Tag Archives: James Buchanan

The Inauguration of Abraham Lincoln

March 4, 1861 – Abraham Lincoln became the 16th U.S. president in Washington.

President James Buchanan arrived at Willard’s Hotel at noon on a breezy, partly cloudy day. Lincoln emerged from the hotel and accompanied Buchanan in an open barouche pulled by four white horses. The Marine Band played “Hail to the Chief” as the carriage moved past thousands of cheering spectators lining cobblestoned Pennsylvania Avenue. Flags and bunting decorated buildings along the way. Military bands and units marched by, along with a float pulled by white horses bearing 34 girls representing the 34 states.

The procession resembled a military exercise more than a parade, partly because General-in-Chief Winfield Scott, fearing an assassination attempt by one of the many southern sympathizers in Washington, employed sharpshooters on rooftops and in windows along the route. Scott also stationed cavalry on side streets and artillery on the Capitol grounds. He threatened to “manure the slopes of Arlington” with the blood of anyone trying to harm the incoming president.

Some 30,000 people gathered at the Capitol for the ceremony. The presidential carriage entered through a boarded passageway to avoid detection. The participants first entered the Senate chamber, where outgoing Vice President John C. Breckinridge administered the oath of office to his successor, Hannibal Hamlin. Buchanan and Lincoln witnessed the ceremony before the party then moved to a special outdoor platform on the east portico of the Capitol.

Edward D. Baker, a close friend of the Lincolns, introduced the president-elect. Lincoln stepped forward to deliver his inaugural address and looked for a place to set down his stovepipe hat. Senator Stephen A. Douglas, who had been Lincoln’s opponent in the presidential election and a longtime political rival from Illinois, stepped forward to hold it. Douglas said, “If I can’t be the president, at least I can hold his hat.”

Lincoln's inauguration | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Lincoln’s inauguration | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Lincoln’s half-hour speech featured a balance between offering conciliation to the Confederate states and gratifying his party. He provided no policy details. Regarding slavery he said, “I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.” He voiced support for the recently passed Corwin amendment:

“I understand a proposed amendment to the Constitution—which amendment, however, I have not seen—has passed Congress, to the effect that the Federal Government shall never interfere with the domestic institutions of the States, including that of persons held to service… holding such a provision to now be implied constitutional law, I have no objection to its being made express and irrevocable.”

Lincoln did not acknowledge the new Confederate government, implying that the southern states had been taken over by people rebelling against the U.S. He asserted his right to enforce Federal laws in the states and declared, “No state, on its own mere action, can get out of the Union.” The new president pledged to “hold, occupy and possess the property and places belonging to the government,” including Federal forts and garrisons in Confederate territory.

In addition, Lincoln pledged to use force “to collect the duties and imposts,” or tariffs, in the South. This angered southerners because they had regularly opposed tariffs, especially the recently enacted Morrill Tariff Act which had more than doubled the average rate. Southerners resented Lincoln’s promise to enforce the tax increases considering that they had left the Union and had not voted on them.

Lincoln said to southerners: “In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war… We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies… The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

Chief Justice Roger B. Taney administered the oath of office, officially replacing Buchanan with Lincoln. Cannon boomed and the Marine Band played in celebration of the new administration.

Lincoln’s inaugural address aimed to ease southern fears of a Republican administration. It had initially been less conciliatory, but moderate Republicans such as his new Secretary of State William H. Seward had persuaded him to modify the text. They feared that any expression of hostility toward the Confederacy might compel Virginia and Maryland to secede, leaving Washington isolated from the U.S.

Despite its attempt at moderation, the speech did little to induce southern states to return to the Union. Moreover, many spectators who were moved by Lincoln’s eloquence also expressed disappointment that the address contained few specifics on how he would handle the southern secession.

Following the inauguration, the festivities moved to the White House, where attendees included military officers, judges, congressmen, governors, civilians, and military veterans dating as far back as the War for Independence. It did not take long for Lincoln to become deluged by thousands of job seekers hoping to benefit from the first Republican administration in history. That evening, the Lincolns attended the traditional inaugural ball, finally returning to the White House at 1 a.m.

Newspapers reacted to Lincoln’s inaugural address the next day, and the reactions varied based on political and geographical affiliation. Most Confederate newspapers asserted that Lincoln had revealed his true intention to force them back into the Union. The Montgomery (Alabama) Weekly Advertiser declared: “War, and nothing less than war, will satisfy the Abolition chief.”

Fire-eater Robert Rhett, editor of the Charleston Mercury, stated, “It is our wisest policy to accept the Inaugural as a declaration of war.” Another Mercury editorial opined, “A more lamentable display of feeble inability to grasp the circumstances of this momentous emergency, could scarcely have been exhibited.” A correspondent considered the address from “the Ourang-Outang at the White House” to be “the tocsin of battle” and “the signal of our freedom.”

Editorials from states still considering secession proved even more troubling. The Arkansas True Democrat stated, “If declaring the Union perpetual means coercion, then LINCOLN’S INAUGURAL MEANS WAR!” The Baltimore Sun asserted that the address “assumes despotic authority, and intimates the design to exercise that authority to any extent of war and bloodshed. If it means what it says, it is the knell and requiem of the Union and the death of hope.”

In crucial Virginia, the Richmond Enquirer labeled the address “the cool, unimpassioned, deliberate language of the fanatic… The question ‘Where shall Virginia go?’ is answered by Mr. Lincoln. She must go to war.” And the Richmond Dispatch stated the address “inaugurates civil war.”

Reaction was mixed among pro-U.S. Democrats. North Carolinian John Gilmer had declined Lincoln’s offer to join his cabinet, but he said of the president’s address, “What more does any reasonable Southern man expect or desire?” Stephen A. Douglas also supported Lincoln: “I am with him.” But the pro-Douglas Albany Atlas and Argus called the address a “rambling, discursive, questioning, loose-jointed stump speech.”

Supreme Court Justice John A. Campbell, preparing to join the Confederacy, called it a “stump speech not an inaugural message,” and “incendiary.” The Columbus Daily Capital City envisioned that under Lincoln “blood will stain the soil and color the waters of the entire continent—brother will be arrayed in hostile front against brother.” The New York Herald dismissed the speech as making the country “no wiser than it was Before.”

The Democratic Providence Daily Post opined: “If the President selected his words with the view of making clear his views, he was, partially at least, unsuccessful. There is some plain talk in the address; but… it is immediately followed by obscurely stated qualifications.”

Most Republicans naturally commended Lincoln’s “firmness” and moderation,” and Republicans newspapers generally praised the address. The New York Tribune stated, “Every word of it has the ring of true metal.” The Indianapolis Daily Journal called it “strong, straightforward and manly.” And the Detroit Daily Tribune found it “able, firm, conciliatory, true to principle and of transparent honesty.”

While the press and public weighed in on his inaugural address, Lincoln made his cabinet appointments:

  • William H. Seward of New York as secretary of state
  • Salmon P. Chase of Ohio as treasury secretary
  • Simon Cameron of Pennsylvania as secretary of war
  • Montgomery Blair of Maryland as postmaster general
  • Gideon Welles of Connecticut as navy secretary
  • Edward Bates of Missouri as attorney general
  • Caleb B. Smith of Indiana as interior secretary

Lincoln made various political deals to form this body. He chose nobody from the South, partly because the Republican Party did not exist in that region and partly because those states had joined the Confederacy. But Lincoln did choose two men—Blair and Bates—from border slave states that had not yet seceded.

Seward, Cameron, Chase, and Bates had sought the presidential nomination that Lincoln won. Most cabinet members had more executive experience than Lincoln, and several privately believed that they could do a better job than Lincoln. Thus, Lincoln entered office under heavy scrutiny from the press, the public, and even his own cabinet.

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Sources

  • Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 32-34
  • Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 56
  • Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington, D.C.: Regnery, 2008), p. 6-7, 28-29, 31-32
  • Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 5918, 5928-39, 5951, 5963-75
  • Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 40
  • Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 327
  • Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 45-47
  • McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 260-61, 263
  • Nevins, Alan, “He Did Hold Lincoln’s Hat: Senator Douglas’ act is verified, at last, by first-hand testimony,” American Heritage Magazine, Vol 10, Issue 2 (February 1959)
  • Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 50-51
  • Ward, Geoffrey C.; Burns, Ric; Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 34, 36
  • White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q161
  • Wikipedia: Corwin Amendment

The Buchanan Administration’s Last Days

March 2, 1861 – With his term in office expiring, President James Buchanan approved several last-minute bills including creating new western territories, granting a loan to the Federal government, and increasing tariffs on foreign imports.

15th U.S. President James Buchanan | Image Credit: Familysearch.org

15th U.S. President James Buchanan | Image Credit: Familysearch.org

Buchanan signed a bill into law creating the Dakota and Nevada territories. The Dakota Territory consisted of present-day North and South Dakota, and major portions of Montana and Wyoming. Daniel M. Frost and John B.S. Todd of the Frost-Todd Company had lobbied for this region to become a territory; their firm traded with settlers and helped establish towns.

A special 1860 census had counted no more than 900 white settlers in the Dakota Territory. Todd’s hometown of Yankton, with just 300 residents, became the territorial capital. Upon taking office, President Abraham Lincoln appointed his hometown family physician, Dr. William Jayne, as the first territorial governor.

The Nevada Territory consisted of a portion of the western Utah Territory called Washoe. Republicans in Congress had sought to separate Nevada, a predominantly pro-Republican region, from the Utah Territory, which consisted mostly of Mormons whom Republicans opposed because many practiced polygamy. Lincoln appointed an avid supporter, James W. Nye, as territorial governor.

The laws granting territorial status to Dakota and Nevada had no provisions regarding slavery. Northern Democrats, led by Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois, accused Republicans of hypocrisy by not demanding that slavery be excluded in these territories in accordance with their political platform. Douglas triumphantly proclaimed that “the whole doctrine for which the Republican Party contended as to the Territories is abandoned, surrendered, given up; non-interference is substituted in its place.”

Republican Congressman Justin Morrill of Vermont | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Republican Congressman Justin Morrill of Vermont | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Buchanan also approved two financial measures on March 2nd. One authorized a loan of $10 million to the Federal government. The other doubled the average tax rate on foreign imports and raised taxes on some imports as high as 250 percent. The Morrill Tariff Act, sponsored by Congressman Justin Morrill of Vermont, sought to protect northern manufacturing from foreign competition.

The tariff had long been an issue that bitterly divided North and South. Raising tariff rates prompted foreign trading partners to raise the price of their goods to make up the difference, and since the South relied mostly on imports, the tariff disproportionately raised southern costs. By the late 1850s, southern states provided nearly three-fourths of all U.S. exports and paid nearly 90 percent of U.S. import taxes.

Under the prior tariff law enacted in 1857, the highest tariff on imports was just 24 percent. However, Republicans traditionally supported higher tariffs, and as their political influence grew, they pushed for greater rates. Many Republicans sought even higher rates than the Morrill Tariff, but Buchanan, a Democrat, would have vetoed such legislation. He only approved this measure in the hope that it would help manufacturing interests in his home state of Pennsylvania. Because Lincoln was an avid high tariff supporter, congressional Republicans expected to raise rates even higher during his presidency.

Stephen A. Douglas led most northern Democrats in opposition to the Morrill Tariff. He warned that raising rates this high would encourage foreign powers such as Great Britain and France to support the Confederacy, which tended toward free trade because of its reliance on imports. Douglas also stated, “Every tariff involves the principles of protection and oppression, the principles of benefits and of burdens.”

The Morrill Tariff Act passed with support from 87 percent of congressional Republicans, but just 12.5 percent from southern Democrats. Several Republicans noted that the Confederacy’s free trade policies could prove disastrous to U.S. financial interests because foreign trading partners would be willing to avoid the high taxes in the North and instead trade with the South.

Buchanan also acted militarily to discuss the secession crisis. On March 1, Secretary of War Joseph Holt ordered the dismissal of Brigadier General David E. Twiggs from the Federal army “for his treachery to the flag of his country” by surrendering Federal military forts and other property in Texas to state officials. The next day, Buchanan submitted a message to Congress explaining that Federal troops had been ordered to assemble in Washington to preserve peace and order.

Buchanan held his last cabinet meeting on the morning of the 4th to consider bills from the outgoing Congress. Holt reported that Major Robert Anderson, commanding the isolated Federal garrison at Fort Sumter, South Carolina, informed him that the fort could not be held much longer without at least 20,000 reinforcements. Holt said he would relay this news to incoming President Lincoln. In addition, the Navy Department recalled all but three of its 42 warships from foreign ports to provide aid in this crisis.

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Sources

  • DiLorenzo, Thomas J., How Capitalism Saved America: The Untold History of Our Country, from the Pilgrims to the Present (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2004), p. 78
  • Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 16-17
  • Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 43-47
  • Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 55
  • Robbins, Peggy, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 523-24
  • Smith, Dean E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 203
  • White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q161
  • Wikipedia: Nevada Territory

The Texas Secession

February 1, 1861 – Delegates to the Texas State Convention at Austin voted 166 to 7 to secede from the United States.

Texas State Flag | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Texas State Flag | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Texas became the seventh state to leave the Union. The attorney general “led a company of ladies down the aisle,” and “they unfurled a Lone Star flag.” In accordance with legislative requirements, a popular election was scheduled for February 23. Governor Sam Houston’s vocal opposition to secession alienated him from many formerly loyal Texans.

Ten days later, convention delegates approved the forming a southern Confederacy and elected seven representatives to the new Confederate Congress. The strong movement toward the Confederacy prompted Brevet Major General David E. Twiggs, commanding the Federal Department of Texas, to comply with demands from state civil commissioners to surrender all Federal forts and property to the state. Some 1,000 militia under Colonel Ben McCulloch seized the Federal arsenal at San Antonio.

Twiggs, one of the top four ranking officers in the U.S. Army, explained that he surrendered due to a threat of attack, as state troops had surrounded the 160-man garrison holding San Antonio. But then Twiggs also said, “If an old woman with a broomstick should come with full authority from the state of Texas to demand the public property, I would give it up to her.”

Twiggs had asked his superior, Brevet Lieutenant General Winfield Scott, to be relieved so he could join his home state of Georgia in seceding. Federal officials quickly accused Twiggs of treason, and he was dishonorably discharged from the service. Twiggs angrily wrote to President James Buchanan “for the sole purpose of a personal interview,” intimating a challenge to a duel. Twiggs’s capitulation spread fear among Federal officials that other southern commanders could give up other Federal posts just as easily.

On the 19th, Colonel Carlos A. Waite replaced Twiggs as commander of the Department of Texas at Camp Verde, even though Twiggs had already surrendered the Federal posts in the state. Federal forces soon abandoned Camp Cooper and Camp Colorado, and Texas militia took Federal property at Brazos Santiago.

Voters upheld the Texas Convention’s decision to secede. In the popular election mandated by the convention, Texans approved secession by a 74-percent majority—34,794 to 11,235.

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Sources

  • Davis, William C., Brother Against Brother: The War Begins (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 129-31
  • Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 14
  • Josephy, Jr., Alvin M., War on the Frontier: The Trans-Mississippi West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 17-19
  • Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 253-54
  • Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 31, 35-36, 38-42
  • Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 46
  • White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q161

Statehood for Bleeding Kansas

January 29, 1861 – President James Buchanan signed the Kansas Statehood Act into law, admitting Kansas into the Union as the 34th state.

Kansas State Flag Adopted in 1861 | Image Credit: K-State.edu

Kansas State Flag Adopted in 1861 | Image Credit: K-State.edu

In 1854, the people of Kansas had been authorized to decide for themselves whether or not to allow slavery. This sparked a rush of pro-slavery and anti-slavery partisans into the region to influence elections.

At one time, Kansas had competing pro-slavery and anti-slavery governments in Lecompton and Topeka. Elections were corrupted by fraud, intimidation, and violence. Radical abolitionist John Brown had become notorious for murdering pro-slavery men at Pottawatomie Creek, and the warring factions terrorized various towns. This earned the territory the nickname “Bleeding Kansas.”

Buchanan had offered Kansans 23 million acres of Federal land to accept the pro-slavery Lecompton government, but voters rejected this offer by a nearly seven-to-one margin. In the vote for statehood this month, Kansans voted overwhelmingly in favor of making Kansas a state under the Wyandotte Constitution, which excluded slavery while theoretically allowing blacks to reside in the new state.

Senators from southern states that had not yet seceded sought to delay the bill’s passage to avoid adding further insult to the South. Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois disagreed, declaring, “I do think we ought to admit Kansas promptly, without further delay, or further obstacles. We have had enough controversies about Kansas.”

Republicans had hurried the vote hoping that Kansas would send fellow Republican congressmen to Washington before the congressional session ended on March 4. By this time, the Republican vote had become dominant in Congress due to the withdrawal of representation from South Carolina, Alabama, Florida, and Mississippi.

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Sources

  • Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 30
  • White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q161

The Star of the West Mission

January 2, 1861 – President James Buchanan decided to resupply Major Robert Anderson’s Federal troops at Charleston, South Carolina.

By the end of 1860, South Carolina militia had isolated Anderson’s men at Fort Sumter, an island fortress in Charleston Harbor. The Federals would eventually need supplies, but they had been denied any further assistance from the state. A delegation of South Carolinians had come to Washington to demand that President Buchanan remove all troops from Charleston, but Buchanan rejected those demands on December 31. Two days later, the delegates responded:

“You have resolved to hold by force what you have obtained through our misplaced confidence, and by refusing to disavow the action of Major Anderson, have converted his violation of orders into a legitimate act of your executive authority… If you choose to force this issue upon us, the State of South Carolina will accept it…”

Buchanan read this letter to his cabinet and then returned it to the delegates. He refused to officially accept it due to the nature of its language, and this ended negotiations between his administration and South Carolina. Buchanan then resolved to dispatch supplies and reinforcements to Anderson’s “starving garrison.” After receiving almost unanimous support from his cabinet, Buchanan instructed Brevet Lieutenant General Winfield Scott, commander of the U.S. Army, to direct a relief expedition.

The sloop-of-war U.S.S. Brooklyn received orders to be ready at Norfolk, Virginia for troops and supplies. However, Scott persuaded Buchanan to send a civilian vessel instead to better protect the mission’s secrecy. This turned what could have been a simple relief expedition into a complex, clandestine operation. It also proved very expensive, as Assistant Adjutant General Lorenzo Thomas contracted the merchant ship Star of the West for $1,250 per day. Federal officials hoped that this ship, which traveled regularly between New York and New Orleans, would not attract the South Carolinians’ attention.

Star of the West, headed by Captain John McGowan, left New York City on the night of January 5 with supplies and 200 troops. But any hope for secrecy quickly evaporated, as the New York press immediately began leaking rumors of the ship’s mission to southern sympathizers. Interior Secretary Jacob Thompson, the last southerner in Buchanan’s cabinet, resigned not only because he expected his home state of Mississippi to secede, but because he opposed Star of the West’s mission. Before leaving office, Thompson telegraphed Charleston officials that the ship was coming.

Star of the West | Image Credit: Library of Congress

Star of the West | Image Credit: Library of Congress

Senator Louis T. Wigfall of Texas also learned of the secret plan and notified South Carolina Governor Francis W. Pickens. But while South Carolinians received word of the ship’s impending arrival, nobody from the War Department notified Anderson that help was coming. On the 8th, Anderson finally learned of the expedition by reading about it in the Charleston Mercury. But since he had yet to receive official word from his superiors, he did not act upon the news.

Star of the West reached Charleston Harbor near sunrise on the 9th and steamed up the main channel toward Fort Sumter. The 200 troops of the 9th U.S. Infantry had orders to hide below decks to avoid detection, but by this time the South Carolinians were prepared to meet them.

At 6 a.m., cadets from the South Carolina Military Academy, or The Citadel, fired on Star of the West from Morris Island. Soon batteries from Fort Moultrie also opened fire. A shot went across the ship’s bow, and a ricochet struck the vessel’s fore-chains. After sustaining a second hit, Captain McGowan decided that the mission was too dangerous and ordered his ship to return to New York.

The Federals at Fort Sumter, unaware of the ship’s presence or mission, did not assist Star of the West. When Anderson officially learned about the mission, he demanded an apology from Governor Pickens for firing on an unarmed vessel bearing the U.S. flag. Pickens refused, arguing that a foreign vessel reinforcing foreign troops on South Carolinian soil could not be permitted because the state was now independent.

Southerners accused Buchanan of trying to provoke a war. Buchanan replied that he merely tried to execute his role as military commander-in-chief. He also argued that his entire cabinet had agreed with the mission, but former Interior Secretary Thompson angrily countered that he had been the lone dissenter before resigning. Thompson called the mission a breach of good faith toward South Carolina. Meanwhile, the South Carolina delegation returned to their state after proposing to meet with delegates of other seceded states at Montgomery, Alabama on February 4 to discuss forming a provisional government.

The Star of the West incident galvanized extremists on both sides. Charleston Mercury editor Robert B. Rhett wrote that South Carolina “has not hesitated to strike the first blow, full in the face of her insulter. We would not exchange or recall that blow for millions! It has wiped out a half century of scorn and outrage.” An editorial in the Atlas and Argus of Albany, New York voiced the prevailing northern opinion by stating, “The authority and dignity of the Government must be vindicated at every hazard. The issue thus having been made, it must be met and sustained, if necessary, by the whole power of the navy and army.”

President Buchanan still hoped that cooler heads would prevail, so he ordered Anderson to take no offensive action while preparing to defend the garrison. At the same time, Anderson rejected Governor Pickens’s demands to surrender Fort Sumter to South Carolina.

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Sources

  • Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 3757, 3815-27
  • Davis, William C., Brother Against Brother: The War Begins (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 125-27
  • Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 7, 9
  • Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 69-70
  • Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 20-25
  • McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 265-66
  • Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 45-46
  • Wallechinsky, David and Wallace, Irving, The People’s Almanac (New York: Doubleday, 1975), p. 180
  • White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q161
  • Wikipedia: Star of the West; Timeline of Events Leading to the American Civil War

The Fort Sumter Controversy

December 26, 1860 – Major Robert Anderson completed the transfer of Federal troops in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina from Fort Moultrie on the shoreline to the stronger Fort Sumter on a harbor shoal.

On the day that South Carolina seceded from the U.S., Major Anderson, commanding Federal forces in the harbor, began preparing to secretly evacuate Fort Moultrie by spiking his guns. President James Buchanan had made a tacit agreement with South Carolinians that he would make no move in the harbor, but he also instructed Anderson to defend himself if threatened, which Anderson interpreted as being allowed to move to a less vulnerable position.

Since Moultrie could not be defended from the landward side in case of attack, Anderson opted to move to Sumter. Fort Sumter was constructed on an artificial island in the harbor in 1829 but never completed. Federal troops could defend this large, pentagon-shaped brick structure much easier from a potential landward attack.

Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor | Image Credit: Learnnc.org

Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor | Image Credit: Learnnc.org

Two days later after Anderson began his move, the Convention of the People of South Carolina approved a resolution declaring that the harbor forts and the Federal arsenal at Charleston should “be subject to the authority and control” of the state and “that the possession of said forts and arsenal should be restored to the State of South Carolina.”

Convention attendees appointed three delegates—Robert W. Barnwell, James H. Adams, and James L. Orr—to go to Washington and issue these demands. They reached the capital on the 26th, with instructions to:

“… treat with the Government of the United States for the delivery of the forts, magazines, lighthouses, and other real estate, with their appurtenances, within the limits of South Carolina, and also for an apportionment of the public debt, and for a division of all other property held by the Government of the United States, as agent of the confederated States, of which South Carolina was recently a member; and generally to negotiate as to all other measures and arrangements proper to be made and adopted in the existing relation of the parties, and for the continuance of peace and amity between this Commonwealth and the Government at Washington.”

That evening, Anderson completed his transfer to Fort Sumter. Finally realizing that he had moved after the transfer was done, South Carolinians reacted with outrage. Many believed that President Buchanan had betrayed them since he had supposedly promised he would not allow the Federals to make any moves in the harbor. Anderson explained he made the move because he had evidence of an imminent attack on Moultrie, and the “step which I have taken was, in my opinion, necessary to prevent the effusion of blood…”

As news of the stealth move spread, northerners mostly sided with Anderson. But southerners denounced him, crying that he had “secretly dismantled Fort Moultrie” and destroyed his guns and carriages before moving to Sumter. Many called for the complete removal of the Federal garrison from the harbor. Secretary of War John B. Floyd, a Virginian, argued that Anderson’s move violated the administration’s commitment to maintaining the status quo at Charleston.

Major Robert Anderson | Image Credit: cenantua.wordpress.com

Major Robert Anderson | Image Credit: cenantua.wordpress.com

Anderson raised the U.S. flag over Fort Sumter on the 27th as South Carolina militia quickly occupied Fort Moultrie and Castle Pinckney. State forces also compelled the U.S. revenue cutter William Aiken at Charleston to surrender. Buchanan met with southern congressmen protesting Anderson’s action. The president considered ordering Anderson to return to Moultrie, but that would have lost him all respect in the North. A New York Democrat said:

“Anderson’s course is universally approved and if he is recalled or if Sumter is surrendered… Northern sentiment will be unanimous in favor of hanging Buchanan… I am not joking—Never have I known the entire people more unanimous on any question. We are ruined if Anderson is disgraced or if Sumter is given up.”

Buchanan expressed surprise and regret to the angry congressmen, but he would not order Anderson to return.

At a cabinet meeting, Floyd strongly urged Buchanan to withdraw the entire garrison from Charleston. Interior Secretary Jacob Thompson of Mississippi sided with Floyd, while Secretary of State Jeremiah S. Black of Pennsylvania, Attorney General Edwin M. Stanton of Ohio, and Postmaster General Joseph Holt of Kentucky opposed Floyd. Buchanan privately feared that Anderson’s move would compel other southern states to aid South Carolina. Indeed, on the 27th, Georgia and Alabama offered to send troops to reinforce the South Carolina militia or possibly even join South Carolina in seceding before Congress could reach a compromise. Nevertheless, Buchanan would not approve Floyd’s plan.

Buchanan agreed to meet with the South Carolina delegation appointed by the state convention on the 28th, but only as “private gentlemen,” not representatives of a sovereign entity. The delegates announced that negotiations could begin only when they received redress for Major Anderson moving his garrison to Fort Sumter. They demanded the removal of all Federal troops from Charleston Harbor, but Buchanan replied that he needed time to consider it.

That same day, Brevet Lieutenant General Winfield Scott wrote to Floyd opposing the Federal evacuation of Fort Sumter and supporting sending reinforcements, supplies, and armed vessels. Meanwhile, Buchanan held another cabinet meeting to discuss the issue. Floyd said that Anderson’s move to Sumter violated an implied pledge not to make any movements in Charleston Harbor and urged the garrison’s withdrawal. A fist fight nearly erupted between Floyd and Stanton in the ensuing argument.

Two days later, South Carolina militia seized the Federal arsenal at Charleston. State officials now held all Federal property in the area except Fort Sumter. More cabinet officers threatened to resign if Buchanan did not act. Black and Stanton drafted a memorandum to Buchanan proposing that he:

  1. Refuse to negotiate with the South Carolina delegates since he had denied the right of secession
  2. Declare that he would not surrender Federal property in South Carolina
  3. Announce that the Federal government had the right to defend its property in the state
  4. Assert that Major Anderson had violated no orders in moving his garrison to Fort Sumter.

Officials suggested that Buchanan send warships to Charleston, and General Scott requested authorization to send 250 reinforcements and supplies to Fort Sumter. Buchanan did not respond to Scott, but he told the South Carolina delegates that Anderson would not evacuate Sumter, and Sumter would be defended “against hostile attacks from whatever quarter they may come.”

On the year’s last day, Buchanan met with the South Carolina delegation and announced:

  1. He was constitutionally bound to defer to Congress in defining relations between the Federal government and South Carolina
  2. He had not pledged to preserve the forts since South Carolinians seized Moultrie after Anderson left
  3. He would not withdraw Federal troops from South Carolina because they were defending what was left of Federal property; this included Fort Sumter, which would be defended “against hostile attacks from whatever quarter they may come.”

Then, without consulting Anderson, Buchanan ordered the War and Navy departments to send ships, supplies, and reinforcements to Fort Sumter.

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Sources

  • Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 3745-54, 3757
  • Davis, William C., Brother Against Brother: The War Begins (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 125
  • Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 6-7
  • Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 297-98
  • Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 14-18
  • McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 265
  • Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 42, 45
  • Schlesinger, Jr., Arthur M., The Almanac of American History (Greenwich, CT: Brompton Books Corp., 1993), p. 277
  • Wikipedia: James Buchanan; Timeline of Events Leading to the American Civil War

The South Carolina Secession

December 20, 1860 – Delegates to the Convention of the People of South Carolina unanimously approved an ordinance to secede from the United States.

The convention assembled on December 17 in the Baptist church of the state capital at Columbia, with D.F. Jamison of Barnwell presiding. Jamison declared:

“It is no less than our fixed determination to throw off a Government to which we have been accustomed, and to provide new safeguards for our future security. If anything has been decided by the elections which sent us here, it is, that South Carolina must dissolve her connection with the (Federal) Confederacy as speedily as possible.”

Jamison listed grievances against the Federal government and then said:

“Let us be no longer duped by paper securities. Written Constitutions are worthless, unless they are written, at the same time, in the hearts, and founded on the interests of the people; and as there is no common bond of sympathy or interest between the North and South, all efforts to preserve this Union will not only be fruitless, but fatal to the less numerous section.”

This evening, delegates approved a resolution: “That it is the opinion of this Convention that the State of South Carolina should forthwith secede from the Federal Union, known as the United States of America.” Another resolution was approved to draft an ordinance of secession by a vote of 159 to 0. But before this could be done, the convention adjourned due to a smallpox breakout in Columbia and reconvened at Charleston’s Institute Hall the next day.

Delegates spent the 18th and 19th conducting committee work and offering various motions and resolutions. On the 20th, the delegates voted 169 to 0 in favor of a resolution:

“We, the People of the State of South Carolina, in Convention assembled, do declare and ordain, and it is hereby declared and ordained, That the Ordinance adopted by us in Convention on the twenty-third day of May, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty-eight, whereby the Constitution of the United States of America was ratified, and also all Acts, and parts of Acts, of the General Assembly of this State, ratifying amendments of the said Constitution, are hereby repealed; and that the union now subsisting between South Carolina and other States, under the name of ‘The United States of America’ is hereby dissolved.”

Charleston Mercury headline | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Charleston Mercury headline | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

The formal signing took place that evening in Institute Hall. Printers distributed placards announcing the news, and massive celebrations occurred throughout Charleston. The festivities featured ringing church bells, booming cannon, fireworks, marching bands, “Minute Men” militia, and hysterical people waving palmetto flags. The governor and other public officials joined in, and an observer said, “The whole heart of the people had spoken.”

The pandemonium drowned out the minority of people who opposed secession and feared what hardships it could bring. Respected Unionist Judge James L. Petigru said, “I tell you there is a fire; they have this day set a blazing torch to the temple of constitutional liberty, and, please God, we shall have no more peace forever.”

In Washington, President James Buchanan learned of South Carolina’s secession while serving as guest of honor at the extravagant wedding of Louisiana Congressman J.E. Bouligny to Mary Parker. Buchanan (a bachelor) was attended by Mrs. Sarah Pryor, wife of states’ rights champion Congressman Roger Pryor of Virginia. Seated at a table, Buchanan heard loud shouts from an adjoining room and asked Mrs. Pryor, “Madam, do you suppose the house is on fire?”

Mrs. Pryor went into the hall, where Congressman Lawrence Keitt of South Carolina was leaping in the air and shouting, “Thank God! Oh, thank God—South Carolina has seceded! I feel like a boy let out of school!” Mrs. Pryor returned to the table and whispered to Buchanan, “It appears, Mr. President, that South Carolina has seceded from the Union. Mr. Keitt has a telegram.” Stunned, Buchanan slumped in his chair before quickly calling for his carriage.

President-elect Abraham Lincoln took the news of South Carolina’s secession calmly from his home in Springfield, Illinois as the news spread throughout the country on the 21st. The four South Carolina congressmen formally resigned their seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, and meetings took place to debate secession or union.

The South Carolina convention approved a resolution on December 22 declaring that Forts Moultrie and Sumter, Castle Pinckney, and the Federal arsenal in Charleston Harbor should “be subject to the authority and control” of the state and “that the possession of said forts and arsenal should be restored to the State of South Carolina.” Convention attendees appointed three delegates to go to Washington and issue these demands to Federal officials.

On the 24th, convention delegates approved the Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union. The declaration stated that the Union was no longer an equal collection of states because the free states had “assumed the right of deciding upon the propriety of our domestic institutions…”

The Declaration also cited “encroachments on the reserved rights of the states” and “an increasing hostility of the non-slaveholding states to the institution of slavery” and “the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery” as among the causes. South Carolina Governor Francis W. Pickens issued a proclamation calling his state sovereign, free, and independent from the U.S. in accordance with this Declaration of Immediate Causes.

Convention delegates also issued a statement to the slave states, indicating their reasons for seceding and asserting that the free states had overthrown the Constitution: “It is no longer a free Government, but a despotism.” The delegates urged the other southern states to assert their sovereignty and control their own destinies. Meanwhile, the House of Representatives laid the resignation letter of the four South Carolina congressmen from December 21 on the table and retained their names on the roll, thus rejecting their resignations.

Other southern states began calling for conventions to consider secession as well. On the year’s last day, the South Carolina convention approved electing commissioners to other southern states to consider forming a provisional overall government.

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Sources

  • Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 214
  • Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 6
  • McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 234
  • Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 11-15
  • Wikipedia: Timeline of Events Leading to the American Civil War