« PreviousContinue »
South Carolina Revolts — Secession Tumult in the Gulf
States — The President-Elect Bides His Time.
A Republican President could not have greatly harmed the Southern people so long as their representatives kept their seats in Congress. There was in fact 110 apprehension of such danger. But separation from the North and the establishment of an empire exclusively their own had long been a cherished dream of extremists in the Cotton States; they had through secret organizations and otherwise prepared for its realization; and they chose not to wait for any better opportunity to revolt.
It was fitting that South Carolina should take the lead. Governor Gist called its Legislature to meet in special session on the 5th of November, the day before the Presidential election—a normal proceeding, because that body was to choose electors. In his proclamation, however, after specifying the legitimate object, the Governor named another one nearer his heart. He wished immediate secession. An act was passed by the State Senate on the 9th, and concurred in by the House of Representatives three days after, providing for a State convention to take formal action on that question.
Either there was a great deal of misemployed oratory or these people thought they were initiating civil
( 236 )
war. The presiding officer of the Senate said on first taking the chair: “I do not seek to lift the veil that hides the future from our sight, but we have all an instinctive feeling that we are on the eve of great events. ... In our unity will be our strength, physical and moral. No human power can withstand or break down a united people, standing upon their own soil and defending their homes and firesides.” Mr. Chesnut, who had just withdrawn from the United States Senate, in a serenade speech in the evening of the same day, spoke in a more excited vein: “For himself, he would unfurl the Palmetto flag, Aling it to the breeze, and, with the spirit of a brave man, determine to live and die as became our glorious ancestors, and ring the clarion notes of defiance in the ears of an insolent foe!”
Congressman Boyce said, the next evening at Columbia: “In my opinion, the South ought not to submit. If you intend to resist, the way to resist in earnest is to act; the way to enact revolution is to stare it in the face. I think the only policy for us is to arm as soon as we receive authentic intelligence of the election of Lincoln.”
Many other speeches, as well as the message of the Governor, were of similar warlike tone. Already military companies had been formed and were actively drilling, to prepare for the contemplated emergency.
In Georgia a “military convention” was held at Milledgeville (then the State Capital) on the 12th of November. Governor Brown, who was one of the speakers, said it was the duty of other Southern States to sustain South Carolina: “ He would like to see the Federal troops dare attempt the coercion of a seceding
Southern State! For every Georgian who fell in conflict thus incited, the lives of two Federal soldiers should expiate the outrage on State sovereignty.” Of course, the “military” gentlemen there assembled voted for the resolution offered in favor of secession. Disunion orators did not anticipate bloodless revolution. They looked forward to civil war without a shudder. They seemed, indeed, to enjoy the prospect and its promise of a harvest of glory.
On the day after the election, Judge Magrath, of the United States District Court in South Carolina, resigned; as did also the District Attorney, and the Collector of the Port at Charleston. Mr. Hammond, following his colleague, resigned his seat in the United States Senate directly after the passage of the act providing for the Secession State Convention. The South Carolina representatives were hardly more tardy. So far as possible, every relation of the State to the Union was to be terminated at once.
In the other Cotton States the work of secession was aggressively pushed, but South Carolina alone had taken the fatal step before the close of December.
Still a private citizen at Springfield, Lincoln was not a dull spectator of passing events. From his youth he had been a constant and eager reader of newspapers, both Northern and Southern, and kept himself well informed on public matters from day to day. There were certainly few who, at this time, formed as accurate judgments on current affairs and their future bearings as he. Would the secession dragon be strangled at its birth, or allowed in the remaining months of the existing administration to get firmly on its feet and to grow
strong? Whatever he may have replied in his own thought, he surely could not intermeddle at this stage. Even in his private words he was discreetly reserved.
From the moment his election was assured, however, his mind was turned not only to the organization of his administration, but also contingently to its policy. Many visitations were made to him, some by invitation and more without, for consultation on both these subjects. On the night of the November election, wakefully meditating on the task before him, he completed in his own mind, so he stated to Mr. Welles, a cast of the Cabinet substantially as ultimately constituted. One leading purpose in choosing its members was to consolidate the Republican party. He certainly thought of Mr. Seward as first of the list at a still earlier day. In fact, it might be plausibly argued that he was committed to this more than to any other appointment before the canvass really opened. Thurlow Weed, who had visited Lincoln in May, returned home to enter actively into the campaign with apparently as confident an expectation of Seward's appointment as if it had been promised. Mr. Raymond, of the New York Times, indeed, writing to that paper from Auburn a day or two after the nomination, positively asserted that Seward would take no office under Lincoln, and this probably accorded with the feeling of the Senator and his interviewer at the time. The whole spirit of Mr. Raymond's letter was that of a discontent suggestive of mutiny. But this humor did not last. There is an interesting gleam of revelation from Mr. Weed himself in a letter to the London Times a year or two later, referring to Seward's alleged insult to the Duke
Sintex accord, ske no ation,
of Newcastle at a dinner to the Prince of Wales in New York, about the middle of October. The idea was preposterous, Mr. Weed argued, especially because Mr. Seward had then “reason to expect to be Secretary of State in the new administration.” On the 15th of November Lincoln said to the writer: “It is due to Mr. Seward that he should be tendered the office of Secretary of State. I think he is just the man to be Minister to England.” The tender was made to him soon after the meeting of the electoral colleges (in December) — made in perfect good faith, with the wish as well as the expectation that the place would be accepted. It does not follow, however, that under other conditions the most important foreign mission might not have been offered him in preference.
Governor Chase, who had been elected the previous winter to a full term in the United States Senate, to begin on the 4th of March, 1861, aspired to be Secretary of State. In the conversation already mentioned, on the 15th of November, Lincoln said, as occasion was presented: “I think Governor Chase would make an excellent Secretary of the Treasury.” This expression was given in such a way as to leave no doubt of a serious purpose to make this appointment. There was an embarrassment, however, not then hinted, in the circumstance that Mr. Cameron, of Pennsylvania, who was intended for a position in the Cabinet, was not content to have anything less than the Treasury Department. Cameron was invited to Springfield before the close of December, and on his return home certain of his confidential friends were assured that he had the promise of either that or the War Department. On