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is the battle of Bull as the boundary-mark the opening of the Run and the open- Confederate Congress at Richmond and the contemporaneous military occurrence, the battle of Bull Run. The events of the time seem to har monize 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.
RETROSPECT OF THE CONSPIRACY.
The first seat of the
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. It takes possession of the government unfamiliar with practical details, and hardly knowing what it ought to do. For a season
CHAP. XXXV.] PRELIMINARY STEPS OF THE CONSPIRATORS.
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.
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.
Though these men did not know the strength, they knew well the weaknesses of the government they under took 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
PRELIMINARY STEPS OF THE CONSPIRATORS. [SECT. VII.
Measures first deter- the attacks of the loyal portion of the na tion. They intended to seize Washington, to prevent the inauguration, or to depose, perhaps to dis pose 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 legislation, 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
WASHINGTON TO BE SEIZED.
that a Convention of the seceding states
A Convention to be
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.
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 elec tion 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 nation 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.
HOLT, THE SECRETARY OF WAR.
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 of the stolen Indian bonds, it became impossible for that minister to continue any longer in the cabi net. 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 arrangement, 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.