Part 7 — Mr. Buchanan’s Administration on the Eve of the Rebellion. Pages 162- 230


the condition of affairs under which we came.” As to the alleged pledge, we have already shown that no such thing existed. It has never been pretended that it rests upon any pretext except the note of the 9th December, delivered to the President by the South Carolina members of Congress, and what occurred on that occasion. All this has been already stated. But if additional evidence were wanting to refute the assertion of a pledge, this might be found in the statement published afterwards in Charleston by two of their number (Messrs. Miles and Keitt), ★ who, in giving an account of this interview, do not pretend or even intimate that any thing passed even in their opinion on either side in the nature of a pledge. By what officer, then, was the assurance given to the commissioners since their arrival in Washington, that Major Anderson had acted not only without but against the President’s order? It was none other than the Secretary of War himself, notwithstanding it was in obedience to his own instructions but a few days before that the removal was made from Fort Moultrie to Fort Sumter. This appears from the letter of Major Anderson to the War Department of the 27th December, the day after his removal, which unfortunately did not arrive in Washington until some days after its date. In this he says: “I will add that many things convinced me that the authorities of the State designed to proceed to a hostile act” (against Fort Moultrie), the very contingency on which the Secretary had not only authorized but directed the Major to remove his troops to Fort Sumter, should he deem this a position of greater security. These instructions were in a certain sense peculiarly his own. They were prepared and transmitted to Major Anderson by himself. Throughout they do not mention the name of the President, though in the main they expressed his views.

We can refer to a probable cause for this strange conduct on the part of the Secretary. This was, that three days before the South Carolina commissioners reached Washington, the Presi-
dent had communicated to him (23d December), through a distinguished friend and kinsman of his own, a request that he should resign his office, with a statement of the reason why this

★ Appleton “American Annual Cyclopædia” for 1861, p. 703.


was made. When he heard this request he displayed much feeling, but said he would comply with the President’s wishes. It is proper to state the reason for this request. On the night
before it was made (22d December), the fact was first made known to the President that 870 State bonds for $1,000 each, held in trust by the Government for different Indian tribes, had been purloined from the Interior Department by Godard Bailey, the clerk in charge of them, and had been delivered to William H. Russell, a member of the firm of “Russell, Majors & Waddell.” Upon examination, it was discovered that this clerk, in lieu of the bonds abstracted, had from time to time received bills of corresponding amount from Russell, drawn by the firm on John B. Floyd, Secretary of War, and by him. accepted and indorsed, and this without any lawful authority. In consequence there was found in the safe where the Indian bonds had been kept, a number of these accepted bills, exactly equal in amount to $870,000. These acceptances were thirteen in number, commencing on the 13th September, 1860, and had been received by Mr. Bailey, according to his own statement, “as collateral security for the return of the bonds,” and as such had been placed by him in the safe. It is remarkable that the last of them, dated on the 13th December, 1860, for $135,000, had been drawn for the precise sum necessary to make the aggregate amount of the whole number of bills exactly equal to that of the abstracted bonds.

And here it is due to Secretary Thompson to state, though a digression, that on Monday morning, the 24th December, at his own instance, the House of Representatives appointed a
committee “to investigate and report upon the subject,” of which Hon. Mr. Morris, of Illinois, a rancorous opponent of the administration, was the chairman. After a full investigation, the committee made their report on the 12th February, 1861. ★
In this they state: “They deem it but justice to add that they have discovered nothing to involve the late Secretary, Hon. Jacob Thompson, in the slightest degree in the fraud, and nothing to indicate that he had any complicity in the transaction, or that he had any knowledge of it until the time of the disclosure by

★ Report of Committee, H. R., 1860-’61, vol. ii., No. 78, p. 3.

Godard Bailey.” It is to be regretted, for the sake of public justice, that all the circumstances connected with the abstraction of these bonds had not been subjected to a judicial investigation.

This was rendered impossible by the action of the committee itself, in examining John B. Floyd and William H. Russell as witnesses. For this reason they were relieved from all criminal
responsibility by the Act of Congress of the 24th January, 1857, ★ of the existence of which the committee seem to have been ignorant. This act provides that no person examined as a witness before a committee of either House of Congress, “shall be held to answer criminally in any court of justice for any fact or act” “touching which he shall have testified.” In this manner both Mr. Floyd and Mr. Russell escaped without trial.

To return from our digression. Secretary Floyd’s apparent complicity with this fraudulent transaction covered him with suspicion, and, whether this were well or ill founded, rendered it impossible, in the opinion of the President, that he should re- main in the Cabinet; and hence the request that he should resign. What effect this request may have produced in suddenly
converting him from having been until then an avowed and consistent opponent of secession to one of its most strenuous supporters, may be readily inferred. Certain it is, that immediately after the arrival of the South Carolina commissioners, he became the intimate associate of leading secession Senators, who had just before been in the habit of openly condemning his official conduct.

On the evening of the day after the arrival of these commissioners he boldly assumed his new position, and became the only witness to a pledge which his own instructions of a few days before prove could never have existed. On that evening, in the face of all these facts, he read to the President, in Cabinet council, in a discourteous and excited tone, hitherto unknown, a paper declaring that “it is evident now, from the action of the commander at Fort Moultrie, that the solemn pledges of this Government have been violated by Major Anderson,” and that “one ____________________

★ 11 Laws U. S., p. 155.


remedy only is left, and that is to withdraw the garrison from the harbor of Charleston altogether.” This evidently foreshadowed the demand made by the commissioners on the following day (28th December), of which we have already treated. This proposition the President heard with astonishment. As he had stated in his reply to them of the 31st December: “Such an idea was never thought of by me. No allusion had ever been made to it in any communication between myself and any human being.”

The Secretary, on the 29th December, sent to the President the resignation of his office. By this he offered to discharge its duties until his successor should be appointed. It was instantly accepted without reference to this offer, and Postmaster General Holt was transferred to the War Department.

The President had not made the personal acquaintance of Mr. Floyd before his appointment. Though never in Congress, he had been, like his father, Governor of Virginia. Mr. Buchanan had been favorably impressed by the fact that he had refused to accept a recommendation from the Electoral College of Virginia for a seat in the Cabinet, assigning as a reason that the President, in making selections for this high and confidential office, ought to be left free and untrammelled to the exercise of his own judgment.

The removal of Major Anderson to Fort Sumter, and the seizure by South Carolina of all the remaining public property at Charleston, altogether changed the aspect of affairs from what
it had been at the date of the interview between General Scott and the President. Fort Sumter was now threatened with an immediate attack. The time had arrived for despatching the Brooklyn on her destined expedition for its relief. At this crisis General Scott, being too unwell to call in person, addressed a note to the President, on Sunday, the 30th December, asking his permission to send, without reference to the War Department, and otherwise as secretly as possible, two hundred and fifty recruits from New York harbor to reënforce Fort Sumter, together with some extra muskets or rifles, ammunition and subsistence stores, expressing the hope “that a sloop-of-war and -188-


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