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Chapter 10

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
The Secession Movement 1860‑1861

by
Dwight Lowell Dumond

in the
Negro Universities Press edition,
New York, 1968

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 12

This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

p213 Chapter XI
The Proposed Program for Reconstruction

During the early stages of the secession movement the majority of the people in the states of the upper South were coöperationists. Many advocated a conference of the slave states and a united demand for a redress of grievances. Many others advocated a determined effort to secure constitutional amendments as a means of preserving the Union, but wanted the existing status maintained until a positive act of aggression should be committed. The sequence of events which produced a fusion of parties in the lower South, however, wrought profound changes in sentiment among the people of the remaining slave states. The issues presented to them when the state legislatures met early in January were strikingly different from those which previously had occupied their attention.1 There was no longer a question as to whether the elevation of the Republican party to power in the federal government justified a dissolution of the Union. The p214Union was dissolved already by the withdrawal of several states, and all intelligent observers knew that a Southern confederacy would be formed. There was no longer a possibility of preventing a disruption of the Union by securing constitutional guarantees of Southern rights. The question was, Could something be done to reunite the states in a new confederation on a more permanent basis? Congress had failed to preserve the Union by conciliation, the majority party being apparently content to witness the development of a situation in which they would be forced to choose between acknowledging the existence of a Southern confederacy and waging a war of conquest. The upper South deprecated that dilemma, which meant death to the Union of accord; and its leaders undertook a direct appeal to the states on a program of reconstruction. However much men might deplore the separation of the states, or reproach the more Southern states for hasty and precipitate action, the right of the remaining states to coerce them into submission was denied. Men who had been schooled in the doctrine of state rights, and men who regarded civil war as the greatest evil which could befall a free people, united in a determination to resist any attempt of the federal government forcibly to assert its authority.2

p215 Added to this was the question of their own future security and welfare. The states of the upper South were more intimately connected, geographically, socially, and economically, with the lower South than they were with the North. They were, moreover, united by virtue of a common institution, sufficiently vital to their existence to cause apprehension over remaining as a hopeless minority under a government about to be controlled by a party hostile to that institution. They could not lose sight of the fact, in the course of their deliberations, that they soon must choose between joining their natural allies in a Southern confederacy, and remaining in a Union without protection for their institutions, without hope of political privileges, and without markets for their slave surplus. With a quarter of a million slaves, which could not be disposed of in the markets of the lower South, laboring under the pressure of a high protective tariff and the influence of a dominant anti-slavery party, emancipation would be certain to follow.

It was inevitable that the people of the upper South should disagree over the course their respective states ought to pursue. A substantial minority had favored secession from the time of the November election, and their number was daily augmented as war approached. The majority, who have been recorded in history as Union men, believed that the Union could be saved and the rights of the South preserved; and they endeavored to reconstruct the Union on a basis acceptable to that section. They seized upon the Crittenden amendments and urged p216their adoption, not because they represented their own previous convictions of the proper margin of safety for the South, but because they recognized them as an approach toward the peaceable adjustment of a dangerous issue, upon a basis of honor and justice to all concerned. They condemned the states of the lower South for refusing to participate in a Southern conference, and interpreted their action as indicating a desire to prevent a settlement; but at all times they insisted upon peaceable separation if reconstruction should fail. Some of them favored joining the Southern confederacy in the event of final separation. Others favored union with the lower South if the federal government undertook coercion. A few advocated armed neutrality in order to prevent hostilities.

Governorº Hicks of Maryland, of all the governors of the upper South, denied the constitutional right of secession or coöperation by the slave states. Those who favored secession were estopped from taking legal action by his refusal to convene the legislature, despite widespread remonstrance and appeals from the interstate commissioners. A strong combination of circumstances, including a long non-slaveholding frontier and the location of the national capital, militated against revolutionary action within the state; and the direct appeals to the people by Commissioners Curry of Alabama and Handy of Mississippi produced no tangible results.3

In Delaware the legislature and not Governor Burton prevented coöperation with the other Southern states. Burton believed that the majority of the people favored a national convention, and would support the South in p217event of a dissolution of the Union; but the legislature, in reply to an address by Commissioner Dickinson of Mississippi, expressed an "unqualified disapproval" of secession.4 On January 17, it passed resolutions endorsing the Crittenden amendments, and strongly urged their approval by Congress.5

Governor Henry M. Rector of Arkansas had informed the legislature early in their session that unless they provided for a convention to consider the state of the Union he would call an extra session for that purpose. On the evening of November 22, four aspirants for the United States Senate addressed the legislature. Every one of the four acknowledged the right of secession, and Burrows advised immediate action. The following night Congressmen Hindman and Gantt spoke and both favored secession, Hindman advising a three hundred thousand dollar appropriation for arms. A debate in the committee of the whole, November 24, over a bill to provide a death penalty for any who should steal or inveigle slaves was interpreted by Judge B. F. Boone, representative of the largest county of the state, as indicating strong secession sentiment in the house. Boone said in a letter to Judge Howry of Mississippi: "My convictions are, that overt acts will soon be made to wrest from us the rights we have guaranteed to us under the Constitution, and that sooner or later dissolution must come."6 The proximity of strong Indian tribes introduced a peculiar complication in Arkansas, p218the counties bordering upon the Indian country being reluctant to secede while those tribes remained under the control of the government of the United States. On December 22 the house passed a convention bill by a nearly unanimous vote. The bill was delayed in the senate and did not finally become a law until January 16, in a modified form. It submitted the question of calling a convention to the vote of the people to be cast when electing delegates on February 18.

Claiborne F. Jackson, elected governor of Missouri to succeed R. M. Stewart, belonged to that group of men who favored coöperative action for a redress of grievances. Some time after the election but before his inauguration, he wrote to General Shields that the time had come for a complete and final adjustment of sectional differences. He had no faith in a repeal of the personal liberty laws, because the states probably would reënact them. On the other hand, he did not regard the election of Lincoln as justification for a disruption of the Union. He advocated definitive amendments to the Constitution and penalties for the violation of Southern rights by the people of the Northern states. He would have convened the legislature if he had been acting governor, and would have sent commissioners to the other states to secure coöperative action for some remedy within the Union. He was in favor of secession if sufficient guarantees were not secured, and of resistance to coercion.7 Governor Stewart, on the last day of his term in office, informed Commissioner William Cooper of Alabama that the people of Missouri were opposed to immediate secession, but that they were prepared to unite with the South in the p219formation of a confederacy if terms of a fair adjustment were not secured from the non-slaveholding states.8 Governor Jackson in his inaugural address urged the legislature to call a convention and to provide appropriations for arming the state. A convention bill was passed on January 16. The election was to be held on February 18, and the convention was to assemble on February 20. Two days later Commissioner A. R. Russell of Mississippi addressed the legislature, the state officials, and judges of the state supreme court. He declared that the Union would never be restored and that war was inevitable; and he urged Missouri to join with the other Southern states in defense of their rights.9 The final act of the legislature previous to the date of the election of convention delegates was to pass resolutions, January 28, declaring that Missouri would withdraw from the Union if the federal government attempted to coerce any state which had seceded.

Governor Harris of Tennessee, in his message to the legislature, January 7, insisted that a united South must either secure its rights the Union or maintain them in a Southern confederacy. He had despaired of securing constitutional guarantees, because two months had passed without a single proposal emanating from the aggressive party of the North; and because the Republican congressmen had voted down every project of that nature without protest from their constituents. He denied the right of coercion as "untrue to the example of our fathers and the glorious memories of the past; destructive of those great and fundamental principles of civil liberty, purchased with their blood; p220destructive of state sovereignty and equality; tending to centralization, and thus subject the rights of the minority to the despotism of an unrestrained majority. Widely as we may differ with some of our sister Southern States as to the wisdom of their policy; desirous as we may be that whatever action taken in this emergency should be taken by the South as a unit; hopeful as we are of finding some remedy for our grievances consistent with the perpetuity of the present confederacy, the question, at last, is one which each member of that confederacy must determine for itself; and any attempt upon the part of the others to hold, by means of military force, an unwilling sovereignty as a member of a common Union, must inevitably lead to the worst form of internecine war, and if successful, result in the establishment of a new and totally different government from the one established by the Constitution — the Constitutional Union being a Union of consent and not of force, of peace, and not of blood — composed of sovereignties, free, and politically equal. But the new and coercive government, while it would 'derive its powers' to govern a portion of the states 'from the consent of the governed,' would derive the power by which it governed the remainder from the cannon and the sword, and not from their consent — a Union, not of equals, but of the victors not vanquished, pinned together by the bayonet and congealed in blood."10

T. J. Wharton, commissioner from Mississippi, had arrived at Nashville several days before the legislature convened, had consulted with the governor and other prominent officials, and had addressed the legislature on January 8. He avoided a discussion of the theory of p221secession, but pressed the issue on practical grounds. He spoke of the 18,000 secession majority returned by the voters of Mississippi, and of the large majority in the state convention for prompt action. He defended the states of the lower South in not asking for a conference by saying that all such plans fostered delay, and delay was dangerous. Devotion to the Union was as strong in Mississippi as it could possibly be in Tennessee, but "her honor and her constitutional rights she may not, dare not surrender." Lincoln, as shown by his utterances, was devoted to the ultimate extinction of slavery, and his ominous silence since the election was pregnant with meaning. The hope that abolition sentiment would abate was a vain delusion, for "never, in the history of nations, has such a spirit paused or taken a step backward." Whether the people of Tennessee condemned the action of South Carolina as ill-advised and unfair to the other states, or approved it, the fact remained that she had acted, and "we may find ourselves borne along by the current of events, and forced to defend what we might be unwilling to aid in producing."11

L. P. Walker, commissioner from Alabama, addressed the legislature on the following day; and an act, submitting the question of calling a convention to the people, February 9, was passed immediately afterward. The convention, if approved, was to meet on February 25, and its action was to be submitted to the people for their ratification.12

p222 The Tennessee legislature passed, January 20, a joint resolution condemning the New York resolutions as an "indication of a purpose upon the part of the people of that State to further complicate existing difficulties by forcing the people of the South to the extremity of submission or resistance; and . . . whenever the authorities of the state shall send armed forces to the South for the purpose indicated in said resolutions, the people of Tennessee, uniting with their brethren of the South, will, as one man, resist such invasion of the soil of the South at all hazards and to the last extremity."13 The following day it passed a joint resolution requesting a convention of all the slaveholding states at Nashville on February 4, "to digest and define bases upon which, if possible, the federal Union and the constitutional rights of the slave states may be preserved and perpetuated." The resolutions requested the following amendments to the Constitution: (1) that all slaves should be regarded as property in the slave states, in all places under the jurisdiction of the federal government, within the limits of the slave states, in the territories south of 36 degrees p22330 minutes, in the District of Columbia, in transit, and when fugitive from their owners; (2) that all territory, then owned or thereafter acquired, should be regarded as divided on the line of 36 degrees 30 minutes, all south of that line to be formed ultimately into slave states, all north to be formed into free states, and slavery to be protected in all territory south of that line; (3) that Congress should have no power to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia so long as it existed in either Maryland or Virginia, nor without compensation; (4) that Congress should have no power to prohibit the interstate slave trade; (5) that the owner of fugitive slaves should receive compensation for losses incurred through the failure of a state to abide by the provisions of the fugitive slave law; (6) that the slaveholder should enjoy the right of transit with his property; and (7) that these amendments should be perpetual. The resolution further provided that after the Southern convention had agreed upon a satisfactory basis of adjustment, it should be submitted to a national convention at Richmond, Virginia; and that, if guarantees of Southern rights thus formulated were not adopted by the requisite number of states, a new confederacy should be formed excluding those states which refused to ratify the demands.14

Governor Magoffin of Kentucky had appealed to the slave states, December 9, to join in a Southern convention in order to present a united demand for constitutional guarantees. Ten days later he assured W. S. Featherstone, commissioner from Mississippi, that the majority of the people of Kentucky were thoroughly Southern in their sympathies; that, in the event of the permanent dissolution p224of the Union, the state would join a Southern confederacy; but that the then prevailing sentiment was unquestionably in favor of exhausting every honorable means of securing their rights within the Union.15 He did not summon the legislature into extra session until persuaded to do so by Stephen F. Hale, commissioner from Alabama, December 27. He stated, in his communication to Hale, that "the rights of African slavery in the United States, and the relations of the Federal Government to it, as an institution in the States and Territories,º most assuredly demand at this time explicit definition and final recognition by the North." He urged a conference of the Southern states in the belief that the demands of the South would be conceded, and a stronger Union perpetuated; that the sentiment of the Southern people would be crystallized into a unit by coöperative action; and that the support of conservative Northern men would be secured for the South if compromise failed.16

In his message to the legislature which assembled on January 17, Magoffin asked it to express an approval of the Crittenden amendments, to appropriate funds for arming the state, and to declare, by suitable resolutions, an unconditional remonstrance against the employment of force in any form to coerce the seceding states. He p225suggested the propriety of calling a state convention to determine the future relations of the state with the federal government and the seven states which were certain to secede, and urged that everything possible be done to restore fraternal relations between the states.17 On January 25 the legislature passed resolutions applying to Congress for a national convention, urging the other states to take similar action, and recommending the Crittenden amendments as a basis for settlement of the existing difficulties.18

Governor Letcher of Virginia in his message to the legislature, January 7, 1861, advocated a national convention of delegates from all the states. He had relinquished all hope of preserving the Union and assumed the position that Virginia must have ample guarantees of peace and security irrespective of whether she remained with the North or joined in the formation of a Southern confederacy. He opposed a state convention and suggested that a commission be sent to each of the Northern states, except those of New England, to urge the repeal of the personal liberty laws. He regarded New England as too completely committed to Republican principles to listen to reason and justice. As guarantees necessary to secure the continued adherence of Virginia to the federal Union, he mentioned: (1) non-interference with slavery in the District of Columbia; (2) the right of the slaveholder to transit through all states and territories with his property; (3) full compensation from any state whose citizens obstructed the recovery of a fugitive slave; (4) non-interference with the interstate slave trade; (5) p226stringent laws for the punishment of any person undertaking to incite slaves to insurrection; and (6) guarantees that the federal government would not appoint to local office within the slave states any person hostile to Southern institutions. To what extent he actually hoped to secure such guarantees it is impossible to say; but he was very positive in his declaration that any attempt to send federal troops through Virginia for the purpose of coercing a Southern state would be regarded as an invasion of the sovereignty of the state, and would be resisted to the last extremity. In spite of Letcher's opposition to a state convention at that time, and of his denunciation of the haste with which South Carolina had withdrawn from the Union, there can be little doubt of his Southern sympathies. In addition to his official documents, which are hostile to Republican supremacy, we have a letter of a prominent officer of the Knights of the Golden Circle, which said: "Our Governor you can trust; place all confidence in him — I am assured by many gentlemen, who know him well, and are placed in daily communication with him, that there is no truer man in the South, and when the time comes for Virginia to move, that he will be found in the front ranks of our Southern Governors."19 Letcher was reflecting in his official message the prevailing sentiment, that Virginia must delay until better prepared for armed resistance. E. C. Burks, member of the legislature and of the two important committees on federal relations and military affairs, said: "If we are to fight (God grant we never may!) it will take a long time to get ready. Virginia needs delay — she must have it, or I fear all is lost. . . . Immediate secession p227therefore in my opinion would be fatal. . . . That is the opinion of some of the coolest and clearest heads here — Democrats, too, who acknowledge the right of secession, but look to it as the last resort."20

On the second day of its session the legislature adopted resolutions, by a vote of 112 to 5, promising the resistance of Virginia to any attempt by the federal government to coerce a seceding state. A bill providing for a state convention was introduced into the house on January 9, providing for an election on February 4 of delegates who were to meet on February 11. The bill passed both houses of the legislature on January 14, amended to postpone the assembling of the convention until February 13. A. F. Hopkins, commissioner from Alabama, addressed the legislature on January 16. The following day the house passed a bill appropriating one million dollars to arm the state. The bill was delayed in the Senate for two months by the opposition of the members from the western part of the state, and did not become a law until March 14. On January 19 the legislature passed a resolution inviting all the states to send delegates to a conference at Washington, February 4, "to unite with Virginia in an earnest effort to adjust the present unhappy controversies in the spirit in which the Constitution was originally formed and consistently with its principles, so as to afford to the people of the slaveholding States adequate guarantees for the security of their rights . . . and, if practicable, agree upon some suitable adjustment." The resolutions provided that, if the conference should agree upon a plan of adjustment requiring constitutional amendments, they should be submitted to Congress for the purpose p228of having them ratified by the states according to the form of the Constitution. As a basis for the adjustment of the political controversy, the resolutions suggested the Crittenden amendments, so altered as to apply to all territory "now held or hereafter acquired," to provide for effectual protection for slavery in the territory south of 36 degrees 30 minutes, and to secure to slaveholders the right of transit through non-slaveholding states and territories. The resolutions appointed Ex-President Tyler as commissioner to confer with President Buchanan, and Judge John Robertson as commissioner to the states which had seceded, and instructed them both to request abstention from all acts "calculated to produce a collision of arms between the States and the Government of the United States," pending the action of the convention.21 Two days later the legislature adopted a resolution which stated that in the event of a failure to effect a reconstruction of the Union "every consideration of honor and interest demands that Virginia shall unite her destiny with the slaveholding states of the South."22

Thus the legislatures of all of the states of the upper South had provided, before January 19, for state conventions or for submitting the question of calling a convention to the people, with the exception of North Carolina, Delaware, Maryland, and Kentucky. North Carolina passed a convention bill on January 30; and the failure of the Kentucky legislature to do so was due in part to the fact that the Virginia program was outlined two days after it assembled. Every state, with the exception of p229Maryland, had passed resolutions endorsing the Crittenden amendments or proposing other amendments of a similar nature, and had emphatically denied the right of coercion and indicated a determination to resist such a policy.

The program outlined by the Virginia legislature rivaled the removal of Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Anderson to Fort Sumter in its influence upon subsequent events. The success of the proposed measures of reconstruction was contingent upon the elimination of innumerable obstacles. It was imperative that military collision be prevented. The efficacy of the proposal was dependent upon a favorable response to the invitation by a sufficient number of states to lend dignity to its proceedings. The commissioners appointed to the conference must agree upon some basis of compromise acceptable to the two hostile sections, to Congress, and subsequently to the state legislatures or conventions. It was an impossible program, but the entire course of the secession movement in the states of the upper South was altered by it.

The disruption of Buchanan's Cabinet, followed by the sending of reinforcements to the Southern forts, and by the Star of the West fiasco, had been interpreted both at the North and at the South as indicating a determination on the part of the administration to enforce federal authority in the seceding states. The importance of this interpretation has already been indicated as a factor in the secession of the states of the lower South. The Republican legislatures of the Northern states and the Republican majorities in both houses of Congress took advantage of the opportunity to force the issue to a conclusion under the Buchanan administration. The New York resolutions evoked immediate response from the states of the upper p230South, and clearly indicated the result which would attend any attempt at coercion. How long conservative sentiment in such states as Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee would have prevailed under repetitions of the New York resolutions by other Northern states must be purely a matter of conjecture, for the invitation to a peace conference acted as a palliative to counteract their effect, and as they were received by the legislatures of the Southern states they were put aside without further response.

The Ohio resolutions, January 12, stated "that the General Government cannot permit the secession of any State without violating the obligations by which it is bound, under the compact, to the other States and to every citizen of the United States . . . and that the entire power and resources of Ohio are hereby pledged, whenever necessary and demanded, for the maintenance, under strict subordination, to the civil authority of the Constitution and laws of the general government by whomsoever administered."23

The Ohio resolutions were followed, January 18, by those of Maine, which summarized the secession movement as "an extensive combination . . . of evil-disposed persons, to effect the dissolution of the federal Union and the overthrow of the government," assured the President of the loyalty of the people of Maine, and pledged the resources of the state to the defense of the Constitution and the Union.24 The Wisconsin resolutions, January 21, interpreted the seizure of the federal forts in South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and Louisiana as an indication of hostile intentions, and the attack upon the Star of the p231West as a declaration of war. They denounced those congressmen who defended these treasonable acts, and pledged the resources of the state to the use of the President in enforcing the laws and upholding the federal authority.25 The legislature of Minnesota, January 22, passed resolutions which stated that, since the rule of the constitutional majority was one of the vital principles of free government, the right of secession could not be acknowledged under any circumstances; that the secession of any state amounted to the precipitation of civil war; and that the election of Lincoln did not justify a disruption of the Union. They stated that "we have heard with astonishment and indignation of the recent outrages perpetrated at Charleston, South Carolina, by firing upon an American steamer, sailing under the flag of our country, and that we expect of the General Government the strongest and most vigorous effort to assert its supremacy, and to check the work of rebellion and treason." They tendered the full resources of the state for that purpose, and said: "We can discover no other honorable or patriotic resource than to test, both on land and ocean, the full strength of the Federal authority under our National Flag."26 The legislature of Pennsylvania, January 24, denounced "all plots, conspiracies, and warlike demonstrations against the United States" as treason, called upon the President to suppress them without hesitation, and offered the resources of the state for that purpose.27 The legislature p232of Michigan, February 2, resolved, "That concession and compromise are not to be entertained or offered to traitors," and tendered the military resources of that state to assist in maintaining the authority of the federal government.28

Meanwhile, the withdrawal of the senators and representatives of the seceding states from Congress had given the Republican party a majority in both houses, and there was a clear indication that they intended to force Buchanan's hand, if possible. Crittenden's amendments had been defeated in both houses, but he reintroduced them into the Senate, with a further provision for a national convention, and was devoting his effort to bring them to a vote. Finally, January 16, they were definitely disposed of by the adoption of an amendment, offered by Clark of New Hampshire, which stated "that the provisions of the Constitution are ample for the preservation of the Union, and the protection of all the material interests of the country; that it needs to be obeyed rather than amended; and that an extrication from our present dangers is to be looked for in strenuous efforts to preserve the peace, protect the public property, and enforce the laws, rather than in new guarantees for particular interests, compromises for particular difficulties, or concessions to unreasonable demands."29 It was clear that the Republican party was determined to resist all measures of conciliation, and to oppose peaceful separation.

The country was dangerously near to civil war when Ex-President Tyler arrived at Washington and presented the Virginia resolutions to Buchanan on January 24. Every federal military post of importance in six states of p233the lower South had been occupied by south troops with the exception of Forts Jefferson, Taylor, Sumter, and Pickens. A temporary armistice had been entered into between Anderson and Governor Pickens, and Attorney General Hayne was in Washington to negotiate with Buchanan for the surrender of Fort Sumter. The federal forces at Pensacola remained in possession of Fort Pickens, but the fort was besieged by superior forces under the command of Colonel Chase who had supervised its construction.a The intercession of Mallory, Slidell, and other Southern senators at Washington had delayed the delivery of the formal demand upon Buchanan for the surrender of Fort Sumter; and it may be safely asserted that, when Virginia passed her resolutions on January 19, those senators stood alone between the country and certain war. Five states were already out of the Union, and two more were certain to follow before February 4. Eight Northern states had passed resolutions endorsing a policy of coercion and had offered their resources to the federal government. Congress had refused to call a national convention, and had voted down the only proposal which offered a possibility of peaceable reconstruction. The majority of the states of the upper South were on record as unalterably opposed to coercion and in favor of the amendments which Congress had rejected. The President was misunderstood by every section of the country. Only a person of the most sanguine temperament could have hoped to avert the impending crisis.

Tyler had favored a convention of the border states in a public letter on January 17.30 The following day he said: "The course of the Pennsylvania and Ohio Legislatures, p234made known to me on yesterday, leaves but little hope of any adjustment. . . . The fate of Crittenden's project, I suppose, will nearly conclude matters."31 One day later the legislature adopted its resolutions and Tyler hastened to Washington and presented them to Buchanan, January 24, previous to the departure of Hayne. Buchanan refused to enter into an agreement to refrain "from any and all acts calculated to produce a collision," as requested by Virginia, holding that he had no constitutional power to agree not to do what Congress might attempt to compel by legislation. Four days later he sent a message to Congress earnestly requesting it to pass no hostile legislation pending the proceedings of the Washington Conference.

Before Tyler arrived at Washington, the Brooklyn had been ordered South with troops and supplies from Fort Monroe, January 21. Commissioner Robertson wired Tyler from Charleston, January 25, to ascertain if the expedition was intended to reinforce Fort Sumter. Stanton and Black were in conference with Tyler at the time, having called at the request of Buchanan to explain the reason for the delay in transmitting his communication to Congress. Tyler inquired of them whether the orders to the Brooklyn had been issued since his arrival in Washington and, neither having any knowledge of the matter, Stanton carried a note of inquiry from Tyler to Buchanan. The latter replied that Fort Sumter was not the destination of the Brooklyn, and that the expedition was one of "mercy and relief." Tyler forwarded this assurance to Robertson.32 Meanwhile, news of the expedition reached Pensacola, and former Senator Mallory wired to Slidell, p235Hunter, and Bigler that no attack upon Fort Pickens was contemplated; that it was the desire of the besieging forces to preserve the present status and avoid bloodshed; but that attempted reinforcements would lead to immediate war. He concluded, "I am determined to stave off war, if possible."33 This message from Mallory was transmitted to Buchanan and orders were sent by telegraph and by special messenger to prevent the landing of troops from the Brooklyn. Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Slemmer was also instructed to act strictly on the defensive and avoid, if possible, a collision with the Southern forces concentrated at Pensacola. This action on the part of Buchanan was strictly in accord with his previously defined policy with regard to Fort Sumter, and was prompted by his desire to preserve peace until after the deliberations of the Washington conference convention should be completed.34 Whatever may have been his previous aversion to an agreement, this was understood to be a solemn compact by the Southern military leaders. Chase abandoned the erection of a battery, February 12, upon protest from Slemmer, saying: "I am determined to make good the assurances that I have given, that no attack shall be made on Fort Pickens, and . . . desiring to avoid all actual or implied preparations for an attack, I will give orders for the discontinuance of the erection of the battery."35 As late as April 3 General Bragg allowed a favorable opportunity to capture Fort Pickens to pass, because he was uncertain about the continued force of the "agreement of 29th January."36

p236 This agreement, having been made previous to the formation of a Southern confederacy, applied only to the posts at Pensacola, and the situation at Charleston was still disquieting. Hayne sent his final communication to Buchanan on February 1, and left for Charleston three days later. Robertson had meanwhile gone to Montgomery, and had submitted the Virginia resolutions to Governor Moore, with the following statement:

Looking with deep concern at the menacing attitude in which the seceded States, and the Government at Washington stand towards each other, the state of Virginia appeals to both parties to abstain from all acts of a hostile tendency, until a farther effort shall be made to terminate existing differences, by an honorable and peaceful adjustment.37

Moore expressed appreciation for the friendly mediation contemplated by Virginia, and assured Robertson that, in resuming her independence and occupying the forts and arsenals within the limits of the state, Alabama intended no hostility to the federal government; that the only object had been to protect the rights and interests of the state without disturbing peaceful relations; and that this would continue to be the policy of the state unless the government at Washington resorted to a hostile demonstration against the seceding states. He promised to transmit the Virginia resolutions to the Alabama legislature, but with the statement that he did "not feel authorized to indulge the least hope that concessions will be made affording such guarantees as the seceding States can or will accept."38 Robertson was invited to address the legislature on February 7, but he declined on the ground that his commission limited the scope of his activities p237to communications with the executive authorities of the several seceding states.39 Meanwhile, Tyler had been elected chairman of the Washington conference and was serving in that capacity in addition to performing his duties as commissioner to the federal government. On February 7, he telegraphed to Robertson that Hayne had returned to Charleston, and urged him to prevent a collision at that point.40 At the same time he sent the following telegram to Governor Pickens:

Can my voice reach you? If so, do not attack Fort Sumter. You know my sincerity. The Virginia delegation here earnestly unite.

Two days later he wired Pickens that Buchanan's letter to Hayne was designed to be both respectful and kind; and that Buchanan deeply regretted any offense it may have conveyed. He also inquired of Pickens whether he would give an assurance not to attack Fort Sumter if Buchanan would consent not to attempt to send reinforcements.41 At this point in the negotiations the formation of the Confederate States government intervened to relieve the officials of the state governments from further responsibility. The congress of the Confederate States, February 12, assumed the burden of negotiating with the government at Washington for the surrender of the forts and other public property.42 This action was telegraphed to Governor Pickens, but his reply to Howell Cobb, president p238of the provisional congress, was a clear indication that there was still danger of an attack by the forces of the state.43

Meanwhile, the Washington conference convention assembled on February 4, in accordance with the Virginia program; and the continued influence of Tyler, together with a judicious handling of the situation by President Davis and Secretary of War Walker, prevented the outbreak of war during its deliberations.44 The importance of the convention lies principally in its influence upon the elections of delegates to the conventions of the states of the upper South.45 A correct understanding of the situation, however, requires an investigation of the nature and composition of the convention.


The Author's Notes:

1 The legislature of Arkansas met in regular session on November 15, but took no action in the premises before the year's end. The legislatures of Missouri and Delaware met in regular session on December 31 and January 2, respectively. Governors Harris of Tennessee and Letcher of Virginia summoned the legislatures of their states to assemble in extra session on January 7; and the legislature of North Carolina reassembled on that date, having recessed for the Christmas holidays. Governor Magoffin of Kentucky did not call an extra session of the legislature until induced to do so on December 27 by Commissioner Hale of Alabama. It was to assemble on January 17.

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2 "A Constitutional Union is the only one worth preserving, and the only one that can be preserved in the affections of the American people. A Union of force, cemented and kept together by force, and perhaps by blood, is not the Union of the Constitution. And the effort to maintain such an Union will end, either in a degrading and oppressive despotism or a final and violent disruption of the Confederacy." North Carolina Standard, Raleigh, September 12, 1860. Speaking of the duty of Tennessee, the Daily Nashville Patriot, April 24, 1861, said: "Let her make no account either of blood or treasure, but arm to the teeth, and sooner than shrink from duty, sooner than sacrifice her honor, her liberty, or her rights, give up everything else. It is these only which free men live; without these life itself is intolerance. Let but the great cardinal principle of free consent be overturned and freedom is at an end." See, also, ibid., April 17, 1861; Richmond Semi-Weekly Examiner, November 23, 1860; The Daily Herald, Wilmington, December 28, 1860; The Review, Charlottesville, January 4, 1861; The Daily Picayune, New Orleans, January 15, 1861.

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3 Curry to Hicks, December 28, 1860, Official Records . . . Armies, Series IV, Vol. I, 38‑42; Handy to Pettus, January 10, 1861, Official Correspondence of Governor John J. Pettus, 1859‑1860.

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4 Clopton to Burton, January 1, 1861, Official Records . . . Armies, Series IV, Vol. I, 34‑38; Clopton to Moore, January 8, 1861, ibid., 33‑34; Dickinson to Pettus, January 10, 1861, Official Correspondence of Governor John J. Pettus, 1859‑1860.

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5 "Resolutions of the Legislature of the State of Delaware approving the Crittenden Resolutions" in House Mis. Docs., 36 Cong., 2 Sess., Doc. 21.

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6 Boone to Howry, November 24, 1860, Official Correspondence of Governor John J. Pettus, 1859‑1860.

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7 Jackson to Shields, Official Records . . . Armies, Series IV, Vol. I, 26‑28.

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8 Cooper to Stewart, December 26, 1860, ibid., 23‑25; Stewart to Moore, December 30, 1860, ibid., 25.

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9 Snead, The Fight for Missouri, 47.

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10 Harris to the Legislature of Tennessee, January 7, 1861, in The Daily True Delta, January 13, 1861.

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11 Wharton, "Address before the Tennessee Legislature, January 9, 1861," in Journal of the Mississippi State Convention . . . 1861, 150‑161.

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12 "An Act providing for a Convention of the People of Tennessee," in the Nashville Union and American, January 20, 1861. Walker meanwhile wrote to Governor Moore of Alabama: "I beg to report as the result of my mission that there is, in my opinion, no doubt that Tennessee will unite with the Gulf States in forming a Southern Confederacy. The right or wrong of secession is not the question submitted for their determination. That may very well be pretermitted in that State. The Union is dissolved without their action, and the practical question for them to decide is, Shall they go with the North or with the South? And in deciding this question the result is obvious. There is a geographical necessity that Tennessee shall unite with the South . . . her natural sympathies are stimulated by her commercial necessities and make her drift quietly and surely into the union of the Southern States. I consider this result as absolutely certain." Walker to Moore, January 16, 1861, Official Records . . . Armies, Series IV, Vol. I, 56.

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13 "Resolutions of the Legislature of the State of Tennessee relative to the Resolutions of the Legislature of the State of New York tendering Men and Money to the General Government to be used to coerce certain sovereign States into Obedience to the General Government," House Mis. Docs., 36 Cong, 2 Sess., Doc. 22.

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14 "Resolutions of the Legislature of the State of Tennessee, relative to the present Condition of National Affairs and suggesting certain Amendments to the Constitution," ibid., Doc. 27.

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15 Featherstone to Pettus, January 22, 1861, Official Correspondence of Governor John J. Pettus, 1859‑1860.

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16 Hale to Moore, January 3, 1861, Official Records . . . Armies, Series IV, Vol. I, 4; Magoffin to Hale, December 28, 1860, ibid., 11‑15. That he actually had little hope of preserving the Union, however, and was chiefly concerned with the hope of a peaceable separation of the states, is shown by his further statement: "So far as the policy of the incoming Administration is foreshadowed in the antecedents of the President elect, in the enunciations of its representative men, and the avowals of the press, it will be to ignore the acts of sovereignty thus proclaimed by Southern States, and of coercing the continuance of the Union. Its inevitable result will be civil war of the most fearful and revolting character."

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17 "Magoffin to the Kentucky State Legislature, January 17, 1861," in the Daily Missouri Republican, January 2, 1861.

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18 "Resolutions of the Legislature of Kentucky, applying for a Call of a Convention for proposing Amendments to the Constitution of the United States," House Ex. Docs., 36 Cong., 2 Sess., Doc. 55, 2.

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19 Colonel V. D. Grover, K.G.C., to Pettus, December 6, 1860, Official Correspondence of Governor John J. Pettus, 1859‑1860.

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20 Burks to Buford, January 20, 1861, in The American Historical Review, XXXI, 87.

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21 "Joint Resolutions inviting the other States to send Commissioners to meet Commissioners on the part of Virginia, and providing for the Appointment of the Same," Official Records . . . Armies, Series IV, Vol. I, 90‑91.

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22 "Joint Resolution Concerning the Position of Virginia in Event of the Dissolution of the Union," ibid., 77.

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23 "Resolutions of the Legislature of the State of Ohio, on the State of the Republic," House Mis. Docs., 36 Cong., 2 Sess., Doc. 18.

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24 "Resolutions of the Legislature of the State of Maine relating to existing national Affairs," ibid., Doc. 26.

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25 "Joint Resolutions coöperating with friends of the Union throughout the United States," Official Correspondence of Governor John J. Pettus, 1859‑1860.

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26 "Joint Resolutions of the Legislature of the State of Minnesota, on the State of the Union," House Misc. Docs., 36 Cong., 2 Sess., Doc. 33.

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27 "Resolutions of the Legislature of the State of Pennsylvania, relative to the Maintenance of the Constitution and Union," ibid., Doc. 24.

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28 "Joint Resolutions of the Legislature of the State of Michigan, relative to the State of the Union," ibid., Doc. 38.

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29 Cong. Globe, 36 Cong., 2 Sess., I, 404, 409.

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30 Tyler, The Letters and Times of the Tylers, II, 579. The border states were: Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa.

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31 John Tyler to Robert Tyler, January 18, 1861, ibid., 578‑579.

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32 Tyler, ibid., 589‑590; Tyler to Robertson, January 5 (26), 1861, Official Records . . . Armies, Series IV, Vol. I, 253.

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33 Mallory to Slidell, January 28, 1861, ibid., 354.

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34 Holt to Slemmer, January 29, 1861, ibid., 355; Holt and Toucey to Glyn, Walker, and Slemmer, January 29, 1861, ibid., 355‑356.

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35 Slemmer to Chase, February 11, 1861, ibid., 359; Chase to Slemmer, February 12, 1861, ibid., 359.

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36 Bragg to Walker, April 6, 1861, ibid., 456‑457.

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37 Robertson to Moore, February 3, 1861, in the Montgomery Daily Advertiser, February 7, 1861.

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38 Moore to Robertson, February 3, 1861, in ibid.

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39 Robertson to McIntyre, Ligon, Walker, Hubbard, and Lyon, February 7, ibid., February 8, 1861.

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40 Tyler to Robertson, February 7, 1861, Official Records . . . Armies, Series IV, Vol. I, 253.

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41 Tyler to Pickens, February 9, 1861, ibid., 254.

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42 Acts and Resolutions of the First Session of the Provisional Congress of the Confederate States, 1861, 5.

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43 Pickens to Cobb, February 13, 1861, Official Records . . . Armies, Series IV, Vol. I, 254‑257.

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44 Tyler to Pickens, February 18, 1861, ibid., 257; Tyler to Pickens, February 21, 1861, ibid., 257; Pickens to Davis, February 27, 1861, ibid., 258‑259; Walker to Pickens, March 1, 1861, ibid., 259‑260.

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45 Dates of elections: Virginia, February 4; Tennessee, February 9; Missouri, February 18; Arkansas, February 18; North Carolina, February 28.


Thayer's Note:

a The full details of the standoff at Fort Pickens are interestingly told by Edwin C. Bearss, "Civil War Operations in and around Pensacola".


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