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FROM THE ELECTION, NOV. 6, 18G0, TO THE INAUGURATION,
MARCH 4, 1861.
The Presidential Election.—Secession Of South Carolina.—FormaTion Of The Rebel Confederacy.—The Objects Of Secession.—SeCession Movements In Washington.—Debates In Congress.—The Crittenden Resolutions.—Conciliatory Action Of Congress.—The Peace Conference.—Action Of Congress.—The Secession MoveMent Unchecked.
Abraham Lincoln was elected to be President of the United States on the sixth day of November, I860. The preliminary canvass had not been marked by any very extraordinary features. Partv lines were a good deal broken up, and four presidential candidates were in the field; but this departure from the ordinary course of part}' contests had occurred more than once in the previous political history of the country. Mr. Lincoln was put in nomination by the Republican party, and represented in his life and opinions the precise aim and object for which that party had been formed. He was a native of a slaveholding State; and while lie had been opposed to slavery, he had regarded it as a local institution, the creature of local laws, with which the National Government of the United States had nothing whatever to do. But, in common with all observant public men, he had watched with distrust and apprehension the advance of slavery, as an element of political power, towards ascendency in the Government of the nation, and had cordially co-operated with those who thought it absolutely necessary for the future well-being of the country that this advance should be checked. He had, therefore, opposed very strenuously the extension of slavery into the Territories, and had asserted the right and the duty of Congress to exclude it by positive legislation therefrom.
The Chicago Convention, which nominated Mr. Lincol::, adopted a platform of which this was the cardinal feature; but it also took good care to repel the imputation of its political opponents, and to remove the apprehensions of the South, that the party proposed to interfere with slavery in the States whose laws gave it support and protection. It expressly disavowed all authority and all wish for such interference, and declared its purpose to protect the Southern States in the free enjoyment of all their constitutional rights. The Democratic Convention, original]}' assembled at Charleston, was disposed to make Mr. Douglas its candidate in opposition to Mr. Lincoln; bat this purpose was thwarted by leading politicians of the slaveholding States, who procured the nomination of Mr. Breckinridge, with full knowledge of the fact that this would divide the Democratic party, and in all probability secure the election of Mr. Lincoln. Mr. Breckinridge represented the pro-slavery element of the Democratic party, and asserted the duty of the National Government, by a positive exercise of its legislative and executive power, to protect slavery in the Territories against any legislation either of Congress or of the people of the Territories themselves, which should seek to impair in any degree the right, alleged to be recognized in the Constitution, of property in slaves. Mr. Douglas supported the theory that the people of the Territories, acting through their territorial legislature, had the same right to decide this question for themselves as they had to decide any other; and he represented this principle in opposition to Mr. Lincoln on the one hand, and Mr. Breckinridge on the other, in the presidential canvass. John Bell, of Tennessee, was also made a candidate by the action mainly of men who were dissatisfied with all the existing political parties, and who were alarmed at the probable results of a presidential election which promised to be substantially sectional in its character. They put forth, therefore, no opinions upon the leading points in controversy; and went into the canvass with ik the Constitution, the Union, and the enforcement of the laws" as their platform,—one upon which they could easily have rallied all the people of all sections of the country, but for the fact, which they seemed to overlook, that the widest possible differences of opinion prevailed among the people as to its meaning.
All s<actions of the country took part in the election. The Southern States were quite as active and quite as zealous as the Northern in carrying on the canvass. Public meetings were held, the newspaper press, South as well as North, discussed the issues involved with energy and vigor, and every thing on the surface indicated the usual termination of the contest, the triumph of one party and the peaceful acquiescence of all others. The result, however, showed that this was a mistake. The active and controlling politicians of the Southern States had gone into the canvass with the distinct and well-formed purpose of acquiescing in the result only in the event of its giving them the victory. The election took place on the 6th of November. Mr. Lincoln received the electoral votes of all the Free States except New Jersey, which was divided, giving him four votes, and Mr. Douglas three. Mr. Breckinridge received the electoral votes of all the Slave States except Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia, which voted for Bell, and Missouri, which voted for Douglas, as did three electors from New Jersey also. Of the popular vote, Lincoln received 1,857,610; Douglas, 1,365,976; Breckinridge, 847,953; and Bell, 590,631. In the Electoral College, Lincoln received 180 votes, Douglas 12, Breckinridge 72, and Bell 39.
As soon as the result of the election was known, various movements in the Southern States indicated their purpose of resistance; and it soon became evident that this purpose had been long cherished, and that members of the Government under the presidency of Mr. Buchanan had officially given it their sanction and aid. On the 29th of October, General Scott sent to the President and John B. Floyd, his Secretary of War, a letter expressing apprehensions lest the Southern people should seize some of the Federal forts in the Southern States, and advising that they should be immediately garrisoned by way of precaution. The Secretary of War, according to statements subsequently made by one of his eulogists in Virginia, ''thwarted, objected, resisted, and forbade5' the adoption of those measures, which, according to the same authority, if carried into execution, would have defeated the conspiracy, and rendered impossible the formation of a Southern Confederacy. An official report from tlie Ordnance Department, dated January 16, 1861, also shows that during the year 1860, and previous to the presidential election, one hundred and fifteen thousand muskets had been removed from Northern armories and sent to Southern arsenals by a single order of the Secretary of War, issued on the 30th of December, 1859. On the 20th of November, the Attorney General, Hon. John S. Black, in reply to inquiries of the President, gave him the official opinion that Congress had no right to carry on Avar against any State, either to pi-event a threatened violation of the Constitution or to enforce an acknowledgment that the Government of the United States is supreme: and it soon became evident that the President adopted this theory as the basis and guide of his executive action.
South Carolina took the lead in the secession movement. Her legislature assembled on the 4th of November, 1860, and, after casting the electoral vote of the State for John C. Breckinridge to be President of the United States, passed an act the next day calling a State Convention, to meet at Columbia on the 17th of December. On the 10th, F. W. Pickens was elected Governor, and, in his inaugural, declared the determination of the State to secede, on the ground that, u in the recent election for President and Vice-President, the North had carried the election upon principles that make it no longer safe for us to rely upon the powers of the Federal Government or the guarantees of the Federal compact. This," he added, "is the great overt act of the people of the Northern States, who propose to inaugurate a chief magistrate not to preside over the common interests or destinies of all States alike, but upon issues of malignant hostility and uncompromising war to be waged upon the rights, the interests, and the peace of half of the States of this Union." The Convention met on the 17th of December, and adjourned the next day to Charleston, on account of the prevalence of smallpox at Columbia. On the 20th an ordinance was passed unanimously repealing the ordinance adopted May 23, 1788, whereby the Constitution of the United States was ratified, and "dissolving the Union now subsisting between South Carolina and other States under the name of the United States of America;" and on tin* 24th the Governor issued his proclamation, declaring the State of South Carolina to be a "separate, sovereign, free, and independent State."
This was the first act of secession passed by any State. The debates in the State Convention show clearly enough that it was not taken under the impulse of resentment for any sharp and remediless wrong, nor in apprehension that any such wrong would be inflicted; but in pursuance of a settled and long-cherished purpose. In that debate Mr. Parker said that the movement was Cino spasmodic effort —it had been gradually culminating for a long series of years.1' Mr. Inglis indorsed this remark, and added, "Most of us have had this matter under consideration for the last twenty years." Mr. L. M. Keitt said, tkI have been engaged in this movement ever since I entered political life/" And Mr. Rhett, who had been for many years in the public service, declared that fcfcthe secession of South Carolina was not the event of a day. It is not," said he, "any thing produced by Mr. Lincoln's election, or by the non-execution of the fugitive slave law. It is a matter which has been gathering head for thirty years. The election of Lincoln and Hamlin was the last straw on the back of the camel. But it was not the only one. The back was nearly broken before/' So far as South Carolina was concerned, there can be no doubt that her action was decided by men who had been plotting disunion for thirty years, not on account of any wrongs her people had