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DEAR SIR : I have received your letter of the 30th ult., containing suggestions of the measures to be adopted for the purpose of removing 'the sources of discontent' in North Carolina. The contents of the letter are substantially the same as those of the letter addressed by you to Senator Dorich, extracts of which were by him read to me. I remarked to Mr. Dorich that you were probably not aware of the obstacles to the course you indicated, and without expressing an opinion on the merits of the proposed policy, I desired him, in answering your letter, to invite suggestions as to the method of opening negociations, and as to the terms which you thought should be offered to the enemy. I felt persuaded you would appreciate the difficulties as soon as your attention was called to the necessity of considering the subject in its detail. As you have made no suggestions touching the manner of overcoming the obstacles, I infer that you were not apprised by Mr. Dorich of my remarks to him.
Apart from insuperable objections to the line of policy you propose (and to which I will presently advert), I cannot see how the more material obstacles are to be surmounted. We have made three distinct efforts to communicate with the authorities at Washington, and have been invariably unsuccessful. Commissioners were sent before hostilities were begun, and the Washington Government refused to receive them or hear what they had to say. A second time I sent a military officer, with a communication addressed by my self to President Lincoln. The letter was received by General Scott, who did not permit the officer to see Mr. Lincoln, but promised that an answer would be sent. No answer has ever been received. The third time, a few months ago, a gentleman was sent, whose position, character, and reputation were such as to insure his reception, if the enemy were not determined to receive no proposals what ever from the Government. Vice-President Stephens made a patriotic tender of his services in the hope of being able to promote the cause of humanity, and although little belief was entertained of his success, I cheerfully yielded to his suggestion, that the experiment should be tried. The enemy refused to let him pass through their lines to hold any conference with them. He was stopped before he ever reached Fortress Monroe on his way to Washington. The attempt again (in the face of these repeated rejections of all conferences with us) to send commissioners or agents to propose peace, is to invite insult and contumely, and to subject ourselves to indignity without the slightest chance of be ing listened to.
No true citizen, no man who has our cause at heart, can desire this, and the good people of North Carolina would be the last to approve of such an attempt, if aware of all the facts. So far from removing sources of discontent, such a course would receive, as it would merit, the condemnation of those true patriots who have given their blood and their treasure to maintain their freedom, equality, and independence which descended to them from the immortal heroes of King's Mountain and other battle-fields of the Revolution. If, then, these proposals cannot be made through envoys, because the enemy will not receive them, how is it possible to communicate our desire for peace otherwise than by the public announcements contained in almost every message I ever sent to Congress ?
I cannot recall at this time one instance in which I have failed to announce that our only desire was peace, and the only terms which formed a sine qua non were precisely those that you suggested, namely ' a demand only to be let alone.' But suppose it were practicable to obtain a conference through commissioners with the Government of President Lincoln, is it at this moment that we are to consider it desirable, or even at all admissible ? Have we not just been apprised by that despot that we can only expect his gracious pardon by emancipating all our slaves, swearing allegiance and obedience to him and his proclamation, and becoming in point of fact the slaves of our own negroes ? Can there be in North Carolina one citizen so fallen beneath the dignity of his ancestors as to accept, or to enter into conference on the basis of these terms ? That there are a few traitors in the State that would be willing to betray their fellow-citizens to such a degraded condition, in the hope of being rewarded for treachery by an escape from the common doom, may be true. But I do not believe that the vilest wretch would accept such terms for himself. I cannot conceive how the people of your State, of which none has sent nobler or more gallant soldiers to the field of battle (one of whom it is your honor to be), can have been deceived by anything to which you refer in ' the recent action in the Federal House of Representatives.' I have seen no action of that House that does not indicate a very decided majority, the purpose of the majority to refuse all terms of the South, except absolute, unconditional subjugation or extermination. But if it were otherwise, how are we to treat with the House of Representatives ?
It is with Lincoln alone that we would confer, and his own partisans at the North avow unequivocally that his purpose, in his message and proclamation, was to shut out all hope that he could ever treat with us on any terms. If we break up our Government, dissolve the Confederacy, disband our armies, emancipate our slaves, take an oath of allegiance binding ourselves to obedience to him and disloyalty to our own States, he pro poses to pardon us, and not to plunder us of anything more than the property already stolen from us, and such slaves as still remain. In order to render his proposals so insulting as to secure their objection, he joins to them a promise to support with his army one- tenth of the people of any State who will attempt to set up a Government over the other nine-tenths, thus seeking to sow discord and suspicion among the people of the several States, and to excite them to civil war in furtherance of his ends. I know well it would be impossible to get your people, if they possessed full knowledge of these facts, to consent that proposals should now be made by us to those who control the Government at Washington. Your own well-known devotion to the great cause of liberty and independence, to which we have all committed whatever we have of earthly posses sions, would induce you to take the lead in repelling the bare thought of submission to the enemy. Yet peace on other terms is impossible. To obtain the sole terms to which you or I could listen, this struggle must continue until the enemy is beaten out of his vain confidence in our subjugation. Then, and not till then, will it be possible to treat of peace. Till then, all tender of terms to the enemy will be received as proof that we are ready for submission, and will encourage him in the atrocious warfare which he is now waging.
I have the honor to be, very respectfully,
His EXCELLENCY Z. B. VANCE,
Governor of North Carolina.
- Jefferson Davis: ex-President of the Confederate States of America; (1890), Davis, Varina