John Brown Baldwin.

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

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gestion. It was this : that he should issue his proclamation calHng a National
Convention so to amend the Constitution as to give to the cotton States that had
already seceded leave to go out, and thereby to save the question of the right of
secession; the object of which was, as I explained to Mr. Lincoln, to make this a
foreign and not a civil war, to save Virginia, and the other border_ States which
would be ipfluenced by her action, to the Union, and that if they did not come to
their senses and ask fo': re-admission within a certain limited time, it would be a
capital occasion to apply the principle of the Monroe doctrine or the doctrine of
the Ostend manifesto to them, to give them a little of their own physic, to con-
quer them aiid hold them as conquered provinces until they were fit to come in
again as States. This I afterwards submitted in a correspondence to Mr. Bates.
Therefore, if Mr. Lincoln had said anything about the proclamation, it would have
been .so entirely in accordance with the proposition siibmitted by me to him that I
could not have forgotten it. When I mentioned the matter to _ Mr. Lincoln lie
said that it was a proposition worthy of the highest consideration, and that it
should have his attention.

[The testimo'ny of John B. Baldwin, hitherto taken before this committee, in
reference to his interview with President Lincoln, was here read to the witness.]

Questions — Do you wish to say anything in reference to the statement of Mr.

Answer.— I cannot undertake to account for the discrepancy between Mr. Bald-
win's recollection a?5d Mr. Lincoln's, or between Mr. Baldwin's recollection and
that of Mr, Lewis and myself; nor will I undertake to express an opinion on the
question of veracity which would be raised between Mr. Lincoln's statement and
Mr. Baldwin's admission, about which I do not think it is possible that either Mr.
Lewis or myself can be mistaken. I have had so little disposition to do Mr. Bald-
win an injury by making a public statement of this terrible responsibility, which I
•have always felt rested on his shoulders, that in the historical account I have given
■of it I had left the name of Mr. Baldwin in blank, and should not have given the


name, as it was not material to the truth of history that the name should be givett,
until I heard that Mr. Baldwin had denied it, and then I determined to give Mn
Baldwin the benetit of a public denial by inserting his name, which I have done.
■ Question.— You then resided in Kichmond? -; .^ j^. " :

Answer.— Yes, sir. ' ' " '

Question. — You were pei'sonally known, perhaps, to every member of the Con-
vention ; they were your acquaintances, w6re they not?

Answen — I was living in Richmond, and I suppose that, either personally or
politically', I was known to every member of the body, although I think that there
were perhaps some members in the Convention with whom I had formed no par-
ticular personal acquaintance, but my acquaintance With both parties was very

Question. — If Mr. Baldwin had returned to Richmond, and^ as he remarks in
his testimony, had reported the interview which he had with President Lincoln to
many persons, members of the Convention, is it not likely yoU Would have known
of that report?

Answer. — If he had reported it as Mr. Lincoln had reported it to me, I unques-
tionably should have known it ; and I think there is no doubt whatever that if it
had been mentioned to those gentlemen with whom I had communication, the
Union men of the Convention, it is scarcely possible it Would have been withheld
from me. But Jlr. Cray's declaration, who was on terms of as close intimacy with
Mr. Baldwin as any gentleman in the Convention, shows, I think, that it could
not have been mentioned, as Mr. Gray expressed the supposition that it had not
been known to more than three persons in the city of Richmond.

Question. — And if the report of that interview of Ml*. Baldwin with President
Lincoln had been made, as he has given it here in his testimony, would you not
have been just as likely to have known it ?

Answer.— I think that in the eveiit of any communication of that kind being
made to the tJnion men I was obliged to have heard it, because they came to my
house every night to consult and confer together as to the condition of things in
the Convention, and as to the course to be pursued in reference to the various
questions constantly arising. It is hardly possible to suppose that some one or
more of them would not have mentioned the interview. But I never have heard
any member of that Convention speak of the interview, except Mr. Lewis, Mr.
Gray, and Mh Baldwin himself, that I recollect.

Question. — Can you fix the date on which you first heard of Mr. Baldwin having
had an interview with President Lincoln ?

Answer. — 3lost distinctly ; it was on Sunday night, the 7th of Aprils 1861.

Question. — Then you first heard of it?
^ Answer. — Then I first heard of it. ,; ^ ^_ ■;,] r^

■('Question. — From Mr. Lincoln? : ■ -"..-a, .. j,

Answer. — Yes.

Question. — You had not heard of it before ?

Answer. — I had hot heard of it before. I kneW that Mr. Baldwin was here to
see Mr. Lincoln, but under what circumstances and for what purpose I did not

Question. — You heard it on the Tth? "-^^ ', ;.^ ;■ ".';■ ^

Answer. — Yes.

Question. — iMr. Baldwin testified that the interview took ^lace on the 4th of
April ; where were you on the 5th and 6th?

Answer. ^ — I reached the city of Washington on the morning of the 5th or the
evening of the 5th, I cannot recollect wbich ; but my impression is that I lefl
home on the night of the 4th, and reached here on the morning of the 5th.

Question. — Suppose that proposition had been made fairly and openly to the
'Unionists of the Virginia Convention-, what efi'ect would it have had — I mean Mr.
Lincoln's proposition as stated to .yoit?.

Answer. — I have no hesitation in saying that it would have met with, in my
opinion, the very general concurrence of the L'nion men, with whom I wasin con-
stant association ; and that the democratic members themselves, not knowing the
cause of the movement to adjourn, would all have voted for an adjournment, for
the very reason that they had just been beaten so very badly on the resolution
touching the right of secession that they were themselves anxious for an adjouru-


ment, having despaired of being able to carry an ordinance of secession through
the Convention.

Question. — Do j'ou apprehend that the adjournment of that Convention would
have prevented the State of Virginia from going out of the Union and joining the
Southern Confederacy ?

Answer.— Most u'nquestionablJ^ I have no idea that a majority, or anything
approximating a majoritj^, of the people of Virginia, were, at the time of the pas-
sage of the ordinance of secession in Convention, in favor of it.

Question. — Suppose that proposition had been made, and suppose the Conven-
tion had adjourned sine die. do you think that the caUing of a National Conven-
tion by the President would have prevented war?

Answer. — I do, sir. I do not know that it would have prevented it ultimately
between the United States and the States which had already seceded ; but I think
it would have prevented Virginia from going out, and I think that the action of
Korth Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas, and Missouri all depended in a
very material degree on the action of Virginia.

Question. — If this whole proposition had been communicated to the Unionists
of the Vii-ginia Convention, together with a call for a National Convention, would
that have prevented the breaking out of civil war?

Answer. — I think it would, for the i-eason that, although the democracy, which
never meant to be satisfied with anything but war, despairing of being able to carry
the ordinance, would have voted for the adjournment ; whilst the Union men, who
wanted peace, would also have voted for an adjournment.

Question. — You are well acquainted with Mr. Baldwin ?

Answer. — I never had any personal intimacy with Mr. Baldwin. I have known
him for -a number of years, but we have had no particular personal intimacy.

Question. — How did he vote in the Convention upon the final question of se-
cession ?

Answer. — On the first vote on the ordinance of secession he voted against it.

Question. — State what his general course was ?

Answer.— 3Ir. Baldwin voted against the ordinance of secession on the ITth of
April, 1861. Within some two or three days after the passage of the ordinance,
and before the ordinance had been submitted to the people, (who had resented to
themselves the right to pass upon any ordinance of the Convention touching the
"organic law of the land, by a vote of ri6, 000 majority, ) which did not take place
till some five weeks afterwards, Mr. Baldwin, as I always understood, accepted a
miiitaiy commission in the service of the Confederate government, which he re-
tained till the close of the war. He subsequently signed his name to the ordinance
of secession, wliich was characterized at that day as a second Declaration of Inde-
pendence, and which I had always characterized as a declaration of war against
the United States. He also, I believe, voted for the ordinance when it was sub-
taitted to the people, and he was then elected to the Confederate Congress, and
was, as I learned, by a special act of the Confederate Congress, permitted to oc-
cupy that seat without surrendering his military commission.

QuestioE. — Did he serve in the Congress during the war?

Answer, — Throughout the war, fi-om that time until the close of it. I think he
was elected in 1861 a member of Congress, and occupied that position until the
■end of tlie war.

Question. — What post did he occupy on committees in Congress?
- Answer. — I did not pay sufficient attention to the matter to know.

Question. — Do you know what his general course was as a member of that Con-
gress ?

Answer. — As fer as I saw or heard anything about it, I always considered him
as being as ultra in his hostility to a restoration of peace without its being accom-
panied by a recognition of the independence of the Southern States, as any gentle-
^nan in the body.

Question. — Such was his reputation?

Answer. — That was the position he occupied, so far as I could draw an inference
from the proceedings in Congress when I saw them ; and I think it was his general
reputation among the loyal and disloyal men in Virginia.



On the second day of April, 1861, I was requested by a gentleman^ connected
with the State Department, who was sent, as he said, by the Secretary of State,
to have an interview with Mr. Seward. On repairing to the State Department,
Mr. Seward said the President wished to send some gentleman to Kichmond to
communicate confidentially with Mr. Summers, a member of the Virginia Conven-
tion then in session; that I had been mentioned to him as a Whig, a Union man
and a Virginian, and a suitable person ; atid he enquired whether I would go. I
replied, that would depend on the nature and object of the en-and. He asked,
what I meant by that reply. I said, I meant that, as I was a Virginian, I would
not undertake any eri'and or agency which would be injurious, or offensive to my
native State.

Mr. Seward then said he could assure me that what the President desired waS
en tirel.y in harmony with my sense of duty to my oWn State, that he wished to
preserve the Union, and defend and maintain the public peace and safety ; ajjdj
on his invitation, I accompanied him to the President. On being introducedj
after some preliminary conversation, the President asked me if I knew Mr. Geo.
W. Summers, of the Virginia Convention. On my answering in the affirmativej
he said he desired to see Mr. Summers on matters of the highest importance, that
he did not T\ to trust to the mail or the telegraph, but preferred to send a
special messenger to communicate with him confidentially, that he knew Mr.
Summers and that he thought him a wise man — -that he had great confidence in
him — that indeed he had '"confidence in all those Virginians" — that, although
they might differ with him about secession, he believed they were men who could
be depended on in any matter in which they pledged their honor or gave their
word that they would alwaj's keep their pledges. He then said, "Tell Mr. Sum-
mers, I want to see him at once, for there is no time to be lost. What is to be
done, must be done quickly. " On my suggesting that he had better fix some
time within which Mr. Summers should come, and that it was possible he might
not be able to come at all, as I knew that an important vote in the Convention
was about to be taken ; he said, after a moment's reflection, "This is Tuesday.-^
I will give him three days. Let him come by Friday next," and _he added, "If
Mr. Summers cannot come himself, let him send some friend of his, some Union
man in whom he has confidence who can confer freely with him.

Having received these instructions, I retired with Mr. Seward. On our way to
the State Department, I expressed to him my hope that the step taken by the
President in seeking the counsel of one so able, patriotic and conservative as Mr.
Summers, would lead to the adjustment of our unhappy sectional strife and to the
pacification of the countrj'i He said he did not doubt it, and seemed very buoyant
and hopeful, remarking: "These troubles will all blow over. , The Union will be
preserved. It only requires time and moderation to bring all things right." I
told him that whilst time was a remedy for some maladies, it exasperated otherSj
and that I thought the President was right in saying that there was iio time to be
lost. I added, "I hope the President will withdraw the troops from Fort Sumter,
and relieve the Southern people from the menace which their presence created,
that I was sure such a step would prevent the secession of Virginia and the border
States, and that the cotton States Avould not persevere in their mad schemes with-
out the aid and co-operation of the border States^" Without directly responding
to this remark, he wished me a pleasant journey', bade me a courteous adieu and
we separated.

That night I went to Richmond, and on delivering my message to Mr. Sum-
mers, it turned out, as I had anticipated, that he could not come,"^ owing to the
business of the Convention ; after private consultation with some few fiiends, as he
informed me, he prevailed upon Colonel John B. Baldwin, a member of the
Convention from Augusta county, to go. Accordingly, on Wednesday night, we
left Ilichmond, and reaching Washington early next morning (Thursday,) I called)
about 10 o'clock, on Mr. Seward, and introduced CoL Baldwin as the gentleman
whom Mr. Summers had requested to come in his stead, to see the President.

What passed at the subsequent interview with IMr. Lincoln, of course, I only
know from Col. Baldwin's version of it given to me subsequently. Col._ B. was
hay guest while he remained here. He dined on that day at my house v/ith some
other gentlemen at a somewhat early hour, as he was to speak that evening in


Alexandria, and, in consequence, I had no opportunity to learn tlie particulars of
the conference, beyond a brief statement, when he lirst came in, to the efi'ect that
nothing was accomplished — that the President seemed embarrassed by his coming,
and was reserved as to his future proceedings and course — that the President asked
him, "^^'hy don't you adjourn that Convention?" adding, "I can take care of the
Union" — that Baldwin replied, "Adjourn the Convention? Do you want to drive
Virginia into secession?" and on the President's replying, "No," Baldwin rejoined,
"The people of Virginia have delegated to us the duty of fizing the staim of Vir-
ginia — of definding her ijosition in this crisis, and should they adjourn and go
home without doing so, another Convention would be assembled in a few weeks,
and the State would inevitably be precipitated into the secession movement. " lie
said that Mr, Lincoln said to him more than once, "3ow came too late."

Col. Baldmu, who had gone to the interview full of hope and coniidence as to its
results, was obviously much depressed and disappointed by the unfavorable turn of
afl'airs. He expressed to me his fears for the country — said that the President" s
reserve, after having invited him to an interview and sent a special messenger to
him, convinced him that he had changed his mind, and that he refused to make
any explanation of his remark, oft-repeated — ^^ You came too late." I remember
his saying that he told the President, if he only had his power, he would save the
country from the yawning gulf before it. The President asked what he would do.
He replied, he would withdraw the troops from Fort Sumter, and issue a procla-
mation to the American people, declaring his determination not to inaugurate civil
war — that he would not be the aggressor, but would throw himself on the sober
second thought, and the moderation and wisdom of the people as opposed to the
politicians — that thus the border States would be saved from the vortex of disunion,
jind all would ultimately be brought back into the Union." To all this, Mr. Lin-
coln only replied, "i? is noiv too late." J^Ir. Baldwin reminded him that he had
said, on sending for Mr. Summers, that he must get here by Fi-iday — that it was
now only TJtursda)/, and Mr. Baldwin asked, "2bo late for ivhat?" to which he
received no reply.

I learned aftervrards that while I was absent on my errand to Ftichmond, the
seven Northern Governors arrived in the city on their mission to the President. —
How much it was due to their presence and counsel that the President abandoned
the pacific policy he had evidently contemplated in taking Mr. Summers, of Vir-
ginia, into his confidence, and that he immediately dispatched "the Star of the
West" to Charleston for the ostensible pui'pose of relieving the "starving garrison
of Fort Sumter," a step which immediately precipated hostilities, and became
''the direfal spring of all our woes," let impartial history answer.



The following letter from Judge Henry W. Thomas has been received
since my statement was printed. It refers to a conversation I had with him .
at Alexandria, on the evening of the fourth of April, in which, at his re-
quest, I gave him a detailed account of what had passed between Mr. Lin-
coln and myself on that day :


John B. Bald'V\'in, Esq. — Dear Sir: — Your letter of the 17th ult. was re-
ceived, after some delay, tipon the eve of mj' setting out for the Circuit Court of
Alexandria, in which my time has been so constantly occupied, that my answer
has been unavoidably deferred. Referring to yom- testimony before the Congres-
sional Committee on Reconstruction, touching the conversation in the spring of
1861, between President Lincoln and yourself, as a member of the Virginia Con-
vention, a copy of which j'ou enclosed to me, and to the version of that conversa-
tion given by you to me on the eveniug of the day you had your inter\'iew with
him, upon my informing you that I had been deputed by a portion of the Union
members of the Legislature to see the President on the same subject, and that I
would be glad to know the subject matter of your conversation. You request me
to state fuJly and distinctly what thai version waoj and whether there is any dif=

24 LETTER OI-' ilO>r. G* W. SUMMERS.

ference between that version and your testimony before the Committee on KecoiH

According to the best of my recollection, that version and the testimony are sub-
stantially the same. A few days afterwards, I proceeded to Washington, where,
in company with Hon. Joseph Segar, I had an interview with President Lincoln
on the condition of the country, and the means of averting impending dangers to
the Union. In this conference, which was free and protracted, President Lincoln
neither said nor intimated anything inconsistent with the version you had previous-
ly given of the conversation between him and yourself In this conference some
allusion being made to Fort Sumter, the President indicated no purpose to ei-ac-
uate that Fort, but my impression is, that it was rather to the contrary.

Since I received j'our letter, I have seen Mr. Segar. While his recollection of
what occurred at that time, and of the expression of President Lincoln in our con-
ference is not very distinct, he had no remembrance of any intimation to evacuate
that point, Fort Sumter, and thinks the expression of such a purpose by the Presi-
dent would not have escaped his memory.

Respectfully, H. W. THOMAS.



John B. Baldwin, Esq. — At your request, I have examined the testimony given
by you before the Reconstruction Committee of Congress. My recollection of the
circumstances under which you visited President Lincoln, in April, I86L is sub-
stantially in accordance with your statement of them, as given in your evidence
before the Committee. Like yourself, I was a member of the Virginia Conven-
tion, then ia session at Richmond, and ardently opposed to any attempt to with-
draw the State from the Union. Early in April, (I have not the means at hand
to fix certainly the date,) I received a note from Mr. Seward, stating that the
President desired to see and confer with me, and suggesting that I should come
over to Washington for that purpose in a few days if practicable. The next day
after the receipt of this note, Mr. Allen B. Magruder, of the firm of Chilton and
Magruder, attorneys-at-law in Washington, came to me in the Convention, and
informed me that he came to Richmond to see me, at the request of Mr. Seward —
that Mr. Seward had instructed him to say to me that the President wished to see
me immediately, but, if from any cause, I could not come over myself, to send some
intelHgent Union member of the Convention, well-informed of the true state of
things in that body, and for whose Union sentiments and loyalty I could vouch. —
I mentioned these facts to a few tried Union members of the Convention, who ex-
pressed some unwillingness that I should be absent from the Convention in the
state of things then existing. The Committee of Twenty-one, on Federal relations,
had just made their report, and the same was then under consideration and open
to amendment. After talking the matter over, it was either suggested by myself
or some of the gentlemen in the Convention, that you would be a proper person in
every respect to go over. This was at once agreed to, and I immediately commu-
nicated the whole matter to yourself, and put you in communication with Mr. Ma-
gruder._ You readily consented to go, and left for Washington in that night's
train with Mr. IMagruder.

On your return, I well remember how intensely those of us, who were privy to
your going, listened to j'our report of the interview between the President and
yourself, and how, after you had finished your statement, we cross-examined you
as to all the details and incidents of the conversation, the manner, emphasis, &c.
Your report to us was substantially the same as that given in your evidence before
the Committee of Congress. I am very certain, that in your statement to us, you
did not mention that the President had proposed or suggested to you that if the
Convention would adjourn sine die, he would withdraw the United States troops
from Forts Sumter and Pickens or either of them, or anything equivalent to such
a proposition. That would have made too deep an impression to have been for-
gotten by any of us. I received no letter from IMr. Lincoln himself, but have no
OQubt that Mr. Seward's note and message were both at his instance and request.
Your obt scrvt, GEO. W. SUMMERS,


v::: m(yuj LETTER OF HON. JOHN JANNEY. ' '"''

^^?'^' • '■ " LEESBURG, MAY 25, 1S66.

Mr Dear Sir. — I received to-day a copj' of j^our evidence before the Ilecon-
struotion Committee of Congress, and, after examining it, I say, in reply to your
letter of the 15th inst. , tliat I well remember that upon hearing in the spring of-
1861, that the President of the United States desired a^n interview with Mr. Sum-

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