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It is not so easy to deal with what is known as the Harvey incident. When the government seized the copies of the despatches in the Washington telegraph offices it was found that, on April 6th, James E. Harvey had telegraphed to Charleston: "Positively deter mined not to withdraw Anderson. Supplies go immediately, supported by a naval force under Stringham if their landing be resisted.-A Friend." Harvey was a South Carolinian by birth, and had lately been a Washington correspondent for several northern newspapers. A little later he became Minister to Portugal. Upon the discovery of his despatch, the New York Tribune, the Times, and many other newspapers demanded his immediate recall, for his act was akin to treason." A Senate committee also made a like demand, but without effect. Why? Seward stood in the way. Not only had he given Harvey the information, but he knew of the telegram the day it was sent. Nevertheless, he allowed him to depart on his mission; and later, when everybody was boiling with indignation, Seward explained that at first he himself was indignant and advised the President to revoke Harvey's commission. "But thinking it over coolly," said Seward, "I thought it wrong to punish a man for his stupid folly, when really he had committed no crime!" This attitude of easy indifference must be judged in connection with two facts already noticed: First, that at the time Seward confided in a native Southerner the profound secrets of the Sumter expedition, he was himself conducting the Pickens enterprise with a degree of secrecy that did not permit knowledge of it to reach the Secretaries from whose departments the troops, vessels, and supplies were ordered; and, second, that he had predicted that
11 War Records, 287.
2 Tribune, June 8, 10, 20, 1861; Times, June 7, 1861.
3 4 Nicolay and Hay, 31, 32.
the fact of preparations for the relief of Sumter "would inevitably transpire." The plain inference was that there would not be a similar danger in regard to one preparing for Fort Pickens. A priori it seemed to others that the likelihood of exposure would be considerably greater, for Fort Pickens was twice as far from New York.
Nevertheless, probably Blair and Welles have charged too much. If Seward had really meant to prevent the success of the Sumter expedition, it would only have been necessary for him to inform the commissioners indirectly. Then the fort would have been attacked and taken before the ships could leave New York. Harvey's telegram was discredited, and the Confederates continued to have suspicions merely, until Lincoln's messenger arrived. Seward was so eager to have the Pickens expedition succeed that he may have thought it would do no harm to let all suspicions be directed toward Fort Sumter. But his well-known pledges that Sumter would be abandoned, his personal humiliation at being overruled, and his consequent inclination to let it be known in advance that he had no responsibility for or pride in that enterprise-these would seem to be sufficient to explain his amazing carelessness about one expedition, while the secrecy of another was so perfectly guarded.
2. As an exhibition of character and politics, the acts of the Confederate commissioners and Seward's communications with them are both to be regretted. The Confederate authorities felt deeply chagrined that their envoys to Washington had obtained neither direct recognition nor an official pledge to continue the defenceless peace. Instead of either, a war had begun and the Confederacy had taken the initiative. They had
1 Seward's opinions of March 15th and 29th.
based their chief reliance on Seward's hopes and pledges -on his all but fatal illusions. When he was overruled, their plans became worthless; so they tried to make a scape-goat of him.' The pith of the charge was that Seward studiously deceived them by entering into and then violating a promise, a pledge, a contract even, by which the commissioners, in consideration of the assurance that Fort Sumter was to be evacuated, agreed temporarily to forbear to ask an answer to their note. It must be admitted that Seward was unwarrantably positive about Sumter. His misconception of the weight of the influences on his side deceived himself and correspondingly deceived the Confederates. Probably Lincoln did not know all about the communications regarding Fort Sumter until April 1st, when he promised that it should not be supplied without notice to Governor Pickens. Although Seward still expected evacuation, and so indicated to Campbell, all concerned understood that Lincoln's pledge took the place of Seward's earlier declaration. This pledge was faithfully kept, and the Confederates were allowed a generous margin of time between the actual notice and the arrival of any of the ships. How, then, do the accusers make their
1 In a long letter of April 13, 1861, Campbell told Seward that the commissioners "conclude they have been abused and overreached," and he expressed his belief that any candid man would agree that “the equivocating conduct of the administration" was "the proximate cause of the great calamity" of the outbreak of hostilities.McPherson's Rebellion, 111. In a message to the Confederate Congress, April 29th, Jefferson Davis said: "The crooked path of diplomacy can scarcely furnish an example so wanting in courtesy, in candor, and directness as was the course of the United States government toward our commissioners in Washington."-1 Davis's Confederate Government, 280. Almost a decade later, Alexander H. Stephens recorded it as his opinion for posterity that the commissioners "were met with an equivocation, a duplicity, a craft, and deceit which, taken altogether, is without a parallel in modern times !"-2 War Between the States, 346.
point? By juggling with the facts. They misrepresented that Seward's sentence, "Faith as to Sumter fully kept," referred to his original assurance that Sumter was to be evacuated, instead of to Lincoln's promise to give notice to Governor Pickens. The Confederate leaders in Washington, in Montgomery, and in Charleston correctly understood what that sentence meant, as their correspondence shows.'
Fortunately for Seward, at that time, they made their charges of deception in connection with Fort Sumter instead of Fort Pickens. The reason was that the whole course of events was changed by the action in Charleston harbor, while that in Pensacola harbor attracted comparatively little attention. It is certain that Seward knew he was deceiving the Confederates between March 28th and April 7th. Unless he had not heard of Scott's order of March 12th (which is altogether improbable), or unless he was sure that it would be disregarded contrary to Lincoln's expectations, the deception began on March 15th and continued until April 7th, when his failure to reply to Campbell's reference to Fort Pickens in the letter of that date led the Confederates to infer that that fort was to be reinforced.
Each side endeavored to overreach and outwit the other. From the previous midwinter until the second
1 On April 7th, Governor Pickens telegraphed to the commissioners to get accurate information. Crawford replied the next day: “We were reassured yesterday that the status at Sumter would not be changed without previous notice to Governor Pickens, but we have no faith in them. The war policy prevails in the Cabinet at this hour." On the 9th Crawford telegraphed to Beauregard, at Charleston, "The messenger [from Lincoln] doubtless speaks by authority. He gives the promised notice to Governor Pickens. Diplomacy has failed."-1 War Records, 297. See also ibid., 283, 284, 286, 287, 289. There are other evidences in the MS. archives of the commission.
2 See ante, pp. 126, 140, 141.
week in April, Seward was determined to prevent the outbreak of the civil war. So in secret interviews, anonymous notes, and indirect intercourse he gave assurances that could surely be fulfilled only in case he instead of Lincoln should control affairs. This he was confident would be the case. He probably thought, too, that there was no need of great scrupulousness in dealing with men who were trying to destroy the Union.
The numerous complications in which he so strangely involved himself were the outgrowth of two supreme illusions. The first was that the Southerners had stronger ties to the Federal government than to slavery, and that, if given time to reflect, they would not go to war in the interest of that institution. The second was that he alone could furnish and direct the policy-whether of peace, procrastination, and compromise, or of war, civil or intercontinental, or both-by which the country was to be saved. His ambition was for the Union vastly more than for himself. He sought power and mastery of the administration and of all difficulties, not because he wanted the glory of a semi-dictatorship, but because he honestly believed that that was the way for him to serve and to save the nation.