LINCOLN, Abraham. Autograph telegram, drafted by Lincoln, dated addressed and signed by Edwin M. Stanton ("Edwin M. Stanton"), Washington, 3 March 1865. 1 page, 8vo, in a red morocco protective case.
A PIVOTAL DISPATCH TO GRANT FORBIDDING NEGOTIATIONS WITH LEE ALONG THE ROAD TO APPOMATTOX
"THE PRESIDENT...WISHES YOU TO HAVE NO CONFERENCE WITH GENERAL LEE UNLESS IT BE FOR THE CAPITULATION OF GEN. LEE'S ARMY...YOU ARE TO PRESS TO THE UTMOST, YOUR MILITARY ADVANTAGES."
A DRAMATIC COMMUNICATION FROM THE COMMANDER IN CHIEF IN THE FINAL DAYS OF THE PETERSBURG CAMPAIGN STIFFENING GRANT'S RESOLVE TO ACCEPT NOTHING SHORT OF UNCONDITIONAL SURRENDER. Lincoln sensed victory was near, yet the Confederates were making one more play to negotiate their way to independence. Here, one day before his Second Inaugural, Lincoln squelches a 2 March offering from Lee to Grant, to conduct (in Lee's words) "an interchange of views" in the hopes that "it may be found practicable to submit the subjects of controversy between the belligerents to a military convention." Secretary of War Stanton received Lee's letter, along with a covering message from Grant, in the Capitol building where he was sitting beside the President going over bills on the last night of the Congressional session. He handed it to Lincoln who read it without comment, picked up a pen and slowly drafted this response which he then handed to the Secretary to be dated, signed and sent under Stanton's name to Grant: "The President directs me to say to you that he wishes you to have no conference with General Lee unless it be for the capitulation of Gen. Lee's army, or on some minor and purely military matter. He instructs me to say that you are not to decide, discuss, or confer upon any political question. Such questions the President holds in his own hands; and will submit them to no military conferences or conventions. Meantime you are to press to the utmost, your military advantages."
Lee's overture--made with the approval of Jefferson Davis--was the culmination of informal talks over several weeks between Union General Ord and Confederate James Longstreet (see lot 303). Lincoln had made his own try for peace a month before, at the Hampton Roads conference on February 3, 1865. He and Secretary of State Seward met for several hours with a high-ranking Confederate delegation led by vice-president Alexander Stephens. The talks were cordial but accomplished nothing. The Southerners still wanted independence and the continuation of slavery--terms Lincoln could never accept. In fact, Lincoln told his stunned guests, just two days prior, on 1 February 1865, he had approved the resolution for a 13th Amendment to the Constitution abolishing slavery once and for all. Lincoln knew the rebels were no longer able to achieve their goals on the battlefield, and Grant was on the cusp of his decisive break-out on the Petersburg front. So why should he make any concessions at the negotiating table now?
Lee and Davis must have thought Grant had the same authority as Lee to make terms on behalf of his government. Their ploy was an end run around the President, but Lincoln was onto their game. His message is masterful both in its political clarity and resolution, as well as its literary felicity. He makes clear that political authority rests with the people's elected chief, not the man on horseback. Yet he does so in a way that is more poetic than legalistic: "Such questions the President holds in his hands..." There is a mellifluous rhythm and pleasing internal rhyme to the words "...no conference with General Lee unless it be for the capitulation of Gen. Lee's army..." There is a grandeur to Lincoln's language--"press to the utmost"--that underscores the dignity and resolve of his political goals: the destruction of the Confederacy and the reestablishment of the Union. The President's "sense of style," wrote literary critic Edmund Wilson, "was developed to a high degree." It was "cunning in its cadences, exact in its choice of words, and yet also instinctive and natural; and it was inseparable from his personality in all its manifestations" (Patriotic Gore, 120).
Lincoln had been politically embarassed by his Generals so often--from Fremont in Missouri, to Butler in New Orleans, to McClellan everywhere--that he was determined to keep even a trusted subordinate like Grant on the tightest possible leash. Grant immediately assured Lincoln that he had no intention of usurping the President's authority (see lot 269). However the General was not entirely passive when it came to the political aspects of his job. When Jefferson Davis's peace commissioners came into Union lines on their way to the Hampton Roads conference in February, Grant read with dismay their instructions "to secure peace to the two countries," and convinced them to drop the phrase, knowing it would kill the talks at the outset. The General, writes David Donald, "was increasingly eager to finish off the war" (Lincoln, 557). So was Lincoln. Victory, to quote one of his earlier expressions, was in the hollow of his hand. He was not going to let the generals talk it away.