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LINCOLN AS PRESIDENT ORGANISES THE PEOPLE
FOR THE MAINTENANCE OF NATIONAL
AFTER the election of November, 1860, events moved swiftly. On the 2oth of December, comes the first act of the Civil War, the secession of South Carolina. The secession of Georgia had for a time been delayed by the influence of Alexander H. Stephens who, on the 14th of November, had made a great argument for the maintenance of the Union. His chief local opponent at the time was Robert Toombs, the Southern leader who proposed in the near future to “call the rollcall of his slaves on Bunker Hill.'
Lincoln was still hopeful of saving to the cause of the Union the Border States and the more conservative divisions of States, like North Carolina, which had supported the Whig party.
In December, we find correspondence between Lincoln and Gilmer of North Carolina, whom he had known in Washington. “The essential
difference,” says Lincoln, “between your group and mine is that you hold slavery to be in itself desirable and as something to be extended. I hold it to be an essential evil which, with due regard to existing rights, must be restricted and in the near future exterminated.”
On the 23d of February, 1861, Lincoln reaches Washington where he is to spend a weary and anxious two weeks of waiting for the burden of his new responsibilities. He is at this time fifty-two years of age. In one of his brief addresses on the way to Washington he says:
“It is but little to a man of my age, but a great deal to thirty millions of the citizens of the United States, and to posterity in all coming time, if the Union of the States and the liberties of the people are to be lost. If the majority is not to rule, who would be the judge of the issue or where is such judge to be found?"
It is difficult to imagine a more exasperating condition of affairs than obtained in Washington while Lincoln was awaiting the day of inauguration. The government appeared to be crumbling away under the nerveless direction, or lack of direction, of President Buchanan and his associates. In his last message to Congress, Buchanan
had taken the ground that the Constitution made no provision for the secession of States or for the breaking up of the Union; but that it also failed to contain any provision for measures that could prevent such secession and the consequent destruction of the nation. The old gentleman appeared to be entirely unnerved by the pressure of events. He could not see any duty before him. He certainly failed to realise that the more immediate cause of the storm was the breaking down, through the repeal of the Missouri Compromise, of the barriers that had in 1820, and in 1850, been placed against the extension of slavery. He evidently failed to understand that it was his own action in backing up the infamous Lecompton Constitution, and the invasion of Kansas by the slave-owners, which had finally aroused the spirit of the North, and further that it was the influence of his administration which had given to the South the belief that it was now in a position to control for slavery the whole territory of the Republic.
It has before now been pointed out that, under certain contingencies, the long interval between the national election and the inaugural of the new President from the first Tuesday in November until the fourth day of March must, in not a few
instances, bring inconvenience, disadvantage, and difficulty not only to the new administration but to the nation. These months in which the members of an administration which had practically committed itself to the cause of disintegration, were left in charge of the resources of the nation gave a most serious example and evidence of such disadvantage. This historic instance ought to have been utilised immediately after the War as an influence for bringing about a change in the date for bringing into power the administration that has been chosen in November.
By the time when Lincoln and the members of his Cabinet had placed in their hands the responsibilities of administration, the resources at the disposal of the government had, as far as practicable, been scattered or rendered unavailable. The Secretary of the Navy, a Southerner, had taken pains to send to the farthest waters of the Pacific as many as possible of the vessels of the American fleet; the Secretary of War, also a Southerner, had for months been busy in transferring to the arsenals of the South the guns and ammunition that had been stored in the Federal arsenals of the North; the Secretary of the Treasury had had no difficulty in disposing of government funds in one direction or another
so that there was practically no balance to hand over to his successor available for the most immediate necessities of the new administration.
One of the sayings quoted from Washington during these weeks was the answer given by Count Gurowski to the inquiry, “Is there anything in addition this morning ?” “No," said Gurowski, “it is all in subtraction.'
By the day of the inaugural, the secession of seven States was an accomplished fact and the government of the Confederacy had already been organised in Montgomery. Alexander H. Stephens had so far modified his original position that he had accepted the post of Vice-President and in his own inaugural address had used the phrase, “Slavery is the corner-stone of our new nation,” a phrase that was to make much mischief in Europe for the hopes of the new Confederacy.
In the first inaugural, one of the great addresses in a noteworthy series, Lincoln presented to the attention of the leaders of the South certain very trenchant arguments against the wisdom of their course.
He says of secession for the purpose of preserving the institution of slavery:
“You complain that under the government of the United States your slaves have from time to time