John Brown Baldwin.

Interview between President Lincoln and Col. John B. Baldwin, April 4th, 1861 : statements & evidence online

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Online LibraryJohn Brown BaldwinInterview between President Lincoln and Col. John B. Baldwin, April 4th, 1861 : statements & evidence → online text (page 1 of 5)
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_A.pril 4tli, 1861.













AI>RIL 4tli, 1861.







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in 2010 with funding from

State of Indiana through the Indiana State Library


1 regret Very Ittucli that tcircumstances beyond my control have pl*eVehtctl
hn earlier notice from me of the testimony given before tlie Reconstructioil
Committee by John Fi Lewisj John M. Bott!? and myself in relation to my
interview with President Lihcoln on the 4th of April, ISGli

1 regarded it as just to all parties to laWalt the publication of the testi-^
hiony in full, ahd whcn^ by the kindness of friends and the courtesy of pub-»
lie officers, I Wias fUt'hished With it in advance of the regular publication, I
found it necessary to submit it to the exaiKination of the gentlemen to
whose testimony I desh-ed to appeal in sUppoi-t of my statement.

I publish herewith so much of the testimony as relatefi to the subject.

I find the report of my testihiony to be substantially col-rect, atid I refef
to the account therein given as in accordance with my distinct recollection
of what passed, and with what I have uniformly and invariably stated to
every one, without exception^ With whom I have, at any time, conversed ful-
ly on the subjectv

My memory is fully and strikingly sustained by the Btatementi? herewith
published from Alleji B. Magruder, Esq^, the special messenger with whom
I went to Washington and to Whom I gave a hurried account of the inters
view imhiediately aft^er it teriiiinated ; ftOd from Messrsi George W. Sum -
mers, John Janney, Alex. H-. H. Stuart and Samuel Price^ members of the
Convention, who, with Robert E.Scott, Escp) of Fauquier^, had concurred in
sending me to Washington, aUd to whom I reported fully on my return to
EichmoiUl next day^

I think it probable I ha\T3 toade the sa^ne statement to at least fifty dif -
ferent persons.

No witnfcssjms present at tlie conversation between Mr. Lincoln and my^
■self, and no opportunity afterward occurred to compare our recollections of
what passed. If, therefore, any substantial discrepancy shall be found be-*
tween my account and any tmlt ^iitheniitnled statement given by Mr. Lin*
coin, I can only say, that, claiming what I have said to be correct and true,
I have yet no disposition to c}uestion that he had the same belief as to what
he stated^

I use the term "Well authenticated)" intending thereby to exclude
any such account as that reported by Mr* Botts, which, though given as
■"due to history and due to the memory of Mr» Lincoln," would cast upon
him the reproach of a statement inaccurate in its details and impossible in
its substance^.

The very first sentence attributed by Mr. Botts to Mr» Lincoln misstates
the manner in Which the interview was brought about, and the time at
wdiich it took place.

He is represented as saying, "tkftt k^i hwd ttb^rlt a iiieek or ten daye befort
that, possibly d fortnight, kiiriiitn to Mr. Summers, asking him to come to
Washington, without delay, as he had a most important proposition to make
to him," and as making no allusion whatever to having sent a special mes-
senger-. Judge Summers says he ^'receivfd no letttrfrom Mr. Linc^ln,^^


but that on one day he received a note from Mr. Seward, stating that the
President desired to see him, and suggesting that he should come to Wash-
ington for that purpose in a few days, if practicable, and that on the next
day Mr. Magruder arrived as a special messenger. 3Ir. Magruder fixes his
arrival as on Wed'.lesdixy, yipril 3, and says that ort Tuesday the 2d Mr.
Lincoln told him "he desired to sec Mr. Summers on matters of the highest
importance ; that he did nOi wish to trust to the mail or the telegraph, but
preferred to send a special messenger to communicate with him confiden-

Mr. Lincoln is made to fix the time of the interview as on "the Friday
preceding, ifbhich was the S^/i." Mr* Magruder fixes it distinctly as having
occurred on Thursday thi 4th; he saysj "on Wednesday night we left
Richmond, and, reaching Washington early next morningj Thursday, I
called about 10 o'clock on Mr. Seward and introduced CoL Baldwin." He
nlso mentioVis the fact that I "was to speak that evening in Alexan-
dria," and the Alexandria papers of the 5th contain notices of the fact that
I did speak tbere on the ni&ht of the 4th of ApriL The Journal of the
Virginia Convention show;? that I was not present on the 4tll of April, and
that I was present and voting before the adjournment on the 5th. (See
Journal of the Committee of the Whole» pp. 21 and 47-.)

It will naturally suggest itself that while such inaccuracies "v^ould hardly
have been committed by Mr. Lincoln iu a statement made Within a few
days and while the mattef was fresh in his memory, they might well hap-
pen in an account given by any one of a conversation five years after it took
place. Mr. Botts, however, wholly rejects any such idea, for when asked if
he had taken any memoi'andum of his conversiation With Mr. Lincoln, he
says he did not ; that there was no necessity for it, and that it was impressed
so strongly on his mind that it could newr be obliterated. He even under-
takes to give in Mr. Lincoln's own words, the proposition which I am sup-
posed to have rejected) and for the rejection of which Mr. Botts records
himself as "very much incensed," viz: "You have recently tak^n a vote in
the Virginia Convention Dn the right "bf secession which was rejected by
ninety to forty -jive, a majority of two-thirds, showing the strength of the
Union purt'^ in that Conttntion ; and if you will go back to Richmond
and get that Union majority to adjourn and go home without passing the
iDrdinance of secession, s& anxious am I for th'e prtservation of the peace of
this country, and to savt Virginia and the other border States Jrom goijig
•out, that I will take the responsibility of evacuating Fort Sutnter and take
ihe cluince oj' negotiating ivith the cotton Sttitee which have already gone

According to Mr. Botts, this is Mr. Lincoln's proposition, as made to me,
in Mr. Lincoln's own words. In answer to a question whether he felt sure
of it, he replied : "I know it as well as I know you are standing before me
{ind that I am answering your questioiiN" If aiiy part of his st-atemeut is
worth anything, it must be this^

The vote of the Convention thus referred to is one which attracted much
attention at the time, and which is no doubt well remembered by members
t>f the Convention and by othei's> It Was the vote on Harvie's resolution,
which was a« follows :

"i?esoZfaZ, That an ordinance resuming the powers delegated by Virginia to the
J^'ederal Gor^rnment, and provision for submitting the same to tb* qualified voters
fii' the Commonwealth, for their adoption or rejection at the polls in the spriiig
elections in May next,* should be adopted by this Convention."

It was upon this resolution that the Convention for the first time drew
tbe line between the L^nion men «nd the Socessionivits, the vote being nlnity

COL. Baldwin's statement. 5

i& Jorty-Jlve against the resolution. After this vote the Secessionists in the
Convention were known as '■'•the forty-five,'''' and it was for them that an en-
thusiastic secessionist provided an Eagle's quill with which to sign the Or-
dinance of Secession. (See the Resolation and vote in the Journal of the
Committee of the Whole, page 3L) The subject of this vote and the num-
bers on the division identify it beyond doubt as the oae referred to — there
was no other at ali like 'lU

The only difficulty in the matter is to understand how Mr^ Lincoin could
have mentioned this vote in the conversation between us, and could have
founded upon it so important a proposition as that stated by Mr. Bott&,
when the siiibborn fad oidstaiids that no such vote had then been taken !

It will be remembered that 3Ir. Magruder introduced me to Mr. Seward
on Thursday, the 4th of April, 1861, about 10 o'clock, and that the inter-
view with the President began about 1 1 o'clock of that day— it was certain-
ly concluded by half past twelve o'clock at the President's house in Wash-
ington. The Journal of the Virginia Convention already referred to show%s
(page 21) that on Thursday, April 4th, 1861, 'Olr. Wise, at 20 minutes
past 12 o'clock, M^, moved that th« Committee rise." The motion failed,
■and the Committee proceeded with business, the report of which occupies
ten pages of the Journal, including the record of six different votes by yeas
and nays, after lohich Harvie'S resolution was offered, considered, and voted
upon, it being the last business of an unusually protracted sitting..

It is as clear then as any fact can be that my interview with the Presi-
dent at Washington was over at least two or three hour^s before the vote on
Harvie^s resolution ivas taken at Richmond.

It is, of course, impossible then, that Mr. Lincoln could have made to me
the statement which Mr. Botts reports^ Whether he told Mr„ Botts he
had done so is an inquiry which may be "due to history and due to the
memory of Mr, Lincoln," but with which I have no personal concern. It
would seem, however, that if Mr-. Botts desires, in this connectictn, "to ele-
vate Mrs Lincoln in the e3'es of all good men," he will find it necessary to
lower, somewhat-, his own claims to infallible memory.

Until Mr. Botts inds out the name of the gentleman who spoke to him at
Willard's last winter, and untangles him from Gov. Pierpont and Fortress
Monroe, it would perhaps be premature, if not intrusive, to offer any com-
jneut upon the remark of Mr. Botts that "Mr. Lincoln has made the same
statement to othei-s whose names I will give you before I conclude," It
must, however, be taken as rather a striking fact, bearing upon the. reliance
to be placed upon the memory of Mr. Botts, that he should have allowed
himself to fall into such a muddle in regard to diselosures so recent about
a matter which he has deemed of sufficient importance for a chapter in bis
'''work," as the following;

"I want to mention farther, that there was seme other gentleman whom I met
here during the winter, whose name I blame myself very much for forgetting,
(names and figures I never can recollect, but circumstances and conversations that
come under my observation, if they leave all impression upon mj' mind at all, are
Very distinct, and are as fresh iu my memorj^, I believe, for for'tj- yeai-s past, as
they would have beeti had they occurred yesterday, ) and who told me that JMr,
Lincola had mentioned the same thing to him. Within the last four weeks, in
conversation with Goveivaor Peirpoint on this subject, expressing my surprise at
having it intimated that Mr-. Baldwin denied it. Governor Peirpoint remarked to
me that Mr. Lincoln made the same statement to him-. I may have coiifeunded
the conversation of Governor Peirpoint with that of the gentleuian who spoke to
me at Willard's ; but it was one or the other of them, and I think Governor Peir-
point, who said that Mr. Lincohi commiuiicated the same facts to him, with this
addition-, that I\Ir. Baldwin also -demanded the surrender of Fort-.-es-s Monroe '; fa
wiich I replied, Olr. Lincoln made no such communication as that to me.'


What passed between Mr. Lincoln and myself, at the interview in ques'
tion, must at last be determined by the testimony of two persons only. 'If
Mr. Lincoln were living, I should anticipate no difficulty in agreeing with
him in all substantial particulars as to what occurred^ I should expect to
lilid my recollectioh of the conversation more full and accurate than his. — ■
The interview was to me of primary importance — the only business for
which I went to ^Yashington=^while to him it was but one of the many im-
portant inatters Which, at that eventful time, jjressed upon hife consideration
It was my duty and my purpose to observe and to remember every word
that passed in order to make a fair report oh my return to the friends who
had sent me, and it appears that I did make a very full and minute report
which served to fix the whole interview in my memory and in that of those
friends. Mr. Lincoln had no such report to make5 and it appears from Mr;
Botts' interview with Mr» Chase that Mr* Lincoln had not regarded the
matter as of sufficient importance to be communicated to his cabinet. I
dovibt very mUch whether Mr. Libcoln ever took the trouble to make to any
one a detailed statemelit of our conversation^ with a view to have it clearly
understood ond distinctly remembered.

However that toay be, I have given my statement with all the car"* and
deliberation due to the subject, and upon all the responsibilities that belong
to me. When it shall appear that Mr. Lihcoln has done the same, if any
conflict shall be found in our etatetaents, I sliall be prepared to deal with it
as may be proper, but I will not anticipate it.

A striking illustration of the uncertainty attending all conclusiohs
founded upon partial statements or inconiplete conversations is furnished
by the accounts giveh by Messrs. Botts and Lewis of what occurred at the
house of Mr. Botts on the morning of the 17th of April, 1861. I remem^
ber the A'isit, and all the circumstances attending it, as well as I do any
matter which happened five years ago, to which I attributed no special im-
portance at the time, and to which I have had no occasion since to reciir.
It was the only time I was erer at the house of Mr. Bottsj With whota I
had a v^ery slight acquaintance^ and between whota and myself there had
never been much sympathy. I went at the reque,st of Mr. Lewis, who pro-
cured a hack for the purposCj and under the impression that Mr Botts had
expressed a desire to see me. I do not remember that I was told why Mr.
Botts wished to see me, though I probably was informed that it was on the
Subject of my recent visit to Washington. I well remember being under
the impression that it was regarded as of importance that I should see Mr.
Botts before the assembling of the Convention that day, and my hope that
he might have something to suggest having a practical bearing upon the
momentous issue which ihipended for that day. The Convention had ad^
journed to meet at 10 o'clock that morning, and the business under consid-
eration was the Ordinance of Secession, which was passed that day. I re-
member that we both considered it important for us to return with certain^
ty by the meeting of the Convention.

When we arrived at the house of Mr. Botts, we were shown into the par-
lor, and} after the ordinary salutations, Mr. Botts opened the conversation
by asking hie if I had reported to the Convention what had passed between
Mr. Lincoln and myself on my ifecent visit to Washington. I replied that
I had not. He a>aked> why not 1 and I told him the Convention had noth-
ing to do with the matter, and that I had gone to see the President at the
instance of some of the Union men of the Convention, to wholn I had re-
ported fully all that occurred. Taking hold of my remark, that the Con^
vention had nothing to do with the matter, he became somewhat excited)
a.nd told me that I had taken upon myself a very grave responsibility in

COL, Baldwin's statement. f

withholding the knowledge of such an interview from the Convention, He
did not,' according to my recollection, undertake to give me any account of
the interview as derived from Mr. Lincoln, but pressed questions upon me
as to whether the Convention had nothing to do with the cjviestiou of its
own adjournment ; nothing to do with the evacuation of Fort Sumter. I
remember telling him that both of those subjects had been discussed be^
tween Mr. Lincoln and mygelf, and he again inquij-gd how I could withhold
puch a conversation from the Convention, to which I again replied;) that I
had reported to thoge who Bent me, and that it was not reported to the Con=
vention,for the reason that there was nothing in the conversation upon which
the Convention could act, or upon which I, as a member of the Convention,
would have been willing to act. I soon found that I wag undergoing a
ppecies of reproof to which I was not accustomed, and that the convergatiou
was likely to be a long and not a very pleasant one ; so I put an end to it
by telling him that if he desired to know all that had passed between Mr.
Lincoln ^,nd jnyself I had no objection to tell him, or to discuss the matter
fully with him, but that I could not do so then, as the Convention was about
to meet, and I felt bound to be present at p.n importa,nt vote e:!^pected that

My experience in my profession has satisfied me tliat there is hardly any
limit to the capacity of men to misunderstand a conversation, especially on
a subject about which the parties have not equal information, So far as I
know, neither Mr. Botts nor Mr. Lewis knew anything of the account given
by me of my interview with Mr. Lincoln, and I do not know under what
previous impressions they listened to what I said, I cannot, of courge, ac^
count for any construction they, or either of them, may have placed upon
what passed between us.

There are some things, however, about which a man of integrity cannot
be mistaken, and in regard to which no lapse of time or change of circum^
ptances can create a doubt in his mind, and one of these is the consistency
of his statements at any given time or pl^ce with the requirements of known

Mr. Botts says that at his house, on the occasion referred to, the fqilowing
conversation occurred between us :

''WeH, Mr. Baldwin, is it true thf^t Mr. Lincoln did propose to you that if the
Convention would adjourn, and go home without passing the ordinance of seces-
sion, he would evacuate Fort Suniter?" "Yes," said Baldwin, "he did." "My
G-od," Sfiid I, "Mr. ]Baldwin, why did you reject such a proposition as that?" —
The only answer he made, was by taking out his watch and saying, "it wants only
twenty niinutes of the hour of meeting of the Convention when a most important
vote IS to be taken. I am obliged to be there punctually at the hour, 3,nd I have
not time to make the explanation I desire, but I will g^vail myself of the earliest
opporunity to make a full explanation of it."

At the time of niy conversation with Mr, Botts, it was fresh and clear in
my memory that Mr, Lincoln had made me no such proposition, or anything
like it, or indeed any ofi'er of any kind, and I am enabled, therefore, upon
my independent recollection of the conversation, and upon my knowledge of
what was due to the truth of the matter, to oppose to thie statement of
Mr. Botts my difstinct, emphatic and unqualified denial and contradiction,
I could not and did not, then and there, or at any other time or place, ad-
mit directly, or by any just implication, the truth of any such statement, or
of any equivalent for it.

It seems from the testimony of Mr. Botts, that he has written this whole
affair in his book, and that he has been very anxious to bring the memory
of Mr, Lewis to vindicate the truth of his history. For this purpose he has

8 COL. Baldwin's statement.

time a.ncl again appealed to Mr. Lewis by letter, and in person, to write "»
letter giving him substantially all that he recollected about it." At last
Mr. Lewis satisfied him by telling him, "There is no occasion for it. I
have put it all down in my testimony before the Reconstruction Commit-
tee on oath."

Mr. Lewis' whole recollection of the matter as thus given is as follows: —
"I took Colonel Baldwin to the house of Mr. Botts who told him he was in-
formed that such an interview had taken place. Col. Baldwin did not deny
it. In answer to Mr. Botts' cjuestion of how, in the name of God, he could
take the responsibility of withholding the knowledge of such an interview
from the Convention, Col. Baldwin remarked that it was then near the
hour for the meeting of the Convention, and that he was compelled to be
there, but would see him again." This statement is claimed by Mr. Botts
as applying to and confiniiing his account. I do not so regard it ; but to
avoid all misunderstanding, I deem it proper to say that I make no distinc-
tion between a direct admission of such a statement as that which Mr. Botts
claims to have made to me, and a failure to deny it whenever brought to my
attention ; and that, for the reasons I have given, I am able to speak with
equal clearness and confidence as to both.

The journal of the Convention shows that on that day I voted fortlie sub-
stitute oifered by Mr. Scott for the ordinance of secession, and then against
the ordinance ; and it appears from the secret debates, which were after-
w^ard published, that I spoke against the ordinance just before the final vote
was taken.

It is true, as Mr. Botts has stated, that when Virginia -seceded I deter-
mined, without one moment of doubt or hesitation, to follow her fortunes;
and that from that time forward I devoted every energy of mind and body
to make good the position she had taken. But it is equally true, and was
equally well known to Mr. Botts, though for some reason he has failed to
state it, that I was as active and determined in my opposition to secession
as any man in Virginia, and that the ordinance was passed against my most
earnest advice and remonstrance. I have not, therefore, been able to un-
derstand upon what motive it is supposed that I could have undertaken
without authority to reject, or, in violation of good faith, to suppress any
proposition or suggestion coming from the President, and having for its ob-
ject the preservation of peace and the restoration of the Union.

The gentlemen at whose instance I went to Washington, and to whom I
reported on my return, were my intimate, personal and political friends and
associates. It was my habit, and, on the occasion referred to, it was my
duty to communicate with them without reserve ; and I presume they must
have been greatly surprised to hear that so important a part of what hap-
pened at Washington had been withheld from them, to be told to Mr. Botts,
with whom I had no such relations, and to whom I owed no such duty.

My failure to report the proposition, supposed to have been made by Mr.
Lincoln, is fully accounted for by the fact already stated that he made me no
such offer ; but Mr. Botts had no such reason for delaying ten days to make
known the friendly dispositions of the President ; and his failure is the more
remarkable in view of the strong confidence expressed by him in the readiness
of the Convention to accede to the proposition. His account of the matter
suggests a doubt whether he was more anxious to save the Union or to make
a point upon the "Southern Demagogues."

Concluding his account of my visit to his house, Mr. Botts says : "From
that day to this I have not laid my eyes upon Mr. Baldwin, nor have I
heard any explanatiou from him, nor have I had directly any communica-


tinn from liim. I liave been informed that 3Ir. Baldwin gets very much'
excited whenever the subject is mentioned in his presence."

When I offered to tell 3Ir. Bottsall about my interview with Mr. Lincoln,
I did not undertake or expect to seek him for the purpose, but, it appears
from his own statement, that he very clearly understood that he had not yet
heard my account of the affair. I did not know that he proposed to make
the occurrence historical, and, if I had, I would not have suspected him of
so reckless a disregard of the duty of fair authorship as to omit or suppress
the testimony of the only living witness, nor could I have attributed to him
in advance the outrage of an attempt to impeach the truth of m_y statement
by the testimony of a witness who does not profess to have ever heard it.

I have not lived in a corner for the last five years, and 3Ir. Botts well
knows that when it suited his purposes to seek me, he had no trouble in find-

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Online LibraryJohn Brown BaldwinInterview between President Lincoln and Col. John B. Baldwin, April 4th, 1861 : statements & evidence → online text (page 1 of 5)