Sunday, December 30, 1860
Secretary of State Jeremiah Black did not sleep well last night. He may not have slept at all. The President’s reply to the South Carolina Commissioners conceded too much to the rebels.
Buchanan had heard that Black was also looking to resign his post. When seeing him, he asked if that were true. Black launched into a speech, telling the President that his reply would drive out the entire Cabinet and would suit nobody. Buchanan, in opposition to his nature, handed Black the first draft of the reply and told him, “Here. Take this paper and modify it to suit yourself, but do it before the sun goes down.”
Black rushed off to Attorney General Edwin M. Stanton’s office and together they drafted a new reply. Their first order of business was that these Commissioners must not be recognized as such. They could only be addressed as “private gentlemen of the highest character.” They had no right to negotiate anything, not being real representatives of any real, separate state.
Choosing to address a point or two, Black wrote that though the President never gave Major Anderson permission to move from Fort Moultrie to Fort Sumter, at Fort Sumter he would stay. Anderson would have been ordered back to Moultrie, but it had been seized by South Carolina before the orders could be relayed. And about removing troops, the President flatly stated: “This I cannot do; this I will not do.”
Buchanan made a change or two before sending it to the “private gentlemen of the highest character.” But that was that. Buchanan had finally made a stand (even if it took the Secretary of State to make it for him).
Though this solved one fairly minor problem, it opened up several major ones. Would the Southern half of his Cabinet also resign? Was Anderson to be reinforced? How?1
Pushing for the reinforcement, General Winfield Scott, commander of US forces, had written to Floyd two days ago, but had not received a reply. On this day, he wrote to the President himself.
Will the President permit General Scott, without reference to the War Department and otherwise, as secretly as possible, to send two hundred and fifty recruits from New York Harbor to re-enforce Fort Sumter, together with some extra muskets or rifles, ammunition, and subsistence stores?
It is hoped that a sloop of war and cutter may be ordered for the same purpose as early as to-morrow.
- From Official Records Vol. 1, p 115 – 118 and Days of Defiance by Maury Klein. [↩]