Meanwhile public excitement had been kept at fever heat by all manner of popular demonstrations. The two United States Senators and the principal Federal officials resigned their offices with a public flourish of their insubordinate zeal. An enthusiastic ratification meeting was given to the returning members of the Legislature. To give still further emphasis to the general movement a grand mass meeting was held at Charleston on the 17th of November. The streets were filled with the excited multitude. Gaily dressed ladies crowded balconies and windows, and zealous mothers decorated their children with revolutionary badges. There was a brisk trade in fire-arms and gunpowder. The leading merchants and prominent men of the city came forth and seated themselves on platforms to witness and countenance a formal ceremony of insurrection. A white flag, bearing a palmetto tree and the legend Animis opibusque parati (one of the mottoes on the State seal), was, after solemn prayer, displayed from a pole of Carolina pine. Music, salutes, and huzzahs filled the air. Speeches were addressed to “citizens of the Southern Republic.” Orations and processions completed the day, and illuminations and bonfires occupied the night. The preparations were without stint. The proceedings and ceremonies were conducted with spirit and abandon. The rejoicings were deep and earnest. And yet there was a skeleton at the feast; the Federal flag, invisible among the city banners, and absent from the gay bunting and decorations of the harbor shipping, still floated far down the bay over a faithful commander and loyal garrison in Fort Moultrie.
President Buchanan and his Administration could not, if they would, shut their eyes to the treasonable utterances and preparations at Charleston and elsewhere in the South; but so far neither the speeches nor bonfires nor palmetto flags, nor even the secession message of Governor Gist or the Convention bill of the South Carolina Legislature, constituted a statutory offense. For twelve years the threat of disunion had been in the mouths of the Southern slavery extremists and their Northern allies the most potent and formidable weapon of national politics. It was declaimed on the stump, elaborated in Congressional speeches, set out in national platforms, and paraded as a solemn warning in executive messages.
Mr. Buchanan had profited by the disunion cry both as politician and functionary; and now when disunion came in a practical and undisguised shape he was to a degree powerless to oppose it, because he was disarmed by his own words and his own acts. The disunionists were his partisans, his friends, and confidential counselors; they constituted a remnant of the once proud and successful party which, by his compliance and cooeperation in their interest, he had disrupted and defeated. Their programme hitherto had been the policy upon which he had staked the success or failure of his Administration, so that in addition to every other tie he was bound to them by the common sorrow of political disaster.