« PreviousContinue »
in spite of us, with an early supreme court decision holding our free state constitutions to be unconstitutional. Would Scott or Stephens go into the cabinet? And if yea, on what
, terms? Do they come to me? or I go to them? Or are we to lead off in open hostility to each other ?”
In Mr. Lincoln, though the prospect was dark and the way dangerous, there was no disposition to compromise the principles of his life and his party, and no entertainment of the illusion that concord could come of discord in his cabinet. In the latter matter he kept his own counsel and awaited his own time.
To appreciate the enormity of the rebellion of which Mr. Lincoln's election was made the pretext, by the southern leaders, it is never to be forgotten that the whole South, by becoming a party in the election, committed itself to the result. They were in all honor bound to abide by that result, whatever it might be. If the foes of Mr. Lincoln had refused to vote at all, they would have gone into the rebellion with a much cleaner record; but the first item of that record was a breach of personal honor on the part of every man who engaged in insurrection. Every member of both houses of Congress, every member of the cabinet, and every federal office-holder who turned against the government, was obliged, beyond this breach of personal honor to become a perjurerto trample upon the solemn oath by virtue of which he held his office.
Allusion has already been made to the operations of the plotters in Mr. Buchanan's cabinet. Before the election, Floyd had, as has already been stated, sent one hundred and fifteen thousand muskets from northern armories to southern arsenals. General Scott had warned him of the danger to which the federal forts at the South were liable, and had advised that, as a precautionary measure, they should be carrisoned. To this warning the secret traitor paid no attention. Attorney General Black had given his official opinion that Congress had no right to carry on a war against any state. The President himself was only a weak instrument in the
hands of the intriguers. He consented to have his hands tied; and if he made any protests they were weak and childish. More than anything else he longed to have them delay the execution of their schemes until he should be released from office.
South Carolina, the breeding bed of secession and the birthplace of the fatal State Rights Heresy, took the lead in the secession movement, and called a state convention to meet at Columbia on the seventeenth of December. On the tenth of November, four days after the election, a bill was introduced in the legislature of the state calling out ten thousand volunteers. The two senators from South Carolina, Chesnut and Hammond, resigned their seats, one on the tenth and the other on the eleventh of the same month. Robert Toombs, a Georgia senator, made a violent secession speech at Milledgeville in his own state, and this, notwithstanding the fact that he continued to hold his seat. Howell Cobb, the Secretary of the Treasury, resigned on the tenth of December, declaring his inability to relieve the treasury from the embarrassments into which he had purposely led it; and two days before the secession convention met in South Carolina the Secretary of War, Floyd, accepted the requisition of that state for her quota of United States arms for 1861. Meetings were held all over the South where treason was boldly plotted and promulgated, and the people were goaded to the adoption of the desperate expedients determined upon by the leaders. The South Carolina Secession Convention met at Columbia on the seventeenth of December, but, on account of the prevalence of the small pox there, adjourned to Charleston, where, on the twentieth, they formally passed an ordinance of separation, and declared " that the Union now (then) subsisting between South Carolina and other states under the name of the United States of America is hereby (was thereby) dissolved.”
The passage of this ordinance filled the Charlestonians with delight, and, in the evening, in the presence of an immense crowd, the fatal instrument was signed and sealed ; and Governor Pickens immediately issued a proclamation, declaring South Carolina to be “a separate, free, sovereign and independent state.” This was followed by the withdrawal of Messrs. McQueen, Boyd, Bonham and Ashmore from Congress, although their resignation was not recognized by the speaker, on the ground that such an act would be a recognition of the legitimacy of the action of the state.
Before the adjournment of the South Carolina Convention, resolutions were passed calling for a convention of the seceding states to be held at Montgomery, Alabama, for the purpose of forming a southern confederacy, and providing or suggesting a plan of operations and organization. The Congressional conspirators were active in Washington, and in constant communication with their respective states, urging on the work of national disintegration. On the eighth of January a caucus of southern senators at Washington counseled immediate secession; and at the national capital there was no influence that could, or would, withstand this reckless and rampant treason. As quickly as it could be done consistently with the safety of the cause of treason, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas, followed the lead of South Carolina into secession. Forts and arsenals were seized in all the seceded states, the steamer Star of the West, sent to Charleston with reinforcements and supplies for Major Anderson, was driven out of the harbor, a southern confederacy was formed, with Jefferson Davis as president, and thus, by every necessary preliminary act, was the most terrible rebellion inaugurated that has ever reddened the pages of history. In cabinet meeting, the southern secretaries, still occupying places, were boldly demanding that the forts at Charleston should be evacuated; and Mr. Buchanan was too weak to take a position against them. But he had one man in his cabinet who was not afraid to speak the truth. Edwin M. Stanton who had been called to fill the office of attorney general on the retirement of Mr. Black, rose and said: “Mr. President, it is my duty, as your legal adviser, to say that you have no right to give up the property of the government, or abandon the soldiers of the United States to its enemies; and the course proposed by the Secretary of the Interior, if followed, is treason, and will involve you and all concerned in treason.” For the first time in this cabinet treason had been called by its true name, and the men who were leading the President and the country to ruin were told to their faces the nature of their foul business. Floyd and Thompson, who had had everything their own way, sprang fiercely to their feet, while Mr. Holt, the Postmaster General, took his position by the side of Mr. Stanton; and Mr. Buchanan besought them with a senile whine to take their seats. Thus bolstered by Mr. Stanton the President determined not to withdraw Major Anderson. This act of Mr. Stanton was the first in Mr. Buchanan's administration that seemed to be based on a full comprehension of the nature of the situation; and it was a noble introduction to the great work he was destined to accomplish in the suppression of the rebellion.
These events occurring in rapid succession produced a profound impression at the North. The whole country was filled with feverish apprehension. A peace Congress took up its abode in Washington, with the notorious John Tyler for president. Measures of compromise were introduced into Congress and urged with great vigor. Those northern states that had passed “personal liberty bills," and other measures offensive to the South made haste to repeal them, that all possible pretexts for rebellion might be put out of the way. Every practicable attempt was made by the fearful and the faithless to compel such concessions to the slave power as would calm its ire, and obviate the necessity of armed collision. There were not wanting men in the North whose sympathies were with the traitors, and who would willingly and gladly have joined them in the attempt to revolutionize the government, by preventing Mr. Lincoln from taking his seat, and delivering over Washington and the government to the plotters. Indeed, many of the traitors openly declared that by secession they did not mean secession at all, but revolution. Commerce and manufactures begged for peace at the slaveholder's price, whatever it might be.