In the execution of this trust it is our duty to furnish you, as we now do, with an official copy of the Ordinance of Secession, by which the State of South Carolina has resumed the powers she delegated to the Government of the United States, and has declared her perfect sovereignty and independence. It would also have been our duty to have informed you that we were ready to negotiate with you upon all such questions as are necessarily raised by the adoption of this Ordinance, and that we were prepared to enter upon this negotiation, with the earnest desire to avoid all unnecessary and hostile collision, and so to inaugurate our new relations as to secure mutual respect, general advantage, and a future of good will and harmony, beneficial to all the parties concerned. But the events of the last twenty-four hours render such an assurance impossible. We came here the representatives of an authority which could, at any time within the past sixty days, have taken possession of the forts in Charleston harbor, but which, upon pledges given in a manner that we cannot doubt, determined to trust to your honor rather than to its own power. Since our arrival here 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. Until these circumstances are explained in a man ner which relieves us of all doubt as to the spirit in which these negotiations shall be conducted, we are forced to suspend all discussion as to any arrangement by which our mutual interests may be amicably adjusted. 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 speedily to bring to a bloody issue questions which ought to be settled with temperance and judgment. We have the honor to be, Very respectfully, your obedient servants,
The President's reply.
Washington city, Dec. 30, 1860.gentlemen: I have had the honor to receive your communication of 28th inst., together with a copy of “your full powers from the Convention of the people of South Carolina,” authorizing you to treat with the Government of the United States, on various important subjects therein mentioned, and also a copy of the Ordinance, bearing date on the 20th inst., declaring that “the Union now subsisting between South Carolina and other States, under the name of the United States of America, is hereby dissolved.” In answer to this communication, I have to say that my position as President of the United States was clearly defined in the message to Congress, on the 3d inst. In that I stated that, “apart from the execution of the laws, so far as this may be practicable, the Executive has no authority to decide what shall be the relations between the Federal Government and South Carolina.” He has been invested with no such discretion. He possesses no power to change the relations hitherto existing between them, much less to acknowledge the independence of that State. This would be to invest a mere executive officer with the power of recognizing the dissolution of the Confederacy among our thirty-three sovereign States. It bears no resemblance to the recognition of a foreign de facto government — involving no such responsibility. Any attempt to do this would, on his part, be a naked act of usurpation. It is, therefore, my duty to submit to Congress the whole question in all its bearings. Such is my opinion still. I could, therefore, meet you only as private gentlemen of the highest character, and was entirely willing to communicate to Congress any proposition you might have to make to that body upon the subject. Of this you were well aware. It was my earnest desire that such a disposition might be made of the whole subject by Congress, who alone possess the power, as to prevent the inauguration of a civil war between the parties in regard to the possession of the Federal forts in the harbor of Charleston; and I, therefore, deeply regret that, in your opinion, “the events of the last twenty-four hours render this impossible.” In conclusion, you urge upon me “the immediate withdrawal of the troops from the harbor of Charleston,” stating that “under present circumstances they are a standing menace, which renders negotiation impossible, and, as our recent experience shows, threaten speedily to bring to a bloody issue questions which ought to be settled with temperance and judgment.” The reason for this change in your position is, that since your arrival in Washington, “an officer of the United States acting, as we (you) are assured, not only without, but against your (my) orders, has dismantled one fort and occupied another — thus altering to a most important extent the condition of affairs under which we (you) came.” You also allege that you came here “the representatives of an authority which could, at any time within the past sixty days, have taken possession of the forts in Charleston harbor, but which, upon pledges given in a manner that we (you) cannot doubt, determined to trust to your (my) honor rather than to its power.” This brings me to a consideration of the nature of those alleged pledges, and in what manner they have been observed. In my Message of the 3d of December last, I stated, in regard to the property of the United States in South Carolina, that it “has been purchased for a fair equivalent, by the consent of the Legislature of the State, for the erection of forts, magazines, arsenals, &c., 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.” This being the condition of the parties, on Saturday, 8th December, four of the Representatives from South Carolina, called upon me, and requested an interview. We had an earnest conversation on the subject of these forts, and the best means of preventing