Abraham Lincoln, A History, Volume 2
John George Nicolay and John Hay
Part 7 out of 8
complaints (thus originated by the latter), which were continued for
nearly three and a half months. The purpose was twofold: first, by
alternately exciting the fears and hopes of the Government to induce it
to withhold reenforcement as a prudential measure of magnanimity and
conciliation; secondly, to make it a cloak to hide, as far as might be,
their own preparations for war. Had the Federal Government been in a
condition of normal health and vigor, the farce would not have been
effective for even a single day; but, with capital alarmed, with,
parties divided into factions, with three traitors in the Cabinet, and
a timid and vacillating Executive, by successive, almost imperceptible,
degrees, the farce produced a policy and the policy led to an opening
drama of civil war.
Leaving out of view anterior political doctrines and discussions, the
first false step had been taken by the Administration in its doctrine
of non-coercion, announced in the message; the second false step half
logically resulting from the first, in its refusal on the first day of
December to send Major Anderson the reenforcements he so urgently
demanded. The Charlestonians clung to the concession with a tenacity
which demonstrated their full appreciation of its value. Immediately
there began to flow in upon Mr. Buchanan and his advisers, on the one
hand magnified reports of the daily clamors of the Charleston mob, on
the other hand encouraging intimations from the Charleston authorities
that they, while adhering to their political heresies and demands, were
yet averse to disorder and bloodshed, and to this end desired and
invoked the utmost forbearance of the Government. Put in truthful
language, their request would have been, "Help us keep the peace while
we are preparing to break the law. Let the Government send no ships,
men or supplies to the forts, in order that we may without danger or
collision build batteries to take them. Armament by the Federal
sovereignty is war, armament by State authority is peace." And it will
forever remain a marvel that a President of the United States consented
to this certain process of national suicide.
MR. BUCHANAN'S TRUCE
The concession yielded by Mr. Buchanan, instead of tending to
conciliate the conspirators only brought upon him additional demands.
It so happened that the principal Federal ships of war were absent
from the harbors of the Atlantic coast on service in distant waters.
But now, as a piece of good fortune amid many untoward occurrences,
the steam sloop-of-war _Brooklyn_, a new and formidable vessel of
twenty-five guns, which had been engaged in making preliminary surveys
in the Chiriqui Lagoon to test the practicability of one of the
proposed interoceanic ship canals, unexpectedly returned to the Norfolk
navy yard on the 28th of November, less than a week before the meeting
of Congress. She had until recently been under the command of Captain
Farragut, afterwards famous in the war of the rebellion, and was, with
trifling exceptions, ready for sea.
In the Cabinet, where the feasibility of collecting the customs revenue
at Charleston on shipboard had already been discussed as a possible
contingency, and especially where the forcible protection of the public
property had also received serious consideration, this sudden
appearance of the _Brooklyn_ must have furnished a conclusive reason in
favor of both these propositions. Be this as it may, when the President
affirmed these duties in his message, the conspirators realized that he
held the means of practical enforcement at instantaneous command. With
a ship of war ready at Norfolk, with troops at Fortress Monroe, might
not a careless _emeute_ at Charleston bring the much-dreaded
reenforcements to Moultrie, Sumter, and Pinckney, precipitate a
_denouement_, and prematurely ruin all their well-concocted schemes?
There was urgent need to prevent the sailing of the steamer on such an
[Sidenote] Buchanan to Burnwell, Adams, and Orr, Dec. 31, 1860. W.R.
Vol. I., p. 116.
On Saturday, December 8, four of the Representatives in Congress from
South Carolina requested an interview of President Buchanan, which he
granted them, in which they rehearsed their well-studied prediction of
a collision at Charleston. One of their number has related the
substance of their address with graphic frankness:
[Sidenote] Hon. Wm. Porcher Miles, Statement before the South
Carolina Convention, "Annual Cyclopedia," 1861, pp. 649-50.
"Mr. President, it is our solemn conviction that if you attempt
to send a solitary soldier to these forts, the instant the
intelligence reaches our people (and we shall take care that it
does reach them, for we have sources of information in Washington
so that no orders for troops can be issued without our getting
information) these forts will be forcibly and immediately
"We all assured him that if an attempt was made to transport
reenforcements, our people would take these forts, and that we
would go home and help them to do it; for it would be suicidal
folly for us to allow the forts to be manned. And we further said
to him that a bloody result would follow the sending of troops to
those forts, and that we did not believe that the authorities of
South Carolina would do anything prior to the meeting of this
convention, and that we hoped and believed that nothing would be
done after this body met until we had demanded of the general
Government the recession of these forts."
Here was an avowal to the President himself, not only of treason at
Charleston, but of conspiracy in the Executive departments at
Washington; a demand coupled with a menace; a proposal for a ten days'
truce supplemented by a declaration of intention to proceed to
extremities after its expiration. Instead of meeting these with a
stern rebuke and dismissal, the President cowered and yielded to their
demand. The sanctity of the Constitution, the majesty of the law, the
power of the nation, the patriotism of the people, all faded from his
bewildered vision; his irresolute will shrank from his declared
purpose to protect the public property and enforce the revenue laws.
He saw only the picture of strife and bloodshed which the glib tongues
of his persecutors conjured up, and failed to detect the theatric
purpose for which it was employed.
[Sidenote] Buchanan to Commissioners, Dec. 31, 1860. W.R. Vol. I.,
He hastened to assure his visitors that it was his determination "not
to reenforce the forts in the harbor, and thus produce a collision,
until they had been actually attacked," or until he had "certain
evidence that they were about to be attacked." Though this was only
another concession, much like the first in outward semblance, it was
nevertheless in its vital essence a fatal hurt to the rapidly
shrinking Federal authority. The conspiracy had won the choice of
position; when the combat should come it was in the attitude necessary
to deal the first blow.
[Illustration: LEWIS CASS.]
The main point secured, there was an exhibition of abundant diplomatic
politeness between the parties. The President suggested that "for
prudential reasons" it would be best to put in writing what they had
said to him verbally. This they readily promised, and on Monday, the
10th, gave him, duly signed by five of the South Carolina
Representatives, this important paper:
[Sidenote] W.R. Vol. I., p. 116.
WASHINGTON, December 9, 1860.
In compliance with our statement to you yesterday, we now express
to you our strong convictions that neither the constituted
authorities nor any body of the people of the State of South
Carolina will either attack or molest the United States forts in
the harbor of Charleston previously to the action of the
convention, and we hope and believe not until an offer has been
made through an accredited representative to negotiate for an
amicable arrangement of all matters between the State and Federal
Government, provided that no reenforcements shall be sent into
those forts, and their relative military status shall remain as
[Sidenote] Buchanan to Commissioners, Dec. 31, 1860. Ibid.
When President Buchanan came to look at the explicit language of this
document, he shrank from the definite programme to which it committed
him. "I objected to the word 'provided,' as it might be construed into
an agreement on my part which I never would make. They said nothing
was further from their intention; they did not so understand it, and I
should not so consider it." There followed mutual protestations that
the whole transaction was voluntary, informal, and in the nature of a
mediation; that neither party possessed any delegated authority or
binding power. They were not frank enough to explain to one another
that the true object of each was delay--of the President, "that time
might be gained for reflection"; of the Members, that time might be
gained for the unmolested meeting of the convention, for passing the
ordinance of secession, for further organizing public sentiment, and
pushing forward military preparations at Charleston.
[Sidenote] Buchanan to Commissioners, Dec. 31, 1860. W.R. Vol. I.,
The mask of official propriety worn over this pernicious intrigue, the
disclaimers, the implications and mental reservations of which it was
made up--all became absurd in view of the results it produced. The
President, indeed, explains that it was no pledge or agreement. "But I
acted," he naively admits, "in the same manner as I would have, done
had I entered into a positive and formal agreement with parties
capable of contracting, although such an agreement would have been, on
my part, from the nature of my official duties, impossible. The world
knows that I have never sent any reenforcements to the forts in
Charleston harbor, and I have certainly never authorized any change to
be made in their 'relative military status.'"
While the conspirators were thus taking effectual steps to bind the
future acts of the Executive in respect to the forts in Charleston
harbor, and to make sure that the rising insurrection in South
Carolina should not be crippled or destroyed by any surprise or sudden
movement emanating from Washington, they were not less watchful to
counteract and prevent any possible hostile movement against them on
the part of Major Anderson and his handful of officers and troops in
Fort Moultrie, undertaken on his own discretion. Their boast of secret
sources of information in Washington, coupled with subsequent events,
furnish presumptive evidence that Mr. Floyd, Secretary of War, though
yet openly opposing disunion, was already in their confidence and
councils, and was lending them such active cooperation as might be
disguised or perhaps still excused to his own conscience as tending to
avert collision and bloodshed.
Shortly before, or about the time of the truce we have described,
Secretary Floyd sent an officer of the War Department to Fort Moultrie
with special verbal instructions to Major Anderson, which were duly
communicated, and the substance of them reduced to writing and
delivered to that officer on the 11th of December, the day following
the conclusion of the President's unofficial truce at Washington. The
importance of this document renders it worthy of reproduction in
Memorandum of verbal instructions to Major Anderson, 1st
Artillery, commanding at Fort Moultrie, South Carolina:
You are aware of the great anxiety of the Secretary of War that
a collision of the troops with the people of this State shall
be avoided, and of his studied determination to pursue a course
with reference to the military force and forts in this harbor
which shall guard against such a collision. He has, therefore,
carefully abstained from increasing the force at this point, or
taking any measures which might add to the present excited state
of the public mind, or which would throw any doubt on the
confidence he feels that South Carolina will not attempt by
violence to obtain possession of the public works or interfere
with their occupancy. But as the counsel and acts of rash and
impulsive persons may possibly disappoint these expectations of
the Government, he deems it proper that you shall be prepared
with instructions to meet so unhappy a contingency. He has,
therefore, directed me verbally to give you such instructions.
[Sidenote] Buchanan to Commissioners, Dec. 31, 1860. W.R. Vol. I.,
You are carefully to avoid every act which would needlessly tend
to provoke aggression, and for that reason you are not, without
evident and imminent necessity, to take up any position which
could be construed into the assumption of a hostile attitude. But
you are to hold possession of the forts in this harbor, and if
attacked you are to defend yourself to the last extremity. The
smallness of your force will not permit you, perhaps, to occupy
more than one of the three forts, but an attack on or attempt to
take possession of either one of them will be regarded as an act
of hostility, and you may then put your command into either of
them which you may deem most proper, to increase its power of
resistance. You are also authorized to take similar defensive
steps whenever you have tangible evidence of a design to proceed
to a hostile act.
D.C. BUELL, Assistant Adjutant-General.
FORT MOULTRIE, S.C., December 11, 1860.
This is in conformity to my instructions to Major Buell.
JOHN B. FLOYD, Secretary of War.
[Sidenote] Doubleday, "Forts Sumter and Moultrie," p. 51.
Upon mere superficial inspection these instructions disclosed only the
then dominant anxiety of the Administration to prevent collision. But
if we remember that they were sent to Major Anderson without the
President's knowledge, and without the knowledge of General Scott,
and especially if we keep in sight the state of public sentiment of
both Charleston and Washington and the paramount official influences
which had taken definite shape in the President's truce, we can easily
read between the lines that they were most artfully contrived to lull
suspicion while effectually restraining Major Anderson from any act or
movement which might check or control the insurrectionary preparations.
He must do nothing to provoke aggression; he must take no hostile
attitude without evident and imminent necessity; he must not move his
troops into Fort Sumter, unless it were attempted to attack or take
possession of one of the forts or such a design were tangibly
manifested. Practically, when the attempt to seize the vacant forts
might come it would be too late to prevent it, and certainly too late
to move his own force into either of them. Practically, too, any
serious design of that nature would never be permitted to come to his
knowledge. Supplement these literal negations and restrictions by the
unrecorded verbal explanations and comments said to have been made by
Major Buell, by his disapproval of the meager defensive preparations
which had been made, such as his declaration that a few loop-holes
"would have a tendency to irritate the people," and we can readily
imagine how a faithful officer, whose reiterated calls for help had
been refused, felt, that under such instructions, such surroundings,
and such neglect "his hands were tied," and that he and his little
command were a foredoomed sacrifice.
 "The President has listened to him [General Scott] with due
friendliness and respect, but the War Department has been little
communicative. Up to this time he has not been shown the written
instructions of Major Anderson, nor been informed of the purport of
those more recently conveyed to Fort Moultrie verbally by Major
Buell."--Gen. Scott (by G.W. Lay) to Twiggs, Dec. 28, 1860. W.R. Vol.
I., p. 580.
 In a Senate speech, January 10, 1861, "Globe," page 307, Jefferson
Davis, commenting on these orders, while admitting that they empowered
Major Anderson to go from one post to another, said, "Though his
orders were not so designed, as I am assured."
THE RETIREMENT OF CASS
Thus far Mr. Buchanan's policy of conciliation through concession had
brought him nothing but disappointment, and whatever faint hope his
loyal Cabinet advisers may have had at the outset in its saving
efficacy was by practical experiment utterly destroyed. The
non-coercion doctrine had been adopted as early as November 20, in
the Attorney-General's opinion of that date. The fact was rumored,
not only in the political circles of the capital, but in the chief
newspapers of the country; and the three secession members of the
Cabinet had doubtless communicated it confidentially to all their
prominent and influential confederates. Since that time South Carolina
had continued her preparation for secession with unremitting industry;
Mississippi had authorized a convention and appointed commissioners
to visit all the slave-States and propagate disunion, among them Mr.
Thompson, Buchanan's Secretary of the Interior, who afterwards
exercised this insurrectionary function while yet remaining in the
Cabinet; the North Carolina Legislature had postponed the election of
United States Senator; Florida had passed a convention bill; Georgia
had instituted legislative proceedings to bring about a conference of
the Southern States at Atlanta; both houses of the National Congress
had rung with secession speeches, while frequent caucuses of the
conspirators took place at Washington.
[Sidenote] Cobb to Buchanan, "Washington Constitution," Dec. 12,
Mr. Buchanan's truce with the South Carolina Representatives had as
little effect in arresting the secession intrigues as his non-coercion
doctrine officially announced in the annual message. On the evening of
the day (December 8) on which he received the South Carolina
pledge, the Secretary of the Treasury, Howell Cobb, of Georgia,
tendered his resignation, announcing in the same letter his intention
to embark in the active work of disunion. It had been generally
understood that the non-coercion theories of the message were adopted
by the President in deference to the wishes and under the influence of
Cobb, Thompson, and Floyd, and undoubtedly they had also been largely
instrumental in bringing about the unofficial truce at Charleston. If,
amid all his fears, Mr. Buchanan retained any sensibility, he must
have been profoundly shocked at the cool dissimulation with which Mr.
Cobb, everywhere recognized as a Cabinet officer of great ability, had
assisted in committing the Administration to these fatal doctrines and
measures, and then abandoned it in the moment of danger. "My
withdrawal," he wrote to the President, "has not been occasioned by
anything you have said or done. Whilst differing from your message
upon some of its theoretical doctrines, as well as from the hope so
earnestly expressed that the Union can be preserved, there was no
practical result likely to follow which required me to retire from
your Administration. That necessity is created by what I feel it my
duty to do; and the responsibility of the act, therefore, rests alone
upon myself." Ignoring the fact that the Treasury was prosperous and
solvent when he took charge of it, and that at the moment of his
leaving it could not pay its drafts, Mr. Cobb, five days later,
published a long and inflammatory address to the people of Georgia,
concluding with this exhortation: "I entertain no doubt either of your
right or duty to secede from the Union. Arouse, then, all your manhood
for the great work before you, and be prepared on that day to announce
and maintain your independence out of the Union, for you will never
again have equality and justice in it."
[Sidenote] G.T. Curtis, "Life of James Buchanan." Vol. II., p. 399.
The President had scarcely found a successor for Mr. Cobb when the
head of his Cabinet, Lewis Cass, Secretary of State, tendered his
resignation also, and retired from the Administration. Mr. Cass had
held many offices of distinction, had attained high rank as a
Democratic leader, and had once been a Presidential candidate. His
resignation was, therefore, an event of great significance from a
political point of view. The incident brings into bold relief the
mental reservations under which Buchanan's paradoxical theories had
been concurred in by his Cabinet. A private memorandum, in Mr.
Buchanan's handwriting, commenting on the event, makes the following
emphatic statement: "His resignation was the more remarkable on
account of the cause he assigned for it. When my late message (of
December, 1860) was read to the Cabinet before it was printed, General
Cass expressed his unreserved and hearty approbation of it,
accompanied by every sign of deep and sincere feeling. He had but one
objection to it, and this was, that it was not sufficiently strong
against the power of Congress to make war upon a State for the purpose
of compelling her to remain in the Union; and the denial of this power
was made more emphatic and distinct upon his own suggestion."
[Sidenote] See proceedings of convention in "Charleston Courier,"
But this position was probably qualified and counterbalanced in his
mind by the President's direct promise that he would collect the
Federal revenue and protect the Federal property. In the nature of
things the execution of this policy must not only precede but exclude
all other theories and abstractions, and the Secretary of State
probably waited in good faith to see the President "execute the laws."
Little by little, however, delay and concession rendered this
impossible. The collector at Charleston still nominally exercised
his functions as a Federal officer; but it was an open secret among
the Charleston authorities, and one which, must also by this time
have become known to the Government at Washington, that he was only
holding the place in trust for the coming secession convention. As to
protecting the Federal property, the refusal to send Anderson troops,
the President's truce, the gradual development of Mr. Buchanan's
irresolution and lack of courage, and finally Mr. Cobb's open defection
must have convinced Mr. Cass that, under existing determinations,
orders, and influences, it was a hopeless prospect.
[Sidenote] Floyd's Richmond Speech, N.Y. "Herald," Jan. 17, 1861,
The whole question seems to have been finally decided in a long and
stormy Cabinet session held on December 13. The events of the few
preceding days had evidently shaken the President's confidence in his
own policy. He startled his dissembling and conspiring Secretary of War
with the sudden questions, "Mr. Floyd, are you going to send recruits
to Charleston to strengthen the forts?" "Don't you intend to strengthen
the forts at Charleston?" The apparent change of policy alarmed the
Secretary, but he replied promptly that he did not. "Mr. Floyd,"
continued Mr. Buchanan, "I would rather be in the bottom of the Potomac
to-morrow than that these forts in Charleston should fall into the
hands of those who intend to take them. It will destroy me, sir, and,
Mr. Floyd, if that thing occurs it will cover your name with an infamy
that all time can never efface, because it is in vain that you will
attempt to show that you have not some complicity in handing over those
forts to those who take them."
The wily Secretary replied, "I will risk my reputation, I will trust my
life that the forts are safe under the declarations of the gentlemen of
Charleston." "That is all very well," replied the President, "but does
that secure the forts?" "No, sir; but it is a guaranty that I am in
earnest," said Floyd. "I am not satisfied," said the President.
Thereupon the Secretary made the never-failing appeal to the fears and
timidity of Mr. Buchanan. He has himself reported the language he used:
"I am sorry for it," said he; "you are President, it is for you to
order. You have the right to order and I will consider your orders when
made. But I would be recreant to you if I did not tell you that this
policy of garrisoning the forts will lead to certain conflicts; it is
the inauguration of civil war, and the beginning of the effusion of
blood. If it is a question of property, why not put an ordnance
sergeant into them--a man who wears worsted epaulets on his shoulders
and stripes down his pantaloons--as the representative of the property
of the United States. That will be enough to secure the forts. If it is
a question of property, he represents it, and let us wait until the
issue is made by South Carolina. She will go out of the Union and send
her commissioners here. Up to that point the action is insignificant.
Action after this demands the attention of the great council of the
nation. Let us submit the question to Congress--it is for Congress to
deal with the matter."
[Sidenote] Floyd's Richmond Speech, N.Y. "Herald," Jan. 17, 1861,
This crafty appeal to the President's hesitating inclinations, and in
accord with his policy hitherto pursued, was seconded by the active
persuasions of the leading conspirators of Congress whom Floyd promptly
called to his assistance. "I called for help from that bright Saladin
of the South, Jefferson Davis, of Mississippi--and I said, 'Come to
my rescue; the battle is a little more than my weak heart can support.
Come to me;' and he came. Then came that old jovial-looking,
noble-hearted representative from Virginia, James M. Mason. Here came
that anomaly of modern times, the youthful Nestor, here came Hunter....
From the north, the south, the east, and the west there came up the
patriots of the country, the champions of constitutional liberty, and
they talked with the President of the United States, and they quieted
his fears and assured him in the line of duty. They said, 'Let there be
no force'; and the President said to me, 'I am content with your
policy'; and then it was that we determined that we would send no more
troops to the harbor in Charleston."
Strip this statement of its oratorical exaggeration, and the reader
can nevertheless see, in the light of after occurrences, a vivid and
truthful picture of a conspiring cabal, stooping to arts and devices
difficult to distinguish from direct personal treachery, flattering,
threatening, and coaxing by turns, and finally lulling the fears of the
President, through his vain hope that they would help him tide over a
magnified danger, and shift upon Congress a responsibility he had not
the courage to meet.
Mr. Cass, however, could no longer be quieted. Through all the rhetoric,
sophistry, and bluster of the conspirators he saw the diminishing
resources of the Government and the rising power of the insurrection.
With a last bold effort to rouse the President from his lethargy, he
demanded, in the Cabinet meeting of the 13th, that the forts should be
strengthened. But he was powerless to break the spell. Says Floyd: "The
President said to him in reply, with a beautiful countenance and with a
heroic decision that I shall never forget, in the council chamber, 'I
have considered this question. I am sorry to differ from the Secretary
of State; I have made up my mind. The interests of the country do not
demand a reenforcement of the forces in Charleston. I cannot do it--and
I take the responsibility of it upon myself.'"
The letters which were exchanged between the President and his premier
set out the differences between them with the same distinctness. Mr.
Cass, after premising that he concurred with the general principles
laid down in the message, says:
[Sidenote] Cass to Buchanan, Dec. 12, 1860. Curtis, "Life of Buchanan,"
Vol. II., p. 397.
In some points which I deem of vital importance, it has been my
misfortune to differ from you. It has been my decided opinion,
which for some time past I have urged at various meetings of the
Cabinet, that additional troops should be sent to reenforce the
forts in the harbor of Charleston, with a view to their better
defense, should they be attacked, and that an armed vessel should
likewise be ordered there, to aid, if necessary, in the defense,
and also, should it be required, in the collection of the
revenue; and it is yet my opinion that these measures should be
adopted without the least delay. I have likewise urged the
expediency of immediately removing the custom-house at Charleston
to one of the forts in the port, and of making arrangements for
the collection of the duties there, by having a collector and
other officers ready to act when necessary, so that when the
office may become vacant the proper authority may be there to
collect the duties on the part of the United States. I continue
to think that these arrangements should be immediately made.
While the right and the responsibility of deciding belong to you,
it is very desirable that at this perilous juncture there should
be, as far as possible, unanimity in your councils, with a view
to safe and efficient action.
To this statement the President replied:
[Sidenote] Buchanan to Cass, Dec. 15, 1860. Curtis, "Life of Buchanan,"
Vol. II, p. 398.
The question on which we unfortunately differ is that of ordering
a detachment of the army and navy to Charleston, and is correctly
stated in your letter of resignation. I do not intend to argue
this question. Suffice it to say that your remarks upon the
subject were heard by myself and the Cabinet, with all the
respect due to your high position, your long experience, and your
unblemished character; but they failed to convince us of the
necessity and propriety, under existing circumstances, of
adopting such a measure. The Secretaries of War and of the Navy,
through, whom the orders must have issued to reenforce the forts,
did not concur in your views; and whilst the whole responsibility
for the refusal rested upon myself, they were the members of the
Cabinet more directly interested. You may have judged correctly
on this important question, and your opinion is entitled to grave
consideration; but under my convictions of duty, and believing as
I do that no present necessity exists for a resort to force for
the protection of the public property, it was impossible for me
to have risked a collision of arms in the harbor of Charleston,
and thereby defeated the reasonable hope which I cherish of the
final triumph, of the Constitution and of the Union.
[Sidenote] Holt, conversation with J.G.N., 1874.
The other Union members of the Cabinet received the rumor of Mr. Cass's
resignation with gloomy apprehensions. Postmaster-General Holt, with
whom by reason of their kindred opinions he had been on intimate
terms, hastened to him to learn whether it were indeed true and
whether his determination were irrevocable. Cass confirmed the report,
saying that representing the Northern and loyal constituency which he
did, he could no longer without dishonor to himself and to them remain
in such treasonable surroundings. Holt endeavored to persuade him that
under the circumstances it was all the more necessary that the loyal
members of the Cabinet should remain at their posts, in order to
prevent the country's passing into the hands of the secessionists by
mere default. But Cass replied, No; that the public feeling and
sentiment of his section would not tolerate such a policy on his part.
"For you," he said, "coming from a border State, where a modified,
perhaps a divided, public sentiment exists, that is not only a
possible course, but it is a true one; it is your duty to remain, to
sustain the Executive and counteract the plots of the traitors. But my
duty is otherwise; I must adhere to my resignation."
In this honorable close of a long public career, General Cass gave
evidence of the spirit which was to actuate many patriotic Democrats
when the final ordeal came. It was to be regretted that he had not
taken issue with his chief when his paradoxical message was read to
the Cabinet, but much is to be allowed to the inertness of a man in
his seventy-ninth year. Life-long placeman and unflinching partisan
that he was, there was still so much of patriotic conscience in him
that he could not stand by and see premeditated dishonor done to the
flag he had followed in his youth and as Jackson's Secretary of War
upheld in his maturer years. If Mr. Buchanan had been capable of
amendment, he might have learned a salutary lesson from the manner in
which this veteran politician ended his half century of public
 Cobb to Buchanan, "Washington Constitution," Dec. 12, 1860. The
President's reply says: "I have received your communication of
Saturday evening, resigning," etc.
 Jefferson Davis in his "Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government,"
Vol. I., page 215, also lays claim to this artful suggestion:
"The President's objection to this was, that it was his bounden duty
to preserve and protect the property of the United States. To this I
replied, with all the earnestness the occasion demanded, that I would
pledge my life that, if an inventory were taken of all the stores and
munitions in the fort, and an ordnance sergeant with a few men left in
charge of them, they would not be disturbed."
THE SENATE COMMITTEE OF THIRTEEN
The President's message provoked immediate and heated controversy
in Congress. In the Senate the battle was begun by the radical
secessionists, who at once avowed their main plans and purposes. Mr.
Clingman, of North Carolina, opening the debate, predicted that the
same political organization which had elected Lincoln must soon
control the entire Government, and being guided by a sentiment hostile
to the Southern States would change the whole character of the
Government without abolishing its forms. A number of States would
secede within the next sixty days.
Mr. Brown, of Mississippi, said the accumulating wrongs of years had
finally culminated in the triumph of principles to which they could
not and would not submit. All they asked was to be allowed to depart
[Illustration: GENERAL ROBERT TOOMBS.]
[Sidenote] "Globe," Dec. 5 1860, p. 11.
Mr. Iverson, of Georgia, invoking not only secession, but revolution
and assassination, announced specifically the hopes of the conspirators.
"I am satisfied that South Carolina will resolve herself into a separate
sovereign and independent State before the Ides of January; that Florida
and Mississippi, whose conventions are soon to meet, will follow the
example of South Carolina, and that Alabama ... will go out of the
Union on the 7th of January. Then the Georgia Convention follows on the
16th of that month; and if these other surrounding sisters shall take
the step, Georgia will not be behind ... I speak what I believe on this
floor, that before the 4th of March five of the Southern States at
least will have declared their independence; and I am satisfied that
three others of the Cotton States will follow as soon as the action of
the people can be had. Arkansas, whose Legislature is now in session,
will in all probability call a convention at an early day. Louisiana
will follow. Her Legislature is to meet; and although there is a clog
in the way of the lone star State of Texas, in the person of her
Governor, ... if he does not yield to public sentiment, some Texan
Brutus will arise to rid his country of the hoary-headed incubus that
stands between the people and their sovereign will. We intend, Mr.
President, to go out peaceably if we can, forcibly if we must."
[Sidenote] "Globe," Dec. 5, 1860, p. 14.
Senator Wigfall, of Texas, took a high revolutionary attitude. "We
simply say that a man who is distasteful to us has been elected and we
choose to consider that as a sufficient ground for leaving the Union."
He said he should "introduce a resolution at an early moment to
ascertain what are the orders that have gone from the War Department to
the officers in command of those forts" at Charleston. If the people of
South Carolina believed that this Government would hold those forts,
and collect the revenues from them, after they had ceased to be one of
the States of this Union, his judgment was that the moment they became
satisfied of that fact they would take the forts, and blood would then
begin to flow.
[Sidenote] Ibid., Dec. 10, 1860, p. 35.
Mr. Mason, of Virginia, said he looked upon the evil as a war of
sentiment and opinion by one form of society against another form of
society. The remedy rested in the political society and State councils
of the several States and not in Congress. His State and a great many
others of the slaveholding States were going into convention with a
view to take up the subject for themselves, and as separate sovereign
communities to determine what was best for their safety.
[Sidenote] Ibid., Dec. 5, 1860, p. 12.
Senator Jefferson Davis, of Mississippi, was more reticent and politic,
though no less positive and significant in his brief expressions. As a
Senator of the United States he said he was there to perform his
functions as such; that before a declaration of war was made against
the State of which he was a citizen he expected to be out of the
Chamber; that when that declaration was made his State would be found
ready and quite willing to meet it.
[Sidenote] "Globe," Dec. 5, 1860, p. 9.
The Republican Senators maintained for the greater part a discreet
silence. To exult in their triumph would be undignified; to hasten
forward officiously with offers of pacification or submission, and
barter away the substantial fruits of their victory, would not only
make them appear pusillanimous in the eyes of their own party, but
bring down upon them the increased contempt of their assailants. There
remained therefore nothing but silence and the feeble hope that this
first fury of the disunion onset might spend itself in angry words, and
be followed by calmer counsels. Nevertheless, it was difficult to keep
entirely still under the irritating provocation. On the third day of
the session, Senator Hale, of New Hampshire, replied to both the
President's message and Clingman's speech. Mr. Hale thought "this state
of affairs looks to one of two things; it looks to absolute submission,
not on the part of our Southern friends and the Southern States but of
the North--to the abandonment of their position; it looks to a
surrender of that popular sentiment which has been uttered through the
constituted forms of the ballot-box; or it looks to open war. We need
not shut our eyes to the fact. It means war, and it means nothing else;
and the State which has put herself in the attitude of secession so
looks upon it.... If it is preannounced and determined that the voice
of the majority expressed through the regular and constituted forms of
the Constitution will not be submitted to, then, sir, this is not a
Union of equals; it is a Union of a dictatorial oligarchy on the one
side, and a herd of slaves and cowards on the other. That is it, sir;
nothing more, nothing less."
While the Southern Democratic party and the Republican party thus
drifted into defiant attitudes the other two parties to the late
Presidential contest naturally fell into the role of peacemakers. In
this work they were somewhat embarrassed by their party record, for
they had joined loudly in the current charge of "abolitionism" against
the people of the North, and especially against the Republican party.
Nevertheless, they not only came forward to tender the olive branch,
and to deprecate and rebuke the threats and extreme measures of the
disunionists, but even went so far as to deny and disapprove the staple
complaints of the conspirators.
[Sidenote] "Globe," Dec. 4, 1860, p. 5.
It must be remembered to the lasting honor of Senator Crittenden that
at the very outset of the discussion he repudiated the absurd theory of
noncoercion. "I do not agree that there is no power in the President to
preserve the Union; I will say that now. If we have a Union at all, and
if, as the President thinks, there is no right to secede on the part of
any State (and I agree with him in that), I think there is a right to
employ our power to preserve the Union."
[Sidenote] Ibid., Dec. 11, 1860, pp. 51, 52.
Senator Pugh, of Ohio, saying that he lived on the border of the
slave-holding and non-slave-holding States, contended that the
fugitive-slave law was executed every day, or nearly every day. It was
in constant operation. He would venture to say that the slave-States
had not lost $100,000 worth of slave property since they had been in
the Union, through negligence or refusal to execute it.
[Sidenote] "Globe," Dec. 11, 1860, p. 52.
Senator Douglas, of Illinois, said he supposed the fugitive-slave law
was enforced with quite as much fidelity as that in regard to the
African slave trade or the laws on many other subjects. "It so happens
that there is the greatest excitement upon this question just in
proportion as you recede from the line between the free and the
slave-States.... If you go North, up into Vermont where they scarcely
ever see a slave and would not know how he looked, they are disturbed
by the wrongs of the poor slave just in proportion as they are ignorant
of the South. When you get down South, into Georgia and Alabama, where
they never lose any slaves, they are disturbed by the outrages and
losses under the non-fulfillment of the fugitive-slave law just in
proportion as they have no interest in it, and do not know what they
are talking about."
[Sidenote] Ibid., Dec. 10, 1860, p. 24.
Meanwhile, Senator Powell, of Kentucky, having given notice on the 5th,
had on the 6th of December introduced a resolution to raise a special
committee (afterwards known as the Senate Committee of Thirteen) to
concert measures of compromise or pacification, either through
legislation or Constitutional amendments. He said, however, he did not
believe any legislation would be a remedy. Unequivocal constitutional
guarantees upon the points indicated in the resolution under
consideration were in his judgment the only remedies that would reach
and eradicate the disease, give permanent security, and restore
fraternal feeling between the people, North and South, and save the
Union from speedy dissolution. "Let us never despair of the republic,
but go to work promptly and so amend the Constitution as to give
certain and full guarantees to the rights of every citizen, in every
State and Territory of the Union."
[Sidenote] "Globe," Dec. 10, 1860, p. 25.
[Sidenote] Ibid., p. 28.
[Sidenote] Ibid., p. 34.
The Republicans on this resolution generally offered only verbal
criticisms or expressed their full approbation of its provisions.
Senator King, of New York, offering an amendment, explained that while
we hear occasionally of a mob destroying property, we also hear
occasionally of a mob which assails an individual. He thought the
security of person as important as that of property, and would
therefore extend the inquiry to all these objects, if made at all.
Senator Collamer, of Vermont, suggested striking out all about the
condition of the country and the rights of property, and simply
referring that part of the message which relates to the state of the
Union to a special committee. Senator Foster, of Connecticut, said if
there was a disposition here to promote the peace and harmony of the
country, the resolution was a most appropriate one under which to make
the effort. Senator Hale, of New Hampshire, said he was willing to meet
any and everybody and say that if there can be pointed out anything in
which the State that he represented had come short of her whole
constitutional duty in letter and in spirit, she will do what she never
did in the face of an enemy, and that is take a backward step. She was
ready to perform her whole constitutional duty, and to stand there.
[Sidenote] "Globe," Dec. 1860, pp. 25, 26.
Senator Green, of Missouri, while he joined in the general cry of
Northern anti-slavery aggression and neglect of constitutional
obligations, deemed it his duty to assist in making a united effort to
save the Union. If he believed the present state of public sentiment of
the North was to be enduring, he would say it is folly to talk about
patching up the Union; but he looked forward to a reaction of public
sentiment. Amendments to the Constitution, legal enactments, or repeal
of personal liberty laws are not worth a straw unless the popular
sentiment or the strong arm of the Government goes with them. He
proposed to employ adequate physical force to maintain existing
constitutional rights. He did not want any additional constitutional
rights. He offered a resolution to inquire into the propriety of
providing by law for establishing an armed police force, upon all
necessary points along the line separating the slave-holding States
from the non-slave-holding States, for the purpose of maintaining the
general peace between those States; of preventing the invasion of one
State by the citizens of another, and also for the efficient execution
of the fugitive-slave law.
[Sidenote] Ibid., pp. 28-30.
Senator Jefferson Davis, of Mississippi, denounced this proposition as
a quack nostrum. He feared it was to rear a monster which would break
the feeble chain provided, and destroy the rights it was intended to
guard. Establishing military posts along the borders of States
conferred a power upon this Federal Government, which it does not now
possess, to coerce a State; it was providing, under the name of Union,
to carry on war against States. From the history and nature of our
government no power of coercion exists in it.
[Sidenote] Ibid., p. 33.
Senator Brown, also of Mississippi, was no less emphatic in his
condemnation of the scheme. He said, that a Southern Senator
representing a State as much exposed as Missouri should deliberately,
in times like these, propose to arm the Federal Government for the
purpose of protecting the frontier, to establish military posts all
along the line, struck him with astonishment. He saw in this
proposition the germ of a military despotism. He did not know what was
to become of these armies, or what was to be done with these military
posts. He feared in the hands of the enemy they might be turned against
the South; they would hardly ever be turned against the North.
[Sidenote] "Globe," Dec. 10, 1860, pp. 30, 31.
Senator Green, in his reply, justly exposed the whole animus and thinly
concealed import of these rough criticisms, by retorting that, to call
that a military despotism amounts to just this: we are going out of the
Union, right or wrong, and we will misrepresent every proposition made
to save the Union. Who has fought the battles of the South for the last
twenty-five years, and borne the brunt of the difficulty upon the
border? Missouri, Kentucky, Virginia, and Maryland, while Mississippi
and Louisiana have been secure; and while you have lost but one
boxed-up negro, sent on board a vessel, that I remember, we have lost
thousands and thousands. He knew it was unpopular in some sections to
say a word for the Union. He hoped that feeling would react. Means to
enforce and carry out the Constitution ought not to be ridiculed by
calling it a quack remedy.
It is more likely that we may find in the response of Senator Iverson,
of Georgia, the true reason which actuated the Cotton-State leaders in
driving their people into revolution, regardless of the remonstrances
of the border States.
Sir, the border slave-States of this Union complain of the Cotton
States for the movement which is now in progress. They say that we
have no right to take them out of the Union against their will. I
want to know what right they have to keep us in the Union against
our will. If we want to go out let us go. If they want to stay let
them stay. They are sovereign and independent States, and have a
right to decide these questions for themselves. For one, I shall
not complain when, where, or how they go. I am satisfied, however,
that they will go, when the time comes for them to decide. But,
sir, they complain of us that we make so much noise and confusion
on the subject of fugitive slaves, when we are not affected by the
vitiated public sentiment of the Northern States. They say that we
do not lose fugitive slaves; but they suffer the burden. We heard
that yesterday. I know that we do not suffer in this respect; it
is not the want of good faith in the Northern people, so far as
the reclamation of fugitive slaves is concerned, that is causing
the Southern States around the Gulf of Mexico and the Southern
Atlantic coast to move in this great revolution now progressing.
Sir, we look infinitely beyond this petty loss of a few negroes.
We know what is coming in this Union. It is universal emancipation
and the turning loose upon society in the Southern States of the
mass of corruption which will be made by emancipation. We intend
to avoid it if we can. These border States can get along without
slavery. Their soil and climate are appropriate to white labor;
they can live and nourish without African slavery; but the Cotton
States cannot. We are obliged to have African slavery to cultivate
our cotton, our rice, and our sugar fields. African slavery is
essential not only to our prosperity, but to our existence as a
[Sidenote] "Globe," Dec. 11, 1860, pp. 49-51.
I understand one of the motives which influence the tardy action
of these two States [Virginia and Maryland], They are a little
afraid of the opening of the African slave trade, and the
cheapening of negroes. Now, sir, while I state here that I am
opposed to the opening of the African slave-trade, because our
negroes will increase fast enough, God knows, for our interest and
protection and security; and while I believe that the great masses
of the Southern people are opposed to it, yet I will not stand
security that if the Cotton States alone form a confederacy they
will not open the African slave-trade; and then what will become
of the great monopoly of the negro market which Virginia and
Maryland and North Carolina now possess?
The disunion Senators, while indulging in the violent and uncompromising
language already quoted, had nevertheless here and there interjected
phrases indicating a willingness to come to an understanding and
adjustment, but their object in this seemed to be twofold: for a few
days longer it would serve as a partial screen to their more active
conspiracy, and in the possible event (which they evidently did not
expect) of a complete surrender and abdication of their political
victory by the Republican party, it would leave them in the
advantageous condition of accepting triumph as a fruit of compromise.
[Sidenote] "Globe," Dec. 4, 1860, p. 4.
[Sidenote] Ibid., Dec. 10, 1860, p. 29.
[Sidenote] Ibid., p. 34.
[Sidenote] Ibid., Dec. 12, 1860, p. 72.
Thus, Senator Clingman said, "If gentlemen on the other side have
anything to propose of a decisive and satisfactory character, I have no
doubt the section from which I come would be willing to hear it."
Senator Davis said, "If we are mistaken as to your feelings and
purposes, give a substantial proof, that here may begin that circle
which hence may spread out and cover the whole land with proofs of
fraternity, of a reaction in public sentiment, and the assurance of a
future career in conformity with the principles and purposes of the
Constitution." Senator Brown said he never intimated they would not
listen to appeals; he never said this case could not be adjusted; but
he said there was no disposition on the Republican side to do it.
Senator Wigfall said, "What is the use of our discussing on this side
of the Chamber what we would be satisfied with when nothing has been
It requires a minute search to find these scattered words of moderation
in the torrent of defiance which characterized the speeches of the
extreme disunionists during the first ten days of the session of
Congress, and indications were not lacking that even these were wholly
insincere, and meant only to mislead their opponents and the public.
Strong proof of this is found in the careful speech of Senator
Jefferson Davis, in which he lays down the issue without reserve, at
the same time dealing in such vague and intangible complaints as showed
intention and desire to remain unanswered and unsatisfied.. He said
he believed the danger to be that a sectional hostility had been
substituted for the general fraternity, and thus the Government
rendered powerless for the ends for which it was instituted.
The hearts of a portion of the people have been perverted by that
hostility, so that the powers delegated by the compact of union
are regarded not as means to secure the welfare of all, but as
instruments for the destruction of a part--the minority section.
How, then, have we to provide a remedy? By strengthening this
Government? By instituting physical force to overawe the States,
to coerce the people living under them as members of sovereign
communities to pass under the yoke of the Federal Government?...
[Sidenote] "Globe," Dec. 10, 1860, p. 29.
Then where is the remedy, the question may be asked. In the hearts
of the people is the ready reply; and therefore it is that I turn
to the other side of the Chamber, to the majority section, to the
section in which have been committed the acts that now threaten
the dissolution of the Union.... These are offenses such as no
people can bear; and the remedy for these is in the patriotism and
the affection of the people, if it exists; and if it does not
exist, it is far better, instead of attempting to preserve a
forced and therefore fruitless union, that we should peacefully
part, and each pursue his separate course.... States in their
sovereign capacity have now resolved to judge of the infractions
of the Federal compact and of the mode and measure of redress....
I would not give the parchment on which the bill would be written
which is to secure our constitutional rights within the limits of
a State where the people are all opposed to the execution of that
law. It is a truism in free governments that laws rest upon public
opinion, and fall powerless before its determined opposition.
To all that had so far been said, Senator Wade, of Ohio, made, on the
17th day of December, a frank and direct as well as strong and eloquent
reply, which was at once generally accepted by the Republican party of
the Senate and the country as their well-considered and unalterable
position on the crisis. Said he:
I have already said that these gentlemen who make these complaints
have for a long series of years had this Government in their own
keeping. They belong to the dominant majority.... Therefore, if
there is anything in the legislation of the Federal Government
that is not right, you and not we are responsible for it.... You
have had the legislative power of the country, and you have had
the executive of the country, as I have said already. You own the
Cabinet, you own the Senate, and I may add, you own the President
of the United States, as much as you own the servant upon your own
plantation. I cannot see then very clearly why it is that Southern
men can rise here and complain of the action of this
Government.... Are we the setters forth of any new doctrines under
the Constitution of the United States? I tell you nay. There is no
principle held to-day by this great Republican party that has not
had the sanction of your Government in every department for more
than seventy years. You have changed your opinions. We stand where
we used to stand, That is the only difference.... Sir, we stand
where Washington stood, where Jefferson stood, where Madison
stood, where Monroe stood. We stand where Adams and Jackson and
even Polk stood. That revered statesman, Henry Clay, of blessed
memory, with his dying breath asserted the doctrine that we hold
to-day.... As to compromises, I had supposed that we were all
agreed that the day of compromises was at an end. The most solemn
compromises we have ever made have been violated without a
_whereas_. Since I have had a seat in this body, one of
considerable antiquity, that had stood for more than thirty years,
was swept away from your statute books.... We nominated our
candidates for President and Vice-President, and you did the same
for yourselves. The issue was made up and we went to the people
upon it; ... and we beat you upon the plainest and most palpable
issue that ever was presented to the American people, and one that
they understood the best. There is no mistaking it; and now when
we come to the capitol, I tell you that our President and our
Vice-President must be inaugurated and administer the government
as all their predecessors have done. Sir, it would be humiliating
and dishonorable to us if we were to listen to a compromise [only]
by which he who has the verdict of the people in his pocket should
make his way to the Presidential chair. When it comes to that you
have no government.... If a State secedes, although we will not
make war upon her, we cannot recognize her right to be out of the
Union, and she is not out until she gains the consent of the Union
itself; and the chief magistrate of the nation, be he who he may,
will find under the Constitution of the United States that it is
his sworn duty to execute the law in every part and parcel of this
Government; that he cannot be released from that obligation....
Therefore, it will be incumbent on the chief magistrate to proceed
to collect the revenue of ships entering their ports precisely in
the same way and to the same extent that he does now in every
other State of the Union. We cannot release him from that
obligation. The Constitution in thunder tones demands that he
shall do it alike in the ports of every State. What follows? Why,
sir, if he shuts up the ports of entry so that a ship cannot
discharge her cargo there, or get papers for another voyage, then
ships will cease to trade; or, if he undertakes to blockade her,
and thus collect it, she has not gained her independence by
secession. What must she do? If she is contented to live in this
equivocal state, all would be well perhaps; but she could not live
there. No people in the world could live in that condition. What
will they do? They must take the initiative and declare war upon
the United States; and the moment that they levy war, force must
be met by force; and they must, therefore, hew out their
independence by violence and war. There is no other way under the
Constitution, that I know of, whereby a chief magistrate of any
politics could be released from this duty. If this State, though
seceding, should declare war against the United States, I do not
suppose there is a lawyer in this body but what would say that the
act of levying war is treason against the United States. That is
where it results. We might just as well look the matter right in
[Sidenote] "Globe," Dec. 17, 1860, pp. 100-104.
I say, sir, I stand by the Union of these States. Washington and
his compatriots fought for that good old flag. It shall never be
hauled down, but shall be the glory of the Government to which I
belong, as long as my life shall continue.... It is my inheritance.
It was my protector in infancy, and the pride and glory of my riper
years; and although it may be assailed by traitors on every side,
by the grace of God, under its shadow I will die.
[Sidenote] Ibid., Dec. 20, 1860, p. 158.
The Senate Committee of Thirteen was duly appointed on December 20 as
follows: Lazarus W. Powell and John J. Crittenden, of Kentucky; R.M.T.
Hunter, of Virginia; Wm. H. Seward, of New York; Robert Toombs, of
Georgia; Stephen A. Douglas, of Illinois; Jacob Collamer, of Vermont;
Jefferson Davis, of Mississippi; Benjamin F. Wade, of Ohio; William
Bigler, of Pennsylvania; Henry M. Rice, of Minnesota; James E.
Doolittle, of Wisconsin, and James W. Grimes, of Iowa.
It was a strong and representative committee, chosen from the four
great political parties to the late Presidential election, and
embracing recognized leaders in each, We shall see in a future chapter
how this eminent committee failed to report a compromise, which was the
object of its appointment. But compromise was impossible, because the
conspiracy had resolved upon disunion, as already announced in the
proclamation of a Southern Confederacy, signed and published a week
before by Jefferson Davis and others.
THE HOUSE COMMITTEE OF THIRTY-THREE
[Sidenote] Compare Boteler's statement of origin of his resolution,
"Globe," Jan. 10, 1861, p. 316.
[Sidenote] "Globe," Dec. 4, 1860, p. 6.
While this discussion was going on in the Senate, very similar
proceedings were taking place in the House of Representatives, except
that declarations of revolutionary purpose were generally of a more
practical and decisive character. The President's message had no sooner
been received and read, and the usual formal motion made to refer and
print, than the friends of compromise, representing here, as in the
Senate, the substantial sentiment of the border slave-States, made a
sincere effort to take control and bring about the peaceable
arrangement and adjustment of what they assumed to be the extreme
differences between the South and the North. Mr. Boteler, of Virginia,
seizing the momentary leadership, moved to amend by referring so much
of the message "as relates to the present perilous condition of the
country" to a special committee of one from each State. The Union being
at that time composed of thirty-three States, this committee became
known as the Committee of Thirty-three. Several other amendments were
offered but objected to, and the previous question having been ordered,
the amendment was agreed to and the committee raised by a vote of 145
yeas to 38 nays; the negative vote coming, in the main, from the more
pronounced anti-slavery men.
[Sidenote] "Globe," Dec. 4, 1860, p. 7.
[Sidenote] "Globe," Dec. 4, 1860. p. 7.
[Illustration: JUSTIN S. MURPHY.]
Though this was the first roll-call of the session, the disunion
conspirators, one after another, made haste to declare the treasonable
attitude of their States. Pending the vote, Mr. Singleton declined
recording his name for the reason that Mississippi had called a
convention to consider this subject. He was not sent here for the
purpose of making any compromise or to patch up existing difficulties.
Mr. Jones, of Georgia, said he did not vote on this question because
his State, like Mississippi, had called a convention to decide all
these questions of Federal relations. Mr. Hawkins, of Florida, said his
people had resolved to determine, in convention in their sovereign
capacity, the time, place, and manner of redress. It was not for him to
take any action on the subject. His State was opposed to all and every
compromise. The day of compromise was past. Mr. Clopton, of Alabama,
declined voting because the State of Alabama is proceeding to consider
in a convention what action is required to maintain her rights, honor,
and safety. Believing that a State has the right to secede, and that
the only remedy for present evils is secession, he would not hold out
any delusive hope or sanction any temporizing policy. Mr. Miles, of
South Carolina, said "the South Carolina delegation have not voted on
this question because they conceive they have no interest in it. We
consider our State as already withdrawn from the confederacy in
everything except form." Mr. Pugh, of Alabama, said: "As my State of
Alabama intends following South Carolina out of the Union by the 10th
of January next, I pay no attention to any action taken in this body."
[Sidenote] "Globe," Dec. 10, 1860, p. 36, 37.
These proceedings occurred on the second day of the session, December
4; two days later the Speaker announced the committee, placing at the
head, as chairman, Thomas Corwin, of Ohio, and appointing such members
from the different States as to make it of marked influence and
ability; the disunion faction being distinctly recognized by several
extreme representatives. The names were announced on Thursday, December
6; and at the close of the day's session the House adjourned to the
following Monday, the 10th, on which day the general discussion was
fairly launched on the request of Mr. Hawkins, of Florida, to be
excused from serving on the committee. He said he had asked the
opinions of many Southern Members, and, with one or two exceptions,
they most cordially agreed with the course he had taken. To serve on
the committee would place him in a false position. Florida had taken
the initiative; her Legislature had ordered an election to choose
members to a convention to be convened on the 3d day of January, 1861.
The committee was a Trojan horse to gain time and demoralize the South;
he regretted that it emanated from a Virginia Representative. He would
tell the North that Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and South
Carolina were certain to secede from the Union within a short period.
Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas were certain to follow within the
ensuing six months.
Three Democratic Representatives responded to this outburst, the
Republican members of the House, as in the Senate, remaining discreetly
silent. These Democratic speakers alleged an unfair composition of the
committee, and joined in denouncing the Republican party. But upon the
vital and practical question of disunion their utterances were widely
divergent. As the name of each of them will assume a degree of
historical prominence in the further development of the rebellion,
short quotations from their remarks made at that early period will be
read with interest. Daniel E. Sickles, of New York, said:
[Sidenote] "Globe," Dec. 10, 1860, pp. 40, 41.
The city of New York will cling to the Union to the last; while
she will look upon the last hour of its existence as we would upon
the setting sun if we were never to see it more, yet when the call
for force comes--let it come when it may--no man will ever pass
the boundaries of the city of New York for the purpose of waging
war against any State of this Union which, through its constituted
authorities and sustained by the voice of its people, solemnly
declares its rights, its interests, and its honor demand that it
should seek safety in a separate existence.... The city of New
York is now a subjugated dependency of a fanatical and puritanical
State government that never thinks of the city except to send its
tax-gatherers among us or to impose upon us hateful officials,
alien to our interests and sympathies, to eat up the substance of
the people by their legalized extortions.... Nothing has prevented
the city of New York from asserting her right to govern herself,
except that provision of the Federal Constitution which prohibits
a State from being divided without its own consent.... When that
restraint shall no longer exist, when the obligation of those
constitutional provisions, which forbid the division of a State
without its own consent, shall be suspended, then I tell you that
imperial city will throw off the odious government to which she
now yields a reluctant allegiance; she will repel the hateful
cabal at Albany, which has so long abused its power over her, and
with her own flag sustained by the courage and devotion of her own
gallant sons, she will, as a free city, open wide her gates to the
civilization and commerce of the world.
Doubtless the secessionists drew hopeful auguries and fresh inspiration
from this and other visionary talk frequent amid the unsteady political
thought of that day. But, if so, it would have been wiser to ponder
deeply the significance of the following utterances coming from a
different quarter, and representing a more persistent influence, a more
extended geographical area, and a greater numerical force. Clement L.
Vallandigham, of Ohio, said:
[Sidenote] "Globe," Dec. 10, 1860, p. 38.
I speak now as a Western man; and I thank the gentleman from
Florida heartily for the kindly sentiments towards that great West
to which he has given utterance. Most cordially I reciprocate
them, one and all. Sir, we of the North-west have a deeper
interest in the preservation of this Government in its present
form than any other section of the Union. Hemmed in, isolated, cut
off from the seaboard upon every side; a thousand miles and more
from the mouth of the Mississippi, the free navigation of which
under the law of nations we demand and will have at every cost;
with nothing else but our other great inland seas, the lakes, and
their outlet, too, through a foreign country--what is to be our
destiny? Sir, we have fifteen hundred miles of Southern frontier,
and but a little narrow strip of eighty miles, or less, from
Virginia to Lake Erie bounding us upon the East. Ohio is the
isthmus that connects the South with the British possessions, and
the East with the West. The Rocky Mountains separate us from the
Pacific. Where is to be our outlet! What are we to do when you
shall have broken up and destroyed this government? We are seven
States now, with fourteen Senators and fifty-one Representatives,
and a population of nine millions. We have an empire equal in area
to the third of all Europe, and we do not mean to be a dependency
or province either of the East or of the South; nor yet an
inferior or secondary power upon this continent; and if we cannot
secure a maritime boundary upon other terms, we will cleave our
way to the seacoast with the sword. A nation of warriors we may
be; a tribe of shepherds never.
No less outspoken were the similar declarations of John A. McClernand,
of Illinois, who said the question of secession disclosed to his vision
a boundless sea of horrors.
[Sidenote] "Globe," Dec. 10, 1860, p. 39.
Peaceable secession, in my judgment, is a fatal, a deadly
illusion.... If I am asked, Why so? I retort the question. How can
it be otherwise? How are questions of public debt, public archives,
public lands, and other public property, and, above all, the
questions of boundary to be settled? Will it be replied that, while
we are mutually unwilling now to yield anything, we will be
mutually willing, after awhile, to concede everything? That, while
we mutually refuse to concede anything now for the sake of national
unity, we will be mutually ready to concede everything by and by
for the sake of national duality? Who believes this? What, too,
would be the fate of the youthful but giant Northwest in the event
of a separation of the slave-holding from the non-slave-holding
States? Cut off from the main Mississippi and the Gulf of Mexico on
one hand, or from the eastern Atlantic ports on the other, she
would gradually sink into a pastoral state, and to a standard of
national inferiority. This the hardy and adventurous millions of
the North-west would be unwilling to consent to. This they would
not do. Rather would they, to the last man, perish upon the
battlefield. No power on earth could restrain them from freely and
unconditionally communicating with the Gulf and the great mart of
[Sidenote] Ibid., Dec. 10, 1860, p. 59.
No further noteworthy discussion occurred for a time, except the
declaration of Mr. Cobb, of Alabama, that if anything were done to save
his State it must be done immediately. The election for delegates to
the convention would take place on the 24th of that month, and the
convention would meet on the 7th of the next month. His State would not
remain in this Confederacy longer than the 15th of January unless
something were done.
The House refused to excuse the several objecting members from serving
on the committee; and the temper in which they proceeded to the
discharge of their duty is perhaps best illustrated by the remarks of
Representative Reuben Davis, of Mississippi. He said he could "but
regard this committee as a tub thrown out to the whale, to amuse only,
until the 4th of March next, and thus arrest the present noble and
manly movements of the Southern States to provide by that day for their
security and safety out of the Union. With these views I take my place
on the committee for the purpose of preventing it being made a means of
deception by which the public mind is to be misled and misguided; yet
intending honestly and patriotically to entertain any fair proposition
for adjustment of pending evils which the Republican members may
On Wednesday, December 12, the morning hour was by agreement set apart
for receiving all bills and resolutions to be submitted to the
Committee of Thirty-three. They were duly read and referred, without
debate, to the number of twenty-three. They came principally from
Northern members, though all four parties of the late Presidential
campaign were represented, the attitude of which they mainly reflected.
In substance, therefore, they embodied the same medley of affirmations
and denials, of charges and countercharges, of evasions and subterfuges
which party discussion had worn threadbare.
These twenty-three propositions, which were by subsequent additions
increased to forty or fifty, exhibit such a variety of legislative
plans that it is impossible to subject them to any classification. They
give us an abstract of the divergent views which Members of Congress
entertained concerning the cause of the crisis and its remedy. They
range in purport from a mere assertion of the duty of preserving and
administering the government as then existing, in its simple form and
symmetrical structure, to proposals to destroy and change it to a
complex machine, fantastic in proportion and impracticable in its
workings. They afford us evidence of the bewilderment which beset
Congress as well as the outside public, and not so much the absence of
reasonable political principles as the absence of a simple and direct
political will, which would resolutely insist that recognized
principles and existing laws should be respected and obeyed.
[Sidenote] "Globe," Dec. 12, 1860, p. 77.
[Sidenote] Ibid., p. 78.
Among the propositions submitted then and afterwards were several wild
and visionary projects of government. Thus Mr. Jenkins, a Virginia
member, proposed an arrangement requiring separate sanction of the
slave-holding interest to each and every operation of government; a
dual executive; a dual senate, or dual majority of the senate, or other
advisory body or council. Mr. Noell, of Missouri, proposed to abolish
the office of President, create an executive council of three members,
from districts of contiguous States, give each member the veto power,
and establish equilibrium between the free and the slave-States in the
Senate by voluntary division of some of the slave-States.
[Sidenote] Ibid., Dec. 13, 1860, pp. 82, 83.
Stronger minds were not entirely free from the infection of this mania
for innovation and experiment. On the 13th of December, 1860, Andrew
Johnson, of Tennessee, afterwards President of the United States,
submitted to the Senate a proposal to amend the Constitution in
substance as follows: That the Presidential election should take place
in August; that a popular plurality in each district should count as
one vote; that Congress should count the votes on the second Monday of
October; that the President chosen in 1864 be from a slave-holding
State, and the Vice-President from a free-State; and in 1868 the
President be from a free-State and the Vice-President from a slave
State, and so alternating every four years. Senators to be elected by
vote of the people. Federal judges to be divided so that one-third of
the number would be chosen every fourth year; the term of office to be
twelve years; also all vacancies to be filled, half from free and half
from slave States, the Territories to be divided, establishing slavery
south and prohibiting it north of a fixed line, and providing that
three-fifths representation and inter-State slave trade shall not be
[Sidenote] "Globe," Feb. 7, 1861, pp. 794, 795.
Perhaps the most complicated project of government was that gravely
suggested in the House on the 7th of February, 1861, by Clement L.
Vallandigham, of Ohio, who, not content with the clogs of a dual form,
proposed the following absurd quadruple machinery: The Union to be
divided into four sections: North, West, Pacific, and South. On demand
of one-third of the Senators from any section, for any action to which
the concurrence of the House of Representatives may be necessary,--except
on adjournment,--a vote shall be by sections, and a majority of
Senators from each section shall be necessary to the validity of such
action. A majority of all the electors in each of the four sections to
be necessary to choice of President and Vice-President; they should
hold the office six years; not to be eligible to reelection except by
vote of two-thirds of the electors of each section; or of the States of
each section whenever the choice devolved upon the Legislature;
Congress to provide for the election of President and Vice-President
when electors failed. No State might secede without consent of the
Legislatures of all States of that section, the President to have power
to adjust differences with seceding States, the terms of agreement to
be submitted to Congress; neither Congress nor Territorial Legislatures
should have power to interfere with citizens immigrating--on equal
terms--to the Territories, nor to interfere with the rights of person
or property in the Territories. New States to be admitted on an equal
footing with old ones.
The adoption of any or all of the legislative nostrums which were
severally suggested, presupposed a willingness on the part of the South
to carry them out and be governed thereby. The authors of these
projects lost sight of the vital difficulty, that if the South refused
obedience to laws in the past she would equally refuse obedience to any
in the future when they became unpalatable. It was not temporary
satisfaction, but perpetual domination which she demanded. She did not
need an amendment of the fugitive-slave act, or a repeal of personal
liberty bills, but a change in the public sentiment of the free-States.
Give her the simple affirmation that slaves are property, to be
recognized and protected like other property, embody the proposition in
the Constitution, and secure its popular acceptance, and she would snap
her fingers at an enumeration of other details. Fugitive-slave laws,
inter-State slave trade, a Congressional slave code, right of transit
and sojourn in the free States, compensation for runaways, new slave
States, and a majority in the United States Senate would follow, as
inevitably as that the well planted acorn expands by the forces of
nature into roots, trunk, limbs, twigs, and foliage. This was what
Jefferson Davis formulated in discussing his Senate resolutions of
February, 1860, and the doctrine for which Yancey rent the
Charleston Convention in twain. This is what Jefferson Davis would
again demand of the Senate Committee of Thirteen; and, knowing the
North would never concede it, he would, even prior to the demand, join
in instigating and proclaiming secession.
 The following were members of the Committee of Thirty-three:
Messrs. Thomas Corwin, of Ohio; John S. Millson, of Virginia; Charles
F. Adams, of Massachusetts; Warren Winslow, of North Carolina; James
Humphrey, of New York; William W. Boyce, of South Carolina; James H.
Campbell, of Pennsylvania; Peter E. Love, of Georgia; Orris S. Ferry,
of Connecticut; Henry Winter Davis, of Maryland; Christopher Robinson,
of Rhode Island; William G. Whiteley, of Delaware; Mason W. Tappan, of
New Hampshire; John L.N. Stratton, of New Jersey; Francis M. Bristow,
of Kentucky; Justin S. Morrill, of Vermont; Thomas A.R. Nelson, of
Tennessee; William McKee Dunn, of Indiana; Miles Taylor, of Louisiana;
Reuben Davis, of Mississippi; William Kellogg, of Illinois; George S.
Houston, of Alabama; Freeman H. Morse, of Maine; John S. Phelps, of
Missouri; Albert Rust, of Arkansas; William A. Howard, of Michigan;
George S. Hawkins, of Florida; Andrew J. Hamilton, of Texas; Cadwalader
C. Washburn, of Wisconsin; Samuel E. Curtis, of Iowa; John C. Burch, of
California; William Windom, of Minnesota; and Lansing Stout, of
Oregon.--"Globe," December 6, 1860, page 22.
 Below are brief extracts of the salient points of twenty-one of
them; the other two, are given in the text:
1. By Eli Thayer, of Massachusetts: No further acquisition of
territory. No Congressional legislation about slavery. Presidential
electors to be chosen by districts.
2. By John Cochrane, of New York: Divide the Territories on the line of
36 30', prohibiting slavery north and permitting it south. No
prohibition of inter-State slave trade. Unrestricted right of transit
and sojourn with slaves in free States. Personal liberty laws to be
null and void.
3. By Garnett B. Adrain, of New Jersey: Non-intervention by Congress.
Repeal of personal liberty laws. Fraternity, conciliation, and
4. By Edward Joy Morris, of Pennsylvania: To investigate personal
liberty laws, and suggest amendments to fugitive-slave law.
5. By James A. Stewart, of Maryland: Investigation to secure
constitutional rights of States in the Union. If this be impracticable,
to investigate best mode of separation.
6. By Shelton F. Leake, of Virginia: No constitutional power to abolish
slavery or slave-trade in the States, Territories, or District of
Columbia. Protection to slavery in Territories, and in transit through
or sojourn in free-States. Fugitive slaves lost through State
legislation, or by act of State authorities, to be paid for.
7. By William Smith, of Virginia: Declare out of the Union every State
which shall by her legislation aim to nullify an act of Congress.
8. By Samuel S. Cox, of Ohio: Punishment of executives, judges,
attorney-general, or other officers who obstruct the execution of the
9. By John Hutchins, of Ohio: Laws against kidnaping, lynching, or
unreasonable search or seizure.
10. By John Sherman, of Ohio: Laws to enforce all obligations imposed
by the Constitution. Division of all Territory into States, and their
prompt admission into the Union.
11. By John A. Bingham, of Ohio: Laws to suppress rebellion, to protect
United States property against unlawful seizure and citizens against
12. By Robert Mallory, of Kentucky: Prohibit slavery north and protect
it south of the line of 30 36'. Admit States with or without slavery.
No prohibition or abolition of the inter-State slave trade or slavery
in the District of Columbia, or in arsenals, dockyards, etc., of the
13. By John W. Stevenson, of Kentucky: Declare resistance to
fugitive-slave law, or rescue of slaves from custody of officers,
14. By William H. English, of Indiana: Divide Territories. Congress
shall not impair right of property in slaves. Double compensation from
cities, counties, or townships for slaves rescued by mob violence or
15. By David Kilgore, of Indiana: Trial by jury and writ of error under
fugitive-slave law. Criminal prosecution against forcible hindrance or
rescue of fugitives. Payment by the United States for fugitives rescued
16. By William S. Holman, of Indiana: The Constitution is a compact of
mutual and permanent obligation. No right of secession. Laws should be
enforced in good faith and with temperate firmness. Ample legal
provision against any attempt to nullify the laws.
17. By William E. Niblack, of Indiana: Payment by offending cities,
counties, or districts for fugitive slaves rescued.
18. By John A. McClernand, of Illinois: Indemnity for fugitive slaves
rescued. A special Federal police to execute United States laws, and
suppress unlawful resistance thereof.
19. By Thomas C. Hindman, of Arkansas: Right of property in slaves in
slave-States. No interdiction of inter-State slave trade. Protection of
slavery in all Territories. Admission of States with or without
slavery. Right to hold slaves in transit through free-States. Deprive
States enacting personal liberty laws of representation in Congress.
Give slave-holding States an absolute negative upon all action of
Congress relating to slavery. States to appoint the officers exercising
Federal functions within their limits. Make these provisions, together
with three-fifths representation, unrepealable.
20. By Charles H. Larrabee, of Wisconsin: A convention to amend
21. By Thomas L. Anderson, of Missouri: Submit to the Supreme Court of
the United States the questions at issue between the slave-holding and
non-slave-holding States. Carry into effect by law the opinion of said
Court as a final settlement. (Submitted Dec. 13.)--"Globe," Dec. 12 and
13, 1860, pp. 76-79, and 96.
 "We want nothing more than a simple declaration that negro slaves
are property, and we want the recognition of the obligation of the
Federal Government to protect that property like all other." Senate
Speech, "Globe," May 17, 1860, p. 2155.
THE CONSPIRACY PROCLAIMED
To a great majority of the people the hopes and chances of a successful
compromise seemed still cheering and propitious. There was indeed a
prevailing agitation in the Southern part of the Union, but it had
taken a virulent form in less than half a dozen States. In most of
these a decided majority still deprecated disunion. Three of the great
political parties of the country were by the voice of their leaders
pledged to peace and order; the fourth, apparently controlled as yet by
the powerful influences of official subordination and patronage, must,
so it seemed, yield to the now expressed and public advice of the
President in favor of Union and the enforcement of the law; especially
in view of the forbearance and kindness he was personally exercising
towards the unruly elements of his faction. Throughout the Northern
States the folly and evils of disunion appeared so palpable that it was
not generally regarded as an imminent danger, but rather as merely a
possible though not probable event. The hasty and seemingly earnest
action of the people and authorities of South Carolina was looked upon
as a historical repetition of the nullification crisis of 1831-32; and
without examining too closely the real present condition of affairs,
men hoped, rather than intelligently expected, that the parallel would
continue to the end. Some sort of compromise of the nature of that of
1850 was the prevailing preoccupation in politics.
This was the popular view of the situation. But it was an erroneous
view, because it lacked the essential information necessary to form a
correct and solid judgment. The deep estrangement between the sections
was imperfectly realized. The existence of four parties, a very unusual
occurrence in American politics, had seriously weakened party cohesion,
and more than quadrupled party prejudice and mistrust. There was a
strong undercurrent of conviction and purpose, not expressed in
speeches and platforms. But the most serious ignorance was in respect
to the character and fidelity of the high officers of the Government.
Of the timidity of Mr. Buchanan, of the treachery of three members of
the Cabinet, of the exclusion of General Scott from military councils,
of the President's refusal to send troops to Anderson, of his
stipulation with the South Carolina Members, of the intrigue which
drove General Cass from the head of the State Department and from the
Cabinet, the people at large knew nothing, or so little that they could
put no intelligent construction upon the events. The debates of
Congress shed the first clear light upon the situation, but the very
violence and bitterness of the secession speeches caused the multitude
to doubt their sincerity, or placed their authors in the category of
fanatics who would gain no followers.
While, therefore, the Republicans in Congress and in the country
maintained, as a rule, an expectant and watchful silence, the
conservatives, made up for the greater part of the supporters of Bell
and Everett, were active in setting on foot a movement for compromise,
in the final success of which they had the fullest confidence; and it
is but justice to their integrity and ability to add that this
confidence was warranted by the delusive indications of surface
politics. Highly patriotic in purpose and prudent in act, their leading
men in Congress had promptly opposed secession, had moved a Senate
Committee of Thirteen, and secured the appointment and the organization
of the House Committee of Thirty-three. Already some twenty-three
different propositions of adjustment had been submitted to this
committee, and under the circumstances it actually seemed as if only a
little patience and patriotic earnestness were needed to find a
compromise,--perhaps an amendment of the Constitution,--which the
feverish unrest and impatience of the nation would compel Congress to
enact or propose, and the different States and sections, willing or
unwilling, to accept arid ratify.
Superior political wisdom and more thorough information, as well as a
finer strategy, a quicker enthusiasm, and a more unremitting industry,
must be accorded to the conspirators who now labored night and day in
the interest of disunion. They discerned more clearly than their
opponents the demoralization of parties at the North, the latent
revolutionary discontent at the South, the influence of brilliant and
combined leadership, and the social, commercial, and political
conditions which might be brought into action. They recognized that
they were but a minority, a faction; but they also realized that as
such they had a substantial control of from six to eleven States
whenever they chose to make that control effective, and that, for
present uses at least, the President was, under their influence, but as
clay in the hands of the potter.
Better than the Republicans from the North, or even the conservatives
from the border States, they knew that in the Cotton States a
widespread change of popular sentiment was then being wrought and might
very soon be complete. Except upon the extreme alternative of disunion,
the people of the border States were eager to espouse their quarrel,
and join them in a contest for alleged political rights. Nearly half
the people of the North were ready to acknowledge the justness of their
complaints. The election of Lincoln was indeed a flimsy pretext for
separation, but it had the merit of universal publicity, and of
rankling irritation among the unthinking masses of the South.
Agriculture was depressed, commerce was in panic, manufacturing
populations were in want, the national treasury was empty, the army was
dispersed, the navy was scattered. The national prestige was humbled,
the national sentiment despondent, the national faith disturbed.
Meanwhile their intrigues had been successful beyond hope. The
Government was publicly committed to the fatal doctrine of
non-coercion, and was secretly pursuing the equally fatal policy of
concession. Reenforeements had been withheld from Charleston, and must,
from motives of consistency, be withheld from all other forts and
stations. An unofficial stipulation, with the President, and a
peremptory order to Anderson, secured beyond chance the safe and early
secession of South Carolina, and the easy seizure of the Government
property. The representatives of foreign governments were already
secretly coquetting for the favor of a free port and an advantageous
cotton-market. Friendly voices came to the South from the North, in
private correspondence, in the public press, even in the open debates
of Congress, promising that cities should go up in flames and the fair
country be laid waste before a single Northern bayonet should molest
them in their meditated secession.
Upon such a real or assumed state of facts the conspirators based their
theory, and risked their chances of success in dismembering the
republic,--and it must be admitted that they chose their opportunity
with a skill and foresight which for a considerable period of time gave
them immense advantages over the friends of the Union. One vital
condition of success, however, they strangely overlooked, or rather,
perhaps, deliberately crowded out of their problem--the chance of civil
war, without foreign intervention. For the present their whole plan
depended upon the assumption that they could accomplish their end by
means of the single instrumentality of peaceable secession; and with
this view they proceeded to put their scheme into prompt execution.
[Sidenote] Correspondence New York "Tribune", Dec. 10, 1860.
The House Committee of Thirty-three had been organized by the selection
of Thomas Corwin as its chairman, and had entered hopefully upon the
task confided to it. A caucus of active conspirators was said to have
been held the week previous, to intimidate the members from the Cotton
States and induce them to refuse to serve on the committee, but this
coercive movement only partly succeeded. The Committee of Thirty-three
held a long meeting on December 12, and now, on the morning of the
13th, was once more convened for work. The informal propositions and
discussions of the day previous were renewed, but resulted only in
calling out views and schemes too vague on the one hand or too extreme
on the other. The subject was about to be laid over to the following
Saturday, when Albert Rust, of Arkansas, startled the committee with
the information that the extremists were obtaining signatures to a
paper to announce to the South that no further concession was expected
from the North, and that any adjustment of pending difficulties had
become impossible. He, therefore, offered a resolution to meet this
unexpected crisis, but accepted the following substitute, offered by
William McKee Dunn, of Indiana:
_Resolved_, That in the opinion of this Committee, the existing
discontent among the Southern people and the growing hostility
among them to the Federal Government are greatly to be regretted,
and that whether such discontent and hostility are without just
cause or not, any reasonable, proper, and constitutional remedies
and effectual guarantees of their peculiar rights and interests,
as recognized by the Constitution, necessary to preserve the peace
of the country and the perpetuation of the Union, should be
promptly and cheerfully granted.
[Sidenote] Proceedings of the committee and card of Hon. Reuben Davis,
"National Intelligencer," Dec. 14 and 15, 1860.
[Sidenote] Gen. Scott, "Autobiography," Vol. II., p. 613.
Other amendments were voted down, and this proposition was adopted by a
vote of twenty-two to eight, and thus, in good faith, a tender of
reasonable concession and honorable and satisfactory compromise was
made by the North to the South. But the peace-offering was a waste of
patience and good-will. Caucus after caucus of the secession leaders
had only grown more aggressive, and deepened and strengthened their
inflexible purpose to push the country into disunion. The presence of
General Scott, who after a long illness had come from New York to
Washington, on December 12, to give his urgent advice to the work of
counteracting secession by vigorous military preparation, did not
disconcert or hinder the secession leaders. His patriotic appeal to the
Secretary of War on the 13th naturally fell without effect upon the
ears of one of their active confederates. Neither the temporizing
concession of the President nor the conciliatory and half-apologetic
resolution of the Committee of Thirty-three for one instant changed or
affected the determination to destroy the Government and dissolve the
Friday, December 14, 1860, was a day of gloom and despondency in Mr.
Buchanan's office, bringing to his mind more forcibly than he had ever
before realized the utter wreck into which he had guided his
Administration. To the jubilant secessionists it was not only a day of
triumph achieved, but also of apparently assured successes yet to come.
The hitherto official organ of the Administration in its issue of the
following morning contained two publications which gave startling
notice to the country of the weakness of the right and the strength of
the wrong in the swiftly approaching struggle for national existence.
The first of these documents was a proclamation from the President of
the United States, saying that in response to numerous appeals he
designated the fourth day of January, proximo, as a day of humiliation,
fasting, and prayer. The "dangerous and distracted condition of our
country" was therein thus set forth:
[Sidenote] Washington "Constitution," Dec. 15, 1860.
The Union of the States is at the present moment threatened with
alarming and immediate danger--panic and distress of a fearful
character prevail throughout the land--our laboring population
are without employment, and consequently deprived of the means of
earning their bread--indeed, hope seems to have deserted the
minds of men. All classes are in a state of confusion and dismay,
and the wisest counsels of our best and purest men are wholly
disregarded.... Humbling ourselves before the Most High, ... let
us implore him to remove from our hearts that false pride of
opinion which would impel us to persevere in wrong for the sake
of consistency, rather than yield a just submission to the
unforeseen exigencies by which we are now surrounded.... An
omnipotent Providence may overrule existing evils for permanent
The second manifesto was more practical and resolute. As the first
public and combined action of the conspirators, it forms the hinge upon
which they well-nigh turned the fate of the New World Republic. It was
a brief document, but contained and expressed all the essential
purposes of the conspiracy. It was signed by about one-half the
Senators and Representatives of the States of North Carolina, South
Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Florida, Texas, and
Arkansas. It precedes every ordinance of secession, and is the
"official" beginning of the subsequent "Confederate States," just as
Governor Gist's October circular was the "official" beginning of South
[Sidenote] Washington "Constitution," Dec. 15, 1860.
ADDRESS OF CERTAIN SOUTHERN MEMBERS OF CONGRESS.
TO OUR CONSTITUENTS.
WASHINGTON, Dec. 14, 1860.
The argument is exhausted. All hope of relief in the Union
through the agency of committees, Congressional legislation, or
constitutional amendments is extinguished, and we trust the South
will not be deceived by appearances or the pretense of new
guarantees. In our judgment the Republicans are resolute in the
purpose to grant nothing that will or ought to satisfy the South.
We are satisfied the honor, safety, and independence of the
Southern people require the organization of a Southern
Confederacy--a result to be obtained only by separate State
secession--that the primary object of each slave-holding State
ought to be its speedy and absolute separation from a Union with
J.L. Pugh of Alabama.
David Clopton of Alabama.
Sydenham Moore of Alabama.
J.L.M. Curry of Alabama.
J.A. Stallworth of Alabama.
J.W.H. Underwood of Georgia.
L.J. Gartrell of Georgia.
James Jackson of Georgia.
John J. Jones of Georgia.
Martin J. Crawford of Georgia.
Alfred Iverson, U.S. Senator, Georgia.
George S. Hawkins of Florida.
T.C. Hindman of Arkansas.
Jefferson Davis, U.S. Senator, Mississippi.
A.G. Brown, U.S. Senator, Mississippi.
Wm. Barksdale of Mississippi.
O.R. Singleton of Mississippi.
Reuben Davis of Mississippi.
Burton Craige of North Carolina.
Thomas Ruffin of North Carolina.
John Slidell, U.S. Senator, Louisiana.
J.P. Benjamin, U.S. Senator, Louisiana.
J.M. Landrum of Louisiana.
Louis T. Wigfall, U.S. Senator, Texas.
John Hemphill, U.S. Senator, Texas.
J.H. Reagan of Texas.
M.L. Bonham of South Carolina.
Wm. Porcher Miles of South Carolina.
John McQueen of South Carolina.
John D. Ashmore of South Carolina.
This proclamation of revolution, when analyzed, reveals with sufficient
clearness the design and industry with which the conspirators were step
by step building up their preconcerted movement of secession and
rebellion. Every justifying allegation in the document was notoriously
Instead of the argument being exhausted, it was scarcely begun. So far
from Congressional or constitutional relief having been refused, the
Southern demand for them had not been formulated. Not only had no
committee denied hearing or action, but the Democratic Senate, at the
instance of a Southern State, had ordered the Committee of Thirteen,
which the Democratic and Southern Vice-President had not yet even
appointed; and when the names were announced a week later, Jefferson
Davis, one of the signers of this complaint of non-action, was the only
man who refused to serve on the committee--a refusal he withdrew when
persuaded by his co-conspirators that he could better aid their designs
by accepting. On the other hand, the Committee of Thirty-three, raised
by the Republican House, appointed by a Northern Speaker, and presided
over by a Northern chairman, had the day before by more than a
two-thirds vote distinctly tendered the Southern people "any reasonable,
proper, and constitutional remedies and effectual guarantees."
Outside of Congressional circles there was the same absence of any new
complications, any new threats, any new dangers from the North. Since
the day when Abraham Lincoln was elected President there had been
absolutely no change of word or act in the attitude and intention of
himself or his followers. By no possibility could they exert a particle
of adverse political power, executive, legislative, or judicial, for
nearly three months. Not only was executive authority in the hands of a
Democratic Administration, which had made itself the peculiar champion
of the Southern party, but it had yielded every successive demand of
administrative policy made by the conspirators themselves. The signers
of this address to their Southern constituents had not one single
THE FORTY MUSKETS
Like the commandant of Fort Moultrie, the other officers of the
garrison keenly watched the development of hostile public sentiment,
and the steady progress of the secession movement. Some had their wives
and families with them, and to the apprehensions for the honor of their
flag, and the welfare of their country, was added a tenderer solicitude
than even that which they felt for their own lives and persons.
Hostility from the constituted authorities of South Carolina or a
tumultuary outbreak of the Charleston rabble was liable to bring
overwhelming numbers down upon them at any hour of the day or night.
The special study of this danger, or rather of the means to meet and
counteract it, fell to Captain J.G. Foster, of the engineer corps, who
had been assigned to the charge of these fortifications on the 1st of
September. But his services were also in demand elsewhere, and for more
than two months afterwards the works at Baltimore appear to have
claimed the larger part of his time. On the day after the Presidential
election he was directed to give the Charleston forts his personal
supervision, and he arrived there on the 11th of November, remaining
thenceforward till the surrender of Sumter.
[Sidenote] Lieut. Breck to Major Deas, June 18, 1860.
In time of peace, the administration of military affairs in the United
States is somewhat spasmodic, resulting directly and unavoidably from
the fact of our maintaining only the merest skeleton of a standing army
compared to the vast territorial extent of the Union. As an incident of
this system, Fort Moultrie had been allowed to become defenseless. "A
child ten years old can easily come into the fort over the sand-banks,"
wrote an officer June 18, 1860, "and the wall offers little or no
obstacle." "The ease with which the walls can now be got over without
any assistance renders the place more of a trap, in which the garrison
may be shot down from the parapet, than a means of defense. To persons
looking on it appears strange, not to say ridiculous, that the only
garrisoned fort in the harbor should be so much banked in with sand,
that the walls in some places are not one foot above the tops of the
[Sidenote] Foster to De Russy, Nov. 14, 1860, W.R. Vol. I., p. 73.
By the 14th of November Captain Foster had removed the sand which had
drifted against the walls, repaired the latter, and supplied certain
expedients in the way of temporary obstructions and defenses which were
suggested by his professional skill, and available within his
resources. "I have made these temporary defenses as inexpensive as
possible," he writes, "and they consist simply of a stout board fence
ten feet high, surmounted by strips filled with nail-points, with a dry
brick wall two bricks thick on the inside, raised to the height of a
man's head, and pierced with embrasures and a sufficient number of
loop-holes. Their immediate construction has satisfied and gratified
the commanding officer, Colonel Gardiner, and they are, I think,
adequate to the present wants of the garrison."
Of what avail, however, all the resources of engineering science, where
forts were absolutely soldierless, and their walls without even a
solitary sentinel? This was the condition of Fort Sumter and Castle
Pinckney, after weeks of warning and positive entreaty to the
Government at Washington, by engineer, inspectors, and commandants
alike, all without having brought one word of encouragement or a single
But though the President and Secretary of War neglected their proper
duty, Captain Foster did not remit his efforts. The exposed condition
of these two priceless forts was the daily burden of his thoughts.
Under Colonel Gardiner he had asked for forty muskets to arm his
workmen to defend Sumter. The engineer bureau at Washington, seconding
the suggestion, had obtained the approval of the Secretary of War, and
had issued the order to the storekeeper of the Charleston arsenal. But
when the matter was brought to the notice of Colonel Gardiner he
objected. He was unwilling that this expedient, of doubtful utility at
best, should serve as an excuse to the Secretary of War to refuse to
send him the substantial reenforcement of two regular companies and
fifty drilled recruits which he had requested.
[Sidenote] Foster to De Russy, Nov. 24, 1860. W.R. Vol. I., p. 77.
[Sidenote] Ibid., Dec. 2, 1860.
[Sidenote] Indorsement, Dec. 6 and 7. W.R. Vol. I., pp. 83, 84.
[Sidenote] Wright to Foster, Nov. 28, 1860. W.R. Vol. I., p. 78.
[Sidenote] Foster to De Russy, Dec. 2, 1860.
[Sidenote] Indorsement, Dec. 6 and 7.
It has already been stated how Colonel Gardiner, instead of obtaining
his reenforcements, lost his command, and as a consequence Captain
Foster's order for the forty muskets was duly put to slumber in a
pigeon-hole at the arsenal. When Major Anderson arrived and assumed
control he not only, as we have seen, repeated the demand for
additional troops, but recognizing at a glance the immense interests at
stake had himself renewed to Captain Foster the suggestion about arming
some engineer workmen. Captain Foster promptly made the application to
the department for permission, and soon after for arms. Permission came
in due course of mail; but by this time Secretary Floyd would issue no
order for the hundred muskets asked for.
[Sidenote] Foster to De Russy, Dec. 4, 1860, W.R. Vol. I., p. 85.
Nevertheless, the working party of thirty was quartered in Castle
Pinckney as quietly as possible, in order not to irritate the sensitive
Charlestonians, and the officers and overseers in the two forts were
instructed to sound and test the loyalty and trustworthiness of the
mechanics and laborers. Those in Sumter had been brought from
Baltimore, and in them Captain Foster placed his greatest hopes; but
they disappointed him. On December 3 his overseer informed him that
while they professed a willingness to resist a mob, they were
disinclined to fight any organized volunteer force, and he was
reluctantly compelled to abandon the scheme, at least as to Fort
Sumter. But he still clung to the hope that the thirty men sent to
Castle Pinckney, having been chosen with more care, might prove of some
service in the hour of need. He gave orders to his officers to resist
to the utmost any demands or attempts on the works, "Having done thus
much," he wrote to the department, "which is all I can do in this
respect, I feel that I have done my duty, and that if any overt act
takes place, no blame can properly attach to me. I regret, however,
that sufficient soldiers are not in this harbor to garrison these two
works. The Government will soon have to decide the question whether to
maintain them or to give them up to South Carolina. If it be decided to
maintain them, troops must instantly be sent and in large numbers."
Though neither Major Anderson nor Captain Foster could obtain any
official replies to distinct and vital questions involving the issue of
peace or war, a trivial episode soon furnished them a very broad hint
as to what the Secretary of War would ultimately do about the forts.
[Sidenote] Ibid., Dec. 20, 1860. W.R. Vol. I., p. 100.
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