John Brown Baldwin.

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

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ing me. That there was nothing in our relations to prevent him from com-
municating with me, is manifest from the fact that when he was arrested by
the Confederate authorities in 1862, he selected me as counsel for his de-
fence.

The position I had taken in the Confederate Congress in opposition to
martial law and the suspension of the Habeas Corpus^ rendered it proper,
in my opinion, that T should decline acting as his counsel. Upon learning
my reasons, Mr. Botts and his family approved my refusal ; and the
unprofessional service which I was enabled to render was accepted and ac-
knowledged as equally satisfactory, and possibly more efficient.

If what passed between us in this connection has been forgotten by Mr.
Botts, I certainly have no disposition to remind him of it; but I must admit
that it was brought freshly to my mind when I heard, pending my applica-
tion for pardon, that Mr. Botts had declared in Washington and elsewhere,
that "if the President knew me as well as he did, he would not pardon me
at all, as I was more responsible than any other man for all the blood that
had been shed in the war."

I certainly denounced this statement and its author in terms which, if ac-'
curately reported to Mr. Botts, would naturally have impressed him with,
the belief that I was "very much excited." , ,,;

nwy.> in i.n.iov!o- i .tx;-. ■.-.->() ii-;;y«(:- uii li: JOHN B. BALDWIN". i;,:}.;:fi

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Testimony of Joliii F. Lewis. ' ■ '-^ ^^ ^'- * ^

,,!^,.^ „,|,-,p,i;,,,,v February 7thf 1866, '
*. ■ ,* * * * * *

Question. — Was George W. Summers, from the Kanawha district, a member of
that Convention ?

Answer. — Yes, sir. -ni n.i •/• ■i.i:);::)U!n'i ■■ -i •.>;U;- bi'iov^ H''!

Question. — How did he vote? _ ■ '■'■•■ ■-■■••'•: • '* - ■ ;-" -^:- ■' T f ■• ;

Answer. — He voted against the ordinance. He did not return to the Conven-'
tion, and I am not able to say whether he signed the ordinance or not. He took
no part in the war. I believe. I heard him roundly abused for not taking the
Southern side. While the Convention was still in session, I went to the house of
John Minor Botts, in Richmond, on the 16th of April, 1861, and he informed me
that he had been to Washington a few days before, and had had an interview with
Mr. Lincoln, in which interview Mr. Lincoln informed him that he had sent a
special messenger to Richmond for George W. Summers to come to Washington ;
and, in the event of his not being able to come, to send some reliable Union man to
consult with him on important matters. Mr. Summers, from some cause or other, .
did not go, but sent Colonel John B. Baldwin, of Augusta county, Virginia. Mr. •
Lincoln informed Mr. Botts that he had made this proposition to Colonel Baldwin :
that if that Convention would adjourn without passing an ordinance of secession,
he (Mr. Lincoln) would take the responsibility of withdrawing the troops from



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10 TESTIMONY OF COL. JOHN B. BAL1>W1X/

Fort Sumter. Colonel Baldwin declined to accede to it. and no such pvopossitinn.
^Yas ever made or communicated to the Convention. Next morning I took Col.
.Baldwin to the house of Mi-. Botts, who told him he was informed that such an
interview had taken place. Colonel Baldwin did not deny it. In ans-wer to 3Ir,
Botts' question of how, in the name of God, he could take the responsibility of
withholding the knowledge of such an interview fi-om the Convention, Colonel
Baldwin remarked that it was then near the hour for the meeting of the Conven-
tion, and that he was compelled to be thei'e, but Would see him again. No such
communication was ever made, to the best of my knowledge and belief, to any
large portion even of the members of the Convention, and a large number of theux

are to this day ignorant of the fact. '., ' ', ' '" y. ""■' . ~^".

lu: lo oviniwo oAi oufrcyon nt

— * ■ ^ ^-^^w', ■-:'■, -ToinilH'j} oift 7f(

Juu; .a •;i?!lestimoiiy of toL John B. Baldwin. '-^''''iri'.nMr^

••Hi..' .Hr<n> itfiil inov >-;,f oi '.m.Midyi -ruo . Fehmary lOfJi, 1866^^^

'■' • '*''''•=■*■'■ ■' '*''■'■■'■ *■ ■ ■■* ' ' ' ' ■* * ^ * ^ ■■■ ■■

Question. — Did you make a journey to "Washington before the firing on Fort
Sumter?

Answer. — I did. I carae here on the night of the 3d of April, 1861 ; I was here
on the 4th day of April, 1861.

Question. — Did you have an inter^'iew with President Lincoln? (f ni

Answer. — I did have a private interview with him, lasting peihaps an hour, -/m
Question. — Do you feel at liberty to state what transpired at that interview. ^^-'f^^
Answer. — I do, sir ; I know of no reason why I should not. . '..r

Question. — Have the goodness to state it.

Answer. — On the od of April, 1861, I was in the Convention. I was called out
by Judge Summers, a member of the Convention, who informed me that there
was a messen.cer in Richmond, sent by Mr. Seward, asking him (Summers) to
come on to Washington, as the President wanted to have an intei-view with him,
and stating that if for any reason he was unable to come, he would he glad if the
Union men of the Convention would select and send on some one of their number,
who enjoyed their confidence, and who would be regarded as a representative
man, competent to speak their sentiments, as the Pre.sideut wished to have some
communication with them. Mr. Summers told me that he and a number of other
members of the Convention, Union men, (calling their names over), had concurred
in the opinion that I was the proper man to go, and that he wanted me imme-
diately to get ready and return with the special messenger. I consented to come.
Mr. Allen B. Magruder, who was at that time a lawyer in the city of Washing-
ton, turned out to be the messenger. We came to Washington, and arrived here
about breakfast time. I went to Mr. Magruder' s house. About 10 or 11 o'clock
we called at the Department of State, and I was introduced to Mr. Seward. Mr.
Magruder informed him that I was the gentleman selected by the members of the
Virginia Convention — -the Union men — in accordance with his request, and that I
came indorsed by them as a person authorized to speak their sentiments. Mr.
Seward said he would not anticipate at all what the President desired to say to me,
but would take me immediately to his house. We went to the President's house,
and I was taken to the audience chamber. The President was engaged for some
time ; and at last Mr. Seward, when the President became disengaged, took me up
and introduced me to him in a whisper, indicating, as I thought, that it was a.
perfectly confidential affair. As nearly as I can recollect, the language he used
•was — "Mr. Baldwin, of the Virginia Convention," Mr. Lincoln received me very
cordially, and almost immediately arose and said that he desired to have some pri-
vate conversation with me ; he started through into the back room, opening into
the other room ; but on getting in there, we found two gentlemen sitting there en-
gaged in writing, and he seemed to think that that would not do, and passed
across the hall mto a corresponding small room opposite, and through that into a
large front room — immediately corresponding with the private audience hall — in
which there was a bed ; he locked the door, and stepping around into a space be-
hind the bed, drew up two chairs, and asked me to take a seat. Mr. Seward did
not go in with us. As I was about sitting down, said he, "Mr. Baldwin, I am
afraid you have come too late. " "Too late for what?" said I. Said he, "I am



TESTIMONY OF COL. JOHN B. BALDWIN. 11

afraid you have come too l;ite ; T wish you could have been here three or four da.ys
a<{0." "Why,"' said I. "3Ir. President, hHow me tn say I do not understand your
remark : you sent a speeiul messenger to Kichmond"-

Question. — You ^^ot the request to Mr, i^fummei'B on the 3d of April?

Answer. — Yes, sir.

Question. — .\nd you started-'

Answer. ^-Within three hours. ^ ' uvm -i. /.i .m-i - ■. .;

Question. — And you arrived on the moruilip of the 4th? ; '\"ii -i-M ...■ ....,^. . .

Answer, "-I'es ; and n)y interview with ]\lr. Jjincolli was about 11 o'clock that
day. Said I, "I do not utiderstand you ; ynu sent a special messenger to Rich-
niond, who arrived there yesterday ; I returned with him by the shortest and most
expeditious mode of travel knoWn ; it was ])hysicaily impossible that 1 or aliy one
else, answering to your summons, could have got here sooner than I have arrived ;
1 do not understand what you mean by saying that I have come too late." Said
he, "Why do you not all adjourn the Y'irginia Convention?'' Said I, "Ad.jourrt
it !^how"? do you mean .sw! (fe.^"' "'Yes," .said he, ".sf/*e rf^e; why do you not
adjourn it ; it is a, standing menace to me, which embarrasses me very much."-^
Of course you w'ill understand that I do not pretend to recollect the language at
all, but this is about the substance of it. Said I, "Sir, lam very much surprised
to hear you express that opinion ; the Virginia Convention is in the hands of
T^nion men ; we have m it a clearand controlling majority of nearly three to one ;
we are controlling it for conservative results ; we can do it with perfect certainty,
if you will uphold cur hands by a conservative policy here. I do not understand
why you want a body thus in the hands of Union men to be dispersed, or why you
should look upon their sessions as in any respecta menace to you ; we regard our-
selves as co-operatittg with you in the objects which you profess to seek ; besides,"
said I, "I Would call your attention to this view : If we were to adjourn that
Convention sinv dk, leaving- these questions unsettled in the midst of all the trou-
ble that is OR us, it would place the Union men of A'irginia in the attitude of con-
fessing an inability to meet the occasion ; the result would be, that another Con-
vention \Vould be called as st>on as legislation could be put through for the pur-
pose. "

Question.— "Was the Legislature of Virginia then in ses.sion in the same city,
Richmond ?

Answer.— Yes, sir; that is my impression. Said I, "As soon as the necessary
legislation can be gfttten through, another Convention would be called, and the
TTnion men of Virginia could not, with a proper self-respect, offer themselves as
members of that Convention, having had the full control of one, and having ad-
journed without having brought about any sort of settlement of the troubles upon
lis. The result would be that the next Convention would be exclusively under the
control of secessionists, and that an ordinance of secession would be passed in less
than six weeks. Now, said I, sir, it seems to me that our true policy is to hold
the position that we have, and for you to Uphold our hands by a conservative,
conciliatory, national course. We can control the matter, and will control it if you
lielp us. And, sir, it is but right for me to say another thing to you, that the
Union men of Virginia, of whom I am one, would not be willing to adjourn that
(JonventioR until we either effect some settlehient of this matter or ascertain_ that
it cannot be done. As an original proposition, the Union men of Virginia did not
desire amendments to the Constitution of the United States ; We were perfectly
satisfied with the constitutional guarantees that we had, and thought our rights
and interests perfectly safe. But circumstances have changed ; seven States of the
South, the cotton States, have withdrawn from us and have left us in an extremely
altered condition in reference to the safe-guards of the Constitution. As things
stand now, we are helpless in the hands of the North. The balance of power
wdiich we had before for our protection against constitutional amendment is gone.
And we think now that we of the border States who have adhered to you against
all the obligations of association and sympathy with the Southern States have a
claim on the States of the North which is of a high and very peculiar character.
\"ou all say that you do not mean to injure us in our peculiar rights. If you are
in earnest about it there can be no objection to your saying so in such an authentic
form as will give us constitutional protection. And we think you ought to do
it, not gi-udingly. not reluctantly, but in such a way tt« that it would be a fitting
recoirftinrtn <-«f our tidelitv \» j-tandiuy bv vu under all circuni-tances - -fully. and



II TE-STIMOXY OF COL. JOHN B. BALDWIN.

generously, and promptly. If you will do it in accordance -with what we regard as
due to our position, it will give us a stand-point from which we can bring back the
seceded States^'"' I caimot follow the conversation through ; but he asked me the
question. "What is your plan ?" Said I, "Mr. President, if I had the control
of vour thumb and forefinger five minutes I could settle the whole question." —
^■Well," said he, "that would seem to be a simple process."' Said I, "lean settle
it as surely as there is a God in heaven, if you just give me the control of your
thumb and foreiinger five minutes. To let you understand how earnestly I be-
lieve it. as God is my Judge, if I could get the control of that thumb and forefinger
for five minutes, I would be willing, unless my weak flesh would fail me, that you
should take me out within the next five minutes and knock me on the head' on
Pennsylvania aveaue." "Weil," sjiid he, "what is your plan?" Said I, "Sir, if
I were in your place I would issue a proclamation to the American people, some-,
what after this style : I would state the fact that you had become President of
the United States as the result of a partisan struggle partaking of more bitterness
than had usually marked such struggles ; that, in the progress of that struggle,
there had naturally_ arisen a great deal of misunderstanding and misrepresentation
of the motives and intentions of both sides; that you had no doubt you had been
represented, and to a large extent believed, to be inimical to the institutions and
interests and rights of a large portion of the United States, but that, however you
might, in the midst of a partisan struggle, have been more or less (as all men)
excited at times, occupying the position of President of the United States, you had
determined to take your stand on the broad platform of the general Constitution,
and to do equal and exact justice to all, without regard to party or section; and
that, recognizing the fact without admitting the right, but protesting against the
right, that seven States had undertaken to withdraw themselves from the Union,
you had determined to appeal to the American people to settle the question in the
.spirit in which the Constitution was made— American fashion — by consultation
and votes instead of by appeal to arms. And I would call a national convention
of the people of the United States and urge upon them to come together and set-
tle this thing. And in order to jn-event the possibility of any collision or clash of
arms interfering with this effort at a pacific settlement, I would declare the pur-
pose (not in any admission of want of right at all, but with a distinct protest of
the right, to place the forces of the United States wherever in her territory you
choose) to withdraw the forces from Sumter and Pickens, declaiing that it was
done for the sake of peace, in the effort to settle this thing ; and that you were deter-
mined, if the seceded States chose to make a collision, that they should come clear
out of their wa^j and do it. Sir, said I, if you take that position there is national
feeling enough in the seceded States themselves and all over the country to rally
to your supjjort, and you would gather more friends than any man in the country
has ever had."_ He said something or other, I do not recollect what, but it creat-
ed the impression upon me that he was looking with some apprehension to the
idea that his friends would not be pleased with such a step, and I said to him,
"Mr. President, for ever\' one of your friends whom you would lose by such a
policy you would gain ten who would rally to you and to tlie national standard of
peace and Union." Said he, rather impatiently, "That is not what I am thinking
about. If I could be satisfied that I am right, and that I do what is right, I do
not care whether people stand by me or not." Said I, "Sir, I beg your pardon,
for I only know of you as a politician, a successful politician ; and possibly I have
ftillen into the error of addressing you by the motives which are generally potent
with politicians, the motive of gaining friends. I thank you that you have recalled
to me the higher and better motive, the motive of being right; and I assure you
that, from now out, I will address you only by the motives that ought to influence
a gentleman." ,^j.^

Question. — You drew a distinction between a politician and a gentleman ? ,' ,,
Answer. — Yes, sir; he laughed a little at that. He said something about the
withilrawal of the troops from Sumter on the ground of militaiy necessity. Said
I, "that will never do, under heaven. _ You have been President a month to-day,
and if you intended to hold that position yf)U ought to have strengthened it, so as
to inake it impregnable. To hold it in the present condition of force there is an
invitation to assault. Go njion higher ground than that. The better ground than
that is to make a concession of an asserted right in the interest of peace." —
"Well," said he, "what about the revenue? What would I do about the collec-



TESTIMONY OF COL. JOHN B. BALDWIN. 13-

tion of duties?" Said I, "Sir, how nincli do you exjicct to collect in a year?" —
Said he, ''Fifty or sixty millions." "Why, sir," said I, "four times sixty is two
hundred and forty. Say ^250,000,000 would be the revenue of your term of the
presidency ; what is that but a drop in the bucket compared with the cost of such
a war as we are threatened with? Let it all go, if necessary ; but I do not believe
that it will be necessary, because I believe that you can settle it on the basis I
suggest," He said something or other about feeding the troops at Sumter. I
told him that would not do. Said I, "You know perfectly well that the people of
Charleston have been feeding them already. That is not what they ai'eat. They
are asserting a right. They will feed the troops, and fight them while they are
feeding them. They are after the assertion of a right. Now, the only way tha,t
you can manage them is to withdraw' from them the means of making a blow until
time for reflection, time for influence which can be brought to bear, can be gained,
and settle the matter. If you do not take this course, if there is a gun fired at
Sumter — I do not care on which side it is fired — the thing is gone." "Oh," said
he, "sir, that is impossible." Said I, "Sir, if there is a gun fired at Sumter, as
sure as there is a Grod in heaven the thing is gone. Virginia herself, strong as the
Union majority in the Convention is now, will be out in forty-eight hours. ' "Oh,"
said he, "sir, that is impossible," Said I, "Mr. President, 1 did not come here
to argue with you ; I am here as a witness. I know the sentiments of the people
of Virginia, and you do not. I understood that I was to come hereto give you
information of the sentiments of the people, and especially of the sentiments of the
Union men of the Convention. I wish to know before we go any further in this
matter, for it is of too grave importance to have any doubt of it, whether I am ac-
credited to you in such a way as that what I tell you is worthy of credence." —
Said he, "You come to me introduced as a gentleman of high standing and talent
in your State." Said I, "That is not the point I am on. Do 1 come to you
vouched for as an honest man. who will tell you the truth ?" Said he, "You do."
"Then," said I, "sir, I tell you. before Grod and man, that if there is a gun fired
at Sunifjcr this thin^ is gone. And I wish to say to you, Mr. President, with all
the solemnity that 1 can possibly summon, that if you intend to do anything to
settle this matter you must do it promptly. I think another fortnight will be too
late. You have the power now to settle it. You have the choice to make, and
you have got to make it very soon. You have. I believe, the power to place your-
self up by the side of Washington himself as the savior of your country, or, by
taking a different course of policy, to send down your name on the page of history
notorious forever as a man so odious to the American people that, rather than
submit to his dominations, they would overthrow the best government that God
ever allowed to exist. You have the choice to make, and you have, in my judg-
ment, no more than a fortnight to make it in." That is about as much as I can
gather out of the eonver.siition now. I went to Alexandria tliat night, where I
had telegraphed an acceptance of an invitation to make a Union speech, and made
a speech to a large audience, which, I believe, was the last Union speech made in
Virginia before the war ; and I went on to Richmond and reported to thoiegeute-
men.

Question. — You received fmm Mr. Lincoln no letter or memoi-andum in writing ?

Answer.— Nothing whatever.

Question. — No pledge? no undertaking?

Answer. — No pledge ; no undertaking ; no offer; no promise of any sort. I
went back to Mr. Seward's from the President's hnu.se that afternoon and had a
long talk w^ith him. I found Mr. Seward extremely earnest, as far as mortal num
could judge from this manifestations, in the de.■^ire to settle the matter. He seem-
ed to have a shrinking from the idea of a clash of arms, and the impression that
he made upon me was, that he thought the days of philosophic statesmanship
about to give way to the mailed gl(jve of the warrior, and that he was earnestly
engaged in the effort to secure peace and union, as the means of averting the mili-
tary era which he thought he saw dawning upon the country. I had a good deal
of interesting conversation With him that evening. I was about to stiite that I
have reason to believe that Mv. Lincoln himself has given an account of this con-
versation, which has been understood— but, I am sure, misujiderstood — by the
persons to whom he talked, as giving the representation of it that he had offered
to me, that if the Virginia Convention would adjourn sine die he would withdraw
the troops from Sumter and Pickens, I am as clear ia my recollection as it is rxts-



14 TESTIMONY OF COL. JOlIX B. l3ALr)\VlN*r

slble under the circumstances that he made no such suggestion, as I understood it,'
and said nothing from which I could infer it, fur 1 was so earnest and so excited —
the matter involving what I thought would give a promise of settlement to the
country — that I am sure no opening of that sort, (although I Would not have
thought it a practical scheme,) no overture of any sort could have escaped me.-^
I am sure that I would have made it the foundation, if not of direct negotiation^
at least of temporizing, in connexion Avith others. But I have reason to believe
that persons have derived that impression from conversation with Mr. ]jinco!n.="
Whether Mr. Lincoln intended to convey that impression to them or not, of course
I have no means of judging.

Question. — Did Mr. Seward send by yolt any letter or memorandum in writing?

Answer. — None whatever — no letter or memorandum in writing, nor any mes*
sage to anj'body, except his respects and compliments to Judge Summers. _ '

Question. — One object of your visit to the President was to obtain from him'
some assurance that he would take some step in the interest of peace, or to prevent
a collision of arms ?

Answer. — No, sir. That was one of the objects of the interview ; but my visit
there was at the instance of the President himself, who, without at all indicating
the purpose of conference, expressed a desire to have a conference with some gen-
tleman who would be a recognized exponent of the Union sentiment in the Vir-
ginia Convention.

" Question.-^You entertained the hope, at that interview, of getting from him
some assurance, some encouragement, by which the collision of arms might be j^re-
vented? .. .,,..:; ..._c.i ;.....;- ....i

Answer.— That was my object and purpose earnestlj'.' '- "ufi^- iJ' vov M ])3.!i.;>r>


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Online LibraryJohn Brown BaldwinInterview between President Lincoln and Col. John B. Baldwin, April 4th, 1861 : statements & evidence → online text (page 2 of 5)