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 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 emeute at Charleston bring the much-dreaded reenforcements to Moultrie, Sumter, and Pinckney, precipitate a denouement, and prematurely ruin all their well-concocted schemes? There was urgent need to prevent the sailing of the steamer on such an errand.
[Sidenote] Buchanan to Burnwell, Adams,
and Orr, Dec. 31, 1860. W.R.
Vol. I., p. 116.
On Saturday, December 8, four of the Representatives in Congress from South Carolina requested an interview of President Buchanan, which he granted them, in which they rehearsed their well-studied prediction of a collision at Charleston. One of their number has related the substance of their address with graphic frankness:
[Sidenote] Hon. Wm. Porcher Miles, Statement
before the South
Carolina Convention, “Annual Cyclopedia,” 1861, pp. 649-50.
“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 reenforcements, 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 follow the sending of troops to those forts, and 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 the recession of these forts.”
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.