“Happily our civil war was undertaken and prosecuted in self-defense, not to coerce a State, but to enforce the execution of the laws within the States against individuals, and to suppress an unjust rebellion raised by a conspiracy among them against the Government of the United States.”—Buchanan, in “Mr. Buchanan’s Administration,” p. 129.
THE CHARLESTON CONSPIRATORS
As President Buchanan might have foreseen, his inconsistent message proved satisfactory to neither friend nor foe. The nation was on the eve of rebellion and had urgent need of remedial acts, not of temporizing theories, least of all theories which at the late Presidential election had been rejected as errors and dangers. The message served as a topic to initiate debate in Congress; but this debate, resting only on the main subject long enough to cover the Chief Magistrate’s views and recommendations as a whole, with almost unanimous expressions of dissent, and even of contempt, passed on to words of mutual defiance and open declarations of revolutionary purpose.
The conspirators in the Cabinet had done their work. By the official declarations of the President of the United States, the Government had tied its own hands—had resolved and proclaimed the duty and policy of non-resistance to organized rebellion. Henceforth disunionists, secessionists, nullifiers, and conspirators of every kind had but to combine under alleged State action, and through the instrumentalities of State Legislatures and State conventions cast off without let or hinderance their Federal obligations by resolves and ordinances. The semblance of a vote, a few scratches of the pen, a proclamation, and a new flag, and at once without the existence of a corporal’s squad, or the smell of burnt powder, there would appear on the horizon of American politics, if not a de jure at least a de facto State!