« PreviousContinue »
Carolina had announced the attack upon Sumter, and had demanded to know what Virginia intended to do in the war they had just commenced, and in which they were determined to triumph or perish. The Commissioners reported that the President had made the following reply to their inquiries : To Hon. Messrs. Preston, Stuart, and Randolph :
GENTLEMEN: As a committee of the Virginia Convention, now in session, you present me a preamble and resolution in these words :
Whereas, In the opinion of this Convention, the uncertainty which prevails in the public mind as to the policy which the Federal Executive intends to pursue towards the seceded States, is extremely injurious to the industrial and commercial interests of the country, tends to keep up an excitement which is unfavorable to the adjustment of the pending dithculties, and threatens a disturbance of the public peace; therefore,
Resolved, That a committee of three delegates be appointed to wait on the President of the United States, present to him this preamble, and respectfully ask him to communicate to this Convention the policy which the Federal Executive intends to pursue in regard to the Confederate States.
In answer I have to say, that having, at the beginning of my official term, expressed my intended policy as plainly as I was able, it is with deep regret and mortification I now learn there is great and injurious uncertainty in the public mind as to what that policy is, and what course I intend to pursue. Not having as yet seen occasion to change, it is now my purpose to pursue the course marked out in the Inaugural Address. I commend a careful consideration of the whole document as the best expression I can give to my purposes. As I then and therein said, I now repeat, “The power confided in me will be used to hold, occupy, and possess property and places belonging to the Government, and to collect the duties and imposts; but beyond what is necessary for these objects there will be no invasion, no using of force against or among the people anywhere.” By the words “property and places belonging to the Government," I chiefly allude to the military posts and property which were in possession of the Government when it came into my hands. But if, as now appears to be true, in pursuit of a purpose to drive the United States authority from these places, an unprovoked assault has been made upon Fort Sumter, I shall hold myself at liberty to repossess it, if I can, like places which had been seized before the Government was devolved upon me; and in any event I shall, to the best of my ability, repel force by force. In case it proves true that Fort Sumter has been assaulted, as is reported, I shall, perhaps, cause the United States mails to be withdrawn from all the States which claim to have seceded, believing that the commencement of actual war against the Government justifies and possibly demands it. I scarcely need to say that I consider the military posts and property situated within the States which claim to have seceded, as yet belonging to the Government of the United States as much as they did before the supposed secession. Whatever else I may do for the purpose, I shall not attempt to collect the duties and imposts by any armed invasion of any part of the country; not meaning by this, however, that I may not land a force deemed necessary to relieve a fort upon the border of the country. From the fact that I have quoted a part of the Inaugural Address, it must not be inferred that I repudiate any other part, the whole of which I reaffirm, except so far as what I now say of the mails may be regarded as a modification.
On the 17th, two days after this report was presented, and immediately after receiving the President's proclamation calling for troops, the Convention passed an ordinance of secession by a vote of 88 to 55; and Virginia, being thus the most advanced member of the rebel Confederacy, became the battlefield of all the earlier contests which ensued, and on the 21st of May the capital of the rebel government was transferred to Richmond. Very strenuous efforts were made by the rebel authorities to secure the adhesion of Maryland, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Missouri to the Confederacy; but the wise forbearance of the President in his earlier measures had checked these endeavors, and held all those States but Tennessee aloof from active participation in the secession movement.
The months of May and June were devoted to the most active and vigorous préparations on both sides for the contest which was seen to be inevitable. Over a hundred thousand troops had been raised and organized in the rebel States, and the great mass of them had been pushed forward toward the Northern border. On the 20th of April the Government of the United States seized all the despatches which had accúmulated in the telegraph offices during the preceding year, for the purpose of detecting movements in aid of the rebel conspiracy. On the 27th of April the blockade of rebel ports was extended by proclamation to the ports of North Carolina and Virginia. On the 3d of May the President issued a proclamation calling into the service of the United States 42,034 volunteers for three years, and ordering an addition of 22,114 officers and men to the regular army, and 18,000 seamen to the navy. And on the 16th, by another proclamation, he directed the commander of the United States forces in Florida to “permit no person to exercise any office or authority upon the islands of Key West, the Tortugas, and Santa Rosa, which may be inconsistent with the laws and Constitution of the United States, authorizing him, at the same time, if he shall find it necessary, to suspend the writ of habeas corpus, and to remove from the vicinity of the United States fortresses all dangerous or suspected persons.”
One of the first duties of the new Administration was to define the position to be taken by the Government of the United States towards foreign nations in view of the rebellion. While it is impossible to enter here upon this very wide branch of the general subject at any considerable length, this history would be incomplete if it did not state, in official language, the attitude which the President decided to assume. That is very distinctly set forth in the letter of instructions prepared by the Secretary of State for Mr. Adams, on the eve of his departure for the court of St. James, and dated April 10, in the following terms:
Before considering the arguments you are to use, it is important to indicate those which you are not to employ in executing that mission:
First. The President has noticed, as the whole American people have, with much emotion, the expressions of good-will and friendship towards the United States, and of concern for their present embarrassments, which have been made on apt occasions, by her Majesty and her ministers. You will make due acknowledgment for these manifestations, but at the same time you will not rely on any mere sympathies or national kindness. You will make no admissions of weakness in our Constitution, or of apprehension on the part of the Government. You will rather prove, as you easily can, by comparing the history of our country with that of other States, that its Constitution and Government are really the strongest and surest which have ever been erected for the safety of any people. You will in no case listen to any suggestions of compromise by this Government, under foreign auspices, with its discontented citizens. If, as the President does not at all apprehend, you shall unhappily find her Majesty's Government tolerating the application of the so-called seceding States, or wavering about it, you will not leave them to suppose for a moment that they can grant that application and remain the friends of the United States. You may even assure them promptly, in that
that if they determine to recognize, they may at the same time prepare to enter into alliance with the enemies of this republic. You alone will represent your country at London, and you will represent the whole of it there. When you are asked to divide that duty with others, diplomatic relations between the Government of Great Britain and this Government will be suspended, and will remain so until it shall be seen which of the two is most strongly intrenched in the confidence of their respective nations and of mankind.
You will not be allowed, however, even if you were disposed, as the President is sure you will not be, to rest your opposition to the application of the Confederate States on the ground of any favor this Administration, or the party which chiefly called it into existence, proposes to show to Great Britain, or claims that Great Britain ought to show them. You will not consent to draw into debate before the British Government any opposing moral principles which may be supposed to lie at the foundation of the controversy between those States and the Federal Union.
You will indulge in no expressions of harshness or disrespect, or even impatience, concerning the seceding States, their agents, or their people. But you will, on the contrary, all the while remember that those States are now, as they always heretofore have been, and, notwithstanding their temporary self-delusion, they must always continue to be, equal and honored members of this Federal Union, and that their citizens throughout all political misunderstandings and alienations still are and always must be our kindred and countrymen. In short, all your arguments must belong to one of three classes, namely: First. Arguments drawn from the principles of public law and natural justice, which regulate the intercourse of equal States. Secondly. Arguments which concern equally the honor, welfare, and happiness of the discontented States, and the honor, welfare, and happiness of the whole Union. Thirdly. Arguments which are equally conservative of the rights and interests, and even sentiments of the United States, and just in their bearing upon the rights, interests, and sentiments of Great Britain and all other nations.
Just previous to the arrival of Mr. Adams at his post, the British Government determined, acting in concert with that of France, to recognize the rebels as a belligerent power. Against this recognition our Government directed Mr. Adams
to make a decided and energetic protest. On the 15th of June the British and French ministers at Washington requested an interview with the Secretary of State for the purpose of reading to him certain instructions they had received on this subject from their respective governments. Mr. Seward declined to hear them officially until he knew the nature of the document, which was accordingly left with him for perusal, and he' afterwards declined altogether to hear it read, or receive official notice of it. In a letter to Mr. Adams, on the 19th, he thus states its character and contents:
That paper purports to contain a decision at which the British Government has arrived, to the effect that this country is divided into two belligerent parties, of which this Government represents one, and that Great Britain assumes the attitude of a neutral between them.
This Government could not, consistently with a just regard for the sovereignty of the United States, permit itself to debate these novel and extraordinary positions with the Government of her Britannic Majesty; much less can we consent that that Government shall announce to us a decision derogating from that sovereignty, at which it has arrived without previously conferring with us upon the question. The United States are still solely and exclusively sovereign within the territories they have lawfully acquired and long possessed, as they have always been. They. are at peace with all the world, as, with unimportant exceptions, they have always been. They are living under the obligations of the law of nations, and of treaties with Great Britain, just the same now as heretofore; they are, of course, the friend of Great Britain, and they insist that Great Britain shall remain their friend now, just as she has hitherto been. Great Britain, by virtue of these relations, is a stranger to parties and sections in this country, whether they are loyal to the United States or not, and Great Britain can neither rightfully qualify the sovereignty of the United States, nor concede, nor recognize any rights or interests or power of any party, State, or section, in contravention to the unbroken sovereignty of the Federal Union. What is now seen in this country is the occurrence, by no means peculiar, but frequent in all countries, more frequent even in Great Britain than here, of an armed insurrection engaged in attempting to overthrow the regularly constituted and established Government. There is, of course, the employment of force by the Government to suppress the insurrection, as every other government necessarily employs force in such cases. But these incidents by no means constitute a state of war impairing the sovereignty of the Government, creating belligerent sections, and entitling foreign States to intervene, or to act as neutrals