Part 9 — Mr. Buchanan’s Administration on the Eve of the Rebellion. Pages 162- 230

limitation on the 5th February, the day when Secretary Holt finally and peremptorily announced to the South Carolina commissioner that the President would not under any circumstances surrender Fort Sumter. It is possible that, under the laws of war, the President might have annulled this truce after due notice to Governor Pickens. This, however, would have cast a serious reflection on Major Anderson for having concluded it, who, beyond question, had acted from the purest and most patriotic motives. Neither General Scott nor any other person, so far as is known, ever proposed to violate it. Indeed, from his peculiar temper of mind and military training, he would have been the last man to make such a proposition; and yet, in his report to President Lincoln, he does not make the most distant allusion to the fact, well known to him, that such a truce had ever been concluded. Had he done this, he would at once have afforded conclusive evidence against sending reënforcements until it should expire. On the contrary, instead of the actual truce, “something like a truce,” according to his statement, was made, not in Charleston, but in Washington, and not between the actual parties to it, but “between the late President and certain principal seceders of South Carolina.” Nothing more unfounded and unjust could have been attributed to President Buchanan.

Major Anderson may probably have committed an error in not promptly rejecting the demand, as be understood it, of Governor Pickens for the surrender of Fort Sumter, instead of referring it to Washington. If the fort were to be attacked, which was then extremely doubtful, this was the propitious moment for a successful resistance. The Governor, though never so willing, was not in a condition to make the assault. He required time for preparation. On the other hand, Major Anderson was then confident in his power to repel it. This is shown by his letters to the War Department of the 31st December and 6th January. From these it appears that he not only felt safe in his position, but confident that he could command the harbor of Charleston, and hold the fort in opposition to any force which might be brought against him. Such was, also the oft-expressed


conviction at Washington of Lieutenant Hall, whom be had selected as his deputy, as well as that of Lieutenant Theodore Talbot, likewise of the 1st artillery, who had left Fort Sumter on the 9th January, 1861, as a bearer of despatches. Still, had Governor Pickens attacked the fort, this would have been the commencement of civil war between the United States and South Carolina. This every patriot desired to avoid as long as a reasonable hope should remain of preserving peace. And then such a hope did extensively prevail, founded upon the expectation that the Crittenden Compromise, or some equally healing measure, might be eventually adopted by Congress. How far this consideration may account for Major Anderson’s forbearance when the Star of the West was fired upon, and for his proposal two days thereafter to refer the question of the surrender of the fort to Washington, we can only conjecture. If this were the cause, his motive deserves high commendation.

Colonel Hayne, the commissioner from South Carolina, as already stated, arrived in Washington on the 13th January. He bore with him a letter from Governor Pickens addressed to the President. On the next morning he called upon the President and stated that he would deliver this letter in person on the day following. The President, however, admonished by his recent experience with the former commissioners, declined to hold any conversation with him on the subject of his mission, and requested that all communications between them might be in writing. To this he assented. Although the President had no actual knowledge of the contents of the Governor’s letter, he could not doubt it contained a demand for the surrender of the fort. Such a demand he was at all times prepared peremptorily to reject. This Colonel Hayne must have known, because the President had but a fortnight before informed his predecessors this was impossible, and had never been thought of by him in any possible contingency. The President confidently expected that the letter would be transmitted to him on the day after the interview, when his refusal to surrender the fort would at once terminate the truce, and leave both parties free to act upon their own responsibility. Colonel Hayne, however, did


not transmit this letter to the President on the 15th January, according to his promise, but withheld it until the 31st of that month. The reason for this vexatious delay will constitute a curious portion of our narrative, and deserves to be mentioned in some detail. (Vide the President’s message of 8th February, 1861, with the accompanying documents, Ex. Doc., H. R.,
vol. ix., No. 61.)

The Senators from the cotton States yet in Congress appeared, strangely enough, to suppose that through their influence the President might agree not to send reënforcements to Fort
Sumter, provided Governor Pickens would stipulate not to attack it. By such an agreement they proposed to preserve the peace. But first of all it was necessary for them to prevail upon Colonel Hayne not to transmit the letter to the President on the day appointed, because they well knew that the demand which it contained would meet his prompt and decided refusal.
This would render the conclusion of such an agreement impossible.

In furtherance of their plan, nine of these Senators, with Jefferson Davis at their head, addressed a note to Colonel Hayne, on the 15th January, requesting him to defer the delivery of the letter. They proposed that he should withhold it until they could ascertain from the President whether he would agree not to send reënforcements, provided Governor Pickens would engage not to attack the fort. They informed the Colonel that should the President prove willing in the first place to enter into such an arrangement, they would then strongly recommend that he should not deliver the letter he had in charge for the present, but send to South Carolina for authority from Governor Pickens to become a party thereto. Colonel Hayne, in his answer to these Senators of the 17th January, informed them that he had not been clothed with power to make the arrangement suggested, but provided they could get assurances with which they were entirely satisfied that no reënforcements would be sent to Fort Sumter, he would withhold the letter with which he had been charged, refer their communication to the authorities of South Carolina, and await further instructions.


On the 19th January this correspondence between the Senators and Colonel Hayne was submitted to the President, accompanied by a note from three of their number, requesting him to take the subject into consideration. His answer to this note was delayed no longer than was necessary to prepare it in proper form. On the 22d January it was communicated to these Senators in a letter from the Secretary of War. This contained an express refusal to enter into the proposed agreement. Mr. Holt says: “I am happy to observe that, in your letter to Colonel
Hayne, you express the opinion that it is ‘especially due from South Carolina to our States, to say nothing of other slaveholding States, that she should, so far as she can consistently with her honor, avoid initiating hostilities between her and the United States or any other power.’ To initiate such hostilities against Fort Sumter would, beyond question, be an act of war against the United States. In regard to the proposition of Colonel Hayne, ‘that no reënforcements will be sent to Fort Sumter in the interval, and that public peace will not be disturbed by any act of hostility toward South Carolina,’ it is impossible for me to give you any such assurances. The President has no authority to enter into such an agreement or understanding. As an executive officer, he is simply bound to protect the public property so far as this may be practicable; and it would be a manifest violation of his duty to place himself under engagements that he would not perform this duty, either for an indefinite or limited period. At the present moment it is not deemed necessary to reënforce Major Anderson, because he makes no such request and feels quite secure in his position. Should his safety, however, require reënforcements, every effort will be made to supply them.”

It was believed by the President that this peremptory refusal to enter into the proposed agreement, would have caused Colonel Hayne immediately to present the letter he had in charge and thus terminate his mission, thereby releasing both parties from the obligations of the truce. In this expectation the President was disappointed. The secession Senators again interposed, and advised Colonel Hayne still longer to withhold the letter from the President, and await further instructions from


Charleston. In his answer of 24th January to their note containing this advice, he informs them that although the letter from the Secretary of War “was far from being satisfactory,” yet in compliance with their request he “would withhold the communication with which he was at present charged, and refer the whole matter to the authorities of South Carolina, and would awalt their reply.” On the 30th this reply was received, and on the next day Colonel Hayne transmitted to the President the letter of Governor Pickens demanding the surrender of the fort, with a long communication from himself. This letter is dated “Headquarters, Charleston, January 12, 1861,” and is as follows:

“SIR : At the time of the separation of the State of South Carolina from the United States, Fort Sumter was, and still is, in the possession of troops of the United States, under the command of Major Anderson. I regard that possession as not consistent with the dignity or safety of the State of South Carolina, and have this day [it was the day previous] addressed to Major Anderson a communication to obtain from him the possession of that fort by the authorities of this State.

The reply of Major Anderson informs me that he has no authority to do what I required, but he desires a reference of the demand to the President of the United States. Under the circumstances now existing, and which need no comment by me, I have determined to send to you Hon. I. W. Hayne, the Attorney-General of the State of South Carolina, and have instructed
him to demand the delivery of Fort Sumter, in the harbor of Charleston, to the constituted authorities of the State of South Carolina. The demand I have made of Major Anderson, and
which I now make of you, is suggested by my earnest desire to avoid the bloodshed which a persistence in your attempt to retain possession of that fort will cause, and which will be unavailing to secure to you that possession, but induce a calamity most deeply to be deplored. If consequences so unhappy shall ensue, I will secure for this State, in the demand which I now make, the satisfaction of having exhausted every attempt to avoid it.

“In relation to the public property of the United States


within Fort Sumter, the Hon. I. W. Hayne, who will hand you this communication, is authorized to give you the pledge of the State that the valuation of such property will be accounted for
by this State, upon the adjustment of its relations with the United States, of which it was a part.”

On the 6th February, the Secretary of War, on behalf of the President, replied to this demand, as well as to the letter of Colonel Hayne accompanying it. Our narrative would be incomplete without this admirable and conclusive reply. It is as follows:

“WAR DEPARTMENT, February 6, 1861. ★

“SIR: The President of the United States has received your letter of the 31st ultimo, and has charged me with the duty of replying thereto.

“In the communication addressed to the President by Governor Pickens, under date of the 12th January, and which accompanies yours now before me, his Excellency says: ‘I have determined to send to you the Hon. I. W. Hayne, the Attorney- General of the State of South Carolina, and have instructed him to demand the surrender of Fort Sumter, in the harbor of Charleston, to the constituted authorities of the State of South Carolina. The demand I have made of Major Anderson, and which I now make of you, is suggested because of my earnest desire to avoid the bloodshed which a persistence in your attempt to retain the possession of that fort will cause, and which will be unavailing to secure to you that possession, but induce a calamity most deeply to be deplored.’ The character of the demand thus authorized to be made appears (under the influence, I presume, of the correspondence with the Senators to which you refer) to have been modified by subsequent instructions of his Excellency, dated the 26th, and received by yourself on the 30th January, in which he says: ‘If it be so that Fort Sumter is held as property, then, as property, the rights, whatever they may be, of the United States, can be ascertained, and for the satisfaction of these rights the pledge of the State of South Carolina you are authorized to give.’ The full scope and precise purport of your instructions, as thus modi-

★ H. R. Ex. Doc., 1860-’61, vol. ix., Doc., No 61.


fled, you have expressed in the following words: ‘I do not come
as a military man to demand the surrender of a fortress, but as the legal officer of the State–its attorney-general–to claim for the State the exercise of its undoubted right of eminent domain, and to pledge the State to make good all injury to the rights of property which arise from the exercise of the claim.’ And lest this explicit language should not sufficiently define your position, you add: ‘The proposition now is that her [ South Carolina’s] law officer should, under authority of the Governor and his council, distinctly pledge the faith of South Carolina to make such compensation, in regard to Fort Sumter and its appurtenances and contents, to the full extent of the money value of the property of the United States, delivered over to the authorities of South Carolina by your command.’ You then adopt his Excellency’s train of thought upon the subject, so far as to suggest that the possession of Fort Sumter by the United States, ‘if continued long enough, must lead to collision,’ and that ‘an attack upon it would scarcely improve it as property, whatever the result; and if captured, it would no longer be the subject of account.’

” The proposal, then, now presented to the President, is simply
an offer on the part of South Carolina to buy Fort Sumter and
contents as property of the United States, sustained by a decla-
ration, in effect, that if she is not permitted to make the purchase she will seize the fort by force of arms. As the initiation of a negotiation for the transfer of property between friendly governments, this proposal impresses the President as having assumed a most unusual form. He has, however, investigated the claim on which it professes to be based, apart from the declaration that accompanies it. And it may be here remarked, that much stress has been laid upon the employment of the words ‘property’ and ‘public property’ by the President in his several messages. These are the most comprehensive terms which can be used in such a connection, and surely, when referring to a fort or any other public establishment, they embrace the entire and undivided interest of the Government therein.

“The title of the United States to Fort Sumter is complete
and incontestable. Were its interest in this property purely


proprietary, in the ordinary acceptation of the term, it might
probably be subjected to the exercise of the right of eminent domain; but it has also political relations to it of a much higher
and more imposing character than those of mere proprietorship.
It has absolute jurisdiction over the fort and the soil on which it stands. This jurisdiction consists in the authority to ‘exercise exclusive legislation’ over the property referred to, and is therefore clearly incompatible with the claim of eminent domain now insisted upon by South Carolina. This authority was not derived from any questionable revolutionary source, but from the peaceful cession of South Carolina herself, acting through her legislature, under a provision of the Constitution of the United States. South Carolina can no more assert the right of eminent domain over Fort Sumter than Maryland can assert it over the District of Columbia. The political and proprietary rights of the United States in either case rest upon precisely the same ground.

“The President, however, is relieved from the necessity of
further pursuing this inquiry by the fact that, whatever may be
the claim of South Carolina to this fort, he has no constitutional power to cede or surrender it. The property of the United States has been acquired by force of public law, and can only be disposed of under the same solemn sanctions. The President, as the head of the executive branch of the government only, can no more sell and transfer Fort Sumter to South Carolina than he can sell and convey the Capital of the United States to Maryland or to any other State or individual seeking to possess it.

His Excellency the Governor is too familiar with the Constitu-
tion of the United States, and with the limitations upon the
powers of the Chief Magistrate of the government it has estab-
lished, not to appreciate at once the soundness of this legal proposition. The question of reënforcing Fort Sumter is so fully disposed of in my letter to Senator Slidell and others, under date of the 22d of January, a copy of which accompanies this, that its discussion will not now be renewed. I then said: ‘At the present moment it is not deemed necessary to reënforce Major Anderson, because he makes, no such request. Should his safety, however, =require reënforcements, every effort will be made to supply


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