We just read a fascinating book on the presidency of Abraham Lincoln, Our One Common Country. Written by James B. Conroy, a partner at Donnelly, Conroy & Gelhaar, the book focuses on the Hampton Roads Peace Conference of 1865.
If you’re not a Civil War buff, the Hampton Roads Conference was a negotiation with Southern peace envoys convened secretly by President Lincoln, to begin the process of healing our country, and ending the war by agreement rather than by conquest.
“Abraham Lincoln is the only American president in history to meet face to face with the enemy in the midst of a shooting war,” says Conroy. “Lincoln did not set out to vanquish his opponents but to get the parties to a reasonable resolution of their differences as quickly as possible.”
We asked Conroy many questions concerning Lincoln’s unique qualities. We also discussed President Lincoln’s willingness to reach across the aisle to deal with political adversaries for the good of the Union.
Here are some additional tidbits Conroy shared with us about President Lincoln:
– He had a great understanding of the human character and a great empathy for his adversaries as well as his friends, which in turn prevented him from demonizing the enemy and made it possible for him to reach out to them;
– His core principles were the preservation of the Union and the notion of equal opportunity and equality under the law, within the context of his times;
– He was true to those core principles while leading the country through the worst crisis of its history, but willing to make compromises and form alliances with people with whom he shared very little;
– He was incredibly generous and magnanimous to his enemies, political as well as military.
The peace envoys were President Lincoln and William H. Seward for the Union and Alexander Stephens, John A. Campbell and Robert M.T. Hunter for the Confederacy. Ironically, all were seasoned trial attorneys who knew each other well. Conroy says that even though the peace envoys failed to achieve consensus, the lesson to be learned is this: “You have to offer an adverse party a face-saving way out of a dispute – coupled with some tangible gain that is of minor consequence or at least reasonably tolerable to the party that holds the better hand. A negotiated resolution is almost always preferable to a war.”
The political courage that President Lincoln demonstrated should serve as an example for our leaders today. Imagine how much more efficient our society would be if more compromises were made in the interest of the Constitution and our country.
We look forward to hearing Jim Conroy speak at the BBA to discuss his book in the near future.