until the last day of December, 1860, when he was appointed Secretary of War, at this period the most important and responsible position in the Cabinet. In this he continued until the end of the administration. In his customary letter of resignation addressed to Mr. Buchanan, immediately before tile advent of the new administration, and now on file in the State Department did not confine, himself to the usual routine in such cases, but has voluntarily added an expression of his opinion of the administration of which he had been so long a member.
He says that —
“In thus terminating our official relations, I avail myself of the occasion to express to you my heartfelt gratitude for the confidence with which, in this and other high positions, you have honored me, and for the firm. and generous support which you have constantly extended to me, amid the arduous and perplexing duties which I have been called to perform. In the full conviction that your labors will yet be crowned by the glory that belongs to an enlightened statesmanship and to an unsullied patriotism, and with sincerest wishes for your personal hap-
piness, I remain most truly
“Your friend, ” J. HOLT.”
It is fair to observe that the policy of President Lincoln toward the seven cotton States which had seceded before his inauguration, was, in the main, as conservative and forbearing as that of Mr. Buchanan. No fault can be justly found with his inaugural address, except that portion of it derogating from the authority of decisions of the Supreme Court. This was doubtless intended to shield the resolution of the Chicago platform, prohibiting slavery in Territories, from the Dred Scott decision. It cannot be denied that this had at the time an un-happy influence upon the border States, because it impaired the hope of any future compromise of this vital question.
President Lincoln specifies and illustrates the character of his inaugural in his subsequent message to Congress of the 4th July, 1861. He says: “The policy chosen looked to the exhaustion of all peaceable measures, before a resort to any stronger
ones. It sought to hold the public places and property, not already wrested from the Government, and to collect the revenue, relying for the rest on time, discussion, and the ballot-box. It promised a continuance of the mails at Government expense to the very people who were resisting the Government, and it gave repeated pledges against any disturbance to any of the people or any of their rights. Of all that a President might constitutionally and justifiably do in such a case, every thing was forborne without which it was possible to keep the Government on foot.”
The policy thus announced, whilst like that of Mr. Buchanan, was of a still more forbearing character. Nay, more; the administration of Mr. Lincoln deliberated, and at one time, it is believed, had resolved, on the advice of General Scott, to withdraw the troops under Major Anderson from the harbor of Charleston, although this had been repeatedly and peremptorily
refused by the preceding administration. If sound policy had not enjoined this forbearing course, it would have been dictated by necessity, because Congress had adjourned after having deliberately refused to provide either men or means for a defensive, much less an aggressive movement.
The policy thus announced by Mr. Lincoln, under the circumstances, was the true policy. It was the only policy which could present a reasonable hope of preserving and confirming the border States in their allegiance to the Government. It was the only policy which could by possibility enable these States to bring back the seceded cotton States into the Union. It was the only policy which could cordially unite the Northern people in the suppression of rebellion, should they be compelled to resist force by force for the preservation of the Constitution and the Union. It was, however, rendered impossible to pursue, this conservative policy any longer after the Government of the Confederate cotton States, on the 13th April, 1861, had commenced the civil war by the bombardment and capture of Fort Sumter. Its wisdom has been vindicated by the unanimous and enthusiastic uprising of the Northern people, without distinction of party, to suppress the rebellion which had thus been inaugurated.
Mr. Buchanan’s Administration on the Eve of the Rebellion. Contributors: James Buchanan – author. Publisher: D. Appleton. Place of Publication: New York. Publication Year: 1866.
We now have the Buchanan version of the events leading up to the war. Slavery being a cause of secession was soon overlooked and forgotten as the issue at Fort Sumter took front and center. The simple act of ordering Major Anderson back to Fort Moultrie may have saved the lives of 500,000 Americans. To bad neither Buchanan nor Lincoln had the moral integrity or would compromise and make such and order.