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.
[Sidenote] Floyd’s Richmond Speech,
N.Y. “Herald,” Jan. 17, 1861,
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 would be recreant to you if I did not tell you that this policy of garrisoning the forts will lead