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in his personal order, December 20, 1860, for the shipment of one hundred and twenty-one heavy guns from Pittsburg to Gulf forts, wholly unprepared to receive them; a shipment only prevented by the vigorous protests of Pittsburg citizens to the president.' It is impossible to think of Floyd otherwise than as a traitor and a dishonest man.
An influence of perhaps greater weight than the cabinet was W. H. Trescot, of South Carolina, the assistant secretary of state and acting secretary during General Cass's absence, from June to October, 1860. His relations with the president were close and of the most friendly character, and he was thus able to exercise the insidious and powerful influence of a trusted official friend, called in as an extra-official adviser. He continued his intimacy even after his resignation, which was placed in the hands of the president December 10, but which did not take effect until December 17, because of an interim in the secretaryship of state. On his resignation he became the agent in Washington of his state, and, while intimate with the president, was at the same time taking an active and influential part, through correspondence, in affairs at Charleston. That he should have been able to adjust his action to any known code of honor is one of the amazing characteristics of the situation, though he was so unconscious of dishonor that after his return to
1 War Records, Serial No. 122, pp. 15, 26–46; cf. Rhodes, United States, III., 23бn.-241 η.
South Carolina he put on permanent record his impressions of these events. Cobb and Thompson were both pronouncedly secessionists; but only the former had a sense of the proprieties of the situation, which caused him, December 8, to withdraw from the cabinet. Meanwhile, Cass and Black were urgent for the immediate reinforcement of the Charleston forts. "The subject," says Trescot, "was one of constant discussion. Governor Floyd was earnest in his determination and resolved not to re-inforce, but he thought if such were his opinions, he ought to be trusted by the State. . . . He argued on one occasion with great force, 'You tell me that if any attempt is made to do what under ordinary circumstances is done every day, you will be unable to restrain your people. Am I not bound to enable them [these garrisons] to resist an unlawful violation which you cannot control?"" Trescot makes a remark thereupon of the deepest significance: "While I felt the strength of this reasoning, I knew also that in the then condition of feeling in Charleston anything that could be even misunderstood or misrepresented as reinforcement would lead to an explosion that would injure the whole Southern cause.
Trescot saw Cobb and explained Floyd's posi tion. Cobb had a conference with Floyd and Thompson, and Floyd called at once upon Trescot to express his former convictions, but to say also that if Trescot thought a collision between the
1 Crawford, Fort Sumter, 26,
people of South Carolina and the Federal forces would be precipitated, he would not consent that a man or a gun should be sent to any of the forts in the harbor of Charleston; and if his sense of duty induced any change in his determination, Trescot should be informed ample time in advance to take such course as he deemed proper.1
The president, yielding to the pressure from Cass and Black, informed Floyd of his determination to send reinforcen.. nts, but under protests from Floyd suspended his decision to await the arrival, December 12, of General Scott from New York, where were then his headquarters. It then became important to devise means to induce the president to change his purpose. "Floyd," says Trescot, "declared that his mind was made up, that he would cut off his right hand before he would sign an order to send reinforcements to the Carolina forts, and if the president insisted he would resign." Thompson "agreed with him perfectly, and said he would sustain his course and follow him." 2
The necessity of working upon the president's fears of an act of violence by the Charleston populace was clear, and Trescot set himself this duty, agreeing to go to the president and state Floyd's intention, to submit the reasons, and if he should make no impression he was to say that it was his own duty, however painful, to submit his resignation from the department of state and leave for Colum2 Ibid., 28, 29.
1 Crawford, Fort Sumter, 27.
bia next morning, to lay the facts before the executive of South Carolina; that "I would be in Columbia in thirty-six hours, and upon such information there could be no earthly doubt that the forts would be occupied in the following twenty-four." In place of this, however, it was finally arranged that Trescot should write Governor Gist: "Tell him that the President was under very strong apprehensions that the people of Charleston would seize the forts; that in consequence he felt bound to sendare-inforcements. That the Southern members of the Cabinet would resist this policy to resignation, but that they thought that if he [Gist] felt authorized to write a letter assuring the President that if no re-inforcements were sent there would be no attempt upon the forts before the meeting of the convention, and that then commissioners would be sent to negotiate all the points of difference; that their hands would be strengthened, the responsibility of provoking collision would be taken from the State, and the President would probably be relieved from the necessity of pursuing this policy." Trescot accordingly wrote to Gist, November 26, adding: “I wish you distinctly to understand that there is no possibility of such an order being issued without a dissolution of the Cabinet and your receiving ample notice. . . . I write with the confidence that such an assurance will prevent any hasty and indiscreet movement on the part of the State." "
1 Crawford, Fort Sumter, 29, 30.
Gist's reply, November 29, 1860, was such as Trescot expected: "If President Buchanan takes a course different from the one indicated, and sends reinforcements, the responsibility will rest on him of lighting the torch of discord, which will only be quenched in blood. I am under a pledge . . . to use all the military power of the State to prevent any increase of troops in these garrisons, . . . and hope no necessity will arise to compel me to redeem the pledge." The same mail brought Trescot an offer to appoint him the confidential agent of the South Carolina executive so soon as he should resign his Washington office.
The president had now completed his message, and it was decided that a copy should go to Gist by the hands of Trescot, who, "in view of the confidential relations he had held with the President, was thoroughly informed upon the subject of the President's views, . . . and from the relations he held with the authorities in South Carolina could bring back to the President a clear and reliable account of feeling and opinion in the State." Buchanan was assured by Trescot, before leaving, that South Carolina would carry out the right of secession "regularly, peaceably, as a right, not as a revolutionary measure; that I [Trescot] really believed it would mortify them to be compelled to resort to force." Buchanan's great hope was, by temporizing, to avoid an issue before the 4th of March; but 1 Crawford, Fort Sumter, 31.
• Ibid., 23.