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derson's perfect propriety of behavior should be carefully avoided. "He has," said Black, "saved the country, I solemnly believe, when its day was darkest and its peril most extreme.1 He has done everything which mortal man could do to repair the fatal error which the administration have committed in not sending down troops enough to hold all the forts. He has kept the strongest one. He still commands the harbor. We may still execute the laws if we try. . . . It is a strange assumption of right on the part of . . . [South Carolina] to say that the United States troops must remain in the weakest position they can find in the harbor. It is not a menace. . . it is simply self-defense."
Judge Black added: “But there is one thing not to be overlooked in this terrible crisis. I entreat the President to order the Brooklyn and the Macedonian to Charleston without the least delay, and in the mean time send a trusty messenger to Major Anderson to let him know that his Government will not desert him. The reinforcement of troops from New York or Old Point Comfort should follow immediately. If this be done at once all may yet be, not well, but comparatively safe. If not, I can see nothing before us but disaster and ruin to the country."
The president's answer to the commissioners, December 31, was a weak accord with Black's
1 Cf. Crawford, Fort Sumter, 155 n.
draught. "The Executive," he said, "has no authority to decide what shall be the relations between the Federal Government and South Carolina." He denied that he had bound himself by any pledge. As to Anderson, he said: "My first promptings were to command him to return to his former position. . . . But before any steps could possibly have been taken in this direction, we received information, dated the 28th instant, that 'The Palmetto flag floated out to the breeze at Castle Pinckney and a large military force went over last night (the 27th) to Fort Moultrie.' Thus the authorities of South Carolina, without waiting or asking for any explanation, and doubtless believing, as you have expressed it, that the officer had acted not only without, but against my orders, on the very next day after the night when the removal was made, seized by a military force two of the three Federal forts in the harbor of Charleston. . . . On the very day. he continued, "the Palmetto flag was raised over the Federal custom house and post of fice in Charleston; and . . . every officer of the customs ... resigned. . . . It is under all these circumstances that I am urged immediately to withdraw the troops from the harbor of Charleston, and am informed that, without this, negotiation is impossible. This I cannot do; this I will not do."1
The reply next day (January 1, 1861) of the com
1 Curtis, Buchanan, II., 386–390; War Records, Serial No. 1, pp. 115-118.
missioners was so insulting in temper and character that the president declined to receive it. Buchanan must have read with bitterness the stinging résumé of what he had failed to do. "You did not re-enforce the garrisons in the harbor of Charleston. You removed a distinguished and veteran officer from the command of Fort Moultrie because he attempted to increase his supply of ammunition. You refused to send additional troops to the same garrison when applied for by the officer appointed to succeed him. You accepted the resignation of the oldest and most efficient member of your Cabinet rather than allow these garrisons to be strengthened. You compelled an officer stationed at Fort Sumter to return immediately to the arsenal forty muskets which he had taken to arm his men. You expressed not to one but to many of the most distinguished of our public characters . . . your anxiety for a peaceful termination of this controversy, and your willingness not to disturb the military status of the forts, if commissioners should be sent to the Government, whose communications you promised to submit to Congress." 1
It was a new light to the president. For a time he was another man, in so far that he now placed himself in the hands of the Unionist members of the cabinet, which was soon to become wholly of Unionist complexion. The presidency thenceforward may be said to have been in commission, the commission1 War Records, Serial No. 1, pp. 121, 122.
ers executing the office hampered, however, by the irrepressible tendency of the president to treat with his ancient friends of the South on a footing of friendliness, with the hope apparently of winning them back by softness both of word and conduct. January 2 he gave an indication of his new trend of intention in the appointment of Peter McIntire, a Pennsylvanian of character and force, as collector of the port of Charleston; the Senate never acted upon the nomination.1
Anderson's conduct met with enthusiastic approval in the North. The country felt that it had finally found a man of action, and there was an immense patriotic rebound from the depression of the previous two months. The House of Representatives gave emphatic approval in a resolution, January 7, commending Anderson's "bold and patriotic" act, by a vote of 124 to 53.2 The support of Anderson by the administration, the changes in the cabinet, and the ill success of the South Carolina commissioners created a new phase of the issue.
January 8 the president sent a message showing his own changed state of mind. With it he submitted the correspondence with the South Carolina commissioners. Throughout the message ran a note of despair. Hope of amicable adjustment had "been diminished by every hour of delay"; and as evidence of this no responsible bidder had offered
to take any considerable sum of the ten millions of treasury notes authorized December 17, 1860, at a lower rate of interest than twelve per cent. He recognized that the country was "in the midst of a great revolution." On Congress, and on Congress alone, he said, rested the responsibility for adjustment, or for the authorization of the employment of a military force. Could the question be transferred to the ballot-box, "the people them-selves would speedily redress the serious grievances which the South had suffered." He recommended that Congress devote itself exclusively to the question of the preservation of the Union. "Action, prompt action, is required."
The reading of the president's message in the House, January 9, was immediately followed by a resolution offered by Howard, of Michigan, passed after a short debate by a vote of 136 to 62, for the appointment of a special committee to inquire whether any executive officer of the government was holding any communication with any persons concerning the surrender of public property; whether any pledge or understanding had been entered into regarding reinforcement of the Charleston forts; why such reinforcements had not been furnished; and to inquire in general into the situation of public property at Charleston." This same day the Star
1 Curtis, Buchanan, II., 433-436; Richardson, Messages and Papers, V., 655-659.
' Cong. Globe, 36 Cong., 2 Sess., 295.