Home Uncategorized Monday, July 29, 1861: The President’s Message

Monday, July 29, 1861: The President’s Message


Fellow-citizens of the Senate and House of Representatives: – Having been convened on and extraordinary occasion, as authorized  by the Constitution, your attention is not called to any ordinary subject of legislation. At the beginning of the present Presidential term, four months ago, the functions of the Federal Government were found to be generally suspended within the several States of South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Florida, excepting only those of the Post office Department. Within those States the forts, arsenals, dock-yards, harbors, custom-houses, and the like, including the moveable and stationary property in and about them had been seized, and were held in open hostility to the Government, excepting only Forts Pickens, Taylor and Jefferson on and near the Florida coast, and Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina. The forts thus seized have been put in depraved condition. New ones had been built, and armed forces had been organized and were organizing – all, avowedly, with the same hostile purpose. The forts remaining in the possession of the Federal Government in and near to these States were either besieged or menaced by warlike preparations, and especially Fort Sumter was nearly surrounded by well-protected hostile batteries, with guns equal in quality to the best of its own, and out-numbering the latter as perhaps then to one. A disproportionate share of the Federal muskets and rifles had somehow found their way into these States, and had been seized for the same object. The navy was scattered in distant seas, leaving but a very small part within the immediate use of the Government. The officers of the Federal Army and Navy had resigned in great numbers; and those resigning, a large proportion had taken up arms against the Government. Simultaneously, and in connection with all these, the purpose to sever the Federal Union was openly avowed. In accordance with this purpose an ordinance had been adopted in each of these States, declaring the States respectively to be separated from the National Union, and a formula for combining and instituting a combined government of these States bad been promulgated; and this illegal organization, in the character of Confederate States, was already invoking recognition, aid and intervention from foreign powers.

Finding this condition of things, and believing it to be an imperative duty upon the incoming Executive to prevent, if possible, the consummation of such an attempt to destroy the Federal Union, a choice of means to the end because indispensable. The choice was made and declared in the Inaugural Address. The policy chosen looked to the expansion of all peaceful means before a resort to stronger ones. It sought only to hold the public places and property not already wrested from the Government, and to collect the revenues, relying for the rest on time, discussion, and ballot. But it promised a continuance of the mails at Government expense to very people who were resisting the Government; and it gave repeated pledges against any disturbance to any of the people or any of their rights of all which a President might constitutionally and justifiably do in such a case. Everything was forborne without which it was believed possible to keep the Government on foot.

On the 5th of March, the present incumbent’s first full day in office, a letter of Major Anderson’s, commanding at Fort Sumter, written on the 28th of February, and recieved at the War Department placed in his hands. The letter expressed the professional opinion of the writer that reinforcements could not be thrown into that Fort within the time for his relief, rendered necessary by the limited supply of provisions and with a view of holding possession of the same, with a force of less than 20,000 good and well disciplined men. This opinion was concurred in by all the officers of his command, and their memoranda on the subject were made inclosures of Major Anderson’s letter. The whole was immediately laid before Lieutenant-General Scott, who at once concurred with Major Anderson in opinion. On reflection, however, be took full time for consultation with other officers, both of the Army and Navy, and at the end of four days came, reluctantly but decidedly to the same conclusion as before. He also stated at the same time, that such sufficient force was not at the control of the Government, nor could be raised and brought to the ground within the time when the processions would be exhausted. In a military point of view, this reduced the duty of the Administration in the case to a mere matter of taking the garrison safely from the Fort. It was believed however, that to abandon that position, under the circumstances, would be utterly ruinous; that the necessity under which it was to be done would not be fully understood; that by many it would be construed as a part of voluntary policy that at home it would discourage the friends of the Union, embolden it’s adversaries, and go far to insure to the latter a recognition abroad; that in fact, it would be our national destruction consummated. This could not be allowed. Starvation was not yet upon the garrison, and ere it would be reached Fort Pickens might be reinforced. This last would be a clear indication of policy, and would better enable the country to accept the evacuation of Fort Sumter as a military necessity.

An order was at once directed to be sent for the landing of the troops from steamship Brooklyn into Fort Pickens. The order could not go by land, but must take the longer and slower route by sea. The first return news from the order was received but one week before the fall of Fort Sumter. The news itself was, that the officer commanding the Sabine, to which vessel the troops had been transferred from the Brooklyn – had only vague and uncertain rumors to fix his attention , and had refused to land the troops to reinforce Fort Pickens before a crisis would be reached at Fort Sumter, which was rendered possible, by the near exhaustion of provisions in the latter named fort. In precaution against such conjuncture, the Government had a few days before commenced preparing an expedition, as well prepared as might be, to relieve Fort Sumter, which expedition, as well prepared as might be, to relieve Fort Sumter, which expedition was intended to be ultimately used or not, according to circumstances. The strongest anticipated case for using it was not presented and it was resolved to send it forward, as had been intended. In this contingency it was also resolved to notify the Governor of South Carolina that he might expect an attempt would be made to provision the Fort, and that if the attempt should not be resisted there would be no effort to throw in men, arms, or ammunition, without further notice; or, in face of an attack upon the Fort, notice was to be given accordingly. Whereupon the Fort was attacked and bombarded to its fall, without even awaiting the arrival of the provisioning expedition.

It is thus seen that the assault upon and the reduction of Fort Sumter was in no sense a matter of self-defense on the part of the assailants. They well knew that the garrison in the Fort could by no possibility commit aggression upon them.