The Blair Peace Initiative

Prominent statesman Francis P. Blair, Sr., a 74 year-old advisor to every U.S. president since Andrew Jackson, received unofficial permission from President Abraham Lincoln to meet with Confederate President Jefferson Davis at Richmond and discuss a possible peace settlement between North and South.[1]

Francis P. Blair, Sr. | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Francis P. Blair, Sr. | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

In late December 1864, Blair sent Davis a letter requesting admission to the Confederacy to search for personal papers seized when the Confederates raided his Maryland home last summer. Blair then sent a second letter stating that the true reason he sought admission was to “unbosom my heart frankly and without reserve” regarding the “state of affairs of our country.” He hoped to offer “suggestions” for Davis, even though he was “wholly unaccredited” by the Lincoln administration.[2]

Davis permitted Blair, an old family friend, to travel through the lines and come to Richmond. Arriving at the Confederate capital, Blair checked in anonymously at the Spotswood Hotel and then visited Davis and his wife Varina at the Executive Mansion on the evening of January 12, 1865.[3]

Blair proposed that the war be suspended while the armies of North and South join forces to uphold the Monroe Doctrine by opposing the French puppet regime in Mexico. He even suggested that Davis could lead the invasion force and install himself as ruler once the French were overthrown.[4]

Davis expressed concern that the plan had been concocted by U.S. Secretary of State William H. Seward, whom Davis believed untrustworthy. Blair assured him, “The transaction is a military transaction, and depends entirely on the Commander in Chief,” and Lincoln could be trusted.[5]

Davis reluctantly agreed to Blair’s suggestion that Davis appoint an envoy or a commission to carry on further negotiations. Blair left the meeting with a letter Davis had written to Lincoln: “Notwithstanding the rejection of our former offers, I would, if you could promise that a commission, minister, or other agent would be received, appoint one immediately, and renew the effort to enter into a conference with a view to secure peace to the two countries.” Referring to the warring factions as “two countries” meant that Davis was still unwilling to discuss peace without southern independence.[6]

Four days later, Blair delivered Davis’s letter to Lincoln and provided details about the Richmond meeting, noting that many Confederate friends were pessimistic about the war. Blair and Lincoln met a second time on January 18, after Lincoln had consulted with Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton. Lincoln refused to entertain the idea of joining forces with the South against Mexico, but he did draft an indirect response to Davis’s proposition: “You may say to him that I have constantly been, am now, and shall continue, ready to receive any agent whom he, or any other influential person now resisting the national authority, may informally send to me with the view of securing peace to the people of our one common country.”[7]

Blair returned to Richmond with Lincoln’s letter, which Davis found discouraging because it demonstrated the impasse between Lincoln (insisting on “one common country”) and Davis (insisting on “two countries”). However, Davis consulted with Vice President Alexander H. Stephens, who advised him to pursue negotiations “at least so far as to obtain if possible a conference on the subject.”[8]

To Stephens’s dismay, Davis named him to the peace commission, along with Robert M.T Hunter (former Confederate secretary of state and current Senate president pro tem in Stephens’s absence) and John A. Campbell (former U.S. Supreme Court justice and Confederate assistant secretary of war). Davis instructed the three envoys: “In conformity with the letter of Mr. Lincoln, of which the foregoing is a copy, you are requested to proceed to Washington City for an informal conference with him upon the issues involved in the existing war, and for the purpose of securing peace to the two countries.”[9]

The envoys arrived east of Petersburg on January 29. Federal officers escorted them to the headquarters of General-in-Chief Ulysses S. Grant, but Grant was inspecting troops at Wilmington. The Federals quartered the envoys on the steamship Mary Martin and telegraphed the War Department that they sought permission “to proceed to Washington to hold a conference with President Lincoln upon the subject of the existing war, and with a view ascertaining upon what terms it may be terminated.”[10]

Lincoln issued passes for the envoys to go through the Federal lines to Fort Monroe, but not to Washington. When word spread among the troops that the men were there to possibly negotiate an end to the war, both Federals and Confederates lined to watch their carriage pass. Major General George G. Meade, commanding the Federal Army of the Potomac, wrote to his wife, “Our men cheered loudly, and the soldiers on both sides cried out lustily, ‘Peace! Peace!’”[11]

On January 31, Grant returned to his headquarters, and Lincoln dispatched Secretary of State William H. Seward to Fort Monroe to negotiate “on the basis of my letter to F.P. Blair, Esq., on Jan. 18, 1865.” Lincoln instructed Seward to demand three conditions for peace: 1) the restoration of the Union; 2) the end of slavery; and 3) no armistice except for ending the war. Armed with these conditions, Seward promptly left Washington to meet with the envoys.[12]

—–

  • [1] Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 616; Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 20-21
  • [2] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011-01-26), Kindle Locations 16108-16128
  • [3] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011-01-26), Kindle Locations 16117-16127; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 690-91
  • [4] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011-01-26), Kindle Locations 16123-16143; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 690-91; McFeely, William S., Grant: A Biography (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., Inc., 1981), p. 198
  • [5] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011-01-26), Kindle Locations 16123-16143; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 690-91
  • [6] Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 20-21; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011-01-26), Kindle Locations 16123-16143; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 622-23
  • [7] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011-01-26), Kindle Locations 16133-16143; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 625-26; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 690-91
  • [8] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011-01-26), Kindle Locations 16133-16163
  • [9] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011-01-26), Kindle Locations 16152-16172; White, Howard Ray (2012-12-18). Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks. Kindle Edition), Kindle Locations 57132-57143; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 629; Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 20-21
  • [10] Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 690-91; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011-01-26), Kindle Locations 16162-16171; White, Howard Ray (2012-12-18). Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks. Kindle Edition), Kindle Locations 57132-57143; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 629
  • [11] Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 629; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011-01-26), Kindle Locations 16171-16181
  • [12] Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 690-91; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 630
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One thought on “The Blair Peace Initiative

  1. […] statesman Francis P. Blair, Jr. organized the meeting in hopes it would compel both sides to stop fighting and join forces to confront France for […]

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