The Inauguration Of Lincoln - On The Brink Of Secession
fort union federal major department south
On February 11, Lincoln started eastward from Springfield. As he traveled, he patiently constructed a cabinet which included all his major rivals for the Republican nomination in 1860. William Seward headed the State Department; Salmon P. Chase, the Treasury Department; Simon Cameron, the War Department; and Edward Bates received the Attorney Generalship. News of a plot to assassinate Lincoln as he passed through Baltimore brought a hasty revision of his traveling plans. On February 23, after an overnight journey from Harrisburg, Lincoln entered Washington. Nine days later he was inaugurated as the sixteenth President of the United States. Before a vast assemblage he delivered an inaugural address that combined plea and threat. He warned the South that the Constitution made it incumbent upon him "that the laws of the Union be faithfully executed in all the States" and notified the nation that "the power confided to me will be used to hold, occupy, and possess the property and places belonging to the government. . . ." He ended his address with the plea that "We must not be enemies." In a nation hovering on the brink of war, he eloquently invoked "the mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land" which would "yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature."
The transfer of power from Buchanan to Lincoln had been effected quietly. For thirty-nine days Lincoln puzzled over which course to pursue. Then the question was resolved for him. Shortly after Lincoln's election, Buchanan had permitted the federal garrison at Fort Moultrie (which stood in an exposed position) to withdraw to Fort Sumter, far out in Charleston Harbor. The move had been allowed by federal authorities despite subsequent bitter protests from local residents. But a later move by Buchanan to send supplies had been repulsed. The garrison, commanded by Major Robert Anderson, was in danger of being starved into submission.
Lincoln's Stratagem. On April 4, 1861, Lincoln decided, over the protests of most of his cabinet and of General Winfield Scott, Chief of Staff of the United States Army, to send supplies to Fort Sumter and, at the same time, to send arms to Fort Pickens at Pensacola, Florida. He informed the secessionist government that the garrison was to be supplied, and assured it that the mission would be conducted peacefully. If there was to be a fight, the North was not going to fire the first shot. Lincoln had shrewdly placed the Confederate states in a position from which they could not readily extract themselves. If they allowed the North to supply the fort, they would have daily to stare at this bastion of federal authority in the center of one of the busiest harbors of the Confederacy; if they used force to compel its surrender, they would clearly label themselves rebels who defied the federal authority. Lincoln's maneuvering had focused the problem: if there was to be a war, the South would start it.
The War Begins. The South did not wait for the supply ship to arrive. At dawn on April 12, 1861, shore batteries under the command of General P. G. T. Beauregard sent the first shells over the harbor. On the following day, Major Anderson surrendered his command. The Stars and Stripes were lowered, not to be raised again for four years.
Lincoln responded to the attack by issuing a call for "the militia of the several States of the Union, to the . . . number of seventy-five thousand." The war was on.
As the first shell arched over Charleston harbor the agrarian republic perished. In the four years of war that were now to rack the nation, a torrent of blood would flow and mountains of treasure would be consumed. But the supremacy of the Union would be maintained. The old agrarian ideal of a confederate republic would be subjected to a test of arms and found wanting. On a hundred scattered battlefields a new republic would be forged. In the crucible of war a nationality would be confirmed.