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IF I had been guided by my judgment alone it is not probable that these notes of the debates in the Confer. ence, held upon the invitation of Virginia, at Washington, in the month of February, 1861, would have been made public. From the commencement of its sessions, a portion of the members were in favor of the daily publication of the proceedings. I was disposed to go far. ther and have the sessions open to the public; but this proposition was opposed by a large majority. Strong reasons were urged for excluding the multitude which in the excitement of the time would have thronged the hall wherein the Conference held its sessions. But these reasons did not apply to the publication of the debates, and a considerable minority were strongly of opinion that the people should be informed daily, of the votes and remarks of their representatives in that body.
I commenced taking notes on the first day of the session. For the first few days, and until the reports were presented from the general committee, there was but little discussion, and that related to questions inci. dental to the general subject. On the 15th of February, and before the committee reported, Mr. ORTH offered a resolution authorizing the admission of reporters, which, after some discussion, by a close vote was laid upon the table. On the 18th, finding the labor of taking notes greater than I had anticipated, and desiring that a complete record should be preserved; I introduced a resolution providing for the appointment of an official stenog. rapher, who should report the proceedings and hold them subject to the order of the Conference. I urged the adoption of this resolution as strenuously as was proper, but the feeling of the majority appeared to be still adverse to its passage, and it shared the fate of its predecessor. I then revised the notes already taken, and finding them more complete than I had anticipated, determined to make as accurate a report as I was able of the general dis. cussion. I could not then anticipate whether such a report would be useful to the country or not; but I thought if the Conference should propose amendments to the Constitution, and these should be ultimately submitted to the States for adoption, a knowledge of the motives and reasons which influenced the action of the Conference as well as the construction which the members gave to the propositions themselves, might become of as great importance as the same subjects were in the convention which framed the present Constitution. I attended every session of the Conference, and, so far as my strength would permit, made as full and accurate notes as I could, both of the action of the Conference and the observations of its members.
These notes were carefully examined and revised immediately after the close of each daily session. After the passage of the resolution introduced by Mr. BARRINGER, removing the injunction of secrecy and authorizing their publication, I determined to write them out for the press. I was engaged in this work when the rebellion commenced, and was shortly after called to the performance of the duties of an official position, which for many months left me no leisure for other employments.
My notes were then laid aside. As it was known by every member of the Conference that I had taken them, I was often pressed to permit selections from them to be made.. These requests I invariably declined, as I desired the publication, if made at all, to be entire, as well as accurate. As time passed, these appeals became more frequent and pressing, and claims were made in relation to the course of several of the members which could only be sustained or refuted by a publication of their remarks. At length I was earnestly requested to write out one of these speeches, and after some weeks of delay consented to do so.
After the publication of this speech, which took place about the time of the fall elections of 1863, previous to which the action of the Conference had been much discussed, the desire to see a full report of the proceedings of that body appeared to be excited anew. Letters and personal interviews upon this subject became very nu. merous. I finally determined to take the advice of a number of gentlemen who were prominent in the convention and the country, as to the propriety of yielding to this desire, and to be guided by it. I did so, and found among them a remarkable unanimity of expression in favor of making the history of the Conference public.
When this question was settled, I desired to avail myself of every opportunity to secure the highest degree of accuracy and fidelity. I addressed notes to such of the members as were accessible, asking them to transmit to me such memoranda of the proceedings of the Conference as they had preserved. The response to these letters was very gratifying; not because the ma. terials furnished were very full, but because so general a purpose was shown by all the members thus addressed, to furnish me every facility and aid in their power.
I have found much difficulty in determining what control each member ought to be permitted to exercise over his own remarks. The most agreeable course to me would have been, to have written out each speech and submitted it to its author for correction or revision; but to this there was a decisive objection. It would have depreciated, if not destroyed, the accuracy of the report. Although I do not believe that any gentleman would have been tempted to change the tenor of his remarks by subsequent events, the view of the public might not have been so charitable.
I have therefore made my own notes the standard of authority, and have admitted nothing into the report which has not been justified by them aided by my own recollection. The manuscript has not been changed or added to, except by my own hands. The few instances in which I have availed myself of the materials furnished by others, are distinctly stated either in the notes or the appendix.
During the sessions of the Conference I was able to secure but little practical assistance from the members. Although many of them desired that my purpose should be accomplished, and some were taking brief and gen. eral notes, I soon discovered that an accurate report of a speech required an amount of labor and a degree of attention to the subject, which few gentlemen were inclined to give. The work, therefore, was thrown almost exclusively upon myself. Some idea of its amount and severity may be formed when it is stated, that the ses. sions usually commenced at about ten o'clock in the morning, and with a brief intermission were continued late in the evening, in one instance as late as the hour of two o'clock, A. M. The necessity of these long daily ses. sions, arose from the fact, that the Congress then in exist. ence terminated on the fourth of March, and but few days remained in which to discuss and perfect the report, and to submit it to that body for its action. I do not claim to have furnished a verbatim report of the speeches delivered in the Conference of 1861, but I insist that I have given an accurate account of all its official proceedings, and the substance of the remarks made in the course of those proceedings. Ithink, also, that I have preserved nearly all the propositions made in the course of the debate, and generally have presented the ideas in the very language used. The gentlemen who have critically examined the report, all concur upon the question of its general accuracy, and I am content in this respect to rely upon their testimony. I have suggested these considerations simply by way of explanation, and not for the purpose of avoiding criticism. I have endeavored to follow, so far as was in my power, the example of the illustrious Reporter of the Constitutional Convention of 1787; and while my notes lack the beauty and felicity which characterize his, I trust they are not less full and accurate. I submit them to the country as the best contribution which I can make to its history, at a most important and interesting period of our national existence. The three short years which have passed since the Conference of 1861, have witnessed singular vicissitudes among its members. Many of them have entered into the military or civil service of the country, or of the rebellion which it was the avowed purpose of some mem. bers of that Conference to nourish into vigorous life. Death, also, has been busy with the roll. BALDw1N, BRONsoN, SMITH, Wolcott, TYLER, and CLAY, are no more. ZoDLICOFFER fell at the head of a rebel army. HACKLEMAN sealed with his blood his devotion to the prin