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his past subserviency to Southern interests, believed and said that secession was absolutely unlawful. Several members of his Cabinet were Southerners who favoured secession; but the only considerable man among them, Cobb of Georgia, soon declared that his loyalty to his own State was not compatible with his office and resigned; and, though others, including the Secretary for War, hung on to their position, it does not appear that they influenced Buchanan much, or that their somewhat dubious conduct while they remained was of great importance. Black, the Attorney-General, and Cass, the Secretary of State, who, however, resigned when his advice was disregarded, were not only loyal to the Union, but anxious that the Government should do everything that seemed necessary in its defence.
Thus this administration, hitherto Southern in its sympathies, must be regarded for its remaining months as standing for the Union, so far as it stood for anything. Lincoln meanwhile had little that he could do but to watch events and prepare. There was, nevertheless, a point in the negotiations which took place between parties at which he took on himself a tremendous responsibility and at which his action was probably decisive of all that followed.
The Presidential election took place on November 6, 1860. On November 10 the Legislature of South Carolina, which had remained in session for this purpose, convened a specially elected Convention of the State to decide upon the question of secession. Slave owners and poor whites, young and old, street rabble, persons of fashion, politicians and clergy, the whole people of this peculiar State, distinguished in some marked respects even from its nearest neighbours, received the action of the Legislature with enthusiastic but grave approval. It was not till December 20 that the Convention could pass its formal " Ordinance of Secession," but there was never for a moment any doubt as to what it would do. The question was what other States would follow the example of South Carolina. There ensued in all the Southern States earnest discussion as to whether to secede or not, and in the North, on which the action of South Carolina, however easily it might have been foretold, came as a shock, great bewilderment as to what was to be done. As has been said, there was in the South generally no disposition to give up Southern claims, no doubt as to the right of secession, and no fundamental and overriding loyalty to the Union, but there was a considerable reluctance to give up the Union and much doubt as to whether secession was really wise; there was in the North among those who then made themselves heard no doubt whatever as to the loyalty due to the Union, but there was, apart from previous differences about slavery, every possible variety and fluctuation of opinion as to the right way of dealing with States which should secede or rebel. In certain border States, few in number but likely to play an important part in civil war, Northern and Southern elements were mingled. Amid loud and distracted discussion, public and private, leaders of the several parties and of the two sections of the country conducted earnest negotiations in the hope of finding a peaceable settlement, and when Congress met, early in December, their debates took a formal shape in committees appointed by the Senate and by the House.
Meanwhile the President was called upon to deal with the problem presented for the Executive Government of the Union by the action of South Carolina. It may be observed that if he had given his mind to the military measures required to meet the possible future, the North, which in the end had his entire sympathy, would have begun the war with that advantage in preparation which, as it was, was gained by the South. In this respect he did nothing. But, apart from this, if he had taken up a
clear and comprehensible attitude towards South Carolina ! and had given a lead to Unionist sympathy, he would
have consolidated public opinion in the North, and he would have greatly strengthened those in the South who remained averse to secession. There would have been a considerable further secession, but in all likelihood it would not have become so formidable as it did. As it
was, the movement for secession proceeded with all the proud confidence that can be felt in a right which is not challenged, and the people of the South were not aware, though shrewd leaders like Jefferson Davis knew it well, of the risk they would encounter till they had committed themselves to defying it.
The problem before Buchanan was the same which, aggravated by his failure to deal with it, confronted Lincoln when he came into office, and it must be clearly understood. The secession of South Carolina was not a movement which could at once be quelled by prompt measures of repression. Even if sufficient military force and apt forms of law had existed for taking such measures they would have united the South in support of South Carolina, and alienated the North, which was anxious for conciliation. Yet it was possible for the Government of the Union, while patiently abstaining from violent or provocative action, to make plain that in the last resort it would maintain its rights in South Carolina with its full strength. The main dealings of the Union authorities with the people of a State came under a very few heads. There were local Federal Courts to try certain limited classes of issues; jurors, of course, could not be compelled to serve in these nor parties to appear. There was the postal service; the people of South Carolina did not at present interfere with this source of convenience to themselves and of revenue to the Union. There were customs duties to be collected at the ports, and there were forts at the entrance of the harbour in Charleston, South Carolina, as well as forts, dockyards and arsenals of the United States at a number of points in the Southern States; the Government should quietly but openly have taken steps to ensure that the collection should go on unmolested, and that the forts and the like should be made safe from attack, in South Carolina and everywhere else where they were likely to be threatened. Measures of this sort were early urged upon Buchanan by Scott, the Lieutenant-General (that is, Second in Command under the President) of the Army, who had been the officer that carried out Jackson's military dispositions when secession was threatened in South Carolina thirty years before, and by other officers concerned, particularly by Major Anderson, a keen Southerner, but a keen soldier, commanding the forts at Charleston, and by Cass and Black in his Cabinet. Public opinion in the North demanded such measures.
If further action than the proper manning and supply of certain forts had been in contemplation, an embarrassing legal question would have arisen. In the opinion of the Attorney-General, of leading Democrats like Cass and Douglas, and apparently of most legal authorities of every party, there was an important distinction, puzzling to an English lawyer even if he is versed in the American Constitution, between the steps which the Government might justly take in self-protection, and measures which could be regarded as coercion of the State of South Carolina as such. These latter would be unlawful. Buchanan, instead of acting on or declaring his intentions, entertained Congress, which met early in December, with a Message, laying down very clearly the illegality of secession, but discussing at large this abstract question of the precise powers of the Executive in resisting secession. The legal question will not further concern us because the distinction which it was really intended to draw between lawful and unlawful measures against secession quite coincided, in its practical application, with what common sense and just feeling would in these peculiar circumstances have dictated. But, as a natural consequence of such discussion, an impression was spread abroad of the illegality of something vaguely called coercion, and of the shadowy nature of any power which the Government claimed.
Up to Lincoln's inauguration the story of the Charleston forts, of which one, lying on an island in the mouth of the harbour, was the famous Fort Sumter, is briefly this. Buchanan was early informed that if the Union Government desired to hold them, troops and ships of war should instantly be sent. Congressmen from South Carolina remaining in Washington came to him and represented that their State regarded these forts upon its soil as their own; they gave assurances that there would be no attack on the forts if the existing military situation was not altered, and they tried to get a promise that the forts should not be reinforced. Buchanan would give them no promise, but he equally refused the entreaties of Scott and his own principal ministers that he should reinforce the forts, because he declared that this would precipitate a conflict. Towards the end of the year Major Anderson, not having men enough to hold all the forts if, as he expected, they were attacked, withdrew his whole force to Fort Sumter, which he thought the most defensible, dismantling the principal other fort. The Governor of South Carolina protested against this as a violation of a supposed understanding with the President, and seized upon the United States arsenal and the custom house, taking the revenue officers into State service. Commissioners had previously gone from South Carolina to Washington to request the surrender of the forts, upon terms of payment for property; they now declared that Anderson's withdrawal, as putting him in a better position for defence, was an act of war, and demanded that he should be ordered to retire to the mainland. Buchanan wavered; decided to yield to them on this last point; ultimately, on the last day of 1860, yielded instead to severe pressure from Black, and decided to reinforce Anderson on Fort Sumter. The actual attempt to reinforce him was bungled; a transport sent for this purpose was fired upon by the South Carolina forces, and returned idle. This first act of war, for some curious reason, caused no excitement. The people of the North were intensely relieved that Buchanan had not yielded to whatever South Carolina might demand, and, being prone to forgive and to applaud, seem for a time to have experienced a thrill of glory in the thought that the national administration had a mind. Dix, the Secretary of the Treasury, elated them yet further by telegraphing to a Treasury official at New Orleans, “If any one attempts