Conspiracy was not confined to South Carolina
or the Cotton States
; unfortunately, it had established itself in the highest official circles of the national administration.
Three members of President Buchanan
's cabinet-Cobb of Georgia
, Secretary of the Treasury
, Secretary of War
, and Thompson
of the Interiorhad become ardent and active disunionists.
Grouped about these three principal traitors were a number of subordinate and yet influential functionaries, all forming together a central secession cabal, working, in daily and flagrant violation of their official oaths, to promote the success of the Southern
After the meeting of Congress, on the first Monday of December, the Senators
and Representatives from the Cotton States
were in Washington
to counsel, prompt, and assist this cabinet cabal, and the President
was subjected to the double influence of insidious suggestion from within, and personal pressure from without his administration, acting in regulated concert.
No taint of disloyal purpose or thought appears to attach to President Buchanan
; but his condition of mind predisposed him in a remarkable degree to fall under the controlling influence of his disloyal counsellors.
He possessed the opposing qualities of feeble will and stubborn prejudice; advancing years and decreasing vigor added to his irresolution
and embarrassed his always limited capabilities.
In the defeat of Breckenridge
, whom he had championed, and in the sweeping success of the Republicans, he had suffered scorching rebuke and deep humiliation.
His administration was condemned, his policy was overthrown; his proud party was a hopeless wreck.
He had no elasticity of mind, no buoyancy of hope to recover from the shock.
Withal he had a blind disbelief in the popular judgment; he refused to recognize the fact of an adverse decision at the ballot-box.
After his long affiliation with Southern men in thought and action, he saw, as it were, through Southern eyes; his mind dwelt painfully on the fancied wrongs of the South
His natural impulse, therefore, was to embarrass and thwart the Republican
victory by such official utterance and administration as would occur in his brief remainder of office; and this was probably also the first and natural feeling of even the loyal members of his Cabinet, who were prominent and devoted Democratic partisans.
The presidential election decided, it was necessary to begin the preparation of his annual message to Congress, which would convene in less than a month.
Just about this time came the thickening reports of Southern insurrection and the ostentatious resignations of the Charleston Federal
The first expressions from loyal members of the Cabinet
were that rebellion must be put down.
But this remedy grated harshly on Buchanan
's partisan prejudices.
He had aided these Southern malcontents to intrigue for slavery, to complain of oppression, to threaten disunion.
To become the public accuser of his late allies and friends, under disaster and defeat, doubtless seemed desertion and black ingratitude.
The Cabinet traitors had no such scruples.
They were ready enough to desert the President
, but they wanted first to use him.
When, on December 3d, the President
's message was laid before Congress, it was found to contain the most unjust and indefensible allegations, the most glaringly inconsistent and irreconcilable doctrines, the most childish and useless suggestions.
He charged that Southern discontent was caused by “long-continued and intemperate interference of the Northern
people with the question of slavery in the Southern States
,” in face of the well-known fact that Southern interference in free territory was the cause of the crisis.
He declared that, while a State had no right to secede, the Constitution
gave no right to coerce a State into submission when it had withdrawn, or was attempting to withdraw, from the confederacy.
This was raising a false issue.
The question was not of acting against a State for either constitutional or unconstitutional efforts, but of suppressing insurrection and punishing individuals for violation of United States
Finally, he argued that, to enforce United States
laws, a United States
Court must first issue a writ and a United States Marshal execute it; and that where judges and marshals had resigned, and a universal popular feeling opposed, such execution became impossible.
In this he ignored the fact that he had power to instantly appoint new judges and marshals, and make the whole army, navy, and militia of the nation a posse comitatus
to execute their process; and within one month after signing this message, he, himself, actually nominated a citizen of Pennsylvania
Collector of the Port of Charleston
, in signal defiance of his own theory.
As a fitting climax to such puerile reasoning, he urged an amendment of the Constitution
that would give slavery the very concession in repudiation of which the people had just overwhelmingly elected Lincoln
As a specimen of absurdity, stupidity, and wilful wrongheaded-ness, this message is not equalled in American political literature.
For this extraordinary state paper, which effectually tied the hands of the administration and opened to rebellion a pathway free from obstruction or danger, the trio of conspirators in the Cabinet
, and Thompson
, may be reasonably held responsible.
How they beguiled a President of waning mental powers and naturally feeble purpose, may be easily enough imagined; but how they silenced the honest logic of their loyal colleagues, is yet one of the riddles of history.
The first and chief solicitude of the South Carolinians was to gain possession of the Charleston
To secede, to organize their little State into a miniature republic, was indeed a vast achievement in their own eyes; but they were shrewd enough to perceive that their claim to independence and sovereignty would be ridiculed by the family of nations if they could not control their own and only seaport.
That alone would give them a free highway to the world at large; with that they could offer the benefits of commerce, security from tempests, refuge from the perils of war, to ships of other nations; could negotiate advantageous treaties, and perhaps conclude powerful alliances.
“We must have the forts” was therefore the watchword of the secret caucus; and before long, from every street-corner in Charleston
, came the impatient echo, “The forts must be ours.”
The city of Charleston
lies on a tongue of land between the Ashley
and Cooper rivers
; from their confluence the bay extends eastward some four miles to the open sea. Three forts defend the harbor.
The first and smallest is Castle Pinckney, an old-time structure of brick, and of insignificant strength in modern warfare.
It lies one mile from the city; it was capable of holding a war garrison of 100 men; and its armament of twenty-two guns was at the time complete.
Farther out is the second in size and importance
, situated on Sullivan's Island
, some four miles from the city, very near the mouth of the harbor, on its northern side.
It dates back in name and heroic reputation to the Revolution, when, however, it was little else than an extemporized battery of palmetto-logs and sand.
In modern times it has been rebuilt in brick, under scientific construction, and though lying disadvantageously low, it had been changed into an effective channel defence, capable of mounting fifty-five guns en barbette and holding a garrison of 300 men. The third and most important work was Fort Sumter
, also of brick, but of more imposing size.
It was situated about the middle of the harbor entrance, and back half a mile from its mouth; it was erected on a shoal
raised to an artificial island; the walls were eight feet thick and forty feet high, with two tiers of casemates; it was fivesided, enclosing a space of about 300 by 350 feet, and in its casemates and on its rampart it was designed for 140 guns; its proper war-garrison was 650 men. In addition to these forts in the harbor, there were two government buildings in the city of Charleston
: the Custom-House
and the United States Arsenal, the latter containing a total of 22,430 arms.
To guard and hold possession of this property, there were in the arsenal a military storekeeper and fourteen enlisted men. Castle Pinckney was occupied only by an ordnance sergeant and his family; Fort Sumter
by one or two engineer officers
, employing one hundred and ten workmen in repairs; Fort Moultrie
alone, in addition to another party of fifty workmen employed by the engineer officer
in charge, had a garrison of sixty-nine soldiers and nine officers under Major Robert Anderson
, who had command of the whole harbor and all the forts.
The walls of Moultrie
were low, and at one place almost submerged in the drifting sandbanks of Sullivan's Island
; a storming party, the commandant reported, could run like rats over the ramparts.
Parties of Charlestonians frequently visited it to spy out its weak points; volunteer companies were organized in the city for the expedition of capture; scaling-ladders were prepared to make the attempt a certainty; the talk of the streetrabble and the newspapers made no concealment of their exulting confidence that they held Moultrie
in the hollow of their hand.
Hospitable fire-eaters went even so far as to invite Major Anderson
to comfortable dinners, and to tell him, in confidential frankness over their wine, that they respected him as an officer and loved him as a Southerner, but that they “must have the fort.”
For the time being, however, the inner councils of the conspiracy seem to have frowned upon any rash or premature attempt upon Moultrie
, and to have sagely relied on obtaining possession through intrigue and negotiation, since the latter method would not carry with it any danger of reprisal or punishment.
A most important advantage in this direction had already been gained by Mr. Buchanan
's adoption of the doctrine of non-coercion; the next essential step was to prevent any reinforcements from coming into Charleston Harbor
Though not perhaps susceptible of historical proof, strong inference warrants the belief that Floyd
, Secretary of War
, inspired by the Washington
cabal of traitors, procured the appointment of Anderson
to the command with the hope that as a Southern man he would lend himself to an easy surrender of the forts.
, also, seems to have been committed the further supervision of the intrigues respecting them.
He still avowed himself a unionist; but he disproved his public declarations by a steady series of services and favors to the rebellion, of whose design he could not have remained in ignorance.
Congress had met, the message had been delivered, the fatal doctrine of non-coercion conceded by the President
and adopted as an administration policy.
Under its protecting promises treason not only proceeded with accelerated organization in the Cotton States
, but made its avowals, its boasts, and its threats in Congress.
and secession were the topics of the hour-Moultrie and Anderson
the central and growing objects of anxiety; and at length the North
, through its senators and representatives, and still more loudly through its newspaper press, began to bring its influence upon the President
for reinforcement and preparation.
At the same time the secessionists congregated at Washington
were no less alert and active; they obtained
's tacit promise that he would send no reinforcements unless Moultrie
were attacked, and had hampered Anderson
with confidential instructions from Floyd
, to take no offensive measures until in the nature of things, through a sudden assault, he would be overwhelmed and powerless.
These conflicting efforts brought on a Cabinet crisis and forced the President
to a direct official decision.
, the Secretary of State
, had his home in Michigan
; and feeling the stiffening influence of Northwestern sentiment, and having, besides, his own somewhat sluggish though patriotic blood roused by the high-handed and unchecked intrigues of the conspirators, began to insist that reinforcements be sent to Charleston
becoming also a trifle anxious over the situation, sent for Floyd
, suave and deceitful, dallied, evaded, pooh-poohed the danger, had resort to chivalric bombast.
The South Carolinians
, he said, were honorable gentlemen.
They would scorn to take the forts.
They must not be irritated.
At length, finding the President
growing unusually obstinate in his new fancy, Floyd
sought refuge in the suggestion that General Scott
was a Virginian; Floyd
secretly thought he would fall in with the current secession drift, and perhaps officially advise the surrender or evacuation of the forts to “conciliate” South Carolina
, scarcely able to rise from his sick bed in New York, hastened to Washington
on December 12th.
had hitherto with studied neglect kept him excluded from knowledge of War Department affairs; but now, for the first time consulted, and recognizing the gravity of the situation, the General
heartily joined Cass
in recommending that reinforcements be instantly sent.
was surprised, disappointed, disconcerted.
He summarily rejected the advice of Scott
, as he had opposed
that of Cass
Seizing adroitly upon a phrase of Buchanan
's message, which affirmed the duty of the President
to protect public property, he said: True, it is simply a question of property.
You need no army to assert that.
Place an ordnance sergeant in the fort ; he will represent the sovereignty and the proprietary rights of the United States
as well as a regiment.
This was a subtle and skilful thrust.
's slow intellect was both flattered and confused by having his own misstatement of a vital political principle quoted and turned upon him. He had not the wit to rejoin that neither political sovereignty nor proprietary right were longer complete if possession was once lost.
had a dim consciousness of treachery.
He continued to plead with his secretary that he ought to send reinforcements; warning him that a loss of the forts under the circumstances would cover the name of Floyd
“with an infamy that all time can never efface.”
was well nigh in despair.
He turned upon the President
all his florid Southern rhetoric, all the final armory of offended Southern dignity, and the ever-ready threats of Southern resort to violence.
Send troops to Charleston
, he concluded, and the swarming and enraged South Carolinians would not leave one brick of Moultrie
Nor was Floyd
content to risk the issue upon his own eloquence.
He gave the note of alarm to every prominent traitor in Washington
, and without delay they flocked around the doubting, hesitating President
, Jefferson Davis
— the whole busy cabal of plotting, caucusing conspirators, filling him alternately with such deceitful promises of good behavior and such terrible visions of revolutionary violence, that Mr. Buchanan
was both frightened and soothed into a reluctant compliance with their advice.
It was the scene of the wily Vivien
and the yielding Merlin
and while the Sage of Wheatland
slept in doting confidence, every conspiring secessionist cried “Fool!”
Of woven paces and of waving hands,
to complete their secret web of conspiracy.
The issue was decided in the Cabinet
meeting of December 13th; after a spirited re-argument, the President
told his Secretary of State
that he was sorry to differ with him, but that he could not order reinforcements to Charleston
; whereupon General Cass
tendered his resignation and retired from official life.
had resigned from the Cabinet
a few days before.
Black, the Attorney-General
, was now made Secretary of State
, Secretary of the Treasury
; and Edwin M. Stanton
If Mr. Buchanan
flattered himself that his concession to Floyd
, and the cabal, would stay the tide of disunion in the South
, he was quickly undeceived.
At the very time the Cabinet
meeting was holding its final discussion of the question of reinforcements, a mysterious paper was being circulated for signature through the two houses of Congress, and on the second day following, the newspapers which announced the retirement of Cass
also contained the first definite and authentic proclamation of concerted revolution by the Cotton States
, and the proposal to form a Southern republic.1
It was a brief document, but pregnant with all the
essential purposes of the conspiracy.
It was signed by about one-half the Senators
and Representatives from the States of North Carolina
, South Carolina
, and Arkansas
, and is the “official” beginning of the subsequent “Confederate States
,” just as Gist
's October circular was the “official” beginning of South Carolina
On the fifth day after the publication of this manifesto, the South Carolina Convention passed, signed, and published its ordinance of secession, as already related; and now it was resolved to demand possession of the Charleston
forts as an incident of sovereignty and independence.
It was assumed that the President
would not refuse to yield them up after peaceful diplomatic negotiation, and upon an offer to account for them as property in a regular business settlement between the two governments.
The convention, acting upon this theory, appointed three commissioners to proceed to Washington
to treat for the delivery of the forts, magazines, light-houses, and other real estate
, for an apportionment of the public debt, for a division of all other property, and generally to negotiate about other measures and arrangements.
All this proceeded with the decorum and mock solemnity
in which children play at kings and queens.
The commissioners reached Washington
on December 26th, and Mr. Buchanan
, with all the curiosity and palpitation of an actor in a new drama, seems to have looked upon it not as the miserable farce of conspiracy which it was, but as a real piece of government business.
The commissioners immediately made their presence known, and the President
appointed an interview for them at one o'clock next day. Before that hour arrived, however, news of a totally unlooked — for event gave their intended negotiation an entirely new direction and result.
That event was the sudden military movement by Major Anderson
, transferring his entire garrison from Fort Moultrie
to Fort Sumter
, in Charleston Harbor
, on the night of the commissioners' arrival in Washington
, December 26.
Daily observation left him no doubt that Moultrie
was to be assaulted; every day strengthened the design, increased the preparation, augmented the drilled and undrilled forces to be joined in the undertaking.
There was no longer hope that the President
would heed his repeated calls and send him reinforcements.
There was, however, one resource yet available.
was the real key to the harbor.
and his engineer force of workmen and mechanics had now prepared it for occupancy, and could soon make it ready for defence.
Its guns commanded Moultrie
There was no approach to it except by boats, and, for a time, at least, he would be beyond the reach of the Charleston
mob and its improvised scaling-ladders.
Thoughts like these long-present and familiar to his mind, were once more carefully revolved and re-examined, when on Christmas night he returned from a neighboring holiday merrymaking to his somewhat cheerless quarters in Moultrie
; and before he retired to his sleep, he took his secret resolve to abandon Moultrie
and take post in Sumter
The 26th of December was a busy day for the commandant.
There were vessels to be hired, and an excuse invented to send away the families, the baggage, the unnumbered im-pedimenta
of the garrison.
For this, one or two chosen staffofficers must be let into the secret.
Finally, boats must be provided and concealed on the beach, in which to cross the men. Anderson
's personal care was extended to every detail, and every item of preparation moved like clock-work.
The families and baggage were got off in the afternoon.
A sunset parade of the men was ordered, ostensibly to be on the alert against assault, a species of exercise with which the garrison had become somewhat sorely familiar.
The supper stood smoking on the officers' mess-table, when Captain Doubleday
, second in command, was hastily called to Major Anderson
, who now for the first time told him that he must have his company under arms and ready to march to the beach in twenty minutes. Everything proceeded as had been arranged, without delay and without accident; even the rebel guard-boats, which had recently been set to patrolling the bay to render such a movement impossible, failed to make any discovery.
By nine o'clock that night the transfer was an assured success; the officers sat down to eat the supper in Sumter
which had been cooked for them in Moultrie
A small detail of men and an officer were left behind to spike guns, burn carriages, cut down the flag-staff, and to complete during the night the removal of needed supplies; they finished their work and joined their comrades in Sumter
a little after sunrise next morning.
This movement filled the Union
sentiment of the country with the liveliest exultation.
It was a spontaneous, uncalculating act of patriotism which will enshrine the name of Anderson
in grateful recollection so long as American history shall be read.
Advance news of the event was sent from
to the commissioners on the morning of December 27th; and they immediately communicated it to Mr. Buchanan
, whom it threw into a most embarrassing perplexity.
He postponed the commissioners' interview, and summoned his Cabinet to consider the situation.
Floyd at once declared the movement to be in violation of orders; and the President
himself, in his chagrin that his Southern friends should have a new burden of complaint, was half-inclined to peremptorily order Anderson
back to Moultrie
He was prudent enough, however, to suspend his judgment until Anderson
could be heard; for he had lately become cognizant of the equivocal and double-tongued instructions which Floyd
, without his knowledge, had sent him, and which he inferred might at least technically justify Anderson
On Friday, December 28th, he gave the commissioners their promised interview.
, himself, writes that “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.”
He does not appear to have realized that this proposal was in reality a quasi-recognition of South Carolina
's claim to independence, and a misdemeanor meriting impeachment.
What is a thousand times more astounding, however, is that, on their part, the commissioners were too stupid to perceive the vast advantage of this concession and offer.
It would have placed the President
before the public, and before foreign powers especially, in the attitude of their apologist, if not their advocate.
It would have committed him to refrain from any hostile action against South Carolina
the pendency of such debate as the proposition might provoke in Congress.
It would have thrust a firebrand into Congress, to complicate and divide every faction and element in politics except their own friends; in short, it would have made Washington City
the principal centre of revolution.
Fortunately for the country, their blindness lost to secession its only possible chance of peaceful success.
Under the impression that Mr. Buchanan
was completely within the domination of the Cabinet
cabal, the commissioners made an angry complaint against Anderson
, and haughtily demanded “explanations,” threatening that, if these were not satisfactory, they would suspend their negotiations.
Such a threat from applicants for recognition and favor was the very acme of stupidity and maladdress.
little suspected-perhaps never knew-how narrowly he escaped disavowal and disgrace by the President
of the United States
, for his act of fidelity and patriotism.
The conspirators had shrewdly calculated on their influence over Mr. Buchanan
For two days he hesitated, leaning evidently to the counsels of his secession advisers.
There were protracted Cabinet sessions, acrimonious debates, and a final struggle between the President
's disloyal counsellors from the South
and the loyal ones from the North
, over the possession and control of their temporizing, vacillating chief.
It was not till the latter were on the point of resigning that the President
was brought to a direct decision against the conspirators; even then, but for an outside complication, the result might have been doubtful.
For about a week Floyd
had both been in bad odor.
A transaction, in which near a million dollars' worth of Indian Trust Bonds were abstracted from a safe in the Interior Department and replaced by Floyd
's premature acceptances, looked so much like official theft that it was occupying the
attention of the courts and greatly exercising the mind of the President
The spell was finally broken on December 31st, when Mr. Buchanan
's resignation, which the latter reluctantly tendered on the 29th; he also sent the commissioners their definite answer, namely: that, whatever might have been his first inclination, the Governor
of South Carolina
had, since Anderson
's movement, forcibly seized Fort Moultrie
, Castle Pinckney, and the Charleston Arsenal
, Custom-House, and Post-Office, and covered them with the Palmetto
flag; that under such circumstances he could not and would not withdraw the Federal
troops from Sumter
This ended the rebel mission.
They departed abruptly for home, leaving behind them an insolent rejoinder to the President
's letter, charging him with tacit consent to the scheme of peaceable secession.
(newly chosen by the Legislature, December 14th) was perhaps the most daring revolutionist in South Carolina
, and as commander-in-chief of the State
forces he at once assumed and exercised dictatorial powers.
Within three or four days after his seizure of the forts he ordered the selection of suitable points on the islands forming the bay, and the commencement of batteries to command the ship-channels against reinforcements.
It was the beginning of the long and eventful siege of Sumter
was soon restored to its offensive powers; Castle Pinckney passed into his hands undamaged; with a working force of volunteers impelled by fanatical zeal, supplemented by the more efficient labor of large gangs of slaves freely furnished from the city and plantations of the neighborhood, battery after battery rose around Anderson
's stronghold, unmolested and unchecked for three long months, until, in an encompassing ring of fire, and under the sheer overweight of metal and numbers, the proud flag of Sumter
went down in temporary humiliation.
And that the drama should not lack its interludes of grotesque farce, all through this continuation of contumacy, insurrection, rampart-building, gun-planting, and actual repeated firing on the flag of the United States
, the “Republic” of South Carolina
, through its governor, its legislature, its convention, and its partisans, clamorously insisted and reiterated that the Government
was waging war upon it.
The Cabinet crisis of December 31st, and the retirement of Floyd
, greatly changed the attitude of the Government
was made Secretary of War
, and became at once the Hercules
of the national defence.
Black, though as Attorney-General
he had in November written an official opinion against coercion, was so far changed that he now zealously advocated the reinforcement of Sumter
All the unionists of the Cabinet-Black
, even Toucey
in a mild way, and not long afterward Dix
with memorable vigor-joined heartily in preparation to vindicate the national authority.
was placed in military control; and the President
, being for a period kept by loyal advice in a more patriotic mood, permitted various precautionary measures to be taken, among which, a well-designed, though finally abortive effort to reinforce Sumter
, was perhaps the most noteworthy.
Various plans to send men and provisions to Anderson
were discussed, and it was at last decided to attempt stratagem.
A swift merchant-steamer, the Star of the West was chartered in New York, loaded with the needed supplies and two hundred and fifty recruits; thus prepared, she sailed on her errand on the night of January 5, 1861.
The effort to keep the expedition an entire secret had not succeeded.
Notice of her departure went to Charleston
from New York; and in addition to this, Thompson
, the conspiring Secretary of the Interior
, who at the last moment learned the fact in Cabinet
meeting, also warned his Charleston
friends of her coming.
does not seem to have received his notice, though he gathered from newspapers that some such enterprise was being matured.
He was, therefore, not greatly surprised, when on the morning of January 9th he was hastily informed that a strange vessel was entering the harbor, and hurrying upon the rampart, saw her steaming up the channel in the direction of Sumter
She presented no warlike appearance; men and supplies were hidden below decks.
But in these nine days of January the rebels had repaired Moultrie
and completed one or two sand-batteries at the harbor entrance, and, thoroughly informed of the character and destination of the vessel, they began a vigorous fire upon her as soon as she came within range.
At this, finding concealment no longer important, her captain ran up a large United States
flag, a signal which dispelled all doubts Anderson
may have had that she indeed came to bring him the wished — for relief.
He gave orders to man his guns and prepare to fire on the batteries; meanwhile the steamer, though hit once or twice, had passed the first batteries without serious damage.
Now, however, the course of the channel would oblige her to steam directly toward the ready guns of Moultrie
, and the sight of this new peril seems to have daunted the courage of the officer in charge.
saw with deep chagrin that, just as he was ready to cheer and greet the new-comer by returning the rebel fire, the steamer suddenly slackened her speed, then put about, and ran once more unharmed past the rebel batteries and through the hostile cannon-balls out to sea.
's blood was hot with the insult his own eyes had witnessed to the flag and sovereignty of the United States
He sat down and wrote a brief note to the Governor
of South Carolina
, demanding to know if the firing on the vessel and
the flag had been by his order, and declaring that, unless the act were disclaimed, he would close the harbor with the guns of Sumter
It would have been better to have left the threat unuttered.
was more than a match for him in bravado; he immediately avowed and justified the act. Anderson
in a second note so far receded as to say that he had made up his mind to first ask his government for instructions, and requested safe-conduct for a bearer of dispatches.
This emboldened the governor to a second trial of bluster; next day he sent Anderson
a formal demand for the surrender of Sumter
replied rather meekly that he could not comply with the demand; but that, if the governor saw fit “to refer this matter to Washington
,” he would depute an officer to accompany the messenger.
conspirators, never at a loss to talk or intrigue, were really not yet ready to fight.
They caught eagerly at this truce which Anderson
offered them; it would renew the negotiations which their commissioners had so unceremoniously abandoned; above all, it would afford them ample time to complete their harbor batteries and collect troops against further expeditions of reinforcement or attack.
On January 12th, therefore, I. W. Hayne
, the Attorney-General
of South Carolina
, proceeded to Washington
as an envoy to carry to President Buchanan
the governor's demand for the surrender of Sumter
, with authority to give in return the pledge “that the valuation of such property will be accounted for by this State upon the adjustment of its relations with the United States
had, however, scarcely reached his destination when a superior influence took control of him and his mission.
By the middle of January most of the Cotton States
had passed ordinances of secession, seized the undefended military posts within their limits, and were addressing each
other as independent States.
But no amount of official vaporing or local ostentation could convince even themselves of either dignity or power; especially it could not, in the eyes of the world, magnify petty cotton republics into serious importance or influence.
However they might temporarily paralyze the laws of the Union
, the constitutional rights of the nation were unbroken, and the military power of the Government
slumbered like a mighty giant.
To brave his terrible awakening the necessity of early combination in some system of common defence was too apparent to need argument.
The senators and representatives of seceded States, though some of them had already withdrawn from Congress, were yet lingering in Washington
as the most central point for observation and consultation.
The formation of a Southern confederacy was, from the first, a recognized purpose, announced in their manifesto of December 14th, and again repeated in letters from a secret caucus held January 5th.
Indeed, the whole programme probably dated back to the early days of the session, when it may be presumed the plan was elaborated by a few of the leading spirits.
So far, though some of their combinations had failed, yet in the main the scheme had moved on with ever-growing strength from success to success.
By the middle of January the conspirators in Washington
realized that they must hurry the completion of their organization during the brief continue ance of the expiring administration.
Even the belligerent Governor Pickens
was made to understand the advantage of such a course.
,” he wrote, “cannot possibly do more for us than Mr. Buchanan
When therefore, most unexpectedly, South Carolina
obtained through Anderson
's offer a new chance to propose negotiation, the central cabal at Washington
resolved to make it the means of gaining time to set a common provisional government in
motion, without on their part furnishing the pretext for any military movement which might threaten or check their plans.
They therefore met in a caucus, and appointed a committee consisting of Senators Fitzpatrick
, and Slidell
; this committee began and carried on a dilatory correspondence with Mr. Hayne
and with the President
, which they managed to prolong into February, all that while keeping open the Anderson
truce by the assumption that negotiations were pending.
, always indisposed to act, always welcoming any excuse to postpone decision, fell easily into the toils of this side intrigue for delay.
Some of his counsellors must have seen through the transparent game with much impatience, for the whole affair was at last rather abruptly ended.
On February 6th, Secretary Holt
wrote for the President
, that neither the proposed sale of Fort Sumter
, nor its relinquishment under South Carolina
's claim of eminent domain, could for a moment be thought of, since it was not a mere question of property, as had been assumed, but involved political rights of the highest national importance.
This closed the correspondence, and Hayne
went home to report the second failure to obtain the forts by diplomacy.
But the conspirators had gained their main point.
This negotiation paralyzed and postponed all the plans and preparations to send help to Anderson
, upon which some of the Cabinet
members had labored with zeal and earnestness; while on the other hand, on February 4th, two days preceding Hayne
's dismissal, the Provisional Congress of the rebel States assembled at Montgomery, Ala.
, and by the 18th of that month had completed and inaugurated the provisional government under which the local insurrections of the Cotton States
became an organized rebellion against the government of the Union
Nor was this the only advantage which the conspiracy had secured.
Since the 12th of January a condition of things existed in the harbor of Pensacola, Fla.
, similar to that at Charleston
The insurgents had threatened, and the officer in charge had surrendered the Pensacola Navy Yard
. Lieutenant Slemmer
, of the army, with a little garrison of forty-six men, held Fort Barrancas
Finding he could not defend his post, nor Fort McRee
, also on the mainland, he, with a loyal courage which will ever render his name illustrious, repeated the strategy of Anderson
, and moved his slender command, augmented by thirty ordinary seamen from the navy yard, on the morning of January 10th, to Fort Pickens
, a large and more defensible work standing at the harbor entrance, on the western end of Santa Rosa Island
The Government hurriedly sent a few ships of war to assist him, while the rebels began gathering an army to assault the fort.
Under cover of the Hayne negotiation, Senator Mallory
managed to draw the President
into an agreement, embodied in formal orders dated January 29th, that Fort Pickens
should not be reinforced unless it were assaulted by the rebels, or preparations were made to do so.
business disposed of, there was once more a little flurry of war consultations at the Executive Mansion
to devise and dispatch a new expedition to reinforce Sumter
This time a few small vessels belonging to the Coast Survey were to be assembled and placed under command of Captain Ward
, of the navy, for that purpose; the details of the plan do not appear to have transpired.
But the President
's energetic moods were lamentably short; by the 23d of February this scheme, also, was definitely abandoned, probably for the overruling reason that but nine days remained of Mr. Buchanan
's presidential term.