CHAPTER IV. BRITISH SUSPICION OF SEWARD
The reinforcements did not arrive in time. Fort Sumter, after a day and a half of dogged fighting, was surrendered to the enemy on April 13 - for as an enemy in arms the South now stood. The fall of Sumter changed, as in a moment, the whole attitude of the Northern people. There was now a nearly unanimous cry for the preservation of the Union by force. Yet Seward still clung, privately, to his belief that even now the "sober second thought" of the South would offer a way out toward reunion without war. In official utterances and acts he was apparently in complete harmony with the popular will to reconquer the South. Davis' proclamation on marque and privateering, of April 17, was answered by the Lincoln blockade proclamation of April 19. But Virginia had not yet officially seceded, and until this occurred there seemed to Seward at least one last straw of conciliation available. In this situation Schleiden, Minister for Bremen, came to Seward on the morning of April 24 and offered his services as a mediator.
Schleiden's idea was that an armistice be agreed upon with the South until the Northern Congress should meet in July, thus giving a breathing spell and permitting saner second judgment to both sides. He had consulted with his Prussian colleague, who approved, and he found Seward favourable to the plan. Alexander H. Stephens, Vice-President of the Confederacy, was then at Richmond, and to him, as an old friend, Schleiden proposed to go and make the same appeal. Seward at once took Schleiden to see Lincoln. The three men, with Chase (and the Prussian Minister) were the only ones in the secret. Lincoln's first comment was that he was "willing to make an attempt of contributing to the prevention of bloodshed and regretted that Schleiden had not gone to Richmond without consulting him or Seward." Lincoln further stated that "he did not have in mind any aggression against the Southern States, but merely the safety of the Government in the Capitol and the possibility to govern everywhere," a concluding phrase that should have enlightened Schleiden as to Lincoln's determination to preserve the Union. Lincoln said he could neither authorize negotiations nor invite proposals, but that he would gladly consider any such proposals voluntarily made. Schleiden asked for a definite statement as to whether Lincoln would recall the blockade proclamation and sign an armistice if Davis would recall the letters of marque proclamation, but Lincoln refused to commit himself.
This was scant encouragement from the President, but Seward still thought something might result from the venture, and on that evening, April 24, Schleiden started for Richmond, being provided by Seward with a pass through the Union lines. He arrived on the afternoon of the twenty-fifth, but even before reaching the city was convinced that his mission would be a failure. All along his journey, at each little station, he saw excited crowds assembled enthusiastic for secession, bands of militia training, and every indication of preparation for war. Already, on that same day, the Virginia secession ordinance had been published, and the State convention had ratified the provisional constitution of the Southern Confederacy. Schleiden immediately notified Stephens of his presence in Richmond and desire for an interview, and was at once received. The talk lasted three hours. Stephens was frank and positive in asserting the belief that "all attempts to settle peacefully the differences between the two sections were futile." Formal letters were exchanged after this conference, but in these the extent to which Stephens would go was to promise to use his influence in favour of giving consideration to any indication made by the North of a desire "for an amicable adjustment of the questions at issue," and he was positive that there could be no return of the South to the Union.
On the afternoon of April 27 Schleiden was back in Washington. He found that three days had made a great change in the sentiment of the Capitol. "During my short absence," he wrote, "many thousands of volunteers had arrived from the North. There was not only a feeling of security noticeable, but even of combativeness." He found Seward not at all disposed to pursue the matter, and was not given an opportunity to talk to Lincoln; therefore, he merely submitted copies of the letters that had passed between him and Stephens, adding for himself that the South was arming because of Lincoln's proclamation calling for volunteers. Seward replied on April 29, stating his personal regards and that he had no fault to find with Schleiden's efforts, but concluding that Stephens' letters gave no ground for action since the "Union of these States is the supreme as it is the organic law of this country," and must be maintained.