Part 3 — Mr. Buchanan’s Administration on the Eve of the Rebellion. Pages 162- 230


before its date. These having occurred between the commander- in-chief and the commanding General of the army, on important military questions, pertaining to their respective official duties, were, in their nature, strictly confidential. Were this otherwise, it would destroy that freedom and unreserve which ought to characterize such consultations, and instead thereof; the parties would be ever on their guard in the interchange of opinions, often greatly to the prejudice of the public interest. Had the General resolved to violate a confidence as sacred as that between the President and a member of his Cabinet, such is the treachery of the best human memory, he ought, at the least, to have submitted his statements to Mr. Buchanan before he had embodied them in his report. Had he done this, we venture to say from the sequel that most of them would have never seen the light.

When President Buchanan retired from office, he had reason to believe he had parted from the General on terms mutually amicable. Although in former years their friendly intercourse had been for a season interrupted, yet he believed all this had been forgotten. A suspicion never entered his mind that the General held in reserve a quiver of arrows to assail his public character upon his retirement from office.

This report does not allege that it had been made in consequence of a call from President Lincoln. From its face it appears to have been a pure volunteer offering on the part of the General. It deals with the past and not with the future. It is remarkable that it does not contain a word of advice to President Lincoln, such as might have been expected from the commanding General, as to the manner of recovering the forts which before its date had been already seized by the Confederates. On the contrary, it reveals the strange fact that the General, so late as the 12th March, and after the so-called Confederate Government of the cotton States was in full operation at Montgomery, had advised President Lincoln to evacuate Fort Sumter, and this in direct opposition to what had been the well-known and oft- expressed determination of Mr. Buchanan. We need scarcely remark that President Lincoln acted wisely in disregarding this counsel. It was founded on an alleged military necessity. Had the fort been actually invested by a hostile force so superior as


to render resistance hopeless, this would have justified a capitulation in order to save a useless sacrifice of life. Its voluntary abandonment, however, to the Confederacy, would have gone far toward a recognition of their independence.

The General, in this report, would have President Lincoln believe, on the authority of a Richmond newspaper, that “had Scott been able to have got these forts in the condition he desired them to be, the Southern Confederacy would not now exist.” Strange hallucination! In plain English, that South Carolina, which throughout an entire generation had determined on disunion, and had actually passed an ordinance of secession to carry this purpose into effect, and the remaining six powerful cotton States ready to follow her evil example, unless their adjudged rights should be recognized by Congress, and which together have since sent into the field such numerous and powerful armies, would at once have been terrified into submission by the distribution of four hundred troops in October, or one thousand in December, among their numerous fortifications!

Very different must have been his opinion on the 3d March following, when he penned his famous letter to Secretary Seward. In this he exclaims: “Conquer the seceded [cotton] States by invading armies. No doubt this might be done in two or three years by a young and able general–a Wolfe, a Dessaix, a Hoche, with three hundred thousand disciplined men, estimating a third for garrisons, and the loss of a yet greater number by skirmishes, sieges, battles and Southern fevers. The destruction of life and property on the other side would be frightful, however perfect the moral discipline of the invaders. The conquest completed, at that enormous waste of human life to the North and the Northwest, with at least $250,000,000 added thereto, and cui bono? Fifteen devastated provinces! not to be brought into harmony with their conquerors, but to be held for generations by heavy garrisons, at an expense quadruple the net duties or taxes it would be possible to extort from them, followed by a protector or an emperor.” In view of these fearful forebodings, we are not surprised that he should have despaired of the Union, and been willing to say to the cotton States, “Wayward sisters, depart in peace.” Nor that he should have fallen back


on his opinion expressed in the “Views” ( 29th October, 1860), that “a smaller evil [than such a civil war] would be to allow the fragments of the great Republic to form themselves into now Confederacies.”

The General, however, in the same letter to Secretary Seward, presents his alternative for all these evils. He advises Mr. Lincoln’s administration “to throw off the old and assume a new designation–the Union party; adopt the conciliatory measures proposed by Mr. Crittenden, or the Peace Convention, and my life upon it, we shall have no new case of secession, but, oil the contrary, an early return of many if not all of the States which have already broken off from the Union. Without some equally benign measure, the remaining slaveholding States will probably join the Montgomery Confederacy in less than sixty days, when this city, being included in a foreign country, would require a permanent garrison of at least thirty-five thousand troops.” His advice to adopt the Crittenden Compromise would have been excellent had it been given to his Republican friends in Congress in the previous December, before any State had seceded, and before any fort had been seized, instead of then recommending to President Buchanan to dispatch small bands of United States soldiers to each of the forts. This recommendation, had it been followed at the time, would at once have defeated this very Crittenden Compromise, so much desired, and served only to provoke the cotton States into secession. It would have been the stone of Cadmus cast among the armed men sprung from the dragon’s teeth, and the signal for immediate fratricidal war and mutual destruction. The advice to President Lincoln was out of season, after both the Crittenden Compromise and the measures proposed by the Peace Convenetion had been finally rejected by Congress, and whilst the Confederacy of the cotton States was in active existence.

Before we proceed to analyze in further detail the General’s report, it is curious to note the reason for its publication. This was a consequence of the publication of his letter to Secretary Seward, which was in its very nature confidential. At this period, in October, 1862, when the rebellion had assumed a formidable aspect, and when his sinister predictions appeared to


be in the course of fulfilment, he read the original draft, in his own handwriting, to a friend. This gentleman, whilst extolling the far-seeing sagacity and the prophetic spirit it displayed,
begged for the draft as an invaluable keepsake. This appeal to the General proved irresistible. The manuscript was delivered to the friend, who soon thereafter read it, amid great applause, at a public meeting in the city of New, York, and whilst a highly excited political canvass was depending for the office of Governor. The letter thus published, implying a direct censure on President Lincoln for not having followed the advice it had given, created no little astonishment, because of the prevalent belief at the time, that the General was under many obligations
to the administration for liberal and indulgent treatment in the face of discomfiture and defeat. The letter having thus been first published by his friend, it was soon thereafter republished in the “National Intelligencer,” of the 21st October, 1862, under the General’s own authority, and in addition, a copy of his report to President Lincoln. Why he thus connected these two documents, so distinct and even opposite in character, it would be difficult to decide. It has been conjectured he may have thought that the censure of Mr. Buchananin the report might prove an antidote to that against Mr. Lincoln in the Seward letter. Whatever may have caused the publication of this report, Mr. Buchanan has cause to rejoice that it was brought to light during his lifetime. It might, otherwise, have slumbered on the secret files of the Executive Department until after his death, and then been revealed to posterity as authentic history. And here it is proper to mention, that a few days after the publication of the report, Mr. Buchanan replied to it in a letter published in the “National Intelligencer,” of the 1st November, 1862. This gave rise to a correspondence between himself and General Scott, which, on both sides, was formally addressed to the editors of that journal, and was published by them in successive numbers. This continued throughout the autumn. It might at first be supposed that the errors in the report had been sufficiently exposed in the course of this correspondence; but in the present historical sketch of President Buchanan’s conduct, it is impossible to pass over the structures


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