Buchanan’s New Secretary of the Treasury

Tuesday, January 15, 1861

President Buchanan’s last selection for the Secretary of the Treasury, Philip Thomas, supposedly resigned over qualms he had with Buchanan’s stance on Fort Sumter. That may well be true, but actually, Thomas simply could not work with banks on Wall Street.

In light of that, Buchanan asked the banks who they would like. John A. Dix, current Postmaster of New York City and former Senator in the 1840s, was their man and so he was Buchanan’s.

After some political wrangling and a supposed offer of the Secretary of War position (which he declined), Buchanan filled the Secretary of the Treasury seat with John A. Dix a day after Thomas had resigned.1

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“I Beg of You… Surrender the Fort”

Near Pensacola, Florida, Lieutenant A. J. Slemmer of Pennsylvania was still in charge of Fort Pickens. He and his 81 men had been asked to surrender the fort by Colonel W.H. Chase, Commander of the State of Florida’s forces.

“Listen to me, then, I beg of you, and act with me in preventing the shedding the blood of your brethren. Surrender the fort. You and your command may reoccupy the barracks and quarters at Barrancas on your simple parole to remain there quietly until ordered away, or to resume the command of the harbor should an adjustment of present difficulties in the Union be arrived at.”

Chase claimed to have between 800 and 900 men, which was a lot more than Slemmer’s 81. Lt. Slemmer replied that he would have to get back to him tomorrow.2

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The warship USS Brooklyn which had been off the coast of South Carolina, returned to Fortress Monroe near Norfolk, Virginia.

According to the Richmond Daily Dispatch “None of the guns on the Brooklyn were loaded, or even unlashed for the purpose, nor was the slightest preparation for action made on board during the whole cruise.” Apparently the sailors had mixed feelings about the affair, some being from the South.

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Ten Senators to Buchanan

Isaac Hayne, the Attorney General of South Carolina, was sent to Washington by Governor Pickens to establish a sort of agreement between the United States and South Carolina. Yesterday, he was button-holed by Alabama Senator Clay and urged to not deliver the letter until the South could be unified. Hayne wasn’t sure what to do.

On this day, Clay returned to Hayne with the request in writing, signed by ten Senators. Their request was the same stuff heard all along. If Buchanan would send no reinforcements to Fort Sumter, South Carolina should not attack the fort. This agreement should be extended until February 15.

Hayne agreed to hold onto the letter if Governor Pickens approved of the idea. He would stick around Washington until he heard from Pickens.3

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Twiggs Asks to be Relieved

The Department of Texas’s General Daniel Twiggs had finally received General Scott’s letter of “advice” about what to do concerning Federal instillations should Texas secede from the Union. Twiggs was from Georgia and it was probably assumed (and known to a few) that if Georgia should leave, Twiggs would leave as well.

Since his first letter to Scott, he had written two other letters predicting that Texas would secede. Both letters (dated January 2nd and 7th) asked for instructions.

Twiggs replied to Scott’s “advice” of “the General [Scott] does not see at this moment that he can tender you any advice….” with a warning. “As soon as I know Georgia has separated from the Union, I must, of course, follow her.”

He then asked to be relieved of command by March 4th (Lincoln’s inauguration).4



  1. From Memoirs of John Adams Dix, Volume 1 by Morgan Dix, Harper & Brothers, 1883. []
  2. Congressional Serial Set, Issue 3112 by United States Government Printing Office, 1893. []
  3. From Days of Defiance by Maury Klein. []
  4. Official Records Vol. 1 p579-581. []
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2 thoughts on “Buchanan’s New Secretary of the Treasury

  1. It seems odd to me that Scott has not given some sort of clear direction to Twiggs here. I guess I am predisposed to think of Generals a men of clear action. I’m disappointed that he is vacillating pointlessly like the politicians. If he suspects his subordinate would walk off the job, why does he not send a replacement whom he considers loyal to the union?

    1. To me, Scott seems a bit pissy lately. He was definitely old and grumpy and didn’t really get his head on straight until a few months later (and some argue that he never did). The whole story (which I couldn’t really tell here due to space/time) is really very interesting. Twiggs probably would have gone south like most southern generals, but it would have been fun to see what would have happened if someone would have stepped in. Especially since Twiggs was so near retirement anyway.

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