Page images
PDF
EPUB

war.

The attitude of each meant a waiving of sovereign rights, a voluntary paralysis in administration, and the acceptance of whatever might be necessary to avoid The prejudices and fears of the Southerners must be allowed to wear off in quiet, although at the expense of not using the force "necessary to maintain the authority, or even the integrity of the Union," as he indicated on March 15th. Of course he expected that a reaction would be brought about in some manner before "the integrity of the Union" was destroyed.

Of the six other members of the Cabinet, PostmasterGeneral Blair alone positively favored provisioning Sumter, on the ground that evacuation would demoralize northern Unionists and encourage southern secessionists, while even defeat would unite and inspire the North.' Chase, the Secretary of the Treasury, answered Lincoln's question affirmatively, but said that he would advise against trying to provision Sumter, "if the attempt will so inflame civil war as to involve an immediate necessity for the enlistment of armies and the expenditure of millions." The Secretary of War, Simon Cameron, considered the question in its military aspects, and, leaning upon the adverse opinions of the army officers, he opposed the attempt to relieve the fort. Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy, answered in the negative, after a review of both the military and the political considerations. Caleb B. Smith, the Secretary of the Interior, supported Seward in his view of the difficulty of the undertaking and of the slight advantage of it, even if successful. He thought that it would cause the administration to appear to take the aggressive and to begin a civil war. To Attorney-General Bates the question was one of expediency merely, and his opinion as to the military inutility and the political danger of making the at

[ocr errors]

1 2 Lincoln's Works, 14-22, gives the various opinions.

tempt still more closely resembled Seward's. Much like Seward, also, he said: "A reaction has already begun [in the seceding states], and if encouraged by wise, moderate, and firm measures on the part of the government, I persuade myself that the nation will be restored to its integrity without the effusion of blood." But, unlike all others on his side, he urged that, as a counter-balance to the loss of Sumter, "the more southern forts, Pickens, Key West, etc., should, without delay, be put in condition of easy defence against all assailants; and that the whole coast, from South Carolina to Texas, should be as well guarded as the power of the navy will enable us."

[ocr errors]

The replies showed that Seward's policy—so called because he was its exponent, if not its author— had won support. Blair still persistently advocated energetic measures, as was expected by all who knew him. Chase seemed to be less firm, although it was well known that a large majority of the Republicans in the Senate, then in executive session, sympathized with him in opposition to the Secretary of State. Backed by the highest military opinion, by the Attorney-General, by the Secretaries of War, the Navy, and the Interior, Seward's confidence was strengthened.

Lincoln took the manuscript opinions and-continued to be non-committal. On the same day, Seward wrote home: "This President proposes to do all his own work.” Not until the 18th did Lincoln call upon Bates, Chase, and Welles for opinions and facts that indicated that he was considering the question of using a naval force to collect custom duties or to blockade ports in the Confederacy.' About the same time Captain Fox was sent to Charleston so that he could better judge as to the practicability of his plan of relieving Sumter. A few

2 Lincoln's Works, 24, 25.

days later Lincoln requested one of his old Illinois. friends, S. A. Hurlbut, to visit the same city and report if there was a suppressed Union sentiment there, as Seward had maintained. Ward H. Lamon, once a lawpartner and for many years an intimate friend of the President, accompanied Hurlbut. Major Anderson's opinion was stronger than ever against attempting to provision Sumter, while Fox became more convinced of the feasibility of providing relief. Hurlbut reported that J. L. Petigru, a distinguished lawyer, was the only man in Charleston that continued to express adherence to the Union, that there was "positively nothing to appeal to." Lamon wrote to Seward that he was "satisfied of the policy and propriety of immediately evacuating Fort Sumter.""

Meantime a collateral question had arisen. On February 27th, Martin J. Crawford, John Forsyth, and A. B. Roman had been appointed commissioners of the Confederacy to the United States. Their chief task was to obtain a recognition of the independence of their government. In case the President of the United States should refuse to receive them or open negotiations, but should be willing to refer the subject to the Senate, they were instructed to accede. Or if he should propose to withhold a reply to their communication until Congress should assemble and pronounce a decision in the premises, they were to oppose no obstacle, " provided, in either case, you receive from the President of the United

[ocr errors]

1 "I talked with Major Anderson privately for an hour and a half. He and his men are in fine spirits, but as to their spirits, I am satisfied from their very appearance that they would be buoyant if they knew there would be a necessity for blowing up the fort in the next halfhour-which they would do before they would surrender it.

“From the best lights that I can judge from, after casting around, I am satisfied of the policy and propriety of immediately evacuating Fort Sumter."-Charleston, March 25th. Seward MSS.

States assurances, which to you will seem sufficient, that the existing peaceful status as between the two countries shall be rigidly maintained, and that no attempt shall be made, under any pretext whatever, by the Government of the United States, to exercise any jurisdiction, whether civil or military, within the limits of the Confederacy." It was of the greatest importance that they should secure the maintenance of the existing status pending negotiations. Crawford reached Washington before Buchanan had left the White House, but too late to begin any negotiations with him.

1

Within a few hours after Lincoln's inauguration Samuel Ward informed Seward that Crawford would immediately apply for a reception; that if he should go back unacknowledged as commissioner, President Davis could not hold the people from attacking the forts; that "Gwin and Hunter think the question had best be referred to the Senate. They say it is a risk you must take." Then he speculated on how the Senate would vote, and added that Dr. Gwin desired to see Seward at Ward's house the following day. Seward met Gwin at least once during the next few days, and assured him of the determination of the administration to settle the questions between the two governments in an amicable manner.*

On March 6th Crawford sent Toombs a long despatch describing what he understood to be Seward's ideas and plans. It had been arranged that Seward should let

6

1 These conditions will be referred to later.

2 Instructions of the Confederate Secretary of State, Robert Toombs, to the commissioners, February 27, 1861. The original records of this commission are in the Treasury Department.

3 See Appendix K.

* 18 Overland Monthly, 2d series, 469.

"The President himself is really not aware of the condition of the country, and his Secretaries of State and War are to open the difficulties and dangers to him in Cabinet meeting to-day."

"The construction which he [Seward] attempts to put upon the inaugural is, that it only follows the language of every President from

him know that afternoon when and in what manner the subject-matter of the mission should be brought forward and submitted for the consideration of the President and Cabinet. On the 8th the commissioners reported that they had availed themselves of the services of "a late distinguished Senator of the United States" —undoubtedly Gwin-to establish an understanding with the Secretary. They were confident that Seward was eager for delay.' They could "travel the same path" with

Washington down, wherein Mr. Lincoln pledges himself to 'the execution of the laws,' and states that it was necessary to prevent utter ruin to the party and the administration itself. Touching the collection of the revenues, he had an eye more to the ports outside than inside the Confederate States, and expresses apprehension if he had not declared his purpose in that regard that New York and San Francisco might at any time for any reason refuse to pay over the customs.

"As to the words 'hold, occupy, and possess the property and places belonging to the government,' he says that, with all else in the document, is to be considered in connection with the qualification wherein the President says, 'Doing this I deem it to be only a simple duty on my part; and I shall perform it so far as practicable, unless my rightful masters the American people shall withhold the requisite means, or in some authoritative manner direct the contrary,' which in effect, as well as purpose, was to submit the question to the judgment of the country in some satisfactory form."

66

To cover the whole ground of his policy, it is to keep persons from without from engaging in this contest, and as rapidly as possible disaffect our own population to the point of war upon our government, and then, with small forces of Federal troops and meagre moneyed appropriations from the U. S. Treasury, 'conquer a peace.' In advancing this policy the party in power was to drop the name Republican, ignore the word slavery, and merge everything into the Union cause and a Union party.

[ocr errors]

1 They represented Seward as follows: "The tenor of his language is to this effect: I have built up the Republican party; I have brought it to triumph; but its advent to power is accompanied by great difficulties and perils. I must save the party and save the government in its hands. To do this, war must be averted; the negro question must be dropped; the 'irrepressible conflict' ignored; and a Union party to embrace the border slave states inaugurated. I have already whipped Mason and Hunter in their own state. I must crush out Davis and Toombs and their colleagues in sedition in

« PreviousContinue »