This question by President Lincoln has been lately looked for by several of this board and lost to memory, below is where it originated and where it is referenced.
Mr. Seward, of the peace-faction, sent Allen B. McGruder, as confidential messenger to Richmond, to hold an interview with Mr. Janney (president of the convention), Mr. Stuart, Col. Baldwin, and other influential men of the ruling "Union party." Mr. Seward said that secrecy was all important, and while it was extremely desirable that one of them should see Lincoln, it was equally important that the public should know nothing of the interview. Col. Baldwin responded to the invitation, since, though one of the ablest men of the convention, he was known personally to but few in Washington, having never served in Federal politics. He repaired to Washington as soon as possible, went in a closed carriage to Seward, and from there, in his company, to the White House. But in this short time the policy of the administration had. undergone a change. Seven Republican governors of Northern and North-eastern States representing the " stiff-backed " clique had descended on the government, and won the victory over Seward and the rest. With the ignorance of the South, which I am sorry to say is still prevalent with many Northern writers, they represented to Mr. Lincoln that the people of the South were not in earnest; that all their speeches, resolutions, and declarations of resistance were but a "game of brag;" that Virginia and the Border States would never leave the Union; that it would ruin the North to have a free-trade people to the South of them; that it would be but an easy job to conquer the cotton States, etc., etc. Mr. Lincoln, who had vacillated between the parties, found the combined pressure of office-seekers -and tariff-men too much for him; and when Col. Baldwin arrived he had gone over to the stiff-backed men, bag and baggage. But Mr. Lincoln gave him a most private interview, and the latter quickly dispossessed him of his erroneous impressions regarding the intentions of the Border States, who looked to Virginia as their leader. Lincoln's native good sense, under the influence of Col. Baldwin'^ evident sincerity, immediately grasped the truth. He clutched his shaggy hair, as though he would jerk out handfulls by the roots; he frowned and contorted his features, exclaiming: "I ought to have known this sooner! You are too late, sir, too late! Why did you not come here four days ago, and tell me all this?" turning almost fiercely upon Col. Baldwin. Baldwin replied: "Why, Mr. President, you did not ask our advice. Be sides, as soon as we received permission to tender it, I came by the first train as fast as steam would bring me." Lincoln rejoined: "Yes, but you are too late, I tell you, too late!" Col. Baldwin pleaded the question with him as he never did a case on behalf of a client in jeopardy of life. One* single step would be sufficient to paralyze the secession movement. This was a simple proclamation, repudiating the right of coercing sovereign States by force of arms, and to rely upon conciliation to bring them back into the Union, as had been the course pursued with respect to Rhode Island and North Carolina in 1790. It was a contradiction to suppose that any State would voluntarily abnegate Union except under conviction of real wrong. The question of the Territories had no such importance in the eyes of the Border States to urge them into secession, but coercion would be universally considered the casus belli. Lincoln seemed impressed by Baldwin's eloquence and solemnity, and asked: "But what am I to do meantime with those men at Montgomery? Am I to let them go on?" "Yes, sir," replied Col. Baldwin decidedly, "until they can be peacefully brought back." "And open Charleston, etc., as ports of entry with their ten per cent, tariff? What then would become of my tariff?'' This last question he announced with such emphasis as showed in his view that it decided the whole matter.
Memoir of a Narrative Received of Colonel John B. Baldwin, of Staunton, Touching the Origin of the War. By Rev. R. L. Dabney, D. D.
The Letters and Times of the Tylers, Lyon G. Tyler, Richmond, 1885.
The Southern Historical Society Papers, Vol. I, Jan. to June, 1876.
Jefferson Davis, by Armistead C. Gordon, 1918.
William and Mary College Quarterly Historical Magazine: Vol. 27, Page 224, 1918
Lives of Distinguished North Carolinians, 1898
The New Republic: Vol. 17, 1918
Confederate Veteran: Vol. 25, Issue 10, 1917