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but which Buchanan declined. The last was a lawyer wrapped in the technicalitics of his profession, with a character developed into the softness which comes with continued success, chiefly the result of encountering no obstacles; Buchanan was pre-eminently the mediocre politician, a being who always seeks to work on the lines of least resistance, and he was determined to leave the management of the terrible storm, of which he should have been the controlling force, to his successor.
His contribution to the issue was a message to the expiring Congress, which met in its second session December 3, 1860, in which the one firm note was a denial of any right of secession, which he declared was "neither more nor less than revolution." All that was necessary to settle the slavery question forever was, according to Buchanan, that the slave states "be let alone and permitted to manage their domestic institutions in their own way"; theirs was the responsibility, and the North had "no more right to interfere than with similar institutions in Russia or in Brazil." The message mentions as "a remarkable fact" that no single act has "ever passed Congress, unless we may possibly except the Missouri Compromise, impairing in the slightest degree the rights of the South to their property in slaves." The president proceeded to declare that the election of any citizen as president could not afford just cause for dissolving the Union; affirmed that the South had never been de
nied equal rights in the territories, and trusted that the state legislatures would repeal their unconstitutional and obnoxious enactments regarding the fugitive-slave law; "Unless this shall be done without unnecessary delay, it is impossible for any human power to save the Union." Should this be refused, he held that the injured states "would be justified in revolutionary resistance to the Government of the Union"; he did not believe that any attempt would be made to expel the United States from the Charleston forts by force; "but if in this I should prove to be mistaken, the officer in command of the forts has received orders to act strictly on the defensive. In such a contingency the responsibility for consequences would rightfully rest upon the heads of the assailants."
Much of the remainder of the message was devoted to the question of the power to coerce a seceding state, holding that none such existed; to an invitation to the South to pause and deliberate before destroying "the grandest temple which has ever been dedicated to human freedom"; and to the suggestion of an explanatory amendment to the Constitution with, 1, "an express recognition of the right of property in slaves in the states where it now exists or may hereafter exist "; 2, "The duty of protecting this right in all the common territories throughout their territorial existence"; 3, a recognition of the validity of the fugitive-slave law and of the unconstitutionality of state laws impairing
or defeating the right of the master to have his slaves.
The discussion of the right of secession, to which, in its constitutional aspect the president devoted a considerable part of the message, was, however able and excellent, out of place; it was the statesmanship of action which was needed, and not glosses on the Constitution. It was in his power to act upon the theories he had announced-to defend the property of the United States and to collect at all ports the customs dues. Instead, he drifted into a policy of supine inaction, while it was clearly apparent that custom-houses and forts were at the mercy of the first attack.
However blameworthy the president, he was, in a way, the victim of his period; of a slovenly laisser aller state of mind in which none but secessionists of the Rhett and Yancey type of leadership seemed to have definite views of any sort. The whole government was in a state of sad flabbiness. There was but a nucleus of an army; the navy was moribund; there was a captain afloat in command nearly seventy years of age; the commandant of the Norfolk navy-yard was sixty-eight; the commandant at Pensacola, sixty-seven. The general-in-chief of the army was seventy-four. There was no settled belief or opinion. The New York Tribune, which held the position of leadership among Republican journals, and which was a power throughout the North, was proclaiming that "if the Cotton States
shall become satisfied that they can do better out of the Union than in it, we insist on letting them go in peace"; and, again, that "Five millions of people, more than half of them of the dominant race, of whom at least half a million are able and willing to shoulder muskets, can never be subdued while fighting around and over their own hearthstones" 2 -expressions which had a powerful effect for ill throughout the South.
Nor was Greeley alone in his views; the abolitionists professing anxiety to accomplish the extinction of slavery were arguing that the South should be permitted to secede; Governor Moore, of Alabama, was hailing them as "our best friends.' "Northern and southern bigotry . . . stood in such relations of reciprocity that by each the question of preserving the government was ignored and despised. Each set of extremists played into the hands of the other. Though they differed widely in some ways, they agreed perfectly in contempt for the Union and the Constitution." 3
1 N. Y. Tribune, November 9, 1860 (editorial).
Ibid., November 30 (editorial).
* Barnes, Weed, 305.
SCHEMES OF COMPROMISE
(DECEMBER, 1860-JANUARY, 1861)
HE thirty-sixth Congress convened in its second session December 3, 1860, and upon it was thrown the wet blanket of Mr. Buchanan's message.
The reception of the message was followed in the House of Representatives by the adoption, December 4, by a vote of 145 to 38 (the nays all Republican), of a resolution offered by Boteler, of Virginia, for the appointment of a special committee of thirtythree, one from each state, to which was referred "so much of the President's message as relates to the present perilous condition of the country. As Boteler declined being chairman, Corwin, of Ohio, was appointed.
December 6, Powell, of Kentucky, moved in the Senate the appointment of a special committee of thirteen, to which should be referred that part of the message relating to "the agitated and distracted condition of the country, and the grievances between the slave-holding and non-slave-holding states"; and
1 Cong. Globe, 36 Cong., 2 Sess., 6.