Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

CHAPTER XXV

THE RETIREMENT OF CASS

CH. XXV.

TH

HUS far Mr. Buchanan's policy of conciliation through concession had brought him nothing but disappointment, and whatever faint hope his loyal Cabinet advisers may have had at the outset in its saving efficacy was by practical experiment utterly destroyed. The non-coercion doctrine had been adopted as early as November 20, in the Attorney-General's opinion of that date. The fact was rumored, not only in the political circles of the capital, but in the chief newspapers of the country; and the three secession members of the Cabinet had doubtless communicated it confidentially to all their prominent and influential confederates. Since that time South Carolina had continued her preparation for secession with unremitting industry; Mississippi had authorized a convention and appointed commissioners to visit all the slave States and propagate disunion, among them Mr. Thompson, Buchanan's Secretary of the Interior, who afterwards exercised this insurrectionary function while yet remaining in the Cabinet; the North Carolina Legislature had postponed the election of United States Senator; Florida had passed a convention bill; Georgia had

instituted legislative proceedings to bring about CH. XXV. a conference of the Southern States at Atlanta; both houses of the National Congress had rung with secession speeches, while frequent caucuses of the conspirators took place at Washington.

Mr. Buchanan's truce with the South Carolina Representatives had as little effect in arresting the secession intrigues as his non-coercion doctrine officially announced in the annual message. On the evening of the day (December 8)1 on which he received the South Carolina pledge, the Secretary of the Treasury, Howell Cobb, of Georgia, tendered his resignation, announcing in the same letter his intention to embark in the active work of disunion. It had been generally understood that the noncoercion theories of the message were adopted by the President in deference to the wishes and under the influence of Cobb, Thompson, and Floyd, and undoubtedly they had also been largely instrumental in bringing about the unofficial truce at Charleston. If, amid all his fears, Mr. Buchanan retained any sensibility, he must have been profoundly shocked at the cool dissimulation with which Mr. Cobb, everywhere recognized as a Cabinet officer of great ability, had assisted in committing the Administration to these fatal doctrines and measures, and then abandoned it in the moment of danger. "My withdrawal," he wrote to the President, "has not been occasioned by anything you have said or done. Whilst differing from your message upon some of its theoretical doctrines, as

1 Cobb to Buchanan, "Washington Constitution," Dec. 12, 1860. The President's reply

says: "I have received your
communication
of Saturday
evening, resigning," etc.

Cobb to Buchanan,

"Washing

ton Consti

tution,"

Dec. 12, 1860.

CH. XXV. well as from the hope so earnestly expressed that the Union can be preserved, there was no practical result likely to follow which required me to retire from your Administration. That necessity is created by what I feel it my duty to do; and the responsibility of the act, therefore, rests alone upon myself." Ignoring the fact that the Treasury was prosperous and solvent when he took charge of it, and that at the moment of his leaving it could not pay its drafts, Mr. Cobb, five days later, published a long and inflammatory address to the people of Georgia, concluding with this exhortation: "I. entertain no doubt either of your right or duty to secede from the Union. Arouse, then, all your manhood for the great work before you, and be prepared on that day to announce and maintain your independence out of the Union, for you will never again have equality and justice in it."

The President had scarcely found a successor for Mr. Cobb when the head of his Cabinet, Lewis Cass, Secretary of State, tendered his resignation also, and retired from the Administration. Mr. Cass had held many offices of distinction, had attained high rank as a Democratic leader, and had once been a Presidential candidate. His resignation was, therefore, an event of great significance from a political point of view. The incident brings into bold relief the mental reservations under which Buchanan's paradoxical theories had been concurred in by his Cabinet. A private memorandum, in Mr. Buchanan's handwriting, commenting on the event, makes the following emphatic statement: "His resignation was the more remarkable on account of the cause he assigned for it. When

my late message (of December, 1860) was read to CH. XXV. the Cabinet before it was printed, General Cass expressed his unreserved and hearty approbation of it, accompanied by every sign of deep and sincere feeling. He had but one objection to it, and this was, that it was not sufficiently strong against the power of Congress to make war upon a State for the purpose of compelling her to remain in the Union; and the denial of this power was made more emphatic and distinct upon his own suggestion."

But this position was probably qualified and counterbalanced in his mind by the President's direct promise that he would collect the Federal revenue and protect the Federal property. In the nature of things the execution of this policy must not only precede but exclude all other theories and abstractions, and the Secretary of State probably waited in good faith to see the President "execute the laws." Little by little, however, delay and concession rendered this impossible. The collector at Charleston still nominally exercised his functions as a Federal officer; but it was an open secret among the Charleston authorities, and one which must also by this time have become known to the Government at Washington, that he was only holding the place in trust for the coming secession convention. As to protecting the Federal property, the refusal to send Anderson troops, the President's truce, the gradual development of Mr. Buchanan's irresolution and lack of courage, and finally Mr. Cobb's open defection must have convinced Mr. Cass that, under existing determinations, orders, and influences, it was a hopeless prospect.

tis,

G.T. Cur Buchanan."

"Life of James

Vol. II.,

p. 399.

See proceedings of

convention in "Charleston Conrier," Dec., 1860.

CH. XXV.

Floyd's
Richmond
Speech,
N. Y.
"Herald,"
Jan. 17,

1861, p. 2.

The whole question seems to have been finally decided in a long and stormy Cabinet session held on December 13. The events of the few preceding days had evidently shaken the President's confidence in his own policy. He startled his dissembling and conspiring Secretary of War with the sudden questions, "Mr. Floyd, are you going to send recruits to Charleston to strengthen the forts?" "Don't you intend to strengthen the forts at Charleston?" The apparent change of policy alarmed the Secretary, but he replied promptly that he did not. "Mr. Floyd," continued Mr. Buchanan, "I would rather be in the bottom of the Potomac to-morrow than that these forts in Charleston should fall into the hands of those who intend to take them. It will destroy me, sir, and, Mr. Floyd, if that thing occurs it will cover your name with an infamy that all time can never efface, because it is in vain that you will attempt to show that you have not some complicity in handing over those forts to those who take them."

The wily Secretary replied, "I will risk my reputation, I will trust my life that the forts are safe under the declarations of the gentlemen of Charleston." "That is all very well," replied the President, "but does that secure the forts?" "No, sir; but it is a guaranty that I am in earnest," said Floyd. "I am not satisfied," said the President.

Thereupon the Secretary made the never-failing appeal to the fears and timidity of Mr. Buchanan. He has himself reported the language he used: “I am sorry for it," said he; you are President, it is for you to order. You have the right to order and I will consider your orders when made. But I

66

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »