I do not agree that there is no power in the President to preserve the Union. If we have a Union at all, and if, as the President thinks, there is no right to secede on the part of any State (and I agree with him in that), I think there is a right to employ our power to preserve the Union. I do not say how we should apply it; under what circumstances we should apply it, — I leave that all open. To say that no State has a right to secede, and that it is a wrong to the Union, and yet that the Union has no right to interpose any obstacles to its secession, seems to me to be altogether contradictory.
(Linden, p. 203)
Buchanan’s position, as Crittenden suggests, was that states had no right to secede, and the Federal government had no right to use force to prevent them from doing so. It was a rather bizarre position to take.