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Chapter 10:

  • South Carolina adopts an ordinance of secession, and appoints commissioners to treat with the General Government
  • -- their arrival in Washington -- Major Anderson's removal from Fort Moultrie to Fort Sumter -- the President's interview with the commissioners, who demand a surrender of all the forts -- his answer to this demand -- their insolent reply, and its return to them -- its presentation to the Senate by Mr. Davis -- Secretary Floyd requested to resign -- he resigns and becomes a secessionist -- Fort Sumter threatened -- the Brooklyn ordered to carry reenforcements to the Fortthe Star of the West substituted at General Scott's instance -- she is fired upon -- Major Anderson demands of Governor Pickens a disavowal of the act -- the Governor demands the surrender of the Fort -- the Major proposes to refer the question to Washington -- the Governor accepts -- Colonel Hayne and Lieutenant Hall arrive in Washington on the 13th January -- the truce -- letter from Governor Pickens not delivered to the President until the 81st January -- the answer to it -- Colonel Hayne's insulting reply -- it is returned to him -- Virginia sends Mr. Tyler to the President with a view to avoid hostilities -- his arrival in Washington and his proposals -- message of the President.

On the 20th December, 1860, the South Carolina Convention adopted an ordinance of secession, and on the 22d appointed three of their most distinguished citizens to proceed forthwith to Washington to treat with the Government of the United States concerning the relations between the parties. These were Robert W. Barnwell, James H. Adams, and James L. Orr. They arrived in Washington on Wednesday, the 26th December. On the next morning they received intelligence by telegraph that Major Anderson had, on Christmas night, secretly dismantled Fort Moultrie; had spiked his cannon, had burnt his gun-carriages, and had removed with his troops to Fort Sumter, as if from an impending attack. This information they sent to the President. He received it with astonishment and regret. With astonishment, because he had believed Major Anderson to be in security at Fort Moultrie; and this more [181] especially whilst the commissioners appointed but three days before were on their way to Washington. With regret, because this movement would probably impel the other cotton and border States into active sympathy with South Carolina, and thereby defeat the measures of compromise still before the Committee of Thirteen of the Senate, from which he had hoped to confine secession to that State alone. The President never doubted for a moment that Major Anderson believed before the movement that he had ‘the tangible evidence’ of an impending attack required by his instructions. Still it was difficult to imagine that South Carolina would be guilty of the base perfidy of attacking any of these forts during the pendency of her mission to Washington, for the avowed purpose of preserving the peace and preventing collision. Such treacherous conduct would have been considered infamous among all her sister States. She has always strenuously denied that such was her intention.

In this state of suspense the President determined to await official information from Major Anderson himself. After its receipt, should he be convinced upon full examination that the Major, on a false alarm, had violated his instructions, he might then think seriously of restoring for the present the former status quo of the forts. This, however, was soon after known to be impossible, in consequence of the violent conduct of South Carolina in seizing all the other forts and public property in the harbor and city of Charleston.

It was under these circumstances that the President, on Friday, the 28th December, held his first and only interview with the commissioners from South Carolina. He determined to listen with patience to what they had to communicate, taking as little part himself in the conversation as civility would permit. On their introduction he stated that he could recognize them only as private gentlemen and not as commissioners from a sovereign State; that it was to Congress, and to Congress alone, they must appeal. He, nevertheless, expressed his willingness to communicate to that body, as the only competent tribunal, any propositions they might have to offer. They then proceeded, evidently under much excitement, to state their grievances arising out of the removal of Major Anderson to Fort Sumter, [182] and declared that for these they must obtain redress preliminary to entering upon the negotiation with which they had been in trusted; that it was impossible for them to make any proposition until this removal should be satisfactorily explained; and they even insisted upon the immediate withdrawal of the Major and his troops, not only from Fort Sumter, but from the harbor of Charleston, as a sine qua non to any negotiation.

In their letter to the President of the next day, they repeat this demand, saying:1 ‘And, in conclusion, we would urge upon you the immediate withdrawal of the troops from the harbor of Charleston. Under present circumstances they are a standing menace which renders negotiation impossible, and, as our recent experience shows, threatens to bring to a bloody issue questions which ought to be settled with temperance and judgment.’ This demand, accompanied by an unmistakable threat of attacking Major Anderson if not yielded, was of the most extravagant character. To comply with it, the commissioners must have known, would be impossible. Had they simply requested that Major Anderson might be restored to his former position at Fort Moultrie, upon a guarantee from the State that neither it nor the other forts or public property should be molested; this, at the moment, might have been worthy of serious consideration. But to abandon all these forts to South Carolina, on the demand of commissioners claiming to represent her as an independent State, would have been a recognition, on the part of the Executive, of her right to secede from the Union. This was not to be thought of for a moment.

The President replied to the letter of the commissioners on Monday, 81st December. In the mean time information had reached him that the State authorities, without waiting to hear from Washington, had, on the day after Major Anderson's removal, seized Fort Moultrie, Castle Pinckney, the custom house, and post office, and over them all had raised the Palmetto flag; and moreover, that every officer of the customs, collector, naval officer, surveyor, appraisers, together with the postmaster, had resigned their appointments; and that on Sunday, the 30th December, they had captured from Major Humphreys, [183] the officer in charge, the arsenal of the United States, containing public property estimated to be worth half a million of dollars. The Government was thus expelled from all its property except Fort Sumter, and no Federal officers, whether civil or military, remained in the city or harbor of Charleston. The secession leaders in Congress attempted to justify these violent proceedings of South Carolina as acts of self-defence, on the assumption that Major Anderson had already commenced hostilities. It is certain that their tone instantly changed after his removal; and they urged its secrecy, the hour of the night when it was made, the destruction of his gun-carriages, and other attendant incidents, to inflame the passions of their followers. It was under these circumstances that the President was called upon to reply to the letter of the South Carolina commissioners, demanding the immediate withdrawal of the troops of the United States from the harbor of Charleston. In this reply he peremptorily rejected the demand in firm but courteous terms, and declared his purpose to defend Fort Sumter by all the means in his power against hostile attacks, from whatever quarter they might proceed. (Vide his letter of the 31st December, 1860, Ex. Doe. No. 26, H. R ., 36th Congress, 2d Session, accompanying President's message of 8th January, 1861.) To this the commissioners sent their answer, dated on the 2d January, 1861. This was so violent, unfounded, and disrespectful, and so regardless of what is due to any individual whom the people have honored with the office of President, that the reading of it in the Cabinet excited indignation among all the members. With their unanimous approbation it was immediately, on the day of its date, returned to the commissioners with the following indorsement: ‘This paper, just presented to the President, is of such a character that he declines to receive it.’ Surely no negotiation was ever conducted in such a manner, unless, indeed, it had been the predetermined purpose of the negotiators to produce an open and immediate rupture.

It may be asked, why did the President, at his interview with the South Carolina commissioners, on the 28th December, offer to lay the propositions they had to make before Congress, when he must have been morally certain they would not meet a favorable [184] response? This was to gain time for passion to subside, and for reason to resume her sway; to bring the whole subject before the representatives of the people in such a manner as to cause them to express an authoritative opinion on secession, and the other dangerous questions then before the country, and adopt such measures for their peaceable adjustment as might possibly reclaim even South Carolina herself; but whether or not, might prevent the other cotton States from following her evil and rash example.

The insulting letter of the commissioners, which had been returned to them, was notwithstanding presented to the Senate by Mr. Jefferson Davis, immediately after the reading of the President's special message of the 8th January; and such was the temper of that body at the time, that it was received and read, and entered upon their journal. Mr. Davis; not content with this success, followed it up by a severe and unjust attack against the President, and his example was followed by several of his adherents. From this time forward, as has been already stated, all social and political intercourse ceased between the disunion Senators and the President.

It is worth notice, that whilst this letter of the commissioners was published at length in the ‘Congressional Globe,’ among the proceedings of the Senate, their previous letter to the President of the 28th December, and his answer thereto of the 31st, were never published in this so-called official register, although copies of both had accompanied his special message. By this means the offensive letter was scattered broadcast over the country, whilst the letter of the President, to which this professed to be an answer, was buried in one of the numerous and long after published volumes of executive documents.

It is proper to advert to the allegation of the commissioners, in their letter of the 28th December, that the removal of Major Anderson to Fort Sumter was made in violation of pledges given by the President. They also say that ‘since our arrival an officer of the United States, acting, as we are assured, not only without but against your orders, has dismantled one fort and occupied another, thus altering to a most important extent [185] the condition of affairs under which we came.’ As to the alleged pledge, we have already shown that no such thing existed. It has never been pretended that it rests upon any pretext except the note of the 9th December, delivered to the President by the South Carolina members of Congress, and what occurred on that occasion. All this has been already stated. But if additional evidence were wanting to refute the assertion of a pledge, this might be found in the statement published afterwards in Charleston by two of their number (Messrs. Miles and Keitt),2 who, in giving an account of this interview, do not pretend or even intimate that any thing passed even in their opinion on either side in the nature of a pledge. By what officer, then, was the assurance given to the commissioners since their arrival in Washington, that Major Anderson had acted not only without but against the President's order? It was none other than the Secretary of War himself, notwithstanding it was in obedience to his own instructions but a few days before that the removal was made from Fort Moultrie to Fort Sumter. This appears from the letter of Major Anderson to the War Department of the 27th December, the day after his removal, which unfortunately did not arrive in Washington until some days after its date. In this he says: ‘I will add that many things convinced me that the authorities of the State designed to proceed to a hostile act’ (against Fort Moultrie), the very contingency on which the Secretary had not only authorized but directed the Major to remove his troops to Fort Sumter, should he deem this a position of greater security. These instructions were in a certain sense peculiarly his own. They were prepared and transmitted to Major Anderson by himself. Throughout they do not mention the name of the President, though in the main they expressed his views.

We can refer to a probable cause for this strange conduct on the part of the Secretary. This was, that three days before the South Carolina commissioners reached Washington, the President had communicated to him (23d December), through a distinguished friend and kinsman of his own, a request that he should resign his office, with a statement of the reason why this [186] was made. When he heard this request he displayed much feeling, but said he would comply with the President's wishes. It is proper to state the reason for this request. On the night before it was made (22d December), the fact was first made known to the President that 870 State bonds for $1,000 each, held in trust by the Government for different Indian tribes, had been purloined from the Interior Department by Godard Bailey, the clerk in charge of them, and had been delivered to William H. Russell, a member of the firm of ‘Russell, Majors & Waddell.’ Upon examination, it was discovered that this clerk, in lieu of the bonds abstracted, had from time to time received bills of corresponding amount from Russell, drawn by the firm on John B. Floyd, Secretary of War, and by him accepted and indorsed, and this without any lawful authority. In consequence there was found in the safe where the Indian bonds had been kept, a number of these accepted bills, exactly equal in amount to $870,000. These acceptances were thirteen in number, commencing on the 13th September, 1860, and had been received by Mr. Bailey, according to his own statement, ‘as collateral security for the return of the bonds,’ and as such had been placed by him in the safe. It is remarkable that the last of them, dated on the 13th December, 1860, for $135,000, had been drawn for the precise sum necessary to make the aggregate amount of the whole number of bills exactly equal to that of the abstracted bonds.

And here it is due to Secretary Thompson to state, though a digression, that on Monday morning, the 24th December, at his own instance, the House of Representatives appointed a committee ‘to investigate and report upon the subject,’ of which Hon. Mr. Morris, of Illinois, a rancorous opponent of the administration, was the chairman. After a full investigation, the committee made their report on the 12th February, 1861.3 In this they state: ‘They deem it but justice to add that they have discovered nothing to involve the late Secretary, Hon. Jacob Thompson, in the slightest degree in the fraud, and nothing to indicate that he had any complicity in the transaction, or that he had any knowledge of it until the time of the disclosure by [187] Godard Bailey.’ It is to be regretted, for the sake of public justice, that all the circumstances connected with the abstraction of these bonds had not been subjected to a judicial investigation. This was rendered impossible by the action of the committee itself, in examining John B. Floyd and William H. Russell as witnesses. For this reason they were relieved from all criminal responsibility by the Act of Congress of the 24th January, 1857,4 of the existence of which the committee seem to have been ignorant. This act provides that no person examined as a witness before a committee of either House of Congress, ‘shall be held to answer criminally in any court of justice for any fact or act’ ‘touching which he shall have testified.’ In this manner both Mr. Floyd and Mr. Russell escaped without trial. To return from our digression. Secretary Floyd's apparent complicity with this fraudulent transaction covered him with suspicion, and, whether this were well or ill founded, rendered it impossible, in the opinion of the President, that he should remain in the Cabinet; and hence the request that he should re. sign. What effect this request may have produced in suddenly converting him from having been until then an avowed and consistent opponent of secession to one of its most strenuous supporters, may be readily inferred. Certain it is, that immediately after the arrival of the South Carolina commissioners, he became the intimate associate of leading secession Senators, who had just before been in the habit of openly condemning his official conduct.

On the evening of the day after the arrival of these commissioners he boldly assumed his new position, and became the only witness to a pledge which his own instructions of a few days before prove could never have existed. On that evening, in the face of all these facts, he read to the President, in Cabinet council, in a discourteous and excited tone, hitherto unknown, a paper declaring that ‘it is evident now, from the action of the commander at Fort Moultrie, that the solemn pledges of this Government have been violated by Major Anderson,’ and that ‘one [188] remedy only is left, and that is to withdraw the garrison from the harbor of Charleston altogether.’ This evidently foreshadowed the demand made by the commissioners on the following day (28th December), of which we have already treated. This proposition the President heard with astonishment. As he had stated in his reply to them of the 31st December: ‘Such an idea was never thought of by me. No allusion had ever been made to it in any communication between myself and any human being.’

The Secretary, on the 29th December, sent to the President the resignation of his office. By this he offered to discharge its duties until his successor should be appointed. It was instantly accepted without reference to this offer, and Postmaster General Holt was transferred to the War Department.

The President had not made the personal acquaintance of Mr. Floyd before his appointment. Though never in Congress, he had been, like his father, Governor of Virginia. Mr. Buchanan had been favorably impressed by the fact that he had refused to accept a recommendation from the Electoral College of Virginia for a seat in the Cabinet, assigning as a reason that the President, in making selections for this high and confidential office, ought to be left free and untrammelled to the exercise of his own judgment.

The removal of Major Anderson to Fort Sumter, and the seizure by South Carolina of all the remaining public property at Charleston, altogether changed the aspect of affairs from what it had been at the date of the interview between General Scott and the President. Fort Sumter was now threatened with an immediate attack. The time had arrived for despatching the Brooklyn on her destined expedition for its relief. At this crisis General Scott, being too unwell to call in person, addressed a note to the President, on Sunday, the 30th December, asking his permission to send, without reference to the War Department, and otherwise as secretly as possible, two hundred and fifty recruits from New York harbor to reenforce Fort Sumter, together with some extra muskets or rifles, ammunition and subsistence stores, expressing the hope ‘that a sloop-of-war and [189] cutter may be ordered for the same purpose as early as tomor-row’ (31st December).

The President immediately decided to order reenforcements; but he preferred to send them by the Brooklyn, which had remained in readiness for this service. He thought that a powerful war steamer with disciplined troops on board would prove more effective than a sloop-of-war and cutter with raw recruits. Accordingly on the next morning (Monday) he instructed the Secretaries of War and the Navy to despatch the Brooklyn to Fort Sumter. On the evening of this day the General called to congratulate him on the fact that the Secretaries had already issued appropriate orders to the respective army and navy officers, and stated that these were then in his own pocket.

In contradiction to this prompt action, it is difficult to imagine how the General could have asserted, in his report to President Lincoln, that ‘the South Carolina commissioners had already been many days in Washington, and no movement of defence [on the part of the United States] had been permitted.’ In regard to the ‘many days'’ delay:—These commissioners arrived in Washington on the 26th December; the General sent his request to the President on Sunday, the 30th; and on Monday morning he himself received the necessary orders for the departure of the expedition. General Scott, notwithstanding this prompt response to his request, proceeds still further, and charges the President with having ‘refused to allow any attempt to be made ’ to reenforce Fort Sumter, ‘because he was holding negotiations with the South Carolina commissioners,’ although this alleged refusal occurred at the very time (31st December) when he himself had in his own hands the order for the Broklyn to proceed immediately to Fort Sumter. Nay, more: ‘Afterwards,’ says the General, ‘Secretary Holt and myself endeavored, in vain, to obtain a ship-of-war for the purpose, and were finally obliged to employ the passenger steamer Star oft West.’ After this statement, will it be credited that the Star of the West was employed in place of the Brooklyn at the pressing instance of General Scott himself? And yet such is the fact. The President yielded to this unfortunate change with great reluctance, [190] and solely in deference to the opinion of the commanding Gen eral on a question of military strategy. What a failure and confusion of memory the report to President Lincoln exhibits I At the interview with President Buchanan on the evening of the 31st December, the General seemed cordially to approve the matured plan of sending reenforcements by the Brooklyn. Why, then, the change in his opinion? At this interview the President informed him he had sent a letter but a few hours before to the South Carolina commissioners, in answer to a communication from them, and this letter would doubtless speedily terminate their mission;—that although he had refused to recognize them in an official character, yet it might be considered improper to transmit the orders then in his possession to the Brooklyn until they had an opportunity of making a reply, and that the delay for this purpose could not, in his opinion, exceed forty-eight hours. In this suggestion the General promptly concurred, observing that it was gentlemanly and proper. He, therefore, retained the orders to await the reply. On the morning of the 2d January the President received and returned the insolent communication of the South Carolina commissioners without an answer, and thus every obstacle was removed from the immediate transmission of the orders. In the mean time, however, the General had unluckily become convinced, after advising with an individual believed to possess much knowledge and practical experience in naval affairs, that the better plan to secure both secrecy and success would be to send to Fort Sumter a fast side-wheel mercantile steamer from New York with the two hundred and fifty recruits.

Such was the cause of the change, according to the undoubted information communicated to the President at the time by the Secretaries of War and the Navy. For this reason alone was the Star of the West substituted for the service instead of the Brooklyn. The change of programme caused a brief delay; but the Star of the West, with recruits on board, left New York for Charleston on the afternoon of the 5th January. On the evening of the same day, however, on which this ill-fated steamer went to sea, General Scott despatched a telegram to his sonlaw, [191] Colonel Scott, of the United States army, then at New York, to countermand her departure; but this did not reach him until after she had left the harbor.

The cause of this countermand proves how much wiser it would have been to employ the Brooklyn in the first instance on this important service. This ball be stated in the language of Secretary Holt in his letter of the 5th March, 1861, in reply to certain allegations which had been made and published5 by Mr. Thompson, the late Secretary of the Interior. In this he says: ‘The countermand spoken of (by Mr. Thompson) was not more cordially sanctioned by the President than it was by General Scott and myself; not because of any dissent from the order on the part of the President, but because of a letter received that day from Major Anderson, stating, in effect, that he regarded himself secure in his position; and yet more from intelligence which late on Saturday evening (5th January, 1861) reached the Department, that a heavy battery had been erected among the sand hills, at the entrance to Charleston harbor, which would probably destroy. any unarmed vessel (and such was the Star of the West) which might attempt to make its way to Fort Sumter. This important information satisfied the Government that there was no present necessity for sending reenforcements, and that when sent they should go not in a vessel of commerce, but of war. Hence the countermand was despatched by telegraph tc New York; but the vessel had sailed a short time before it reached the officer (Colonel Scott) to whom it was addressed.’

General Scott, as well as the Secretaries of War and the Navy, convinced of the blunder which had been committed in substituting the Star of the West for the Brooklyn, proceeded to provide, as far as might be possible, against anticipated disaster. For this purpose the Secretary of the Navy, on the 7th January, despatched an order to the commander of the Brooklyn (Farragut), and General Scott simultaneously forwarded to him a despatch to be delivered to the U. S. officer in command of the recruits on the Star of the West. By this the commander of the recruits was informed that Captain Farragut had been instructed [192] to afford him ‘aid and succor in case your [his] ship be shattered or injured; second, to convey this order of recall, in case you cannot land at Fort Sumter, to Fort Monroe, Hampton Roads, there to await further orders.’ In a postscript he was further directed ‘to land his troops at Fort Monroe and discharge the ship.’ The sequel will show that these precautions were useless.

The Star of the West, under the command of Captain McGowan, proceeded on her ill-starred voyage, amid anxious apprehensions for the fate of the recruits and mariners on board. She arrived in Charleston harbor on the 9th of January, the flag of the United States flying at her mast-head; and whilst endeavoring to approach Fort Sumter, was fired upon by order of Governor Pickens. She then immediately changed her course and returned to New York. Fortunately no lives were lost, nor was the vessel materially injured. This statement of facts proves incontestably that the President, so far from refusing, was not only willing but anxious, within the briefest period, to reenforce Fort Sumter.

On the very day and immediately after this outrage on the Star of the West, Major Anderson sent a flag to Governor Pickens, informing him of the reason why he had not opened fire from Fort Sumter on the batteries which had attacked the Star of the West. This was because he presumed the act had been unauthorized. He demanded its disavowal, and if this were not sent in a reasonable time he would consider it war, and fire on any vessel that attempted to leave the harbor. Had he adhered to his purpose, the civil war would then have commenced. This demand of Major Anderson, so worthy of an American officer, was totally disregarded by the Governor. Instead of disavowing the act or apologizing for it, he had the audacity, but two days after the outrage, to send the Hon. A. G. Magrath and General D. F. Jamison, whom he styled as ‘both members of the Executive Council and of the highest position in the State,’ to Major Anderson, for the purpose of persuading him to surrender the fort. In the letter which they bore from the Governor, dated on the 11th January, they were instructed to present to [193] Major Anderson ‘considerations of the gravest public character, and of the deepest interest to all who deprecate the improper waste of life, to induce the delivery of Fort Sumter to the constituted authorities of the State of South Carolina, with a pledge on its part to account for such public property as may be in your charge.’

This Major Anderson appears to have regarded, not merely as an effort to persuade him voluntarily to surrender the fort, but as an absolute demand for its surrender. In either case, however, his instructions, already quoted, prescribed his line of duty. Under these he ought to have peremptorily informed the emissaries of the Governor that he would not surrender, but would defend the fort against attack by all the means in his power. In this course he would not only have obeyed his instructions, but have acted in accordance with the explicit determination of the President, announced but eleven days before (31st December) to the South Carolina commissioners. But Major Anderson, notwithstanding these considerations, as well as his own declared purpose but two days before to consider the attack on the Star of the West as war, and to act accordingly, unless it should be explained and disavowed, now proposed to Governor Pickens to refer the question of surrender to Washington. In his answer of the same date to the Governor's menacing request, whilst stating that he could not comply with it, and deeply regretting that the Governor should have made a demand of him with which he could not comply, he presents the following alternative: ‘Should your Excellency deem fit, prior to a resort to arms, to refer this matter to Washington, it would afford me the sincerest pleasure to depute one of my officers to accompany any messenger you may deem proper to be the bearer of your demand.’ This proposition was promptly accepted by the Governor, and in pursuance thereof he sent on his part Hon. L W. Hayne, Attorney-General of South Carolina, to Washington; whilst Major Anderson sent as his deputy Lieutenant J. Norman Hall, of the first artillery, then under his command in the fort. These gentlemen immediately set out for Washington, and arrived together on the evening of the 13th January, 1861. [194]

Thus, greatly to the surprise of the President, had a truce or suspension of arms been concluded between Major Anderson and Governor Pickens, to continue, from its very nature, until he should again decide against the surrender of Fort Sumter. This was what the writers on public law denominate ‘a partial truce under which hostilities are suspended only in certain places, as between a town and the army besieging it.’6 Until this deci sion should be made by the President, Major Anderson had thus placed it out of his own power to ask for reenforcements, and equally out of the power of the Government to send them without a violation of the public faith pledged by him as the commandant of the fort. In the face of these facts, the President saw with astonishment that General Scott, in his report to President Lincoln, had stated that the expedition under Captain Ward, of three or four small steamers, had been kept back, not in consequence of this truce between Major Anderson and Governor Pickens, ‘but by something like a truce or armistice concluded here [in Washington], embracing Charleston and Pensacola harbors, agreed upon between the late President and certain principal seceders of South Carolina, Florida, Louisiana, &c., and. this truce lasted to the end of the administration.’ From the confused and inaccurate memory of the General, events altogether distinct in their nature are so blended in his report to President Lincoln, that it is difficult to disentangle them. Such is eminently the case in mixing up the facts relative to Charleston and Pensacola in the same sentences. In order to render each clear, we shall first treat of Charleston and afterwards of Pensacola.

The expedition of the &Star of the West had scarcely returned to New York, when the news of the truce between Major Anderson and Governor Pickens reached Washington (13th January). Between the two events it was physically impossible to prepare and send a second expedition, and this could not be done afterwards until the truce should expire, without a violation of public faith. It did not last, as the General asserts, ‘to the end of the administration,’ but expired by its own limitation [195] on the 5th February, the day when Secretary Holt finally and peremptorily announced to the South Carolina commissioner that the President would not under any circumstances surrender Fort Sumter. It is possible that, under the laws of war, the President might have annulled this truce after due notice to Governor Pickens. This, however, would have cast a serious reflection on Major Anderson for having concluded it, who, beyond question, had acted from the purest and most patriotic motives. Neither General Scott nor any other person, so far as is known, ever proposed to violate it. Indeed, from his peculiar temper of mind and military training, he would have been the last man to make such a proposition; and yet, in his report to President Lincoln, he does not make the most distant allusion to the fact, well known to him, that such a truce had ever been concluded. Had he done this, he would at once have afforded conclusive evidence against sending reenforcements until it should expire. On the contrary, instead of the actual truce, ‘something like a truce,’ according to his statement, was made, not in Charleston, but in Washington, and not between the actual parties to it, but ‘between the late President and certain principal seceders of South Carolina,’ Nothing more unfounded and unjust could have been attributed to President Buchanan.

Major Anderson may probably have committed an error in not promptly rejecting the demand, as he understood it, of Governor Pickens for the surrender of Fort Sumter, instead of referring it to Washington. If the fort were to be attacked, which was then extremely doubtful, this was the propitious moment for a successful resistance. The Governor, though never so willing, was not in a condition to make the assault. He required time for preparation. On the other hand, Major Anderson was then confident in his power to repel it. This is shown by his letters to the War Department of the 31st December and 6th January. From these it appears that he not only felt safe in his position, but confident that he could command the harbor of Charleston, and hold the fort in opposition to any force which might be brought against him. Such was, also, the oft-expressed [196] conviction at Washington of Lieutenant Hall, whom he had selected as his deputy, as well as that of Lieutenant Theodore Talbot, likewise of the 1st artillery, who had left Fort Sumter on the 9th January, 1861, as a bearer of despatches. Still, had Governor Pickens attacked the fort, this would have been the commencement of civil war between the United States and South Carolina. This every patriot desired to avoid as long as a reasonable hope should remain of preserving peace. And then such a hope did extensively prevail, founded upon the expectation that the Crittenden Compromise, or some equally healing measure, might be eventually adopted by Congress. How far this consideration may account for Major Anderson's forbearance when the Star of the West was fired upon, and for his proposal two days thereafter to refer the question of the surrender of the fort to Washington, we can only conjecture. If this were the cause, his motive deserves high commendation.

Colonel Hayne, the commissioner from South Carolina, as already stated, arrived in Washington on the 13th January. He bore with him a letter from Governor Pickens addressed to the President. On the next morning he called upon the President and stated that he would deliver this letter in person on the day following. The President, however, admonished by his recent experience with the former commissioners, declined to hold any conversation with him on the subject of his mission, and requested that all communications between them might be in writing. To this he assented. Although the President had no actual knowledge of the contents of the Governor's letter, he could not doubt it contained a demand for the surrender of the fort. Such a demand he was at all times prepared peremptorily to reject. This Colonel Hayne must have known, because the President had but a fortnight before informed his predecessors this was impossible, and had never been thought of by him in any possible contingency. The President confidently expected that the letter would be transmitted to him on the day after the interview, when his refusal to surrender the fort would at once terminate the truce, and leave both parties free to act upon their own responsibility. Colonel Hayne, however, did [197] not transmit this letter to the President on the 15th January, according to his promise, but withheld it until the 31st of that month. The reason for this vexatious delay will constitute a curious portion of our narrative, and deserves to be mentioned in some detail. (Vide the President's message of 8th February, 1861, with the accompanying documents, Ex. Doc., H. R., vol. IX., No. 61.)

The Senators from the cotton States yet in Congress appeared, strangely enough, to suppose that through their influence the President might agree not to send reenforcements to Fort Sumter, provided Governor Pickens would stipulate not to attack it. By such an agreement they proposed to preserve the peace. But first of all it was necessary for them to prevail upon Colonel Hayne not to transmit the letter to the President on the day appointed, because they well knew that the demand which it contained would meet his prompt and decided refusal. This would render the conclusion of such an agreement impossible.

In furtherance of their plan, nine of these Senators, with Jefferson Davis at their head, addressed a note to Colonel Hayne, on the 15th January, requesting him to defer the delivery of the letter. They proposed that he should withhold it until they could ascertain from the President whether he would agree not to send reenforcements, provided Governor Pickens would engage not to attack the fort. They informed the Colonel that should the President prove willing in the first place to enter into such an arrangement, they would then strongly recommend that he should not deliver the letter he had in charge for the present, but send to South Carolina for authority from Governor Pickens to become a party thereto. Colonel Hayne, in his answer to these Senators of the 17th January, informed them that he had not been clothed with power to make the arrangement suggested, but provided they could get assurances with which they were entirely satisfied that no reenforcements would be sent to Fort Sumter, he would withhold the letter with which he had been charged, refer their communication to the authorities of South Carolina, and await further instructions. [198]

On the 19th January this correspondence between the Senators and Colonel Hayne was submitted to the President, accompanied by a note from three of their number, requesting him to take the subject into consideration. His answer to this note was delayed no longer than was necessary to prepare it in proper form. On the 22d January it was communicated to these Senators in a letter from the Secretary of War. This contained an express refusal to enter into the proposed agreement. Mr. Holt says: ‘I am happy to observe that, in your letter to Colonel Hayne, you express the opinion that it is “especially due from South Carolina to our States, to say nothing of other slaveholding States, that she should, so far as she can consistently with her honor, avoid initiating hostilities between her and the United States or any other power.” To initiate such hostilities against Fort Sumter would, beyond question, be an act of war against the United States. In regard to the proposition of Colonel Hayne, “that no reenforcements will be sent to Fort Sumter in the interval, and that public peace will not be disturbed by any act of hostility toward South. Carolina,” it is impossible for me to give you any such assurances. The President has no authority to enter into such an agreement or understanding. As an executive officer, he is simply bound to protect the public property so far as this may be practicable; and it would be a manifest violation of his duty to place himself under engagements that he would not perform this duty, either for an indefinite or limited period. At the present moment it is not deemed necessary to reenforce Major Anderson, because he makes no such request and feels quite secure in his position. Should his safety, however, require reenforcements, every effort will be made to supply them.’

It was believed by the President that this peremptory refusal to enter into the proposed agreement, would have caused Colonel Hayne immediately to present the letter he had in charge and thus terminate his mission, thereby releasing both parties from the obligations of the truce. In this expectation the President was disappointed. The secession Senators again interposed, and advised Colonel Hayne still longer to withhold the letter from the President, and await farther instructions from [199] Charleston. In his answer of 24th January to their note containing this advice, he informs them that although the letter from the Secretary of War ‘was far from being satisfactory,’ yet in compliance with their request he ‘would withhold the communication with which he was at present charged, and refer the whole matter to the authorities of South Carolina, and would await their reply.’ On the 30th this reply was received, and on the next. day Colonel Hayne transmitted to the President the letter of Governor Pickens demanding the surrender of the fort, with a long communication from himself. This letter is dated ‘Headquarters, Charleston, January 12, 1861,’ and is as follows:

Sir: At the time of the separation of the State of South Carolina from the United States, Fort Sumter was, and still is, in the possession of troops of the United States, under the command of Major Anderson. I regard that possession as not consistent with the dignity or safety of the State of South Carolina, and have this day [it was the day previous] addressed to Major Anderson a communication to obtain from him the possession of that fort by the authorities of this State. The reply of Major Anderson informs me that he has no authority to do what I required, but he desires a reference of the demand to the President of the United States. Under the circumstances now existing, and which need no comment by me, I have determined to send to you Hon. I. W. Hayne, the Attorney-General of the State of South Carolina, and have instructed him to demand the delivery of Fort Sumter, in the harbor of Charleston, to the constituted authorities of the State of South Carolina. The demand I have made of Major Anderson, and which I now make of you, is suggested by my earnest desire to avoid the bloodshed which a persistence in your attempt to retain possession of that fort will cause, and which will be unavailing to secure to you that possession, but induce a calamity most deeply to be deplored. If consequences so unhappy shall ensue, I will secure for this State, in the demand which I now make, the satisfaction of having exhausted every attempt to avoid it.

In relation to the public property of the United States [200] within Fort Sumter, the Hon. I W. Hayne, who will hand you this communication, is authorized to give you the pledge of the State that the valuation of such property will be accounted for by this State, upon the adjustment of its relations with the United States, of which it was a part.

On the 6th February, the Secretary of War, on behalf of the President, replied to this demand, as well as to the letter of Colonel Hayne accompanying it. Our narrative would be incomplete without this admirable and conclusive reply. It is as follows:

War Department, February 6, 1861.7
Sir. The President of the United States has received your letter of the 31st ultimo, and has charged me with the duty of replying thereto.

In the communication addressed to the President by Governor Pickens, under date of the 12th January, and which accompanies yours now before me, his Excellency says: “I have determined to send to you the Hon. I. W. Hayne, the Attorney-General of the State of South Carolina, and have instructed him to demand the surrender of Fort Sumter, in the harbor of Charleston, to the constituted authorities of the State of South Carolina. The demand I have made of Major Anderson, and which I now make of you, is suggested because of my earnest desire to avoid the bloodshed which a persistence in your attempt to retain the possession of that fort will cause, and which will be unavailing to secure to you that possession, but induce a calamity most deeply to be deplored” The character of the demand thus authorized to be made appears (under the influence, I presume, of the correspondence with the Senators to which you refer) to have been modified by subsequent instructions of his Excellency, dated the 26th, and received by yourself on the 30th January, in which he says: “If it be so that Fort Sumter is held as property, then, as property, the rights, whatever they may be, of the United States, can be ascertained, and for the satisfaction of these rights the pledge of the State of South Carolina you are authorized to give.” The full scope and precise purport of your instructions, as thus modified, [201] you have expressed in the following words: “I do not come as a military man to demand the surrender of a fortress, but as the legal officer of the State—its attorney-general—to claim for the State the exercise of its undoubted right of eminent domain, and to pledge the State to make good all injury to the rights of property which arise from the exercise of the claim” And lest this explicit language should not sufficiently define your position, you add: “The proposition now is that her [South Carolina's] law officer should, under authority of the Governor and his council, distinctly pledge the faith of South Carolina to make such compensation, in regard to Fort Sumter and its appurtenances and contents, to the full extent of the money value of the property of the United States, delivered over to the authorities of South Carolina by your command.” You then adopt his Excellency's train of thought upon the subject, so far as to suggest that the possession of Fort Sumter by the United States, “if continued long enough, must lead to collision,” and that “an attack upon it would scarcely improve it as property, whatever the result; and if captured, it would no longer be the subject of account.”

The proposal, then, now presented to the President, is simply an offer on the part of South Carolina to buy Fort Sumter and contents as property of the United States, sustained by a declaration, in effect, that if she is not permitted to make the purchase she will seize the fort by force of arms. As the initiation of a negotiation for the transfer of property between friendly governments, this proposal impresses the President as having assumed a most unusual form. He has, however, investigated the claim on which it professes to be based, apart from the declaration that accompanies it. And it may be here remarked, that much stress has been laid upon the employment of the words “property” and “public property” by the President in his several messages. These are the most comprehensive terms which can be used in such a connection, and surely, when referring to a fort or any other public establishment, they embrace the entire and undivided interest of the Government therein.

The title of the United States to Fort Sumter is complete and incontestable. Were its interest in this property purely [202] proprietary, in the ordinary acceptation of the term, it might probably be subjected to the exercise of the right of eminent domain; but it has also political relations to it of a much higher and more imposing character than those of mere proprietorship. It has absolute jurisdiction over the fort and the soil on which it stands. This jurisdiction consists in the authority to “exercise exclusive legislation” over the property referred to, and is therefore clearly incompatible with the claim of eminent domain now insisted upon by South Carolina. This authority was not derived from any questionable revolutionary source, but from the peaceful cession of South Carolina herself, acting through her legislature, under a provision of the Constitution of the United States. South Carolina can no more assert the right of eminent domain over Fort Sumter than Maryland can assert it over the District of Columbia. The political and proprietary rights of the United States in either case rest upon precisely the same ground.

The President, however, is relieved from the necessity of further pursuing this inquiry by the fact that, whatever may be the claim of South Carolina to this fort, he has to constitutional power to cede or surrender it. The property of the United States has been acquired by force of public law, and can only be disposed of under the same solemn sanctions. The President, as the head of the executive branch of the government only, can no more sell and transfer Fort Sumter to South Carolina than he can sell and convey the Capitol of the United States to Maryland or to any other State or individual seeking to possess it. His Excellency the Governor is too familiar with the Constitution of the United States, and with the limitations upon the powers of the Chief Magistrate of the government it has established, not to appreciate at once the soundness of this legal proposition. The question of reenforcing Fort Sumter is so fully disposed of in my letter to Senator Slidell and others, under date of the 22d of January, a copy of which accompanies this, that its discussion will not now be renewed. I then said: “ At the present moment it is not deemed necessary to reenforce Major Anderson, because he makes no such request. Should his safety, however, require reinforcements, every effort will be made to supply [203] them.” I can add nothing to the explicitness of this language, which still applies to the existing status.

The right to send forward reenforcements when, in the judgment of the President, the safety of the garrison requires them, rests on the same unquestionable foundation as the right to occupy the fortress itself. In the letter of Senator Davis and others to yourself, under date of the 15th ultimo, they say: “We therefore think it especially due from South Carolina to our States —to say nothing of other slaveholding States—that she should, as far as she can consistently with her honor, avoid initiating hostilities between her and the United States or any other power;” and you now yourself give to the President the gratifying assurance that “South Carolina has every disposition to preserve the public peace;” and since he is himself sincerely animated by the same desire, it would seem that this common and patriotic object must be of certain attainment. It is difficult, however, to reconcile with this assurance the declaration on your part that “it is a consideration of her [South Carolina's] own dignity as a sovereign, and the safety of her people, which prompts her to demand that this property should not longer be used as a military post by a government she no longer acknowledges,” and the thought you so constantly present, that this occupation must lead to a collision of arms and the prevalence of civil war. Fort Sumter is in itself a military post, and nothing else; and it would seem that not so much the fact as the purpose of its use should give to it a hostile or friendly character. This fortress is now held by the Government of the United States for the same objects for which it has been held from the completion of its construction. These are national and defensive; and were a public enemy now to attempt the capture of Charleston or the destruction of the commerce of its harbor, the whole force of the batteries of this fortress would be at once exerted for their protection. How the presence of a small garrison, actuated by such a spirit as this, can compromise the dignity or honor of South Carolina, or become a source of irritation to her people, the President is at a loss to understand. The attitude of that garrison, as has been often declared, is neither menacing, nor defiant, nor unfriendly. It is acting under orders to stand strictly on the [204] defensive; and the government and people of South Carolina must well know that they can never receive aught but shelter from its guns, unless, in the absence of all provocation, they should assault it and seek its destruction. The intent with which this fortress is held by the President is truthfully stated by Senator Davis and others in their letter to yourself of the 15th January, in which they say: “It is not held with any hostile or unfriendly purpose toward your State, but merely as property of the United States, which the President deems it his duty to protect and preserve.”

If the announcement so repeatedly made of the President's pacific purposes in continuing the occupation of Fort Sumter until the question shall have been settled by competent authority, has failed to impress the government of South Carolina, the forbearing conduct of his administration for the last few months should be received as conclusive evidence of his sincerity. And if this forbearance, in view of the circumstances which have so severely tried it, be not accepted as a satisfactory pledge of the peaceful policy of this administration toward South Carolina, then it may be safely affirmed that neither language nor conduct can possibly furnish one. If, with all the multiplied proofs which exist of the President's anxiety for peace, and of the earnestness with which he has pursued it, the authorities of that State shall assault Fort Sumter, and peril the lives of the handful of brave and loyal men shut up within its walls, and thus plunge our common country into the horrors of civil war, then upon them and those they represent must rest the responsibility.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

J. Holt, Secretary of War. Hon. L W. Hayne, Attorney, of the state of South California.
P. S.—The President has not, as you have been informed, received a copy of the letter to yourself from the Senators, communicating that of Mr. Holt of the 22d January.

This letter of Mr. Holt, though firm and decided in character, is courteous and respectful, both in tone and in terms. It [205] reviews the subject in an able and comprehensive manner, explaining and justifying the conduct of the President. Unlike the letters to which it is a response, it contains no menace. In conclusion it does no more than fix the responsibility of commencing a civil war on the authorities of South Carolina, should they assault Fort Sumter and imperil the lives of the brave and loyal men shut up within its walls. It does not contain a word or an expression calculated to afford just cause of offence; yet its statements and its arguments must have cut Colonel Hayne to the quick. To reply to them successfully was impossible. He, therefore, had no resort but to get angry. Following in the footsteps of his predecessors, on the 8th February he addressed an insulting answer not to Secretary Holt, as usage and common civility required, but directly to the President. He then suddenly left Washington, leaving his missile behind him to be delivered after his departure: From his conduct he evidently anticipated its fate. His letter was returned to him on the same day, directed to Charleston, with the following indorsement: ‘The character of this letter is such that it cannot be received. Col. Hayne having left the city before it was sent to the President, it is returned to him by the first mail.’ What has become of it we do not know. No copy was retained, nor have we ever heard of it since.

What effect this letter of Mr. Holt may have produced upon the truculent Governor of South Carolina we shall not attempt to decide. Certain it is, from whatever cause, no attack was made upon Fort Sumter until six weeks after the close of Mr. Buchanan's administration. The fort remained unmolested until South Carolina had been for some time a member of the Confederate States. It was reserved for Mr. Jefferson Davis, their President, to issue the order for its bombardment, and thus formally to commence the civil war. This he did with a full consciousness that such would be the fatal effect; because in the letter from him and other Southern Senators to Col. Hayne, of the 15th January, both he and they had warned Governor Pickens that an attack upon the fort would be ‘the instituting hostilities between her [South Carolina] and the United States

Thus ended the second mission from South Carolina to the [206] President, and thus was he relieved from the trace concluded by Major Anderson. But in the mean time, before the termination of this truce, the action of the General Assembly of Virginia, instituting the Peace Convention, had interposed an insurmountable obstacle to the reenforcement of Fort Sumter, unless attacked or in immediate danger of attack, without entirely defeating this beneficent measure. Among their other proceedings they had passed a resolution ‘that ex-President John Tyler is hereby appointed by the concurrent vote of each branch of the General Assembly, a commissioner to the President of the United States; and Judge John Robertson is hereby appointed by a like vote, a commissioner to the State of South Carolina and the other States that have seceded or shall secede, with instructions respectfully to request the President of the United States and the authorities of such States to agree to abstain, pending the proceedings contemplated by the action of the General Assembly, from any and all acts calculated to produce a collision of arms between the States and the Government of the United States.’

Mr. Tyler arrived in Washington on the 23d January, a fortnight before the departure of Col. Hayne, bearing with him a copy of the Virginia resolutions. These he presented to the President on the following day, assuring him that whilst the people of Virginia were almost universally inclined to peace and reconstruction, yet any efforts on her part to reconstruct or preserve the Union ‘depended for their success on her being permitted to conduct them undisturbed by outside collision.’

This resolution, it will be observed, requested the President, and not Congress, to enter into the proposed agreement. Mr. Tyler, therefore, urged the President to become a party to it. This he refused, stating, according to Mr. Tyler's report to the Governor of Virginia, ‘that he had in no manner changed his views as presented in his annual message; that he could give no pledges; that it was his duty to enforce the laws, and the whole power rested with Congress.’ He promised, notwithstanding, that he would present the subject to that body. This was due both to its intrinsic importance and to the State of Virginia, which had manifested so strong a desire to restore and preserve the Union: [207]

The President, accordingly, in his message of the 28th January, submitting the Virginia resolutions to Congress, observed in regard to this one, that ‘however strong may be my desire to enter into such an agreement, I am convinced that I do not possess the power. Congress, and Congress alone, under the war-making power, can exercise the discretion of agreeing to abstain ‘from any and all acts calculated to produce a collision of arms’ between this and any other Government. It would, therefore, be a usurpation for the Executive to attempt to restrain their hands by an agreement in regard to matters over which he has no constitutional control. If he were thus to act, they might pass laws which he should be bound to obey, though in conflict with his agreement. Under existing circumstances, my present actual power is confined within narrow limits. It is my duty at all times to defend and protect the public property within the seceding States, so far as this may be practicable, and especially to employ all constitutional means to protect the property of the United States, and to preserve the public peace at this the seat of the Federal Government. If the seceding States abstain “from any and all acts calculated to produce a collision of arms,” then the danger so much to be deprecated will no longer exist. Defence, and not aggression, has been the policy of the administration from the beginning. But whilst I can enter into no engagement such as that proposed, I cordially commend to Congress, with much confidence that it will meet their approbation, to abstain from passing any law calculated to produce a collision of arms pending the proceedings contemplated by the action of the General Assembly of Virginia. I am one of those who will never despair of the Republic. I yet cherish the belief that the American people will perpetuate the union of the States on some terms just and honorable for all sections of the country. I trust that the mediation of Virginia may be the destined means, under Providence, of accomplishing this inestimable benefit. Glorious as are the memories of her past history, such an achievement, both in relation to her own fame and the welfare of the whole country, would surpass them all.’

This noble and patriotic effort of Virginia met no favor from [208] Congress Neither House referred these resolutions of her General Assembly to a committee, or even treated them with the common courtesy of ordering them to be printed. In the Senate no motion was made to refer them, and the question to print them with the accompanying message was debated from time to time until the 21st February,8 when the Peace Convention had nearly completed its labors, and after this no further notice seems to have been taken of the subject. In the House the motion to refer and print the Virginia resolutions made by Mr. Stanton, of Ohio, on the. day they were received, was never afterwards noticed.9 This mortifying neglect on the part of the Representatives of the States and of the people, made a deep and unfortunate impression on the citizens of Virginia.

1 Ex. Doc, H. R., vol. VI, No. 26, p. 6.

2 Appleton'a ‘American Annual Cyclopedia’ for 1861, p. 703.

3 Report of Committee, H. R., 1860-61, vol. II, No. 78, p. 8

4 11 Laws U. s., p. 155.

5 ‘National Intelligencer,’ 5th March, 1861

6 Vattel's Law of Nations, p. 404

7 H. R. Ex. Doc, 1860-61, vol. IX, Doc, No 61.

8 Con. Globe, pp. 590, 636.

9 H. J., p. 236. Con. Globe, p. 601.

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