April 7, 1861: Lincoln’s policy on Sumter

Governor Houston asks the Federal Government to maintain its troops in Texas. Meanwhile, troops are being sent to Fort Pickens in Pensacola, and there’s more speculation about Lincoln’s intentions for Fort Sumter. This report gets Lincoln’s policy about right — he plans to provision Sumter, but not to attack southern positions. If the “hotheads” in South Carolina attack, then war will be their fault.

From the New York Times’ Washington correspondent, dated Sunday, April 7, 1861:

It is generally believed here to-night, that the greater portion of the armament of troops and supplies fitted out at New-York is destined for Texas. The howitzers, horses and Flying Artillery are of no available service except on land, and there is no point at the South except Texas, where they could be advantageously employed. The Flying Artillery would be sent to none of the Gulf Forts, where only simple artillerists, accustomed to manage heavy sea-coast guns, would be ordered. The mounted troops will go to Texas to replace the force now there, demoralized by TWIGGS’ treason.

The rumor finds credence that Gov. HOUSTON, who is the only Governor of Texas recognized by the Federal Government, recently sent a confidential friend here to request either that the present troops be maintained in Texas or new ones sent.

The alleged fact that one of the transport steamers at New-York is fitting out with stalls for horses and provisions in the hold, indicates that her mission is to bring home the mounted troops now in Texas. Gov. HOUSTON’s request for troops is based upon the necessity for protecting the frontier from the Indians. Of course once there these troops, in the event of domestic insurrection against the laws, would form a nucleus around which the Union forces could rally in defence of the Government. It is still supposed, however, that part of the embarking troops are destined for Fort Pickens.

At the meeting of the Cabinet on Friday, there was a long and earnest discussion upon our national difficulties. It is a settled fact that Mr. LINCOLN does not intend any offensive demonstration against the seceding States. But it is quite as certain, on the other hand, that he feels the necessity of prompt and energetic action on his part, and has so expressed himself to the Cabinet. From nearly all the Northern Governors, and from many leading men, he receives daily demands for action, and very many protests against the evacuation of Fort Sumpter. They urge that such a course will only weaken his Administration, and strengthen DAVIS & Co., but lower us in the eyes of every nation in Christendom. The public pulse beats violently against such a policy, and Mr. LINCOLN and his Cabinet now feel it. The character of ANDERSON’s dispatches, which Mr. LINCOLN will act upon immediately, will decide the future policy of himself and Cabinet at once.

It should be understood that the attempts to injure the Administration by certain judges in the North, in conveying the idea that LINCOLN and the Cabinet do not agree, are intended for no good purpose, and are wholly without foundation in truth. They are a unit upon national questions, and are likely to remain so. Not only that, but Gen. SCOTT fully agrees with them. This I state most authoritatively.

The indications are now that Mr. LINCOLN will at first only attempt to hold the Southern forts now in our possession, and reprovision them if necessary. Should this be resisted, or the fortifications be attacked, he will not hesitate to bring to bear the whole force of the Government to execute his orders.

For this purpose, it is believed, the vessels recently ordered to sea, about which there has been so much speculation, are really ordered to cruise off the Southern coast in such position that they may at once go to the assistance of those at Sumpter, Pickens and Tortugas.

This is perfectly consistent with Mr. LINCOLN’s peace policy, while, at the same time, it vindicates the strength and dignity of the Government; and should war come under such circumstances, no one will be considered responsible but the rebels themselves, either by our own people or abroad.

This is what the Commissioners most fear, as they earnestly desire either a recognition of the independence of the Southern Confederacy, or an open declaration of war.

From conversations with these gentlemen, I am fully satisfied that the managers of this Southern Confederacy do not intend to make a hostile demonstration against the United States in any form or at any place. But the danger in case Mr. LINCOLN attempts the policy above pointed out, is that the insane, hot-headed fellows with the means at hand at Charleston and Pensacola, owing no particular allegiance to the Davis Government, will take the matter into their own hands, and without his authority attack any vessels that shall attempt either to reinforce or provision the forts at those places.

According to the Commissioners, the peace policy of DAVIS is rapidly giving character and stability to that Government, and that if the present status with the United States can be sustained for a time, the Confederate Government will have crystallized sufficient to sustain itself against any assault from Mr. LINCOLN.

But the danger of a popular outbreak, of resistance to the United States, such as first threw them out of the Union, and the necessity of excitement to sustain the secession movement, may compel Mr. DAVIS either to assent to an open demonstration against the United States, or permit it to take place without opposition on his part.

In either dilemma it is certain that both the Administration and the Representatives of the Southern Government expect our present difficulties to end only in civil war, though both would prefer a peaceable solution.

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