Page images
PDF
EPUB

Let us strain every nerve to strengthen and encourage them in their holy work of restoring the Union. I have said they are marching on to victory. This cannot, must not be doubted. The Union must be preserved. Slavery or no slavery, the people of the United States are one family, the territory they occupy is their own country, and this country can have but one supreme government,—the Government of the old Union,—whose Star-spangled Banner shall ever continue a token of joy to all lovers of freedom throughout the world.

CHAPTER X.

REMINISCENCES OF THE EARLY STAGES OF THE REBELLION.

Few Persons Apprehend Serious Trouble-Only a Small Number of

Active Union Men in Washington-Extracts of a Fierce Letter from John D. Ashmore, Member of Congress from South CarolinaLetters from Edward Everett and ex-President Pierce-Alarm now in the City-Resolution of the Senate appointing a Committee to Investigate Cause— Testimony of General Scott, Jacob Thompson, the Mayor, Governor Hicks, of Maryland, and others—Letters of ex-President Buchanan-Star of the West—Sharp Correspondence between Holt and Thompson-Resignation of Members of the Cabinet -Senator Yulee's Threats— Midnight Interview with General Scott. In recurring to the horrors of the war and of the few months preceding it, as experienced by us here at the capital, it has often occurred to me that, if possible, I suffered more from the dread apprehension of the impending conflict, and the shock upon shock at the seizure of the forts, arsenals, custom-houses, post-offices, and other government property by the rebels in the last months of President Buchanan's administration, than at any subsequent period during the war. No sooner was the election of Mr. Lincoln announced -and it was known throughout the country on the evening of election-day, the 6th of November, 1860—than the threatening signs appeared in all parts of the South, and the

secessionists everywhere, urged on by the Constitution newspaper of this city,—nominally under the editorship of William M. Browne, an Englishman, but really the mouth-piece and under the direction of the leaders of the rebellion,-set to work actively to effect a withdrawal of all the slave States from the Union.

This newspaper, having been regarded as the organ of the administration, still sustained this character to a greater or less extent, particularly as it was the continued recipient of the Government advertisements, which furnished its principal means of support; and this naturally gave rise to doubt as to the course the administration intended to pursue in the momentous crisis now at hand. But Messrs. Cobb, Floyd, and Thompson were yet members of the Cabinet, the Southern element was greatly in the ascendant here generally, and the time had not come for so decisive a step even as to withdraw from that paper the government patronage, notwithstanding I know that soon after the election it became a source of regret and mortification to many here that such a sheet should be allowed to draw its main sustenance from the Government it was seeking to destroy. When this patronage, some weeks afterward, was finally withheld by order of the President, the paper immediately ceased to exist; but so long as it was continued, it not only operated to the injury of the administration, but did great harm also to the Union cause North and South, for the reason before mentioned, that the public had come so generally to regard it as the organ of the administration.

A most remarkable fact of this period—a fact which, in making up a judgment upon President Buchanan's administration of affairs at this time, should not be forgotten-was, that few persons comparatively, either in the North or West, appeared to apprehend any serious trouble, regarding the threats and movements of the secessionists as only a repetition—in an aggravated form, to be sure—of what we had seen on former occasions, and all for political effect. Nor

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

was this feeling confined to one party : it pervaded all the free States. Hence, while the disunionists were everywhere active, and endeavoring to disseminate the idea that they were not only in favor with the administration, but with the Democratic party at large, the great body of the true friends of the administration stood aloof, never coming near the President or offering counsel. How well I recollect that all through the month of November I thought almost everybody in the free States was asleep. Here we were, a small number then of active Union men, in the very hotbed of the conspiracy, and surrounded by a host of bold and determined disunionists bent on “rule or ruin.” The great mass of those here who at heart were true to the Union were passive rather than otherwise, because they did not care to expose themselves to the charge of “Black Republicanism,” which was then the potent missile levelled by the secessionists against every person who dared openly to oppose them. Was it strange, therefore, that any one, seeing and feeling the real danger ahead, should have reached out after help? that with such feelings one should cast around for patriotic statesmen to come to the rescue? Humble as I was, occupying then a subordinate position in the Post-Office Department, so impressed was I by the appalling aspect of affairs, that I seemed to be impelled by a power beyond myself to “cry aloud and spare not;" and, departing from my previous rule of appropriate modesty,—to which it may be thought I have not returned, -I made bold to address earnest appeals to distinguished men, far and near, to exert their influence toward averting the threatened outbreak. The following extract of a letter from a Southern member of Congress may be taken as a specimen of the encouragement I received from that quarter. It bears date November 5, 1860, the day before the Presidential election :

" To the latter part of your letter I reply frankly. On my entrance into Congress it was as a constitutional Union-loving man. From the days of my childhood I have loved the Union,-during youth and manhood I still loved it. ... If Lincoln be elected, as I have no doubt he will be, and the South submit to his inauguration, then are they, in my judgment, cowards and traitors to their own rights, unworthy of any other condition than that that awaits them,-inferiors, provincialists, and subjects. Lincoln will never be the President of thirty-three confederate States. Men like myself, who for a lifetime have fought the extreme ultraisms of the South and the mad fanaticism of the North, will not permit Abe Lincoln's banner, inscribed with higher law,''negro equality,' “irrepressible conflict,' and 'final emancipation,' to wave over us. We have and do deserve a more glorious destiny. ... Three hundred thousand swords are now ready to leap from their scabbards in support of a Southern confederacy. Fort Moultrie will be in the hands of the South on the morning of the fourth day of March next. Our women and children are ready and eager for the conflict, and would kick us out of our houses if we basely and tamely yield again.” notorious circumstances of the case requires that my views should not be obtruded upon him unasked. Whenever they are specially invited by the President himself, or any one in his confidence, they will be cheerfully and respectfully given. “I remain, my dear sir, with much regard,

The above was evidently not intended, nor was it regarded, as strictly a private letter. All such information, when received, was promptly communicated to those in authority. It was important, of course, that the President himself should not only be kept advised of the actions of the disunionists, but that he should discountenance their nefarious proceedings, and that his hands should be strengthened by support from patriotic citizens everywhere; and to this end it was the desire to have placed before him, as far as possible, the opinions and advice of citizens in whose judgment he might confide. Here is a letter to me from the Hon. Edward Everett, who, it will be recollected, had just passed through the canvass as candidate for VicePresident on the conservative ticket, with the Hon. John Bell for President:

Boston, 27th November, 1860. “My Dear Sir,-I share the opinion of your correspondent as to the very critical state of public affairs, and I feel it to be the duty of every good citizen, by word and deed, to contribute his mite, however small, to rescue the country froin impending peril,—by far the greatest that ever threatened it.

“The cause assigned by your correspondent as that which prevents Union men from affording the President their support and counsel in this crisis will not prevent my doing it, but ordinary self respect under the

[ocr errors][ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

“Very truly yours,

“EDWARD EVERETT."

The following letter is from ex-President Pierce. Immediately on its receipt I called on Mr. Secretary Thompson, who with his own pen prepared a preface agreeably to General Pierce's suggestion, and the letter to the Secretary appeared in the Constitution of the next morning :

“ANDOVER, Mass., November 28, 1860. "MY DEAR SIR,—I have received your kind, earnest letter, and participate strongly in your apprehensions. To my vision the political horizon shuts down close and darkly. It may be that light is to break through somewhere, but I do not discern the quarter whence it is to come. I had occasion to write a friendly letter to Secretary Thompson (Interior) a day or two since, and expressed to him briefly my convictions and fears and hopes in relation to the present state of public affairs. I did not expect that letter to be published, but the blackness is gathering so fast that if anything can be done to save our glorious Union it must be done speedily, and, in my judgment, at the North chiefly. If you call on the Secretary he will show you that letter, and if he thinks the publication of it would be useful, he can use it as he pleases. The truth must appear that it was written in the course of friendly correspondence, and not with a view to publication. Among intelligent, reflecting men, alarm is evidently increasing here daily. One decisive step in the way of coercion will drive out all the slave-labor States. Of that I entertain no doubt. My suggestion about the tone and temper of Congress, and the importance of temperate words and actions might possibly have some degree of good influence, and there is, perhaps, more hope that the letter might be serviceable just at this juncture at the North ; but it was hastily written, and my friend, the Secretary, must judge. If you call on him, show him this note.

“In haste, your friend,

“FRANKLIN PIERCE.”

It was all to no purpose: the tide rolled on. Congress soon assembled, and became the arena of the fiercest dec

« PreviousContinue »