James Buchanan. Mr. Buchanan’s Administration on the Eve of the Rebellion. New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1866.
In sum, it was President Buchanan’s belief that the slavery issue was what drove the Civil War. He saw slavery as protected by the Constitution. He blamed Northern abolitionists for their constant hostilities towards Southerners. Compromises had kept the country together before. He admitted mistakes were made on both sides, especially the decisions of Southern states to break away.
Buchanan warned, before the Civil War, of the impending dangers of war. He worked for compromise yet be blamed Congress for being unwilling to work with him. Congress, Buchanan argued, should have enacted laws to put down armed resistance and prevented rebellion
Buchanan wrote “the Constitution does not confer upon Congress power to interfere with slavery.” He claimed they followed “a higher power” as a pretext for their assaults on Southern slavery
In Buchanan’s view, slavery was “a domestic institution, exclusively under the control of the sovereign states.” Northern abolitionists were “destitute of all rightful powers over the subject” in seeking to end slavery, whether it was in Southern states or in another country.
Northern abolitionists were seen by Buchanan as agitators. They “did not hesitate to pervert the Post Office” by making “representations of an incendiary character, calculated to arouse the savage passions of the slaves to servile insurrection.” Buchanan, when a Senator, favored making such mailings illegal.
The Wilmot Proviso, which prohibited slavery in new territory, in Buchanan’s opinion, sent a message to Southern slave owners they would be denied opportunities for new found wealth.
Buchanan noted the Pennsylvania House of Representatives declined to consider resolutions favoring the Wimot Proviso.
Buchanan as President sent Federal troops to Kansas to defend the state government approved by the Federal government. They defended against an anti-slavery government that had formed that had boycotted the election of a pro-slavery state government.
Buchanan believed “in the doctrine that property, including that is slaves, as well as in the territories as in the states, is placed under the protection of the Constitution and neither a territorial legislature nor Congress possesses the power to impair it or destroy it.”
Buchanan noted that New York Senator William Seward, who was a leader of the Republican Party, argued that ultimately the entire nation either must ban slavery or permit slavery. 68 Republican members of Congress, led by Rep. Schuylor Colfax, endorsed this view. This caused alarm in the South.
At it’s 1860 national convention, Democratic delegates approved a resolution that the party will abide by Supreme Court decisions. This put the party in favor of court rulings supporting slavery yet substituted for a longer statement of support. Southern Democrats withdrew from the nomination over the possibility that Stephen Douglas would be the nominee. Douglas was nominated in their absence. Southern Democrats nominated John Breckinridge. Tennessee Democrats supported John Bell who won their electoral votes. Douglas had more delegates yet Breckinridge had more support from Democratic leaning states. Buchanan noted neither candidate was nominated according to party rules. This spilt made Lincoln’s election a certainty. Buchanan blamed the loss on Douglas supporters for their refusal to recognize the full legal rights of slavery.
Buchanan believed it was Northerners who originated the idea of secession. John Quincy Adams was among those in Massachusetts who earlier had discussed the possibility of states leaving the Union over objecting to the Louisiana purchase. Buchanan wrote that Adams had the “same fallacy” as did Southern states when they seceded.
John Calhoun was portrayed as one of the last South Carolina Democrats supporting the Union. Calhoun, in his final speech before dying, urged that Southern slave owners be allowed to be included in the richnesses of newly acquired territories. After Calhoun, pro-Union Democrats were then scared in South Carolina.
Buchanan noted that ,just three days before South Carolina seceded from the Union, that the New York Tribune editorialized noting the Declaration of Independence and how “we don’t see why it would not justify the secession of five million Southrons from the Federal Union.”
Prior to the Civil War, Buchanan sent Union troops into the West to protect settlers and fight against Native American attacks. He argued their forts were understaffed. He noted he believed that Lincoln, lacking proper military force, would seek compromises rather than military actions.
In the four months from Lincoln’s election to his inaugural, Buchanan saw his main objective was to “preserve the Union.” Secession was not provided for in the Constitution nor could the spirit of it be upheld if a state could voluntary leave.
Buchanan placed some blame for the Civil War on Congress. It neither acted towards compromising with the South nor did it create a military to fight a war. Some wanted to send troops to secure forts yet there were not enough troops to do this, which Buchanan argue would have only shown weakness. Congress deliberately failed to pass a law enabling the President to raise a militia to put down an insurrection. Federal judicial office holders resigned in South Carolina yet Congress did not act on these matters.
After South Carolina seceded, Lincoln hoped to keep other states from similarly leaving the Union. A delegation met with Lincoln, who Lincoln insisted on considering them as private citizens and not an official delegation from a sovereign nation. The delegates insisted on the removal of Union troops from South Carolina. South Carolina seized a Union arsenal with property valued at over a half million dollars. Defenders of South Carolina consider this an act of self-defense. Lincoln refused to remove troops from South Carolina. Senator Jefferson Davis placed the South Carolina demands into the Senate record and delivered what Buchanan described as a “severe and unjust attack” on Lincoln.
President Buchanan received an “insolent letter” from the South Carolina delegation. He returned it unanswered.
A Union ship attempted to land at a Union fort in South Carolina,Fort Sumter. It was fired upon. The ship withdrew and did not fire back because it presumed it was fired upon without authorization. What Buchanan termed a “partial truce” was reached. The ship returned to where it had left in New York.
South Carolina demanded Buchanan promise not to send reinforcements to Fort Sumter. Buchanan refused, stating it was his duty to have as many troops as needed to protect public property. South Carolina then demanded the surrender of Fort Sumter. Buchanan replied the President had no authority to surrender any Federal property.
Six weeks after Buchanan left as President and Lincoln’s term began, South Carolina bombarded Fort Sumter. The Civil War began.
Virginia sought to create a Peace Convention. Virginia sent former President John Tyler to discuss this with Lincoln and Congress. Lincoln refused to attend such a convention. Congress refused to even refer the subject to committee. Buchanan called this a “mortifying neglect” on the part of Congress. He claimed it left a “deep and unfortunate impression” upon the people of Virginia.
Florida, which Buchanan called a “feeble state” and what he thought was the least likely Southern state to rebel as they required Union troops to defend it against Seminole Indians, was the next sate to strike. Union solders were driven out of Pensacola.
Buchanan refuted allegations he allowed the South to steal Union arms. He stated any transfer would have been detected. He declared the claims against him were outrageous and false.
Buchanan is proud that he reduced the annual Federal government budget, that “Mormon despotism” was suppressed in Utah, and he believed he improved America’s foreign relations.