« PreviousContinue »
sary purpose, while I would defer military action on land until a case should arise when we would hold the defense. In that case we should have the spirit of the country and the approval of mankind on our side. In the other, we should imperil peace and union, because we had not the courage to practise prudence and moderation at the cost of temporary misapprehension. If this counsel seems to be impassive and even unpatriotic, I console myself by the reflection that it is such as Chatham gave to his country under circumstances not widely different.”
Salmon P. Chase, Secretary of the Treasury, renders an affirmative answer, which he bases upon the statements of military authorities, that, if the attempt to provision included an attempt to reënforce, the possibility of success amounted to a reasonable degree of probability. The Secretary adds:
“The probable political effects of the measure allow room for much fair difference of opinion; and I have not reached my own conclusion without serious difficulty.
"If the attempt will so inflame civil war as to involve an immediate necessity for the enlistment of armies and the expenditure of millions, I cannot advise it in the existing circumstances of the country and in the present condition of the national finances.
“But it seems to me highly improbable that the attempt, especially if accompanied or immediately followed by a proclamation setting forth a liberal and generous yet firm policy toward the disaffected States, in harmony with the principles of the inaugural address, will produce such consequences; while it cannot be doubted that in maintaining a port belonging to the United States and in supporting the officers and men engaged in the regular course of service in its defense, the Federal Government exercises a clear right and, under all ordinary circumstances, performs a plain duty.”
Simon Cameron, Secretary of War, returns a negative answer to the query. He recites opinions of military authorities pro and con as to the feasibility of the project, but with the preponderance of opinion in the negative. He says that all the officers within Fort Sumter, together with Generals Scott and Totten, have expressed the opinion, that it would be impossible to succor Fort Sumter substantially, if at all, without capturing, by means of a large expedition of ships of war and troops (at least twenty-five thousand men), all the opposing batteries of South Carolina. A month before the relief would have been practicable, now Fort Moultrie is re-armed and strengthened in every way; many new hand batteries have been constructed, the principal channel has been obstructed; in short the difficulty of reënforcement has been increased ten, even twenty fold. In favor of the proposition he mentions the project of Gustavus V. Fox, Assistant Secretary of the navy, formerly connected with the Coast Survey and familiar with Charleston harbor. “Mr. Fox," he says, “has proposed to make the attempt to supply the fort by aid of cutters of light draught and large dimensions, but he does not suppose, or propose, or profess to believe that provisions for more than one or two months could be furnished at a time.” Now Sumter could not now contend against these formidable adversaries if filled with provisions and men.
That fortress was intended to repel an invading foe. The range of her guns is too limited to reach the city of Charleston. No practicable benefit would result to country or government by accepting such a proposal.
Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy, returns a negative answer. He says that the wisdom of the enterprise in this military aspect has been questioned by experts. In a political view the relief of the fort was inexpedient. The public mind has concluded that the fort is to be evacuated and is becoming reconciled to this prospect. To provision Fort Sumter would be to precipitate war, and he is not prepared to advise a plan that would provoke hostilities in event of success, and to incur untold disaster in event of failure.
Caleb B. Smith, Secretary of the Interior, gives an opinion similar to that of Welles. He says: “If the evacuation of Fort Sumter could be regarded as an acknowledgment by the government of its inability to enforce the laws, I should without hesitation advise that it should be held without regard to the sacrifices which its retention might impose. I do not believe, however, that the abandonment of the fort would imply such an acknowledgment on the part of the government. There are other means by which the power and the honor of the government may be vindicated, and which would, in my judgment, be much more effective to compel the people of South Carolina to render obedience to the laws, and which would at the same time avoid the saciifice of life which must result from a conflict under the walls of the fort."
Montgomery Blair, Postmaster-General, renders an opinion strongly affirmative. He says:
“The evacuation of Fort Sumter, when it is known that it can be provisioned and manned, will convince the rebels that the administration lacks firmness, and will, therefore, tend more than any event that has happened to embolden them; and so far from tending to prevent collision, will insure it unless all the other forts are evacuated, and all attempts are given up to maintain the authority of the United States.
“Mr. Buchanan's policy has, I think, rendered collision almost inevitable, and a continuance of that policy will not only bring it about, but will go far to produce a permanent division of the Union.
“This is manifestly the public judgment, which is much more to be relied on than that of any individual. I believe Fort Sumter may be provisioned and relieved by Captain Fox with little risk; and General Scott's opinion, that with its war complement [of 650 men) there is no force in South Carolina which can take it, renders it almost certain that it will not then be attempted. This would completely demoralize the rebellion. The impotent rage of the rebels, and the outburst of patriotic feeling which would follow this achievement, would initiate a reactionary movement throughout the South which would speedily overwhelm the traitors. No expense or care should, therefore, be spared to achieve this success.
"The appreciation of our stocks will pay for the most lavish outlay to make it one.
"Nor will the result be materially different to the nation if the attempt fails, and its gallant leader and followers are lost. It will in any event vindicate the hardy courage of the North, and the determination of the people and their President to maintain the authority of the government; and this is all that is wanting, in my judgment, to restore it."
Edward Bates, Attorney-General, advises against the project, preferring that South Carolina have the odium before the world of beginning a conflict which would inevitably degenerate into a servile war of unspeakable horrors. Besides, in such a contest, Charleston was comparatively insignificant; "the real struggle will be at the Mississippi, for it is not politically possible for any foreign power to hold the mouth of that river against the people of the middle and upper valley.”
In a MESSAGE TO THE SENATE, sent March 26, 1861, the President refuses the request of that body, made March 25, 1861, that he submit to it the DESPATCHES of MAJOR ANDERSON from Fort Sumter to the War Department. “At the present moment,” he says, "the publication would be inexpedient.”
On March 29, 1861, President Lincoln called a Cabinet meeting to determine the question of sending an EXPEDITION TO RELIEVE FORT SUMTER. The Secretary of War and the Postmaster-General failed to render an opinion. Of those submitted, that of Mr. Seward, Secretary of State, was alone in the negative. As a result Captain Fox's proposition (see page 171, present volume) was accepted. By April i the President had sent the proper orders for fitting out the expedition.
Proclamation Calling 75,000 Militia, and Convening Congress in Extra Session.
APRIL 15, 1861. 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, Louisiana, 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 seventy-five thousand, 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 the 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 in any part of the country
And I hereby command the persons composing the combinations aforesaid to disperse and retire peacefully to their respective abodes within twenty days from date.
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. Senators and Representatives are there
* The Act of 1795, which authorized the use of the militia only "until the expiration of thirty days after the commencement of the then next session of Congress.”