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

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mers, or some other member of the Convention who would be likely to understand,
the opinion of the body, and that, as IMr. Summers could not leave Richmond at
that time, I earnestly recommendetl that yau substituted for him.

Upon your return from Washington, I heard your report of the interview yon
had with the President, and, although I have taxed my memorj^ I have no re-
collection of having heard you say that any specific terms had been proposed by
him, or that he would order the evacuation of Fort Sumter, if the Virginia Con-
vention would adjourn sine die.

I had several interviews with you, alone, and in company with, other gentle-
men who united in the propriety of sending you, but in none of them did I ever
hear from you that such a- proposition, or any one to that effect, had been made
bj the President to you. Very respectfully yours,

John B. Baldwin, Esq. JOHN JANNEY.


" STAUNTON, VA., MAY 29, 1866.

Col. John B. Baldwin. — Dear Sir: — In compliance with your request, I will
proceed to state my recollection of the circumsta=nces under which you held your
interview with Mr. Lincoln, in April, 1801, and of your report of it on your re-

My recollection of the occurrences of that eventful period is vivid and distinct^
It was a time of great excitement. The Union men- had a large nominal majoritj'
in the Convention, but many of them were wavering*. A powerful outside pres-
sure was brought to bear on them, and we were fearful that a sufficient number
■\?ould yield to it, to turn the scale against us.

It was in this condition of things that Mr. Allen B. Magruder came to Rich-
mond, as a confidential messenger from Mr. Lincoln, with the request that Mr.
Summers would immediately repair to Washington, to confer with Mr. Lincoln on
matters of grave public interest, and that in the event Mr. Summers could not go,
Bome- other gentleman, who possessed the confidence of the Union party, should
be sent in his place;

For reasons, which it is unnecessary to mention, you were selected for the mis-
sion. Mr. IMagruder held interviews with Mr. Summers and myself and the ob-
ject of his visit was known to Mr. Janney, IMessrs. R. E. Scott and Samuel Price,,
and probably other Union men.

We looked to the results of your mission with the deepest interest. We- felt
that the issue of peace or war depended on its success. During your absence, we
conferred together, and speculated as to- the probable benefits that might accrue
from it. On your return, we assembled to hear your report, aaid I well remember
your minute detail of all the particulars of the interview.. You described your in-
troduction to the President — ^your withdrawal to a bed-room to hold the confer-
ence — the locking of the door, and the excited manner of 3Ir. Lincola aft different
periods of the interview. Your purpose seemed to be to give a fid!, accurate and
minute description of every thing that occurred, and of every word that was utter-
ed, either by Mr. Lincoln or yourself, on the occasion. We eross-ciuestiqned you.
closely, with a view to refresh your memory, and draw from you all the informa-
tion as to the President's probable intentions and policy, which you had beea
enabled to gain-.

I have read your deposition before the Reconstruction Committee with great
care, and am. satisfied that, in every substantial particular, it corresponds with the
report which you made to us on- your return, from Washington. I_ am certain I
heard from you no intimation of a proposition on the part of Mr. Lincoln to with-
draw the United States troops from Fort Sumter, if the Convention would adjounu


Such an important fact could not have escaped my notice, or faded from my

I -will add that we are intimately connected by blood and marriage — we were
colleagues in the Convention, and have for twenty years been in the habit of in-
terchanging, unreservedly, opinions on all subjects, and I am sure you never inti-
mated to me, directly or indhectly, that Mr. Lincoln had made any such sugges-
tion to you.

Some two or three years ago, I heard it reported that Mr. Lincoln had given to
some other party a diiferent version of the interview, and had said he had propos-
ed to you to withdraw the troops from Fort Sumter, if the Convention would ad-
journ sine die. You were as emphatic then as now, in your denial that such was
the fact. Very truly yours, &c. ,



LEWISBURG, MAY 29, 1866.

Hon. JoiinB. Baldwin.— iliiy .Dear Sir :—l received, by last night's mail,
your letter of the 24th iust., with a printed copy of your testimony given before the
Keconstruction Committee of Congress. In the letter, you ask me to "examine
j'our testimony as published, and write you how far I find it in substantial accor-
dance with the account you then [when you returned from Washington] gave. ' '

I have accordingly examined it, and find it in substantial accordance with my
recollection of what you stated upon your return. There are a few discrepancies
between your statement before the Committee and your nan-ative, according to
my recollection, at the time, arrising pretty much, if not entirely, from a transposi-
tion, either by you or myself, of the order of conversation which you had with Mr.
Lincoln. I will state my recollection of it.

On the evening of j'our departure for Washington, I was informed by Judge
Summers that Mr. Seward had sent a messenger to him with a request that he
would go to Washington immediately ; that the President wanted to see him ; that
if he could not go himself, to select and send some other representative Union man
of the Convention ; that he had not found it convenient to go, and had selected
you ; that you had consented to go, and that you were gone or were going that
evening. This was my first information upon the subject of your visit to Wash-

Upon your return, I was intensely anxious to learn the result of your visit. I
accordingly met Judge Summers again, and asked him what report you had made.
He repeated to me in detail what you had said. Jn a day or two after, you and
myself were walking together, and you gave me a detailed account of your inter-
view with the President. It accorded substantially, if not literally, with what I
had previously heard from Judge Summers. I remember that, upon reaching
Washington, you were first introduced to IMr. Seward who expressed his gratifi-
cation at seeing you, and said the President wanted to see you. You and he ac-
cordingly appointed an hour of that day to meet at his office for him to go and in-
troduce you to the President. When you went to the President's house, you found
some one in conversation with the President about some postal matter. You stood
in the rear untU that convei-sation closed, and were then taken up and introduced.
Mr. Lincoln received you kindly, and asked you to walk with him that he wanted
to talk with you. He took you through one, if not two rooms, one of the rooms
seemed to be a bed-room. When you were seated, the conversation, according to
my recollection, flowed from this enquiry made by Mr. Lincoln : "Mr. Baldmn,
■why do not 3'ou adjourn that Convention?" You, in your narrative, introduce
the conversation with the question from him of, "Mr. IBaldwin, I am afraid you
have come too late." This remark, I place at another point in the conversation.
After the conversation was commenced, it proceeded substantially as you have de-
tailed it in your narrative ; you became urgent upon him to do something to avert
the impending calamity. You told him that it was in his power to avert it, and
proceeded to point out the means, and, that if he would settle this difficulty, he
would make his administration the most illustrious since Washington's. He then
baid he was looking rather to the iiae of his duty thaa to any course to make his


administration illustrious. You then said that you were glad that he took that
view; it was the true view for a patriot and statesman, and appealed to him to say
whether it was not his duty as President of the United States to preserve the in-
tegrity of the Union if he could, and he then stated, ' 'I wish you had come soon-
er. ' ' When this remark of his was repeated to me, I remember that it chilled the
very blood in my veins. I was, as you know, an intense Union man, and thought
I saw that unless the Union party was upheld by the National Administration,
that Virginia would inevitably take position with her Southern sistei's ; and, I in-
ferred, from this remark of Mr. Lincoln, that he had taken a step, which he could
not retrace, inconsistent with the views you were urging upon him, and which
would result in war and bloodshed.

Your narration of the conversation between Mr. Lincoln and yourself was cir-
cumstantial and minute. You seemed to give the language of each, and some-
times you described Mr. Lincoln's manner and gestures; but you did not say to
me nor to any one else whom I heard speak of it that Mr. Lincoln proposed evac-
uating Fort Sumter upon any terms. If any such thing was said, I have not the
slightest recollection of it.

Very truly and respectfully,




Col. John B. Baldwin. — Dear Sir:— Yours of the 25th ult. has been duly
received in answer to one from me dated a few days before.

You saj', ' 'I have not noticed Mr. Botts as yet, for the reason that I have not
been able to get the full report of his testimony, and I am not willing to fire at an
extract. As soon as I get the official report, you and the public shall hear from

You will remember that I called your attention last year to the fact that it had
reached me, under circumstances forbidding the use of my informant's name, that
Botts had made some such statement as that contained in his reported evidence,
and under circumstances evincing some special feeling, and advising you to antici-
pate its posthumous publication.

I was induced to do so, not only on account of my friendship for you, but be-
cause of another fact In August, 1S62, you were in attendance at our (Nelson)
County Court, as counsel for a prisoner charged with murder, and spent a night
at my house, in the neighborhood of the village, and I remembered distinctly a
conversation, in which, for the first time, 1 was informed that you had visited Mr.
Lincoln, and of what was said. I distinctly remember the main statements in that

You informed methat a special messenger, (Mr. A. B. Magruder, of Washing-
ton,) had reached Ptichmond with a message from Mr. Lincoln to Mr. Summers: —
that Mr. S. could not go to the Capitol, and that you had gone in his stead at his
instance, and that of other gentlemen — that yoii left that day, called on Mr. Se-
ward and the President on the next — went to Alexandria that night and made a
speech, and returned from that place to Richmond.

I was struck with your report of the inter^dew with Sir. Lincoln, and have on
several occasions repeated what was said. I remember his repeated remark, that
he feared you had come too late, and your answer that you could not have an-ived
sooner, under any circumstances — that when the conversation reached a certain
point, you remarked, that if he would give you the use of his thumb and forefinger,
you believed you could settle the matter in a few minutes ;.j'our proposition being
that he should issue a proclamation to the people of the States, announcing the
evacuation of Sumter and Pickens, avowedly in the interests of peace, and upon
no other ground, either of expediency or military necessity, but to prevent and re-
move any pretext or occasion for a collision, and calling upon the people to meet
in Convention and settle the difficulty without a resort to arms, apprehending dai-
ly danger of a collision at Sumter, and predicting a fatal result, no matter who
fired first, or under what circumstances — that he urged, among other objections,
the abandonment of the right and power to collect the revenue ; and your empha-


tic answer, let it go, or something equivalent — that you appealed to his ambition
as a politician on the score of popularity — his prompt disclaimer of being governed
by any consideration merely affecting his standing as a party man or poUtician, and
your appeal to his patriotism to ijiiake himself the saviour" of his country and the
Government, and second only to Washington in the affections of the people ; and
his reply that he feared you had come too late. I well remember your^ccount of
his earnest, excited, and serious manner. Your decided opinion that he was a
man of conviction, and of talent and ability — the almost entire absence of some
peculiarities of manner, and conversation reported by others who had had inter-
views with him, and. your regret that such an interview could not have been had at
an earlier period.

I 'Well remember his asking you Why the Convention did not adjourn, and that
sine die ; and your answer, among other things, that an adjournment would en-
danger the very objects the Union men had in view ; would lead to trouble, and a
•new Convention, composed mainly of secessionists, and prevent all exercise of in-
■fluenceon yqur.pai:t,to restore the Union, and to prevent war and dissolution.

I believe, if I had been called upon at any time, since 1862, to detail the -eon -
versation between yourself and Mr. Lincoln, as reported to me by you, I could
have done so, as minutely and accurately as you have done yourself in your testi-
mony before the Reconstruction Committee. It made a decided impression on my
luind at the tim_e,_and_ has been repeated by me on several occasions since. It
modified my opinions in some respects of Mr. Lincoln, favorably towards him, and
informed me of influences and efforts which had been used on both sides, cf which
I was not aware. And, I needed not to be told, that if you could have been the
bearer of any message to the Union men in the Convention, which would have en-
abled them to make any effort to postpone even the evil day that gave any hope of
time for cooling and reconciliation, you would have been the prompt and delighted
organ of such a communication.

We had been acquainted and fciends for years, with some causes to make us
specially so. We had been, alike, ardent, consistent and life-long Whigs, neither
j-ielding to Democracy on the one hand, nor seduced into Know-Nothingism on
.the other ; believers in the conservative character of the principles, policy, and
men of that party, and looking to it, though out of power, as the only party which
would or could save the country. As the dangers accumulated and threatened,
you looked hopefully and anxiously in one direction for escape and safety, and I,
with feeling and confidence in another ; but I never swerved in an unshaken con-
fidence in your honesty, truth, patriotism, nor in your earnest, open, and manly
intention to save the Government, if you could, by all fair and proper means, con-
sistent with your views of duty to the whole country ; in a word, to defeat the pur-
poses of the secessionists, to prevent dissolution and consequent war, and ultimate-
ly to restore the Union, and, at least, harmonious action among the States, though
there might be conflict of parties and factions, trusting to time and other influences
for new and less dangerous party issues.

There was no root of bitterness between us, proceeding from anything which oc-
curred during the months of trial and anxiety in the winter of '60-'6L, and the
spring of 1861. And I take pleasure in assuring you that I have not seen or heard
of anyinan, whose good opinion is worth wishing for, who differs with me about
the evidence of John Minor Botts before the Committee in Washington.

It has struck rne that, if you should deem it worth the labor to go farther than
give your own evidence to the public, it might be of some use to refer to my reeol-
lections of our conversations in 1862, and you are at liberty to refer to me in any
manner you may deem best,

= • ., , Yours truly, RO. WHITEHEAD,

From the Alexandria Gazette of Friday, April 5, 1861.

"Col. Baldwin's Great Speech last Night.— One of the most powerful
and convincing speeches ever delivered in Alexandria — a speech full of sound rea-
soning, moving pathos and true eloquence, was made last night by Col. John B.
Baldwin, who has won the proud title of 'the Champion of the Union,' at Liberty
Hall, to one of the largest, if not tJie largest audience that ever assembled in ' Old
Liberty,' who listened with the most «ager attention."

~7/. J? (^0^,06 9. 03 i 7f

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