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A History of the United States by Cecil Chesterton

Could get no more from Charleston


policy turned mainly on two principles. First, the South must see that the administration of the laws was really impartial, and that the President executed them because he had taken an oath to do so; not because the North wanted to trample on the South. This consideration explains the extreme rigour with which he enforced the Fugitive Slave Law. Here was a law involving a Constitutional obligation, which he, with his known views on Slavery, could not possibly like executing, which the North certainly did not want him to execute, which he could be executing only from a sense of obligation under the Constitution. Such an example would make it easier for moderate Southern opinion to accept the application of a similar strictness to the seceding States.

The second principle was the strict confinement of his intervention within the limits presented by his Inaugural. This was calculated to bear a double effect. On the one hand, it avoided an immediate practical challenge to the doctrine of State Sovereignty, strongly held by many in the Middle States who were nevertheless opposed to Secession. On the other, it tended, if prolonged, to render the Southern assumption of the _role_ of "a people risen against tyrants" a trifle ridiculous. A freeman defying the edicts of the oppressor is a dignified spectacle: not so that of a man desperately anxious to defy edicts which the oppressor obstinately refuses to issue. It was possible for Lincoln to put the

rebels in this position because under the American Constitution nine-tenths of the laws which practically affected the citizen were State and not Federal laws. When people began to talk of protesting against tyranny by refusing to allow the tyrant to deliver their mails to them, it was obvious how near the comic the sublime defiance of the Confederates was treading. There were men in the South who fully realized the disconcerting effect of the President's moderation. "Unless you baptize the Confederacy in blood," said a leading Secessionist of Alabama to Jefferson Davis, "Alabama will be back in the Union within a month."

Unfortunately Lincoln's attitude of masterly inactivity could not be kept up for so long, for a problem, bequeathed him by his predecessor, pressed upon him, demanding action, just where action might, as he well knew, mean a match dropped in the heart of a powder-magazine. On an island in the very harbour of Charleston itself stood Fort Sumter, an arsenal held by the Federal Government. South Carolina, regarding herself as now an independent State, had sent an embassy to Washington to negotiate among other things for its surrender and transfer to the State authorities. Buchanan had met these emissaries and temporized without definitely committing himself. He had been on the point of ordering Major Anderson, who was in command of the garrison, to evacuate the fort, when under pressure from Black, his Secretary of State, he changed his mind and sent a United States packet, called _Star of the West_, with reinforcements for Anderson. The State authorities at Charleston fired on the ship, which, being unarmed, turned tail and returned to Washington without fulfilling its mission. The problem was now passed on to Lincoln, with this aggravation: that Anderson's troops had almost consumed their stores, could get no more from Charleston, and, if not supplied, must soon succumb to starvation. Lincoln determined to avoid the provocation of sending soldiers and arms, but to despatch a ship with food and other necessaries for the garrison. This resolution was duly notified to the authorities at Charleston.

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