Part 2– Mr. Buchanan’s Administration on the Eve of the Rebellion. Pages 162- 230

Page 167 & 168

were accordingly so modified, with the approbation of General Scott.

The President having determined not to disturb the status quo at Charleston, as long as our troops should continue to be hospitably treated by the inhabitants, and remain in unmolested possession of the forts, was gratified to learn, a short time thereafter, that South Carolina was equally intent on preserving the peace. On the 8th December, 1860, four of the Representatives in Congress from that State sought an interview, and held a conversation with him concerning the best means of avoiding a hostile collision between the parties. In order to guard against any misapprehension on either side, he suggested that they had best reduce their verbal communication to writing, and bring it to him in that form. Accordingly, on the 10th December, they delivered to him a note, dated on the previous day, and signed by five members, in which they say: “In compliance with our statement to you yesterday, we now express to you our strong convictions that neither the constituted authorities, nor any body of the people of the State of South Carolina, will either attack or molest the United States forts in the harbor of Charleston, previously to the action of the Convention; and we hope and believe not until an offer has been made, through an accredited representative, to negotiate for an amicable arrangement of all matters between the State and the Federal Government, provided that no reënforcements be sent into these forts, and their relative military status shall remain as at present.” ★
Both in this and in their previous conversation, they declared that in making this statement, they were acting solely on their own responsibility, and expressly disclaimed any authority to bind their State. They, nevertheless, expressed the confident belief that they would be sustained both by the State authorities and by the Convention, after it should assemble. Although the President considered this declaration as nothing more than the act of five highly respectable members of the House from South Carolina, yet he welcomed it as a happy omen, that by means of their influence collision might be prevented, and time afforded to all parties for reflection and for a peaceable ____________________

★ Ex. Doc., H. R., vol. vi., No. 96, p. 9,&c

adjustment. From abundant caution, however, he objected to the word “provided” in their statement, lest, if he should accept it without remark, this might possibly be construed into an agreement on his part not to reënforce the forts. Such an agreement, he informed them, he would never make. It would be impossible for him, from the nature of his official responsibility, thus to tie his own hands and restrain his own freedom of action. Still, they might have observed from his message, that he had no present design, under existing circumstances, to change the condition of the forts at Charleston. He must, notwithstanding, be left entirely free to exercise his own discretion, according to exigencies as they might arise. They replied that nothing was further from their intention than such a construction of this word; they did not so understand it, and he should not so consider it.

It was at this moment, on the 15th December, 1860, after the President’s policy had been fixed and announced in his annual message; after the “Brooklyn” had been made ready to go to the relief of Major Anderson in case of need; after he had received instructions in accordance with this policy; after the President’s pacific interview with the South Carolina members, and before any action had yet been taken on the first Crittenden Compromise, that General Scott deemed it proper to renew his former recommendation to garrison the nine Southern fortifications. This appears from his report to President Lincoln, of the 30th March, 1861, entitled “Southern Forts; a Summary,” &c., of which we shall often hereafter have occasion to speak. It is scarcely a lack of charity to infer that General Scott knew at the time when he made this recommendation (on the 15th December) that it must be rejected. The President could not have complied with it, the position of affairs still remaining unchanged, without at once reversing his entire policy, and without a degree of inconsistency amounting almost to self-stultification. The Senators from the cotton States and from Virginia, where these forts are situated, were still occupied with their brother Senators in devising measures of peace and conciliation. For this patriotic purpose the Committee of Thir- teen were about to be appointed, and they remained in session


until the last day of the month. Meanwhile all the Southern Senators in Congress professed their willingness to adopt the Crittenden Compromise, so much and so justly lauded afterwards by General Scott himself. If at this moment, whilst they were engaged in peaceful consultation with Senators from the North, the President had despatched military expeditions to these nine forts, it was easy to foresee what would be the disastrous effect, not only in the cotton, but in all the border States. Its first effect would have been to dissolve the existing conferences for a peaceable adjustment.

This, the General’s second recommendation, was wholly unexpected. He had remained silent for more than six weeks from the date of his supplemental “Views,” convinced, as the President inferred, that he had abandoned the idea of garrisoning all these forts with “the five companies only” within his reach. Had the President never so earnestly desired to reënforce the nine forts in question, at this time, it would have been little short of madness to undertake the task, with the small force at his command. Without authority to call forth the militia or accept the services of volunteers for the purpose, this whole force now consisted of six hundred recruits, obtained by the General since the date of his “Views,” in addition to the five regular companies.

Our army was still out of reach on the remote frontiers, and could not be withdrawn, during midwinter, in time for this military operation. Indeed, the General had never suggested such a withdrawal. He knew that had this been possible, the, inhabitants on our distant frontiers would have been immediately exposed to the tomahawk and scalping knife of the Indians. Our weak condition in regard to troops within reach is demonstrated by the insignificant number of these he was able to collect in Washington on the 4th March following. This was to resist an attempt which he apprehended would be made by an armed force to prevent the inauguration of President Lincoln and to seize the public property. The General was so firmly convinced of the reality of this plot, that nothing could shake his faith. It was in vain that a committee of the House of Representatives, after hearing the General himself, and after full investigation, had
reported, that his apprehensions were unfounded. Besides, the

February 14, 1861. House Reports of Committees, vol. ii., No. 79.

Page 170–

President, relying on his own sources of information, had never entertained any similar apprehensions. The stake, notwithstanding, was so vast and the General so urgent, that he granted him permission to bring to Washington all the troops he could muster to resist an imaginary but dreaded enemy. The whole number of these, including even the sappers and miners whom he had withdrawn from West Point, amounted to no more than six hundred and fifty-three, rank and file. These troops, with a portion of the district militia, the General had posted in different parts of the city, and had stationed sentinels on the tops of the highest houses and other eminences, so that all was ready to attack the enemy at the first moment of their appearance; but never did an inauguration pass more peacefully and quietly. It is due to President Lincoln to state, that throughout his long progress in the same carriage with the late President, both on the way’ to the Capitol and the return from it, he was far from evincing the slightest apprehension of danger.

Had the President attempted to distribute the General’s thousand men, as he proposed, among the numerous forts in the cotton States, as well as Fortress Monroe, their absurd inadequacy to the object would have exhibited weakness instead of strength. It would have provoked instead of preventing collision. It would have precipitated a civil war with the cotton States without the slightest preparation on the part of Congress, and would at once have destroyed the then prevailing hopes of compromise. Worse than all, it would have exasperated Virginia and the other border States, then so intent on remaining in the Union, and might have driven them at once into hostile action.

And now it becomes our painful duty to examine the report of General Scott to President Lincoln of 30th March, 1861. This was first published at the General’s instance, eighteen months after its date, in the ” National Intelligencer” of the 21st October, 1862. It cannot be denied that the report throughout is an indiscriminate censure of President Buchanan’s conduct in dealing with the Southern forts. It evidently proceeded from a defective memory prejudiced by a strong bias. It rests mainly on vague and confused recollections of private conversations alleged to have been held with the President several months


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