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Key Documents Regarding South Carolina’s Attempt to Have President Buchanan Surrender Fort Sumter Without a Fight
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[SOUTH CAROLINA]. [FORT SUMTER]. Three copies of letters, to President James Buchanan, Senators from Seceding States, and Isaac W. Hayne. Washington, D.C., January 10, 1861, January 17, 1861, and January 23, 1861, 5 pp. total plus docketing.

Inventory #24671.03       Price: $5,500

Historical Background

On December 20, 1860, South Carolina voted to secede from the United States. Six days later, Major Robert Anderson in command of U.S. forces in Charleston harbor moved his small garrison from Fort Moultrie to the more defensible Fort Sumter. On January 9, the steamer Star of the West attempted to resupply the garrison at Fort Sumter, but South Carolina militia fired on it, forcing it to withdraw.

South Carolina Governor Francis W. Pickens demanded the surrender of Fort Sumter and sent state Attorney General Isaac W. Hayne as a special envoy to President James Buchanan to negotiate a peaceful transfer of the fort from the federal government to South Carolina. Hayne carried a letter to President James Buchanan in which Pickens asserted that Federal possession of Fort Sumter was “not consistent with the dignity or safety of the State of South Carolina.”

[I] have instructed [Hayne] to demand the delivery of Fort Sumter, in the harbor of Charleston, to the constituted authorities of the State of South Carolina. The demand … is suggested because of my earnest desire to avoid bloodshed which a persistence of your attempt to retain possession of that fort will cause….[1]

When Hayne arrived in Washington in mid-January, only South Carolina, Mississippi, and Florida had seceded. Hayne met with Buchanan on January 14 and agreed to deliver Pickens’s letter to him the next day, along with a formal cover letter. Senators from other southern states assured Hayne of their sympathy, but asked him to delay delivering his ultimatum if Buchanan would assure him that he would not reinforce Fort Sumter.

On January 19, through this letter, the southern senators forwarded their correspondence with Hayne to the lame duck President Buchanan. He responded through Secretary of War Joseph Holt that his actions had been neither hostile nor unfriendly toward South Carolina. He had a duty to preserve and protect federal property but did not deem it necessary to reinforce Fort Sumter immediately.

On January 23, the southern senators that remained in Washington sent that response to Hayne assuring him that the federal government would not reinforce Fort Sumter. Hayne delayed for two more weeks. On January 30, Hayne received Pickens’ instructions. As expected, the governor was intractable. In a lengthy, high-handed cover letter to Buchanan, Hayne asserted the right of South Carolina “as a separate independent sovereign,” to “take into her own possession everything within her limits essential to maintain her honor or safety.” He then enclosed Pickens’ earlier ultimatum. The president promptly consulted with Holt about reinforcing Sumter. On February 8, in a message regarding the fort, Buchanan gave copies of the correspondence to Congress. By that time, another five states had seceded: Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, and Louisiana. On that day, delegates in Montgomery, Alabama, adopted a provisional Confederate Constitution.

 

Southern Senators Try to Avert War Over Fort Sumter and Stall to Allow More States to Secede

BENJAMIN FITZPATRICK, STEPHEN R. MALLORY, and JOHN SLIDELL, Copy of Letter to President James Buchanan, Washington, D.C., January 10, 1861. 1 p., 7⅞ x 12½ in.

Complete Transcript

                                                                        Senate Chamber

                                                                        10th Jany 1861

Sir

            We have been requested to present to you copies of a correspondence between certain Senators of the United States, and Col Isaac W. Hayne now in this city on behalf of the government of South Carolina and to ask that you will take into consideration the subject of said correspondence

                                                                        Very Respectfully

                                                                        yr obt servt

                                                        (signed)[2] Ben Fitzpatrick

                                                                        S. R Mallory

                                                                        John Slidell

To His Excelly

James Buchanan

President of the United States

<2>

[Docketing:] No 10 / Letter of Senators of seceding States to the President

 

South Carolina Commissioner Hayne Agrees to Wait for Other Southern States to Secede

your People feel they have a common destiny with our People, & expect to form with them in that Convention a new Confederacy, or provisional Government: that you must, & will share our fortunes, suffering with us the evils of war, if it cannot be avoided, and enjoying with us the blessings of peace, if it can be preserved.

ISAAC W. HAYNE, Copy of Letter, to Senators from Seceding States, Washington, D.C., January 17, 1861. 2 pp. plus docketing, 7⅞ x 12½ in.

Complete Transcript

                                                                        Washington Jan [17] 1861.

Gentlemen;

            I have just recd your communication, dated the 15th inst.[3] You represent, you say, States, which have already seceded from the United States, or, will have done so, before the 1st of Febr next, and which will meet South Carolina in Convention, on, or, before the 15th of that month: that your People feel they have a common destiny with our People, & expect to form with them in that Convention a new Confederacy, or provisional Government: that you must, & will share our fortunes, suffering with us the evils of war, if it cannot be avoided, and enjoying with us the blessings of peace, if it can be preserved.

            I feel, Gentlemen, the force of this appeal, and so far as my authority extends, most cheerfully comply with your request.

            I am not clothed with power to make the arrangements you suggest, but provided you can get assurances, with which you are entirely satisfied, that no reinforcements will be sent to Fort Sumter in the interval, & that public peace shall not be disturbed by any act of hostility towards South Carolina, I will refer your communication to the Authorities of So Carolina & withholding their communication, with which I am at present charged, will await for their instructions.

            Major Anderson,[4] & his Command, let me assure you, do now obtain all necessary supplies of food, (including fresh meat, & vegetables), and I believe, fuel & water, & do now enjoy free communication by Post, & special messenger, <2> with the President, & will continue to do so, certainly, until the door of negotiation shall be closed.

            If your proposition is acceeded to, you may assure the President that no attack will be made on Fort Sumter, until a response from the Governor of South Carolina has been received by me, and communicated to him.

                                                                        With great consideration, and profound Esteem,

                                                                        Your Obedient Servant,

                                                                        (Signed) Isaac W. Hayne

                                                                        Envoy from the Governor, &

Council of South Carolina

<4>

[Docketing:] No 9. / Letter of Hon. I W Hayne in reply to Senators from seceding States. / Washington / Jan. 1861.

 

President Buchanan Will Continue to Wait, While Southern States Secede

We take this occasion to renew the Expression of an earnest hope that South Carolina will not deem it incompatible with her safety, dignity or Honor to refrain from initiating any hostilities against any power whatsoever, or from taking any steps tending to produce collision, until Our States which are to share her fortunes, shall have an opportunity of joining their counsels with hers

JUDAH P. BENJAMIN AND OTHER SENATORS, Copy of Letter, to Isaac W. Hayne, Washington, D.C., January 23, 1861. 2 pp. plus docketing, 7⅞ x 12½ in.

Complete Transcript

                                                                        Washington 23st Jany 1861

Hon. Isaac W. Hayne

Sir

            In answer to your letter of the 17th inst. We have now to inform you that after communicating with the President, we have received a letter signed by the Secretary of War and addressed to Messrs Fitzpatrick Mallory and Slidell on the subject of our proposition which letter we now enclose to you.[5] Altho’ its terms are not as satisfactory as we could have desired in relation to the ulterior purposes of the Executive. We have no Hesitation in Expressing our entire Confidence that no reinforcements will be sent to Fort Sumter, nor will the public peace be disturbed within the period requisite for full communication between yourself and your government, and we trust therefore that you will feel justified in applying for farther instructions before delivering to the President any message with which you may have been charged

            We take this occasion to renew the Expression of an earnest hope that South Carolina will not deem it incompatible with her safety, dignity or Honor to refrain from initiating any hostilities against any power whatsoever, or from taking any steps tending to produce collision, until Our States <2> which are to share her fortunes, shall have an opportunity of joining their counsels with hers

                                                                        We are with great Respect / yr obt Servts

                        Louis T. Wigfall                       J. P. Benjamin

                        D. L. Yulee                              A. Iverson

                                                                        John Hemphill

                                                                        John Slidell

                                                                        C. C. Clay jr[6]

P.S.

Some of the Signatures to the former letter addressed to you are not affixed to the foregoing Communication, in consequence of the Departure of Several Senators now on their way to their Respective States[7]

<4> [Docketing:] No 12 / Letter of Senators of seceding States to Hon. I. W. Hayne / 23 jan 1861 / copy

Benjamin Fitzpatrick (1802-1869) was born in Georgia and moved to Alabama with his sister in 1815. Admitted to the bar in 1821, he developed a law practice in Montgomery. He served as governor of Alabama from 1841 to 1845. Appointed to the U.S. Senate to fill a vacancy, he served from 1848 to 1849 and again from 1853 to January 12, 1861, when he resigned. He served several times as the president pro tempore of the Senate. He did not participate in Confederate politics, but served as president of the Alabama constitutional convention in 1865.

Stephen R. Mallory (1812-1873) was born in the British West Indies, but his family settled in Florida in 1820. He read law with a prominent judge in Key West and developed a thriving legal practice, especially in maritime law. He served in the Seminole War from 1835 to 1837 and served as county judge from 1837 to 1845. Elected to the U.S. Senate in 1850, Mallory served as chairman of the Senate Committee on Naval Affairs. He resigned on January 21, 1861, and returned to Florida. Six weeks later, President Jefferson Davis appointed him as Secretary of the Navy for the Confederacy, a position Mallory held throughout the war.

John Slidell (1793-1871) was born in New York and graduated from Columbia College in 1810. A merchant in New York, he relocated to New Orleans and practiced law there from 1819 to 1843. He served in the state legislature and in the U.S. House of Representatives. Sent to Mexico to negotiate the border of Texas and Mexico and to attempt to buy California, his mission failed, and the two nations went to war. He represented Louisiana in the U.S. Senate from 1853 until he resigned in February 1861. He accepted a diplomatic appointment to France, and his seizure by the US navy while aboard the British steamer RMS Trent in November 1861 nearly led to war between the United States and Great Britain. He finally made it to Paris in February 1862, but his efforts to gain French recognition of the Confederacy failed. He did obtain a loan for the Confederacy. After the war, he moved to Paris.

Isaac William Hayne (1809-1880) was born into a prominent South Carolina family. His relatives included Robert Y. Hayne, senator and governor, who engaged in a famous debate with Daniel Webster in 1830. Isaac Hayne was admitted to the bar in 1831, and served as the secretary of the state’s Nullification Convention in 1832-1833. After practicing law for a time in Alabama, he returned to South Carolina, where he served as Attorney General from 1848 to 1868.


[1] Francis W. Pickens to James Buchanan, January 12, 1861, in John Bassett Moore, ed., Works of James Buchanan, 12 vols. (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Company, 1908-11), 11:137-38.

[2]Senators” written vertically here.

[3] Full text of letter to Isaac W. Hayne, January 15, 1861, from Senators Louis T. Wigfall of Texas, John Hemphill of Texas, David L. Yulee of Florida, Stephen R. Mallory of Florida, Jefferson Davis of Mississippi, C. C. Clay Jr. of Alabama, Benjamin Fitzpatrick of Alabama; Alfred Iverson of Georgia, John Slidell of Louisiana, and Judah P. Benjamin of Louisiana. All except Wigfall and Hemphill had resigned their seats in the U.S. Senate by February 4, 1861. Wigfall and Hemphill were expelled in July 1861 for supporting the Confederacy.

[4] Major Robert Anderson (1805-1871), a career army officer from Kentucky and graduate of West Point, commanded the U.S. Army garrison at Fort Sumter.

[5] Full text of Joseph Holt to John Slidell, Benjamin Fitzpatrick, and Stephen R. Mallory, January 22, 1861.

[6] Signers included Senators Louis T. Wigfall of Texas, John Hemphill of Texas, David L. Yulee of Florida, C. C. Clay Jr. of Alabama, Alfred Iverson of Georgia, John Slidell of Louisiana, and Judah P. Benjamin of Louisiana. All except Wigfall and Hemphill had resigned their seats in the U.S. Senate by February 4, 1861. Wigfall and Hemphill were expelled in July 1861 for supporting the Confederacy. Yulee and Clay had resigned on January 21, but apparently remained in Washington.

[7] Those who signed the previous letter but did not sign this one were Jefferson Davis of Mississippi, Stephen R. Mallory of Florida, and Benjamin Fitzpatrick of Alabama. All three resigned on January 21, 1861.


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