Page images

fight always; and when, after much loss on both sides, and no gain on either, you cease fighting, the identical questions as to terms of intercourse are again upon you.

"This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending, or their revolutionary right to dismember or overthrow it. I cannot be ignorant of the fact that many worthy and patriotic citizens are desirous of having the national Constitution amended. While I make no recommendation of amendment, I fully recognize the full authority of the people over the whole subject, to be exercised in either of the modes prescribed in the instrument itself, and I should, under existing circumstances, favor, rather than oppose, a fair opportunity being afforded the people to act upon it.

[ocr errors]

I will venture to add that to me the convention mode seems preferable, in that it allows amendments to originate with the people themselves, instead of only permitting them to take or reject propositions originated by others not especially chosen for the purpose, and which might not be precisely such as they would wish either to accept or refuse. I understand that a proposed amendment to the Constitution (which amendment, however, I have not seen) has passed Congress, to the effect that the Federal Government shall never interfere with the domestic institutions of States, including that of persons held to service. To avoid misconstruction of what I have said, I depart from my purpose not to speak of particular amendments, so far as to say that, holding such a provision to now be implied constitutional law, I have no objection to its being made express and irrevocable.

"The chief magistrate derives all his authority from the people, and they have conferred none upon him to fix the terms for the separation of the States. The people themselves, also, can do this if they choose, but the Executive, as such, has nothing to do with it. His duty is to administer the present government as it came to his hands, and to transmit it, unimpaired by him, to his successor. Why should there not be a patient confidence in the ultimate justice of the people? Is there any better or equal hope in the world? In our present differences, is either party without faith of being in the right? If the Almighty Ruler of nations, with his eternal truth and justice be on your side of the North, or on yours of the South, that truth and that justice will surely prevail by the judgment of this great tribunal, the American people. By the frame of the government under which we live, this same people have wisely given their public servants but little power for mischief, and have, with equal wis

dom, provided for the return of that little to their own hands at very short intervals. While the people retain their virtue and vigilance, no Administration, by any extreme wickedness or folly, can very seriously injure the Government in the short space of four years.

"My countrymen, one and all, think calmly and well upon this whole subject. Nothing valuable can be lost by taking time.

'If there be an object to hurry any of you, in hot haste, to a step which you would never take deliberately, that object will be frustrated by taking time; but no good object can be frustrated by it.

"Such of you as are now dissatisfied, still have the old Constitution unimpaired, and, on the sensitive point, the laws of your own framing under it; while the new Administration will have no immediate power, if it would, to change either.

"If it were admitted that you who are dissatisfied hold the right side in the dispute, there is still no single reason for precipitate action. Intelligence, patriotism, Christianity, and a firm reliance on Him who has never yet forsaken this favored land, are still competent to adjust, in the best way, all our present difficulties. "In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow-countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The government will not assail you.

You can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors. You have no oath registered in heaven to destroy the government; while I shall have the most solemn one to 'preserve, protect, and defend it.'

"I am loth to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.

"The mystic cords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature."

Mr. Lincoln on assuming the reins of government found the North immersed in the affairs of peace; the national government almost destitute of arms and means, and the South busy preparing for war, manufacturing powder, shell, balls, and other munitions of war, and already in possession of most of the arms belonging to the United States, which had been, during the administration of his predecessor, sent from the Northern to the Southern States; and while the United States government had but its petty regular army, the congress of the revolted

States, only two days after his accession, on the 6th of March passed an act to raise an army of 100,000 men.

Such was his position. The South not only defied the General Government, but menaced the North. The President could not, with the barons of old England, say merely, Nolumus mutare leges anglia: like the pontiffs, his word could but be, Non Possumus. With the inauguration oath still sounding from his lips, he could not consent to see half the land he was chosen to rule severed from the estate he received from the line of his predecessors. Mr. Stephens, actually Vice-President of that pseudo-republic to which the crowned heads of Europe were to do reverence, was of Mr. Lincoln's opinion: "Shall the people of the South secede from the Union in consequence of the election of Mr. Lincoln to the Presidency of the United States? My countrymen, I tell you candidly, frankly, and earnestly, that I do not think that they ought. In my judgment, the election of no man constitutionally chosen to that high office, is sufficient cause for any State to separate from the Union. It ought to stand by and aid still in maintaining the Constitution of the country.'

[ocr errors]

If Mr. Stephens thought that Georgia should aid still in maintaining the Constitution of the country, much more did Mr. Lincoln deem it his duty to maintain it, so far as the people would support him. To him the path of duty was clear. He would do it, as long as the people gave him the power: when they prevented him, the responsibility shifted from his shoulders.

Mr. Lincoln's first act was to select his Cabinet. For the important position of Secretary of State he selected his late competitor, William H. Seward, of New York, whose death was plotted and nearly effected with his own; Salmon P. Chase, now Chief-Justice of the United States, called upon to administer the oath of office to Mr. Lincoln's successor, took the portfolio of the Treasury; Simon Cameron, of Pennsylvania, became Secretary of War; Gideon Welles, of Connecticut, Secretary of the Navy; Caleb B. Smith, of Indiana. Secretary of the Interior; the direction of the Post-office Department was confided to Montgomery Blair, of Maryland; and Edward Bates, of Missouri, became Attorney-General. These nominations were all confirmed by the Senate, and his Cabinet at once began their arduous duties.

On the 12th of March, John Forsyth, of Alabama, and Crawford of Georgia, requested an unofficial interview with the Secretary of State, which was declined. On the 13th they sent a communication stating that they were commissioners from a government composed of seven States which had withdrawn from the United States, and desired to open negotiations. After due deliberation Mr. Seward, on the 8th of April, informed them that it "would not be admitted that the States referred to had, in law or fact, withdrawn from the Federal Union; or that they could do so, in any other manner than with the consent and concert of the people of the United States, to be given through a National Convention to be assembled in conformity with the provisions of the Constitution of the United States."

This reply telegraphed to the South made them resolve to begin the hostilities which they so long covertly and at last openly prepared. General Beauregard, at Charleston, was ordered to reduce Fort Sumter. On the 12th he opened on the fort from the numerous batteries planted around the fort, and Major Anderson, after holding it under heavy fire for thirty-three hours with only sixty men, finding it impossible to save the fort or be relieved, agreed to evacuate, and did so on Sunday, April 14th, 1861.

This blow decided the hesitating Southern States, which now saw that war was inevitable. To the incredulous North it was a thunder-clap. The South really meant war; and forgetting all party distinctions, the North rose as a man, its dogged persistence roused to fire.

President Lincoln regarding it as an armed attack on a government fort by a combination, issued a proclamation in these words:

[ocr errors]

Whereas, The laws of the United States have been for some time past, and now are opposed, and the execution thereof obstructed, in the States of South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Lousiana, and Texas, by combinations too powerful to be suppressed by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings, or by the powers vested in the marshals by law; now, therefore, I, ABRAHAM LINCOLN, President of the United States, in virtue of the power in me vested by the Constitution and the laws, have thought fit to call forth, and hereby do call forth, the militia of the several

States of the Union to the aggregate number of 75,000, in order to suppress said combinations and to cause the laws to be duly executed.

"The details for this object will be immediately communicated to the State authorities through the War Department. I appeal to all loyal citizens to favor, facilitate, and aid this effort to maintain the honor, the integrity, and existence of our national Union, and the perpetuity of popular government, and to redress wrongs already long enough endured. I deem it proper to say that the first service assigned to the forces hereby called forth, will probably be to repossess the forts, places, and property which have been seized from the Union; and in every event the utmost care will be observed, consistently with the objects aforesaid, to avoid any devastation, any destruction of, or interference with property, or any disturbance of peaceful citizens of any part of the country; and I hereby command the persons composing the combinations aforesaid, to disperse and retire peaceably to their respective abodes, within twenty days from this date.

[ocr errors]

Deeming that the present condition of public affairs presents an extraordinary occasion, I do hereby, in virtue of the power in me vested by the Constitution, convene both Houses of Congress. The Senators and Representatives are, therefore, summoned to assemble at their respective chambers at twelve o'clock, noon, on Thursday, the fourth day of July next, then and there to consider and determine such measures as, in their wisdom, the public safety and interest may seem to demand.

"In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand, and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

"Done at the City of Washington, this fifteenth day of April, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-one, and of the independence of the United States the eighty-fifth. By the President: ABRAHAM LINCOLN.

[ocr errors]

"WILLIAM H. SEWARD, Secretary of State."

To this proclamation the Northern States responded heartily. Maryland attacked Northern troops on their way to Washington; and the border States showed that they were likely to be soon all arrayed against the Union. Southern army officers had already resigned and joined the rebels, and many from the border States were ready to follow the example. On the 17th of April Virginia formally seceded, having first admitted Confederate troops into her limits, and Robert E. Lee, a trusted officer, left Washington to command the troops of that State

« PreviousContinue »