December 30, 1864 – Francis P. Blair, Sr., a 74-year-old political advisor to every president since Andrew Jackson, wrote to Confederate President Jefferson Davis asking permission to come to Richmond and discuss the possibility of ending the war. This was the most notable of many efforts to negotiate peace between North and South.
Blair had been a Jacksonian Democrat before helping form the Republican Party in the 1850s. One of his sons, Montgomery, had served in President Abraham Lincoln’s cabinet as postmaster general, and another, Frank, Jr., was a Federal major general and former congressman. Blair had been good friends with Jefferson Davis before the war, and with the state of the conflict shifting decidedly in the Federals’ favor, he concluded that the time had come to use his friendship to persuade Davis to negotiate a peace.
Blair met with Lincoln on the 28th and requested a pass through Federal lines to Richmond. He explained that he wanted the pass to search for personal papers that Confederate troops had seized when they raided his home in Silver Spring, Maryland, last summer. Blair then tried explaining his real reason for wanting to go to Richmond, but Lincoln stopped him. The president would grant the pass, but he would not sanction any effort by an unofficial civilian to negotiate peace. The failed Niagara conference had taught Lincoln to be cautious on this issue.
Blair then wrote two letters to Davis. The first, which Blair intended to be made public, requested permission to come to Richmond to look for his missing papers. The second letter was private:
“The main purpose I have in seeing you (is) to submit to your consideration ideas which in my opinion you may turn to good and possibly bring to practical results, (repairing) all the ruin the war has brought upon the nation.”
Blair sought to “unbosom my heart frankly and without reserve” regarding the “state of affairs of our country.” He assured Davis that he would come “wholly unaccredited except in so far as I may be by having permission to pass our lines and to offer to you my own suggestions–suggestions which I have suggested to none in authority on this side (of) the lines.”
However, Blair gave no indication that Lincoln opposed the visit, which implied that Lincoln may have endorsed it. Since discussing peace might reveal that the Federals refused to recognize Confederate independence (the only term upon which Davis insisted), it could embolden wavering southerners to continue fighting. Davis would consider the matter and respond in the first week of January.
Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 21742; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 16108-28; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 537; Harris, William C., “The Hampton Roads Peace Conference: A Final Test of Lincoln’s Presidential Leadership” (Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association, Vol. 21, Issue 1, 2000), p. 30-61; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 616