Second letter of the Commissioners to the President.
Washington, D. C., Jan. 1, 1861.Sir: We have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 30th December, in reply to a note addressed by us to you, on the 28th of the same month, as Commissioners from South Carolina. In reference to the declaration with which your reply commences, that your “position as President of the United States was already defined in the message to Congress of the 3d instant;” that you possess “no power to change the relations heretofore existing between South Carolina and the United States,” “much less to acknowledge the independence of that State,” and that consequently you could meet us only as private gentlemen of the highest character, with an entire willingness to communicate to Congress any proposition we might have to make — we deem it only necessary to say that the State of South Carolina having, in the exercise of that great right of self-government which underlies all our political organizations, declared herself sovereign and independent, we, as her representatives, felt no special solicitude as to the character in which you might recognize us. Satisfied that the State had simply exercised her unquestionable right, we were prepared, in order to reach substantial good, to waive the formal considerations which your constitutional scruples might have prevented you from extending. We came here therefore expecting to be received as you did receive us, and perfectly content with that entire willingness, of which you assured us, to submit any proposition to Congress which we might have to make upon the subject of the independence of the State. The willingness was ample recognition of the condition of public affairs, which rendered our presence necessary. In this position, however, it is our duty both to the State which we represent and to ourselves, to correct several important misconceptions of our letter, into which you have fallen. You say: “It was my earnest desire that such a disposition might be made of the whole subject by Congress, who alone possess the power, 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.” We expressed no such opinion; and the language which you quote as ours, is altered in its sense by the omission of a most important part of the sentence. What we did say was, “But the events of the last twenty-four hours render such an assurance impossible.” Place that “assurance,” as contained in our letter, in the sentence, and we are prepared to repeat it. Again, professing to quote our language, you say: “Thus the authorities of South Carolina, without waiting or asking for any explanation, and doubtless believing, as you have expressed it, that the officer had acted not only without but against my orders,” &c. We expressed no such opinion in reference to the belief of the people of South Carolina. The language which you have quoted was applied solely and entirely to our assurances obtained here, and based, as you well know, upon your own declaration — a declaration which, at that time, it was impossible for the authorities of South Carolina to have known. But, without following this letter into all its details, we propose only to meet the chief points of the argument. Some weeks ago the State of South Carolina declared her intention, in the existing condition of public affairs, to secede from the United States. She called a Convention of her people to put her declaration in force. The Convention met and passed the Ordinance of Secession. All this you anticipated, and your course of action was thoroughly considered in your Annual Message. You declared you had no right, and would not attempt, to coerce a seceding State, but that you were bound by your constitutional oath, and would defend the property of the United States within the  borders of South Carolina if an attempt was made to take it by force. Seeing very early that this question of property was a difficult and delicate one, you manifested a desire to settle it without collision. You did not reinforce the garrison in the harbor of Charleston. You removed a distinguished and veteran officer from the command of Fort Moultrie because he attempted to increase his supply of ammunition. You refused to send additional troops to the same garrison when applied for by the officer appointed to succeed him. You accepted the resignation of the oldest and most eminent member of your Cabinet, rather than allow the garrison to be strengthened. You compelled an officer stationed at Fort Sumter to return immediately to the arsenal forty muskets which he had taken to arm his men. You expressed not to one, but to many. of the most distinguished of our public characters, whose testimony will be placed upon the record whenever it is necessary, your anxiety for a peaceful termination of this controversy, and your willingness not to disturb the military status of the forts, if Commissioners should be sent to the Government, whose communications you promised to submit to Congress. You received and acted on assurances from the highest official authorities of South Carolina, that no attempt would be made to disturb your possession of the forts and property of the United States, if you would not disturb their existing condition until the Commissioners had been sent, and the attempt to negotiate had failed. You took from the members of the House of Representatives a written memorandum that no such attempt should be made, “provided that no reinforcements should be sent into those forts, and their relative military status shall remain as at present.” And although you attach no force to the acceptance of such a paper — although you “considered it as nothing more in effect than the promise of highly honorable gentlemen” --as an obligation on one side, without corresponding obligation on the other — it must be remembered (if we were rightly informed) that you were pledged, if you ever did send reinforcements, to return it to those from whom you had received it, before you executed your resolution. You sent orders to your officers, commanding them strictly to follow a line of conduct in conformity with such an understanding. Besides all this, you had received formal and official notice from the Governor of South Carolina that we had been appointed Commissioners, and were on our way to Washington. You knew the implied condition under which we came; our arrival was notified to you, and an hour appointed for an interview. We arrived in Washington on Wednesday, at 3 o'clock, and you appointed an interview with us at 1 the next day. Early on that day, (Thursday,) the news was received here of the movement of Major Anderson. That news was communicated to you immediately, and you postponed our meeting until 2 1/2 o'clock on Friday, in order that you might consult your Cabinet. On Friday we saw you, and we called upon you then to redeem your pledge. You could not deny it. With the facts we have stated, and in the face of the crowning and conclusive fact that your Secretary of War had resigned his seat in the Cabinet, upon the publicly avowed ground that the action of Major Anderson had violated the pledged faith of the Government, and that unless the pledge was instantly redeemed, he was dishonored, denial was impossible; you did not deny it. You do not deny it now, but you seek to escape from its obligation on the grounds, first, that we terminated all negotiation by demanding, as a preliminary, the withdrawal of the United States troops from the harbor of Charleston ; and, second, that the authorities of South Carolina, instead of asking explanation, and giving you the opportunity to vindicate yourself, took possession of other property of the United States. We will examine both. In the first place, we deny positively that we have ever in any way made any such demand. Our letter is in your possession; it will stand by this on record. In it we informed you of the objects of our mission. We say that it would have been our duty to have assured you of our readiness to commence negotiations, with the most earnest and anxious desire to settle all questions between us amicably and to our mutual advantage, but that events had rendered that assurance impossible. We stated the events, and we said that until some satisfactory explanation of these events was given us, we could not proceed; and then, having made this request for explanation, we added: “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,” &c. “Under present circumstances!” What circumstances? Why, clearly the occupation of Fort Sumter and the dismantling of Fort Moultrie by Major Anderson, in the face of your pledges, and without explanation or practical disavowal. And there is nothing in the letter which would, or could, have prevented you from declining to withdraw the troops, and offering the restoration of the status to which you were pledged, if such has been your desire. It would have been wiser and better, in our opinion, to have withdrawn the troops; and this opinion we urged upon you; but we demanded nothing but such an explanation of the events of the last twenty-four hours at would restore our confidence in the spirit with which the negotiations should be conducted. In relation to this withdrawal of the troops from the harbor, we arc compelled, however, to notice one passage of your letter. Referring to it, you say: “This I cannot do. This I will not do. Such an idea was never thought of by me in any possible contingency. No allusion to it had ever been made in any communication between myself and any human being.” In reply to this statement, we are compelled to say, that your conversation with us left upon our minds the distinct impression, that you did seriously contemplate the withdrawal of the troops from Charleston harbor. And in support of this impression, we would add, that we have the positive assurance of gentlemen of the highest possible public reputation and the most unsullied integrity — men whose name and fame, secured by long service and patriotic achievements, place their testimony beyond cavil — that such suggestions had been made to and urged upon you by them, and had formed the subject of more than one earnest discussion with you. And it was this knowledge that induced us to urge upon you a policy, which had to recommend it its own wisdom and the might of such authority. As to the second point, that the authorities of South Carolina, instead of asking explanations, and giving you the opportunity to vindicate yourself, took possession of other property of the  United States, we would observe: 1. That even if this were so, it does not avail you for defence, for the opportunity for decision was afforded you before these facts occurred. We arrived in Washington on Wednesday; the news from Major Anderson reached here early on Thursday, and was immediately communicated to you. All that day men of the highest consideration — men who had striven successfully to lift you to your great office — who had been your tried and true friends through the troubles of your administration, sought you and entreated you to act — to act at once. They told you that every hour complicated your position. They only asked you to give the assurance that if the facts were so — that if the commander had acted without and against your orders, and in violation of your pledges — that you would restore the status you bad pledged your honor to maintain. You refused to decide. Your Secretary at War, your immediate and proper adviser in this whole matter, waited anxiously for your decision, until he felt that delay was becoming dishonor. More than twelve hours passed, and two Cabinet meetings had adjourned, before you knew what the authorities of South Carolina had done; and your prompt decision at any moment of that time would have avoided the subsequent complications. But, if you had known the acts of the authorities of South Carolina, should that have prevented your keeping your faith? What was the condition of things? For the last sixty days you have had in Charleston harbor, not force enough to hold the forts against an equal enemy. Two of them were empty--one of those two the most important in the harbor. It could have been taken at any time. You ought to know better than any man that it would have been taken, but for the efforts of those who put their trust in your honor. Believing that they were threatened by Fort Sumter especially, the people were with difficulty restrained from securing, without blood, the possession of this important fortress. After many and reiterated assurances, given on your behalf, which we cannot believe unauthorized, they determined to forbear, and in good faith sent on their Commissioners to negotiate with you. They meant you no harm — wished you no ill. They thought of you kindly, believed you true, and were willing, as far as was consistent with duty, to spare you unnecessary and hostile collision. Scarcely had these Commissioners left than Major Anderson waged war. No other words will describe his action. It was not a peaceful change from one fort to another; it was a hostile act in the highest sense, and only justified in the presence of a superior enemy, and in imminent peril. He abandoned his position, spiked his guns, burned his gun-carriages, made preparations for the destruction of his post, and withdrew, under cover of the night, to a safer position. This was war. No man could have believed (without your assurance) that any officer could have taken such a step, “not only without orders, but against orders.” What the State did was in simple self-defence; for this act, with all its attending circumstances, was as much war as firing a volley; and war being thus begun, until those commencing it explained their action and disavowed their intention, there was no room for delay; and even at this moment while we are writing, it is more than probable, from the tenor of your letter, that reinforcements are hurrying on to the conflict, so that when the first gun shall be fired, there will have been on your part one continuous, consistent series of actions, commencing in a demonstration essentially warlike, supported by regular reinforcements and terminating in defeat or victory. And all this without the slightest provocation; for, among the many things which you have said, there is one thing you cannot say — you have waited anxiously for news from the seat of war, in hopes that delay would furnish some excuse for this precipitation. But this “tangible evidence of a design to proceed to a hostile act, on the part of the authorities of South Carolina,” which is the only justification of Major Anderson you are forced to admit, “has not yet been alleged.” But you have decided, you have resolved to hold, by force, what you have obtained through our misplaced confidence; and by refusing to disavow the action of Major Anderson, have converted his violation of orders into a legitimate act of your executive authority. Be the issue what it may, of this we are assured, that, if Fort Moultrie has been recorded in history as a memorial of Carolina gallantry, Fort Sumter will live upon the succeeding page as an imperishable testimony of Carolina faith. By your course, you have probably rendered civil war inevitable. Be it so. If you choose to force this issue upon us, the State of South Carolina will accept it, and, relying upon Him who is the God of Justice as well as the God of Hosts, will endeavor to perform the great duty which lies before her hopefully, bravely, and thoroughly. Our mission being one for negotiation and peace, and your note leaving us without hope of a withdrawal of the troops from Fort Sumter, or of the restoration of the status quo existing at the time of our arrival, and intimating, as we think, your determination to reinforce the garrison in the harbor of Charleston, we respectfully inform you that we purpose returning to Charleston to-morrow afternoon. We have the honor to be, Sir, very respectfully your obedient servants.
The following is the indorsement upon the document:
Executive mansion, 3 1/2 o'clock, Wednesday.This paper, just presented to the President, is of such a character that he declines to receive it.