Page:Southern Historical Society Papers volume 01.djvu/457

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449
Colonel Baldwin's Interview with Mr. Lincoln.

made the pretext. This, Colonel Baldwin showed, could easily be done by a policy of conciliation, without giving sanction to what Mr. Lincoln's administration chose to regard as the heresy of secession! The Government would still hold the Union and the Constitution as perpetual, and the separate attitude of the seceded States as temporary, while it relied upon moderation, justice, self-interest of the Southern people, and the potent mediation of the border States to terminate it. "Only give this assurance to the country, in a proclamation of five lines," said Colonel Baldwin, and we pledge ourselves that Virginia (and with her the border States) will stand by you as though you were our own Washington. So sure am I he added, "of this, and of the inevitable ruin which will be precipitated by the opposite policy, that I would this day freely consent, if you would let me write those decisive lines, you might cut off my head, were my life my own, the hour after you signed them."

Lincoln seemed impressed by his solemnity, and asked a few questions: "But what am I to do meantime with those men at Montgomery? Am I to let them go on?" "Yes, sir," replied Colonel Baldwin, decisively, "until they can be peaceably brought back." "And open Charleston, &c., as ports of entry, with their ten per cent. tariff. What, then, would become of my tariff?" This last question he announced with such emphasis, as showed that in his view it decided the whole matter. He then indicated that the interview was at an end, and dismissed Colonel Baldwin, without promising anything more definite.

In order to confirm the accuracy of my own memory, I have submitted the above narrative to the Honorable A. H. H. Stuart, Colonel Baldwin's neighbor and political associate, and the only surviving member of the commission soon after sent from the Virginia Convention to Washington. In a letter to me, he says: "When Colonel Baldwin returned to Richmond, he reported to the four gentlemen above named, and to Mr. Samuel Price, of Greenbrier, the substance of his interview with Lincoln substantially as he stated it to you."

I asked Colonel Baldwin what was the explanation of this remarkable scene, and especially of Lincoln's perplexity. He replied that the explanation had always appeared to him to be this: When the seven Gulf States had actually seceded, the Lincoln faction were greatly surprised and in great uncertainty what to do; for they had been blind enough to suppose that all Southern opposition to a sectional president had been empty bluster. They were