Buchanan Loses Another… and Another?

Saturday, December 29, 1860

President Buchanan’s meeting with the Commissioners needed a formal reply. On the evening of the 29th, he showed his first draft to his Cabinet. Secretary of War John Floyd, who had still not resigned, was there and offered up his opinion (as did the other Cabinet members).

Only one Cabinet member, Secretary of the Navy Isaac Toucey, agreed with it fully. Three members (Black, Holt and Stanton) opposed it, thinking that it made too many concessions to South Carolina and the remaining three (Floyd, Thomas and Thompson) opposed it because they felt it ignored the requests of the Commissioners.

No conclusion could be made here, so the meeting would adjourn, but not before they covered one more item.

Secretary of War John Floyd, who was unofficially uninvited to Cabinet meetings (and thus unofficially fired) a few days ago, had prepared a statement.

There was but one way to avoid civil war: remove all troops from South Carolina. He added that he wished for the President to allow him to make that order immediately.

Buchanan was astonished and, of course, wouldn’t allow any such order to be made.

Floyd then produced another piece of paper. This was the one Buchanan had been waiting for. Floyd, apparently had been waiting for it too. He was looking for a good reason to resign and until the 27th only had the controversial scandals going against him. But with Major Anderson moving into Fort Sumter and President Buchanan’s refusal to recall him from Charleston Harbor, Floyd thought it advantageous to make the split.

In this letter of resignation, Floyd explains that he thought Buchanan would maintain the troops where they were and reminded him that he had told South Carolina much the same thing. South Carolina, for their part, had agreed to take no action if troops remained stationary. This agreement, thought Floyd, “was to prevent a collision and the effusion of blood, in the hope that some means might be found for a peaceful accommodation of existing troubles….”

He predicted that the administration’s refusal “to place affairs back as they stood under our agreement, invites a collision and must inevitably inaugurate civil war.”

And with that, he was resigned and the meeting adjourned. He offered to retain his post until Buchanan could decide upon a successor.1

Secretary of State, Jeremiah Black was so bothered by the President’s proposed reply to the Commissioners that he could hardly sleep. Postmaster General Joseph Holt had also informed Black that Buchanan had sided with Floyd and that Floyd would be unresigning.

Black could take no more of this. If this were true, he would resign.

  1. Mostly The Genesis of the Civil War by Samuel Wylie Crawford. Crawford has the timing of events a bit differently placed than, say, Maury Klein in his book Days of Defiance, which uses Crawford as a source. Crawford has it that Floyd was at this meeting. Klein has it that he was not. Crawford also places his resignation on the morning of the 30th. Klein has the resignation coming before the meeting. I’m not fully sure why there is such a discrepancy. No explanation was given by Klein. I have tried to split the difference as it makes the most sense. All three of us are probably wrong in some way or another. []
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