Thursday, December 6, 1860
It had now been one month since Lincoln’s election. The panic and excitement over the affair had died down considerably. Much of the South was still considering secession, but the people had gone back to their daily lives, for the time being. Things were happening inside the legislative halls rather than outside on the streets.
Secretary of the Treasury Howell Cobb of Georgia (former Speaker of the House and Governor) was once Buchanan’s choice for Vice-President. He wielded great power in the Cabinet and was, at one time, a die-hard Unionist. Things had changed.
Cobb, on this day, addressed the people of Georgia in a lengthy letter. He quoted popular explorer and abolitionist John C. Fremont’s views on slavery, giving a base from which to launch into his point: “In the nomination of Mr. Lincoln for the Presidency, the Black Republicans gave still more pointed expression to their views and feelings on the subject of slavery.”
He quoted Lincoln in speeches stating that he hated slavery. Cobb claims that Lincoln “has covered the entire abolition platform – hatred of slavery, disregard of judicial decisions, negro equality, and, as a matter of course, the ultimate extinction of slavery.”
Also quoted at length was William H. Seward, a New York Senator more against slavery than most and a likely candidate for Lincoln’s cabinet. Other Senators were also quoted – all stating anti-slavery views.
For Cobb, this all boiled down to slavery and “the doctrine of negro equality,” to which Cobb did not at all subscribe. He, like many Southern politicians, divided the grievances into three parts.
1. That the Constitution of the United States recognizes the institution of slavery as it exist in the fifteen Southern States.
2. That the citizens of the South have the right to go with their slave property into the common territories of the Union, and are entitled to protection for both their persons and property from the General Government during its territorial condition.
3. That by the plain letter of the Constitution the owner of a slave is entitled to reclaim his property in any State into which the slave may escape, and that both the General and State Governments are bound under the Constitution to the enforcement of this provision; the General government by positive enactment, as has been done; and the State governments by interposing no obstacle in the way of the execution of the law and other Constitution.
He closed by asking the question on every citizen’s mind: “Is there no other remedy for this state of things but immediate secession?” Cobb answerd, just to be clear, “None worthy of your consideration has been suggested…”
“On the 4th day of March, 1861, the Federal Government will pass into the hands of the Abolitionists. It will then cease to have the slightest claim upon either your confidence or your loyalty; and, in my honest judgment, each hour that Georgia remains thereafter a member of the Union will be an hour of degradation, to be followed by certain and speedy ruin.”
As a member of Buchanan’s cabinet, Cobb must have known how this letter would change everything – for himself as well as his state and country.