some gradual and some very gradual). If the South had wanted gradual abolition, there were all sorts of schemes and ideas for accomplishing that. But as the Civil War approached, the slave states dug in their heels and made it clear that they never wanted slavery to end.

In the end, it just wasn’t a very compromisible issue. As Abraham Lincoln wrote to Alexander Stephens (author of that speech in the last link in the above paragraph) “You think slavery is right and ought to be extended; while we think it is wrong and ought to be restricted. That I suppose is the rub.”

Moderator Note

The Second Stone, let’s stick to the question in the OP and not go off on tangents about recent Supreme Court decisions.

General Questions Moderator

Yes, and in fact I dont know if the CSA ever would have ended slavery, except by outside pressure. This makes the ending of Guns of the South solidly SF. :stuck_out_tongue: