January 4, 1861: Buchanan’s action reported in the South

The Richmond Daily Dispatch of January 4, 1861 reports here the President’s response to the first letter from the South Carolina secession commissioners. Their polemical response has already been posted elsewhere, as has the text of Buchanan’s letter; this article is of interest as an indication of the way the controversy was viewed in Virginia.

The President’s reply to South Carolina.

On Monday [December 31, 1860], after three o’clock, the reply was addressed to the Hons. Barnwell, Orr and Adams, and delivered by the President’s Secretary.

The President approved the conduct of Maj. Anderson, on the ground that be had tangible evidence of the intention, on the part of the South Carolinians, to seize and occupy Fort Sumter. Subsequently disclosures have satisfied those well informed, that such was the intention. Once in occupancy of Sumter Major Anderson would have been powerless and at the mercy of the Carolinians. No reinforcement of Fort Moultrie could have been made effectual for the recovery of Fort Sumter.

Major Anderson, being in command, took a military view, and anticipated the South Carolinians by proceeding to the stronghold they coveted under the cover of the night. Upon these considerations, the President also refused to interfere for the withdrawal of the United States forces, saying, “This I cannot do, and I will not do.”

He also announced his firm determination to collect the revenues, and that the property now in the occupancy of the troops of South Carolina must be restored. The seizure of the United States Arsenal he deems a high-handed outrage.

Buchanan belatedly decides that federal property must be defended. As Civil War Online has shown, it happened with some persuasion from his cabinet. While South Carolina was outraged, it appears that the Richmond Dispatch was rather sympathetic with Buchanan’s view of matters. As Kevin Levin discusses in Civil War Memory, Virginia was slow to get on the secession bandwagon.

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