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Chapter 5:

  • Preparations of South Carolina to withdraw from the Union.
  • -- passage of her ordinance of Secession. -- the Federal force in Charleston Harbour evacuates Fort Moultrie, and occupies Sumter. -- description of Fort Sumter. -- how the Secession of South Carolina was entertained in the North. -- the levity and inconsistency of the North with respect to this event. -- doctrine of Secession, and Northern precedents. -- record of Massachusetts. -- Mr. Quincy's declaration in Congress. -- a double justification of the withdrawal of the Southern States from the Union. -- the right of self-government. -- opinion of Mr. Lincoln. -- opinion of the New York Tribune. -- opinion of Mr. Seward. -- the Secession question in the cotton States. -- hesitation of Georgia. -- project of Alexander H. Stephens. -- Secession of all the cotton States. -- seizure of Federal forts and arsenals. -- Fort Pickens. -- Senator Yulee's letter. -- the scenes of Secession transferred to Washington. -- resignation of Southern Senators. -- Jefferson Davis' farewell speech to the Federal Senate. -- Senator Clay's bill of indictment against the Republican party. -- the Convention at Montgomery. -- Constitution of the Confederate States. -- Jefferson Davis chosen President. -- his personal history. -- his character. -- why the public opinion about him was so divided and contradictory. -- measures looking to pacification. -- three avenues through which it was expected. -- Early prospects of pacification in Congress. -- the Republican “ultimatum.” -- “the Crittenden compromise.” -- measures of compromise and peace in Congress exclusively proposed by the South, and deliberately defeated by the North. -- the peace conference. -- its failure. -- disposition of the Border Slave States. -- how mistaken by the North. -- the Virginia Convention. -- how the Secession party gained in it. -- the record of Virginia on the subject of State Rights. -- President Buchanan on the Secession question. -- his weak character and undecided policy. -- how over-censured by the North. -- Gen. Scott's intermeddling. -- his impracticable advice. -- President Buchanan's perfidy in the Moultrie -- Sumter affair. -- his interview with the South Carolina delegation. -- a second deception. -- the “star of the West” affair. -- the situation. At the close of Buchanan's administration. -- the country waiting for the signal of combat

The telegraph had no sooner announced the election of Abraham Lincoln President of the United States than the State of South Carolina prepared for a deliberate withdrawal from the Union. Considering the argument [83] as fully exhausted, she determined to resume the exercise of her rights as a sovereign State; and for this purpose her Legislature called a Convention. It assembled in Columbia on the 17th of December, 1860. Its sessions were held in a church, over which floated a flag bearing the device of a palmetto tree, with an open Bible at its trunk, with the inscription: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in time of trouble, therefore will we not fear, though the earth be removed and though the mountains be carried into the sea; the Lord of Hosts is with us-the God of Jacob is our refuge.”

On the 18th the Convention adjourned to Charleston, and on the 20th of December passed the memorable ordinance of Secession, concluding that “the Union now subsisting between South Carolina and other States, under the name of ‘ The United States of America ’ is hereby dissolved.” The ordinance was passed by a unanimous vote. A ceremony was a,pointed for the signing in public of the roll of parchment on which the ordinance was engrossed. The public procession entered St. Andrew: Hall in order: the President and members of the Convention coming first, followed by the President and members of the Senate, and the Speaker and House of Representatives. Their entry was greeted by loud and prolonged cheers from the spectators; the proceedings were commenced with prayer; the Attorney-General of the State then announced that the ordinance had been engrossed by order of the Convention, and the parchment roll was signed by the members who were called successively to the table. When all had signed, the parchment was raised in the sight of the assemblage, and when the President announced the State of South Carolina ant Independent Commonwealth, the whole audience rose to their feet, and with enthusiastic cheers testified their sense of the thrilling proclamation.

A few days after this event a memorable event occurred in Charleston harbour. On the 26th of December Major Anderson, who was in command of the Federal forces there, evacuated Fort Moultrie, spiking the guns and burning the gun carriages, and occupied Fort Sumter with i view of strengthening his position. This movement was effected as a surprise under cover of night. The place in which Major Anderson had now taken refuge was pronounced by military critics to be well-nigh impregnable. Fort Sumter was a small work; but as strong as could well be conceived. It was a modern truncated pentagonal fort, rising abruptly out of the water at the mouth of Charleston harbour, three and a half miles from the city. The foundation was an artificial one, made of chips of granite firmly imbedded in the mud and sand, and so well constructed that it had cost half a million of dollars. and consumed ten years of labour. When Major Anderson occupied the fortification, it was so nearly completed as to admit the introduction of its armament. The walls were of solid brick and concrete masonry, sixty feet high, and from eight to twelve [84] feet in thickness, and pierced for three tiers of guns on the northern, eastern, and western sides. These guns commanded the harbour, thus giving the Federal garrison the power to arrest the shipping bound to and from the port, and to assume an attitude of hostility inconsistent with the safety of that part of the State of South Carolina.

In the mean time the event of South Carolina's formal withdrawal front the Union was treated by the North generally with derision. Northern newspapers scoffed at her; Northern pictorials abounded with caricatures of Palmetto chivalry; secession cockades, it was said, would soon pass out of fashion, and, on the appearance of the first United States regiment in Charleston harbour, would be found as scarce as cherries in the snow. But what was most remarkable in the treatment of the event by the Northern newspapers and politicians was, that they all united in affecting the most entire and ready willingness that South Carolina, and as many Slave States as chose to accompany her should go out of the Union whenever they pleased. This affectation, which was half insolence and half hypocrisy, was heard everywhere in the North. As long, indeed, as the North apprehended no serious consequences, and from its very vanity refused to entertain the idea that the South had any means or resources for making a serious resistance to the Federal authority, it easily afforded to ridicule the movement of South Carolina; to compare her to a “spoilt child,” wandering from the fold of a “paternal government;” and to declare that there was really no design to coerce her or her sister States, but rather pleasure at the separation. “Let the prodigal go,” exclaimed one of the political preachers of the North. A God-speed was added by Mr. Greeley, of the New York Tribune. And yet a few months later, and these men and their followers were in agonies of anxiety and paroxysms of fury to reclaim what they then called the “rebel” States, declaring that their cities should be laid in ashes, and their soil sown with blood; while the benevolent Tribune drew from its imagination and hopes a picture, not of the returned prodigal, but of punished “rebels” returning home to find their wives and children cowering in rags, and Famine sitting at the fireside.1 [85]

But had the Northern people really been candid and just in their professed willingness to let the South go, they might have found, alike in the political precedents of the country and in the sound reason of its states men, ample grounds for such a disposition. The doctrine of State secession was no new thing in the North. The right of it had been reserved by the State of New York, on her adoption of the Federal Constitution. The exercise of such right had been threatened on four separate occasions by the State of Massachusetts. She had threatened to secede from the Union, with reference to the adjustment of the State debts; again, on account of the Louisiana Purchase; thirdly, because of the war of 1812-14, when, as Mr. Jefferson said, “four of the Eastern States were only attached to the Union like so many inanimate bodies to living men ;” and fourthly, on the annexation of Texas, when her Legislature actually resolved in advance that this event would be good cause for the dissolution of the Union. With reference to the Louisiana Purchase, and the bill to admit into the Union the Territory of Orleans, under the name of Louisiana, Mr. Quincy, of Massachusetts, had placed on record in Congress a definition of the remedy of secession; for, at the instance of members, he had put in writing, and placed on the desk of the House of Representatives, the following proposition:

If this bill passes, it is my deliberate opinion that it is virtually a dissolution of this Union; that it will free the States from their moral obligations, and, as it will be the right of all, so it will be the duty of some, definitely to prepare for a separation-amicably, if they can; violently, if they must.

But it is not necessary to make here any discussion or recrimination on the subject of State secession. For the South claimed a double justification of her withdrawal from the Union; and in putting it on the alternative of that right of self-government proclaimed in the American Declaration of Independence, and existing in all republican systems, she could claim its recognition from the highest sources, both of official and popular authority in the North.

Indeed, the President-elect, Mr. Lincoln, had, at another period of his public life, made this remarkable declaration: “Any people, anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up and shake [86] off the existing Government, and form a new one that suits them better. Nor is this right confined to cases where the people of an existing Government may choose to exercise it. Any portion of such people that can, may revolutionize, putting down a minority intermingled with or near about them, who may oppose them.”

On the eve of hostilities the New York Tribune declared: “Whenever portion of this Union, large enough to form an independent, self-sustaining nation, shall see fit to say authentically to the residue, ‘We want to get away from you,’ we shall say-and we trust self-respect, if not regard for the principle of self-government, will constrain the residue of the American people to say-Go!”

At a later period, Mr. Seward, then President Lincoln's Secretary of State, used the following language to Mr. Adams, the United States Minister at London: “For these reasons he [Mr. Lincoln] would not be disposed to reject a cardinal dogma of theirs [the Secessionists], namely, that the Federal Government could not reduce the seceding States to obedience by conquest, even although he were disposed to question that proposition. But in fact the President willingly accepts it as true. Only an imperial or despotic government could subjugate thoroughly disaffected and insurrectionary members of the State. This Federal Republican system of ours is, of all forms of government, the very one most unfitted for such a labour.”

It was in the face of this plain and abundant record that the North, as we shall hereafter see, prepared to make upon the seceded Southern States a war the most terrible in modern annals, and the most monstrous of Christian times. But we must return here to the course of events immediately following the secession of South Carolina.

There could be no doubt of the disposition of all the Cotton States to accompany South Carolina in her withdrawal from the Union, and to make common cause with her. But there was some hesitation as to the time and mode of action; and in Georgia especially there was a strong party in favour of holding a conference of all the Southern States before taking the decisive and irrevocable step. The influence of Alexander H. Stephens was not only given to this party in Georgia, but betrayed a design to keep the State in the Union. He had made a speech of great ingenuity, to show that the cause of the Union was not yet hopeless, that all honourable means should be used to save it-that, notwithstanding the election of Mr. Lincoln, the Northern States might yield to a determined admonition from the South. But to this art of the demagogue there were plain and forcible replies. Mr. Howell Cobb urged that delay was dangerous, and that the Legislature ought to pass an act of secession to be ratified by the people; Mr. Toombs insisted that all hope of justice from the North was gone, and that nothing remained but separation, and, if [87] necessary, war to maintain the rights of the South; and while the discussion was going on, the Mayor of Savannah had already pledged fifty thousand Georgians to rally to the aid of South Carolina, if needed.

It was impossible for any checks of authority or arts of the demagogue to restrain the popular sentiment in the Cotton States that clamoured to follow the example of South Carolina. On the 7th day of January, 1861, the State of Florida seceded from the Union. Mississippi followed on the 9th day of the same month; Alabama on the 11th; Georgia on the 20th; Louisiana on the 26th; and Texas on the 1st of February. Thus, in less than three months after the announcement of Mr. Lincoln's election, all the Cotton States had seceded from the Union.

They had done more than this. They had secured all the forts, arsenals, and government places lying within their territory, with the exception of Fort Sumter in Charleston harbour, and Fort Pickens near Pensacola. At this latter place was to occur a history somewhat similar to that

Here was a fine bay; a splendid navy yard; and the principal depot of the Gulf fleet. In the beginning of 1861, a small military force was stationed there in charge of the forts. These forts were, Fort McRae, on the main land, with a lagoon behind it, and guarding one side of the harbour; Fort Barancas, directly facing the entrance of the harbour, and Fort Pickens on the other, or east side of the harbour entrance. This latter was on the extremity of the long, low, sandy Santa Rosa Island, which stretched away to the eastward, and formed an excellent breakwater to the bay. The navy yard was about a mile inside the bay, beyond Fort Barancas, and was thus in an admirably safe position.

The seizure of these places was earnestly and instantly advised by Senator Yulee, of Florida, in private letters written from his seat in the United States Senate. Fort Barancas and McRae, with the navy yard, were at once surrendered by the naval commandant; but Lieut. Slemmers, not approving such a course, secretly crossed over to Fort Pickens, as Major Anderson did from Moultrie to Sumter, and there stationed himself, while the ingenuity and enterprise of the government at Washington were to be taxed for his reinforcement.

The scene of secession was now to be transferred to Washington. On the 21st of January, 1861, an impressive and memorable event occurred in the Senate of the United States. On that day, resignations of certain distinguished Senators were announced, in consequence of the secession of their States. Even the Republican Senators treated the occasion with respect; the chamber was pervaded by an air of solemnity; and the galleries were crowded by a vast concourse of spectators, the intelligent of whom recognized in the scene transpiring before their eyes the ceremony of the first serious disintegration of the authority at Washington. [88]

The Senators who withdrew on this day were Mr. Jefferson Davis, of Mississippi, Messrs. Fitzpatrick and Clay, of Alabama, and Messrs Yulee and Mallory, of Florida. Most of them made temperate and courteous speeches in announcing the fact and occasion of their resignation. Mr. Davis, although at the time much prostrated by ill health, made a speech of remarkable force and dignity; and turning to different members, declared that he was the type of the general feelings of his constituents toward theirs; that he felt no hostility to them; that he went thence unencumbered by the remembrance of any injury received; but he said, if the North had resolved on hostile relations towards the seceded States, then “we will invoke the God of our fathers, who delivered them from the power of the lion, to protect us from the ravages of the bear; and thus, putting our trust in God and in our own firm hearts and strong arms, we will vindicate the right as best we may.”

Mr. C. C. Clay of Alabama was more violent. In severing his connection with the Senate, he took occasion to make out a very full bill of indictment against the Republican party, and to recount the grievances that impelled the South to separate herself from the Union. A portion of his speech is interesting here as the historical statement on the side of the South of the causes and necessity of Disunion, made by one of her leading statesmen, and reflecting much both of the intelligence and passion of his countrymen. He said:

It is now nearly forty-two years since Alabama was admitted into the Union. She entered it, as she goes out of it, while the Confederacy was in convulsions, caused by the hostility of the North to the domestic slavery of the South. Not a decade, nor scarce a lustrum, has elapsed, since her birth, that has not been strongly marked by proofs of the growth and power of that anti-slavery spirit of the Northern people which seeks the overthrow of that domestic institution of the South which is not only the chief source of her prosperity, but the very basis of her social order and state polity. It is to-day the master-spirit of the Northern States, and had, before the secession of Alabama, of Mississippi, of Florida, or of South Carolina, severed most of the bonds of the Union. It denied us Christian communion, because it could not endure what it styles the moral leprosy of slaveholding; it refused us permission to sojourn, or even to pass through the North, with our property; it claimed freedom for the slave if brought by his master into a Northern State; it violated the Constitution and treaties and laws of Congress, because designed to protect that property; it refused us any share of lands acquired mainly by our diplomacy and blood and treasure; it refused our property any shelter or security beneath the flag of a common government; it robbed us of our property, and refused to restore it; it refused to deliver criminals against our laws, who fled to the North with our property or our blood upon their hands; it threatened us, by solemn legislative acts, with ignominious punishment if we pursued our property into a Northern State; it murdered Southern men when seeking the recovery of their property on Northern soil; it invaded the borders of Southern States, poisoned their wells, burnt their dwellings, and murdered their people; it denounced us by deliberate resolves of popular meetings, of party conventions, and of religious and even legislative assemblies, as habitual violators [89] of the laws of God and the rights of humanity; it exerted all the moral and physical agencies that human ingenuity can devise or diabolical malice can employ to heap odium and infamy upon us, and to make us a by-word of hissing and of scorn throughout the civilized world. Yet we bore all this for many years, and might have borne it for many more, under the oft-repeated assurance of our Northern friends, and the too fondly cherished hope that these wrongs and injuries were committed by a minority party, and had not the sanction of the majority of the people, who would, in time, rebuke our enemies, and redress our grievances.

But the fallacy of these promises and folly of our hopes have been too clearly and conclusively proved in late elections, especially the last two Presidential elections, to permit us to indulge longer in such pleasing delusions. The platform of the Republican party of 1856 and 1860 we regard as a libel upon the character and a declaration of war against the lives and property of the Southern people. No bitterer or more offensive calumny could be uttered against them than is expressed in denouncing their system of slavery and polygamy as “twin relics of barbarism.” It not only reproaches us as unchristian and heathenish, but imputes a sin and a crime deserving universal scorn and universal enmity. No sentiment is more insulting or more hostile to our domestic tranquillity, to our social order, and our social existence, than is contained in the declaration that our negroes are entitled to liberty and equality with the white man. It is in spirit, if not effect, as strong an incitement and invocation to servile insurrection, to murder, arson, and other crimes, as any to be found in abolition literature.

And to aggravate the insult which is offered us in demanding equality with us for our slaves, the same platform denies us equality with Northern white men or free negroes, and brands us as an inferiour race, by pledging the Republican party to resist our entrance into the Territories with our slaves, or the extension of slavery, which-as its founders and leaders truly assert-must and will effect its extermination. To crown the climax of insult to our feelings and menace of our rights, this party nominated to the Presidency a man who not only endorses the platform, but promises, in his zealous support of its principles, to disregard the judgments of your courts, the obligations of your Constitution, and the requirements of his official oath, by approving any bill prohibiting slavery in the Territories of the United States.

A large majority of the Northern people have declared at the ballot-box their approval of the platform and the candidates of that party in the late Presidential election. Thus, by the solemn verdict of the people of the North, the slaveholding communities of the South are “ outlawed, branded with ignominy, consigned to execration, and ultimate destruction.”

Sir, are we looked upon as more or less than men? Is it expected that we will or can exercise that god-like virtue which “ beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things; endureth all things; ” which teaches us to love our enemies, and bless them that curse us? Are we devoid of the sensibilities, the sentiments, the passions, the reason, and the instincts of mankind? Have we no pride of honour, no sense of shame, no reverence of our ancestors, no care of our posterity, no love of home, or family, or friends? Must we confess our baseness, discredit the fame of our sires, dishonour ourselves, degrade our posterity, abandon our homes, and flee from our country, all for the sake of the Union? Must we agree to live under the ban of our own Government? Must we acquiesce in the inauguration of a President, chosen by confederate, but unfriendly, States, whose political faith constrains him, for his conscience and country's sake, to deny us our constitutional rights, because elected according to the forms of the Constitution? Must we consent to live under a Government which we believe will henceforth be controlled and administered by those who not only deny us justice and equality, and brand us as inferiours, but [90] whose avowed principles and policy must destroy our domestic tranquillity, imperil the lives of our wives and children, degrade and dwarf, and ultimately destroy, our State? Must we live, by choice or compulsion, under the rule of those who present us the dire alternative of an “irrepressible conflict” with the Northern people, in defence of our altars and our fireside, or the manumission of our slaves, and the admission of them to social and political equality? No, sir, no I The freemen of Alabama have proclaimed to the world that they will not; and have proved their sincerity by seceding from the Union, and hazarding all the dangers and difficulties of a separate and independent station among the nations of the earth.

Mr. Jefferson Davis had resigned from the Senate of the United States to encounter a responsibility and accept a trust the greatest of modern times. Public opinion in all the seceded States had long designated him as the leader of their new destinies. A convention of delegates from the then six seceded States assembled in Congress at Montgomery, Alabama, on the 4th of February, 1861, for the purpose of organizing a provisional government. This body adopted a Constitution for the Confederate States on the 8th of February. On the 9th of February, Congress proceeded to the election of a President and Vice-President, and unanimously agreed upon Jefferson Davis, of Mississippi, for President, and Alexander H. Stephens, of Georgia, for Vice-President.

The framers of the new government at Montgomery studiously adhered, in the main features of their plan, to the Washington model; but the Constitution adopted by them differed in some particulars from that of the United States. And it is to be remarked that at every point of difference it made an undoubted improvement, or corrected some acknowledged evil of former times. The Confederate Constitution absolutely prohibited the over-sea slave-trade; that of the United States did not. It permitted cabinet ministers to take part in the discussions of Congress. It prohibited bounties or duties to foster any branch of industry. After a specified time the post-office was required to cover its own expenses. No extra compensation was to be paid to any contractor. The President was to hold office for six years, and was not to be reeligible. The subordinate government officers were not to be removed by the President without a report to the Senate giving his reasons. The right of property in slaves and that of taking them into any Territory were expressly stated; but in this, it was claimed that no new principle was adopted or laid down, which did not already exist in the Constitution of the old Union.

The choice of President was thought at the time to be quite as fit and admirable as the other work of the Convention. But of this, the most serious doubts were hereafter to arise. Jefferson Davis, the President of the Confederate States, was a name that was associated with much that was brilliant and honourable in the history of the old government. He [91] had served that government in the field and in council. He had received a military education at West Point; had served in the Mexican War, at the head of a regiment of volunteer riflemen, winning distinction at Monterey and Buena Vista; and had been called to the cabinet of President Pierce, as Secretary of War; in the administration of which office he increased the strength of the United States army, proposed to abolish the permanent staff-organization for one of details on staff-duty, and sent to the Crimea a commission to report upon the state of the science of war, and the condition of European armies. He re-entered political life as a Senator in Congress. In that highest school of debate in America, he was distinguished for a style of polished and graceful oratory; and speaking in moderate rhetorical figures, and in subdued tones, he was never the flaming fanatic or popular exhorter, but just the speaker to address with agreeable effect a small assembly of intelligent and cultivated persons.

Mr. Davis was a man whose dignity, whose political scholarship, whose classical and lofty expressions, whose literary style-unexcelled, perhaps, in the power of statement by any contemporary model,--whose pure morals, well-poised manners and distinguished air, were likely to adorn the high station to which he had been raised, and calculated to qualify him, in many striking respects, as the representative of the proud and chivalrous people of the South. But these accomplishments concealed from the hasty and superficial view defects of character which were most serious, indeed almost vital in their consequences, and which were rapidly to be developed in the course of his administration of the new government. His dignity was the mask of a peculiar obstinacy, which, stimulated by an intellectual conceit, spurned the counsels of equal minds, and rejected the advice of the intelligent, while it was curiously not inconsistent with a complete subserviency to the smallest and most unworthy of favourites. His scholarship smelt of the closet. He had no practical judgment; his intercourse with men was too distant and constrained for studies of human nature; and his estimate of the value of particular men was grotesque and absurd. The especial qualifications of a great leader in the circumstances in which Mr. Davis was placed would have been strong and active common-sense, quick apprehension, knowledge of men, and a disposition to consult the aggregate wisdom of the people, and to gather the store of judgment from every possible source of practical advice within its reach. Mr. Davis had none of these plain qualities. He had, instead of these, certain elegant and brilliant accomplishments, which dazzled the multitude, confused the world in its judgment of his merits, and gave him a singular reputation, in which admirers and censors were strangely mingled: one party, looking at a distance, extravagant in its praise, the other, having a nearer view, unlimited in its condemnation. [92]

But we must reserve a fuller estimate of President Davis' character for other periods in our narrative. While the formidable events we have just been relating — that of the secession of seven Southern States, and their erection of a new government — were taking place, there were on foot measures of pacification, to which attention must be given as well as to measures of hostility. These measures looking towards peace involve the action of the Congress of the United States; the action of States outside of Congress; and certain strange proceedings on the part of the Federal Executive, which were undoubtedly influential in determining the question of peace or war.

In the early part of the session of the United States Congress, a hope of pacification had been generally indulged by the country, and was largely shared by some of the Southern members. Even after the secession of South Carolina, Southern members, who made violent Disunion speeches on the floor of Congress, yet entertained in their private conversation a prospect of adjustment, and confidentially advised their constituents not to sell their city lots in Washington, or dispose of their property interests in the Northern States. But as the session progressed it became evident that no concessions were to be expected from Congress; that the temper of the Republican party was unyielding and insolent; that it was not impressed with any serious danger, and even in the event of a crisis, was confident of subduing the South with such expedition and decision as to make an issue of arms rather to be desired than otherwise. Indeed, the ultimatum of the Republican party was distinctly enough announced in resolutions offered by Mr. Clarke of New Hampshire, which passed both houses of Congress. These resolutions declared that the provisions of the Constitution were already ample enough for any emergencies; that it was to be obeyed rather than amended; and that an extrication from present dangers was to be looked for in strenuous efforts to preserve the peace, protect the public property, and enforce the laws, rather than in new guaranties for peculiar interests, compromises for particular difficulties, or concessions to unreasonable demands. Under this surface of smooth words, the proposition was plain that the demands of the South were unreasonable, and not to be allowed, and were to be resisted to the extremities of coercion and war.

Committees in both houses had been appointed to consider the state of the Union. Neither committee was able to agree upon any mode of settlement of the pending issue between the North and the South. The Republican members in both committees rejected propositions acknowledging the right of property in slaves, or recommending the division of the Territories between the slaveholding and non-slaveholding States by a geographical line.

On the 18th of December, 1860, Mr. Crittenden of Kentucky had [93] introduced in the Senate a series of resolutions which contained a plan of compromise, which it was long hoped would be effected, and which for months continued a topic of discussion in Congress. The features of this plan may be briefly indicated. It sought to incorporate into the Constitution the following propositions:

1. That south of a certain geographical parallel of latitude, Congress, or a Territorial Legislature, shall have no power to abolish, modify, or in any way interfere with slavery in the Territories.

2. That Congress shall have no power to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia;

3. Or in the forts, arsenals, dock-yards, or wherever else the Federal Government has exclusive jurisdiction.

4. That in case of the failure to arrest any alleged “fugitive from service,” from violence to the officer of the law, or intimidation of his authority, the community where such failure took place shall be compelled to pay the value of such alleged fugitive to the owner thereof, and may be prosecuted for that purpose and to that effect.

The fate of this measure was significant enough of the views and temper of the Republican party, if any additional evidence of these had been needed. In the Senate it was voted against by every Republican senator; and again, every Republican in that body voted to substitute for Mr. Crittenden's propositions the resolutions of Mr. Clarke, to which reference has already been made.

In the House, certain propositions moved by Mr. Etheridge, which were even less favourable to the South than Mr. Crittenden's, were not even entertained, on a vote of yeas and nays; and a resolution giving a pledge to sustain the President in the use of force against seceding States was adopted by a large majority.

It is remarkable that of all the compromises proposed in this Congress for preserving the peace of the country, none came from Northern men; they came from the South, and were defeated by the North! The “Crittenden Compromise” (for a geographical limit within which to tolerate, not establish slavery in the Territories) was, as we have seen, the principal feature of these pacific negotiations; it was considered fully capable to reconstruct the Union; it had even the adhesion or countenance of such influential leaders of Secession as Toombs, of Georgia, and Jefferson Davis, the future President of the Southern Confederacy; it constituted under the circumstances the only possible existing hope of saving the Union. But, unfortunately for the peace of the country, the North deliberately defeated it.

While the door of Congress was thus closed to peace, there was outside of it a remarkable effort at conciliation, which testified to the popular anxiety on the subject. The action of the States was invoked. Commissioners [94] from twenty States, composing a “Peace conference,” held at the request of the Legislature of Virginia, met in Washington on the 4th of February, and adjourned February 27th. All the Border Slave States were represented. Most of the delegates from these States were willing to accept the few and feeble guaranties of the Crittenden proposition. The ultimate result was the recommendation of a project to Congress which, in detail, was less favourable to the South than that contained in Mr. Crittenden's resolutions, but generally identical with it in respect of running a geographical line between the slaveholding and non-slaveholding territories, and enforcing the provisions of the Fugitive Slave Law. One curious additional feature was that no territory should in the future be acquired by the United States, without the concurrence of the Senators from the Southern States and those from the Northern States. But it is useless to go into the details of the report of the Peace Commissioners; for it never received any steady or respectful consideration in either house of Congress. In the Senate it was summarily voted down by a vote of twenty-eight to seven; and the House, on a call of yeas and nays, actually refused to receive it.

There was an evident disposition on the part of the so-called Border Slave States to avoid a decisive step. To this hesitation the North gave a significance which it did not really possess. It is true that Tennessee and North Carolina decided against calling a State Convention; but this action implied simply that they were awaiting the results of the peace propositions to which they had committed themselves. The State of Virginia, which had distinguished herself by a conspicuous effort to save the Union--for it was on the unanimous invitation of her Legislature that the Peace Conference had been assembled-had called a State Convention in the month of January. It was elected on the 4th of February; and the Northern party found singular gratification in the circumstance that a majority of Union men was returned to an assembly so critical.

There is no doubt the Convention of Virginia was sincerely anxious by every means in its power to restore the Union. But the party in favour of secession was steadily strengthening in view of the obstinate front presented by the Black Republican party in Congress. Delegates who had been returned as Union men, were afterwards instructed to vote otherwise. Petersburg, Culpepper, Cumberland, Prince Edward, Botetourt, Wythe, and many other towns and counties, held meetings and urged prompt secession. The action of the Federal authorities was daily becoming more irritating and alarming. A garrison was thrown into Fort Washington on the Potomac; and it was observed that guns were being mounted on the parapet of Fortress Monroe, and turned inland upon the very bosom of Virginia.

However Virginia might have lingered, in the hope that the breach [95] that had taken place in the Union might be repaired by new constitutional guaranties, there could be no doubt, in view of her record in the past, that whenever the issue of war was made, whenever the coercion of the seceded States should be attempted, she would then be on the side of Southern Independence, prompt to risk all consequences. The Federal government could not have been blind to this; for the precedents of the State were well known. The Resolutions of ‘98 and ‘99, originated by Mr. Jefferson, constituted the text-book of State-Rights, and vindicated and maintained the right and duty of States suffering grievances from unjust and unconstitutional Federal legislation, to judge of the wrong as well as of “the mode and measure of redress.” At every period of controversy between Federal and State authority, the voice of Virginia was the first to be heard in behalf of State Rights. In 1832-1833, the Governor of Virginia, John Floyd, the elder, had declared that Federal troops should not pass the banks of the Potomac to coerce South Carolina into obedience to the tariff laws, unless over his dead body; and a majority of the Legislature of Virginia had then indicated their recognition of the right of a State to secede from the Union. At every stage of the agitation of the slavery question in Congress and in the Northern States, Virginia declared her sentiments, and entered upon her legislative records declarations that she would resist the aggressive spirit of the Northern majority, even to the disruption of the ties that bound her to the Union. In 1848, she had resolved, in legislative council, that she would not submit to the passage of the Wilmot proviso, or any kindred measure. From the date of the organization of the Anti-Slavery party, her people, of all parties, had declared that the election of an abolitionist to the Presidency would be a virtual declaration of war against the South. The Legislature that assembled a few weeks after Mr. Lincoln's election, declared, in effect, with only four dissenting voices, that the interests of Virginia were thoroughly identified with those of the other Southern States, and that any intimation from any source, that her people were looking to any combination in the last resort other than union with them, was unpatriotic and treasonable.-In view of a record so plain and explicit, it was madness to suppose that the Convention of 1861 entertained any desire to cling to the Union other than by constitutional guaranties, or that Virginia would hesitate for a moment to separate from that Union whenever it should actually undertake to subjugate her sister States of the South.

We have seen that there was but little prospect of peace in the proceedings of Congress, or in the action of the people, outside of Congress, through the forms of State authority. The conduct of the Federal Executive afforded no better prospect; indeed, instead of being negative in its results, it did much to vex the country and to provoke hostility.

The policy of Mr. Buchanan was unfortunately weak and hesitatingan [96] attempt at ambidexterity, in which he equally failed to conciliate the Secessionists and pacify their designs, or to make any resolute effort to save the Union. He had, in his message to Congress, denounced secession as revolutionary; and although he was clear in the constitutional proposition that there was no right of “coercion” on the part of the Federal Government, yet he did but little, and that irresolutely, to put that Government in a state of defence, in the event of violence on the part of the seceded States. This timid old man — a cautious, secretive politician, who never felt the warmth of an emotion, and had been bred in the harsh school of political selfishness-attempted to stand between two parties; and the result was embarrassment, double-dealing, weak and despicable querulousness, and, finally, the condemnation and contempt of each of the parties between whom he attempted to distribute his favours.

It is true that Mr. Buchanan was over-censured by the North for his failure to reinforce the garrisons of the Southern forts. When Gen. Scott: on the 15th of December, 1860, recommended that nine Federal fortifications in the Southern States should be effectively garrisoned, there were only five companies of Federal troops within his reach; and he could only have intended in proposing such an impracticable measure to make a certain reputation rather as a politician than as a general. Again, when, six weeks later, Gen. Scott renewed this recommendation, the fact was that the whole force at his command consisted of six hundred recruits, obtained since the date of his first recommendation, in addition to the five regular companies. The army of the United States was still out of reach on the remote frontiers; and Gen. Scott must have known that it would be impossible to withdraw it during mid-winter in time for this military operation.

But while Mr. Buchanan's course in refusing to distribute a thousand men among the numerous forts in the Cotton States, as well as Fortress Monroe, is, in a measure, defensible against Northern criticism, for such a proceeding would have been an exhibition of weakness instead of strength, and, at the time, a dangerous provocation to the seceded States, yet, in this same matter, he was about to commit an act of perfidy, for which there can be neither excuse nor disguise. He had refused to reinforce Fort Moultrie in Charleston Harbour, for the reason that it might provoke and alarm the Secession party, and disturb the movements in Congress and in the country then looking towards peace. But, for the same reason, he gave the distinct and solemn pledge that he would permit the military status quo in Charleston Harbour to remain unless South Carolina herself should attempt to disturb it. No language could be more explicit than that in which this pledge was conveyed.

The official instructions made on the 11th of December to Major Anderson, then in command of Fort Moultrie, ran as follows: [97]

“ You are aware of the great anxiety of the Secretary of War that a collision of the troops with the people of the State shall be avoided, and of his studied determination to pursue a course with reference to the military force and forts in this harbour, which shall guard against such a collision. He has, therefore, carefully abstained from increasing the force at this point, or taking any measures which might add to the present excited state of the public mind, or which would throw any doubt on the confidence he feels that South Carolina will not attempt by violence to obtain possession of the public works or interfere with their occupancy. The smallness of your force will not permit you, perhaps, to occupy more than one of the three forts, but an attack on or attempt to take possession of either one of them will be regarded as an act of hostility, and you may then put your command into either of them which you may deem most proper to increase its power of resistance.”

On the day previous to the date of these instructions, the South Carolina delegation had called on the President; the distinct object of their visit being to consult with him as to the best means of avoiding a hostile collision between their State and the Federal Government. At the instance of Mr. Buchanan, their communication was put in writing, and they presented him the following note:

In compliance with our statement to you yesterday, we now express to you our strong conviction that neither the constituted authorities, nor any body of the people of the State of South Carolina, will either attack or molest the United States forts in the harbour of Charleston, previously to the action of the convention; and we hope and believe not until an offer has been made through an accredited representative to negotiate for an amicable arrangement of all matters between the State and Federal Government, provided that no reinforcements be sent into these forts, and their relative military status shall remain as at present.

Yet we have seen how this military status was disturbed by Major Anderson's removal to Fort Sumter, an act which greatly strengthened his position, which put him from an untenable post into what was then supposed to be an impregnable defence, which changed the status, quite as much so as an accession of numerical force, and which, to the State of South Carolina, could have none other than a hostile significance. Mr. Buchanan was reminded of his pledge, and asked to order Major Anderson back to Fort Moultrie. He refused to do so. Mr. Floyd, of Virginia, the Secretary of War, in view of the President's violation of faith, and the attempt to make him a party to it, withdrew from the cabinet in a high state of indignation; and thus was accomplished the first act of Mr. Buchanan's perfidy on the eve of war.

The second was soon to follow. After determining not to order Anderson back to Fort Moultrie, President Buchanan determined to take [98] another step-actually to send troops to Sumter. Under his Direction the War Department chartered a steamer called the “Star of the West,” which sailed from New York on the 5th of January, 1861, having on board two hundred and fifty soldiers, besides stores and munitions of war. A specious plea was originated for this expedition, and it was declared that its purpose was to provision a “starving garrison.” When the vessel appeared off Charleston Harbour, on the 9th of January, heading in from the sea, and taking the channel for Sumter, a battery at Point Cummings on Morris Island opened upon her at long range. Not daring to penetrate the fire, the Star of the West ran out to sea with all speed; and the soldiers on board of her were subsequently disembarked at their former quarters on Governour's Island.

When the result of this expedition was known, Mr. Buchanan affected surprise and indignation at the reception given the Federal reinforcements, and declared that the expedition had been ordered with the concurrence of his Cabinet. Mr. Jacob Thompson of Mississippi, who yet remained in the Cabinet, repelled the slander, denounced the movement as underhanded, an4 as a breach not only of good faith towards South Carolina, but as one of personal confidence between the President and himself, and left the Cabinet with expressions of indignation and contempt.

Mr. Buchanan's administration terminated with results alike fearful to the country and dishonourable to himself. He retired from office, after having widened the breach between North and South, and given new cause of exasperation in the contest; obtaining the execrations of both parties; and going down to history with the brand of perfidy. When he ceased to be President on the 4th of March, 1861, seven Southern States were out of the Union; they had erected a new government; they had secured every Federal fort within their limits with two exceptions-Sumter and Pickens; they had gathered not only munitions of war, but had obtained great additions in moral power; and although they still deplored a war between the two sections as “a policy detrimental to the civilized world,” they had openly and rapidly prepared for it. Fort 3Moultrie and Castle Pinckney had been occupied by the South Carolina troops; Fort Pulaski, the defence of the Savannah, had been taken; the Arsenal at Mount Vernon, Alabama, with twenty thousand stand of arms, had been seized by the Alabama troops; Fort Morgan, in Mobile Bay, had been taken; Forts Jackson, St. Philip, and Pike, near New Orleans, had been captured by the Louisiana troops; the Pensacola Navy-Yard and Forts Barrancas and McRae had been taken, and the siege of Fort Pickens commenced ; the Baton Rouge Arsenal had been surrendered to the Louisiana troops; the New Orleans Mint and Custom-House had been taken ; the Little Rock Arsenal had been seized by the Arkansas troops; [99] and on the 18th of February, Gen. Twiggs had transferred the military posts and public property in Texas to the State authorities.

It is remarkable that all these captures and events had been accomplished without the sacrifice of a single life, or the effusion of one drop of blood. It was, perhaps, in view of this circumstance, that people lingered in the fancy that there would be no war. Yet the whole country was agitated with passion; the frown of war was already visible; and it needed but some Cadmus to throw the stone that would be the signal of combat between the armed men sprung from the dragon's teeth.


We hold with Jefferson to the inalienable right of communities to alter or abolish forms of government that have become oppressive or injurious, and if the Cotton States shall become satisfied that they can do better out of the Union than in it, we insist on letting them go in peace. The right to secede may be a revolutionary one, but it exists nevertheless, and we do not see how one party can have a right to do what another party has a right to prevent. Whenever a considerable section of our Union shall deliberately resolve to go out, we shall resist all coercive measures designed to keep it in. We hope never to live in a Republic whereof one section is pinned to the residue by bayonets. .... If ever seven or eight States send agents to Washington to say,

‘We want to go out of the Union,’ we shall feel constrained by our devotion to human liberty, to say, Let them go! And we do not see how we could take the other side, without coming in direct conflict with those rights of man which we hold paramount to all political arrangements, however convenient and advantageous.

From the New York Tribune of Nov. 26, and Dec. 17, 1860.

But, nevertheless, we mean to conquer them [the Confederate States], not merely to defeat, but to conquer, to subjugate them. But when the rebellious traitors are overwhelmed in the field, and scattered like leaves before an angry wind, it must not be to return to peaceful and contented homes / They must find poverty at their firesides, and see privation in the anxious eyes of mothers, and the rays of children. The whole coast of the South, from the Delaware to the Rio Grande, must be a solitude. From the same, of May 1, 1861.

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