Better than the Republicans from the North, or even the conservatives from the border States, they knew that in the Cotton States a widespread change of popular sentiment was then being wrought and might very soon be complete. Except upon the extreme alternative of disunion, the people of the border States were eager to espouse their quarrel, and join them in a contest for alleged political rights. Nearly half the people of the North were ready to acknowledge the justness of their complaints. The election of Lincoln was indeed a flimsy pretext for separation, but it had the merit of universal publicity, and of rankling irritation among the unthinking masses of the South. Agriculture was depressed, commerce was in panic, manufacturing populations were in want, the national treasury was empty, the army was dispersed, the navy was scattered. The national prestige was humbled, the national sentiment despondent, the national faith disturbed.
Meanwhile their intrigues had been successful beyond hope. The Government was publicly committed to the fatal doctrine of non-coercion, and was secretly pursuing the equally fatal policy of concession. Reenforeements had been withheld from Charleston, and must, from motives of consistency, be withheld from all other forts and stations. An unofficial stipulation, with the President, and a peremptory order to Anderson, secured beyond chance the safe and early secession of South Carolina, and the easy seizure of the Government property. The representatives of foreign governments were already secretly coquetting for the favor of a free port and an advantageous cotton-market. Friendly voices came to the South from the North, in private correspondence, in the public press, even in the open debates of Congress, promising that cities should go up in flames and the fair country be laid waste before a single Northern bayonet should molest them in their meditated secession.
Upon such a real or assumed state of facts the conspirators based their theory, and risked their chances of success in dismembering the republic,—and it must be admitted that they chose their opportunity with a skill and foresight which for a considerable period of time gave them immense advantages over the friends of the Union. One vital condition of success, however, they strangely overlooked, or rather, perhaps, deliberately crowded out of their problem—the chance of civil war, without foreign intervention. For the present their whole plan depended upon the assumption that they could accomplish their end by means of the single instrumentality of peaceable secession; and with this view they proceeded to put their scheme into prompt execution.
[Sidenote] Correspondence New York “Tribune”, Dec. 10, 1860.