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mand of Major Robert Anderson. Another, Fort Sumter, was a costly structure, of much greater strength and importance, erected in the midst of the waters, and only lately brought to such a degree of completion as to make its occupation by a garrison practicable. It was well known that the authorities of South Carolina meant to insist on possession of these and the minor works — “ within its jurisdiction,” as they alleged, though in fact exclusive jurisdiction over their site had been ceded by South Carolina to the United States. While eagerly pushing forward the work of arming the State, and mustering into its service volunteer companies from other States, the new Governor, Mr. Pickens, proposed to enter into negotiations with President Buchanan, as the Federal “ agent” of the other States, for a pacific surrender of the forts to the Palmetto principality. The Governor's commissioners, Messrs. Barnwell, Orr, and Adams, reached Washington on this errand a day or two after Christmas.
While they were on their way, Major Anderson, whom they had left quietly holding Fort Moultrie, startled the insurgent authorities and electrified the country by a nocturnal transfer of his little military force to Fort Sumter, then supposed to be impregnable. The demonstrations of public feeling at the North when this news was received left no doubt as to the sentiments of the people about the whole business of secession. After that there was little talk of “ peaceable " disunion.
The South Carolina commissioners sent to the President a communication, in which, after serving on him a copy of the ordinance of secession, and without waiting to learn what reception would be given to their credentials, they proceeded to accuse the Administration of violating its pledges in the matter of Major Anderson's dismantling Fort Moultrie and occupying Fort Sumter. They asked an explanation from Mr. Buchanan, who — at first timid, but braced up by Mr. Black — replied to these gentlemen as citizens merely, distinctly repudiating their assumption of an official character, and repelling their allegations of bad faith as to the forts. Neither did he make any disclaimer of Major Anderson's acts. This brought a rejoinder so wanting in courtesy that the President declined to receive it, and the commissioners departed.
There had already been a “crisis” in Mr. Buchanan's administration. On the 10th of December Howell Cobb had resigned his place as Secretary of the Treasury, alleging as a reason “his duty to his State"; and on the 14th Lewis Cass had retired from the State Department, because the garrison in Charleston harbor was not strengthened. Mr. Cobb's place had been filled by the appointment of Philip F. Thomas, of Maryland; and Edwin M. Stanton became Attorney-General, on the promotion of Mr. Black to the office of Secretary of State. The affair with the South Carolina commissioners was not over, when Secretary Floyd, of the War Department, was found to be implicated in the robbery of an Indian trust fund, and Mr. Floyd's resignation, distinctly on that account, was demanded by the President. This was tendered on the 29th of December, in a letter which implied for the public eye that the War Secretary had voluntarily retired because faith had not been kept in regard to the Charleston forts. Joseph Holt, of Kentucky, Postmaster-General, was thereupon transferred to the Secretaryship of War, and Horatio King, Assistant Postmaster-General, succeeded Mr. Holt. On the 30th of December the President ordered reinforcements to be sent to Major Anderson — a measure agreed upon in Cabinet, with the approval of all except Secretaries Thomas and Thompson, both of whom soon after resigned. General John A. Dix, of New York, succeeded Thomas in the Treasury Department, and Thompson's chief clerk, Moses Kelly, was Acting Secretary of the Interior for the remainder of the term. Buchanan's Cabinet henceforward was more harmonious, but its efficiency chiefly negative.
Secretary Black said very plainly in his official advice to the President:
The forts in Charleston harbor belong to this Government — are its own and can not be given up. It is true they might be surrendered to a superior force, whether that force be in the service of a seceding State or a foreign nation. But Fort Sumter is impregnable and can not be taken if defended as it should be. It is a thing of the last importance that it should be maintained if all the power of this nation can do it; for the command of the harbor and the President's ability to execute the revenue laws may depend on it. ... The power to defend the public property, to resist an assailing force which unlawfully attempts to drive out troops of the United States from one of the fortifications, and to use military and naval forces for the purpose of aiding the proper officers of the United States in the execution of the laws — this, as far as it goes, is coercion, and may very well be called “coercing a State by force of arms to remain in the Union.” The President has always asserted his right of coercion to that extent. He merely denies the right of Congress to make offensive war upon a State of the Union as such might be made upon a foreign government.
The following words of Mr. Black, from the same document, especially deserve attention:
The remotest expression of a doubt about Major Anderson's perfect propriety of behavior should be carefully avoided. He is not merely a gallant and meritorious officer who is entitled to a fair hearing before he is condemned. He has saved the country, I solemnly believe, when its day was darkest, and its perils most extreme. He has done everything that mortal man could do to repair the fatal error which the administration has committed in not sending down troops enough to hold all the forts. He has kept the strongest one. He still commands the harbor. We may still execute the laws if we try.
solemnly belibe is condemfficer
He concludes by entreating the President to “order the Brooklyn and the Macedonian to Charleston without the least delay, and in the meantime to send a trusty messenger to Major Anderson, to let him know that his government will not desert him. The reinforcement of troops should follow immediately. If this be done at once, all may yet be not well, but comparatively safe. If not, I can see nothing but disaster and ruin to the country.”
The President ordered the reinforcements, but there was a mortifying failure, for which Mr. Black chiefly blamed General Scott. Others thought the responsi. bility should be borne in part by Mr. Seward, who, as prospective Secretary of State, was becoming prominent in the councils and schemes of the time. Whatever the influence of either Scott or Seward, the chief burden rested on Buchanan. Weeks before the election the General had warned the President of the dangers from an inadequate manning of the Southern forts, specifying Jackson and St. Philip, below New Orleans, then without any garrison; McRea and Pickens, in Pensacola harbor, insufficiently garrisoned; Pulaski, near Savannah, without a garrison; Moultrie and Sumter, in Charleston harbor, the former with only eighty men, the latter unoccupied; and Fortress Monroe, at Old Point Comfort, insufficiently garrisoned. His recommendation that prompt measures be taken for the security of these important national works was neglected — “fatally” neglected, as Secretary Black told the President in December.
With little delay after the executive order was given, an unarmed steamer, the Star of the West,— not the two war steamers which the Secretary of State had proposed — started from New York with reinforcements for Major Anderson. To the public, Charleston harbor was now the chief point of interest; for what availed peace meetings or compromise projects if the insurgents already in arms were bent on fighting? Did South Carolina actually mean to inaugurate civil war? That question was answered when, on the gth of January, her guns fired on the Star of the West as, with the United States flag at her mast, she entered the harbor at Charleston. Meeting this reception, she wheeled about and returned to New York. So slight an effort had certainly not exhausted the energy of the administration; and Mr. Buchanan promptly sent a special message to Congress so improved in tone as to raise expectations of a more positive treatment of the case thereafter; but during the remaining eight weeks of his term nothing was done to satisfy the hope.
On the day before this humiliating spectacle in Charleston harbor, Senator Jefferson Davis wrote (Jan