There will be some typo errors due to copy and paste. My apologies.
I am adding some pages to the front end of this thread to show the Federal governemnts position on the issue of forts in Charleston harbor.
The forts in Charleston harbor-Conduct toward them and the reasons for it-To guard against surprise reënforcements ready-Instructions to Major Anderson-Interview with South Carolina members-General Scott again recommends the garrisoning of all the forts-Reasons against it-The compromise measures still depending--Want of troops-observation on General Scott's report to President Lincoln-His letter to Secretary Seward, and the manner in which it, with the report, was brought to light and published-Mr. Buchanan's reply to the report-General Scott's statement of the interview with President Buchanan on 15th December, and observations thereupon-The example of General Jackson in 1833, and why it was inapplicable.
IT is now necessary to recur to the condition of the forts and other public property of the United States within South Carolina, at the date of the President's annual message, on the 3d December, 1860. In regard to that property the message says "This has been purchased for a fair equivalent, by the consent of the Legislature of the State, for the 'erection of forts, magazines, arsenals,' and over these the authority 'to exercise exclusive legislation' has been expressly granted by the Constitution. to Congress. It is not believed that any attempt will be made to expel the United States from this property by force, but if in this I should prove to be mistaken, the officer in command of the forts has received orders to act strictly on the defensive. In such a contingency the responsibility for consequences would rightfully rest upon the heads of the assailants." Thus if war mast come, the President had determined to fix the whole responsibility for its commencement on South Carolina. In order to estimate correctly the wisdom of this defensive policy, it is necessary to revert to the condition of the country on the 3d December, 1860, when it was announced. At this period we
may divide the Southern States into three classes, holding opinions variant from each other.
1. There was South Carolina, which had been the avowed and persistent advocate of disunion for more than a quarter of a century. She had already called a Convention for he purpose of seceding from the Union. Her leading secessionists were ever on the alert to seize upon any action of the Federal Government which they might wrest to the purpose of alienating the other slaveholding States from their attachment to the Union, and enlisting them in her cause.
2. The second class was composed of the six other cotton States. The people of these, although highly excited against the abolitionists, were still unwilling to leave the Union. They would have been content, notwithstanding the efforts of secession demagogues, with a simple recognition of their adjudged rights to take slaves into the Territories, and hold them there like other property, until a territorial convention, assembled to frame a State constitution, should decide the question. To this decision, whatever it might be, they professed their willingness to submit. Indeed, as has already been seen from the statements of Messrs. Douglas and Toombs in the Senate, they would have consented to abandon their rights in all the Territories north of 36° 30', leaving what should remain to them little more than a name.
3. The third class consisted of the border slaveholding States, with Virginia at the head. A large majority of their people, although believing in the right of peaceful secession, had resisted all the efforts of the extreme men in their midst, and were still devoted to the Union. Of this there could be no better proof than the result of the election held in Virginia, February 4, 1861, for the choice of delegates to her State Convention, even after the cotton States had all seceded.* This showed that a very large majority of the delegates elected were in favor of remaining in the Union.
Under these circumstances, it is easy to imagine what would have been the effect on the other Southern States of sending a feeble force of United States troops to Fort Moultrie at this criti-
* Appleton's Annual Cyclopædia for 1861, p. 730.
cal conjuncture. had collision been the consequence, and blood been shed immediately before the meeting of Congress, the other cotton States, from their well-known affinities, would have rushed to the support of South Carolina. She would thus have accomplished her long-sought object. Indeed, it was the current report of the day that her leading disunionists had declared the spilling of a little blood would be necessary to secure the cooperation of other Southern States. Besides, in the President's opinion, there was no necessity, at the time, for any reënforcement to secure the forts in the harbor of Charleston. He was convinced that while the other slaveholding States were ready and willing to compromise with the North, South Carolina would not dare to attack Fort Moultrie. This conviction did not spring from any confidence in her spirit of forbearance; it arose from a certain knowledge that such an outrage would be condemned not only by the border but by the cotton States. It would estrange and separate them from her, at the very moment she was most solicitous to conciliate them. Whoever was in Washington at the time cannot fail to recollect the denunciations in advance of leading Southern men against such an unprovoked attack. The public property stood within her limits-three forts, a custom house, an arsenal, and a post office, covered by the flag of the country. From these she knew she had nothing to fear unless she should first make the attack. Such an outrage as the seizure of a fort of the United States by any State had never before been imagined. There must be a fearful suspense between the conception and the commission of such an act. It was the supreme object of the President to promote, by all the means in his power, such a fair and honorable adjustment between the North and the South as would save the country from the scourge of civil war. It was, therefore, his evident, policy to isolate South Carolina, as far as possible, from the other Southern States; and for this purpose to refrain from any act which might enable her to enlist them in her cause. If, after all, she should attack Fort Moultrie, this act would have met their universal condemnation. Besides, nothing short, of such an attack could have united the people of the North in suppressing her revolt. They were then far from being prepared for civil war.
On the contrary, they were intent on a peaceful solution of our difficulties, and would have censured any act of the administra- tion which might have defeated this purpose and precipitated them into hostilities. The true policy was that expressed by President Lincoln to the seceded cotton States in his inaugural months afterward, in which he informs them, "You can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors." Although the President believed (and this with good cause, as the event has shown), that under the existing circumstances, South Carolina would not attack any of the forts in the harbor of' Charleston whilst he suffered their status quo to remain; yet in this it was possible he might be mistaken. To guard against surprise after the secession of the State, which was then imminent, he had prepared an expedition as powerful as his limited means would afford, to send reënforcements to Major Anderson, at the first moment of danger. For this purpose the Secretary of the Navy had stationed the Brooklyn, a, powerful war steamer, then completely ready for sea, in Hampton Roads, to take on board for Charleston three hundred disciplined troops, with provisions and munitions of war, from the neighboring garrison of Fortress Monroe.
Having thus provided for the reënforcement of the forts, in case of need, the Secretary of War despatched Assistant Adjutant-General Buell to Major Anderson, at Fort Moultrie, with instructions how he should act in his present position. These were communicated to him on the 11th December, 1860. Whilst they instructed the Major to avoid every act of aggression, they directed him, in case of an attack upon, or an attempt to take possession of, any of the three forts under his command, to defend them to the last extremity. Furthermore, he was authorized, as a precautionary measure, should he believe his force insufficient for the defence of all three, to remove it at his discretion from Fort Moultrie to Fort Sumter, whenever he should have tangible evidence of a design, on the part of South Carolina, to proceed to a hostile act. We say to Fort Sumter, because the third fort, Castle Pinckney, was wholly indefensble. From the important bearing of these instructions upon subsequent events, they are entitled to textual insertion. They
are as follows: "You are aware of the great anxiety of the Secretary of War, that a collision of the troops with the people of the 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. 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."
The President having observed that Major Buell, in reducing to writing at Fort Moultrie the instructions he had verbally received, required Major Anderson, in case of attack, to defend himself to the last extremity, immediately caused the Secretary of War to modify this instruction. This extreme was not required by any principle of military honor or by any rule of war. It was sufficient for him to defend himself until no reasonable hope should remain of saving the fort. The instructions
____________________ ★ Ex. Doc., H. R., vol. vi., No. 26, p. 10.
Publication Information: Book Title: Mr. Buchanan's Administration on the Eve of the Rebellion. Contributors: James Buchanan - author. Publisher: D. Appleton. Place of Publication: New York. Publication Year: 1866. Page Number: 166.
Edited Thu Aug 07 2014, 02:16PM
were accordingly so modified, with the approbation of General Scott.
The President having determined not to disturb the status quo at Charleston, as long as our troops should continue to be hospitably treated by the inhabitants, and remain in unmolested possession of the forts, was gratified to learn, a short time thereafter, that South Carolina was equally intent on preserving the peace. On the 8th December, 1860, four of the Representatives in Congress from that State sought an interview, and held a conversation with him concerning the best means of avoiding a hostile collision between the parties. In order to guard against any misapprehension on either side, he suggested that they had best reduce their verbal communication to writing, and bring it to him in that form. Accordingly, on the 10th December, they delivered to him a note, dated on the previous day, and signed by five members, in which they say: "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 the Federal Government, provided that no reënforcements be sent into these forts, and their relative military status shall remain as at present." ★ Both in this and in their previous conversation, they declared that in making this statement, they were acting solely on their own responsibility, and expressly disclaimed any authority to bind their State. They, nevertheless, expressed the confident belief that they would be sustained both by the State authorities and by the Convention, after it should assemble. Although the President considered this declaration as nothing more than the act of five highly respectable members of the House from South Carolina, yet he welcomed it as a happy omen, that by means of their influence collision might be prevented, and time afforded to all parties for reflection and for a peaceable ____________________
★ Ex. Doc., H. R., vol. vi., No. 96, p. 9,&c
adjustment. From abundant caution, however, he objected to the word "provided" in their statement, lest, if he should accept it without remark, this might possibly be construed into an agreement on his part not to reënforce the forts. Such an agreement, he informed them, he would never make. It would be impossible for him, from the nature of his official responsibility, thus to tie his own hands and restrain his own freedom of action. Still, they might have observed from his message, that he had no present design, under existing circumstances, to change the condition of the forts at Charleston. He must, notwithstanding, be left entirely free to exercise his own discretion, according to exigencies as they might arise. They replied that nothing was further from their intention than such a construction of this word; they did not so understand it, and he should not so consider it.
It was at this moment, on the 15th December, 1860, after the President's policy had been fixed and announced in his annual message; after the "Brooklyn" had been made ready to go to the relief of Major Anderson in case of need; after he had received instructions in accordance with this policy; after the President's pacific interview with the South Carolina members, and before any action had yet been taken on the first Crittenden Compromise, that General Scott deemed it proper to renew his former recommendation to garrison the nine Southern fortifications. This appears from his report to President Lincoln, of the 30th March, 1861, entitled "Southern Forts; a Summary," &c., of which we shall often hereafter have occasion to speak. It is scarcely a lack of charity to infer that General Scott knew at the time when he made this recommendation (on the 15th December) that it must be rejected. The President could not have complied with it, the position of affairs still remaining unchanged, without at once reversing his entire policy, and without a degree of inconsistency amounting almost to self-stultification. The Senators from the cotton States and from Virginia, where these forts are situated, were still occupied with their brother Senators in devising measures of peace and conciliation. For this patriotic purpose the Committee of Thir- teen were about to be appointed, and they remained in session
Publication Information: Book Title: Mr. Buchanan's Administration on the Eve of the Rebellion. Contributors: James Buchanan - author. Publisher: D. Appleton. Place of Publication: New York. Publication Year: 1866. Page Number: 168.
(To this point we see the instructions to Maj. Anderson and the representatives of South Carolina agreeing to this arrangement and declaring that there will be no hostile action against Anderson and his men.)
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until the last day of the month. Meanwhile all the Southern Senators in Congress professed their willingness to adopt the Crittenden Compromise, so much and so justly lauded afterwards by General Scott himself. If at this moment, whilst they were engaged in peaceful consultation with Senators from the North, the President had despatched military expeditions to these nine forts, it was easy to foresee what would be the disastrous effect, not only in the cotton, but in all the border States. Its first effect would have been to dissolve the existing conferences for a peaceable adjustment.
This, the General's second recommendation, was wholly unexpected. He had remained silent for more than six weeks from the date of his supplemental "Views," convinced, as the President inferred, that he had abandoned the idea of garrisoning all these forts with "the five companies only" within his reach. Had the President never so earnestly desired to reënforce the nine forts in question, at this time, it would have been little short of madness to undertake the task, with the small force at his command. Without authority to call forth the militia or accept the services of volunteers for the purpose, this whole force now consisted of six hundred recruits, obtained by the General since the date of his "Views," in addition to the five regular companies.
Our army was still out of reach on the remote frontiers, and could not be withdrawn, during midwinter, in time for this military operation. Indeed, the General had never suggested such a withdrawal. He knew that had this been possible, the, inhabitants on our distant frontiers would have been immediately exposed to the tomahawk and scalping knife of the Indians. Our weak condition in regard to troops within reach is demonstrated by the insignificant number of these he was able to collect in Washington on the 4th March following. This was to resist an attempt which he apprehended would be made by an armed force to prevent the inauguration of President Lincoln and to seize the public property. The General was so firmly convinced of the reality of this plot, that nothing could shake his faith. It was in vain that a committee of the House of Representatives, after hearing the General himself, and after full investigation, had reported, that his apprehensions were unfounded. Besides, the
____________________ February 14, 1861. House Reports of Committees, vol. ii., No. 79.
President, relying on his own sources of information, had never entertained any similar apprehensions. The stake, notwithstanding, was so vast and the General so urgent, that he granted him permission to bring to Washington all the troops he could muster to resist an imaginary but dreaded enemy. The whole number of these, including even the sappers and miners whom he had withdrawn from West Point, amounted to no more than six hundred and fifty-three, rank and file. These troops, with a portion of the district militia, the General had posted in different parts of the city, and had stationed sentinels on the tops of the highest houses and other eminences, so that all was ready to attack the enemy at the first moment of their appearance; but never did an inauguration pass more peacefully and quietly. It is due to President Lincoln to state, that throughout his long progress in the same carriage with the late President, both on the way' to the Capitol and the return from it, he was far from evincing the slightest apprehension of danger.
Had the President attempted to distribute the General's thousand men, as he proposed, among the numerous forts in the cotton States, as well as Fortress Monroe, their absurd inadequacy to the object would have exhibited weakness instead of strength. It would have provoked instead of preventing collision. It would have precipitated a civil war with the cotton States without the slightest preparation on the part of Congress, and would at once have destroyed the then prevailing hopes of compromise. Worse than all, it would have exasperated Virginia and the other border States, then so intent on remaining in the Union, and might have driven them at once into hostile action.
And now it becomes our painful duty to examine the report of General Scott to President Lincoln of 30th March, 1861. This was first published at the General's instance, eighteen months after its date, in the " National Intelligencer" of the 21st October, 1862. It cannot be denied that the report throughout is an indiscriminate censure of President Buchanan's conduct in dealing with the Southern forts. It evidently proceeded from a defective memory prejudiced by a strong bias. It rests mainly on vague and confused recollections of private conversations alleged to have been held with the President several months
(In the pages posted to date, it is clear that the states in secession wanted peace as much or more than anyone. Looks like Scott wanted a war more than Buchanan. This is only the beginning of what caused the war.)
before its date. These having occurred between the commander- in-chief and the commanding General of the army, on important military questions, pertaining to their respective official duties, were, in their nature, strictly confidential. Were this otherwise, it would destroy that freedom and unreserve which ought to characterize such consultations, and instead thereof; the parties would be ever on their guard in the interchange of opinions, often greatly to the prejudice of the public interest. Had the General resolved to violate a confidence as sacred as that between the President and a member of his Cabinet, such is the treachery of the best human memory, he ought, at the least, to have submitted his statements to Mr. Buchanan before he had embodied them in his report. Had he done this, we venture to say from the sequel that most of them would have never seen the light.
When President Buchanan retired from office, he had reason to believe he had parted from the General on terms mutually amicable. Although in former years their friendly intercourse had been for a season interrupted, yet he believed all this had been forgotten. A suspicion never entered his mind that the General held in reserve a quiver of arrows to assail his public character upon his retirement from office.
This report does not allege that it had been made in consequence of a call from President Lincoln. From its face it appears to have been a pure volunteer offering on the part of the General. It deals with the past and not with the future. It is remarkable that it does not contain a word of advice to President Lincoln, such as might have been expected from the commanding General, as to the manner of recovering the forts which before its date had been already seized by the Confederates. On the contrary, it reveals the strange fact that the General, so late as the 12th March, and after the so-called Confederate Government of the cotton States was in full operation at Montgomery, had advised President Lincoln to evacuate Fort Sumter, and this in direct opposition to what had been the well-known and oft- expressed determination of Mr. Buchanan. We need scarcely remark that President Lincoln acted wisely in disregarding this counsel. It was founded on an alleged military necessity. Had the fort been actually invested by a hostile force so superior as
172-- to render resistance hopeless, this would have justified a capitulation in order to save a useless sacrifice of life. Its voluntary abandonment, however, to the Confederacy, would have gone far toward a recognition of their independence.
The General, in this report, would have President Lincoln believe, on the authority of a Richmond newspaper, that "had Scott been able to have got these forts in the condition he desired them to be, the Southern Confederacy would not now exist." Strange hallucination! In plain English, that South Carolina, which throughout an entire generation had determined on disunion, and had actually passed an ordinance of secession to carry this purpose into effect, and the remaining six powerful cotton States ready to follow her evil example, unless their adjudged rights should be recognized by Congress, and which together have since sent into the field such numerous and powerful armies, would at once have been terrified into submission by the distribution of four hundred troops in October, or one thousand in December, among their numerous fortifications!
Very different must have been his opinion on the 3d March following, when he penned his famous letter to Secretary Seward. In this he exclaims: "Conquer the seceded [cotton] States by invading armies. No doubt this might be done in two or three years by a young and able general--a Wolfe, a Dessaix, a Hoche, with three hundred thousand disciplined men, estimating a third for garrisons, and the loss of a yet greater number by skirmishes, sieges, battles and Southern fevers. The destruction of life and property on the other side would be frightful, however perfect the moral discipline of the invaders. The conquest completed, at that enormous waste of human life to the North and the Northwest, with at least $250,000,000 added thereto, and cui bono? Fifteen devastated provinces! not to be brought into harmony with their conquerors, but to be held for generations by heavy garrisons, at an expense quadruple the net duties or taxes it would be possible to extort from them, followed by a protector or an emperor." In view of these fearful forebodings, we are not surprised that he should have despaired of the Union, and been willing to say to the cotton States, "Wayward sisters, depart in peace." Nor that he should have fallen back
on his opinion expressed in the "Views" ( 29th October, 1860), that "a smaller evil [than such a civil war] would be to allow the fragments of the great Republic to form themselves into now Confederacies."
The General, however, in the same letter to Secretary Seward, presents his alternative for all these evils. He advises Mr. Lincoln's administration "to throw off the old and assume a new designation--the Union party; adopt the conciliatory measures proposed by Mr. Crittenden, or the Peace Convention, and my life upon it, we shall have no new case of secession, but, oil the contrary, an early return of many if not all of the States which have already broken off from the Union. Without some equally benign measure, the remaining slaveholding States will probably join the Montgomery Confederacy in less than sixty days, when this city, being included in a foreign country, would require a permanent garrison of at least thirty-five thousand troops." His advice to adopt the Crittenden Compromise would have been excellent had it been given to his Republican friends in Congress in the previous December, before any State had seceded, and before any fort had been seized, instead of then recommending to President Buchanan to dispatch small bands of United States soldiers to each of the forts. This recommendation, had it been followed at the time, would at once have defeated this very Crittenden Compromise, so much desired, and served only to provoke the cotton States into secession. It would have been the stone of Cadmus cast among the armed men sprung from the dragon's teeth, and the signal for immediate fratricidal war and mutual destruction. The advice to President Lincoln was out of season, after both the Crittenden Compromise and the measures proposed by the Peace Convenetion had been finally rejected by Congress, and whilst the Confederacy of the cotton States was in active existence.
Before we proceed to analyze in further detail the General's report, it is curious to note the reason for its publication. This was a consequence of the publication of his letter to Secretary Seward, which was in its very nature confidential. At this period, in October, 1862, when the rebellion had assumed a formidable aspect, and when his sinister predictions appeared to
be in the course of fulfilment, he read the original draft, in his own handwriting, to a friend. This gentleman, whilst extolling the far-seeing sagacity and the prophetic spirit it displayed, begged for the draft as an invaluable keepsake. This appeal to the General proved irresistible. The manuscript was delivered to the friend, who soon thereafter read it, amid great applause, at a public meeting in the city of New, York, and whilst a highly excited political canvass was depending for the office of Governor. The letter thus published, implying a direct censure on President Lincoln for not having followed the advice it had given, created no little astonishment, because of the prevalent belief at the time, that the General was under many obligations to the administration for liberal and indulgent treatment in the face of discomfiture and defeat. The letter having thus been first published by his friend, it was soon thereafter republished in the "National Intelligencer," of the 21st October, 1862, under the General's own authority, and in addition, a copy of his report to President Lincoln. Why he thus connected these two documents, so distinct and even opposite in character, it would be difficult to decide. It has been conjectured he may have thought that the censure of Mr. Buchananin the report might prove an antidote to that against Mr. Lincoln in the Seward letter. Whatever may have caused the publication of this report, Mr. Buchanan has cause to rejoice that it was brought to light during his lifetime. It might, otherwise, have slumbered on the secret files of the Executive Department until after his death, and then been revealed to posterity as authentic history. And here it is proper to mention, that a few days after the publication of the report, Mr. Buchanan replied to it in a letter published in the "National Intelligencer," of the 1st November, 1862. This gave rise to a correspondence between himself and General Scott, which, on both sides, was formally addressed to the editors of that journal, and was published by them in successive numbers. This continued throughout the autumn. It might at first be supposed that the errors in the report had been sufficiently exposed in the course of this correspondence; but in the present historical sketch of President Buchanan's conduct, it is impossible to pass over the strictures
made upon it by General Scott. The two are inseparably joined together.
The General, in his report, prefaces the statement of his conversation with President Buchanan, by saying, that on the 13th December he had "personally urged upon the Secretary of War the same 'views' [those of the previous October], viz., strong garrisons in the Southern forts; those of Charleston and Pensa cola harbors at once; those on Mobile Bay and the Mississippi below New Orleans, next, &c., &c. I again pointed out the organized companies, and the  recruits at the principal depots available for the purpose. The Secretary did not concur in my views." This, indeed, he could not have done so early as the 13th December, without placing himself in direct opposition to the well-defined policy of the President. An interview was, therefore, appointed for the 15th December, between the President and the General. "By appointment," says the General, "the Secretary accompanied me to the President, December 15th, when the same topics, secessionism, &c., were again pretty fully discussed." He does not furnish the President's answer to the proposition to send strong garrisons to the Southern forts. This must unquestionably have referred to the topics of which his mind was then full, viz., the promising aspect of compromise at the moment; the certain effect of such a measure in defeating it; the inadequacy of the force at command for so extended an operation.; and the policy which had been laid down in his anuual message. Not a word of all this. But the General's memory seems to have improved with the lapse of years and the progress of the rebellion. In his report to President Lincoln, he speaks of but one conversation with President Buchanan, that of the 15th December, whilst in his letter of the 8th November, 1862, to the "National Intelligencer," a portion of the correspondence to which we have referred, he alleges he had, on the 28th and 30th of the same December, repeated the recommendation to garrison all the Southern forts. In this statement, if material, it would be easy to prove he was mistaken. Indeed, President Buchanan has in his possession a note from the General himself, dated on Sunday, 30th December, stating that by indisposition he was confined to the house
on that day, and could not therefore call upon him. Of this hereafter.
According to the report, he merely mentions in general terms the recruits he had obtained for the expedition, without allotting them. among the several forts. According to the letter, he informed President Buchanan that the number of recruits at New York and Carlisle barracks was about six hundred, "besides the five companies of regulars near at hand, making about one thousand men." And he also stated how would distribute them among the several forts. In this distribution he left only "about two hundred men for the twin forts of Moultrie and Sumter, Charleston harbor." He also declared in this letter, that "he considered the force quite adequate to the occasion." But, as if rendered conscious of its inadequacy by the logic of events, he alleges that President Buchanan"might have called forth volunteers to garrison these forts, without any special legislation," and this, too, "with the full approbation of every loyal man in the Union." That is, that on the 15th December, 1860, before any State had seceded, he might without law have usurped this authority, when the law-making power was actually in session and had made no movement to grant it, and when all were intent, not on war, but on measures of compromise. In this letter he charges the Secretary of War, "with or without the President's approbation," with "having nearly denuded our whole eastern seaboard of troops." In doing this, he must surely have forgotten that he himself had eloquently urged that all the force on the frontiers was not sufficient for the protection of our distant fellow-citizens, and had therefore advocated the raising of an additional force by Congress for this very purpose.
It would seem from the report that the President confined his observations at their interview exclusively to the reënforce- ment of the forts in Charleston harbor, for which General Scott, according to his own statement, in the letter to the " National Intelligencer," could spare but two hundred men, the remaining eight hundred being required for the, other fortifications. The President having expressed the opinion, according to the report, "that there was at the moment no danger of an early secession
-176- Mr. Buchanan's Administration on the Eve of the Rebellion.
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beyond South Carolina," he proceeded to state, "in reply to my [ General Scott's] arguments for immediately reënforcing Fort Moultrie, and sending a garrison to Fort Sumter," that "the time has not arrived for doing so; that he should wait the action of the Convention of South Carolina, in the expectation that a commission would be appointed and sent to negotiate with him and Congress, respecting the secession of the State and the property of the United States held within its limits; and that if Congress should decide against the secession, then he would send a reënforcement, and telegraph the commanding officer ( Major Anderson) of Fort Moultrie to hold the forts (Moultrie and Sumter) against attack."
Now it is probable that in the course of this conversation, the President may have referred to the rumor then current, that the South Carolina Convention intended to send commissioners to Washington to treat with the Government, but it is quite impossible he could have stated that the reënforcement of the forts should await the result of their mission. Why? Because the Brooklyn, had been for some time ready to proceed to Fort Moultrie, dependent on no other contingency than that of its attack or danger of attack. Least of all was it possible the President could have said that if Congress should decide against secession, he would then telegraph to Major Anderson "to hold the forts (Moultrie and Sumter) against attack," when instructions of a similar but stronger character had already been sent and, delivered to him, and were of record in the War Department. It is strange that the President should, according to the General, have made any future action in regard to these forts dependent upon his own decision, or that of Congress, on the question of secession, when he had in his annual message, but a few days before, condemned the doctrine as unconstitutional, and he well knew it would be equally condemned by Congress.
It is curious to note a trait of the fault-finding temper of the General in this conversation. In it he makes the Secretary of War observe, "with animation,"" We have a vessel of war (the Brooklyn) held in readiness at Norfolk, and he would then send three hundred men in her from Fort Mouroe to Charleston;" but the General objected to this arrangement, saying in answer,
"that so many men could not be withdrawn from that garrison, but could be taken from New York," &c., &c. In this report to President Lincoln the General exultingly declares, "that if the Secretary's three hundred men had then (on the 15th December), or some time later, been sent to Forts Moultrie and Sumter, both would now have been in the possession of the United States," &c. And again, "It would have been easy to reenforce this fort (Sumter) down to about the 12th February." In making these declarations, he must surely have forgotten not only his own objection to sending these very "three hundred men" from Fortress Monroe, but also the fate of the Star of the West, in the early part of January, with his recruits from New York, which had been substituted under his advice and direction for the Brooklyn.
The reader must have observed that we speak argumentatively and doubtingly of the General's statement of this conversation. We do this simply because President Buchanan, although a party to it, has no recollection whatever of its particulars. The reason doubtless is, that, believing General Scott to have been aware before the interview that the President would not violate his announced policy by sending one thousand men to all the Southern forts, or two hundred to those in Charleston harbor, he must have considered this renewed recommendation rather a matter of form, springing from a motive which he will not attempt to conjecture, than any thing more serious. But whatever may have been the cause of his want of memory, the fact is certainly true. He sincerely wishes it were otherwise.
We may observe generally in regard to this report, that the attempt, at the end of more than three months, filled with the most important and stirring events, to write out charges against President Buchanan, must almost necessarily do him injustice. Fairly to accomplish such a task, the writer ought to have tested his own recollection by a reference to dates and official documents within his reach. Not having done this, the report is confused throughout, sometimes blending in the same sentence occurrences of distinct date and opposite nature. When these come to be unravelled, it will appear in the sequel that they are often contradicted by official and other unimpeachable testimony.
And here it is due to General Scott to mention, that on the evening of their interview (15th December), he addressed a note to President Buchanan, reminding him that General Jackson, during the period of South Carolina nullification, had sent reënforcements to Fort Moultrie to prevent its seizure by the nullifiers and to enforce the collection of the revenue. This example was doubtless suggested for imitation. But the times had greatly changed during more than a quarter of a century which had since elapsed. In 1833 South Carolina stood alone. She had then the sympathy of no other Southern State. Her nullification was condemned by them all. Even her own people were almost equally divided on the question. But instead of this, in December, 1860, they were unanimous, and the other cotton States were preparing to follow her into secession, should their rights in the Territories be denied by Congress. Besides, the President had already declared his purpose to collect the revenue by the employment of vessels of war stationed outside of the port of Charleston, whenever its collection at the custom house should be resisted. He hoped thereby to avoid actual collision; but, whether or not, he had resolved at every hazard to collect the revenue. Such was the state of affairs on the 15th December, 1860. Meanwhile the forts and all other public property were unmolested, and Major Anderson and his troops continued to be supplied and treated in the kindest manner.-
(Taxes still playing a large part of the issue. Anderson and troops were drawing supplies from CHarleston at this time. )
Edited Thu May 07 2015, 02:28PM
ON the 20th December, 1860, the South Carolina Convention adopted an ordinance of secession, and on the 22d appointed three of their most distinguished citizens to proceed forthwith to Washington to treat with the Government of the United States concerning the relations between the parties. These were Robert W. Barnwell, James H. Adams, and James L. Orr. They arrived in Washington on Wednesday, the 26th December. On the next morning they received intelligence by telegraph that Major Anderson had, on Christmas night, secretly dismantled Fort Moultrie; had spiked his cannon, had burnt his gun-carriages, and had removed with his troops to Fort Sumter, as if from an impending attack.This information they sent to the President. He received it with astonishment and regret. With astonishment, because he had believed Major Anderson to be in security at Fort Moultrie; and this more
especially whilst the commissioners appointed but three days before were on their way to Washington. With regret, because this movement would probaly impel the other cotton and border States into active sympathy with South Carolina, and thereby defeat the measures of compromise still before the Com- mittee of Thirteen of the Senate, from which he had hoped to confine secession to that State alone. The President never doubted for a moment that Major Anderson believed before the movement that lie had "the tangible evidence" of an impending attack required by his instructions. Still it was difficult to imagine that South Carolina would be guilty of the base perfidy of attacking any of these forts during the pendency of her mission to Washington, for the avowed purpose of preserving the peace and preventing collision. Such treacherous conduct would have been considered infamous among all her sister States. She has always strenuously denied that such was her intention.
In this state of suspense the President determined to await official information from Major Andersion himself. After its receipt, should he be convinced upon full examination that the Major, on a false alarm, had violated his instructions, he might then think seriously of restoring for the present the former status quo of the forts. This, however, was soon after known to be impossible, in consequence of the violent conduct of South Carolina in seizing all the other forts and public property in the harbor and city of Charleston.
It was under these circumstances that the President, on Friday, the 28th December, held his first and only interview with the commissioners from South Carolina. He determined to listen with patience to what they had to communicate, taking as little part himself in the conversation as civility would permit. On their introduction he stated that he could recognize them only as private gentlemen and not as commissioners from a sovereign State; that it was to Congress, and to Congress alone, they must appeal. He, nevertheless, expressed his willingness to communicate to that body, as the only competent tribunal, any propositions they might have to offer. They then proceeded, evidently under much excitement, to state their grievances arising, out of the removal of Major Anderson to Fort Sumter,
(Anderson brings war to the United States.)
Edited Thu May 07 2015, 02:31PM
In their letter to the President of the next day, they repeat this demand, saying: ★ "And, in conclusion, we would urge upon you the immediate withdrawal of the troops from the harbor of Charleston. Under present circumstances they are a standing menace which renders negotiation impossible, and, as our recent experience shows, threatens to bring to a bloody issue questions which ought to be settled with temperance and Judgment."
This demand, accompanied by an unmistakable threat of attacking Major Anderson if not yielded, was of the most extravagant character. To comply with it, the commissioners must have known, would be impossible. Had they simply requested that Major Anderson might be restored to his former position at Fort Moultrie, upon a guarantee from the State that neither it nor the other forts or public property should be molested; this, at the moment, might have been worthy of serious consideration. But to abandon all these forts to South Carolina, on the demand of commissioners claiming to represent her as an independent State, would have been a recognition, on the part of the Executive, of her right to secede from the Union. This was not to be thought of for a moment.
The President replied to the letter of the commissioners on Monday, 31st December. In the mean time information had reached him that the State authorities, without waiting to hear from Washington, had, on the day after Major. Anderon's removal, seized Fort Moultrie, Castle Pinckney, the custom house, and post office, and over them all had raised the Palmetto flag; and moreover, that every officer of the customs, collector, naval officer, surveyor, appraisers, together with the postmaster, had resigned their appointments; and that on Sunday, the 30th December, they had captured from Major Humphreys,
____________________ ★ Ex. Doc., H. R., vol. vi., No. 26, p. 6.
the officer in charge, the arsenal of the United States, containing public property estimated to be worth half a million of dollars. The Government was thus expelled from all its property except Fort Sumter, and no Federal officers, whether civil or military, remained in the city or harbor of Charleston. The secession leaders in Congress attempted to justify these violent proceedings of South Carolina as acts of self-defence, on the assumption that Major Anderson had already commenced hostilities. It is certain that their tone instantly changed after his removal; and they urged its secrecy, the hour of the night when it was made, the destruction of his gun-carriages, and other at- tendant incidents, to inflame the passions of their followers. It was under these circumstances that the President was called upon to reply to the letter of the South Carolina commissioners, demanding the immediate withdrawal of the troops of the United States from the harbor of Charleston. In this reply he peremptorily rejected the demand in firm but courteous terms, and de-clared his purpose to defend Fort Sumter by all the means in his power against hostile attacks, from whatever quarter they might proceed. (Vide his letter of the 31st December, 1860, Ex. Doc. No. 26, H. R., 36th Congress, 2d Session, accompanying Presi- dent's message of 8th January, 1861.)
To this the commissioners sent their answer, dated on the 2d January, 1861. This was so violent, unfounded, and disrespectful, and so regardless of what is due to any individual whom the people have honored with the office of President, that the reading of it in the Cabinet excited indignation among all the members. With their unanimous approbation it was immediately, on the day of its date, returned to the commissioners with the following indorsement: "This paper, just presented to the President, is of such a character that he declines to receive it."
Surely no negotiation was ever conducted in such a manner, unless, indeed, it had been the predetermined purpose of the negotiators to produce an open and immediate rupture.
It may be asked, why did the President, at his interview with the South Carolina commissioners, on the 28th December, offer to lay the propositions they had to make before Congress, when he must have been morally certain they would not meet a favorable
response? This was to gain time for passion to subside, and for reason to resume her sway; to bring the whole subject before the representatives of the people in such a manner as to cause them to express an authoritative opinion on secession, and the other dangerous questions then before the country, and adopt such measures for their peaceable adjustment as might possibly reclaim even South Carolina herself; but whether or not, might prevent the other cotton States from following her evil and rash example.
The insulting letter of the commissioners, which had been returned to them, was notwithstanding presented to the Senate by Mr. Jefferson Davis, immediately after the reading of the President's special message of the 8th January; and such was the temper of that body at the time, that it was received and read, and entered upon their journal. Mr. Davis, not content with this success, followed it up by a severe and unjust attack against the President, and his example was followed by several of his adherents. From this time forward, as has been already stated, all social and political intercourse ceased between the disunion Senators and the President.
It is worth notice, that whilst this letter of the commissioners was published at length in the "Congressional Globe," among the proceedings of the Senate, their previous letter to the President of the 28th December, and his answer thereto of the 31st, were never published in this so-called official register, although copies of both had accompanied his special message. By this means the offensive letter was scattered broadcast over the country, whilst the letter of the President, to which this professed to be an answer, was buried in one of the numerous and long after published volumes of executive documents.
It is proper to advert to the allegation of the commissioners, in their letter of the 28th December, that the removal of Major Anderson to Fort Sumter was made in violation of pledges given by the President. They also say that "since our arrival an officer of the United States, acting, as we are assured, not only without but against your orders, has dismantled one fort and occupied another, thus altering to a most important extent
the condition of affairs under which we came." As to the alleged pledge, we have already shown that no such thing existed. It has never been pretended that it rests upon any pretext except the note of the 9th December, delivered to the President by the South Carolina members of Congress, and what occurred on that occasion. All this has been already stated. But if additional evidence were wanting to refute the assertion of a pledge, this might be found in the statement published afterwards in Charleston by two of their number (Messrs. Miles and Keitt), ★ who, in giving an account of this interview, do not pretend or even intimate that any thing passed even in their opinion on either side in the nature of a pledge. By what officer, then, was the assurance given to the commissioners since their arrival in Washington, that Major Anderson had acted not only without but against the President's order? It was none other than the Secretary of War himself, notwithstanding it was in obedience to his own instructions but a few days before that the removal was made from Fort Moultrie to Fort Sumter. This appears from the letter of Major Anderson to the War Department of the 27th December, the day after his removal, which unfortunately did not arrive in Washington until some days after its date. In this he says: "I will add that many things convinced me that the authorities of the State designed to proceed to a hostile act" (against Fort Moultrie), the very contingency on which the Secretary had not only authorized but directed the Major to remove his troops to Fort Sumter, should he deem this a position of greater security. These instructions were in a certain sense peculiarly his own. They were prepared and transmitted to Major Anderson by himself. Throughout they do not mention the name of the President, though in the main they expressed his views.
We can refer to a probable cause for this strange conduct on the part of the Secretary. This was, that three days before the South Carolina commissioners reached Washington, the President had communicated to him (23d December), through a distinguished friend and kinsman of his own, a request that he should resign his office, with a statement of the reason why this
____________________ ★ Appleton "American Annual Cyclopædia" for 1861, p. 703.
was made. When he heard this request he displayed much feeling, but said he would comply with the President's wishes. It is proper to state the reason for this request. On the night before it was made (22d December), the fact was first made known to the President that 870 State bonds for $1,000 each, held in trust by the Government for different Indian tribes, had been purloined from the Interior Department by Godard Bailey, the clerk in charge of them, and had been delivered to William H. Russell, a member of the firm of "Russell, Majors & Waddell." Upon examination, it was discovered that this clerk, in lieu of the bonds abstracted, had from time to time received bills of corresponding amount from Russell, drawn by the firm on John B. Floyd, Secretary of War, and by him. accepted and indorsed, and this without any lawful authority. In consequence there was found in the safe where the Indian bonds had been kept, a number of these accepted bills, exactly equal in amount to $870,000. These acceptances were thirteen in number, commencing on the 13th September, 1860, and had been received by Mr. Bailey, according to his own statement, "as collateral security for the return of the bonds," and as such had been placed by him in the safe. It is remarkable that the last of them, dated on the 13th December, 1860, for $135,000, had been drawn for the precise sum necessary to make the aggregate amount of the whole number of bills exactly equal to that of the abstracted bonds.
And here it is due to Secretary Thompson to state, though a digression, that on Monday morning, the 24th December, at his own instance, the House of Representatives appointed a committee "to investigate and report upon the subject," of which Hon. Mr. Morris, of Illinois, a rancorous opponent of the administration, was the chairman. After a full investigation, the committee made their report on the 12th February, 1861. ★ In this they state: "They deem it but justice to add that they have discovered nothing to involve the late Secretary, Hon. Jacob Thompson, in the slightest degree in the fraud, and nothing to indicate that he had any complicity in the transaction, or that he had any knowledge of it until the time of the disclosure by
____________________ ★ Report of Committee, H. R., 1860-'61, vol. ii., No. 78, p. 3.