Part 10 — Mr. Buchanan’s Administration on the Eve of the Rebellion. Pages 162- 230


them.’ I can add nothing to the explicitness of this language,
which still applies to the existing status.

“The right to send forward reënforcements when, in the judgment, of the President, the safety of the garrison requires them, rests on the same unquestionable foundation as the right to occupy the fortress itself. In the letter of Senator Davis and others to yourself, under date of the 15th ultimo, they say: ‘We therefore think it especially due from South Carolina to our States –to say nothing of other slaveholding States–that she should, as far as she can consistently with her honor, avoid initiating hostilities between her and the United States or any other power;’ and you now yourself give to the President the gratifying assurance that ‘ South Carolina has every disposition to preserve the public peace;’ and since he is himself sincerely animated by the same desire, it would seem that this common and patriotic object must be of certain attainment. It is difficult, however, to reconcile with this assurance the declaration on your part that ‘it is a consideration of her [ South Carolina’s] own dignity as a sovereign, and the safety of her people, which prompts her to demand that this property should not longer be used as a military post by a government she no longer acknowledges,’ and the thought you so constantly present, that this occupation must lead to a collision of arms and the prevalence of civil war.

Fort Sumter is in itself a military post, and nothing else; and it would seem that not so much the fact as the purpose of its use should give to it a hostile or friendly character. This fortress is now held by the Government of the United States for the same object for which it has been held from the completion of its construction. These are national and defensive; and were a public enemy now to attempt the capture of Charleston or the destruction of the commerce of its harbor, the whole force of the batteries of this fortress would be at once exerted for their protection. How the presence of a small garrison, actuated by such a spirit as this, can compromise the dignity or honor of South Carolina, or become a source of irritation to her people, the President is at a loss to understand. The attitude of that garrison, as has been often declared, is neither menacing, nor defiant, nor unfriendly. It is acting under orders to stand strictly on the


defensive; and the government and people of South Carolina must well know that they can never receive aught but shelter from its guns, unless, in the absence of all provocation, they
should assault it and seek its destruction. The intent with which this fortress is held by the President is truthfully stated by Senator Davis and others in their letter to yourself of the 15th January, in which they say: ‘It is not held with any hostile or unfriendly purpose toward your State, but merely as property of the United States, which the President deems it his duty to protect and preserve.’

“If the announcement so repeatedly made of the President’s pacific purposes in continuing the occupation of Fort Sumter until the question shall have been settled by competent authority, has failed to impress the government of South Carolina, the forbearing conduct of his administration for the last few months should be received as conclusive evidence of his sincerity. And if this forbearance, in view of the circumstances which have so severely tried it, be not accepted as a satisfactory pledge of the peaceful policy of this administration toward South Carolina, then it may be safely affirmed that neither language nor conduct can possibly furnish one. If, with all the multiplied proofs which exist of the President’s anxiety for peace, and of the earnestness with which he has pursued it, the authorities of that State shall assault Fort Sumter, and peril the lives of the handful of brave and loyal men shut up within its walls, and thus
plunge our common country into the horrors of civil war, then upon them and those they represent must rest the responsibility.

“Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
“Secretary of War.

“Hon. I. W. HAYNE, Attorney-General of the State of South Carolina.

“P.S.–The President has not, as you have been informed, received a copy of the letter to yourself from the Senators, communicating that of Mr. Holt of the 22d January.”

This letter of Mr. Holt, though firm and decided in character, is courteous and respectful, both in tone and in terms. It

reviews the subject in an able and comprehensive manner, ex-
plaining and justifying the conduct of the President. Unlike
the letters to which it is a response, it contains no menace. In conclusion it does no more than fix the responsibility of commencing a civil war on the authorities of South Carolina, should they assault Fort, Sumter and imperil the lives of the brave and loyal men shut up within its walls. It does not contain a word or an expression calculated to afford just cause of offence; yet its statements anti its arguments must have cut Colonel Hayne to the quick. To reply to them successfully was impossible. He, therefore, had no resort but to get angry. Following in the
footsteps of his predecessors, on the 8th February he addressed an
insulting answer not to Secretary Holt, as usage and common
civility required, but directly to the President. He then sud-
denly left Washington, leaving his missile behind him to be de-
livered after his departure. Form his conduct he evidently an-
ticipated its fate. His letter was returned to him on the same
day, directed to Charleston, with the following indorsement:
“The character of this letter is such that it cannot be received.
Col. Hayne having left the city before it was sent to the Presi-
dent, it is returned to him by the first mail.” What has be-
come of it we do not know. No copy was retained, nor have
we ever heard of it since.

What effect this letter of Mr. Holt may have produced upon
the truculent Governor of South Carolina we shall not attempt
to decide. Certain it is, from whatever cause, no attack was
made upon Fort Sumter until six weeks after the close of Mr.
Buchanan’s administration. The fort remained unmolested un-
til South Carolina had been for some time a member of the Con-
federate States. It was reserved for Mr. Jefferson Davis, their
President, to issue the order for its bombardment, and thus
formally to commence the civil war. This he did with a full
consciousness that such would be the fatal effect; because in the
letter from him and other Southern Senators to Col. Hayne,
of the 15th January, both he and they had warned Governor
Pickens that an attack upon the fort would be “the instituting
hostilities between her [ South Carolina] and the United States.”

Thus ended the second mission from South Carolina to the


President, and thus was he relieved from the truce concluded by
Major Anderson. But in the mean time, before the termination
of this truce, the action of the General Assembly of Virginia,
instituting the Peace Convention, had interposed an insur-
mountable obstacle to the reënforcement of Fort Sumter, un-
less attacked or in immediate danger of attack, without entirely
defeating this beneficent measure. Among their other proceed-
ings they had passed a resolution “that ex-President John
Tyler is hereby appointed by the concurrent vote of each branch
of the General Assembly, a commissioner to the President of the
United States; and Judge John Robertson is hereby appointed
by a like vote, a commissioner to the State of South Carolina
and the other States that have seceded or shall secede, with in-
structions respectfully to request the President of the United
States and the authorities of such States to agree to abstain,
pending the proceedings contemplated by the action of the Gen-
eral Assembly, from any and all acts calculated to produce a
collision of arms between the States and the Government of the
United States.”

Mr. Tyler arrived in. Washington on the 23d January, a
fortnight before the departure of Col. Hayne, bearing with him
a copy of the Virginia resolutions. These he presented to the
President on the following day, assuring, him that whilst the
people of Virginia were almost universally inclined to peace and
reconstruction, yet any efforts on her part to reconstruct or
preserve the Union “depended for their success on her being
permitted to conduct them undisturbed by outside collision.”

This resolution, it will be observed, requested the President,
and not Congress, to enter into the proposed agreement. Mr.
Tyler, therefore, urged the President to become a party to it.
This he refused, stating, according to Mr. Tyler’s report to the
Governor of Virginia, “that he had in no manner changed his
views as presented in his annual message; that he could give no
pledges; that it was his duty to enforce the laws, and the whole
power rested with Congress.” He promised, notwithstanding,
that he would present the subject to that body. This was due
both to its intrinsic importance and to the State of Virginia,
which had manifested so strong a desire to restore and preserve
the Union.


The President, accordingly, in his message of the 28th Jan-
uary, submitting the Virginia resolutions to Congress, observed
in regard to this one, that “however strong may be my desire
to enter into such an agreement, I am convinced that I do not
progresess the power. Congress, and Congress alone, under the
war-making power, can exercise the discretion of agreeing to
abstain ‘from any and all acts calculated to produce a collision
of arms’ between this and any other Government. It would,
therefore, be a usurpation for the Executive to attempt to re-
strain their hands by an agreement in regard to matters over
which he has no constitutional control. If he were thus to act,
they might pass laws which he should be bound to obey, though
in conflict with his agreement. Under existing circumstances,
my present actual power is confined within narrow limits. It
is my duty at all times to defend and protect the public prop-
erty within the seceding States, so far as this may be practica-
ble, and especially to employ all constitutional means to protect
the property of the United States, and to preserve the public
peace at this the seat of the Federal Government. If the se-
ceding States abstain ‘from any and all acts calculated to pro-
duce a collision of arms,’ then the danger so much to be depre-
cated will no longer exist. Defence, and not aggression, has
been the policy of the administration from the beginning. But
whilst I can enter into no engagement such as that proposed, I
cordially commend to Congress, with much confidence that it
will meet their approbation, to abstain from passing any law
calculated to produce a collision of arms pending the proceed-
ings contemplated by the action of the General Assembly of
Virginia. I am one of those who will never despair of the Re-
public. I yet cherish the belief that the American people will
perpetuate the union of the States on some terms just and hon-
orable for all sections of the country. I trust that the media-
tion of Virginia may be the destined means, under Providence,
of accomplishing this inestimable benefit. Glorious as are the
memories of her past history, such an achievement, both in re-
lation to her own fame and the welfare of the whole coutry
would surpass them all.”

This noble and patriotic effort of Virginia met no favor from


Congress. Neither House referred these resolutions of her Gen-
eral Assembly to a committee, or even treated them with the
common courtesy of ordering them to be printed. In the Sen-
ate no motion was made to refer them, and the question to print
them with the accompanying message was debated from time
to time until the 21st February, ★ when the Peace Convention
had nearly completed its labors, and after this no further notice seems to have been taken of the subject. In the House the motion to refer and print the Virginia resolutions, made by Mr. Stanton, of Ohio, on the day they were received, was never
afterwards noticed. �� This mortifying neglect on the part of the Representatives of the States and of the people, made a deep and unfortunate impression on the citizens of Virginia.

�� H. J., p. 236. Con. Globe, p. 601.
★ Con. Globe, pp. 590, 636.


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