« PreviousContinue »
Extra Session of Congress.-President Lincoln's Message.-Rebel Affairs at Richmond.
CONGRESS had convened on the 4th of July, in accordance with the President's call in his proclamation of April 15th, and organized by the election of Mr. Grow, of Pennsylvania, as Speaker. Little decisive action had been taken prior to the date to which military events have been traced in the preceding chapter. The President's Message to Congress, at the opening of this extra session, contains a concise statement of the situation of affairs at that time, four months having passed since the delivery of his Inaugural Address, and presents his views as to what was required to be done for the maintenance of the Constitutional Government. With a review of the circumstances under which hostilities were commenced, and with a conclusive exposure of the false pretenses of Secessionism, it also clearly sets forth the acts, motives and purposes of the President. This document is here given at length:
MR. LINCOLN'S FIRST MESSAGE.
FELLOW-CITIZENS OF THE SENATE AND HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES: Having been convened on an extraordinary occasion, as authorized by the Constitution, your attention is not called to any ordinary subject of legislation. At the beginning of the present Presidential term, four months ago, the functions of the Federal Government were found to be generally suspended within the several States of South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Florida, excepting only those of the Postoffice Department.
Within these States all the Forts, Arsenals, Dock-Yards, Custom-Houses, and the like, including the movable and stationary property in and about them, had been seized, and were held in open hostility to this Government, excepting only
Forts Pickens, Taylor and Jefferson, on and near the Florida coast, and Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor, South Carolina. The forts thus seized had been put in improved condition, new ones had been built, and armed forces had been organized, and were organizing, all avowedly with the same hostile purpose.
The forts remaining in possession of the Federal Government in and near these States were either besieged or menaced by warlike preparations, and especially Fort Sumter was nearly surrounded by well-protected hostile batteries, with guns equal in quality to the best of its own, and outnumbering the latter as, perhaps, ten to one-a disproportionate share of the Federal muskets and rifles had somehow found their way into these States, and had been seized to be used against the Gov- ́ ernment.
Accumulations of the public revenue lying within them had been seized for the same object. The navy was scattered in distant seas, leaving but a very small part of it within the immediate reach of the Government.
Officers of the Federal Army had resigned in great numbers, and of those resigning a large proportion had taken up arms against the Government.
Simultaneously, and in connection with all this, the purpose to sever the Federal Union was openly avowed. In accordance with this purpose an ordinance had been adopted in each of these States, declaring the States respectively to be separated from the National Union. A formula for instituting a combined Government of those States had been promulgated, and this illegal organization, in the character of the "Confederate States," was already invoking recognition, aid and intervention from foreign powers.
Finding this condition of things, and believing it to be an imperative duty upon the incoming Executive to prevent, if possible, the consummation of such attempt to destroy the Federal Union, a choice of means to that end became indispensable. This choice was made and was declared in the Inaugural Address.
The policy chosen looked to the exhaustion of all peaceful measures before a resort to any stronger ones. It sought only 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 disturbances to any of the people, or any of their rights, of all that which a President might con
stitutionally and justifiably do in such a case; every thing was forborne, without which it was believed possible to keep the Government on foot.
On the 5th of March, the present incumbent's first full day in office, a letter from Major Anderson, commanding at Fort Sumter, written on the 28th of February, and received at the War Department on the 4th of March, was by that Department placed in his hands. This letter expressed the professional opinion of the writer, that reënforcements could not be thrown into that fort within the time for its relief rendered necessary by the limited supply of provisions, and with a view of holding possession of the same, with a force less than 20,000 good and well-disciplined men. This opinion was concurred in by all the officers of his command, and their memoranda on the subject were made inclosures of Major Anderson's letter. The whole was immediately laid before Lieut. Gen. Scott, who at once concurred with Major Anderson in his opinion. On reflection, however, he took full time, consulting with other offi cers, both of the Army and Navy, and at the end of four days came reluctantly but decidedly to the same conclusion as before. He also stated at the same time that no such sufficient force was then at the control of the Government, or could be raised and brought to the ground, within the time when the provisions in the fort would be exhausted. In a purely military point of view, this reduced the duty of the Administration in the case to the mere matter of getting the garrison safely out of the fort.
It was believed, however, that to so abandon that position, under the circumstances, would be utterly ruinous; that the necessity under which it was to be done would not be fully understood; that by many it would be construed as a part of a voluntary policy; that at home it would discourage the friends of the Union, embolden its adversaries, and go far to insure to the latter a recognition abroad; that, in fact, it would be our national destructior consummated. This could not be allowed. Starvation was not yet upon the garrison, and ere it would be reached, Fort Pickens might be reënforced. This last would be a clear indication of policy, and would better enable the country to accept the evacuation of Fort Sumter as a military necessity. An order was at once directed to be sent for the landing of the troops from the steamship Brooklyn into Fort Pickens. This order could not go by land, but inust take the longer and slower route by sea. The first return news from the order was received just one week before the fali of Sumter. The news itself was that the officer commanding the Sabine, to which vessel the troops had been transferred
from the Brooklyn, acting upon some quasi armistice of the late Administration, and of the existence of which the present Administration, up to the time the order was dispatched, had only too vague and uncertain rumors to fix attention, had refused to land the troops. To now reënforce Fort Pickens before a crisis would be reached at Fort Sumter was impossible, rendered so by the near exhaustion of provisions at the latter named fort. In precaution against such a conjuncture the Government had a few days before commenced preparing an expedition, as well adapted as might be, to relieve Fort Sumter, which expedition was intended to be ultimately used or not, according to circumstances. The strongest anticipated case for using it was now presented, and it was resolved to send it forward as had been intended. In this contingency it was also resolved to notify the Governor of South Carolina that he might expect an attempt would be made to provision the fort, and that if the attempt should not be resisted there would be no attempt to throw in men, arms or ammunition, without further notice, or in case of an attack upon the fort. This notice was accordingly given, whereupon the fort was attacked and bombarded to its fall, without even awaiting the arrival of the provisioning expedition.
It is thus seen that the assault upon and reduction of Fort Sumter, was, in no sense, a matter of self-defense on the part of the assailants. They well knew that the garrison in the fort could by no possibility commit aggression upon them; they knew they were expressly notified that the giving of bread to the few brave and hungry men of the garrison was all which would, on that occasion, be attempted, unless themselves, by resisting so much, should provoke more. They knew that this Government desired to keep the garrison in the fort, not to assail them, but merely to maintain visible possession, and thus to preserve the Union from actual and immediate dissolution; trusting, as herein before stated, to time, discussion, and the ballot-box for final adjustment, and they assailed and reduced the fort, for precisely the reverse object, to drive out the visible authority of the Federal Union, and thus force it to immediate dissolution; that this was their object the Executive well understood, having said to them in the Inaugural Address, "you can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors." He took pains not only to keep this declaration good, but also to keep the case so far from ingenious sophistry as that the world should not misunderstand it. By the affair at Fort Sumter, with its surrounding circumstances, that point was reached. Then and thereby the assailants of the Government began the conflict of armswithout a gun in sight, or in expectancy, to return their fire,
save only the few in the fort sent to that harbor years before, for their own protection, and still ready to give that protection in whatever was lawful. In this act, discarding all else, they have forced upon the country the distinct issue, immediate dissolution or blood, and this issue embraces more than the fate. of these United States. It presents to the whole family of man the question whether a Constitutional Republic or Democracy, a Government of the people, by the same people, can or can not maintain its territorial integrity against its own domestic foes. It presents the question whether discontented individuals, too few in numbers to control the Administration according to the organic law in any case, can always, upon the pretenses made in this case, or any other pretenses, or arbitrarily without any pretense, break up their Government, and thus practically put an end to free government upon the earth. It forces us to ask, "Is there in all republics this inherent and fatal weakness?" Must a Government of necessity be too strong for the liberties of its own people, or too weak to maintain its own existence? So viewing the issue, no choice was left but to call out the war power of the Government, and so to resist the force employed for its destruction by force for its preservation. The call was made, and the response of the country was most gratifying, surpassing, in unanimity and spirit, the most sanguine expectation. Yet none of the States, commonly called Slave States, except Delaware, gave a regiment through the regular State organization. A few regiments have been organized within some others of those States by individual enterprise, and received into the Government service. Of course the seceded States, so called, and to which Texas had been joined about the time of the inauguration, gave no troops to the cause of the Union. The Border States, so called, were not uniform in their action, some of them being almost for the Union, while in others, as in Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas, the Union sentiment was nearly repressed and silenced. The course taken in Virginia was the most remarkable, perhaps the most important. A Convention, elected by the people of that State to consider this very question of disrupting the Federal Union, was in session at the capital of Virginia when Fort Sumter fell.
To this body the people had chosen a large majority of professed Union men. Almost immediately after the fall of Sumter many members of that majority went over to the original disunion minority, and with them adopted an ordinance for withdrawing the State from the Union. Whether this change was wrought by their great approval of the assault upon Sumter, or their great resentment at the Government's resistance to that