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This Day in Georgia Civil War History

January 19, 1865

Davis Letter to Georgia Delegation Published

The Richmond Times Dispatch printed the text of a letter from Confederate President Jefferson Davis to the Georgia’s Confederate delegation, giving his thoughts on rumored peace movements among different southern states.

Letter from President Davis to the Georgia Senators. Richmond, Virginia, November 17, 1864. To the Honorable Senators of Georgia–Messrs: A. R. Wright, President of Senate; Y. L. Guerry, J. M. Chambers. Thomas E. Lloyd, Frederick K. West, Robert B. Nesbet: Gentlemen: I answered by telegram this morning your letter of 11th instant, as requested, and now respectfully comply with your desire that I should express my views on the subject to which you invite my attention. In forwarding to me the resolutions introduced into the House of Representatives of Georgia by Mr. Stephens, of Hancock, you state that you are not inclined to favor the passage of these or any similar resolutions, believing them to have a tendency to create divisions among ourselves and to unite and strengthen our enemies; but that it is asserted in Milledgeville that I favor such action on the part of the States, and would be pleased to see Georgia cast her influence in that way. You are kind enough to say that if this be true, and if the passage of these or similar resolutions would, in the slightest degree, aid or assist me in bringing the war to a successful and speedy close, you will give them your earnest and hearty support. I return to you my cordial thanks for this expression of confidence, but assure you that there is no truth in the assertions which you mention; and I presume that you will already have seen by the closing part of my annual message, which must have reached you since the date of your letter, that I have not contemplated the use of any other agency in treating for peace than that established by the Constitution of the Confederate States. That agency seems to me to be well adapted to its purpose, and free from the injurious consequences that would follow any other means that have been suggested. The objection to separate State action which you present in your letter appears to be so conclusive as to admit no reply. The immediate and inevitable tendency of such distinct action by each State is to create discordant instead of united counsels; to suggest to our enemies the possibility of a dissolution of the Confederacy, and to encourage them, by the spectacle of our divisions, to more determined and united action against us. They would readily adopt the false idea that some of the States of the Confederacy are disposed to abandon their sister States and make separate terms of peace for themselves; and if such a suspicion, however unfounded, were once engendered among our own people, it would be destructive of that spirit of mutual confidence and support which forms our chief reliance for success in the maintenance of our cause. When the proposal of separate State action was first mooted, it appeared to me so impracticable, so void of any promise of good, that I gave no heed to the proposal; but upon its adoption by citizens whose position and ability give weight to the expression of their opinions, I was led to a serious consideration of the subject. My first impressions have not been changed by reflection. If all the States of the two hostile federations are to meet in convention, it is plain that such a meeting can only take place after an agreement as to the time, place and terms on which they are to meet. Now, without discussing the minor, although not trifling difficulties, of agreeing as to time and place, it is certain that the States would never consent to a convention without a previous agreement as to the terms on which they were to meet. The proposed convention must meet on the basis either that no State should, against its own will, be bound by the decision of the convention, or that it should be so bound. But it is plain that an agreement on the basis that no State should be bound, without its consent, by the result of the deliberations, would be an abandonment, on the part of the North, of its pretended right of coercion; would be an absolute recognition of the independence of the several States of the Confederacy; would be, in a word, so complete a concession of the rightfulness of our cause that the most visionary cannot hope for such an agreement in advance of the meeting of a convention. The only other possible basis of meeting is that each State should agree, beforehand, to be bound by the decision of the convention; and such agreement is but another form of submission to Northern dominion, as we well know that in such a convention we should be outnumbered nearly two to one. On the very threshold of the scheme proposed, therefore, we are met by an obstacle which cannot be removed. Is not the impracticable character of the project apparent? You will observe that I leave entirely out of view the suggestion that a convention of all the States of both federations should be held by common consent without any previous understanding as to the effect of its decisions; should meet merely to debate and pass resolutions that are to bind no one. It is not supposed that this can really be the meaning attached to the proposal by those who are active in its support, although the resolutions to which you invite my attention declare that the function of such a convention would be simply to propose a plan of peace, with the consent of the two belligerents; or, in other words, to act as negotiators in treating for peace. This part of the scheme is not intelligible to me. If the convention is only to be held with the consent of the two belligerents, that consent cannot be obtained without negotiation. The plan then would resolve itself into a scheme that the two governments should negotiate an agreement for the appointment of negotiators to make proposals for a treaty. It seems much more prompt and simple to negotiate for peace at once than to negotiate for the appointment of negotiators, who are to meet without power to do anything but make proposals. If the Government of the United States is willing to make peace, it will treat for peace directly. If unwilling, it will refuse to consent to the convention of States. The author of these resolutions, and those who concur in his views, appear to me to commit the radical error of supposing that the obstacle to obtaining the peace which we all desire consists in the difficulty of finding proper agencies for negotiating, so that the whole scope of the resolutions ends in nothing but suggesting that if the enemy will treat, the best agency would be State delegates to a convention; whereas the whole and only obstacle is, that the enemy will not treat at all, or entertain any other proposition than that we should submit to their yoke, acknowledge that we are criminals, and appeal to their mercy for pardon. After this statement of objections, if may appear superfluous to add others of less gravity; but as you invite a full expression of my views, I will add that history is replete with instances of the interminable difficulties and delays which attend the attempt to negotiate on great and conflicting interests when the parties to the negotiation are numerous. If this has been the case where the parties possessed full powers to conclude a treaty, what can we hope from an assemblage of negotiators from thirty or forty States, who, in the midst of an exasperating warfare, are to meet without power to conclude anything? In the history of our own country we find that in a time of profound peace, when the most cordial brotherhood of sentiment existed, and when a long and bloody war had been brought to a triumphant close, it required two years to assemble a convention and bring its deliberations to an end, and another year to procure the ratification of their labors. With such a war as the present in progress, the views of the large assemblage of negotiators proposed would undergo constant change according to the vicissitudes of the struggle, and the attempt to secure concordant views would soon be abandoned, and leave the parties more embittered than ever; less hopeful of the possibility of successful negotiation. Again, how is the difficulty resulting from the conflicting pretentious of the two belligerents in regard to several of the States to be overcome? Is it supposed that Virginia would enter into a convention with a delegation from what our enemies choose to term the “State” of “West Virginia,” and thus recognize an insolent and violent dismemberment of her territory? Or would the United States consent that “West Virginia” should be deprived of her pretensions to equal rights, after having formally admitted her as a State, and allowed her to vote at a Presidential election? Who would send a delegation from Louisiana, Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri? The enemy claim to hold the governments of those States, while we assert them to be members of the Confederacy. Would delegates be received from both sides? If so, there would soon be a disruption of the convention. If delegates are received from neither side, then a number of the States most vitally interested in the result would remain unrepresented; and what value could be attached to the mere recommendations of a body of negotiators under such circumstances?–Various other considerations suggest themselves, but enough has been said to justify my conclusion that the proposal of separate State action is unwise, impracticable, and offers no prospect of good to counterbalance its manifold injurious consequences to the cause of our country. Very respectfully, yours, etc., Jefferson Davis.