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CH. XXIV.

1860.

THE

CHAPTER XXIV

MR. BUCHANAN'S TRUCE

HE concession yielded by Mr. Buchanan, instead of tending to conciliate the conspirators only brought upon him additional demands. It so happened that the principal Federal ships of war were absent from the harbors of the Atlantic coast on service in distant waters. But now, as a piece of good fortune amid many untoward occurrences, the steam sloop-of-war Brooklyn, a new and formidable vessel of twenty-five guns, which had been engaged in making preliminary surveys in the Chiriqui Lagoon to test the practicability of one of the proposed interoceanic ship canals, unexpectedly returned to the Norfolk navy yard on the 28th of November, less than a week before the meeting of Congress. She had until recently been under the command of Captain Farragut, afterwards famous in the war of the rebellion, and was, with trifling exceptions, ready for sea.

In the Cabinet, where the feasibility of collecting the customs revenue at Charleston on shipboard had already been discussed as a possible contingency, and especially where the forcible protection of the public property had also received serious consideration, this sudden appearance of

the Brooklyn must have furnished a conclusive CH. XXIV. reason in favor of both these propositions. Be this as it may, when the President affirmed these duties in his message, the conspirators realized that he held the means of practical enforcement at instantaneous command. With a ship of war ready at Norfolk, with troops at Fortress Monroe, might not a careless émeute at Charleston bring the much-dreaded reënforcements to Moultrie, Sumter, and Pinckney, precipitate a dénouement, and prematurely ruin all their well-concocted schemes? There was urgent need to prevent the sailing of the steamer on such an errand.

to Barnwell,

Adams,

and Orr,

Dec. 31,

On Saturday, December 8, four of the Repre- Buchanan sentatives in Congress from South Carolina requested an interview of President Buchanan, which he granted them, in which they rehearsed their 1860. W. R. well-studied prediction of a collision at Charleston. One of their number has related the substance of their address with graphic frankness :

"Mr. President, it is our solemn conviction that if you attempt to send a solitary soldier to these forts, the instant the intelligence reaches our people (and we shall take care that it does reach them, for we have sources of information in Washington so that no orders for troops can be issued without our getting information) these forts will be forcibly and immediately stormed.

"We all assured him that if an attempt was made to transport reënforcements, our people would take these forts, and that we would go home and help them to do it; for it would be suicidal folly for us to allow the forts to be manned. And we further said to him that a bloody result would

Vol. I., p. 116.

Porcher Miles, Statement

CH. XXIV. follow the sending of troops to those forts, and Hon. Wm. that we did not believe that the authorities of South Carolina would do anything prior to the meeting of this convention, and that we hoped and believed that nothing would be done after this body met until we had demanded of the general Government pp. 649-50. the recession of these forts."

before the

South Caro

lina Con

vention, "Annual Cyclopedia," 1861,

sioners, Dec. 31,

1860, W. R.

Vol. I., p. 117.

Here was an avowal to the President himself, not only of treason at Charleston, but of conspiracy in the Executive departments at Washington; a demand coupled with a menace; a proposal for a ten days' truce supplemented by a declaration of intention to proceed to extremities after its expiration. Instead of meeting these with a stern rebuke and dismissal, the President cowered and yielded to their demand. The sanctity of the Constitution, the majesty of the law, the power of the nation, the patriotism of the people, all faded from his bewildered vision; his irresolute will shrank from his declared purpose to protect the public property and enforce the revenue laws. He saw only the picture of strife and bloodshed which the glib tongues of his persecutors conjured up, and failed to detect the theatric purpose for which it was employed.

He hastened to assure his visitors that it was Buchanan his determination "not to reënforce the forts in to Commis- the harbor, and thus produce a collision, until they had been actually attacked," or until he had "certain evidence that they were about to be attacked." Though this was only another concession, much like the first in outward semblance, it was nevertheless in its vital essence a fatal hurt to the rapidly shrinking Federal authority. The conspiracy had

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