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Buchanan to Royal Phelps, Esq., of New York, which, with explanatory remarks, was published in the Magazine of American History for July, 1887. A copy of that letter was given by Mr. Phelps, some time before his death, to a gentleman of world-wide fame, George Bancroft, who, in speaking of it to me, expressed the opinion that it looked as though President Buchanan had made up his mind to let the Cotton States go. I was startled by this remark, when he offered to read the letter to me. I listened, almost breathlessly, to its close, when, naturally relieved, I said that I saw nothing whatever in it to justify any construction unfavorable to Mr. Buchanan. It showed his great anxiety to have the loan just advertised “ taken at a reasonable rate of interest,” and argued that such investment would be perfectly safe even “should the Cotton States withdraw from the Union.” Said he, “ Trade cannot easily be drawn from its accustomed channels. I would sacrifice my life at any moment to save the Union, if such were the will of God; but this great and enterprising and brave nation is not to be destroyed by losing the Cotton States, even if this loss were irreparable, which I do not believe unless from some unhappy accident."
The explanation appeared to satisfy my distinguished friend, and he afterward gave me a copy of Mr. Buchanan's letter, leaving me free to publish it, but on my own responsibility—which I did not hesitate to assume-accompanying the letter with an explanatory key.
To the contemporaries, certainly, of Messrs. Coe and Spaulding, it must seem a little strange to hear Mr. Spaulding say that “three of his [Buchanan's] Cabinet-viz., Jeremiah Black, Edwin M. Stanton, and Joseph Holt-were known to Mr. Seward and others to be loyal to the Union.” We can afford to pass by the oft-repeated remark of President Buchanan's “vacillating” and indecision. No doubt he was generally believed to be “loyal to the Union."
As regards those three members of his cabinet, two were “ Many
from Pennsylvania and the third, although from Kentucky, needed no stronger proof of his loyalty than was demonstrated when his nomination for Secretary of War came up for confirmation and the following senators voted against it,—viz., Bayard (father of the now Secretary of State), Benjamin, Bragg, Clingman, Green, Hemphill, Hunter, Iverson, Lane, Mason, Polk, Slidell, and Wigfall. of the conspirators had previously withdrawn from the Senate,” else this proof had been still stronger.
I well remember that Philip Clayton was one of the most rabid and outspoken disunionists in Washington, and at the period referred to by Mr. Spaulding the city was full of them. All that appeared to be necessary for their triumphant success in the last days of 1860, provided they could have controlled Vice-President Breckinridge, which is doubtful, was that the hellish plot to poison President Buchanan at the National Hotel, in the spring of 1857, prior to his inauguration, had succeeded, in which event the VicePresident would have been in the Presidential chair. Of course neither Mr. Breckinridge nor any but base wretches like the assassins of Lincoln, knew of or would have countenanced such an infamous proceeding, but with a Southern man not opposed to secession in the chair of State, who knows that he might not have deemed it wise, as well as merciful, to have favored a coup d'état, à la Napoleon III., and withheld the reins from Lincoln, with a view to the preservation of peace? They (the disunionists) had Congress and the Supreme Court almost in their power, and with all branches of the Executive Government also in their hands, thus controlling the Treasury, the army, and the navy, what could the people have done but submit to fate?
Was the thought of such plot chimerical ? It may be, but since I first ventured to express it in a letter published in the Providence Journal of December 3, 1863, I have met many well-informed persons who have said they fully believe it, but the only public confirmation of it I have seen is the following extract from the private journal of the late H. J. Raymond, editor of the New York Times, published in Scribner's Monthly Magazine for March, 1880, as follows:
“THURSDAY, March 5 (1863). “At lunch to-day I had a talk with Mr. Forbes (the celebrated war correspondent, who married General M. C. Meigs's daughter). He said he had very good reasons for saying that the famous disease at the National Hotel, in Washington, in 1857, from which so many persons suffered, was the result of an attempt on the part of the Southern disunionists to poison Buchanan, in order to bring in Breckinridge as President, who was in their councils, and would throw the power of the Government into their scale. He said that soon after he visited a prominent Southern politician, living at Culpepper Court House, in Virginia, and that from what there transpired he was convinced he was in the plot. He did not mention his name, and I did not think it proper to ask it.”
WASHINGTON, February 24, 1888.
Letter from ex-President Buchanan-The Real Facts of the Case-In
vestigation in Congress-Secretary J. B. Floyd's Order for Columbiads revoked by his Successor. In looking over the things of the past I have thought an interesting chapter might be introduced on the controverted subject of the “stolen arms." A great deal was said and written on the subject in the early days of the rebellion, and, as may be seen by the letter of November 12, 1861, of ex-President Buchanan, in Chapter X., the matter was fully investigated by the Committee on Military Affairs of the United States House of Representatives. Hon. Benjamin Stanton, the chairman of that committee, who made the report, was a Republican member from the State of Ohio.
I obtained and sent to Mr. Buchanan the desired copies of Mr. Stanton's report, and the following observations of the venerable ex-President, as copied from his book, entitled “ Mr. Buchanan's Administration on the Eve of the Rebellion,” will show the use he made of it. The spicy correspondence between him and General Scott relative to the efforts to reinforce Fort Sumter, etc., will doubtless be remembered by the intelligent reader. After giving a full history of his own action in that matter he says:
“The general deemed it wise to escape from his awkward position by repeating and endorsing the accusation against Secretary Floyd in regard to what have been called “the stolen arms, although this had been condemned as unfounded more than eighteen months before by the report of the Committee on Military Affairs of the House of Representatives. This was that the Secretary, in order to furnish aid to the approaching rebellion, had fraudulently sent public arms to the South for the use of the insurgents. This charge chimed in admirably with public prejudice at the moment.
“Although the committee, after full investigation, had, so long before as January, 1861, proved it to be unfounded, yet it has continued, notwithstanding, to be repeated and extensively credited up till the present moment. Numerous respectable citizens still believe that the Confederate States have been fighting us with cannon, rifles, and muskets thus treacherously placed in their possession. This delusion presents a striking illustration of the extent to which public prejudice may credit a falsehood not only without foundation but against the clearest official evidence. Although the late President has not been implicated as an accessory to the alleged fraud, yet he has been charged with a want of vigilance in not detecting and defeating it.
“The pretext on which General Scott seized to introduce this new subject of controversy at so late a period (November, 1862) is far-fetched and awkward.” Mr. Buchanan, while repelling the charge in the general's report to President Lincoln that he had acted under the influence of Secretary Floyd in refusing to garrison the Southern fortifications, declares that “all my Cabinet must bear me witness that I was the President myself, responsible for all the acts of the administration ; and certain it is that during the last six months previous to the 29th of December, 1860, the day on which he resigned his office, after my request, he exercised less influence in the administration than any other member of the Cabinet.”—Letter to National Intelligencer, October 28, 1862.
Whereupon the general, in order to weaken the force and impair the credibility of this declaration, makes the following insidious and sarcastic remarks:
“Now, notwithstanding this broad assumption of responsibility, I should be sorry to believe that Mr. Buchanan specially consented to the removal by Secretary Floyd of one hundred and fifteen thousand extra muskets and rifles, with all their implements and ammunition, from northern repositories to southern arsenals, so that on the breaking out of the maturing rebellion they might be found without cost, except to the United States, in the most convenient positions for distribution among the insurgents. So, too, of the one hundred and twenty or one hundred and forty pieces of heavy artillery, which the same secretary ordered from Pittsburg to Ship Island in Lake Borgne, and Galveston, Texas, for forts not yet erected.”
“But to proceed to the report of the committee, which effectually disproves the general's assertions. ... The committee made their first report on the 9th of January, 1861. With this they presented two tables (Nos. 2 and 3) communicated to them by Mr. Holt, then the Secretary of War, from the Ordnance Bureau, exhibiting the number and description of arms distributed since the 1st of January, 1860, to the States and Territories, and at what price. Whoever shall examine Table No. 2 will discover that the Southern and Southw tern States received much less in the aggregate instead of more than the quota of arms to which they were justly entitled under the law for arming the militia. Indeed, it is a remarkable fact that neither Arkansas, Delaware, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina, nor Texas received any portion of these arms, though they were army muskets of the very best quality. This arose simply from their own neglect, because the quota to which they were entitled would have been delivered to each of them on a simple application to the Ordnance Bureau. The whole number of muskets distributed among all the States, North and South, was just eight thousand four hundred and twenty-three. Of these the Southern and Southwestern States received only two thousand and ninety-one, or less than one-fourth.
· Again, the whole number of long-range rifles of the army caliber distributed among all the States in the year 1860 was one thousand seven hundred and twenty-eight. Of these, six of the Southern and Southwestern States—Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia-received in the aggregate seven hundred and fiftyeight, and the remainder of these States did not receive any.
“Thus it appears that the aggregate of rifles and muskets distributed in 1860 was ten thousand one hundred and fifty-one, of which the Southern and Southwestern States received two thousand eight hundred and