Page images
PDF
EPUB

40

[SECT. VII.

them from his reader, who perhaps may add the reflec tion that it is better to have the child-like, innocent dreams of Lincoln, than the guilty and appalling midnight visions of the conscience-stricken Davis.

LINCOLN.

His necessity for relaxation.

Under a weight of responsibility and care pressing upon him unceasingly by day and by night, Lincoln instinctively felt the necessity of momentary relief. An anecdote well told, an amusing incident, would rescue him from deep depression. A strip of steel must be pulled back before it can spring forward. And so it was with Lincoln's mind-it must be relaxed before it could display its force. Perhaps this was never more strikingly seen than on the occasion of his submitting the Proclamation of Emancipation to his cabinetdeclared by himself to be the great and central act of his administration. He introduced it by reading some of the grotesque sayings of Artemus Ward.

Day by day the good sense and integrity of the rustic President shone forth more brightly in the sorest trials. It is not in foreign wars, but in domestic troubles that the greatness of a ruler is seen. In a country of the inhabitants of which it is said that every one forgets yesterday, the massive virtues of the President fidence of the people were borne in mind. His countrymen learned by experience to look upon him, unpolished as he was, as a monolith hewn out of the living rock, and capable of safely sustaining the heaviest weight of empire.

The unbounded con

in him.

[ocr errors]

CHAPTER XXXV.

RETROSPECT OF THE PROGRESS OF THE CONSPIRACY AT THE INAUGURATION OF LINCOLN.

The conspirators, taking advantage of the approaching Presidential interregnum, had appointed a Convention to be held at Montgomery, and taken measures for raising an army. They proposed to seize Washington, and prevent the inauguration of Lincoln. They attempted to bring over the Border States to their cause, and succeeded with Virginia, agreeing to the conditions she exacted, that her internal slave-trade should be protected, and that Richmond should be made the seat of the proposed government.

The conspiracy may be considered as ending in complete success at the epoch of the opening of the Confederate Congress at Richmond.

After that epoch the Secession authority presented the character of an organized government.

THE entire secession movement presents two phases: 1st. A conspiracy of individuals against the republic. 2d. The action of an organized government.

It may be a question at what point we ought to place the line of demarcation between these phases. Some persons may be disposed to select the epoch of the estab lishment of the Confederate government at Montgomery; but for a long time subsequently to that event the aspect The boundary be- of a conspiracy was not lost. This is par tween them ticularly manifested in the case of the secession of Virginia, which was brought about partly by intrigue and partly by violence. But it committed to the movement the most powerful of all the Slave States, and, by the seizure of the navy yard at Norfolk, contributed to it essential war-supplies. Had Virginia not joined the secessionists they could have had no hopes of success.

Again, there are reasons which would lead us to adopt

There are two phases in the secession movement.

42

RETROSPECT OF THE CONSPIRACY.

[SECT. VII.

is the battle of Bull as the boundary-mark the opening of the

Run and the

ate Congress.

ing of the Confeder- Confederate Congress at Richmond and the contemporaneous military occurrence, the battle of Bull Run. The events of the time seem to harmonize very well with this view, and accordingly I shall venture to adopt it. Such artificial divisions are very useful for historical purposes, since they enable us to group events more distinctly, and discover their mutual relations.

The first seat of the

Washington.

The primary object of the conspirators was the retention of political power long enjoyed, but which they plainly perceived was about to slip from their grasp. The first seat of their action was the United conspiracy was in States Senate; the most effective of their earlier co-laborers were ministers in the cabinet of Buchanan. History furnishes no parallel to the midnight treachery of that cabinet except in the dark and bloody mysteries of the palaces of Oriental monarchs.

od for treason.

There is a period in the affairs of the republic which The favorable peri- singularly favors the perpetration of treason. It is during the last days of a retiring, and the first days of an incoming President. He who is about to lay down power has but little motive for energetic action. He desires to close his administration in tranquillity. He feels that his strength is gradually declining—that the men around him are turning from the setting, and expecting the rising sun. Nothing is done today if it can possibly be postponed until to-morrow; no trials and dangers are encountered if they can be left for the succeeding administration to meet. And this, in its turn, offers facilities to the conspirator. sion of the government unfamiliar with and hardly knowing what it ought to do. For a season

It takes possespractical details,

CHAP. XXXV.] PRELIMINARY STEPS OF THE CONSPIRATORS.

43

it can not give due attention to public affairs, no matter how urgent they may be; the clamorous demands of those who have promoted it to power for office and emolument must be attended to first. Sweeping removals are made in every department; the new-comers are ill-informed of the business of the offices they have gained. Still worse, all this does not occur unexpectedly; it is foreseen, and hence may constitute an essential element in a plot. In Europe, no one can tell when the sovereign will die; his successor has long been ascertained, and when the change occurs the machinery of state moves on without embarrassment.

spiracy.

In previous chapters I have related how, through the Origin of the con- operation of Physical and Political Causes, a tendency to partition in the republic had arisen. Wherever such a tendency exists, it eventually finds an actual expression. So here and there throughout the South there were not wanting persons, each of whom had his own plan of secession. For example, there were Virginians who would have seized Washington in 1856 if Fremont had been elected. In South Carolina, in Alabama, and indeed throughout the Cotton States, there were many different disunion schemes; but the one which at length reached a fatal issue was organized by United States senators and members of the cabinet of Buchanan.

lar cry.

Though these men did not know the strength, they knew well the weaknesses of the government they undertook to betray. They knew what was the proper time Adoption of a popu- for action, and that "Danger to slavery" was their correct war-cry. With that the Southern people could be unified. By dexterous manipulations with the governors and Legislatures of the Border States they expected to attach those important communities to their cause, and oppose them as a bulwark to

[ocr errors]

44

PRELIMINARY STEPS OF THE CONSPIRATORS. [SECT. VII.

mined on.

Measures first deter- the attacks of the loyal portion of the nation. They intended to seize Washington, to prevent the inauguration, or to depose, perhaps to dispose of, the new President, to secure the government—to Mexicanize the nation. They concerted for the capture of all the national works in the Slave States, and prepared garrisons for them; they entrapped the army, and dispersed the navy of the nation, which they insidiously disarmed. Taking advantage of the offices they controlled, they threw into confusion its finances, robbed its treasury, and broke into its mints. They stripped its arsenals of rifles and cannon, its dock-yards of ships. They rendered nugatory its courts of law, and seduced from their allegiance the officers of its army and navy. They introduced insubordination into the public service, and thereby paralyzed it. They kept their confederates in Congress for the express purpose of obstructing legisla tion, and ruining the government which had been intrusted to their hands. They tried to exclude from Washington all means of defense, and thereby make it easy of capture.

Posterity will regard such hideous crimes with detestation. It will look with admiration on that great government which at length, after many trials, having these malefactors at its mercy, could nobly refrain from vengeance,. and act on the principle recommended by Cæsar to the Senate of Rome respecting the culprits of the conspir acy of Catiline, "not to retaliate, but to consider rather what was worthy of its own majesty than what might justly be inflicted on its enemies."

A secret meeting of the conspirators had been held in Washington (January 5th, 1861), at which the senators from Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas, Mississippi, and Florida were present. They decided on the plan of action subsequently carried out, and determined

« PreviousContinue »