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CHAP. XXXV.]

WASHINGTON TO BE SEIZED.

45

that a Convention of the seceding states

A Convention to be

ry,

held at Montgome- should assemble at Montgomery during the following month. The secession of the Slave States which had not yet joined in the movement was to be secured, if possible, without submitting the matter to a vote of the people; but their senators and representatives were to remain in Congress as long as they could, to paralyze any movements hostile to the conspiracy; the arming of the South was to go on unceasingly; munitions of war of every kind were to be assiduously provided, and such preparations made that a military force of 100,000 men, exceeding any thing that it was supposed the government could raise, was to be in readiness at the time of Lincoln's inauguration. Every exertion was to be made to obtain possession of the forts, dock-yards, arsenals, custom-houses, mints, and other public property, to induce the resignation of army and navy officers, and to constrain the various legal and other agents in the South to refuse to do their duty.

and an army raised.

seized.

The seizure of Washington had become a part of the Washington is to be plan, and hence the importance of prohibiting, by Congressional action, if possible, the accumulation of troops in it. If that could be accomplished, and Lincoln's inauguration prevented, his election was to be declared unconstitutional, and possession of the government taken by the conspirators under plea of the right of self-preservation.

During these dark days the fortunes of the republic depended on the firmness of the attorney general, Stanton.

When the cabinet of Buchanan had become disorganized through the resignation of so many of its members, there were three things of supreme importance to the na tion to be done: 1st, to secure the Secretaryship of War; 2d, to secure the Secretaryship of the Treasury; 3d, to make Washington safe from seizure.

46

HOLT, THE SECRETARY OF WAR.

[SECT. VII.

to the

As respects the War Office, when the defalcation in the Department of the Interior was detectnation of securing ed, and Floyd's acceptances found in place the War Office. of the stolen Indian bonds, it became impossible for that minister to continue any longer in the cabinet. With the deepest reluctance was Buchanan constrained to admit Floyd's complicity. Often was he heard by his friends to exclaim, "He can not have done it, he can not have done it!" When Floyd's letter of resignation was handed to him, foreseeing its purport, his emotion could not be concealed. His trembling hand set the crisp and crumpling sheet nearer and then farther from his eyes, which seemed to refuse their office. With difficulty he deciphered the well-known but now mazy and swimming characters. The fortunate star of the republic was for the moment in the ascendant, and, at the Holt appointed Sec- earnest recommendation of the attorney retary of War. general, Joseph Holt, a Kentuckian, who was true to the nation, received the vacant appointment.

Importance of se

The peril to the republic would have been extreme had the War Office and the Treasury passcuring the Treasury. ed into the hands of men connected with the secession conspiracy. As respects the latter, on the resignation of Cobb, of Georgia (December 10th), Mr. Thomas, who had been Commissioner of Patents, was placed in his stead; but there was reason to apprehend that Buchanan, regarding this as a temporary arrange ment, might confer the office on some one who could not be trusted. The bitter altercations going on unceasingly around him perfectly unmanned him. Thus, when news came of the movement into Fort Sumter, he was sitting at the fireside in a faded dressing-gown, his slippers on his feet. At once he turned ghastly pale. With outstretched hands and in a tremulous voice, he piteously implored forbearance. Some of the conspirators were in an adjoining room.

CHAP. XXXV.] DIX, THE SECRETARY OF THE TREASURY.

47

For once, the financial embarrassments of the nation proved to be its salvation. The condition of the Treasury was deplorable. The government could do nothing without the aid of the capitalists of New York. Again the influence of the attorney general came to the public succor. Instructed partly by their own patriotism, and partly by his clear information of the existing imminent danger, a deputation of those capitalists hastened to Washington, and gave the President distinctly to understand that the Treasury Department must be placed in charge of one in whom they had confidence, and that they should not be satisfied unless John A. Dix, of their state, was selected. Hereupon Buchanan gave him the appointment.

A French writer (Laugel) says, "Stanton, Holt, and Dix saved Washington to the Union." Holt secure Wash And so, in truth, it was. The obligations

Stanton, and

ington.

Dix appointed Sec

retary of the Treas

ury.

of the republic to those three ministers, and especially to the first, can never be repaid. Had the Virginians succeeded in their intention and seized the city, nothing could have prevented the Mexicanization of the nation.

They are
ernor of Maryland.

But the resolute action of these three determined men was signally aided by the course of the aided by the Gov- Governor of Maryland. It was the plan of the conspirators to use in their movements the Legislatures of the Border States. Hicks, the Gov. ernor of Maryland, desiring to steer a middle course, refused to call an extra session of his Legislature, though vehemently urged to that step. While he was dreaming that the great conflict might be composed through the mediation of a foreign embassador, and when he did call his Legislature together, declaring to them that "the safety of Maryland lay in maintaining a neutral position," events were rapidly marching on. Maryland, as a state,

48

[SECT. VII.

could not be brought to act; Virginia would not act without her. During this condition of indecision and impediment, the three energetic cabinet ministers found means to make the capital of the nation secure.

Holt's report on the

Washington.

66

The salvation of the metropolis lay in the celerity with which troops could be brought into projected seizure of it. Holt, the Secretary of War, in reply to a resolution of inquiry passed by the House of Representatives, made to the President a report (February 18th, 1861) as to the circumstances under which this had been done. "I shall make no comment," he says, upon the origin of the revolution which for the last three months has been in progress in several of the Southern States. That revolution has been distinguished by a boldness and completeness of success rarely equaled in the history of civil commotions. Its history is a history of surprises and treacheries. The forts of the United States have been captured and garrisoned, and hostile flags unfurled upon their ramparts. The arsenals have been seized, and the vast amount of public arms they contained appropriated to the use of the

He relates the early

federates.

success of the Con- captors, while more than half a million of dollars found in the Mint at New Orleans have been unscrupulously applied to replenish the coffers of Louisiana. Officers in command of revenue cutters of the United States have been prevailed on to violate their trusts and surrender the property in their charge, and, instead of being branded for their crimes, they, and the vessels they betrayed, have been cordially received into the service of the seceded states. These movements were attended by yet more discouraging indications of immorality. It was generally believed that this revolution was guided and urged on by men occupying the highest positions in the public service, and who, with the responsi bilities of an oath to support the Constitution still rest

HOLT'S REPORT.

CHAP. XXXV.] PROJECTED SEIZURE OF WASHINGTON.

49

ing upon their consciences, did not hesitate secretly to plan, and openly to labor for the dismemberment of the republic whose honors they enjoyed, and upon whose treasury they were living. The unchecked prevalence of the revolution, and the intoxication which its triumphs inspired, naturally suggested wilder and yet more desperate enterprises than the conquest of ungarrisoned forts, or the plunder of an unguarded mint. At what time the armed occupation of Washington City became a part of the revolutionary programme is not certainly known. More than six weeks ago the impression had already exten sively prevailed that a conspiracy for the accomplishment of this guilty purpose was in process of formation, if not fully matured. The earnest endeavors made by men known to be devoted to the revolution to hurry Virginia and Maryland out of the Union were regarded as preparatory steps for the subjugation of Washington. This plan was in entire harmony with the aim and spirit of those seeking the subversion of the government, since no more fatal blow at its existence could be struck than the permanent and hostile possession of its seat of power. It was in harmony, too, with the avowed designs of the revolutionists, which looked to the formation of a confederacy of all the Slave States, and necessarily to the conquest of the capital within their limits. It seemed not very indistinctly prefigured in a proclamation made upon the floor of the Senate, without qualification, if not exultingly, that the Union was already dissolved-a proclamation which, however intended, was certainly calcu lated to invite, on the part of men of desperate fortunes or of revolutionary states, a raid upon the capital. In view of the violence and turbulent disorders already exhibited at the South, the public mind could not reject such a scheme as at all improbable. That a belief in its

Their intention of capturing Washington,

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