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Xxvii. Ominous pause.

  • The two cabinets
  • -- attempts to negotiate by Forsyth and Crawford -- repelled by Gov. Seward -- Judge Campbell's statement -- Northern proposals to join the Confederacy -- Society for the promotion of National Unity.

President Lincoln, on the day after his inauguration, submitted to the new Senate the names of those whom he had chosen to preside over the several Departments, and who thus became, by a usage which has no express warrant in the Constitution, his official counselors. They were
William H. Seward, of New York, Secr'y of State;

Salmon P. Chase, of Ohio, Secretary of the Treasury;

Simon Cameron, of Pennsylvania, Secretary of War;

Gideon Wells, of (Connecticut, Secr'y of the Navy;

Caleb B. Smith, of Indiana, Secretary of the Interior ;

Edward Bates, of Missouri. Attorney-General;

Montgomery Blair, of Maryland, Postmaster-General.


Mr. Jefferson Davis, ruling at Montgomery, had already constituted his Cabinet, which consisted of

Robert Toombs, of Georgia, Secretary of State;

Charles G. Memminger, of South Carolina, Secretary of the Treasury;

Leroy Pope Walker, of Alabama, Secretary of War;

to which were afterward added
Stephen R. Mallory, of Florida, Sec'ry of the Navy;

John H. Reagan, of Texas, Postmaster-General.

Thus the two Governments stood face to face, holding positions and maintaining assumptions so palpably, utterly incompatible as to necessitate an early collision; and that collision must, in the nature of things, produce a crash that would shake the continent. Still, there was great and wise reluctance, at least on this side, to precipitate or to initiate hostilities. In spite of appearances, President Lincoln,1 and the advisers in whom he most trusted, seemed still incredulous as to the inevitability and imminence of a clash of arms. Gov. Seward, the new Secretary of State, had for months been apparently the most resolute of optimists with regard to a happy issue from our internal complications. At the New England Dinner2 in New York, lie had confidently predicted a settlement of all our troubles within the ensuing sixty days. That term had sped; yet his faith in a peaceful solution of our differences appeared as buoyant as ever, and seemed to be shared by the President, whose “Nobody hurt as yet” had become a watchword among the obstinate believers in “ Manifest Destiny” and the unparalleled rationality, wisdom, intelligence, and self-control, of the peerless American People.

Does this look like infatuation? If the wisdom that comes to-morrow were the genuine article, every man would be a Solomon. Remember that, for more than seventy years, no man had seen an American hand lifted against the symbol of our Nationality. Neither Shays's Rebellion,3 in Massachusetts, nor the Whisky Rebellion,4 so called, in western Pennsylvania, had really purposed aught beyond the removal or redress of temporary grievances which were deemed intolerable. Even old John Brown — fanatic as he was; madman as many held him — never dreamed of dividing the country which he sought to purge of its most flagrant wrong; his Canada Constitution expressly stipulated5 that the Union should be preserved, and its flag retained and cherished by his adherents. Since the close of our Revolutionary struggle, no man had seen, in the Free States, any other banner floating over a regiment of our people than the Stars and Stripes; though the waves of party spirit had often run mountain high,6 and we had seemed just on the brink of disruption and civil war, yet the dreaded collision had always been somehow averted, and the moment of fiercest excitement, of widest alienation, had [430] often been the immediate precursor of a halcyon era of reconciliation, peace, and fraternal harmony. It was not easy for Northern men, especially those who had never visited and sojourned at the South, to comprehend and realize the wide prevalence and intensity of anti-National sentiment and feeling in those localities whose social order, industry, and business, were entirely based on Slavery. Neither envying nor hating the Southerners, while lamenting their delusions and resisting their exactions, it was hard indeed for many, if not most, of the citizens of the Free States to realize that we stood on the brink of a volcano whose rumblings preluded an eruption of blood as well as ashes.

Scarcely a week after Mr. Lincoln's inauguration, his Secretary of State was served with the following:

Washington, March 12, 1861.
Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State of the United States:
Sir:--The undersigned have been duly accredited by the Government of the Confederate States of America as Commissioners to the Government of the United States, and, in pursuance of their instructions, have now the honor to acquaint you with that fact, and to make known, through you, to the President of the United States, the objects of their presence in this Capital.

Seven States of the late Federal Union having, in the exercise of the inherent right of every free people to change or reform their political institutions, and through Conventions of their people, withdrawn from the United States, and reassumed the attributes of sovereign power, delegated to it, have formed a Government of their own. The Confederate States constitute an independent nation, de facto and de jure, and possess a Government perfect in all its parts and endowed with all the means of self-support.

With a view to a speedy adjustment of all questions growing out of this political separation, upon such terms of amity and good — will as the respective interests, geographical contiguity, and future welfare, of the two nations may render necessary, the undersigned are instructed to make to the Government of the United States overtures for the opening of negotiations, assuring the Government of the United States that the President, Congress, and people of the Confederate States earnestly desire a peaceable solution of these great questions; that it is neither their interest nor their wish to make any demand which is not founded in strict justice, nor do any act to injure their late confederates.

The undersigned have now the honor, in obedience to the instructions of their Gov eminent, to request you to appoint as early a day as possible, in order that they may present to the President of the United States the credentials which they bear and the objects of the mission with which they are charged.

We are, very respectfully,

Your obedient servants,

To this virtual Declaration of War, under the guise of an overture looking to negotiation, settlement, and amity, Gov. Seward responded as follows :7


Department of State, Washington, March 15, 1861.
Mr. John Forsyth, of the State of Alabama, and Mr. Martin J. Crawford, of the State of Georgia, on the 11th inst., through the kind offices of a distinguished Senator, submitted to the Secretary of State their desire for an unofficial interview. This request was, on the 12th inst., upon exclusively public considerations, respectfully declined.

On the 13th inst., while the Secretary was preoccupied, Mr. A. D. Banks, of Virginia, called at this Department, and was received by the Assistant Secretary, to whom lie delivered a sealed communication, which he had been charged by Messrs. Forsyth and Crawford to present to the Secretary in person.

In that communication, Messrs. Forsyth and Crawford inform the Secretary of State that they have been duly accredited by the Government of the Confederate States of America as Commissioners to the Government [431] of the United States, and they set forth the objects of their attendance at Washington. They observe that seven States of the American Union, in exercise of a right inherent in every free people, have withdrawn, through conventions of their people, from the United States, reassumed the attributes of sovereign power, and formed a government of their own, and that those Confederate States now constitute an independent nation de facto and de jure, and possess a government perfect in all its parts and fully endowed with all the means of self-support.

Messrs. Forsyth and Crawford, in their aforesaid communication, thereupon proceeded to inform that, with a view to a speedy adjustment of all questions growing out of the political separation thus assumed, upon such terms of amity and good — will as the respective interests, geographical contiguity, and the future welfare of the supposed two nations might render necessary, they are instructed to make to the Government of the United States overtures for the opening of negotiations, assuring this Government that the President, Congress, and people of the Confederate States earnestly desire a peaceful solution of these great questions, and that it is neither their interest nor their wish to make any demand which is not founded in strictest justice, nor do any act to injure their late confederates.

After making these statements, Messrs. Forsyth and Crawford close their communication, as they say, in obedience to the instructions of their Government, by requesting the Secretary of State to appoint as early a day as possible, in order that they may present to the President of the United States the credentials which they bear and the objects of the mission with which they are charged.

The Secretary of State frankly confesses that he understands the events which have recently occurred, and the condition of political affairs which actually exists in the part of the Union to which his attention has thus been directed, very differently from the aspect in which they are presented by Messrs. Forsyth and Crawford. He sees in them, not a rightful and accomplished revolution and an independent nation, with an established government, but rather a perversion of a temporary and partisan excitement to the inconsiderate purposes of an unjustifiable and unconstitutional aggression upon the rights and the authority vested in the Federal Government, and hitherto benignly exercised, as from their very nature they always must be exercised, for the maintenance of the Union and the preservation of liberty, and the security, peace, welfare, happiness, and aggrandizement of the American People. The Secretary of State therefore avows to Messrs. Forsyth and Crawford that he looks patiently but confidently for the cure of evils which have resulted from proceedings so unnecessary, so unwise, so unusual, and so unnatural, not to irregular negotiations, having in view new and untried relations with agencies unknown to and acting in derogation of the Constitution and laws, but to regular and considerate action of the people of those States, in cooperation with their brethren in the other States, through the Congress of the United States, and such extraordinary Conventions, if there be any need thereof, as the Federal Constitution contemplates and authorizes to be assembled.

It is, however, the purpose of the Secretary of State not to engage in any discussion of these subjects, but simply to set forth his reasons for declining to comply with the request of Messrs. Forsyth and Crawford.

On the 4th of March inst., the newly elected President of the United States, in view of all the facts bearing upon the present question, assumed the executive Administration of the Government, first delivering, in accordance with an early, honored custom, an Inaugural Address to the people of the United States. The Secretary of State respectfully submits a copy of this address to Messrs. Forsyth and Crawford.

A simple reference will be sufficient to satisfy those gentlemen that the Secretary of State, guided by the principles therein announced, is prevented altogether from admitting or assuming that the States referred to by them have, in law or in fact, withdrawn from the Federal Union, or that they could do so in the manner described by Messrs. Forsyth and Crawford, or in any other manner than with the consent and concert of the people of the United States, to be given through a National Convention, to be assembled in conformity with the provisions of the Constitution of the United States. Of course, the Secretary of State cannot act upon the assumption, or in any way admit, that the so called Confederate States constitute a foreign Power, with whom diplomatic relations ought to be established.

Under these circumstances, the Secretary of State, whose official duties are confined, subject to the direction of the President, to the conducting of the foreign relations of the country, and do not at all embrace domestic questions, or questions arising between the several States and the Federal Government, is unable to comply with the request of Messrs. Forsyth and Crawford, to appoint a day on which they may present the evidences of their authority and the objects of their visit to the President of the United States. On the contrary, he is obliged [432] to state to Messrs. Forsyth and Crawford that he has no authority, nor is he at liberty, to recognize then as diplomatic agents, or hold correspondence or other communication with them.

Finally, the Secretary of State would observe that, although he has supposed that he might safely and with propriety have adopted these conclusions without making any reference of the subject to the Executive, yet, so strong has been his desire to practice entire directness, and to act in a spirit of perfect respect and candor toward Messrs. Forsyth and Crawford, and that portion of the Union in whose name they present themselves before him, that he has cheerfully submitted this paper to the President, who coincides generally in the views it expresses, and sanctions the Secretary's decision declining official intercourse with Messrs. Forsyth and Crawford.

These memorable papers are too lucid to require or justify extended comment. The Commissioners, it will be seen, place the alleged Secession of the Cotton States expressly and exclusively on the true and proper ground--“the inherent right of every free people to change or reform their political institutions” --in other words, the Right of Revolution — thus precluding all discussion as to the pretended constitutional right, or reservation of right, to secede at will from the Union. But this position, however wisely and honorably taken, does not at all preclude the question which Mr. Lincoln was bound to ask, and, in some way, to answer--“What right have I, the fairly chosen Chief Magistrate of the Union--chosen, too, at an election wherein the seven States now alleged to have seceded fully participated — to recognize those States as a foreign nation, as independent of the remaining States as Russia or Peru? How will such recognition, and the action necessarily consequent thereon, accord with my solemn oath of office, and the weighty obligations it imposes? How with my duty to those loyal citizens of the United States who are also citizens or residents of the States which acknowledge Mr. Jefferson Davis as their political Chief?” To these questions, inevitably presenting themselves to every intelligent mind, Messrs. Forsyth and Crawford indicate no reply whatever. They represented a power which had declined cooperation with even a majority of the Slave States--which had not even considered the propriety of calling a National Convention--and which now proffered to the Union no compromise, no middle ground, but the naked alternative of “ Surrender or fight!”

Gov. Seward's reply, though pacific in temper, and evidently animated by a hope that hostilities may yet be avoided, is eminently frank and explicit. That the Executive could recognize Messrs. Forsyth and Crawford only as citizens of the United States, not as plenipotentiaries of an independent and foreign power — that the alleged secession and confederation of the seven States in question was not, and could not be, recognized by the Government as valid; their secession being impliedly, and their confederation expressly, forbidden by the Federal Constitution — that there could be no secession save through the agency of a National Convention, which those States had declined to invoke, and were now unwilling to submit to — that their alleged grievances could be redressed only through such Convention, or by the Congress of the United States, wherein the right of those States to an equal representation had been, and still was, unquestioned — and that the President had been consulted respecting, and fully [433] concurred in, these views of his Secretary of State-so much seems plainly set forth in this “memorandum,” with all the perspicuity which can be attained through the employment of our mother tongue. How is it possible, then, that complaint should nevertheless be made that the Confederates were deluded by Gov. Seward into anticipations of an early and easy concession of their independence?

Yet that charge is made; and, since it rests wholly on the testimony of a Confederate who once held, and had not then resigned, the exalted position of a Justice of the United States Supreme Court, it may be well to consider it fully. The testimony is that of Judge Campbell aforesaid, (a prominent disciple of Mr. Calhoun), who, about the time of his taking final leave of Washington to enter more openly into the service of the Confederacy, wrote to Gov. Seward as follows:

Washington City, Saturday, April 13, 1861.
Sir:--On the 15th March ult., I left with Judge Crawford, one of the Commissioners of the Confederate States, a note in writing to the following effect:

I feel entire confidence that Fort Sumter will he evacuated in the next ten days. And this measure is felt as imposing great responsibility on the Administration.

I feel an entire confidence that no measure changing the existing status, prejudicious to the Southern Confederate States, is at present contemplated.

I feel an entire confidence that an immediate demand for an answer to the communication of the Commissioners will be productive of evil, and not of good. I do not believe that it ought, at this time, to be pressed.

The substance of this statement I communicated to you the same evening by letter. Five days elapsed, and I called with a telegram from Gen. Beauregard, to the effect that Sumter was not evacuated, but that Maj. Anderson was at work making repairs.

The next day, after conversing with you, I communicated to Judge Crawford, in writing, that the failure to evacuate Sumter was not the result of bad faith, but was attributable to causes consistent with the intention to fulfill the engagement; and that, as regarded Pickens, I should have notice of any design to alter the existing status there. Mr. Justice Nelson was present at these conversations, three in number, and I submitted to him each of my communications to Judge Crawford, and informed Judge C. that they had his (Judge Nelson's) sanction. I gave you, on the 22d March, a substantial copy of the statement I had made on the 15th.

The 30th of March arrived, and at that time a telegram came from Gov. Pickens, inquiring concerning Col. Lamon, whose visit to Charleston, he supposed, had a connection with the proposed evacuation of Fort Sumter.

I left that with you, and was to have an answer the following Monday (1st April). On the first of April, I received from you a statement, in writing, “I am satisfied the Government will not undertake to supply Fort Sumter without giving notice to Gov. Pickens.” The words “I am satisfied” were for me to use as expressive of confidence in the remainder of the declaration.

The proposition, as originally prepared, was, “The President may desire to supply Sumter, but will not do so,” etc., and your verbal explanation was that you did not believe any such attempt would be made, and that there was no design to reenforce Sumter.

There was a departure here from the pledges of the previous month; but, with the verbal explanation, I did not consider it a matter then to complain of — I simply stated to you that I had that assurance previously.

On the 7th April, I addressed you a letter on the subject of the alarm that the preparations by the Government had created, and asked you if the assurances I had given were well or ill founded. In respect to Sumter, your reply was, “Faith as to Sumter fully kept — wait and see.” In the morning's paper, I read, “ An authorized messenger from President Lincoln informed Gov. Pickens and Gen. Beauregard that provisions would be sent to Fort Sumter peaceably, or otherwise by force.”

This was the 8th of April, at Charleston, the day following your last assurance, and is the evidence of the full faith I was invited to wait for and see. In the same paper, I read that intercepted dispatches disclose the fact that Mr. Fox, who had been allowed to visit Maj. Anderson, on the pledge that his purpose was pacific, employed his opportunity to devise a plan for supplying the fort by force, and that this plan had been adopted by the Washington Government, and was in process of execution.

My recollection of the date of Mr. Fox's visit carries it to a day in March. I learn he is a near connection of a member of the Cabinet.

My connection with the commissioners and yourself was superinduced by a conversation with Justice Nelson. He informed [434] me of your strong disposition in favor of peace, and that you were oppressed with a demand of the Commissioners of the Confederate States for a reply to their first letter, and that you desired to avoid, if possible, at that time. I told him I might, perhaps, be of some service in arranging the difficulty. I came to your office entirely at his request, and without the knowledge of the Commissioners. Your depression was obvious to both Judge Nelson and myself. I was gratified at the character of the counsels you were desirous of pursuing, and much impressed with your observation that a civil war might be prevented by the success of my mediation. You read a letter of Mr. Weed, to show how irksome and responsible the withdrawal of troops from Sumter was. A portion of my communication to Judge Crawford on the 15th of March was founded upon these remarks, and the pledge to evacuate Sumter is less forcible than the words you employed. Those words were, “ Before this letter reaches you [a proposed letter by me to President Davis], Sumter will have been evacuated.”

The Commissioners who received those communications conclude they have been abused and overreached. The Montgomery Government hold the same opinion. The Commissioners have supposed that my communications were with you, and, upon that hypothesis, prepared to arraign you before the country in connection with the President. I placed a peremptory prohibition upon this, as being contrary to the terms of my communications with them. I pledged myself to them to communicate information upon what I considered as the best authority, and they were to confide in the ability of myself, aided by Judge Nelson, to determine upon the credibility of my informant.

I think no candid man who will read over what I have written, and consider for a moment what is going on at Sumter, will agree that the equivocating conduct of the Administration, as measured and interpreted in connection with these promises, is the proximate cause of the great calamity.

I have a profound conviction that the telegrams of the 8th of April, of Gen. Beauregard, and of the 10th of April, of Gen. Walker, the Secretary of War, can be referred to nothing else than their belief that there has been systematic duplicity practiced upon them throughout. It is under an oppressive sense of the weight of this responsibility that I submit to you these things for your explanation.

Very respectfully,

John A. Campbell, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. Hon. Wm. H. Seward, Secretary of State.

Judge Campbell, it will be noted, takes up the thread of the furtive negotiations exactly where the Commissioners had dropped it. They had made their demand on the 12th; had been answered by Gov. Seward on the 15th; but the answer withheld; for on this day Judge C. makes his first appearance on the scene, with an assurance to the Commissioners that he felt “entire confidence that Fort Sumter would be evacuated within the next ten days,” if the Commissioners would not push matters too hurriedly to a crisis. Still later, he gave these Commissioners assurances that no attempt would be made to supply the closely invested and scantily provisioned garrison of Fort Sumter, until due notice of the intent had been given to Gov. Pickens; which promise was fulfilled to the letter.

Judge Campbell quotes Justice Nelson as testifying to Gov. Seward's “strong disposition in favor of peace.” Who ever denied or doubted it? But did he ever avow an inclination to Peace on the basis of Disunion? That is the vital point; and it is not covered, even by assertions, on the part of the Confederates. That he clung tenaciously to the hope of some “ adjustment” or “ conciliation,” whereby civil war might be averted, and the just authority of the Federal Government acknowledged and respected by the Confederate States, is manifest; and that is the whole truth, and affords a simple and obvious explanation of what seems to Confederates so mysterious, so crafty, or so atrocious. The manifest, controlling fact is, that the parties to this unique correspondence occupied positions so contrasted, so [435] incompatible, that it was scarcely possible that they should seriously engage in a negotiation, much less bring it to a happy issue. It was much as if a plenipotentiary should address the government to which he was accredited in Greek, knowing no other tongue, and his dispatch be received and answered by one who was equally ignorant of any language but Choctaw. The only possible result of such diplomacy is a postponement of hostilities; and that seems, in this case, to have been achieved: for the Confederate envoys, in shaking from their feet the dust of Washington and returning to their own “nation,” addressed, on the 9th of April, a vituperative letter to Gov. Seward, whereof all that is not mere rhetoric, of a peculiarly Southern stamp, or has not already been herein stated, is as follows:

The undersigned clearly understand that you have declined to appoint a day to enable them to lay the objects of the mission with which they are charged before the President of the United States, because so to do would be to recognize the independence and separate nationality of the Confederate States. This is the vein of thought that pervades the memorandum before us. The truth of history requires that it should distinctly appear upon the record that the undersigned did not ask the Government of the United States to recognize the independence of the Confederate States. They only asked an audience to adjust, in a spirit of amity and peace, the new relations springing from a manifest and accomplished revolution in the government of the late Federal Union. Your refusal to entertain these overtures for a peaceful solution, the active naval and military preparations of this Government, and a formal notice to the commanding general of the Confederate forces in the harbor of Charleston that the President intends to provision Fort Sumter, by forcible means, if necessary, are viewed by the undersigned, and can only be received by the world, as a declaration of war against the Confederate States; for the President of the United States knows that Fort Sumter cannot be provisioned without the effusion of blood. The undersigned, in behalf of their Government and people, accept the gage of battle thus thrown down to them; and, appealing to God and the judgment of mankind for the righteousness of their cause, the people of the Confederate States will defend their liberties to the last against this flagrant and open attempt at their subjugation to sectional power.

As the world has not been gratified with a sight of the credentials and instructions of these gentlemen, it may be discourteous to assume that their eagerness to “accept the gage of battle” carried them beyond the strict limits of their powers and duties; but the subtile casuistry which enabled them to discriminate between a recognition of Confederate independence and an “audience to adjust the new relations springing from a manifest and accomplished revolution,” might have secured to them fame and fortune in some more poetic and imaginative vocation.

As the Commissioners seem to apprehend that they would be charged with a lack of energy if it should be understood that they had allowed the Government of the United States nearly four weeks wherein to decide between recognizing — or, if they choose, admitting and acting upon — the independence of the Confederate States, and an acceptance of the “gage of battle,” it may be requisite to give one more extract from their valedictory, as follows:

This delay was assented to for the express purpose of attaining the great end of the mission of the undersigned, to wit: a pacific solution of existing complications. The inference, deducible from the date of your memorandum, that the undersigned had, of their own volition and without cause, consented to this long hiatus in the grave duties with which they were charged, is therefore not consistent with a just exposition of the facts of the case. The intervening twenty-three days were employed in active unofficial efforts, the object of [436] which was to smooth the path to a pacific solution, the distinguished personage alluded to [Judge Campbell] cooperating with the undersigned; and every step of that effort is recorded in writing, and now in possession of the undersigned and of their Government. It was only when all these anxious efforts for peace had been exhausted, and it became clear that Mr. Lincoln had determined to appeal to the sword to reduce the people of the Confederate States to the will of the section or party whose President he is, that the undersigned resumed the official negotiation temporarily suspended, and sent their secretary for a reply to their note of March 12th.

But that the Confederacy was allowed, in no respect, to suffer by this brief breathing-spell mistakenly accorded by her plenipotentiaries to the Union--that the “peace” which we enjoyed was of an equivocal and one-sided character — will appear, not only from the close investment of menaced Fort Sumter--with which no one was allowed to communicate, save by Gov. Pickens's gracious permission — but by the active, aggressive hostility to Federal authority manifested throughout the South, as evinced in the following order:

Headquarters troops Confederate States, near Pensacola, Fla., March 18, 1861.
The Commanding General learns with surprise and regret that some of our citizens are engaged in the business of furnishing supplies of fuel, water, and provisions, to the armed vessels of the United States now occupying a threatening appearance off this harbor.

That no misunderstanding may exist upon this subject, it is announced to all concerned that this traffic is strictly forbidden ; and all such supplies which may be captured in transit to said vessels, or to Fort Pickens, will be confiscated.

The more effectually to enforce this prohibition, no boat or vessel will be allowed to visit Fort Pickens, or any of the United States naval vessels, without special sanction.

Col. John H. Forney, Acting InspectorGeneral, will organize an efficient Harbor Police for the enforcement of this order.

By command of Brigadier General

Braxton Bragg. Robert C. Wood, Jr., Ass't. Adj't.-Gen.

And, all through the seceded States, those Unionists who dared to indicate their devotion to the flag of their fathers were being treated with a still more active and positive illustration of Confederate amity than was accorded to the garrison of Sumter and the fleet off Pensacola.

Whether President Lincoln did or did not, for some days after his inauguration, incline to the withdrawal of Major Anderson and his brave handful from. closely beleaguered Sumter, is not certain. It is certain that great doubt and anxiety on this point pervaded the country. Some of the newspaper correspondents at Washington, who were very properly and keenly on the watch for the least indication of the Presidential purpose, telegraphed, quite confidently, on the 14th, that Sumter was to be peaceably evacuated; that Gen. Scott had given his opinion that this was a military necessity; that the fortress was so surrounded and enveloped by Confederate forts and batteries that it could not now be reinforced, nor even provisioned, save at an enormous and unjustifiable cost of human blood; so that there was no practical alternative to its abandonment.

The new Senate, which had been convened for the 4th by President Buchanan to act upon the nominations of his successor, remained sitting in Extra Session until the 28th; and its Democratic members — now reduced by Secession and by changes. to a decided minority — urgently and pertinaciously demanded from the majority some declaration of the President's purpose. “Are we to have coercion and civil war, or concession and peace?.” was the burden of their [437] inquiries. Messrs. T. L. Clingman,8 of North Carolina, Bayard, of Delaware, and Breckinridge,9 of Kentucky, who were all three close allies in the past of the Confederate chiefs, and two of them, since, open participants in the Rebellion, were prominent and pertinacious in pushing these inquiries; but Mr. Douglas, of Illinois, united in them, talking as if the President were at perfect liberty to enforce the laws or not, at his discretion, and as if his attempting to do it would render him responsible for lighting the flames of civil war. He distinctly advocated the surrender of the Southern fortresses; saying:

We certainly cannot justify the holding of forts there, much less the recapturing of those which have been taken, unless we intend to reduce those States themselves into subjection. * * * We cannot deny that there is a Southern Confederacy, de facto, in existence, with its capital at Montgomery. We may regret it. I regret it most profoundly; but I cannot deny the truth of the fact, painful and mortifying as it is.

No Democrat in the Senate, and no organ of Democratic opinion out of the Senate, proffered an assurance or an exhortation to the President, tending to encourage and support him in upholding the integrity and enforcing the laws of the Union; and not Democrats only, but those who, in the late Presidential contest, had made “the Union, the Constitution, and the enforcement of the laws,” their platform and their battle-cry, now spoke and acted precisely as would a community who, seeing their sheriff set forth to serve a precept upon a band of desperate law-breakers, were to ask him why he did not desist from his aggressive project, and join them in preserving the peace. The Republicans of the Senate were either unable or unwilling to shed any additional light on the purposes of the Executive — the resolution in regard to them, offered by Mr. Douglas, being laid on the table by a party vote: Yeas 23; Nays 11. But, before the Senate adjourned, it was very generally understood — certainly among Republicans — that the Southern forts were not to be surrendered, and that the Union was to be maintained.

The month of March had nearly worn away prior to any outward manifestations, by the ‘new lords’ at Washington, of a firm resolve to discard the policy of indecision and inaction whereby their predecessors had permitted the Republic's strongholds, arms, munitions, and treasure, to be seized and turned against her by the plotters of Disunion.10 So late as the 21st of that month, the astute and [438] rarely over-sanguine Vice-President Stephens11 congratulated his hearers that their revolution had thus far been accomplished without shedding a drop of blood — that the fear of deadly collision with the Union they had renounced was nearly dispelled — that the Southern Confederacy had now a population considerably larger than that of the thirteen United Colonies that won their independence through a seven years struggle with Great Britain--that its area was not only considerably larger than that of the United Colonies, but larger than that of both France and the Austrian Empire--larger than that of France, Spain, Portugal, and the British Isles altogether. He estimated the property of the Confederate States as worth Twenty-two Thousand Millions of Dollars; while the last Census makes that of the entire Union but Sixteen Thousand Millions--an understatement, doubtless. That the remaining Slave States would break away from the Union and join the Confederacy was regarded by him as a matter of course. “They will necessarily gravitate to us by an imperious law.” As to such others as might be deemed desirable acquisitions, Mr. Stephens spoke more guardedly, yet no less complacently, as was previously seen.12

This was by no means idle gasconade or vain-glorious presumption. Throughout the Free States, eminent and eager advocates of adhesion to the new Confederacy by those States--or so many of them as might hope to find acceptance — were widely heard and heeded. The New England13 States (except, possibly, Connecticut), it was agreed, need indulge no such hope--their sins were past forgiveness, and their reprobation eternal. So with the more “fanatical” States of the North-West; so, perhaps, with Western New York and Northern Ohio. The remaining States and parts of States, it was assumed, might easily and wisely fit themselves for adhesion to, and acceptance by, the Southern Confederacy by expelling or suppressing all “fanatics,” and adopting the Montgomery Constitution, thus legalizing slaveholding as well as slavehunting on their soil. Among those who were understood to urge such adhesion were Gov. Seymour, of New York, Judge Woodward and [439] Francis W. Hughes,14 of Pennsylvania, Rodman M. Price,15 of New Jersey, etc., etc.

Kindred in idea, though diverse in its mode of operations, was an association organized at New York during this month, naming itself the “American Society for promoting National Unity,” whereof Prof. Samuel F. B. Morse (of telegraphic fame and fortune) was made President, while The Journal of Commerce became its accredited organ. The cardinal idea of this fraternity was the restoration and conservation of National Unity through the conversion of all dissidents to the faith that African Slavery is ordained by God, for the improvement and blessing of both the Whites and the Blacks. The programme of this society thus illustrates the bland, benignant piety wherein the movement was grounded:--

We believe that the time has come when such evil teachings [Abolitionism] should be firmly and boldly confronted, not by the antagonisms of doubtful and perishable weapons, but by “the Word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever,” as expounded by a broad and faithful recognition of His moral and providential government over the world. It is with this view that we propose an organized effort, etc., etc.

Our attention will not be confined to Slavery; but this will be, at present, our main topic. Four millions of immortal beings, incapable of self-care, and indisposed to industry and foresight, are providentially committed to the hands of our Southern [440] friends. This stupendous trust they cannot put from them, if they would. Emancipation, were it possible, would be rebellion against Providence, and destruction to the colored race in our land. We at the North rid ourselves of no responsibility by assuming an attitude of hostility to Slavery, and thus sundering the bonds of State fellowship; we only put it out of our power to do the good which both humanity and religion demand. Should we not rather recognize the Providence of God, in His playing such a vast multitude of the degraded and dependent sons of Africa in this favored land, and cheerfully cooperate, by all needful labors and sacrifices, with His benevolent design to save and not to destroy them? Under a Providential dispensation, lifting them up from the degradation and miseries of indolence and vice, and exacting of them due and needful labor, they can certainly be trained and nurtured, as many have been, for the services and joys of heaven; and, if the climate and institutions of the South are such that our fellow-citizens there can afford to take the onerous care of them, in return for their services, should we not gladly consent? They freely concede to us our conscientious convictions, our rights, and all our privileges: should we not as freely concede to them theirs? Why should we contend? Why paralyze business, turn thousands of the industrious and laborious poor out of employment, sunder the last ties of affection that can bind these States together, destroy our once prosperous and happy nation, and perhaps send multitudes to premature graves — and all for what? Is not such a course a struggle of arrogant assumption against the Providence of the Most High? and, if persisted in, will it not surely bring down His heavy and prolonged judgments upon us?

Such were the means whereby many conservative and Christian men were intent on preserving our National unity, and reviving the sentiment of fraternity among our people, in March and the beginning of April, 1861.

1 The writer revisited Washington for a day or two, some two weeks or more after Mr. Lincoln's inauguration, and was surprised to see and hear on every hand what were, to him, convincing proofs that an early collision with the ‘Confederates’ was not seriously apprehended in the highest quarters.

2 Anniversary of the Landing of the Pilgrims, December 22, 1860.

3 In 1786-7.

4 In 1795.

5 See pages 287-8.

6 During the War of 1812, it was common in New England for the antagonist parties to take opposite sides of the “broad aisle” of the “meeting-house” wherein their respective ‘town meetings’ were held, and so remain during the day, conferring and counseling among themselves, but rarely mingling with or speaking civilly to members of the adverse party.

7 This reply was withheld, upon consultation with John A. Campbell, of Alabama, (then and till May 2d thereafter a Justice of the U. S. Supreme Court,) until twenty-three days subsequent to its date. Judge C. would seem to have been,even then, acting as a Confederate, despite his oath of office, though misunderstood by Gov. S. as laboring to preserve the Union.

8 Mr. Clingman offered the following resolution:

Resolved, That, in the opinion of the Senate, it is expedient that the President withdraw all Federal troops from the States of South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Texas, and Louisiana, and abstain from all attempts to collect revenue in these States.

9 Mr. Breckinridge finally offered the following resolution; action on which — together with that of Mr. Clingman--was precluded by the adjournment of the Senate:

Resolved, That the Senate recommend and advise the removal of the United States troops from the limits of the Confederate States.

10 The New Orleans Bee, one of the most respectable of Southern journals, in its issue of March 10th, thus expressed the universal conviction of the Southrons that no fight could be educed from the North:

The Black Republicans are a cowardly set, after all. They have not the courage of their own convictions. They tamper with their principles. Loathing Slavery, they are willing to incur almost any sacrifice rather than surrender the Border States. Appearances indicate their disposition even to forego the exquisite delight of sending armies and fleets to make war on the Confederate States, rather than run the risk of forfeiting the allegiance of the frontier Slave States. We see by this how hollow and perfidious is their policy, and how inconsistent are their acts with their professions. The truth is, they abhor Slavery; but they are fully alive to the danger of losing their power and influence, should they drive Virginia and the other Border States out of the Union. They chafe, doubtless, at the hard necessity of permitting South Carolina and her sisters to escape from their thraldom; but it is a necessity, and they must, perforce, submit to it.

11 In his speech at Savannah, already quoted.

12 See pages 416-18.

13 The New York Herald of December 9, 1860, has a Washington dispatch of the 8th relative to a caucus of Southern Senators then being held at the Capitol, which said:

The current of opinion seems to set strongly in favor of a reconstruction of the Union, without the New England States. The latter States are supposed to be so fanatical in their views as to render it impossible that there should be any peace under a government to which they were parties.

And Gov. Letcher, of Virginia, in his Message of January 7, 1861, after suggesting “that a commission, to consist of two of our most intelligent, discreet, and experienced statesmen,” should be appointed to visit the Legislatures of the Free States, to urge the repeal of the Personal Liberty bills which had been passed, said:

In renewing the recommendation at this time, I annex a modification, and that is, that commissioners shall not be sent to either of the New England States. The occurrences of the last two months have satisfied me that New England Puritanism has no respect for human constitutions, and so little regard for the Union that they would not sacrifice their prejudices, or smother their resentments, to perpetuate it.

14 For many years, Chairman of the Democratic State Committee.

15 Formerly Representative in Congress from California; since, Democratic Governor of New Jersey. Gov. Price's letter to L. W. Burnett, Esq., of Newark, N. J., appeared in The Newark Mercury of April 4, 1861. lie says:

If we find that to remain with the North, separated from those who have, heretofore, consumed our manufactures, and given employment to a large portion of our labor, deprived of that reciprocity of trade which we have hitherto enjoyed, our Commerce will cease, European competition will be invited to Southern markets, our people be compelled to seek employment else-where, our State becoming depopulated and impoverished, thereby affecting our agricultural interest, which has not yet felt the crisis-commerce and manufactures being always first to feel political and financial embarrassments. But at last the blow will be felt by all; even now, the farmers' products are at ruinous prices at the West. These are the prospective results of remaining with the present Northern confederacy. Whereas, to join our destiny with the South will be to continue our trade and intercourse, our prosperity, progress, and happiness, uninterrupted, and perhaps in an augmented degree. Who is he that would advise New Jersey to pursue the path of desolation when one of prosperity is open before her, without any sacrifice of principle or honor, and without difficulty or danger; besides being the course and policy, in my judgment, most likely to reunite all the States under the glorious “Stars and Stripes?”

The action of our State will prove influential and, perhaps, potential, from our geographical position, upon the adjoining great States of Pennsylvania and New York; and I am confident that the people of those States, whose interests are identical with our own to a considerable degree, will, when they elect, choose also to cast their lot with the South. And, after them, the Western and North-Western States will be found in the same balance, which would be, essentially, a reconstruction of the old Government. What is the difference whether we go to the South, or they come to us? I would rather be the magnanimous brother or friend, to hold out the hand of reconciliation, than he who, as magnanimously, receives the proffer.

It takes little discernment to see that one policy will enrich us, and the other impoverish us. Knowing our rights and interests, we dare maintain them. The Delaware River only separates us from the State of Delaware for more than one hundred miles. A portion of our State extends south of Mason and Dixon's line, and south of Washington city. The Constitution made at Montgomery has many modifications and amendments desired by the people of this State, and none they would not prefer to disunion. We believe that Slavery is no sin; “that the negro is not equal to the white man; that Slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition;” still, we might desire some change in the Constitution, which time may effect; but, as a whole, it is, in my opinion, the only basis upon which the country can be saved; and, as the issue between the North and the South has been a practical one (the question of territorial rights was immaterial, and, practically, nothing to us), let us, then, save the country — let us do that which is most likely to reunite the States, speedily and peacefully.

Arguments nearly identical with the foregoing were used to like purpose by Gov. Seymour, of New York, but in private conversations only.

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