The interview with Jefferson Davis highlighted in this past Sunday’s blog entry raises an interesting question. Accepting the fundamental importance of protecting slavery in explaining secession and the formation of the Confederacy, would the Confederacy have been willing to surrender slavery to secure independence? Between the Kenner mission and the enlistment of blacks on Confederate ranks in 1865, something can be said for the notion that the idea was being considered at the highest levels. But would the majority of Confederates have accepted this sacrifice to secure independence, or did they see Confederate independence as meaningful only if it meant the continued protection of the peculiar institution?
While doing some research for a forthcoming project I came across the following account of an interview between Jefferson Davis and James Jaquess, who was a prewar acquaintance of Abraham Lincoln who helped organize the 73rd Illinois Infantry. Jaquess and his sidekick, James R. Gilmore, were two of the war’s more interesting characters, and in 1864 Lincoln allowed Jaquess to visit Jefferson Davis in Richmond. It was a time when various people were probing the possibilities for a negotiated peace, with most of the pressure being placed on Lincoln. After all, people claimed, Lincoln might well need to abandon emancipation of he really wanted reunion. What followed below, narrated by Gilmore, suggests that a negotiated settlement was something of a fool’s errand: you can find the entire article in the September 1864 issue of the Atlantic Monthly if you look here.