Following the American Civil War Sesquicentennial with day by day writings of the time, currently 1863.

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They really don’t want peace, unless with it comes the hangman.

February 7, 2015

Adams Family Civil War letters; US Minister to the UK and his sons.

Charles Francis Adams, Jr., to his father

Boston, February 7, 1865

Reconstruction is looming rapidly up here and public opinion in New England stands in great need of guidance. The old Puritan vindictiveness is beginning to stick out strongly. Among Sumner’s friends I should expect this, but I find it among those not his friends. Dana, Hoar and many others profess doctrines which, if they are carried out, will make an aggravated Vendee, Hungary or Poland of the South and will ruin us as sure as shooting. I find myself and my doctrines, of yielding any terms involving simply property and life but not principle, for the sake of good feeling after Peace, in a sad minority. I know that the mass of the people are neither vindictive nor lawyers and I am sure that they will go with me; but they’ve got to sweep over all the talent and standing of Massachusetts. On that point will Charles Sumner meet shipwreck, and it will be well if many better men do not go with him. However, people seem to me as ugly and vindictive as possible. They really don’t want peace, unless with it comes the hangman. They will insist upon it that this mighty revolution was, after all, only a murderous riot and that the police court and the constable are just about what it needs to quiet it. To this I can’t assent, but public opinion is floating round very loose. I wish you were here to influence. Seward, I think, can be depended upon to be moderate, but the New England influences are all against him. He needs you in Massachusetts more than in London, and I think he can hardly fail to see that himself. If this be so, the time of your return is not far distant.

The only item since my last has been the episode of the Peace Commissioners, an episode which has met with no favor in these parts, in fact it seems to have met with universal condemnation. To this I cannot agree. I regard it as a step forward, an indispensable first step which had to be taken. As for dignity, I do not look to President Lincoln for that. I do look to him for honesty and shrewdness and I see no evidence that in this matter he has been wanting in these respects. . . .

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