As many as six peace initiatives occurred before and during the war, nearly all emanating from the South and ending in failure due to Northern Republican intransigence. "[Lincoln] offered us nothing but unconditional surrender," said Vice President Alexander Stephens on his return from the Hampton Roads Peace Conference of 3 February 1865, calling the meeting "fruitless and inadequate."
Bernhard Thuersam, Chairman
North Carolina War Between the States Sesquicentennial Commission
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"Let Us Alone and Peace Will Come of Itself"
"Lincoln was quietly sponsoring a peace initiative of his own [in July 1864 when he] sent Col. James F. Jaquess, a Methodist minister [of an Illinois Regiment] . . . and [writer] James R. Gilmore . . . on a mission to Richmond. Gilmore and Jaquess had a political motive to help Lincoln's faltering bid for reelection.
They wanted to prove that the Confederate's peace overtures were really concocted to embarrass Lincoln's government, to throw upon it the odium of continuing the war and thus secure the triumph of the "peace-traitors" in the November election.
With a personal note from Lincoln to General Grant, the two travelers crossed the battles lines at City Point, Virginia and entered Richmond . . . On Sunday evening, July 17, Jaquess and Gilmore encountered President [Jefferson] Davis, "a spare, thin featured man with iron gray hair and beard and a clear gray eye full of life and vigor," as Gilmore later described him.
"Our people want peace," Jaquess told Davis. "We have come to ask how it can be brought about."
In a very simple way," responded Davis. "Withdraw your armies from our territory, and peace will come of itself. We do not seek to subjugate you. We are not waging an offensive war . . . Let us alone and peace will come at once."
"But we cannot let you alone as long as you repudiate the Union. That is one thing the Northern people will not surrender."
"I know. You would deny to us the one thing you exact for yourselves – the right of self- government," Davis retorted. "You have sown so much bitterness at the South, you have put such an ocean of blood between the two sections, that I despair of seeing nay harmony in my time. Our children may forget this war, but we cannot."
"We are both Christian men," the minister said, "Can you, as a Christian man, leave untried any means that may lead to peace?"
"No, I cannot," said Davis. "I desire peace as much as you do. I deplore bloodshed as much as you do; but I feel that no one drop of the blood shed in this war is upon my hands – I can look up to my God and say this."
"I tried all in my power to avert this war. I saw it coming, and for twelve years I worked night and day to prevent it but could not. The North was mad and blind; it would not let us govern ourselves, and so the war came . . . It is with your own people you should labor [to end the war]. It is they who desolate our homes, burn our wheat fields, break the wheels of our wagons carrying away our women and children and destroy supplies meant for our sick and wounded. At your door lies all the misery and crime of this war – and it is a fearful, fearful account."
"And slavery, you say, is no longer an element in the contest?" Gilmore asked.
"No, it is not," Davis replied. " . . . You have already emancipated two million of our slaves – and if you will take care of them, you may emancipate the rest . . . you many emancipate every Negro in the Confederacy but we will be free! We will govern ourselves. We will do it if we have to see every Southern plantation sacked, and every Southern city in flames."
As the interview ended, [Davis] said: "Say to Mr. Lincoln from me, that I shall at any time be pleased to receive proposals for peace on the basis of our independence. It will be useless to approach me with any other."
(The Dark Intrigue, The True Story of a Civil War Conspiracy, Frank van der Linden, Fulcrum Publishing, 2007, pp. 145-148)