Abraham Lincoln, A History, Volume 2
John George Nicolay and John Hay

Part 6 out of 8

Michigan, Secretary of State; Howell Cobb, of Georgia, Secretary of
the Treasury; John B. Floyd, of Virginia, Secretary of War; Isaac
Toucey, of Connecticut, Secretary of the Navy; Jacob Thompson, of
Mississippi, Secretary of the Interior; Joseph Holt, of Kentucky,
Postmaster-General; and Jeremiah S. Black, of Pennsylvania,
Attorney-General. It was in and about this Cabinet that the central
cabal formed itself. Even if we could know in detail the successive
steps that led to the establishment of this intercourse, which so
quickly became "both semi-official and confidential," it could add
nothing to the force of the principal fact that the conspiracy was in
its earliest stages efficient in perverting the resources and
instrumentalities of the Government of the United States to its
destruction. That a United States Senator, a Secretary of War, an
Assistant Secretary of State, and no doubt sundry minor functionaries,
were already then, from six to eight weeks before any pretense of
secession, with, "malice aforethought" organizing armed resistance to
the Constitution and laws they had sworn to support, stands forth in
the following correspondence too plainly to be misunderstood. As a
fitting preface to this correspondence, a few short paragraphs may be
quoted from the private diary of the Secretary of War, from which
longer and more important extracts appear in a subsequent chapter.
Those at present quoted are designed more especially to show the names
of the persons composing the primary group of this central cabal, and
the time and place of their early consultations and activity.


November 8, 1860 ... I had a long conversation to-day with General
Lane, the candidate for Vice-President on the ticket with
Mr. Breckinridge. He was grave and extremely earnest; said that
resistance to the anti-slavery feeling of the North was hopeless, and
that nothing was left to the South but "resistance or dishonor"; that
if the South failed to act with promptness and decision in vindication
of her rights, she would have to make up her mind to give up first her
honor and then her slaves. He thought disunion inevitable, and said
when the hour came that his services could be useful, he would offer
them unhesitatingly to the South. I called to see the President this
evening, but found him at the State Department engaged upon his
message, and did not see him. Miss Lane returned last evening from
Philadelphia, where she had been for some time on a visit. Mr. W.H.
Trescott, Assistant Secretary of State, called to see me this evening,
and conversed at length upon the condition of things in South
Carolina, of which State he is a native. He expressed no sort of doubt
whatever of his State separating from the Union. He brought me a
letter from Mr. Drayton, the agent of the State, proposing to buy ten
thousand muskets for the use of the State....

November 10 ... Beach, Thompson, and Cobb came over with me from
Cabinet and staid, taking informally a family dinner. The party was
free and communicative; Toucey would not stay for dinner. Mr. Pickens,
late Minister to Russia, came in after dinner with Mr. Trescott,
Assistant Secretary of State, and sat an hour, talking about the
distracted state of public feeling at the South. He seemed to think
the time had come for decisive measures to be taken by the South.

November 11 ... I spent an hour at the President's, where I met
Thompson, Robert McGraw, and some others; we sat around the tea-table
and discussed the disunion movements of the South. This seems to be
the absorbing topic everywhere.

November 12 ... Dispatched the ordinary business of the department;
dined at 5 o'clock; Mr. Pickens, late Minister to Russia, Mr.
Trescott, Mr. Secretary Thompson, Mr. McGraw, Mr. Browne, editor of
the "Constitution," were of the party. The chief topic of discussion
was, as usual, the excitement in the South. The belief seemed to be
that disunion was inevitable; Pickens, usually very cool and
conservative, was excited and warm. My own conservatism seems in these
discussions to be unusual and almost misplaced.

[Sidenote] Benson J. Lossing, "The Civil War in America," Vol. I.,
p. 44. (Note.)

WASHINGTON, Nov. 1, 1860.

DEAR RHETT: I received your letter this morning. As to my views or
opinions of the Administration, I can, of course, say nothing. As to
Mr. Cobb's views, he is willing that I should communicate them to you,
in order that they may aid you in forming your own judgment; but, you
will understand that this is confidential--that is, neither Mr. Cobb
nor myself must be quoted as the source of your information. I will
not dwell on this, as you will, on a moment's reflection, see the
embarrassment which might be produced by any _authorized_ statement of
his opinions. I will only add, by way of preface, that after the very
fullest and freest conversations with him, I feel sure of his
earnestness, singleness of purpose, and resolution in the whole

Mr. Cobb believes that the time is come for resistance; that upon the
election of Lincoln, Georgia ought to secede from the Union, and that
she will do so; that Georgia and every other State should, as far as
secession, act for herself, resuming her delegated powers, and thus
put herself in position to consult with other sovereign States who
take the same ground. After the secession is effected, then will be
the time to consult. But he is of opinion, most strongly, that
whatever action is resolved on should be consummated on the 4th of
March, not before.

That while the action determined on should be decisive and
irrevocable, its initial point should be the 4th of March. He is
opposed to any Southern convention, merely for the purpose of
consultation. If a Southern convention is held, it must be of
delegates empowered to _act_, whose action is at once binding on the
States they represent.

But he desires me to impress upon you his conviction, that any attempt
to precipitate the actual issue upon this Administration will be most
mischievous--calculated to produce differences of opinion and destroy
unanimity. He thinks it of great importance that the cotton crop
should go forward at once, and that the money should be in the hands
of the people, that the cry of popular distress shall not be heard at
the outset of this move.

My own opinion is that it would be well to have a discreet man, one
who knows the value of silence, who can listen wisely, present in
Milledgeville, at the meeting of the State Legislature, as there will
be there an outside gathering of the very ablest men of that State.

And the next point, that you should, at the earliest possible day of
the session of our own Legislature, elect a man as governor whose name
and character will conciliate as well as give confidence to all the
men of the State,--if we do act, I really think this half the
battle,--a man upon whose temper the State can rely.

I say nothing about a convention, as I understand, on all hands, that
that is a fixed fact, and I have confined myself to answering your
question. I will be much obliged to you if you will write me soon and
fully from Columbia.

It is impossible to write to you, with the constant interruption of
the office, and as you want Cobb's opinions, not mine, I send this to



[Sidenote] MS. Confederate Archives.

CHARLESTON, 3d Nov., 1860.

On the 22d of last month I was in Washington, and called upon the
Secretary at War, in company with Senator Wigfall, of Texas, to make
inquiries as to the efficiency and price of certain muskets belonging
to the United States, which had been altered by the Ordnance
Department from flint to percussion. They will shoot for 200 yards as
well as any smooth-bored gun in the service, and if _rifled_ will be
effective at 500 yards. But if the conical ball will be made lighter
by enlarging the hollow at the base of the cone, the effective range
may be increased to seven hundred yards. Should your Excellency give a
favorable consideration to the above, I can have the whole of what I
have stated authenticated by the board of ordnance officers, who
inspected and reported to the Secretary at War upon these muskets. If
ten thousand or more of these muskets are purchased, the price will be
two ($2) dollars each; for a less quantity the charge will be $2.50
each. If a portion or all of them are to be rifled, the Secretary says
he will have it done for the additional cost of one ($1) dollar per
barrel. As this interview with Mr. Secretary Floyd was both
semi-official and confidential, your Excellency will readily see the
necessity, should this matter be pursued further, of appointing an
agent to negotiate with him, rather than conduct the negotiation
directly between the State and the Department ... I unhesitatingly
advise purchasing several thousand of them ... There are many other
important facts in connection with the above that I could disclose,
but will reserve them for some other occasion, that I may give them
verbally as soon as I can find a day to wait upon your Excellency in

The State of Texas has engaged twenty thousand (20,000) of these
muskets, and the State of Kentucky purchased several thousand last

[Sidenote] Ibid.

CHARLESTON, 6th Nov., 1860.

I have only within a few hours received yours of the 5th inst.,
authorizing me to purchase from the War Department at Washington ten
thousand rifles of pattern and price indicated in my letter to your
Excellency of the 3d inst.

I accept the appointment and will discharge the duty assigned to the
best of my ability and with the least possible delay. For I feel that
the past and present agitation are ruinous to our peace and prosperity
and that our only remedy is to break up with dispatch the present
Confederacy and construct a new and better one. I will communicate
with Mr. Secretary Floyd to-night and have the rifles put in
preparation so as to have them for use at an early day....

I would wish that my agency in this transaction be kept private _until
I reach Washington_, or indeed till I write to say the arms are on
their way to Columbia....

[Sidenote] Ibid.

CHARLESTON, 8th Nov., 1860.

I have just received your letter of the 7th inst., and I think I can
render you all the information you desire, without resorting to any
agent. If my ability can only be made to keep pace with my zeal, I
hope yet to render some service to the dear old State of South


[Sidenote] MS. Confederate Archives.

CHARLESTON, 16th Nov., 1860.

I have been most reluctantly detained here by an accidental fall, and
also by business of an urgent kind associated with the railroad. My
absence from Washington, however, has not delayed the execution of
your order for the rifles; the Secretary of War has had the preparation
of them in hand for some time.

When I write to you from Washington, had I not better address you
through your private secretary ... Please address me at Washington to
the care of Wm. H. Trescott, Esq. ... I will give strict attention to
your letter of the 7th inst., and hope to furnish you with much of the
information you desire, for I am quite sensible of the importance of
knowing the views and policy of the President at this juncture.

[Sidenote] MS. Confederate Archives.

WASHINGTON, 19th Nov., 1860.

... I called this morning upon the Secretary of War to make
arrangements for the immediate transmission of the rifles to Columbia,
but much to my astonishment he informed me that since he had looked
over the report of "Small Fire-arms" (now inclosed) that he found he
had labored under an error in stating to me that the ten thousand
rifles I had engaged were ready for delivery when called for by me. He
said he could have them rifled, but it would take three or four months
to execute the contract, but suggested that we should purchase the
10,000 smooth-bored muskets instead, as a more efficient arm,
particularly if large-sized buckshot should be used, which, put up in
wire case capable of containing 12 of them, would go spitefully
through an inch plank at 200 yards. I was much astonished at the
result of my interview with Governor Floyd to-day, for he had not only
informed me that the rifles would be ready for me on my arrival, but
told Mr. Trescott so likewise, and that if I had been in Washington
last Saturday I could have got them.... If you will be satisfied with
the smooth-bored muskets like the specimen forwarded to you, I will
purchase them. Better do this, although not the best pattern, than be
without arms at a crisis like the present. Colonel Benjamin Huger can
give you much information about these muskets. This is derived not
only from Mr. Floyd, but also from General J.E. Johnston,
Quartermaster-General, who was President of the Ordnance Board who had
these muskets changed from flint to percussion, and also from
smooth-bore to rifle, and he says that for our purposes the
smooth-bored musket is preferable to the altered rifle. The why I
cannot explain to-day.... I also send you a letter from Mr. Trescott,
in reply to certain inquiries from me. I am unable to make any
comments upon them nor to add other facts which I will forward you
more leisurely to-morrow....

[Sidenote] MS. Confederate Archives.

WASHINGTON, Nov. 19, 1860.

(Private, Confidential.)

MY DEAR DRAYTON: It is difficult to reply specifically to your
inquiries, partly because I do not believe that the exact course of
the Administration has been yet determined on, and partly because my
knowledge, or rather my inference, of its intentions is derived from
intercourse with its members which I am bound to consider
confidential. I do not regard it of serious importance to you to know
the individual opinions of either the President or the Cabinet. No
action of any sort will be taken until the message has been sent
indicating the opinions of the Executive, and that message, whatever
it be, will find our Legislature in session, and the convention on the
point of meeting. I think it likely that the President will state
forcibly what he considers the grievances of the South, that he will
add that he does not think, if the right of secession existed, it
would be a wise policy for the State to adopt, and that he does not
think the right to secede does exist, and then refer the whole matter
to Congress; what he will do when the State does secede, he has not
said, and I do not know, nor any man, I believe. He will do, as we
will, what he believes to be his duty, and that duty, I suppose, will
be discharged in full view of the consequences following any line of
action that may be determined on. But I think that, as long as Cobb
and Thompson retain seats in the Cabinet, you may feel confident that
no action has been taken which seriously affects the position of any
Southern State.

I think that I may safely rely upon my knowledge of what will be done,
and you may rely upon my resignation as soon as that knowledge
satisfies me of any move in a direction positively injurious to us, or
altering the present condition of things to our disadvantage. When you
pass through on Wednesday, however, I will speak to you more fully.



[Sidenote] Ibid.

WASHINGTON, 19th Nov., 1860.

Mr. Buchanan, while he can discover no authority under the
Constitution to justify secession by a State, on the other hand he can
find no power to coerce one to return after the right of secession has
been exercised. He will not allow entry or clearance of a vessel
except through the Custom-house, to be established as soon as
secession is declared, upon the deck of a man-of-war off the harbor of
Charleston. He will enforce the collection of duties, not by navy, but
by a revenue cutter, as our collector now would do if his authority
was resisted. I will write to you more fully when I return from New
York, where I go to-morrow at daylight, at the suggestion of the
Secretary of War, who deems it important that I should go there to
make arrangements for shipping the arms (should you still want them)
from that point instead of this city ... Do send a copy of the list of
arms at the arsenals to H.R. Lawton, Milledgeville, Ga. I am getting
some smooth-bored muskets for Georgia, like the specimen I sent you.

[Sidenote] MS. Confederate Archives.

WASHINGTON, 23d Nov., 1860.

I arrived here at 6 A.M. from New York, where I had gone at the
suggestion of Mr. Floyd to engage Mr. G.B. Lamar, President of the
Bank of the Republic, to make an offer to the Secretary for such a
number of muskets as we might require. The Secretary at War was
reluctant to dispose of them to me, preferring the intermediate
agency. Mr. Lamar has consented to act accordingly, and to-day the
Secretary has written to the commanding officer [at] Watervliet
Arsenal to deliver five or ten thousand muskets (altered from flint to
percussion) to Mr. Lamar's order. Mr. Lamar will pay the United States
paymaster for them, and rely upon the State to repay him. I have been
most fortunate in having been enabled to meet the payments for the
arms through Mr. L., for I feel satisfied that without his
intervention we could not have effected the purchase at this time....
I expect to return at daylight to-morrow to New York, for I am very
anxious about getting possession of the arms at Watervliet, and
forward them to Charleston. The Cabinet may break up at any moment, on
differences of opinion with the President as to the rights of
secession, and a new Secretary of War might stop the muskets going
South, if not already on their way when he comes into office.

I will write to you again by the next mail. The impression here and
elsewhere among many Southern men is, that our Senators have been
precipitate in resigning; they think that their resignations should
have been tendered from their seats after they had announced to the
Senate that the State had seceded. Occupying their seats up to this
period would have kept them in communication with Senators from the
South and assisted very powerfully in shaping to our advantage coming

If any further quotation be necessary to show the audacity with which
at least three Secretaries and one Assistant Secretary of Mr.
Buchanan's Cabinet engaged in flagrant conspiracy in the early stages
of rebellion, it may be found in an interview of Senator Clingman with
the Secretary of the Interior, which the former has recorded in his
"Speeches and Writings" as an interesting reminiscence. It may be
doubted whether Secretary Thompson correctly reported the President as
wishing him success in his North Carolina mission, but the Secretary
is, of course, a competent witness to his own declarations and acts.

[Sidenote] T.L. Clingman, "Speeches and Writings," pp. 526, 527.

About the middle of December [1860] I had occasion to see the
Secretary of the Interior on some official business. On my entering
the room, Mr. Thompson said to me, "Clingman, I am glad you have
called, for I intended presently to go up to the Senate to see you. I
have been appointed a commissioner by the State of Mississippi to go
down to North Carolina to get your State to secede, and I wished to
talk with you about your Legislature before I start down in the
morning to Raleigh, and to learn what you think of my chance of
success." I said to him, "I did not know that you had resigned." He
answered; "Oh, no, I have not resigned." "Then," I replied, "I suppose
you resign in the morning." "No," he answered, "I do not intend to
resign, for Mr. Buchanan wished us all to hold on, and go out with him
on the 4th of March." "But," said I, "does Mr. Buchanan know for what
purpose you are going to North Carolina?" "Certainly," he said, "he
knows my object." Being surprised by this statement, I told Mr.
Thompson that Mr. Buchanan was probably so much perplexed by his
situation that he had not fully considered the matter, and that as he
was already involved in difficulty, we ought not to add to his
burdens; and then suggested to Mr. Thompson that he had better see Mr.
Buchanan again, and by way of inducing him to think the matter over,
mention what I had been saying to him. Mr. Thompson said, "Well, I can
do so, but I think he fully understands it." In the evening I met Mr.
Thompson at a small social party, and as soon as I approached him, he
said, "I knew I could not be mistaken. I told Mr. Buchanan all you
said, and he told me that he wished me to go, and hoped I might
succeed." I could not help exclaiming, "Was there ever before any
potentate who sent out his own Cabinet ministers to excite an
insurrection against his Government!" The fact that Mr. Thompson did
go on the errand, and had a public reception before the Legislature,
and returned to his position in the Cabinet is known, but this
incident serves to recall it.

To this sketch of the Cabinet cabal it is necessary to add the testimony
of his participation, by one who, from first to last, was a principal
and controlling actor. Jefferson Davis records that:

[Sidenote] Jefferson Davis, "Rise and Fall of the Confederate
Government," Vol. I., pp. 57, 58, 59.

In November, 1860, after the result of the Presidential election was
known, the Governor of Mississippi, having issued his proclamation
convoking a special session of the Legislature to consider the
propriety of calling a convention, invited the Senators and
Representatives of the State in Congress to meet him for consultation
as to the character of the message he should send to the Legislature
when assembled.... While engaged in the consultation with the Governor
just referred to, a telegraphic message was handed to me from two
members of Mr. Buchanan's Cabinet, urging me to proceed "immediately"
to Washington. This dispatch was laid before the Governor and the
members of Congress from the State who were in conference with him,
and it was decided that I should comply with, the summons ... On
arrival at Washington, I found, as had been anticipated, that my
presence there was desired on account of the influence which it was
supposed I might exercise with the President (Mr. Buchanan) in
relation to his forthcoming message to Congress. On paying my respects
to the President, he told me that he had finished the rough draft of
his message, but that it was still open to revision and amendment, and
that he would like to read it to me. He did so and very kindly
accepted all the modifications which I suggested. The message was,
however, afterwards somewhat changed.

In the documents we have presented, though they manifestly form but
the merest fragment of the secret correspondence which passed between
the chief conspirators, and of the written evidence recorded by them
in various forms, then and afterwards, we have a substantial unmasking
of the combined occult influences which presided over the initiatory
steps of the great American Rebellion--its central council--the master
wheel of its machinery--and the connecting relation which caused all
its subordinate parts to move in harmonious accord.

With the same mind to dictate a secession message to a Legislature and
a non-coercion message to Congress--to assemble insurrectionary troops
to seize Federal forts and withhold Government troops from their
protection--to incite governors to rebellion and overawe a weak
President to a virtual abdication of his rightful authority, history
need not wonder at the surprising unity and early success of the
conspiracy against the Union.

[1] Printed on pages 791 to 794 in "The Life and Times of Robert E.
Lee," etc. By a distinguished Southern journalist. (E.A. Pollard,
author of "The Lost Cause.")



The secret circular of Governor Gist, of South Carolina, heretofore
quoted, inaugurated the great American Rebellion a full month before a
single ballot had been cast for Abraham Lincoln. This was but
repeating in a bolder form the action taken by Governor Wise, of
Virginia, during the Fremont campaign four years before. But, instead,
as in that case, of confining himself to a proposed consultation among
slave-State executives, Governor Gist proceeded almost immediately to
a public and official revolutionary act.

On the 12th of October, 1860, he issued his proclamation convening the
Legislature of South Carolina in extra session, "to appoint electors
of President and Vice-President ... and also that they may, if
advisable, take action for the safety and protection of the State."
There was no external peril menacing either the commonwealth or its
humblest citizen; but the significance of the phrase was soon

[Sidenote] South Carolina "House Journal," Called Session, 1860,
pp. 10, 11.

A caucus of prominent South Carolina leaders is said to have been held
on October 25, at the residence of Senator Hammond. Their
deliberations remained secret, but the determination arrived at
appears clearly enough in the official action of Governor Gist, who
was present, and who doubtless carried out the plans of the
assemblage. When the Legislature met on November 5 (the day before the
Presidential election) the Governor sent them his opening message,
advocating both secession and insurrection, in direct and undisguised
language. He recommended that in the event of Lincoln's election, a
convention should be immediately called; that the State should secede
from the Federal Union; and "if in the exercise of arbitrary power and
forgetful of the lessons of history, the Government of the United
States should attempt coercion, it will be our solemn duty to meet
force by force." To this end he recommended a reorganization of the
militia and the raising and drilling an army of ten thousand
volunteers. He placed the prospects of such a revolution in a most
hopeful and encouraging light. "The indications from many of the
Southern States," said he, "justify the conclusion that the secession
of South Carolina will be immediately followed, if not adopted
simultaneously, by them, and ultimately by the entire South. The
long-desired cooeperation of the other States having similar
institutions, for which the State has been waiting, seems to be near
at hand; and, if we are true to ourselves, will soon be realized."

Governor Gist's justification of this movement as attempted was (in
his own language) "the strong probability of the election to the
Presidency of a sectional candidate by a party committed to the
support of measures, which if carried out will inevitably destroy our
equality in the Union, and ultimately reduce the Southern States to
mere provinces of a consolidated despotism to be governed by a fixed
majority in Congress hostile to our institutions."

This campaign declamation, used throughout the whole South with great
skill and success, to "fire the Southern heart," was wholly defective
as a serious argument.

As to the alleged destruction of equality, the North proposed to deny
to the slave-States no single right claimed by the free-States. The
talk about "provinces of a consolidated despotism to be governed by a
fixed majority" was, in itself an absurd contradiction in terms, which
repudiated the fundamental idea of republican government. The
acknowledgment that any danger from anti-slavery "measures" was only
in the future, negatived its validity as a present grievance.
Hostility to "our institutions" was expressly disavowed by full
constitutional recognition of slavery under State authority. The
charge of "sectionalism" came with a bad grace from a State whose
newspapers boasted that none but the Breckinridge ticket was tolerated
within her borders, and whose elsewhere obsolete "institution" of
choosing Presidential electors by the Legislature instead of by the
people, combined with such a dwarfed and crippled public sentiment,
made it practically impossible for a single vote to be cast for either
Lincoln or Douglas or Bell--a condition mathematically four times as
"sectional" as that of any State of the North.

Finally, the avowed determination to secede because a Presidential
election was about to be legally gained by one of the three opposing
parties, after she had freely and fully joined in the contest, was an
indulgence of caprice utterly incompatible with any form of government

There is no need here to enter upon a discussion of the many causes
which, had given to the public opinion of South Carolina so radical
and determined a tone in favor of disunion. Maintaining persistence,
and gradually gathering strength almost continuously since the
nullification furor of 1832, it had become something more than a
sentiment among its devotees: it had grown into a species of cult or
party religion, for the existence of which no better reason can be
assigned than that it sprang from a blind hero-worship locally
accorded to John C. Calhoun, one of the prominent figures of American
political history. As representative in Congress, Secretary of War
under President Monroe, Vice-President of the United States under
President John Quincy Adams, for many years United States Senator from
South Carolina, and the radical champion of States Rights,
Nullification, and Slavery, his brilliant fame was the pride, but his
false theories became the ruin, of his State and section.

[Sidenote] South Carolina "House Journal," Called Session, 1860,
pp. 16, 17.

Governor Gist and his secession coadjutors had evidently still a
lingering hope that the election might by some unforeseen contingency
result in the choice of Breckinridge. On no other hypothesis can we
account for the fact that on the 6th of November, when Northern
ballots were falling in such an ample shower for Lincoln, the South
Carolina Legislature, with due decorum and statute regularity,
appointed Presidential electors for the State, and formally instructed
them to vote for Breckinridge and Lane. The dawn of November 7
dispelled these hopes. The "strong probability" had become a stubborn

When the certain news of Lincoln's election finally came, it was
hailed with joy and acclamation by both the leaders and the people of
South Carolina. They had at length their much coveted pretext for
disunion; and they now put into the enterprise a degree of
earnestness, frankness, courage, and persistency worthy of a better
cause. Public opinion, so long prepared, responded with enthusiasm to
the plans and calls of the leaders. Manifestations of disloyalty
became universal. Political clubs were transformed into military
companies. Drill-rooms and armories were alive with nightly meetings.
Sermons, agricultural addresses, and speeches at railroad banquets
were only so many secession harangues. The State became filled with
volunteer organizations of "minute men."

The Legislature, remaining in extra session, and cheered and urged on
by repeated popular demonstrations and the inflamed speeches of the
highest State officials, proceeded without delay to carry out the
Governor's programme. In fact, the members needed no great incitement.
They had been freshly chosen within the preceding month; many of them
on the well-understood "resistance" issue. Their election took place
on the 8th and 9th days of October, 1860. Since there was but one
party in South Carolina, there could be no party drill; but a
tyrannical and intolerant public sentiment usurped its place and
functions. On the sixteen different tickets paraded in one of the
Charleston newspapers, the names of the most pronounced disunionists
were the most frequent and conspicuous. "Southern rights at all
hazards," was the substance of many mottoes, and the palmetto and the
rattlesnake were favorite emblems. There was neither mistaking nor
avoiding the strong undercurrent of treason and rebellion here
manifested, and the Governor's proclamation had doubtless been largely
based upon it.

[Sidenote] South Carolina, "House Journal," Called Session, 1860,
pp. 13, 14.

The first day's session of the Legislature (November 5) developed one
of the important preparatory steps of the long-expected revolution.
The Legislature of 1859 had appropriated a military contingent fund of
one hundred thousand dollars, "to be drawn and accounted for as
directed by the Legislature." The appropriation had been allowed to
remain untouched. It was now proposed to place this sum at the control
of the Governor to be expended in obtaining improved small arms, in
purchasing a field battery of rifled cannon, in providing
accouterments, and in furnishing an additional supply of tents; and a
resolution to that effect was passed two days later, The chief measure
of the session, however, was a bill to provide for calling the
proposed State Convention, which it was well understood would adopt an
ordinance of secession. There was scarcely a ripple of opposition to
this measure. One or two members still pleaded for delay, to secure
the cooeperation of Georgia, but dared not record a vote against the
prevailing mania. The chairman of the proper committee on November 10
reported an act calling a convention "for the purpose of taking into
consideration the dangers incident to the position of the State in the
Federal Union," which unanimously became a law November 13, and the
extra session adjourned to meet again in regular annual session on the

Meanwhile public excitement had been kept at fever heat by all manner
of popular demonstrations. The two United States Senators and the
principal Federal officials resigned their offices with a public
flourish of their insubordinate zeal. An enthusiastic ratification
meeting was given to the returning members of the Legislature. To give
still further emphasis to the general movement a grand mass meeting
was held at Charleston on the 17th of November. The streets were
filled with the excited multitude. Gaily dressed ladies crowded
balconies and windows, and zealous mothers decorated their children
with revolutionary badges. There was a brisk trade in fire-arms and
gunpowder. The leading merchants and prominent men of the city came
forth and seated themselves on platforms to witness and countenance a
formal ceremony of insurrection. A white flag, bearing a palmetto tree
and the legend _Animis opibusque parati_ (one of the mottoes on the
State seal), was, after solemn prayer, displayed from a pole of
Carolina pine. Music, salutes, and huzzahs filled the air. Speeches
were addressed to "citizens of the Southern Republic." Orations and
processions completed the day, and illuminations and bonfires occupied
the night. The preparations were without stint. The proceedings and
ceremonies were conducted with spirit and abandon. The rejoicings were
deep and earnest. And yet there was a skeleton at the feast; the
Federal flag, invisible among the city banners, and absent from the
gay bunting and decorations of the harbor shipping, still floated far
down the bay over a faithful commander and loyal garrison in Fort



President Buchanan and his Administration could not, if they would,
shut their eyes to the treasonable utterances and preparations at
Charleston and elsewhere in the South; but so far neither the speeches
nor bonfires nor palmetto flags, nor even the secession message of
Governor Gist or the Convention bill of the South Carolina
Legislature, constituted a statutory offense. For twelve years the
threat of disunion had been in the mouths of the Southern slavery
extremists and their Northern allies the most potent and formidable
weapon of national politics. It was declaimed on the stump, elaborated
in Congressional speeches, set out in national platforms, and paraded
as a solemn warning in executive messages.

Mr. Buchanan had profited by the disunion cry both as politician and
functionary; and now when disunion came in a practical and undisguised
shape he was to a degree powerless to oppose it, because he was
disarmed by his own words and his own acts. The disunionists were his
partisans, his friends, and confidential counselors; they constituted
a remnant of the once proud and successful party which, by his
compliance and cooeperation in their interest, he had disrupted and
defeated. Their programme hitherto had been the policy upon which he
had staked the success or failure of his Administration, so that in
addition to every other tie he was bound to them by the common sorrow
of political disaster.


Being in such intimate relations and intercourse with the leaders of
the Breckinridge wing of the Democratic party during the progress of
the Presidential canvass, and that party being made up so exclusively
of the extreme Southern Democrats, the President must have had constant
information of the progress and development of the disunion sentiment
and purpose in the South. He was not restricted as the other parties
and the general public were to imperfect reports and doubtful rumors
current in the newspapers.

But in addition there now came to him an official warning which it was
a grave error to disregard. On October 29, one week before the election,
the veteran Lieutenant-General Winfield Scott, General-in-Chief of
the Army, communicated to him in writing his serious apprehensions
of coming danger, and suggested such precautions as were then in the
power of the Administration. Beginning life as a farmer's boy,
collegian, and law student, General Scott from choice became a
soldier, devoting himself to the higher aims of the profession of
arms, and in a brilliant career of half a century had achieved
world-wide renown as a great military captain. In the United States,
however, the military is subordinated to the civic ambition, and Scott
all his life retained a strong leaning to diplomacy and statesmanship,
and on several important occasions gave his country valuable service
in essentially civic functions. He had been the unsuccessful
Presidential candidate of the Whig party in 1852, a circumstance which
no doubt greatly increased his personal attention to current politics,
then and afterwards. As the first military officer of the nation, he
was also the watchful guardian of the public peace.

[Sidenote] Lieut.-General Winfield Scott, "Autobiography," Vol. I.,
p. 234.

The impending rebellion was not to him, as it was to the nation at
large, a new event in politics. Many men were indeed aware, through
tradition and history, that it was but the Calhoun nullification
treason revived and pushed to a bolder extreme. To General Scott it
was almost literally the repetition of an old experience. A generation
before, he was himself a prominent actor in opposing the nullification
plot. About the 4th of November, 1832, upon special summons, he was
taken into a confidential interview by President Jackson, who, after
asking Scott's military views upon the threatened rebellion of the
nullifiers in Charleston harbor, by oral orders charged him with the
duty of enforcing the laws and maintaining the supremacy of the Union;
the President placing at his orders the troops and vessels necessary
for this purpose. Scott accepted the trust and went to Charleston, and
while humoring the nullification Quixotism existing there, he executed
the purpose of his mission, by strengthening the defenses and
reenforcing; the Federal forts.[1] His task was accomplished with the
utmost delicacy, but with firmness. The rebellion was indeed abandoned
upon pretense of compromise; but had a conflict occurred at that time
the flag of the Union would probably not have been the first to be
lowered in defeat.

It was, therefore, most fitting that in these new complications
Lieutenant-General Scott should officially admonish President
Buchanan. He addressed to him a paper entitled "Views suggested by the
imminent danger (October 29, 1860) of a disruption of the Union by the
secession of one or more of the Southern States"; and also certain
supplementary memoranda the day after, to the Secretary of War, the
two forming in reality but a single document. General Scott was at
this time residing in New York City, and the missives were probably
twenty-four hours in reaching Washington. This letter of the commander
of the American armies written at such a crisis is full of serious
faults, and is a curious illustration of the temper of the times,
showing as it does that even in the mind of the first soldier of the
republic the foundations of political faith were crumbling away. The
superficial and speculative theories of Scott the politician stand out
in unfavorable contrast to the practical advice of Scott the soldier.

Once break the Union by political madness, reasons Scott the politician,
and any attempt to restore it by military force would establish
despotism and create anarchy. A lesser evil than this would be to form
four new confederacies out of the fragments of the old.[2] And on this
theme he theorizes respecting affinities and boundaries and the folly
of secession.

[Sidenote] "Mr. Buchanan's Administration," Appendix, p. 289.

The advice of Scott the soldier was wiser and more opportune. The
prospect of Lincoln's election, he says, causes threats of secession.
There is danger that certain forts of national value and importance,
six totally destitute of troops, and three having only feeble and
insufficient garrisons, may be seized by insurgents. "In my opinion
all these works should be immediately so garrisoned as to make any
attempt to take any one of them, by surprise or _coup de main_,
ridiculous." There were five companies of regulars within reach,
available for this service. This plan was provisional only; it
eschewed the idea of invading a seceded State; and he suggested the
collection of customs duties, outside of the cities.

[Sidenote] "Mr. Buchanan's Administration," p. 104.

[Sidenote] Buchanan, in the "National Intelligencer," Oct. 1, 1862.

Eight to ten States on the verge of insurrection--nine principal
sea-coast forts within their borders, absolutely at the mercy of the
first handful of street rabble that might collect, and only about four
hundred men, scattered in five different and distant cities, available
to reenforce them! It was a startling exhibit of national danger from
one professionally competent to judge and officially entitled to
advise. His timely and patriotic counsel President Buchanan treated
with indifference and neglect. "From the impracticable nature of the
'Views,' and their strange and inconsistent character, the President
dismissed them from his mind without further consideration." Such is
Mr. Buchanan's own confession. He indulges in the excuse that to have
then attempted to put these five companies in all or part of these
nine forts "would have been a confession of weakness instead of an
exhibition of imposing and overpowering strength." "None of the Cotton
States had made the first movement towards secession. Even South
Carolina was then performing all her relative duties, though most
reluctantly, to the Government," etc. "To have attempted such a
military operation with so feeble a force, and the Presidential
election impending, would have been an invitation to collision and
secession. Indeed, if the whole American army, consisting then of only
sixteen thousand men, had been 'within reach' they would have been
scarcely sufficient for this purpose."

The error of this reasoning was well shown by General Scott in a
newspaper controversy which subsequently ensued.[3] He pointed out
that of the nine forts enumerated by him, six, namely, Forts Moultrie
and Sumter in Charleston harbor, Forts Pickens and McRae in Pensacola
harbor, and Forts Jackson and St. Philip guarding the Mississippi
below New Orleans, were "twin forts" on opposite sides of a channel,
whose strength was more than doubled by their very position and their
ability to employ cross and flanking fire in mutual support and
defense. These works, together with the three others mentioned by
General Scott, namely, Fort Morgan in Mobile harbor, Fort Pulaski
below Savannah, and Fortress Monroe at Hampton Roads, were all,
because of their situation at vital points, not merely works of local
defense, but of the highest strategical value. The reenforcements
advised would surely have enabled the Government to hold them until
further defensive measures could have been arranged; and the effect of
such possession on the incipient insurrection may be well imagined
when we remember the formidable armaments afterwards employed in the
reduction of such of them as were permitted, without an effort on the
part of President Buchanan to prevent it, to be occupied by the

But the warning to the Administration that the Southern forts were in
danger came not alone from General Scott. Two of the works mentioned
by him as of prime importance were Forts Moultrie and Sumter in
Charleston harbor. There was still a third fort there, Castle
Pinckney, in a better condition of repair and preparation than either
of the former, and much nearer the city. Had it been properly occupied
and manned, its guns alone would have been sufficient to control
Charleston. But there was only an ordnance sergeant in Castle
Pinckney, only an ordnance sergeant in Fort Sumter, and a partial
garrison in Fort Moultrie. Both Sumter and Moultrie were greatly and
Castle Pinckney slightly out of repair. During the summer of 1860
Congress made an appropriation for these works; and the engineer
captain who had been in charge for two years had indeed been ordered
to begin and prosecute repairs in the two forts.

[Sidenote] Report, F.J. Porter. W.R.[4] Vol. I., pp. 70-72.

[Sidenote] Craig to Floyd, Oct. 31, 1860, with Floyd's indorsement.
W.R. Vol. I., pp. 67-8.

Captain J.G. Foster, the engineer to whom this duty was confided, was
of New England birth and a loyal and devoted soldier. He began work on
the 12th of September; and not foreseeing the consequences involved,
employed in the different works between two and three hundred men,
partly hired in Charleston, partly in Baltimore. There were in the
several forts not only the cannon to arm them, but also considerable
quantities of ammunition and other government property; and aware of
the hum of secession preparation which began to fill the air in
Charleston, Captain Foster in October asked the Ordnance Bureau at
Washington for forty muskets, with which to arm twenty workmen in Fort
Sumter and twenty in Castle Pinckney. "If," wrote the Chief of
Ordnance to the Secretary of War, "the measure should on being
communicated meet the concurrence of the commanding officer of the
troops in the harbor, I recommend that I may be authorized to issue
forty muskets to the engineer officer." Upon this recommendation,
Secretary of War Floyd wrote the word "approved." Under the usual
routine of peaceful times the questions went by mail to Colonel
Gardner, then commander of the harbor, "Is it expedient to issue forty
muskets to Captain Foster? Is it proper to place arms in the hands of
hired workmen? Is it expedient to do so?"

[Sidenote] Gardner to Craig, November 5, 1860. W.R. Vol. I.,
pp. 68-9.

To this Colonel Gardner replied, under date of November 5, that,
repeating what he had already written, his fears were not of any
attack on the works, authorized by the city or State, but there was
danger of such an attempt from a sudden tumultuary force; and that
while in such an event forty muskets would be desirable, he felt
"constrained to say that the only proper precaution--that which has no
objection--is to fill these two companies with drilled recruits (say
fifty men) at once, and send two companies from Old Point Comfort to
occupy, respectively, Fort Sumter and Castle Pinckney."

[Sidenote] Dawson, "Historical Magazine," January, 1872, p. 37.

[Sidenote] F.J. Porter to Cooper, November 11, 1860. W.R. Vol. I.,
pp. 70-72.

His answer and recommendation were both business-like and soldierly,
and contained no indications that justify any suspicion of his loyalty
or judgment. Meanwhile, on the heels of this official call for
reenforcements, came a still more urgent one. It is alleged on the one
hand that complaints of the inefficiency of Colonel Gardner had
reached Washington, and that, in consequence thereof, either the
Secretary of War or the President sent for specific information in
regard to it. Major Fitz John Porter, then Assistant Adjutant-General,
on duty in the War Department, went in person to Charleston, and made
the examination. There are, on the other hand, several vague
allegations by the insurgents, to the substantial effect that this
call for reenforcements was Colonel Gardner's real offense; leaving
the implication that Major Fitz John Porter's inspection was purposely
instituted to find reasons for removing the Colonel and thus
frustrating the obligation to send him additional troops. The order
for Major Porter's visit was made on November 6; he returned to
Washington and made an oral statement, and on the 11th of November
wrote out his report for the Department in due form.

[Sidenote] Doubleday, "Forts Sumter and Moultrie," p. 19.

According to this report, while Colonel Gardner had been remiss in a
few minor details, he had in reality been vigilant, loyal, and
efficient in main and important matters. He had foreseen the coming
danger, had advised the Government, and called for reenforcements; had
recommended not only strengthening the garrison of Moultrie, but the
effective occupation of both Sumter and Castle Pinckney; and had made
an effort in good faith to remove the public arms and goods from their
exposed situation in the arsenal in the city of Charleston, to the
security of the fort. Though Southern in feeling and pro-slavery in
sentiment, he was true to his oath and his flag; and had he been
properly encouraged and supported by his Government, would evidently
have merited no reproach for inefficiency or indifference.

[Sidenote] 1860.

But the fatal entanglement of Buchanan's Administration with the
slavery extremists had the double effect of weakening loyalty in army
officers and building up rebellion among the Southern people. Instead
of heeding the advice of Colonel Gardner to reenforce the forts, it
removed him from command, and within two months the President
submitted silently to the taunt of the South Carolina rebel
commissioners that it was in punishment for his loyal effort to save
the Government property. Whatever the motive may have been, the
Government was now fully warned, as early as November 11, a week
before the first secession jubilee in Charleston, and more than a
month before the passage of the secession ordinance, of the imminence
of the insurrection and danger to the forts. General Scott had warned
it, Colonel Gardner had warned it, and now again Major Porter, its
special and confidential agent, had not only repeated that warning,
but his report had been made the basis of Government discussion in the
change of commanders.

The action of the Government was unusually prompt. On November 11, as
we have seen, Major Porter made his written report, and on the 13th he
delivered to Major Robert Anderson in New York the order to take
command of the forts and forces in Charleston harbor. Major Anderson,
suitably qualified by meritorious service, age, and rank, was deemed
especially acceptable for the position because he was a Kentuckian by
birth, and related by marriage to a prominent family of Georgia. Such
sympathies as might influence him were supposed to be with the South,
and his appointment would not, therefore, grate harshly on the
susceptibilities of the Charlestonians.

The statement, many times repeated, that he owned a plantation in the
South is incorrect. He never owned a plantation in Georgia or anywhere
else. On the death of his father he came into possession of a small
number of slaves. These he liberated as soon as the proper papers
could be executed and sent to him at his distant post; and he always
afterwards helped them when they were in need and applied to him.[5]

[Sidenote] F.J. Porter to Dawson. "Historical Magazine," January,
1872, pp. 37, 38.

The army headquarters being then in New York, Major Anderson on the
same day called on General Scott, and in conversation with the veteran
General-in-Chief learned that army affairs were being carried on at
Washington by Secretary Floyd, without consulting him. Under these
circumstances Scott did not deem himself authorized to interfere even
by suggestion. Nevertheless, the whole Charleston question seems to
have been fully discussed, and the relative strength of the forts, and
the possible necessity of occupying Sumter commented upon in such
manner as no doubt produced its effect in the subsequent action of
Anderson. Major Anderson next went to Washington, and received the
personal instructions of Secretary Floyd, and returning thereafter to
New York, General Scott in that city gave him on November 15th formal
written orders to proceed to Fort Moultrie and take command of the

[1] His policy, frankly written in a friendly letter to a prominent
nullifier, could scarcely provoke the most captious criticism:

"You have probably heard of the arrival of two or three companies at
Charleston in the last six weeks, and you may hear that as many more
have followed. There is nothing inconsistent with the President's
message in these movements. The intention simply is that the forts in
the harbor shall not be wrested from the United States.... The
President, I presume, will stand on the defensive, thinking it better
to discourage than to invite an attack--better to prevent than to
repel one."--Lieut.-Gen. Winfield Scott, "Autobiography." Vol. I., p.

[2] "All the lines of demarkation between the new Unions cannot be
accurately drawn in advance, but many of them approximately may. Thus,
looking to natural boundaries and commercial affinities, some of the
following frontiers, after many waverings and conflicts, might perhaps
become acknowledged and fixed:

"1. The Potomac River and the Chesapeake Bay to the Atlantic. 2. From
Maryland along the crest of the Alleghany (perhaps the Blue Ridge)
range of mountains, to some point on the coast of Florida. 3. The line
from say the head of the Potomac to the west or north-west, which it
will be most difficult to settle. 4. The crest of the Rocky Mountains.

"The South-east Confederacy would, in all human probability, in less
than five years after the rupture, find itself bounded by the first
and second lines indicated above, the Atlantic, and the Gulf of
Mexico, with its capital at say Columbia, South Carolina. The country
between the second, third, and fourth of those lines would, beyond a
doubt, in about the same time, constitute another Confederacy, with
its capital at probably Alton or Quincy, Illinois. The boundaries of
the Pacific Union are the most definite of all, and the remaining
States would constitute the Northeast Confederacy with its capital at
Albany."--Scott, "Views," printed in "Mr. Buchanan's Administration,"
pp. 287-288, Appendix.

[3] "But the ex-President sneers at my weak device for saving the
forts. He forgets what the gallant Anderson did with a handful of men
in Fort Sumter, and leaves out of the account what he might have done
with a like handful in Fort Moultrie, even without further augmentation
of men to divide between the garrisons. Twin forts on the opposite
sides of a channel not only give a cross fire on the head of attack,
but the strength of each is more than doubled by the flanking fire of
the other."--Gen. Scott, in the "National Intelligencer" of November
12, 1862.

[4] (As reference to the Government publication, "War of the Rebellion:
Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies," will be so
frequent in the course of this work, and under its full title would
require so much space, the authors have decided to adopt the simple
abbreviation "W.R.," as above. Where the number of the series is not
mentioned, Series I. will always be implied.)

[5] We are indebted to Mrs. Anderson, not only for the correction of
this error, but for permission to examine many private papers relating
to Major Anderson's experience in Fort Sumter. It affords us the
highest pleasure to add that though all her relatives in Georgia
became secessionists, she remained enthusiastically and devotedly
loyal to the Union, and that her letters carried constant cheer and
encouragement to her husband during the months he was besieged in
Charleston harbor.



[Sidenote] Foster to De Russey, November 24, 1860. W.R. Vol. I.,
p. 76.

Major Anderson reached Fort Moultrie and assumed command on the 21st
of November, 1860. Having from his several interviews with the
President, Secretary of War, and Lieutenant-General Scott become fully
impressed with the importance of his trust, he proceeded as a first
duty to acquaint himself thoroughly with his situation and resources.
The great Charleston secession celebration on the 17th had been held
while he was on his way; the glare of its illumination was
extinguished, the smoke of its bonfires had been dissipated by the
fresh Atlantic breezes, and its holiday insurgents had returned to
the humdrum of their routine employments. It was, therefore, in
uninterrupted quiet that on the 23d of November he in company with
Captain Foster made a tour of inspection to the different forts, and
on the same day wrote out and transmitted to the War Department a
somewhat detailed report of what he saw with eyes fresh to the scenes
and surroundings, which, as he already felt, were to become the
subjects of his most intense solicitude. On the main point, indeed,
there was no room for doubt. Agreeing with General Scott, with Colonel
Gardner, and with Major Porter, he gave the Government its fourth
warning that the harbor must be immediately and strongly reenforced.

[Sidenote] Anderson to Adjutant-General, November 23, 1860. W.R.
Vol. I., p. 74.

... The garrison now in it [Moultrie] is so weak as to invite an
attack, which is openly and publicly threatened. We are about
sixty, and have a line of rampart of 1500 feet in length to
defend. If beleaguered, as every man of the command must be either
engaged or held on the alert, they will be exhausted and worn down
in a few days and nights of such service as they would then have
to undergo.

Such, in brief, was the condition of the fort he had been sent to
hold. Moultrie was clearly the weak point of the situation. Already
informed, to some extent at least, by the superior military genius of
General Scott, in his recent interviews with that distinguished
commander, Major Anderson now more forcibly, from personal inspection,
comprehended its strong points. What was then perfectly obvious to the
trained military insight of Scott and Anderson is now in the light of
historical events quite as obvious to the civilian. Look at any good
map of Charleston harbor, and it will be seen that the city lies on
the extreme point of a tongue of land between the Ashley and Cooper
rivers, every part being within easy range under the guns of Castle
Pinckney, on a small island, three-quarters of a mile distant. Four
miles to seaward is the mouth of the harbor, and nearly midway therein
stood the more extensive and imposing work of Fort Sumter, its guns
not only sweeping all the approaches and ship-channels, but the shores
and islands on either hand. It needs but a glance at the map to see
that with proper garrisons and armaments Fort Sumter commanded the
harbor. and Castle Pinckney commanded the city.

If the Government could hitherto plead ignorance of these advantages
against the rising insurrection, that excuse was no longer left after
the report of Major Anderson. In this same report he calls attention
to them in detail. Though not in a complete state of defense, he gives
notice that Fort Sumter "is now ready for the comfortable
accommodation of one company, and indeed for the temporary reception
of its proper garrison. Captain Foster states that the magazines
(four) are done and in excellent condition; that they now contain
forty thousand pounds of cannon-powder and a full supply of ammunition
for one tier of guns. This work [Sumter] is the key to the entrance of
this harbor; its guns command this work [Moultrie], and could soon
drive out its occupants. It should be garrisoned at once."

Still more strenuously does he insist upon the value of Castle
Pinckney. "Castle Pinckney, a small casemated work, perfectly
commanding the city of Charleston, is in excellent condition with the
exception of a few repairs, which will require the expenditure of
about five hundred dollars.... It is, in my opinion, essentially
important that this castle should be immediately occupied by a
garrison, say, of two officers and thirty men. The safety of our
little garrison would be rendered more certain, and our fort would be
more secure from an attack by such a holding of Castle Pinckney, than
it would be from quadrupling our force. The Charlestonians would not
venture to attack this place [Moultrie] when they knew that their city
was at the mercy of the commander of Castle Pinckney.... If my force
was not so very small I would not hesitate to send a detachment at
once to garrison that work." So full of zeal was Major Anderson that
the Government should without delay augment its moral and material
strength, that in default of soldiers he desired to improvise a
garrison for it by sending there a detachment of thirty laborers in
charge of an officer, vainly hoping to supply them with arms and
instruct them in drill, and hold the work until reenforcements should
come. Having in detail proposed protective measures, he again, in the
same letter, forcibly presents the main question of the hour to the
Secretary of War, whose weakness and treachery were as yet

[Sidenote] Anderson to Adjutant General, Nov. 23, 1860. W.R. Vol.
I., pp. 75-6.

Fort Sumter and Castle Pinckney must be garrisoned immediately if
the Government determines to keep command of this harbor. I need
not say how anxious I am--indeed determined, so far as honor will
permit--to avoid collision with the citizens of South Carolina.
Nothing, however, will be better calculated to prevent bloodshed
than our being found in such an attitude that it would be madness
and folly to attack us.... The clouds are threatening and the
storm may break upon us at any moment. I do, then, most earnestly
entreat that a reenforcement be immediately sent to this garrison,
and that at least two companies be sent at the same time to Fort
Sumter and Castle Pinckney--half a company, under a judicious
commander, sufficing, I think, for the latter work.... With these
three works garrisoned as requested, and with a supply of ordnance
stores, for which I shall send requisitions in a few days, I shall
feel that, by the blessing of God, there may be a hope that no
blood will be shed, and that South Carolina will not attempt to
take these forts by force, but will resort to diplomacy to secure
them. If we neglect, however, to strengthen ourselves, she will,
unless these works are surrendered on their first demand, most
assuredly immediately attack us.

[Sidenote] Adjutant-General to Anderson, Nov. 24, 1860. W.R. Vol.
I., p. 76.

[Sidenote] Ibid., Nov 28, 1860, W.R. Vol. I., p. 77.

If Major Anderson had added no further word to the clear and
straightforward statement and recommendation thus far quoted, his
professional judgment and manly sense of duty would stand honorably
vindicated before posterity. But his language of loyalty, of wisdom,
of humanity, of soldierly devotion, which ought to have elicited a
reply as inspiring as a drum-roll or a trumpet-blast, brought him no
kindred echo. There was fear in the Executive Mansion, conspiracy in
the Cabinet, treason and intrigue in the War Department. Chilling
instructions came that he might employ civilians in fatigue and police
duty, and that he might send his proposed party of laborers to Castle
Pinckney. Meanwhile some of his suggestions would be under
consideration; besides, he was cautioned to send his communications to
the Adjutant-General or Secretary of War, with the evident purpose to
forestall and prevent any patriotic order or suggestion which might
otherwise reach him from General Scott.

Nevertheless, Anderson did not weary in his manifest duty. His letters
of November 28 and December 1, though perhaps not as full and urgent,
are substantial repetitions of his former recommendations. The growing
excitement of the Charleston populace and the increasing danger to the
forts are restated with emphasis. He says that there appears to be a
romantic desire urging the South Carolinians to have possession of
Fort Moultrie. Various reports come, that as soon as the State should
secede the forts would be demanded, and if not surrendered, they would
be taken. All rumors and remarks indicate a fixed purpose to have
these works. The Charlestonians are drilling nightly, and making every
preparation for the fight which they say must take place.

[Sidenote] Anderson to Adjutant-General, Nov. 28, 1860. W.R. Vol.
I., pp. 78-9.

[Sidenote] Ibid., Dec. 1, 1860. W.R. Vol. I. pp. 81-2.

Once more he repeated that the security of Fort Moultrie would be more
greatly increased by throwing garrisons into Castle Pinckney and Fort
Sumter than by anything that could be done in strengthening its own
defenses. He sent a detailed report of his command to force again upon
the attention of the Department his fatal deficiency in numbers, and
to show the practical impossibility of repelling an assault, or
resisting a siege with any reasonable hope of success. His letters
reached the same inevitable conclusion: "The question for the
Government to decide--and the sooner it is done the better--is,
whether, when South Carolina secedes, these forts are to be
surrendered or not. If the former, I must be informed of it, and
instructed what course I am to pursue. If the latter be the
determination, no time is to be lost in either sending troops, as
already suggested, or vessels of war to this harbor. Either of these
courses may cause some of the doubting States to join South Carolina.
I shall go steadily on preparing for the worst, trusting hopefully in
the God of battles to guard and guide me in my course."

While Anderson was thus penning the plain issue, as it lay in the
clear light of a soldier's conception of right and conviction of duty,
another pen was framing the reply agreed upon by the President and
his advisers at Washington. Major Anderson might have faith in the
God of battles, but what faith could he have in a Government holding
one-third of a vast continent peopled by thirty millions of freemen
which could not or would not, in face of the most urgent reiterated
appeals and the most imminent and palpable necessity, send him two or
three companies of recruits, when the possession of three forts, the
peace of a city, the allegiance of a State, if not the tremendous
alternative of civil war, hung in the balance?

[Sidenote] Adjutant-General to Anderson, Dec. 1, 1860. W.R. Vol.
I., pp. 82, 83.

"It is believed,"--so ran the reply, and apparently the final decision
of the Government,--"from information thought to be reliable, that an
attack will not be made on your command, and the Secretary has only to
refer to his conversation with you, and to caution you that should his
convictions unhappily prove untrue, your actions must be such as to be
free from the charge of initiating a collision. If attacked, you are,
of course, expected to defend the trust committed to you to the best
of your ability. The increase of the force under your command, however
much to be desired, would, the Secretary thinks, judging from the
recent excitement produced on account of an anticipated increase, as
mentioned in your letter, but add to that excitement and might lead to
serious results."

This renunciation by the War Department of the proper show of authority
and power, demanded by plain necessity and repeatedly urged by its
trusted agents, must have touched the pride of Anderson and his brother
officers. But a still deeper humiliation was in store for them, The
same letter brought him the following notice: "The Secretary of War has
directed Brevet Colonel Huger to repair to this city as soon as he can
safely leave his post, to return there in a short time. He desires you
to see Colonel Huger, and confer with him prior to his departure on the
matters which have been confided to each of you."

[Sidenote] Abner Doubleday, "Reminiscences of Forts Sumter and
Moultrie," p. 42.

Colonel Huger was an ordnance officer of the army, then stationed for
duty in Charleston, of distinguished connections in that city, and
having on that account as well as personally great local influence.

What the precise nature of the instructions were, which the Department
sent him, does not appear from any accessible correspondence. The
result of the action which the two officers took thereunder is,
however, less doubtful.

It appears to have been, in effect, a mission by two army officers of
honorable rank, in obedience to direct commands from the Secretary of
War, to humbly beg the Charlestonians not to assault the forts. Major
Anderson on his part dismisses the distasteful mission with a
significantly curt report: "I have the honor to acknowledge the
receipt on the 4th of your communication of the 1st instant. In
compliance therewith I went yesterday to the city of Charleston to
confer with Colonel Huger, and I called with him upon the Mayor of the
city, and upon several other prominent citizens. All seemed
determined, as far as their influence or power extends, to prevent an
attack by a mob on our fort; but all are equally decided in the
opinion that the forts must be theirs after secession."

What a bitter confession for a brave and sensitive soldier, who knew
that with half a company of artillerymen in Castle Pinckney, as he had
vainly demanded, the Charleston mob, with the conspiring Governor and
insurgent secession convention, would have been compelled to accept
from him, as the representative of a forbearing Government, the safety
of their roof-trees and the security of their hearthstones.

[Sidenote] Anderson to Adjutant-General, Dec. 6, 1860. W.R. Vol.
I., pp. 87, 88.

But, his duty was to obey, and so he resigned himself without a
murmur to the hard conditions which had fallen to his lot. "I shall,
nevertheless," adds Anderson, "knowing how excitable this community
is, continue to keep on the _qui vive_ and, as far as is in my power,
steadily prepare my command to the uttermost to resist any attack that
may be made.... Colonel Huger designs, I think, leaving Charleston for
Washington to-morrow night. He is more hopeful of a settlement of
impending difficulties without bloodshed than I am."



Less than a month intervened between the November election at which
Lincoln had been chosen and the annual session of Congress, which would
meet on the first Monday of December, and it was necessary at once to
begin the preparation of the annual message. A golden opportunity
presented itself to President Buchanan. The suffrages of his
fellow-citizens had covered his political theories, his party measures,
and his official administration with condemnation, in an avalanche of
ballots.[1] But the Charleston conspirators had within a very few days
created for him a new issue overshadowing all the questions on which
he had suffered political wreck. Since the 6th of November the campaign
of the Border Ruffians for the conquest of Kansas, and the wider
Congressional struggle for the possession of the Territories, might be
treated as things of the past. Even had they still been pending issues,
they paled into insignificance before the paramount question of
disunion. Face to face with, this danger, the adherents of Lincoln, of
Douglas, of Bell, and the fraction of the President's own partisans in
the free-States would be compelled to postpone their discords and as
one man follow the constitutional ruler in a constitutional defense of
the laws, the flag, and the territory of the Union.

Without change of position, without recantation of principle, without
abatement even of declared party doctrine, honestly executing only the
high mandate of the Constitution, he could turn from the old issues and
take up the new. A single stride, and from the flying leader of a
discomfited rout he might become the mailed hero of an overpowering
host. Tradition, patriotism, duty, the sleepless monition of a solemn
official oath, all summoned him to take this step, and the brilliant
example set by President Jackson--an incident forever luminous in
American history--assured him of the plaudits of posterity.

Unfortunately for himself and for his country, President Buchanan had
neither the intellectual independence nor the courage required for such
an act of moral heroism. Of sincere patriotism and of blameless
personal rectitude, he had reached political eminence by slow promotion
through seniority, not by brilliancy of achievement. He was a
politician, not a statesman. Of fair ability, and great industry in his
earlier life, the irresolution and passiveness of advancing age and
physical infirmity were now upon him. Though from the free-State of
Pennsylvania, he saw with Southern eyes and heard with Southern ears,
and had convinced himself that the South was acting under the impulse
of resentment arising from deliberate and persistent injuries from the

The fragment of an autograph diary of John B. Floyd, Secretary of
War,[2] affords the exact evidence of the temper in which President
Buchanan officially confronted the rebellion of the Southern States.
The following are extracts from entries, on several days, beginning
with November 7, 1860, the day following the Presidential election:

WASHINGTON CITY, November 7, 1860.

... The President wrote me a note this evening, alluding to a
rumor which reached the city to the effect that an armed force
had attacked and carried the forts in Charleston harbor. He
desired me to visit him, which I did, and assured him that the
rumor was altogether without foundation, and gave it as my
opinion that there was no danger of such an attempt being made.
We entered upon a general conversation upon the subject of
disunion and discussed the probabilities of it pretty fully. We
concurred in the opinion that all indications from the South
looked as if disunion was inevitable. He said that whilst his
reason told him there was great danger, yet his feelings repelled
the conviction of his mind.

Judge Black, the Attorney-General, was present during a part of
the conversation, and indicated an opinion, that any attempt at
disunion by a State should be put down by all the power of the

November 9 ... A Cabinet meeting was held as usual at I o'clock;
all the members were present, and the President said the business
of the meeting was the most important ever before the Cabinet
since his induction into office. The question, he said, to be
considered and discussed, was as to the course the Administration
should advise him to pursue in relation to the threatening aspect
of affairs in the South, and most particularly in South Carolina.
After a considerable amount of desultory conversation, he asked
the opinions of each member of the Cabinet as to what should be
done or said relative to a suggestion which he threw out. His
suggestion was that a proposition should be made for a general
convention of the States as provided for under the Constitution,
and to propose some plan of compromising the angry disputes
between the North and the South. He said if this were done, and
the North or non-slaveholding States should refuse it, the South
would stand justified before the whole world for refusing longer
to remain in a confederacy where her rights were so shamefully
violated. He said he was compelled to notice at length the
alarming condition of the country, and that he would not shrink
from the duty.

General Cass spoke with earnestness and much feeling about the
impending crisis--admitted fully all the great wrongs and
outrages which had been committed against the South by Northern
fanaticism, and deplored it. But he was emphatic in his
condemnation of the doctrine of secession by any State from the
Union. He doubted the efficacy of the appeal for a convention,
but seemed to think it might do well enough to try it. He spoke
warmly in favor of using force to coerce a State that attempted
to secede.

Judge Black, the Attorney-General, was emphatic in his advocacy
of coercion, and advocated earnestly the propriety of sending at
once a strong force into the forts in Charleston harbor, enough
to deter, if possible, the people from, any attempt at disunion.
He seemed to favor the idea of an appeal for a general convention
of all the States.

Governor Cobb, the Secretary of the Treasury, declared his very
decided approbation of the proposition for two reasons--first,
that it afforded the President a great opportunity for a high and
statesmanlike treatment of the whole subject of agitation, and
the proper remedies to prevent it; secondly, because, in his
judgment, the failure to procure that redress which the South
would be entitled to and would demand (and that failure he
thought certain), would tend to unite the entire South in a
decided disunion movement. He thought disunion inevitable, and
under present circumstances most desirable.

Mr. Holt, the Postmaster-General, thought the proposition for the
convention dangerous, for the reason that if the call should be
made and it should fail to procure redress, those States which
now are opposed to secession might find themselves inclined, from
a feeling of honor, to back the States resolving on disunion.
Without this common demand and common failure he thought there
would be no such danger of united action, and therefore a
stronger prospect of some future plan of reconciliation.

Mr. Thompson, the Secretary of the Interior, thought well of the
plan of calling for a general convention--thought his State
(Mississippi) about equally divided between the union and
disunion men. He deprecated the idea of force, and said any show
of it by the Government would instantly make Mississippi a unit
in favor of disunion.

Mr. Toucey, Secretary of the Navy, thought well of the appeal for
the convention--coincided in an opinion I had expressed, that
retaliatory State measures would prove most availing for bringing
the Northern fanatics to their senses.

I expressed myself decidedly opposed to any rash movement, and
against the idea of secession at this time. I did so because I
think that Lincoln's administration will fail, and be regarded as
impotent for good or evil within four months after his
inauguration. We are to meet to-morrow at 1 o'clock.

[Sidenote] Pollard, "Life and Times of Robert E. Lee," etc., pp.

November 10 ... We had a Cabinet meeting to-day, at which the
President read a very elaborate document, prepared either as a
part of his message or as a proclamation. It was well written in
the main, and met with extravagant commendation from General
Cass, Governor Toucey, Judge Black, and Mr. Holt. Cobb, Thompson,
and myself found much to differ from in it,--Cobb because it
inculcated submission to Lincoln's election and intimated the use
of force to coerce a submission to his rule, and because it
reprehended the policy of the Kansas-Nebraska bill; Thompson
because of the doctrine of acquiescence and the hostility to the
secession doctrine. I objected to it because I think it misses
entirely the temper of the Southern people and attacks the true
State-Rights doctrine on the subject of secession. I do not see
what good can come of the paper, as prepared, and I do see how
much mischief may flow from it.

It is an open question whether we may accept these extracts at their
full literal import. Either the words "coerce," "submission," "use of
force," and so on, are written down by the diarist in a sense
different from that in which they were spoken, or the President and
several of his counselors underwent an amazing change of sentiment.
But in a general way they show us that on the fourth day after
Lincoln's election the Buchanan Cabinet was already divided into
hostile camps. Cass of Michigan, Secretary of State, Toucey of
Connecticut, Secretary of the Navy, Black of Pennsylvania,
Attorney-General, and Holt of Kentucky, Postmaster-General, were
emphatic Unionists; while Cobb of Georgia, Secretary of the Treasury,
Thompson of Mississippi, Secretary of the Interior, and Floyd of
Virginia, Secretary of War, were secessionists--the latter yet
professing devotion to the Union, but with such ifs and buts as left
sufficiently clear evidence of his inevitable drift to disloyalty.

All impulses of prudence and patriotism ought to have moved the
President to reconstruct his Cabinet. But instead of some energetic
executive act of this character, he seems to have applied himself to
the composition of a political essay to teach the North its duty; as
if his single pen had power to change the will of the people of the
United States upon a point which they had decided by their votes only
four days previously after six years of discussion. In the draft of
this document, which he read to his Cabinet on November 10, we have
the important record that "it inculcated submission to Lincoln's
election, and intimated the use of force to coerce a submission to his
rule"--positions which Floyd records were "met with extravagant
commendations from General Cass, Governor Toucey, Judge Black, and Mr.
Holt." This was a true touchstone; it instantly brought out not only
the open secessionism of Cobb and Thompson, but the disguised
disloyalty of Floyd.

It is a strange historical phenomenon that, with the President and a
majority of the Cabinet in this frame of mind, the South should have
been permitted to organize rebellion. The solution seems to lie in the
temporizing feebleness of Buchanan and in the superior finesse and
daring conspiracy of Cobb, Thompson, and Floyd.

Many indications make it evident that a long factional struggle took
place over the preparation of the President's message. The telegraph
announced several protracted Cabinet sessions; and as early as the
21st of November the points under discussion and the attitude of the
President and his several official advisers were accurately
foreshadowed in the newspapers. Nor were these momentous deliberations
confined to the Cabinet proper. All the varieties of suggestion and
contradictory counsels which were solicited or tendered we may never
learn, and yet we know enough to infer the highest extremes and
antagonisms of doctrine and policy. Jefferson Davis, the future chief
of the rebellion, came on the one hand at the urgent call of his
fellow-conspirators; Edwin M. Stanton, afterwards Buchanan's
Attorney-General and Lincoln's Secretary of War,[4] was on the other
hand called in by Mr. Buchanan himself, to help him through, the
intricate maze of his perplexed opinions and inclinations. How many
others may have come voluntarily or by summons it is impossible to
guess. Many brains and hands, however, must have joined in the work,
since the document is such a heterogeneous medley of conflicting
theories, irreconcilable doctrines, impracticable and irrelevant
suggestions. For at length the hesitating and bewildered President,
unable to decide and impotent to construct, seems to have made his
message a patchwork from the contributions of his advisers, regular
and irregular, with the inevitable effect, not to combine and
strengthen, but to weaken and confuse the warring thoughts and alien

Aside from the mere recapitulation of department reports, the message
of President Buchanan delivered to Congress on the 4th of December
occupied itself mainly with two subjects--slavery and disunion. On the
question of slavery it repeated the assertions and arguments of the
Buchanan faction of the Democratic party during the late Presidential
campaign, charging the present peril entirely upon the North. As a
remedy it recommended an amendment to the Federal Constitution
expressly[5] recognizing slavery in States which had adopted or might
adopt it, and also expressly giving it existence and protection in the
Federal Territories. The proposal was simply childish. Precisely this
issue had been decided at the Presidential election; to do this would
be to reverse the final verdict of the ballot-box.[6]

On the question of disunion or secession, the message raised a vague
and unwarrantable distinction between the infractions of law and
allegiance by individuals, and the infractions of law and allegiance
by the commonwealth, or body politic denominated a State. Under the
first head it held: That the Union was designed to be perpetual; that
the Federal Government is invested with sovereign powers on special
subjects, which can only be opposed or abrogated by revolution; that
secession is unconstitutional, and is, therefore, neither more nor
less than revolution; that the Executive has no right to recognize the
secession of a State; that the Constitution has established a perfect
government in all its forms, legislative, executive, and judicial, and
this government, to the extent of its powers, acts directly upon the
individual citizen of every State and executes its own decrees by the
agency of its own officers; and, finally, that the Executive cannot be
absolved from his duty to execute the laws.

But, continued the President, the laws can only be executed in certain
prescribed methods, through the agency of courts, marshals, _posse
comitatus_, aided, if necessary, by the militia or land and naval
forces. The means and agencies, therefore, fail, and the performance
of this duty becomes impraticable, when, as in South Carolina,
universal public sentiment has deprived him of courts, marshals, and
_posse_. Present laws being inadequate to overcome a united
opposition, even in a single State, Congress alone has the power to
decide whether they can be effectually amended.[7]

It will be seen from the above summary, that the whole of the
President's rambling discussion of the first head of the disunion
question resulted logically in three ultimate conclusions: (1) That
South Carolina was in revolt; (2) that the Constitution, the laws, and
moral obligation all united gave the Government the right to suppress
this revolt by executing the laws upon and against the citizens of
that State; (3) that certain defects in the laws paralyzed their
practical enforcement.

Up to this point in his argument, his opinions, whatever may be
thought of their soundness, were confined to the legitimate field of
executive interpretation, and such as in the exercise of his official
discretion he might with undoubted propriety communicate to Congress.
But he had apparently failed to satisfy his own conscience in thus
summarily reasoning the executive and governmental power of a young,
compact, vigorous, and thoroughly organized nation of thirty millions
of people into sheer nothingness and impotence. How supremely absurd
was the whole national panoply of commerce, credit, coinage, treaty
power, judiciary, taxation, militia, army and navy, and Federal fag,
if, through the mere joint of a defective law, the hollow reed of a
secession ordinance could inflict a fatal wound!

[Illustration: JAMES BUCHANAN.]

[Sidenote] Appendix, "Globe," Dec. 3, 1860, p. 3.

The President proceeds, therefore, to discuss the second head of the
disunion question, by an attempt to formulate and define the powers
and duties of Congress with reference to the threatened rebellion. He
would not only roll the burden from his own shoulders upon the
National Legislature, but he would by volunteer advice instruct that
body how it must be borne and disposed of. Addressing Congress, he
says in substance: "You may be called upon to decide the momentous
question, whether you possess the power by force of arms to compel a
State to remain in the Union.... The question, fairly stated, is: Has
the Constitution delegated to Congress the power to coerce a State
into submission which is attempting to withdraw, or has actually
withdrawn, from the Confederacy! If answered in the affirmative, it
must be on the principle that the power has been conferred upon
Congress to declare and make war against a State. After much serious
reflection I have arrived at the conclusion that no such power has
been delegated to Congress, or to any other department of the Federal
Government.... It may be safely asserted that the power to make war
against a State is at variance with the whole spirit and intent of the
Constitution.... But if we possessed this power, would it be wise to
exercise it under existing circumstances?... Our Union rests upon
public opinion, and can never be cemented by the blood of its citizens
shed in civil war.... Congress possesses many means of preserving it
by conciliation; but the sword was not placed in their hand to
preserve it by force."

Why did the message thus leap at one bound without necessary connection
or coherence from the discussion of executive to those of legislative
powers? Why waste words over doubtful theories when there was pressing
need to suggest practical amendments to the statute whose real or
imaginary defects Mr. Buchanan had pointed out? Why indulge in
lamentations over the remote possibility that Congress might violate
the Constitution, when the occasion demanded only prompt preventive
orders from the Executive to arrest the actual threatened violation of
law by Charleston mobs? Why talk of war against States when the duty
of the hour was the exercise of acknowledged authority against
insurrectionary citizens?

The issue and argument were wholly false and irrelevant. No State had
yet seceded. Execute such laws of the United States as were in
acknowledged vigor, and disunion would be impossible. Buchanan needed
only to do what he afterwards so truthfully asserted Lincoln had
done.[8] But through his inaction, and still more through his declared
want of either power or right to act, disunion gained two important
advantages--the influence of the Executive voice upon public opinion,
and especially upon Congress; and the substantial pledge of the
Administration that it would lay no straw in the path of peaceful,
organized measures to bring about State secession.

[Sidenote] Correspondence, N.Y. "Evening Post".

[Sidenote] Washington "Constitution" of December 19, 1860.

[Sidenote] London "Times," Jan. 9, 1851.

The central dogma of the message, that while a State has no right to
secede, the Union has no right to coerce, has been universally
condemned as a paradox. The popular estimate of Mr. Buchanan's
proposition and arguments was forcibly presented at the time by a
jesting criticism attributed to Mr. Seward. "I think," said the New
York Senator, "the President has conclusively proved two things: (1)
That no State has the right to secede unless it wishes to; and (2)
that it is the President's duty to enforce the laws unless somebody
opposes him." No less damaging was the explanation put upon his
language by his political friends. The recognized organ of the
Administration said: "Mr. Buchanan has increased the displeasure of
the Lincoln party by his repudiation of the coercion theory, and his
firm refusal to permit a resort to force as a means of preventing the
secession of a sovereign State." Nor were intelligent lookers-on in
foreign lands less severe in their judgment: "Mr. Buchanan's message,"
said the London "Times," a month later, "has been a greater blow to
the American people than all the rant of the Georgian Governor or the
'ordinances' of the Charleston Convention. The President has
dissipated the idea that the States which elected him constitute one

[1] There were 3,832,240 opposition popular votes against 847,953 for
Breckinridge and Lane, the Presidential ticket championed by Mr.
Buchanan and his adherents.

[2] Printed in "The Early Life, Campaigns, and Public Services of
Robert E. Lee, with a record of the campaigns and heroic deeds of his
companions in arms, by a distinguished Southern journalist." 8vo. E.B.
Treat, publisher, New York, 1871; p. 789; article, Major-General John
B. Floyd. It says: "Among his private papers examined after his death
the fragment of a diary was found, written in his own hand, and which
is here copied entire." The diary also bears internal evidence of

[3] The astounding mysteries and eccentricities of politics find
illustration in the remarkable contrast between this recorded impulsive
and patriotic expression of Attorney-General Black on November 7, and
his labored official opinion of an apparently opposite tenor, certified
to the President under date of November 20. See "Opinions of the
Attorneys-General." Vol. IX., p. 517.

[4] "It was while these plans for a _coup d'etat_ before the 4th of
March were being matured in the very Cabinet itself and in the presence
of a President too feeble to resist them and too blind oven to see them,
that Mr. Stanton was sent for by Mr. Buchanan to answer the question,
'Can a State be coerced?' For two hours he battled, and finally
scattered for the time being the heresies with which secession had
filled the head of that old broken-down man. He was requested to prepare
an argument in support of the power, to be inserted in the forthcoming
message."--Hon. H.L. Dawes, in the "Boston Congregationalist." See
"Atlantic Monthly," October, 1870, p. 468.

[5] Slavery existed by virtue of express enactments in the several
constitutions of the slave States, but the Constitution of the United
States gave it only implied recognition and toleration.

[6] "It was with some surprise, I confess, that I read the message of
the President. The message laid down certain conditions as those upon
which alone the great Confederacy of the United States could be
preserved from disruption. In so doing the President appeared to be
preparing beforehand an apology for the secession. Had the conditions,
indeed, been such as the Northern States would be likely to accept, the
message might have been considered one of peace. But it seems very
improbable that the Northern States should now, at the moment of their
triumph, and with large majorities of Republicans in their assemblies,
submit to conditions which, during many years of struggle, they have
rejected or evaded."--Lord John Russell to Lord Lyons, December 26,
1860. British Blue Book.

[7] The logic of the message breaks down by the palpable omission to
state the well-known fact that, though every citizen of South
Carolina, or any other State, might refuse to accept or execute the
office of United States marshal, or, indeed, any Federal office, the
want could be immediately lawfully supplied by appointing any qualified
citizen of any other State, who might lawfully and properly lead either
a _posse_, or Federal forces, or State militia, to put down obstruction
of the Federal laws, insurrection, or rebellion. President Buchanan
admitted his own error, and repudiated his own doctrine, when on
January 2, following, he nominated a citizen of Pennsylvania for the
office of collector of the port of Charleston, South Carolina.

Sections two and three of the Act of February 28, 1795, authorize the
President, when the execution of the laws is obstructed by insurrection
too powerful for courts and marshals, to call forth the militia of any
and all the States, first and primarily to "suppress such
combinations," and, secondly, "to cause the laws to be duly executed,
and the use of militia so to be called forth may be continued, if
necessary, until the expiration of thirty days after the commencement
of the then next session of Congress." In performing this duty the act
imposes but a single condition or prerequisite on the Executive: he
shall "by proclamation command the insurgents to disperse." These
sections are complete, harmonious, self-sufficient, and, in their chief
provisions, nowise dependent upon or connected with any other section
or clause of the act. They place under the President's command the
whole militia, and by a subsequent law (March 3, 1807) also the entire
army and navy of the Union, against rebellion. The assertion that the
army can only follow a marshal and his writ in case of rebellion, is
not only unsupported by the language of the act, but utterly refuted by
strong implication. The last section repeals a former provision
limiting the President's action to cases of insurrection of which
United States judges shall have given him notice, and thereby remits
him to any and all of his official sources of information. Jackson's
famous force bill only provided certain supplementary details; it
directly recognized and invoked the great powers of the Act of 1795,
and expiring by limitation, left its wholesome plenitude and broad
original grant of authority unrepealed and unimpaired.

[8] "Happily our civil war was undertaken and prosecuted in self-defense,
not to coerce a State, but to enforce the execution of the laws within
the States against individuals, and to suppress an unjust rebellion
raised by a conspiracy among them against the Government of the United
States."--Buchanan, in "Mr. Buchanan's Administration," p. 129.



As President Buchanan might have foreseen, his inconsistent message
proved satisfactory to neither friend nor foe. The nation was on the
eve of rebellion and had urgent need of remedial acts, not of
temporizing theories, least of all theories which at the late
Presidential election had been rejected as errors and dangers. The
message served as a topic to initiate debate in Congress; but this
debate, resting only on the main subject long enough to cover the
Chief Magistrate's views and recommendations as a whole, with almost
unanimous expressions of dissent, and even of contempt, passed on to
words of mutual defiance and open declarations of revolutionary

The conspirators in the Cabinet had done their work. By the official
declarations of the President of the United States, the Government had
tied its own hands--had resolved and proclaimed the duty and policy of
non-resistance to organized rebellion. Henceforth disunionists,
secessionists, nullifiers, and conspirators of every kind had but to
combine under alleged State action, and through the instrumentalities
of State Legislatures and State conventions cast off without let or
hinderance their Federal obligations by resolves and ordinances. The
semblance of a vote, a few scratches of the pen, a proclamation, and a
new flag, and at once without the existence of a corporal's squad, or
the smell of burnt powder, there would appear on the horizon of
American politics, if not a _de jure_ at least a _de facto_ State!

If there had hitherto been any doubt or hesitation in the minds of the
principal secession leaders of the South, it vanished under the
declared policy of inaction of the Federal Administration. The
President's message was a practical assurance of immunity from arrest
and prosecution for treason. It magnified their grievances,
specifically pointed out a contingent right and duty of revolution,
acknowledged that mere public sentiment might override and nullify
Federal laws, and pointedly bound up Federal authority in narrow legal
and Constitutional restrictions. It was blind as a mole to find
Federal power, but keen-eyed as a lynx to discover Federal impotence.

The leaders of secession were not slow to avail themselves of the
favorable situation. Between the date of the message and the incoming
of the new and possibly hostile Administration there intervened three
full months. It was the season of political activity--the period
during which legislatures meet, messages are written, and laws
enacted. It afforded ample time to authorize, elect, and hold State
conventions. Excitement was at fever heat in the South, and public
sentiment paralyzed, despondent, and divided at the North.

Accordingly, as if by a common impulse, the secession movement sprang
into quick activity and united effort. Within two months the States of
South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and
Texas, in the order named, by formal ordinances of conventions,
declared themselves separated from the Union. The recommendation of
Yancey's "scarlet letter" had been literally carried out; the Cotton
States were precipitated into revolution.

In this movement of secession the State of South Carolina was the
enthusiastic pioneer. At the date of the President's message she had
already provided by law for the machinery of a convention, though no
delegates had been elected. Nevertheless, her Legislature at once
plunged pell-mell into the task of making laws for the new condition
of independent sovereignty which by common consent the convention was
in a few days to declare. Questions of army and navy, postal
communication, and foreign diplomacy, for the moment eclipsed the
baser topics of estray laws or wolf-scalp bounties, and the little
would-be Congress fully justified the reported sarcasm of one of her
leading citizens that "the Palmetto State was too small for a republic
and too large for a lunatic asylum."

But, with all their outward fire and zeal for nationality, her
politicians were restrained by an undercurrent of prudence. A
revolution even under exceptional advantages is a serious thing.

[Sidenote] Speech of Mr. Magrath in the South Carolina Convention,
Dec. 19, 1860. "Annual Cyclopedia," 1861, p. 619.

Therefore the agitators of South Carolina scanned the President's
message with unconcealed eagerness. In that paradox of assertions and
denials, of purposes to act and promises to refrain, they found much
to assure them, but also something to cause doubt. "As I understand
the message of the President of the United States," explained Mr.
Magrath to the South Carolina Convention, "he affirms it as his right,
and constitutional duty, and high obligation to protect the property
of the United States within the limits of South Carolina, and to
enforce the laws of the Union within the limits of South Carolina. He
says he has no constitutional power to coerce South Carolina, while at
the same time he denies to her the right of secession. It may be, and
I apprehend it will be, Mr. President, that the attempt to coerce
South Carolina will be made under the pretense of protecting the
property of the United States within the limits of South Carolina. I
am disposed, therefore, at the very threshold to test the accuracy of
this logic, and test the conclusions of the President of the United

[Sidenote] "Mr. Buchanan's Administration," p. 126.

President Buchanan had indeed declared in his message that the
Constitution gave the Federal Government no power to coerce a State.
He had further said that the laws gave him no authority to execute
civil or criminal process or suppress an insurrection with the help of
the militia, or the army and navy, "in a State where no judicial
authority exists to issue process, and where there is no marshal to
execute it, and where, even if there were such an officer, the entire
population would constitute one solid combination to resist him."

So far as mere political theories could go, this was certainly an
important concession to the conspirators. In virtue of these
doctrines, they could proceed, without danger to life and property, to
hold conventions, pass secession ordinances, resign and refuse Federal
offices, repudiate Northern debts, and effectively stop all Federal
mails at the State line. But reading another passage in this
paradoxical message of President Buchanan, they found these other
propositions and purposes, involving a flat contradiction, and which
with sufficient reason excited the apprehensions of Mr. Magrath and
his fellow-conspirators. Said the message:

"The same insuperable obstacles do not lie in the way of
executing the laws for the collection of the customs. The revenue
still continues to be collected as heretofore at the custom-house
in Charleston, and should the collector unfortunately resign, a
successor may be appointed to perform this duty."

[Sidenote] "Mr. Buchanan's Administration," p. 126.

"Then in regard to the property of the United States in South
Carolina. This has been purchased for a fair equivalent 'by the
consent of the Legislature of the State,' 'for the erection of
forts, magazines, arsenals,' etc., and over these the authority
'to exercise exclusive legislation' has been expressly granted by
the Constitution to Congress. It is not believed that any attempt
will be made to expel the United States from this property by
force; but if in this I should prove to be mistaken, the officer
in command of the forts has received orders to act strictly on
the defensive. In such a contingency the responsibility for
consequences would rightfully rest upon the heads of the

It was, of course, in vain that Mr. Magrath and other South Carolina
constitutional expounders protested against this absurd want of logic.
It was in vain that they could demonstrate that protecting the
property of the Union was but another name for coercion; that if the
President could lawfully from another State appoint a successor to the
Federal collector, he could in the same manner appoint a successor to
the Federal judge, district attorney, and marshal; that if he could
execute the revenue laws he could execute the steamboat laws, the
postal laws, or the criminal laws; that if, with Federal bayonets, he
could stop a mob at the door of the custom-house, he could do the same
at the door of the court-room; that it would be no more offensive war
to employ a regiment to protect a bonded warehouse than a jail; a
shipping dock than a post-office; a dray-load of merchandise passing
across a street than a mail car _in transitu_ across a State; that
coercing a Charleston belle to pay the custom duties on her silk gown,
and a Palmetto orator to suffer the imposition of foreign tribute on
his champagne was in fact destroying the whole splendid theory of
exclusive State sovereignty.

It followed, therefore, that the issue was not one of constitutional
theory, but of practical administration; not of legislation, but of
war. The argument of the President's message was palpably illogical
and ridiculous, but there in black and white stood his intention to
collect the revenue and protect the public property; yonder in the bay
were Pinckney, Moultrie, and Sumter; under the flag of the Union was a
devoted band of troops and a brave officer, with orders to hold the

For the present, then, the wall of Fort Moultrie was the iron collar
around the neck of the coveted "sovereignty" of South Carolina. How to
break that fetter was the narrow, simple problem. A half-finished
inclosure of brick walls, standing in the midst of sand-hills which
gave commanding elevations, and buildings which effectually masked the
approach of an assaulting column, and containing, all told, but sixty
men to guard 1500 feet of rampart. The street rabble of Charleston
could any night clamber over the thinly defended walls, and at least a
score of companies of minute men, drilled and equipped, could be
brought by rail from the interior of the State to garrison and hold
it. But what then? That would bring Federal troops in Federal ships of
war, and in a short, quick struggle the substantial standing
preparations of the Government would overcome the extemporized
preparations of the State, and the insurrection would be hopelessly

[Sidenote] Trescott's Narrative, Samuel Wylie Crawford, "Story of
Sumter." pp. 28-30.

To prevent reenforcement was the vital point, and this had been
clearly perceived and acted upon from the beginning. While the
preparation of President Buchanan's message was yet under discussion
the Cabinet cabal had earnestly deliberated upon the most effective
intrigue to be employed to deter the President from sending additional
troops to Charleston harbor. In pursuance of the scheme agreed upon by
them in caucus, Trescott wrote a letter to Governor Gist suggesting
that the Governor should write a letter "assuring the President that
if no reenforcements were sent, there would be no attempt upon the
forts before the meeting of the convention, and that then commissioners
would be sent to negotiate all the points of difference; that their
hands would be strengthened, the responsibility of provoking collision
would be taken from the State, and the President would probably be
relieved from the necessity of pursuing this policy." Governor Gist
acted upon the suggestion and wrote, under date of November 29, back
to Trescott (giving him liberty to show the letter to the President):

[Sidenote] Gist to Trescott, Nov. 29, 1860. Crawford, p. 31.

Although South Carolina is determined to secede from the Federal
Union very soon after her convention meets, yet the desire of her
constituted authorities is, not to do anything that will bring on
a collision before the ordinance of secession has been passed and
notice has been given to the President of the fact; and not then,
unless compelled to do so by the refusal of the President to
recognize our right to secede, by attempting to interfere with
our exports or imports, or by refusal to surrender the forts and
arsenals in our limits. I have found great difficulty in
restraining the people of Charleston from seizing the forts, and
have only been able to restrain them by the assurance that no
additional troops would be sent to the forts, or any munitions of
war.... If President Buchanan takes a course different from the
one indicated and sends on a reenforcement, the responsibility
will rest on him of lighting the torch of discord, which will
only be quenched in blood.

[Sidenote] Trescott's Narrative, Crawford, pp. 34 (line 16) and 42
(lines 13-16).

Mr. Trescott showed this letter to the President on the evening of
Sunday, December 2, and while his narrative does not mention any
expression by Mr. Buchanan of either approval or dissent, his
subsequent acts show a tacit acquiescence in Governor Gist's

There immediately followed by the leaders in Charleston, and their
agents and spokesmen in Washington, the daily repetition of threats and


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