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Chapter 44: Secession.—schemes of compromise.—Civil War.—Chairman of foreign relations Committee.—Dr. Lieber.—November, 1860– April, 1861.

The secession movement had been definitely planned before the election of Mr. Lincoln, and its leaders were as well satisfied with this result as were his own supporters. They had even connived at it by a division of the Southern vote, so as to make a pretence for revolution. Immediately after the election was made known, they proceeded actively to consummate their purpose in open and secret measures. On December 15 appeared the address of Jefferson Davis, Benjamin, Slidell, Wigfall, and other leaders of secession in Congress, invoking the Southern people to organize a Southern confederacy; avowing that ‘the primary object of each slaveholding State ought to be its speedy and absolute separation from a union with the hostile States.’ South Carolina took the lead, and seceded five days later, followed the next month by Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, and Louisiana. Texas completed her secession February 1. The disunion sentiment was advancing in Arkansas, North Carolina, Virginia, and Tennessee,—States which, however, postponed the final act till after President Lincoln's call for troops. There were threatening signs also in Missouri, Kentucky, and Maryland. Delaware alone among slave States seemed securely held to the Union.

The disunion sentiment was not confined to the slaveholding States. The identification of the Democratic party with the slaveholding interest for a long period had poisoned the minds of many of the Democratic leaders at the North. Treasonable sentiments were uttered by Franklin Pierce, Caleb Cushing, [2] Fernando Wood, Horatio Seymour, and Chancellor Walworth;1 and Daniel E. Sickles, in his speech in the House, Dec. 10, 1860, set up the city of New York as a barrier against the march of national troops for the maintenance of the Union. Journals of great influence, notably the New York Herald and Albany Argus, stimulated the conspiracy with harangues which justified the seceders and denied to the government the right to reduce them to submission by force.2

As soon as the secession began, a panic prevailed at the commercial centres of the North; the money market was severely strained; the banks were on the brink of suspension; Southern trade, then a very important factor in the general business of the country, stopped altogether; and many a merchant who had enjoyed a solid prosperity stood appalled at the prospect of bankruptcy.3 The fright extended beyond the supporters of Bell, Breckinridge, and Douglas, even to some of Lincoln's supporters, who if possible would in view of the Southern uprising have recalled their votes. Public meetings were held in the great cities, in which, in the name of the Union, not only a surrender to the demands of slavery was insisted upon, but even the right of free speech was assailed.4 Because of his antislavery position, George William Curtis was not allowed to deliver a lyceum lecture in Philadelphia, and the use of the hall which had been engaged was refused at the instance of the mayor. An antislavery meeting in Boston was broken up by a mob composed of roughs and business men, who for the moment were allies; and the mayor, who was in sympathy with these assailants of free speech, pleaded his inability to protect the meeting. A prominent journal of the city justified the outrage, and notified the two senators from Massachusetts that they [3] would not hereafter have a hearing in the city.5 Bankers and brokers muttered warnings to the new Administration that it would be left without funds if it refused to compromise with secession.6

The master spirits in Buchanan's Cabinet when Congress met were secessionists,—Cobb, Secretary of the Treasury, who left it bankrupt December 10; Floyd, Secretary of War, who after ordering the transfer of ordnance from Pittsburg to Ship Island and Galveston, and obstructing the reinforcement of the national forts at the South, resigned on the 29th; and Thompson, Secretary of the Interior, equally disloyal with Floyd, who lingered till January 8. Black, the Attorney-General, gave an elaborate opinion, November 20, strung with sophistries, denying the right of the government to maintain itself by armed force in the insurgent States. The President refused, against the appeal of the loyal members of his Cabinet, to reinforce the forts in the harbor of Charleston. From such a Cabinet, in which he could no longer remain with honor, even Cass, Secretary of State, after a career of subserviency to the South, withdrew, December 14, to be succeeded by Black. The notion of State supremacy, which recognized an allegiance to the State on the part of its citizens higher than any due from them to the nation, had so corrupted the minds of officers of the army and navy from the South that a painful uncertainty prevailed as to the loyalty of Southern men holding high commands in either service. Many, to their honor be it said, never wavered in fidelity; but when in the spring of 1861 Robert E. Lee, bound as he was by triple ties of education at the national expense, oaths of allegiance, and kinship to Washington, drew his sword against his country, the suspicion of Southern officers was found to be well justified.

President Buchanan, in his message to Congress, laid the original blame for existing troubles altogether on the loyal people of the free States, attributing them to the moral and political agitation against slavery; and although disavowing the right of secession as a theory, he denied the right of the government ‘to coerce a State into submission which is attempting [4] to withdraw.’ His remedies—as if enough had not been done in that direction—were an express recognition, in the Constitution, of slavery in the slave States, the admission of the Calhoun doctrine of the constitutional sanction of slavery in the Territories, and a reaffirmation of the right to recover fugitive slaves. So far did he go as to proclaim that in case the free States did not repeal their personal liberty laws, ‘the injured States, after having first used all peaceable and constitutional means to obtain redress, would be justified in revolutionary resistance to the government of the Union.’ Such language at such a time was a direct encouragement of rebellion. Fortunately for his fame, he ended the year better than he began the session. On the voluntary retirement of three traitors from his Cabinet he called to the vacant places three loyal men,—Edwin M. Stanton, Joseph Holt, and John A. Dix; and from that time they, in conjunction with Black,—now improved in his conception of public duty and constitutional law,—largely directed the President's action. Though from the beginning of the new year to his last day in office he left undone, to the infinite injury of his country, what he ought to have done, he was no longer a plaything in the hands of secessionists.

The rapid advance of secession in the South, and the treasonable exhibitions in the North, produced a sense of bewilderment and helplessness among loyal people. It was a period distinguished by hesitation, unsteadiness of action, confusion of ideas, and changes of position; a season of perplexity, ‘men's hearts failing them for fear,’—all natural enough when patriotic men were confronted by unexampled terrors. The threats of secession, which had hitherto seemed mere bravado, were now found to have a real and hostile meaning. The movement had swept over the cotton States, and appeared likely to carry all the slave States by force of sympathy. It was impossible to measure the extent to which the masses of the Democratic party in the North were in accord with their pro-slavery leaders, or to know of a certainty how much there was in Franklin Pierce's prediction, in his letter to Jefferson Davis a year before, that the fighting when it came would not be south of Mason and Dixon's line only, but would be also between two classes of citizens at the North.7 Above all, it was not in human vision [5] to foresee what latent heroism and endurance were to become manifest in the free States in the event of a long, bloody, and costly civil war. The conditions of this extraordinary period thus briefly noted show how much at that time Republican statesmen had to withstand, and may help this generation to accord due honor to those who stood firm, and to deal charitably with those who wavered and temporized.

The anxious question pressing on loyal people during the winter of 1860-1861 was how to secure a peaceful and orderly inauguration of Mr. Lincoln, and how during the critical interval to hold the border slave States, as well as Tennessee and North Carolina, from joining the Confederacy. Sumner wrote, January 9, to F. W. Bird, who had advised an appeal by the Republican members of Congress to the people, stating the dangers of the government:—

In the logic of events violence must have reached the capital before February 1, had not the President and General Scott taken steps to counteract it. Ten days ago everything tended to that catastrophe; for two days I thought it inevitable; I am not sure now that it can be avoided. But a movement of troops from the North would be a hostile step which would surely precipitate events. Our situation, locked within the slave States, exposes us to attack before protection can come from the

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