With the firing on Fort Sumter, the secession crisis escalated into bloody conflict. Weeks of work to mend sectional relations in Congress and with the Peace Conference had failed; Secretary of State William H. Seward’s conversations with the southern peace commissioners had similarly lead to nothing when President Abraham Lincoln determined to make a stand at Fort Sumter. Seward had been a driving force trying to prevent sectional war, but the outbreak of hostilities meant he fell in line and supported the administration’s war effort. Meanwhile, Rudolph Schleiden, the representative of the Hanseatic City of Bremen, had closely watched Seward’s belligerent attitude leading up to Inauguration Day, sharing the Secretary of State’s hope for a peaceful reunion of the country.[1] Even by late April, Seward had not given up on his assumption that peace was still a possibility, if Unionists got sufficient time to reassert their influence in the seceded states.

In April 1861, Seward supported Bremen’s Minister Resident Rudolph Schleiden’s visit to the soon-to-be enemy capital Richmond, but Seward did not explicitly send the minister to meet with Confederate Vice-President Alexander Stephens.[2] The meeting, which did occur, came to nothing because of the mutual distrust between the two sections. However, Seward’s support for Schleiden’s peace initiative indicates the continued perception that Unionists eventually could regain power in the seceded states and prevent further hostilities. Schleiden’s often overlooked trip to Richmond indicates how even a month into the war, the Union government continued its search for a peaceful solution, but not at any price.

Even after the first shots at Fort Sumter and the violence in Baltimore, Seward remained interested in preserving the Union and Bremen’s Rudolph Schleiden offered him an opportunity to do so. The violence in Baltimore had a deep impact on Schleiden, who had a humanitarian, even pacifist, streak in him.[3] In response to the foreseeable bloodshed, he contemplated mediating a truce between the two belligerents. As a former revolutionary, Schleiden approved of the right to revolution but like many Forty-Eighters, Schleiden did not grant the South that right. He believed that southerners had acted preemptively, or as he often termed it, on “sudden impulses.”[4] Furthermore, Schleiden knew from his experience how difficult it was for a state to survive against a larger, more powerful foe if the international situation was against that state.

The entire article can be viewed on the Journal of the Civil War Era Muster blog.

Skip to toolbar