« PreviousContinue »
citizens pursuing their lawful occupations, until Congress shall have assembled and deliberated on the said unlawful proceedings, or until the same shall have ceased, have further deemed it advisable to set on foot a blockade of the ports within the States aforesaid, in pursuance of the laws of the United States and of the laws of nations in such cases provided. For this purpose, a competent force will be posted so as to prevent entrance and exit of vessels from the ports aforesaid. If, therefore, with a view to violate such blockade, a vessel shall approach, or shall attempt to leave any of the said ports, she will be duly warned by the commander of one of the blockading vessels, who will endorse on her register the fact and date of such warning; and if the same vessel shall again attempt to enter or leave the blockaded port, she will be captured and sent to the nearest convenient port, for such proceedings against her and her cargo as prize as may be deemed advisable.
And I hereby proclaim and declare, that if any person, under the pretended authority of such States, or under any other pretence, shall molest a vessel of the United States, or the persons or cargo on board of her, such persons will be held amenable to the laws of the United States for the prevention and punishment of piracy.
By the President,
WILLIAM H. SEWARD, Secretary of State.
WASHINGTON, April 19, 1861.
These were the initial steps by which the Government sought to repel the attempt of the rebel Confederacy to overthrow its authority by force of arms. Its action was at that time wholly defensive. The declarations of rebel officials, as well as the language of the Southern press, indicated very clearly their intention to push the war begun at Sumter into the North. Jefferson Davis had himself declared, more than a month previous, that whenever the war should open, the North and not the South should be the field of battle. At a popular demonstration held at Montgomery, Ala., on hearing that fire had been opened upon Sumter, L. P. Walker, the rebel Secretary of War, had said, that while "no man could tell where the war would end, he would prophesy that the flag which now flaunts the breeze here, would float over the dome of the old capitol at Washington before the first of May," and that it "might float eventually over Faneuil Hall itself.”
The rebel Government had gone forward with great vigor to prepare the means for making good these predictions. Volunteers were summoned to the field. Besides garrisoning the fortresses in their possession along the Southern coast, a force of nearly 20,000 men was pushed rapidly forward to Virginia. A loan of eight millions of dollars was raised, and Davis issued a proclamation offering letters of marque to all persons who might desire to aid the rebel Government and enrich themselves by depredations upon the rich and extended commerce of the United States. The South thus plunged openly and boldly into a war of aggression; and the President, in strict conformity with the declaration of his Inaugural, put the Government upon the defensive, and limited the military operations of the moment to the protection of the capital.
The effect of these preliminary movements upon the Border Slave States was very decided. The assault upon Sumter greatly excited the public mind throughout those States. In Virginia it was made to enure to the benefit of the rebels. The State Convention, which had been in session since the 13th of February, was composed of 152 delegates, a large majority of whom were Union men. The Inaugural of President Lincoln had created a good deal of excitement among the members, and a very animated contest had followed as to its proper meaning. The secessionists insisted that it announced a policy of coercion towards the South, and had seized the occasion to urge the immediate passage of an ordinance of secession. This gave rise to a stormy debate, in which the friends of the Union maintained their ascendency. The news of the attack upon Sumter created a whirlwind of excitement, which checked somewhat the Union movement; and, on the 13th of April, Messrs. Preston, Stuart, and Randolph, who had been sent to Washington to ascertain the President's intentions towards the South, sent in their report, which was received just after Governor Pickens of South
Carolina bad announced the attack upon Sumter, and had demanded to know what Virginia intended to do in the war they had just commenced, and in which they were determined to triumph or perish. The Commissioners reported that the President had made the following reply to their inquiries:
To Hon. Messrs. Preston, Stuart, and Randolph :
GENTLEMEN: As a committee of the Virginia Convention, now in session, you present me a preamble and resolution in these words:
Whereas, In the opinion of this Convention, the uncertainty which prevails in the public mind as to the policy which the Federal Executive intends to pursue towards the seceded States, is extremely injurious to the industrial and commercial interests of the country, tends to keep up an excitement which is unfavorable to the adjustment of the pending difficulties, and threatens a disturbance of the public peace; therefore,
Resolved, That a committee of three delegates be appointed to wait on the President of the United States, present to him this preamble, and respectfully ask him to communicate to this Convention the policy which the Federal Executive intends to pursue in regard to the Confederate States.
In answer I have to say, that having, at the beginning of my official term, expressed my intended policy as plainly as I was able, it is with deep regret and mortification I now learn there is great and injurious uncertainty in the public mind as to what that policy is, and what course I intend to pursue. Not having as yet seen occasion to change, it is now my purpose to pursue the course marked out in the Inaugural Address. I commend a careful consideration of the whole document as the best expression I can give to my purposes. As I then and therein said, I now repeat, "The power confided in me will be used to hold, occupy, and possess property and places belonging to the Government, and to collect the duties and imposts; but beyond what is necessary for these objects there will be no invasion, no using of force against or among the people anywhere." By the words "property and places belonging to the Government," I chiefly allude to the military posts and property which were in possession of the Government when it came into my hands. But if, as now appears to be true, in pursuit of a purpose to drive the United States authority from these places, an unprovoked assault has been made upon Fort Sumter, I shall hold myself at liberty to repossess it, if I can, like places which had been seized before the Government was devolved upon me; and in any event I shall, to the best of my ability, repel force by force. In case it proves true that Fort Sumter has been assaulted, as is reported, I shall, perhaps, cause the United States mails to be withdrawn from all the States which claim to have seceded, believing that the commencement of actual war against the Government justifies and possibly demands it. I scarcely need to say that I consider the
military posts and property situated within the States which claim to have seceded, as yet belonging to the Government of the United States as much as they did before the supposed secession. Whatever else I may do for the purpose, I shall not attempt to collect the duties and imposts by any armed invasion of any part of the country; not meaning by this, however, that I may not land a force deemed necessary to relieve a fort upon the border of the country. From the fact that I have quoted a part of the Inaugural Address, it must not be inferred that I repudiate any other part, the whole of which I reaffirm, except so far as what I now say of the mails may be regarded as a modification.
On the 17th, two days after this report was presented, and immediately after receiving the President's proclamation calling for troops, the Convention passed an ordinance of secession by a vote of 88 to 55; and Virginia, being thus the most advanced member of the rebel Confederacy, became the battlefield of all the earlier contests which ensued, and on the 21st of May the capital of the rebel government was transferred to Richmond. Very strenuous efforts were made by the rebel authorities to secure the adhesion of Maryland, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Missouri to the Confederacy; but the wise forbearance of the President in his earlier measures had checked these endeavors, and held all those States but Tennessee aloof from active participation in the secession movement.
The months of May and June were devoted to the most active and vigorous preparations on both sides for the contest which was seen to be inevitable. Over a hundred thousand troops had been raised and organized in the rebel States, and the great mass of them had been pushed forward toward the Northern border. On the 20th of April the Government of the United States seized all the despatches which had accumulated in the telegraph offices during the preceding year, for the purpose of detecting movements in aid of the rebel conspiracy. On the 27th of April the blockade of rebel ports was extended by proclamation to the ports of North Carolina and Virginia. On the 3d of May the President is
sued a proclamation calling into the service of the United States 42,034 volunteers for three years, and ordering an addition of 22,114 officers and men to the regular army, and 18,000 seamen to the navy. And on the 16th, by another proclamation, he directed the commander of the United States forces in Florida to "permit no person to exercise any office or authority upon the islands of Key West, the Tortugas, and Santa Rosa, which may be inconsistent with the laws and Constitution of the United States, authorizing him, at the same time, if he shall find it necessary, to suspend the writ of habeas corpus, and to remove from the vicinity of the United States fortresses all dangerous or suspected persons."
One of the first duties of the new Administration was to define the position to be taken by the Government of the United States towards foreign nations in view of the rebellion. While it is impossible to enter here upon this very wide branch of the general subject at any considerable length, this history would be incomplete if it did not state, in official language, the attitude which the President decided to assume. That is very distinctly set forth in the letter of instructions prepared by the Secretary of State for Mr. Adams, on the eve of his departure for the court of St. James, and dated April 10, in the following terms:
Before considering the arguments you are to use, it is important to indicate those which you are not to employ in executing that mission: First. The President has noticed, as the whole American people have, with much emotion, the expressions of good-will and friendship towards the United States, and of concern for their present embarrassments, which have been made on apt occasions, by her Majesty and her ministers. You will make due acknowledgment for these manifestations, but at the same time you will not rely on any mere sympathies or national kindness. You will make no admissions of weakness in our Constitution, or of apprehension on the part of the Government. You will rather prove, as you easily can, by comparing the history of our country with that of other States, that its Constitution and Government are really the strongest and surest which have ever been erected for the safety of any people. You will in no case listen to any suggestions of com