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was as much below Sumner as Sumner was below him in political skill and practical statesmanship. Hale was hardly more than a merry, sincere, and effective agitator. Chase was mentally less brilliant than Seward, but his character was more ingenuous. His services were so generally recognized that if he had had a manager like Weed, and if Seward had been dependent on his own resources, Chase might have outranked his New York rival. Cass and Douglas and Marcy were inferior to Seward in methods, purposes, and associations. Of the southern men, Jefferson Davis most resembled him in his talent for directing the thoughts and influencing the action of a whole section. But neither Davis nor any other contemporary, except Clay, could rival Seward in his genius for politics and the wide range of his abilities. Although Seward's estimate of himself was in many respects inaccurate, it is safe to say that Seward the Senator-like Seward the chief of the New York Whigs, in the previous years-stands first, among all the successful public men with whom he was associated, in the quality and extent of his service. His senatorial career is probably the best illustration in American history of how far the politician may go toward reform, and how much the reformer must bend to practical politics in order to attain position and power and accomplish results that contemporaries and history regard as great. He was not the father of the Republican party; but he, more than any other man, was its master. He was not the first of antislavery champions; but of the great antislavery North, having a reasonable and worthy political purpose, he was, as Jefferson Davis said, "the directing intellect.”
SIGNS OF THE INADEQUACY OF SEWARD'S POLICY OF PEACE
SEWARD became Secretary of State March 5, 1861. No chief of that department has had difficulties and opportunities as great as those that confronted Seward. Before them the stoutest heart might well have grown faint and the most resourceful mind have been filled, with doubts. Seward was hopeful, confident, even.
Prior to March 4th, the Republicans had necessarily been theorists merely, for they had lacked the power to legislate or to administer the laws. Now they were in full possession of the executive branch of the government, and had practical control of Congress; and, therefore, they were bound to pursue a definite course. The all-important question was: How shall the secession movement, actual and prospective, be met and overcome?
Most of the inhabitants of the city of Washington sympathized more with the disunionists than with the Republicans, and hardly any of them believed in vigorous. measures. The well-organized and determined Confederacy of seven states was not immediately in front of the national capital, but it rested safely behind a double row of states, which promised to serve the purpose of a vast series of defensive fortifications. It was a foregone conclusion that if anything resembling coercion should be directed against a slave state, the wide territory between the District of Columbia and the Confederacy
would quickly swarm with armed secessionists. Theoretically it was the plain duty of the President to enforce the laws and protect the property of the nation, but practically there were numerous grave objections. Many men at the North denied that the central government had the constitutional right to do more than to act defensively. Others insisted that there was no warrant whatever for an attempt to conquer the resistance of a whole state, much less that of a group of states.
If the Confederacy had gained possession of all the forts within its territory, as it did of the post-offices and custom-houses, probably there would have been no war for the Union. But Fort Sumter, in Charleston harbor, and in sight of the fountain of secession, was still held by United States troops. They also retained possession of Fort Pickens, off Pensacola, Florida, which was the chief stronghold of the Gulf. The stars and stripes continued to wave over a few forts of minor importance, which the Confederates expected would soon be a part of their domain. Neither Fort Sumter nor Fort Pickens could be voluntarily surrendered or evacuated by the United States without national humiliation and a confession of inability or fear to resist disunion. Nor could the Confederacy consent to the retention of these forts by the Federal government without inviting the reproach that it dared not assert the sovereignty it claimed. Hence, the thoughtful men on each side calculated that if there was to be a war it would begin at one of these points. So far, a conflict had been avoided by means of mutual agreements: the Confederates in each locality promised not to attack the neighboring fort on condition that Buchanan would not endeavor to reinforce it. The effect of this was highly beneficial to the secessionists. Every day the resources of Major Anderson, who was in command of Fort Sumter, became less, while South Carolina was surrounding the harbor with forts and obstruct
ing the channel. Although the Brooklyn and other warships, with hundreds of troops aboard, hovered about and might have reinforced Fort Pickens and removed all danger of its seizure, this ill-balanced truce, so stupid and cowardly on Buchanan's part, tied the hands of the United States officers, while the Confederates planted batteries and prepared for offensive warfare.
It was expected that Lincoln's inaugural address would either contain an unequivocal declaration that would lead to a vigorous policy and the execution of the laws or exhibit a willingness to compromise and thereby strengthen those favoring conciliation. It did neither. Concessionists and coercionists each argued that it committed the new administration to their side. The pledge that the power confided in the President would "be used to hold, occupy, and possess the property and places belonging to the government, and to collect the duties and imposts," was much weakened by the further announcement that "beyond what may be necessary for these objects, there will be no invasion, no using of force against or among the people anywhere." This showed that some laws and executive duties were to be overlooked. The address might mean either war or peace, according to the stress put upon different passages, but even in its most touching appeals for reconciliation and fraternity there was no suggestion of cowardice. It is now plain that no definite course of action had been determined.
On March 5th, Lincoln was surprised to learn from Judge Holt, still Secretary of War, that Major Anderson had reported that it would be impossible to retain Fort Sumter more than a few weeks, unless it should be reinforced and resupplied, and that it would require twenty thousand men to relieve and hold the fort against the Confederates. The papers were referred to General Scott for his opinion, and on the same day he replied,
"Evacuation seems almost inevitable." Because several of the ablest military men agreed with Scott that it was doubtful if the difficulties of reinforcement could be overcome, it was "openly and half-officially printed in the newspapers nearly a whole week" that the troops were to be withdrawn. There is no positive evidence that Lincoln ever said directly that Sumter would be evacuated, but there are many signs that he thought such an outcome likely. However, he continued to make inquiries and to study the perplexing situation.
Delay and indecision were prolonged by the greed and persistency of the office-seekers. It seemed as if the surging, enthusiastic crowds at the Chicago convention had marched upon Washington to claim their rewards. Until long after 1861 the Jacksonian "clean sweep was one of the first principles of party contests; and if ever excusable, it surely was when the offices were filled with men appointed by the present leaders of secession. Applicants so swarmed in and about the White House and the department buildings that it was difficult to go or come. The President, as Seward said, took up first the business that was most pressed upon him, and this was the distribution of the spoils. The main question was discussed, but decision was postponed from day to
1 3 Nicolay and Hay, 378.
23 Nicolay and Hay, 400, 407. 3 Stanton reported to Buchanan, March 12th, that it was then “the universal impression in this city that Sumter and Pickens will both be surrendered."—2 Curtis's Buchanan, 531.
* Crawford, 364. Scott considered the abandonment of Sumter so probable that he drafted an order to that effect for the President's signature.-3 Nicolay and Hay, 408.
* On March 16, 1861, Seward wrote: Solicitants for office besiege him, and he, of course, finds his hands full for the present. My duties call me to the White House one, two, or three times a day. The grounds, halls, stairways, closets are filled with applicants, who render ingress and egress difficult."-2 Seward, 503. See also Julian's Recollections, 193, 194; 2 Curtis's Buchanan, 534.