An Armistice—How It Would Ruin Us

New York Tribune editorial

September 27, 1864

What is an armistice? Webster defines it to be… “a temporary suspension of hostilities by agreement of the parties.”

An armistice is the cardinal idea upon which the McClellan movement swings in this Presidential canvass. If McClellan is elected, he will be elected by it.

Suppose he is elected.… The expectation of an armistice at a future day certain, would as surely break down and dissolve an American army–an army of volunteers fighting for a principle–as the flow of the Niagara would dissolve and wash away salt. The 4th of March [the date of the inauguration] would inevitably find us in a condition–to do what? To propose an armistice? Oh no! but abjectly, and with just fear and retribution trembling, to receive propositions for a cessation of hostilities. We should be conquered.…

Who is to take the initiative in… the opening of the negotiation–who is to ask for the “convention” and propose the “agreement” [for an armistice]? Not President Davis–for he has not asked for an armistice, and he won’t ask for an armistice, so long as his heart locks within itself the manhood of courage instead of the sheepishness of cowardice, and so long as his soul remains faithful to the Confederacy which has committed its life to his keeping.… Who then, is to take the initiative, and send commissioners to propose an armistice? Why President McClellan, clearly.

His commissioners go. They unfold their credentials, and in the very act of unfolding them recognize the Rebel Confederacy.

This legal result of the cowardly and traitorous folly of proposing an armistice, could not possibly be escaped.… This fact of recognition by McClellan’s administration would immediately be accepted in Paris and London as the solvent of the difficulty which for three years has defeated the application of the Confederate States to be recognized as an independent power. France and Great Britain have consistently replied to [Confederate diplomats John] Slidell and [James] Mason’s entreaties: “The American Government treats you as Rebels. Until you can fight yourselves out of it, we can not treat with you as an independent power without getting into war.” But the obstacle to this coveted recognition would be removed throughout Europe in an instant by McClellan’s proposal of an armistice. France, England, Spain, Austria, and Belgium, would acknowledge the sovereignty of the Confederacy forthwith, and make treaties with them, the commercial classes of which would hourly bribe those powers to help the Rebels while the war lasted.…

The argument might well stop here. But let us follow up this negotiation for an armistice. The first question to be settled after the proposal, would be Jeff. Davis’s inquiry…, “What is the armistice which you propose?”

“An immediate cessation of hostilities, to the end that peace may be restored on the basis of the Federal Union of the States.”

“We will accept the proposal upon the terms and conditions which public law affixes to an armistice. We will withdraw the Confederate troops from every part of your territory; we will suspend the blockade of your coast, and stop privateering on your commerce. You must withdraw the United States troops from every part of our territory; you must suspend the blockade of any and every part of our coast, and cease from capturing merchant vessels bound to our ports. That is, we must be upon terms of equality with you, and free from duress, and relieved from all cercion and restraint, in order to enter into the convention for reunion which you propose.”

McClellan’s commissioners could not possibly escape from this definition of an armistice, in connection with its object–a convention for reunion.…

Through the relaxation or suspension of the blockade, and the demoralization of the pickets, supplies of all sorts… would get easy ingress and egress into and out of the Confederacy. And in the train of these commissioners would go Delay–stately, cunning, ceremonious, ingenious, diplomatic Delay… and the ships of Liverpool, Marseilles, Bremen, and Trieste would the while flock like pigeons to the Southern ports–the cotton, sugar, and tobacco of the Confederacy would get converted into gold–what the Rebellion needed of arms, munitions, clothing, machinery, and men, would be supplied to her–treaties of amity, as well as commerce,… would be snug in the State Department at Richmond. The Rebellion, materially re-invigorated and morally braced by the recognition and promised support of the British, French, Spaniards and Austrians, would be strong enough in September ’65, to stalk into the Peace Commission at Richmond in the person of Jeff. Davis, and say: “This affair must come to a conclusion. All negotiations for a peace with the Confederate States must be based upon the recognition of their independence.…”

What a condition we would be in? Where would be our army? Desertions consequent on the loss of its spirit, and the destruction of its discipline, sickness and death so sure to run havoc through troops that are idle and demoralized, would have swept it away by whole brigades. Only a decaying skeleton of it would be left. The two hundred thousand black soldiers and employees in the service, would early in March have been kicked out, to appease the beastly rage which shirked in Democratic processions, “This is a white man’s war!” The blockade would have to be rescued again by a fleet which had anchored its spirit and vigilance deep down. And when we came to key up the nation to the sacrifice and elasticity necessary to an offensive war–could it be done? Every man in this country out of an idiot asylum knows that it could not be done. The war would be gone. The South would triumph.

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