Buchanan Loses (and Gains) Another Cabinet Member

Friday, December 14, 1860

Rumors were bounding around Washington that Secretary of State Lewis Cass would be resigning. These rumors were confirmed when Cass officially handed his letter of resignation to President Buchanan (oddly, dated December 121).

Though newspapers of the time speculated on the reasons, in his letter, Cass confirmed “that additional troops should be sent to reenforce the forts in the harbor of Charleston, with a view to their better defense, should they be attacked….” Buchanan was of the opposite opinion, believing that no troops should be sent, lest South Carolina take that as an act of war.

Cass was also concerned about the collection of tariffs in that harbor. He thought that the custom house should be moved to one of the forts and that an armed vessel should be sent to enforce the collection (as well as to aid Anderson).

He regretted that it had come to this after almost four years without the occurrence of a “single incident to interrupt the personal intercourse which has so happily existed.”2

The resignation was accepted immediately (and officially the next day) by Buchanan without an argument. The President was not going to change his mind about this.

Also, Buchanan appointed Philip Francis Thomas, previously the governor of Maryland, but currently the U.S. Commissioner of Patents, to fill Howell Cobb’s position as Secretary of the Treasury, which was resigned on December 8th.



  1. There seems to be some confusion as to dates here – some sources say that Cass resigned on the 12th, which seems pretty unlikely, but others say it was later, like the 15th. I’m splitting the difference and going by the date given (with explanation) in Lewis Cass By Andrew Cunningham McLaughlin, Houghton Mifflin, 1899. []
  2. All quotes from Cass’s letter of resignation as quoted in Lewis Cass By Andrew Cunningham McLaughlin. []
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2 thoughts on “Buchanan Loses (and Gains) Another Cabinet Member

  1. I find it fascinating in a nation only a couple of hundred years old, in the period of history most recorded (and with the fastest development of technology) that questions of historical dates exist.

    As a dedicated reader of history I often wonder at the conflicts in different versions of timelines. Just one of the many reasons I try to gather my history from different sources and perspectives…

    It makes you wonder about the accuracy of historical collections significantly older, doesn’t it? How many mistakes do we accept as “historical fact?

    1. The big events are all pretty well known, of course. It’s the little things that get you. This, for example, has been remembered happening on the date that the resignation was written. However, the resignation wasn’t official until the President read it.

      The opposite can be true for military promotions. In many cases, officers were promoted dating back to a certain event. Sometimes it took a couple of weeks for them to receive word of the promotion (this happened to McClellan).

      I think the dates could be known to pretty well everything that happened in the CW, it’s just a matter of doing the proper research and not taking anything date-wise at face value.

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