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INTRODUCTION
by
Jack Dickinson, C.M.H.

The resolutions and negotiations culminated in the Hampton Roads Conference, which was an unsuccessful attempt to negotiate an end to the Civil War. On February 3, 1865, near Fort Monroe, off Hampton Roads, Va., aboard the ship River Queen, President Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of State William H. Seward, representing the United States government, met with Vice President Alexander H. Stephens, Senator Robert M. T. Hunter, and Assistant Secretary of War John A. Campbell, representing the Confederate States of America. This meeting was partially the result of a suggestion by Francis P. Blair to Lincoln that both sides cease fighting and join forces against Napoleon III’s troops in Mexico. The enforcement of the Monroe Doctrine was to be used to justify the attack on the French in Mexico. Blair then made two trips to Richmond to set up the conference with Jefferson Davis. It was agreed beforehand that no written memorandum would be made of the proceedings, so the only existing accounts are those recorded from memory, after the fact.

The conference lasted for four hours, but no agreements were reached concerning peace. Cigars were passed about by a servant. According to Alexander Stephens after the war, President Lincoln immediately dismissed Francis P. Blair with the comment: “Whatever he [Blair] said was of his own accord, and without authority from me.” (Stephens, War Between the States, Vol. 2:600) President Lincoln dominated the proceedings. Hunter proposed an armistice, which was rebuffed by Lincoln. Lincoln rejected the independence of the Confederacy and insisted on reunion as the only option. The question of “Western Virginia” was also discussed, and Lincoln stated that if any settlement were reached, it [West Virginia] would remain a separate state of the Union. The only positive action was an informal agreement to resume an exchange of prisoners. The Confederate commissioners immediately returned to Richmond at the conclusion of the conference.

It has been stated by historians that neither Lincoln nor Seward ever published an account of the meeting. Stephens stated in his post-war account of the conference that “It was not intended in its origin or objects to bring about direct negotiations for Peace” (Stephens, War Between the States, Vol. 2:577). And it did not. He related that upon their return to Richmond, “everyone was disappointed.”

Most significant was the “Joint Resolution” that was written as a result of the meeting and discussed in the Confederate House on February 20 and 24, 1865, after the Hampton Roads Conference.

 

SOURCES

Confederate imprints in the Rosanna Blake Collection, Marshall University Special Collections Dept., Huntington, WV.

Parrish, T. Michael and Willingham, Robert M. Confederate Imprints. Austin, Tex: Jenkins Pub. Co., 1984.

Stephens, Alexander H. A Constitutional View of the late War Between the States. 2 vols. Philadelphia: National Pub. Co., 1870.

U. S. Congress. Journal of the Congress of the Confederate States of America, 1861-1865. 7 vols. Washington, D.C: Government Printing Office, 1905.

Warner, Ezra J., and Yearns, W. Buck, Biographical Register of the Confederate Congress, Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1975.


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