The Blair Plan enacted, 1865

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From Mexican Projects of the Confederacy by J. Fred Rippy, The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Vol. 22, No. 4 (Apr., 1919), pp. 291-317

On December 28, 1864, Francis P. Blair of Maryland received from President Lincoln a pass through the lines of the Union army to go South and return. On January 12, he arrived at Richmond where he had a conference with Jefferson Davis. Lincoln had permitted him to go in order to learn the attitude of the Confederacy towards proposals of peace, but his mission was said to be unofficial. His main proposition was the cessation of hostilities and the union of military forces for the purpose of maintaining the Monroe Doctrine. Blair urged that slavery, so productive of woe, was "admitted on all sides to be doomed" and that, since Napoleon clearly intended to conquer this continent, any further hostilities toward the Union became a war in support of monarchy for which the French ruler stood. The present suicidal war was most pleasing to the Emperor and, if continued, would enable him to realize his designs.​
Davis the only person whose "fiat could deliver his country from the bloody agony now covering it in mourning." What if an armistice could be entered into--an armistice the secret preliminaries of which might enable Davis to "transfer such portions of his army as he deemed proper to the banks of the Rio Grande ?" Here they could form a junction with the Liberalists under Juirez, who no doubt would devolve all the power he could on Davis, a dictatorship if necessary. If they were needed, Northern forces could join the enterprise and Davis, having driven out the Bonaparte-Hapsburg dynasty and allied his name with those of "Washington and Jackson as defender of the liberty of the country," could mould the Mexican States so that subsequently they could be admitted into the Union.
Thus the peace proposals of Blair amounted to a joint filibustering undertaking by which the United States' possessions were to be extended to the Isthmus of Darien. Davis, moved by feelings of regard resulting from former kindnesses on the part of the Blair family, by a knowledge that alliance with Napoleon was now hopeless, and by a feeling of patriotism, gave close attention to the proposal and displayed a certain amount of sympathy with it. "But," in the words of Nicolay and Hay, "the government councils at Washington were not ruled by the spirit of political ad- venture . . . Lincoln had a loftier conception of patriotic duty and a higher ideal of national ethics" and the affair was dropped."17​

No Peace without Victory, 1861-1865 by James M. McPherson, The American Historical Review , Vol. 109, No. 1 (February 2004), pp. 1-18

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Jefferson Davis and the Hampton Roads Peace Conference: "To secure Peace to the two countries" by Charles W. Sanders Jr., The Journal of Southern History, Vol. 63, No. 4 (Nov., 1997), pp. 803-826:

On January 12, Blair met with Davis and began the meeting by emphasizing that he was acting in an unofficial capacity and had no authority to commit the Lincoln government to any program or agreement. His sole purpose in seeking the interview, he told Davis, was the termination of the war. Then, remaining true to his journalistic heritage, the former editor asked permission to read aloud to Davis a document ("much like an editorial," he confessed) outlining his plan for ending the conflict.33​
Blair's document contained a proposal that the two warring sides conclude a cease-fire in order to undertake a common military mission-the enforcement of the Monroe Doctrine. This joint effort, the details of which would be concluded in a secret agreement, would be directed toward ousting the French-supported government of the Emperor Maximilian in Mexico.34 Blair was certain that such a venture, undertaken after the establishment of a temporary truce that would allow passions on both sides to cool, would restore fraternal relations between the two warring sections and provide the foundation for a lasting peace.35​
Davis listened in silence until Blair finished reading his proposal. He then questioned the old gentleman as to the specifics of how the negotiations might proceed, given the inability of the two sides to join in productive talks in the past. Blair replied that he was certain that Lincoln was now disposed to receive peace commissioners. He pro- posed that he return to Washington, report that the Confederate presi- dent was prepared to enter into negotiations based on the Mexican plan, and determine if Lincoln was willing to proceed. Davis agreed and provided Blair with a letter, dated January 12, "of remarks made by me to be repeated by you to President Lincoln ...." In the letter Davis wrote:​
"I have no disposition to find obstacles in forms, and am willing now, as hereto- fore, to enter into negotiations for the restoration of peace, am ready to send a commission whenever I have reason to suppose it will be received, or to receive a commission if the United States Government shall choose to send one. That, notwithstanding the rejection of our former offers, I would, if you could promise- that a commissioner, minister, or other agent would be received, appoint one immediately, and renew the effort to enter into conference with a view to secure peace to the two countries.36"​
Those who contend that Jefferson Davis authorized participation in the Hampton Roads conference only to discredit the southern peace movement maintain that the Confederate president, from the start, had no faith in the success of the Blair mission and that he pretended to go along only because he recognized in the proposal a singular opportunity to undercut Stephens and his supporters.37 This argument is flawed because it assumes that Davis knew at this very early stage that the very tentative talks with Blair would culminate, almost a month later, in direct negotiations between Confederate commissioners and the president of the United States and that those negotiations would fail to produce peace. Of course he knew no such thing.
What did he know? He knew that he was dealing with an important and powerful emissary who had come south with Lincoln's express permission. While Blair professed to hold no "official" credentials, Davis believed throughout the process that the old man truly repre- sented the views and aspirations of Lincoln.38 In this opinion, Davis was not alone. The New York Herald, always closely read in the South, proclaimed Blair "the representative of the conservative republicans," and Alexander H. Stephens himself characterized Blair as "unquestionably, the master spirit-the real Warwick-of the Party then in power at Washington ...."39​
How could Davis have been certain that the proposal brought by Blair did not have Lincoln's support? He could not. If Davis's motive, therefore, was to discredit the "croakers," he was running the enormous political risk that the negotiations might actually succeed. Had Davis sought only to discredit the peace movement, a much safer and wiser strategy would have been to make the Blair proposal public immediately, casting it as yet another example of the impractical schemes of those who advocated negotiations with the Lincoln government.​
It would thus seem that in January-February of 1865, leading up to the Hampton Road Conference, there was a genuine opening for a negotiated peace between the Union and Confederacy. Blair's plan was for the two to establish an armistice, and for them to then transfer forces to the Rio Grande in order to force the French out of Mexico. Following the completion of that, it was hoped [by Blair] that the passions on both sides would've been sufficiently mollified that the wayward Confederate States would peacefully rejoin the Union under fairly conservative terms, which Lincoln and Seward IOTL seemed to dangle at the Conference; the prospect that, if they rejoined the Union, they could defeat the 13th Amendment or at least get it to be delayed, and that they would immediately resume their previous privileges, with liberality in terms of having their goods (Sans Slaves) returned and pardons for essentially everyone.

As noted in these passages, it appears the desire for this was real on the part of the Confederates and did have some support in general in the North; beyond the cited passages, news of the OTL Conference added a jolt to the 13th Amendment ratification process, as Congress did not wish to prejudice any negotiations. The obstacle, therefore, would seem to be on the part of Lincoln, who dismissed the Mexico Plan as unfeasible. Is there anyway he could be made amendable to such and, if so, what would the ramifications of such be? It's worth noting Seward, his Secretary of State, was an ardent expansionist and both Nicolay and Hay, whom Rippy cites in the last paragraph of that citation, were his [Lincoln's] Secretaries; they both appeared in favor of the plan, so there was some influencers around Lincoln.
 

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This scenario brings up some interesting possibilities. For a tl;dr version of such:

1) It seems Davis was actually interested in a ceasefire and genuinely willing to consider peace talks that would lead to reunion.
2) Lincoln and Seward both seemed to dangle the prospect of the South being able to avert the passage of the 13th Amendment, as well the limited nature of the Emancipation Proclamation.
3) Annexing Mexico in one go seems unlikely, but the rather deteriorated state of the Mexican Liberals leaves open, in my mind, the ability to establish a protectorate that could eventually be incorporated. Puerto Rico seems a good comparison, in this regard.
 
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I thought the biggest stumbling block was the Davis wouldn't consider reunion, that he welcomed future negotiations, but for Confederate independence....
 

Generic Username

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I thought the biggest stumbling block was the Davis wouldn't consider reunion, that he welcomed future negotiations, but for Confederate independence....

The decision to undertake the negotiations without pre-conditions of such, as well as the hand waving of the "two countries" portion of the notes back and forth prior suggest he was open to such.
 

jackt62

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That plan was DOA. Davis would never agree to anything short of Confederate independence. Lincoln knew this, and understood that responding to a "peace proposal" was a smart political move on his part.
 

Bruce Vail

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This is very interesting indeed. At this late stage of the war there really wasn't any possibility of a negotiated settlement that could be acceptable to Davis and the CSA leadership. The North has already won the war, in essence, and wasn't going to be making a concessions to the South.
 

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That plan was DOA. Davis would never agree to anything short of Confederate independence. Lincoln knew this, and understood that responding to a "peace proposal" was a smart political move on his part.
This is very interesting indeed. At this late stage of the war there really wasn't any possibility of a negotiated settlement that could be acceptable to Davis and the CSA leadership. The North has already won the war, in essence, and wasn't going to be making a concessions to the South.

Jefferson Davis and the Hampton Roads Peace Conference: "To secure Peace to the two countries" by Charles W. Sanders Jr., The Journal of Southern History, Nov., 1997, Vol. 63, No. 4 (Nov., 1997), pp. 803-826

Blair returned to Washington as agreed and on January 18 reported the results of his Richmond visit to Lincoln. Although the president was very interested in the Marylander's perceptions of the state of morale in the Confederate capital, he showed no interest in continuing the talks based on the Mexican project. Still, Lincoln did not wish to forgo any opportunity to subvert the authority of the Confederate government, and he prepared a letter, dated January 18, which he authorized Blair to deliver to "Mr." Davis:44 "Sir: You having shown me Mr. Davis's note of the 12th instant, you may say to him that I have constantly been, am now and shall continue ready to receive any agent whom he, or any other influential person now resisting the National authority, may informally send to me, with the view of securing peace to the people of our one common country."45​
On January 20 Blair boarded the Union warship Don for another trip to Richmond, and on January 21 he and Davis met again. Blair presented Davis with Lincoln's note of January 18, which the Confederate president carefully read twice in Blair's presence.46 Blair then weakly attempted to explain away Lincoln's refusal to support the Mexico proposal. As Davis later recalled, Blair described the "embarrassment" of Lincoln "on account of the extreme men in Congress" and reported that any future "arrangement" would have to be effected "without the intervention of the politicians."47 This led Blair to his second proposal, a plan that would, in fact, take the politicians out of the process. As Davis later recalled, Blair suggested that the two presidents authorize Generals Lee and Grant to "enter into an arrangement by which hostilities would be suspended, and a way paved for the restoration of peace."​
As he had with Blair's first proposal, Davis quickly agreed to this second plan, responding that he "would willingly intrust to General Lee such negotiation as was indicated."48 Davis's response was certainly not what one would expect of a man whose sole objective was to discredit the Confederate peace movement. He had agreed in good faith to negotiations based on the Mexican proposal, only to be informed that the offer had been withdrawn by the side that had tendered it. When offered a second proposal, he again readily agreed to participate and expressed his willingness to grant Lee full negotiating powers. In so doing, Davis was placing the future of the negotiations in the hands of the most revered man in the South. As Lee was certainly no "croaker," there is nothing in this decision that could be construed as an attempt to discredit the peace movement or embarrass its leaders. If Blair's proposal had led to a cease-fire, the aims of the movement would have been vindicated. If it had failed, any "blame" for having pursued this line of negotiation would have fallen to Davis alone. Far from seeking to sabotage attempts at achieving a negotiated peace, Davis had now assumed the leading role in those efforts.
Davis's actions are all the more remarkable when one considers that had he wished to discredit the peace movement, he could very easily have done so at this point. To Davis, as to the vast majority of southerners, the one issue that was not negotiable was Confederate independence.49 Based on his initial conversations with Blair, he had agreed to enter into peace negotiations with but one precondition-that they have as their goal the securing of peace "to the two countries." Lincoln's answer as stated in the January 18 letter spoke of peace for "our one common country," clearly indicating that he considered the Confederate precondition unacceptable. Davis could have made the contents of Lincoln's note public, using it as clear evidence that the objective of the Union president was nothing less than the total subjugation of the South. Such a course of action would have severely weakened the arguments of those who favored negotiations while portraying Davis as a statesman whose sincere efforts for peace had been once again thwarted by Yankee duplicity. Davis could have publicized Lincoln's note with little effort and almost no political risk. Instead, he decided once again to continue the negotiations.
What happened next is a bit of a mystery. What is known is that Blair returned to Washington and informed Lincoln of Davis's willingness to authorize Lee to enter into negotiations and that Lincoln refused to provide Grant any such authority. What is not known is when or precisely why Lincoln refused to allow negotiations between the generals and how Blair informed Davis of Lincoln's decision.50 In his memoirs, Davis recorded only that Blair "subsequently informed me that the idea of a military convention was not favorably received at Washington, so it only remained for me now to act upon the letter of Mr. Lincoln."51 Once more Davis had been presented with a sterling opportunity to terminate the negotiations on grounds that although he, in good faith, had done all that was asked, Lincoln had again reneged on the conditions offered by his emissary. For a third time, however, Davis chose to continue to negotiate.
But, how best to "act" on Lincoln's letter? In making this decision, Jefferson Davis did something he had done only rarely: he sent for the vice president. On the day after Blair departed from Richmond, Davis, following the advice of Robert M. T. Hunter, president pro tem of the Confederate Senate and an active peace advocate, asked "little Aleck" to meet with him to determine future strategy. The president told Stephens of his meetings with Blair, showed him the two letters he and Lincoln had exchanged, and explained in detail Blair's Monroe Doctrine scheme, an idea that Davis continued to believe might serve as the basis of future talks. Davis then asked his vice president's opinion on two very important questions: should a conference with the Lincoln government be support- ed, and, if so, who should be sent as the Confederate negotiators?5
If Davis was unmovable on the matter of independence, his continuation of the peace talks repeatedly and the fact he sought out Stephens-a well known Peace advocate-for the Hampton Roads Conference does not make much sense. Rather, the sum total of the evidence suggests firmly he was open to peace, as Lincoln said, as one country via the Mexican proposal.
 
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If Davis wasn't going to compromise on independence and Lincoln wasn't going to compromise on Union and slavery, its difficult to see where the grounds for compromise were.

If Davis was losing the war, which he was, maybe he was ready to grab at any straw to keep the dream alive.
 

Generic Username

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If Davis wasn't going to compromise on independence and Lincoln wasn't going to compromise on Union and slavery, its difficult to see where the grounds for compromise were.

If Davis was losing the war, which he was, maybe he was ready to grab at any straw to keep the dream alive.

By continuing the peace talks after Lincoln's reply and turning to Pro-Peace advocates for the Hampton Roads Conference, Davis pretty clearly was signalling he could compromise on the issue of independence/Union. Lincoln and Seward both during the Hampton Roads indicated they too could compromise, this time on the matter of slavery; both indicated the cessation of hostilities could allow the Southern States to abort the 13th Amendment and Lincoln at this time did indicate he supported compensated emancipation, if needed.
 
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By continuing the peace talks after Lincoln's reply and turning to Pro-Peace advocates for the Hampton Roads Conference, Davis pretty clearly was signalling he could compromise on the issue of independence/Union. Lincoln and Seward both during the Hampton Roads indicated they too could compromise, this time on the matter of slavery; both indicated the cessation of hostilities could allow the Southern States to abort the 13th Amendment and Lincoln at this time did indicate he supported compensated emancipation, if needed.
Davis's reaction to the Conference was a hard line refusal to accept any compromise, which is certainly consistent for him. It was not in Lincoln's power to "abort" the 13th Amendment, which had already passed the House. He had expended considerable energy to get it passed. But how the 13th would have been enforced, as we saw in Reconstruction, could be chancy. He did propose a large sum of money to compensate slave owners if the CSA surrendered by April 1st, but they didn't, and I don't think it would have passed Congress anyway.
 

Generic Username

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Davis's reaction to the Conference was a hard line refusal to accept any compromise, which is certainly consistent for him. It was not in Lincoln's power to "abort" the 13th Amendment, which had already passed the House. He had expended considerable energy to get it passed. But how the 13th would have been enforced, as we saw in Reconstruction, could be chancy. He did propose a large sum of money to compensate slave owners if the CSA surrendered by April 1st, but they didn't, and I don't think it would have passed Congress anyway.

Given Davis was not there in person, specifically as an accommodation to Lincoln, I'm not sure how the failure of the conference can be laid at his feet. To quote from the same source as last time:

The story of the conference is well known. Following initial pleasantries, Lincoln stated flatly that no terms or conditions could be dis- cussed until the authority of the United States was again recognized in the Confederate states. The abruptness of Lincoln's demand stunned the commissioners. Like Davis, they had assumed that Lincoln's agreement to meet with them signaled a willingness to discuss terms beyond unconditional surrender. Stephens responded to Lincoln's surprising declaration by awkwardly attempting to initiate an exchange of views based on Blair's Monroe Doctrine plan, but the president would not be swayed.64 There were short discussions on prisoners, property rights, postwar punishment for Confederate officials, and the disposition of slaves; but the overriding message from Lincoln remained clear-substantial discussions on the termination of hostilities would be entertained only after Confederate authorities had agreed to reunion. An impasse had obviously been reached, and on that unhappy note the Hampton Roads Conference ended.65​
Further:

In later years both Davis and Stephens offered their opinions as to why the conference failed. Davis attributed the collapse to a change in the views of Lincoln after he wrote his letter of January 18. "The change," Davis argued, "was mainly produced by the report which he [Blair] made of what he saw and heard at Richmond on the night he staid [sic] there." Davis believed that, during the Richmond meetings with Stephens and other Confederate officials, Blair noted the "serious inclining of many to thoughts of peace" and that Lincoln, on hearing the report of low morale among important Confederate officials, "reached the conclusion that he should accept nothing but an unconditional surrender, and that he should not allow a commission from the Confederacy to visit the United States capital."71
In his own postwar account of the conference, Stephens wrote that he believed the negotiations floundered because of the considerable publicity the meeting generated. He noted that on the day the commissioners departed for Hampton Roads, newspapers in both the North and the South were full of speculation concerning the objectives of the conference and the likelihood of success.72 These reports, he maintained, limited Lincoln's freedom to negotiate even as they raised unrealistically the hopes for peace on both sides.73 Interestingly, neither man listed Davis's insistence that Confederate independence be maintained as a factor in the failure of the negotiations.
Now, granted, Davis did insistent on Confederate independence but taken into context the full situation is illuminated. If he was completely unbendable on this, his refusal to break off talks after Lincoln emphatically stated Union was key makes no sense; rather, as both he and Stephans indicated Post-War, the issue was one of Lincoln's unconditional surrender demand as contrasted with the Blair proposal. Blair, as previously noted, envisioned a ceasefire and then both sides deploying soldiers to force France out of Mexico, after which peace could be established. In sum total, it allowed for an honorable-i.e. face saving-surrender and this was more appealing to Southern sensibilities than to outright surrender:

On January 12, Blair met with Davis and began the meeting by emphasizing that he was acting in an unofficial capacity and had no authority to commit the Lincoln government to any program or agreement. His sole purpose in seeking the interview, he told Davis, was the termination of the war. Then, remaining true to his journalistic heritage, the former editor asked permission to read aloud to Davis a document ("much like an editorial," he confessed) outlining his plan for ending the conflict.33​
Blair's document contained a proposal that the two warring sides conclude a cease-fire in order to undertake a common military mission-the enforcement of the Monroe Doctrine. This joint effort, the details of which would be concluded in a secret agreement, would be directed toward ousting the French-supported government of the Emperor Maximilian in Mexico.34 Blair was certain that such a venture, undertaken after the establishment of a temporary truce that would allow passions on both sides to cool, would restore fraternal relations between the two warring sections and provide the foundation for a lasting peace.35

As for the 13th Amendment, Lincoln certainly could not block it, but by aiding in the rapid (re)admission of the Southern States back into the Union, they could block it by refusing to ratify it. Certainly this was in the power of Lincoln, by declaring the Rebellion at an end.
 
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Again, if Davis insisted on independence and Lincoln on reunion, then what was the common ground? Stephens might be willing to sell the Confederacy to hang on to a little white supremacy, and historically that sort of happened, but was Davis listening to him?

The Confederates could have discussed terms of surrender, obtained a guarantee there wouldn't be any reprisals, for instance. The Confederacy was tottering, Hood's army was being wiped out, Sherman was already heading for North Carolina, the seaports were in Union control, Lee was weeks away from surrender. What could they offer the US?

Plus the new Congress coming in in March was more Radical than the previous Congress. They weren't likely to backtrack on anything. Historically they ended Johnson's soft peace and anti-Black policy, with Congressional Reconstruction and the 14th and 15th amendments. Ex Confederate representatives got the boot.

Blair's idea that everyone would put the Civil War on hold to join hands and confront French troops in Mexico...I don't think that idea had much of a constituency in the US. The US wins the war, then confronts the French, with a federal army.
 

jcaesar

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...I don't think that idea had much of a constituency in the US. The US wins the war, then confronts the French, with a federal army.

A number of newspapers seemed to be quite interested in both Lee and Grant leading armies into Mexico right after the war.

Second to last paragraph of NY Harald interview May 1865.
 
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