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John Tyler reports

Union or Secession
  • John Tyler reports on the failed Peace Conference
In a two-day speech begun on March 13, 1861, former president John Tyler informed the Virginia Convention of the reasons why he had attended and presided over the national Peace Conference in Washington, D.C., in February.
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John Tyler reports on the failed Peace Conference

Extract from the speech of John Tyler, begun on March 13, 1861, and concluded the following day, printed in George H. Reese and William H. Gaines Jr., ed., Proceedings of the Virginia Convention of 1861 (Richmond: Virginia State Library, 1965), 1:638–639.

In January 1861, the General Assembly of Virginia called for the national Peace Conference. To represent the state, it elected five men who lived in different regions of Virginia, some of them Democrats and some former Whigs. Former United States president John Tyler, of Charles City County in eastern Virginia, was elected president of the conference, which met in Washington, D.C., from February 4 through February 27, 1861. The conference recommended that Congress submit a comprehensive constitutional amendment to the states to settle the sectional crisis permanently. Tyler was also a member of the Virginia Convention, and in a two-day speech to the Convention that he began on March 13, 1861, and completed on the following day, he explained how he had aspired "to the glory of aiding to settle this controversy" and save the Union. He also denounced the proposals that the conference had submitted to Congress because they offered nothing of substance to the states that had seceded that would bring them back into the Union. Congress failed to act on the conference recommendations before it adjourned.

Extract from the speech of John Tyler, begun on March 13, 1861, and concluded the following day, printed in George H. Reese and William H. Gaines Jr., ed., Proceedings of the Virginia Convention of 1861 (Richmond: Virginia State Library, 1965), 1:638–639.
An effort was to be made to restore the Union; not to enter into a sort of bargain, embracing only the border States; not merely to enter into a covenant with those who have brought about this state of things through misleading the public mind of the North; nor yet to consult the interests of Virginia exclusively in any arrangement which might be made to restore the Constitution and the Union of the States; but to bring back, if possible, the cotton States, thereby to restore the Union to what it was; to have the glorious old flag floating over one and all; to make the name of an American citizen, which had won respect in every part of the world, again a word of passport and of honor as it has been before.
What could have carried me to Washington, but the debt of gratitude which I felt I owed my State and my fellow-countrymen, and the deep solicitude which I experienced in this hour of the nation's peril? I confess to an additional motive of a personal character. If ever there lived a man ambitious of winning that true glory which can alone arise from the fullfilment of the whole duty of a patriot—that man now addresses you. I aspire to the glory of aiding to settle this controversy. I had worn the honors of office through each grade to the highest. I had been surrounded by the echoes of applause in the course of my journey through life; but to encircle my brow, Mr. President, with the wreath to be won by the restoration of this Union in all its plenitude, perfect as it was before the severance, would have been to me the proud crowning act of my life. That was the feeling that inspired my heart. . . .
I had hoped, in the manner of consultation, and from the spirit evinced at the opening of the Conference, that we were likely to accomplish the great object that Virginia had in view. Massachusetts came up, and her daughter, Maine, along with her. We had all New England, and all the border States, until we reached Michigan. A voice could not be heard on the Pacific coast; it was uttered too late to reach California and Oregon in time—I wish, with all my heart, they had been there. New York soon joined us. But I found that many had come with no olive branch in their hands—nay, more—that with them the feeling of fraternity seemed to be gone. They had nothing to give—nothing to yield. The Constitution was enough for them. New York, with her potent voice, would not yield one iota—not an "I" dotted nor a "T" crossed. "The Constitution must be maintained—we have nothing more to grant." Such was, in substance, her language.
 Notwithstanding all these discouragements, we went to work; and no man had more faithful colleagues than myself. We worked together, and we tried every possible expedient to overrule this state of things. It was soon perfectly obvious that without a close approach to unanimity on the part of the Convention, no measures originated by us would be of any avail.