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Remarks on Peace Negotiations,
February 10, 1865, in Congress

 

    Mr. Stevens. Mr. Speaker, I have not risen for the purpose of attempting the impossible task of answering such a speech as we have just heard from the gentleman from New York, (Mr. Brooks.) I would rather that this question of printing had been taken without remark. But it has been opened by discussion; and the position of the gentleman from New York (Mr. Brooks,) it seems to me, is but perfectly natural and just. The rebels of the South have arraigned by the message of the President. In all justice they are entitled to an advocate upon this floor, and they ought to have one who fully enters into their views and sympathizes with their purposes. I see, therefore, great propriety in the gentleman from New York undertaking that task of love; for he tells us at the outset that he believes – and indeed seems to be electioneering for a further division of this Union – that five States of this Union beyond those already in rebellion will yet be in rebellion. I know not what five States he means. Of course, he speaks for the city of New York in one of those States; but the States I do not know. But I trust he will confine himself to his clients and not touch those of the loyal States.

    Now, sir, the gentleman is hard to please. Some time ago it was earnestly asked that President Lincoln should send ambassadors, or agents in some shape, to hear what the South would say; the gentleman from New York (Mr. Brooks) was among that number; and they declared that if, upon that being done, they should refuse to treat upon the basis of the integrity of the South, there would hereafter be perfect unanimity among all the parties in the North; that all men would be loyal; that all men would support this Government. The gentleman from New York (Mr. Brooks) and those who acted with him on that occasion differed somewhat from the loyal people – I mean the other loyal people of the North – and from the gentlemen on this side of the House, for I do not believe there was a man on this side who desired the President to sue for peace for what had already been done. I believe the people were somewhat indignant at the idea that it was done. We therefore differed from the gentleman.

    But the President has thought it was best to make the effort, and he has done it in such a masterly style, upon such a firm basis and principle, that I believe even those who thought his mission there was unwise will accord to him sagacity and patriotism, and applaud his action. Now, sir, I understand the gentleman to condemn the President of the United States for not opening a negotiation upon the basis tendered by the rebel commissioners. Now, sir, what was that basis? They tendered no basis upon which negotiations could be inaugurated, except independence of the rebel States and a dissolution of the United States. Does the gentleman mean to say, in the face of this House, in the face of the American people, that he condemns the President of the United States for not entering into negotiations with the confederate States upon the basis of their independence and a dissolution of this Union?

    Mr. Brooks. Does the gentleman desire an answer? I thought I made myself clear upon that subject. I applauded the President of the United States for entering into a negotiation with the rebel commissioners. I thought I was explicit upon that subject, and I have yet to learn, from any documents which have been submitted to us, that any basis of that negotiation was the separation and dissolution of the Union of these States.


    Mr. Stevens. I propose to read a few words from a speech of Jefferson Davis, made when these commissioners returned. It was a speech made in Richmond to a meeting called for the purpose of considering the report of these commissioners. They met in the African church. I do not know what to understand by that. They have got very low when they do that. However, that is a passing remark. What does he say?

    “In my correspondence with Lincoln, continued Mr. Davis, that functionary has always spoken of the United States and confederate States as one country; but in my replies I have never failed to refer to them as separate and distinct Governments. Sooner than that we should be united again, I would be willing to yield up everything I have on earth; and if it were possible, I would yield up my life a thousand times rather than succumb.”

    And upon the conclusion of the speech, the following resolution among others, were passed in the presence of the rebel commissioners:

    Resolved, That we spurn with indignation the grossly insulting terms which the President of the United States has proffered to the people of the confederate States
    Resolved, That the terms in which and the circumstances under which it was made, stamp the proffer as a designed and premeditated outrage upon and indignity to our people.
    Resolved, That in this presence” ---

    That is in the presence of the rebel president and commissioners --- “and in the face of the world, invoking thereto the aid of the Almighty God, we renew our resolve to maintain our liberties and achieve our independence and to this end we mutually pledge our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honors.”

    And yet a man calling himself a patriot and an American rises upon this floor and sends forth to the  country a denunciation of the President of the United States for not entering into negotiations with men holding these doctrines and entertaining these views as the only ones upon which they would negotiate. Sir, the simple statement of the proposition is all that the American people require to stamp with proper condemnation the man who denounces the President of the United States for the course which he has taken. I will apply no epithets to such a man; I do not know that I could use any which would be sufficiently merited.

    Dissolution of the Union being the only condition of the negotiation for peace, the gentleman from New York condemns the President of the United States for not granting an armistice to these traitors. What is an armistice? It is a withdrawal of your armies; it is a cessation of hostilities; it is to enable the traitors whom we are seeking to crush to prepare for renewed hostilities. What would an armistice imply? It would be an admission that the terms proposed by the rebels there was something that we could accept. If the President had consented to an armistice, thus acknowledging that upon that basis peace might come, he would have deserved to be impeached by this House and convicted by the Senate.

    Now, sir, the gentleman says that this war can never end except by the desolation of the South? Whose fault is that, sir? Whose fault is it if these people, instead of laying down their arms and submitting to the law, are determined to resist to the last man and the last dollar? If we should lay waste their country and bring the peace which reigned in Warsaw, it would be but just retribution for their hellish rebellion; it would be but a just retribution for the entertainment of sentiments such as the gentleman from New York has uttered.

    Sir, the President of the United States, in my judgment, ought to do nothing more than he did some time ago; say to the rebels, “Peace is within your reach whenever you cease hostilities; peace is for you to declare, and not for us.” We are no suppliants to rebels who have cost our country millions of dollars and shed the best blood of hundreds of thousands of our citizens. What dastard is there who would ask us, under these circumstances, to sue for peace on the basis which the rebels propose, or to lay down our arms for a single moment until they either submit or are exterminated?  Sir, I do not hesitate to say that, in my judgment, one or the other of these alternatives must come. That the rebels can maintain themselves for any great length of time, I do not believe. That peace will come as early as some of our sanguine friends have hoped, I do not believe. I believed from the first that men who for thirty years had concocted without the least cause the vastest and foulest rebellion that was ever known in any country had made up their minds to take the consequences to the bitter end. I believe that in that vast country, although our superiority in arms must be acknowledged, it is very hard to produce immediate results. Several years ago I did not hesitate to predict that scarcely five years would see the end of this rebellion, and I do not now believe that it will finally be terminated within a period of six to twelve months. I believe that the main armies of the rebellion will be crushed in the ensuing season, unless we agree to the terms advocated by the gentleman from New York, and withdraw our armies from the circle which is now closing in upon the heart and body of the rebellion. I believe we shall speedily crush all the great armies of the rebellion. Still I look for guerilla warfare for a year of two; but that will be of comparatively little importance.

    But the gentleman denounces the idea that we are to dictate terms to these people. Now, sir, was any great war ever ended by force of arms when the conquerors did not dictate terms to the conquered country, imposing upon it, in whole or in part, their own laws? But I understand the gentleman to object to other portions of the President’s message. It was, if they come back, they must take the condition of things as they find them. The constitutional amendment if finally adopted by three fourths of the loyal States, as I have no doubt it will be, will prohibit forever the admission of any State into the Union with slavery in its constitution. If they come back they come back to a free country. That touches the sensibilities of the gentleman from New York, (Mr. Brooks.) The time will come when this nation will suffer no compromise, no attempt to reestablish slavery in the slave States, no matter by whom. Does the gentleman, I ask, wish to reestablish slavery where it has been abolished or is about being abolished by the people? Is that the kind of doctrine which a Representative utters in the American Congress? Is that to be heard in this century, when almost the universal world is crying for general emancipation? When it is proposed to put the black man back into slavery, chains, and bondage, is the President to be condemned because he does not reecho that sentiment?

    Mr. Speaker, when I rose I did not intend to say so much, as I wish to get to the business of the country; but I desired to put before the country the distinct propositions of the two nations, as they are called in the rebel correspondence. I want it to go out that Jefferson Davis has stated that he will sacrifice everything upon earth, and that he will die a thousand times rather than negotiate upon any other terms than the independence of the southern States. That is the proposition they make, and the one which Abraham Lincoln has rejected. All I ask is that this shall be placed distinctly before the American people.

    Mr. Mallory. Will the gentleman allow me?

    Mr. Stevens. Yes, sir.

    Mr. Mallory. Mr. Speaker, I think that I heard very distinctly the message of the President when it was read by the Clerk this morning, and I hope, for the sake of history, that the gentleman will not repeat the declaration that these commissioners from Richmond insisted upon southern independence as a basis of negotiations. The President says that that was not insisted upon and the gentleman from Pennsylvania gets his information from a stump speech, or some sort of speech, made by Jefferson Davis, in Richmond. There is nothing to show that it is authentic. It may have been misprinted. He may have made no such speech as that. I hope the gentleman from Pennsylvania will confine himself to the message delivered to us by Mr. Lincoln.

    Mr. Stevens. I take both; the one introduced by the gentleman from New York (Mr. Brooks) from the rebels, and the one introduced in the message of the President. They both show conclusively that they refused to negotiate upon any other terms than the independence of the South.

    Mr. Mallory. The speech which the gentleman from Pennsylvania cites may say that southern independence was insisted upon, but the message of the President declares that no such thing was insisted upon. Now which authority is the gentleman determined to rely on?

    Mr. Stevens. I did not so understand Mr. Lincoln.

    Mr. Mallory. Then you misunderstood him.

    Mr. Stevens. He said that they had no authority to negotiate upon any other terms than southern independence.

    Mr. Mallory. Let that part of the message be read, in order that the House may see the force of the argument which the gentleman has been making. The declaration of the President is, as compared with the telegraphic correspondence, like the small piece of bread to the vast deal of sack in Falstaff’s bill. I call for the reading of that part of the President’s message I want to go forth with the gentleman’s speech.

    Mr. Stevens. It goes right along with it. (Laughter.)

    Mr. Mallory. I should like to have it in the gentleman’s speech.

    Mr. Stevens. Both the report of the rebel commissioners and the report of the President of the United States go upon the ground that they would consent to no agreement except upon the concession of their independence. The President of the United States offered to treat distinctly upon the terms of his letter, and they refused to treat upon those terms. The President does not repeat them, but he refers to the letter he wrote to Mr. Blair, which contained the proposition. They refused to treat upon those terms, and thence those who censure the President now for not treating, censure him because he could not agree to severing this Union; and although he offered to pardon many of them and deal liberally with them, they did not ask that, but scorned it. They go upon the ground that they are a nation at war with us, and nothing but the sword can end it. Now, it seems to me that that brings us simply to the point whether we are for disunion or not. I know that the President claims that they must take the Constitution as we have amended it. I understand the gentleman from New York desires that the rebels shall come back under the Constitution as it was, and no the Constitution as it is now made by us. That might suit him very well, because by the aid of the rebels here, and the Representatives of some portions of New York and the West, they would have it all again their own way. That would be the rebel congress transferred to this Hall.

    But, sir, I did not suppose I should say so much; and I call the previous question upon the motion to print.

 

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