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While this final controversy was being fought out in Congress, the enthusiasm for the Administration had again ebbed. Its recovery of prestige had run a brief course and was gone, and now in the midst of the discussion over the negro soldiers' bills, the opposition once more attacked the Cabinet, with its old enemy, Benjamin, as the target. Resolutions were introduced into the Senate declaring that "the retirement of the Honorable Judah P. Benjamin from the State Department will be subservient of the public interests"; in the House resolutions were offered describing his public utterances as "derogatory to his position as a high public functionary of the Confederate Government, a reflection on the motives of Congress as a deliberative body, and an insult to public opinion."
So Congress wrangled and delayed while the wave of fire that was Sherman's advance moved northward through the Carolinas. Columbia had gone up in smoke while the Senate debated day after day--fifteen in all--what to do with the compromise bill sent up to it from the House. It was during this period that a new complication appears to have been added to a situation which was already so hopelessly entangled, for this was the time when Governor Magrath made a proposal to Governor Vance for a league within the Confederacy, giving as his chief reason that Virginia's interests were parting company with those of the lower South. The same doubt of the upper South appears at various times in the Mercury. And through all the tactics of the opposition runs the constant effort to discredit Davis. The Mercury scoffed at the agitation for negro soldiers as a mad attempt on the part of the Administration to remedy its "myriad previous blunders."
In these terrible days, the mind of Davis hardened. He became possessed by a lofty and intolerant confidence, an absolute conviction that, in spite of all appearances, he was on the threshold of success. We may safely ascribe to him in these days that illusory state of mind which has characterized some of the greatest of men in their over-strained, concluding periods. His extraordinary promises in his later messages, a series of vain prophecies beginning with his speech at the African Church, remind one of Napoleon after Leipzig refusing the Rhine as a boundary. His nerves, too, were all but at the breaking point. He sent the Senate a scolding message because of its delay in passing the Negro Soldiers' Bill. The Senate answered in a report that was sharply critical of his own course. Shortly afterward Congress adjourned refusing his request for another suspension of the writ of habeas corpus.
Davis had hinted at important matters he hoped soon to be able to submit to Congress. What he had in mind was the last, the boldest, stroke of this period of desperation. The policy of emancipation he and Benjamin had accepted without reserve. They had at last perceived, too late, the power of the anti-slavery movement in Europe. Though they had already failed to coerce England through cotton and had been played with and abandoned by Napoleon, they persisted in thinking that there was still a chance for a third chapter in their foreign affairs.
The agitation to arm the slaves, with the promise of freedom, had another motive besides the reinforcement of Lee's army: it was intended to serve as a basis for negotiations with England and France. To that end D. J. Kenner was dispatched to Europe early in 1865. Passing through New York in disguise, he carried word of this revolutionary program to the Confederate commissioners abroad. A conference at Paris was held by Kenner, Mason, and Slidell. Mason, who had gone over to England to sound Palmerston with regard to this last Confederate hope, was received on the 14th of March. On the previous day, Davis had accepted temporary defeat, by signing the compromise bill which omitted emancipation. But as there was no cable operating at the time, Mason was not aware of this rebuff. In his own words, he "urged upon Lord P. that if the President was right in his impression that there was some latent, undisclosed obstacle on the part of Great Britain to recognition, it should be frankly stated, and we might, if in our power to do so, consent to remove it." Palmerston, though his manner was "conciliatory and kind," insisted that there was nothing "underlying" his previous statements, and that he could not, in view of the facts then existing, regard the Confederacy in the light of an independent power. Mason parted from him convinced that "the most ample concessions on our part in the matter referred to would have produced no change in the course determined on by the British Government with regard to recognition." In a subsequent interview with Lord Donoughmore, he was frankly told that the offer of emancipation had come too late.
The dispatch in which Mason reported the attitude of the British Government never reached the Confederate authorities. It was dated the 31st of March. Two days later Richmond was evacuated by the Confederate Government.
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The Day of the Confederacy -by- Nathaniel W. Stephenson