By Catherine Johnson, ProQuest Product Manager Lead
During the first week of February 1865, the momentum to abolish slavery in the U.S. once and for all accelerated. On February 1, President Lincoln signed a resolution, passed by Congress the day before, to submit to the States for ratification a proposal to amend the Constitution to provide that "neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” Two days later, Lincoln’s efforts to seek peace at the Hampton Roads Peace Conference failed, but that failure also underscores Lincoln’s commitment to end slavery.
Fearing that the Emancipation Proclamation would not hold up once peace was achieved, Lincoln included arguments in his December 28, 1864, Annual Message to urge Congress to reconsider the 13th Amendment proposal, which had passed the Senate in the previous Congress, but failed to pass the House. In the same message, Lincoln stated that he did not believe that peace could be achieved by negotiation because the “insurgent leader” would accept nothing short of severance of the Union.
Despite his public statement about the chance for a negotiated peace, on that same day he issued a pass for Francis P. Blair, Sr., to cross the lines to go to Richmond and return. Blair’s stated purpose was that he was interested in the recovery of some personal papers, but a manuscript retained in Lincoln’s Papers documents that Blair sent Jefferson Davis an additional letter explaining why Blair, a mere private citizen, sought a personal interview with “one clothed with the highest responsibilities.” Lincoln later confirmed that Blair had no authority to speak for the government, but when Blair returned, he informed Lincoln that Confederate President Jefferson Davis was willing to send representatives to peace negotiations.
Arrangements were made by means of a flurry of telegrams and letters. On January 31, Lincoln directed Major Thomas Eckert to arrange to deliver a letter to the three Confederate Commissioners, Alexander H. Stephens, John A. Campbell, and Robert M. T. Hunter; and to arrange for them to pass through the lines to Fort Monroe, Virginia. The next day President Lincoln directed Secretary of State William Seward to proceed to Fort Monroe to receive the Confederate Commissioners. Lincoln’s directive clearly stated that the government would take a firm stand on three things: the union would not be dissolved; there would be no receding on the “slavery question,” and hostilities would not cease unless the war was ended.
[Image: Copy of a map, sheet No.1, military reconnaissance, Department of Virginia, Major General Wool commanding, Map Year 1862, Serial Set Maps]
On February 3, President Lincoln and Secretary Seward received the Commissioners aboard the U.S. steamer River Queen at Hampton Roads. The Confederate Commission suggested that hostilities be suspended and the question of separation be postponed until a later time, but President Lincoln was not willing to accept this offer. Nor was he willing to depart from the anti-slavery policies he had expressed in the Emancipation Proclamation and in his 1864 Annual Message.
The Confederate Commission was also informed at this point that Congress had passed a resolution to send the 13th Amendment to the States for ratification, and that it was likely to become law. The Conference ended without producing any result, although Secretary of State Seward noted that it was “perhaps of some importance that we have been able to submit our opinions and views directly to prominent insurgents, and to hear them answer in a courteous and not unfriendly manner.”
The efforts of President Lincoln to stand firm on his anti-slavery policies at Hampton Roads, as well as his commitment to the 13th Amendment, surely did much to ensure that the ideals expressed in the Emancipation Proclamation were not forgotten once the Civil War ended.
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- A Resolution submitting to the Legislatures of the several States a Proposition to amend the Constitution of the United States, Public resolution, February 01, 1865, Statutes at Large
- Message of the President of the United States, and accompanying documents, to the two Houses of Congress, at the commencement of the second session of the Thirty-eighth Congress, December 06, 1864, Serial Set
- Pass for Francis P. Blair, Sr., Dec. 28, 1864, Executive Orders and Presidential Proclamations
- Instructions and conditions for interview with Confederate representatives on termination of Civil War, Jan. 30, 1865, Executive Orders and Presidential Proclamations
- To William H. Seward: [directs the Secretary of State to proceed to Fort Monroe VA, there to meet with Messrs. Stephens, Hunter, and Campbell concerning three conditions necessary for peace], Jan. 31, 1865, , Executive Orders and Presidential Proclamations
- Peace. Message from the President of the United States, transmitting, in compliance with the Resolution of February 8th, 1865, information relative to a conference held at Hampton Roads with Messrs. A. H. Stephens, R. M T. Hunter, and J. A. Campbell, February 10, 1865, Serial Set