"The Floyd Banquet," New York Herald, January 17, 1861

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    “The Floyd Banquet,” New York Herald, January 17, 1861, p. 2.
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    The Floyd Banquet
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    Andrew Cassidy-Amstutz
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    Interesting Developments of Cabinet Movements.

    After Dinner Revelations of the Ex-Secretary of War, &c., &c., &c.,

    Our Virginia Correspondence.

    Richmond, Va., Jan. 12, 1861

    Complimentary Banquet to Gov. Floyd, ex-Secretary of War, by his friends in Richmond-- Highly Interesting Speech of Gov. Floyd--Interesting Developments of Cabinet Movements Relative to South Carolina, &c.

    Gov. Floyd, ex-Secretary of War, was entertained by his friends in the Legislature and many private citizens to a splendid banquet, at the Exchange Hotel, last night. As I stated in a despatch to the herald, the entertainment was given in token of the high admiration in which the course of Gov. Floyd is held in leaving the Cabinet after the promise to preserve the status quo in South Carolina had been violated.

    Among those present at the dinner were the Hon. Mr. Hopkins and Mr. Gilmer, the two commissioners from Alabama.

    The first-regular toast was read by General A. A. Chapman, a member of the House of Delegates, who acted as President. It reads:--

    The constitution as our fathers made it.

    The Hon. James A. Seddon replied to this toast in a speech not very eulogistic of the constitution.
    The President gave the next regular toast:--

    Our guest, Hon. John B. Floyd, the worthy son of a noble sire. All honor to the Virginian, who, spurning the trappings of federal place, respects a mother’s rights and resents a mother’s wrongs.

    This toast was received with several rounds of applause, followed by three cheers for Gov. Floyd. When the applause subsided--

    Gov. Floyd arose and said:-- Mr. President and gentlemen--If I had all the wealth of language that belonged to the wealthiest of all men in language, I would still lack words to express to you my gratitude for the honor you have conferred upon me to-night. It is, indeed, a source of the most profound pleasure to me to be thus honored for the discharge of responsible duties, rendered of late peculiarly delicate and embarrassing; but I endeavored to discharge them to the best of my ability, prompted alone by a solemn sense of what was due to the country and due to myself. Forgive me, gentlemen, if I handle a little awkwardly a weapon that was familiar to me once, for I must say to you that I have not opened my mouth before a public assembly since four years ago. I met many of the sons of Virginia here, and engaged with them in hearty congratulations upon the happy termination of the conflict which we had then passed through. Four years ago, at the electoral dinner in this house, we congratulated ourselves upon the result of the great battle through which we had passed. If there was a lurking sentiment in the bosom of some that all was not quite as well as it should be--if the demon came up in spite of us, and intimated that the triumph we achieved was not a triumph of the majority, but a triumph of the minority--that it solved no great principle--that it was alone a quieting of the confederacy for the moment--still there was a general feeling of triumph, and an abiding hope in the minds of the people that in the future all would be well. The issue was distinctly made, and with a feeling of triumph we inducted into office our chosen leader. He stood upon a platform which was deservedly esteemed one of safety, one of peace, and one of salvation. Four short years have rolled over, and how stands the account this night? Where are the proofs of the triumph? Where is the peace that we expected to enjoy? Where is the safety and where the security that you had a right to count upon? Where is the preservation of the law which was hopefully looked for? Where the triumph of the constitution? Where the permanency of this Union? Gone--all gone, gone with last year’s snow, and gone forever. In the history of mankind such a revolution has never been witnessed for such a cause ah has produced this. I will advert for a solitary moment, before I go into a response to the toast which has just been offered, to the cause which led to this extraordinary condition of things. Is there any ground of complaint against you for any act subversive of the principles upon which this government is founded? What have you done that is wrong? What constitutional provision have you violated? What law of the land have you trampled under foot? What wrong have you perpetrated? Not one; not one. How came it to pass, then, that this confederacy, this Union, which like the gentleman who has just spoken, I love and honor for its purity, has been annihilated? A Fanaticism, a religious and moral prejudice, has arisen in the minds of our Northern brethren, and they have attempted to carry it into effect through the instrumentality of the federal government. And see in what it has resulted--in alienation of felling between the North and South, a total disregard of the constitution and laws of the country, and, finally, in the disruption of a government the most glorious , the most magnificent that the world ever saw. A short time in the history of nations, gentlemen--thirty years only--when I had no gray hair on my head, but when, like many of you here, in the prime of youth, this incident occurred, and it is an insignificant one. A newspaper made its appearance called the Liberator, and the Governor of Virginia at that day wrote to a friend of his in Boston to know something of this Liberator newspaper. He stated that the paper had been sent here through the Post Office to teach insubordination and incite servile insurrection. What, said the Governor, is the meaning of this? How is it that the old cradle of liberty allows this paper to exist? His friend wrote back and stated:--“The paper you have sent me I have carefully examined, and immediately made it my business to seek its origin. After a long and tedious search I discovered that it was published by an insignificant and unknown man, and printed it the attic of a waste house in a back street of the city of Boston. The publisher nobody knows or cares for; his whole concern is a small, dirty room, containing a press worked by himself once a week to throw out the issue which he prepares for the public. I think the Governor of Virginia--the Governor of that great old Commonwealth which led the van in the Revolutionary war--may rest content that there is no danger to the liberties of Virginia from this source.” That was thirty years ago, and at that time this little indication was but a small cloud in the heavens not bigger than a man’s hand. How is it now? It has grown to be a cloud that covers the whole face of the heavens--it has grown to be a power that is striking down the bulwark of constitutional liberty and freedom. That was its origin. How has it progressed to this colossal proportion? It went into the churches of the Lamb of God and created divisions there; and then with impious presumption said, we are more wise in our generation, than the God of heaven when he gave laws to the children of Israel. We say, that slavery is a curse, and that damnation will attend you who live in the country where it exists. They say, you cannot sit down at the table of the Lord that is given as the covenant for man’s salvation. But why do I dwell upon this subject? It is quite as familiar to you as it is to me, and it is therefore unnecessary that the country has this fanaticism not set upon and destroyed. It has invaded every fundamental right which we hold dear, and has finally culminated in the destruction of this great and glorious Union. What is this which they religiously regard as a curse? God in his commandments wrote with his own fingers upon Mount Sinai, “though shalt not covet they neighbor’s slave;” and if these fanatics will deal with this subject in a religious aspect, I would have them remember that the first slave catcher in the history of the world was an angel of God, sent by God to take a runaway slave--a negro--and bring him back to his master. (Applause and laughter.[)] It is a hallowed institution, and it seems that in the Providence of God it came down through the new dispensation to be preserved and perpetuated in conformity with the will of divine Providence. With all reverence, allow me to state to those who want a new Bible and an anti[-]slavery God, that if the doctrine of Moses has becom[e] too old fogyish for them, they can refer to the new testament and there seek some further light. An angel, as [I] have said, was the first slave catcher. St. Paul sustaine[d] the institution and admonished submission on the part o[f] slaves to their masters; and everywhere we find it cones[c]rated by the will of God, through which it is destined to a perpetual existence, to be controlled and governed in conformity with his precepts. Is it therefore to be presumed that this institution is against religion? God thought not--Moses thought not--Paul thought not--Jesus Christ thought not--the constitution thought not. (Applause.) But how stands the fact? Has it ever occurred to you that the institution of African slavery in the United States was of itself a miracle like the delivery of the children of Israel from the bonds of the Egyptians? Then the power of God divided the sea and let the oppressed go free, and the water stood as a wall on either side, and the oppressed went free, when Pharaoh with his chariot was swallowed up in the deep. (Applause.) How came African slavery to be instituted in the United States? What great interest required it? What great national policy demanded it? What great religious instinct prompted it? What great sentiment of philanthropy demanded it? Not one. Here were a people savage from the beginning--here were a people found in a condition the most deplorable that the human heart can contemplate, who, by some peculiar and unaccountable destiny, were brought from the land where they lived to this country, here to remain and engage in those pursuits which peculiarly befitted their helpless condition. And what has been the result? The institution has prospered beyond all the colonies that has ever been planted. From being savages they have come to be civilized--from being savages they have become Christians--from being savages they have become happy and content. Was the like ever known? Was a colony under such circumstances ever planted, and has any colony more flourished? If all the combined powers of the combined nations of the earth were to unite to plant such colonies they could not have succeeded. God planted it, and it succeeded. When did the African blood contribute towards the advancement of civilization before? There is not on the globe, and never has been and never will be, a people whose labor did as much towards human advancement and refinement as the African labor. Look into the philosophy of it. There is a man who can raise cotton, and that man is the African. What does cotton do? I heard the ringing sound fall the other day from the lips of a Senator, that “cotton is king,” and felt the full force of this remark. I would say it is more than king. It is the power that revolves and controls the destinies of civilized man; and the negro man is the instrument that produces it. (Applause.) He is God Almighty’s instrument and he is working in God Almighty’s cause. What does cotton do for you? It regulates the commerce of the United States; it keeps the ships and workshops of America at work; it contributes three hundred millions of dollars every year to the sustaining of the commercial power of the United States government, the affairs of which are no longer sustained by arms in the field or a powerful navy on the ocean. It is not through ordnance, the Commissariat Department, or the Quartermaster’s Department. It is not with men armed cap-a-pie, with helmets glistening in the sunlight. It is not to these that it is given now to control the affairs of the world. There be men in the back room of the counting house who pursue their silent vocations of ciphering and making entries, and they are the parties who control the destinies of the affairs of men in these days. And how stands slave labor with them? Slave labor is essential as the basis of their operations. It is with the products of slave labor that we settle our balances with England every year, and it is to this power that we are looking with every confidence here for the concentration of the commerce of the world. That monopoly which once belonged to Tyre--that great trade which belonged once to Sidon and to Amsterdam, and which now belongs to England, is being transferred to us by a certain decree, and, if the Union holds, will soon be concentrated in the waters of the United States. This is what cotton would do for us if fanaticism did not step in and pervert the goods designs of Providence. It keeps ships employed; it puts all the earth under bonds to keep the peace with the United States. (Loud applause.) If you had one continuous fortification reaching from the Aroostook to the Rio Grande, frowning with bayonets, it would not be half so potential as the labor of these Africans. In a commercial point of view, in a national point of view, in a religious point of view, in a philanthropic point of view, what is there in this institution that authorizes interference with it? Yet these people have advanced and laid their unhallowed hands upon this institution of God Almighty; and they say, you are sinners, the curse of God adheres to your garments, we will have no fellowship with you. This has been going on for thirty years. In spite of all these facts, and of another one which I will allude to, they are determined to break down this government; they intend to force the blessing of liberty upon these people. It is no new idea. This idea of freeing the African is not new. It has been tried before, and what has been the result? You have seen England, that great Power, come forward in the days of the prosperity of one of her island possessions, proclaiming in the highways and byways that she struck from the slaves, in the first island that God ever made, the manacles which bound them, set them free. Yes, sir, she elevated the black man to the possession of freedom, and thus sought to force upon you the belief that he is your brother and your equal. She gave to him the finest isle of the ocean, and what had been the result of the experiment? Man has freed him and God has declared him to be a slave, and the experiment of freedom in this instance exhibits the fact that instead of his improving, he goes down, down, down, to the depth of savagery and idolatry. What has become of that island? It is this day a wilderness and desert. It did not stop them. God intended that the example should go further, and when he instigated our brethren at the North to an act of humanity, when he turned their eyes away from the burning of witches to the freeing of the American slave, what has been the case? When those men were liberated, after a century of close education, have they advanced in the school of human civilization? They have not, but have fallen as soon as the shackles of slavery were shaken from their arms--have fallen through the network of society, and gone down to the abyss of degradation, finding their way out from the centre of society through three channels--those of crime, poverty and insanity. They have disappeared; and all the moral suasion, and all the teachings of the Gospel, all the Sunday schools and tract societies have been unable to stay their progress. Go into jails and hospitals and lunatic asylums, and there you will find confirmed what I have already referred to as the channels through which the depletion of this black element in society is wrought. No, the hand of God Almighty is in this thing. It is like the miracle which He performed in bringing the Israelites through the Red Sea. But these Northern men are wiser in this generation than God; they are holier than the Divine One who died on Calvary; and they come to tell you that you shall liberate these people or you shall be damned. (Laughter.) It has gone from one step to another, as you are aware, until now it may be said to have attained its climax. But, gentlemen, it has been proclaimed that there is an irrepressible conflict between the region of country where it does not exist, and that there is but one issue, and that is the liberation of the slaves. Parties have been organized on this issue. It split the churches--it has separated nearly all the churches--it has gone on in regular progression, and now threatens the political ruin of the country. And this brings us down to the point in which we are immediately interested. Upon the election of Abraham Lincoln on a platform embodying the avowal of a principle which is in vain to deny, and still more vain to disregard, these people are aroused upon one side upon the avowed declaration that slavery is a curse, a sin, and must be abolished. They come up with banners flaunting in the winds with these declared principles upon them. They have not consulted you; they did not condescend to ask you what was your opinion upon the subject. They never thought you of sufficient importance to ask your opinions upon the subject. That leaven, which thirty-six years ago was so small, has grown and increased until it now overwhelms the land, and stands forth a giant in its mighty proportions. It comes down from the North armed cap-a-pie to seize upon all the power of this mighty confederacy, to be used against you. The declaration has been made, the principle has been avowed, and then the organization is being gotten up to carry both into effect. Why, gentlemen, I have thought, God knows, many a time, that it was an easy matter for a man to surrender his opinions. To surrender his possessions does not cost a man much; to surrender his property is no very great sacrifice; but to surrender his manhood and his honor--my God! who can endure it? (Immense applause.) What is it these Northerners ask of you--you Virginians? They ask you to receive printed upon your foreheads the stigma and the insults of inferiority. They ask you to say to you wives and little ones, you are inferior to other people--you are not their equals. Go you down to the lowest seats at the fest, because you are not the equals of those Solons who repudiate the constitution. That is what they demand and will have, or they will do another thing, Virginians--they will have your blood. Which will you give? As God is my judge, they shall have my blood to the last drop before I consent to that monstrous iniquity. (Loud applause.) Is it anything that you can defer? Gentlemen, I did not come here in any spirit of dictation. I know my position, and have perfect confidence in my manhood. (Applause.) I am a private citizen, who feels that he is equal to any other man on the face of this earth, and will die to maintain it. (Immense applause.) I came here in no spirit of dictation. I came here as a true Virginian, to consult with you, and cast my lot in with your lot, and what Virginia in her wisdom may say is right I will abide by. (Applause.) Will you hug the delusion to your bosom--will you tell your constituency in the highways and byways to sleep quietly in the gorges of the mountains, in the beautiful valleys and along the sea shore, that there is peace when there is no peace? Will you do it? (Cries of “No,” “No.”) You cannot do it--you dare not do it. Proclaim the truth to the people of the country, and abide the issue of their decision. Is there peace in the future? Is there a hope that comes looming up? Let me advert to a few facts. There are some here who were present at the Cincinnati Convention when the President, Mr. Buchanan, received the nomination. I was at Cincinnati on that occasion, and I did my best to secure his nomination. Mr. Buchanan was a great and good man--a statesman of large experience, having served in public life not less than a quarter of a century up to the period of his nomination. We relied on his soundness and elected him; whereupon he brought around him a Cabinet--some dreadful things have been said about them--but, gentlemen, let me tell you that most of them are lies. (Laughter.) Look at the facts as they stand, with those trusty servants whom he put in position. What did he do? It would be easier to denounce than to defend; but I will defend the right, and proclaim the truth where I am, as God is my judge. What did he do? He reformed abuses; he instituted reforms; he introduced a rigid system of economy; and when it was declared to you that the government of the United States was spending one hundred millions of dollars a year, it could be seen by referring to the figures that Mr. Buchanan’s plan of economy had reduced the expenditures to less than sixty millions of dollars annually. (Applause.) What could you ask more? He had been true to the South, he had been true to his country, to his honor and to the constitution of the United States, which is all you could ask. That was the administration of Mr. Buchanan. And was that potential enough to exercise this demon of fanaticism that came knocking at the door of liberty? Was that enough to satisfy these people at the North who came upon another idea altogether to attack you? It was wholly insufficient, and they stigmatized, slandered and traduced the administration that had done this much for you. Our foreign relations, which were in great confusion when we got there, have been adjusted. The financial operations had been so managed, and especially during the crisis, that the government was safe. Was that sufficient to appease the demon? It was not; it had split the church of God. This fanaticism which the divided the parties of the country and the country itself, at last, and I say not the least, entered likewise into the council chamber of your own tried and trusted President of the United States. There this insidious serpent came, like the monster that came crawling on its belly into the garden of Eden to tempt our mother Eve. It entered the council chamber of the United States, and there, too, engendered the same divisions which marked its career elsewhere. I would gladly pass over this subject, because there must be something of egotism mixed up with it. I have not been ignorant of this division. I thought I saw at a distance when the aspiring men of all the Union were pluming their wings to perch into the elevated position of the Presidency--I thought I saw at a distance that they could not reach that point. There were other influences at work which would cut off their flight; I saw that there was a great controversy about to arise, which, unless prudence and forbearance should characterize the councils of the country, would end in blood. By accident beyond my merits--and I assure you, beyond my wishes and aspirations, for God knows I never wanted to go into the Cabinet of Mr. Buchanan--I happened to be placed in an unfortunate position. I labored there to understand the power of the position and its responsibilities. I soon found that it was full of significance, that it was an armed power for good, and armed with immense power for evil. Whilst your men were aspiring for the Presidency, and whilst I was the subject of vituperation and abuse which I never answered, I undertook so to dispose of the power in my hands that when the terrific hour came you, and all of you, and each of you, should say this man has done his duty. (Loud applause.) Pardon me for the egotism. It is God Almighty’s truth and God knows it. I saw a fissure in the iceberg coming. I knew there was no power between earth and heaven that could divert it. I understood, as I understand this moment, that as it had split everything in its path, it was destined to split the administration of the United States. I stood firm. Gentlemen, the message of the President of the United States seems to be a contradiction. Let me come again to the support in justice of what I believe to be that good old man. (Contemptuous laughter.) Was there, since God made this earth, a man ever placed in so difficult a position as the President of the United States was placed in? Had he not been true to you? Had his administration not been faithful to the South? Had it not been honest and faithful to the whole Union, because it was distinctly and fearlessly constitutional? I do not come here to censure gentlemen, but I will say, because it is due to the truth of history, that in that terrific conflict in which he was engaged he was not as well sustained by the South as he deserved to be. Perhaps it was intended that this present catastrophe should be precipitated upon the country. If they had taken a different course this would, doubtless, not have come. But it is not in human nature to be as true to another as to the mother that gave you suck. (Laughter.) Mr. Buchanan could not come to the position of the South as a son of the South would. There were two policies embodied in that message. There is the policy of peace, and there is the policy of coercion. However much they may be composed--however well they might keep together up and to the meeting of Congress and the formation of committees, there was a time coming when the roads fork. He had said and proclaimed--and it was a great consolation to me--we cannot make war and will not make war. Gentlemen, I was contented then and I will tell you the reason. But, he said, I will execute the laws. That was Mr. Attorney General Black’s doctrine--these lawyers have a reverential respect for laws--a very good thing. I don’t know of a better substitute for the law than a lawyer, except in times of great excitement. (Laughter.) Well, they said we must execute the laws, and I said, agreed, gentlemen. But the President said this question of the forts is a question of property. Well, I tapped my hand at that, and said, it is a question of property, and if it is a question of property it can be easily solved. I said, grant that this is a question of property--Mr. President, I am your Secretary of War, and the property and the army are under my charge. I have sworn an oath which is recorded in heaven, and I am determined that the responsibility for this property which I hold shall be turned over to my successor, if God gives me power to live and defend it. We agreed about the question of property, mark you, in the forts. The military power displayed in the forts, the political significance expressed in the forts, blended into each other so that it was twilight, and you could hardly tell where the light stopped and where the darkness commenced. I said it was a question of property. I am with you to the death. I know these people in South Carolina well. It so happened that I was amongst them. What little I know I learned there. I was at school there for years, and graduated in the college. I knew the men who were the operating men upon the political arena there, and I knew them well. I knew they were no fanatics. Pickens and many others who are no less prominent in South Carolina politics are men to be relied on. They are good men, they are great men, and I should defend them to the very last drop of my blood. (Loud applause.) I said I will not consent--I cannot consent--I dare not consent that you shall, under the guise of taking care of your property, introduce into this country a power that will rise up presently and probably aim at emancipation. For having once gained possession under this guise, there is danger of usurpation of a power which could be used, by and by, with serious detriment to the Southern people. I will not consent to this occupation. It is not fair, and I will not consent to it. Thus did the matter terminate then. I had frequent interviews with the President of the United States, and I take pleasure in bearing testimony to you, gentlemen, who do not like him quite as well as you did four years ago, that his whole and entire solicitude was upon the question of property. We made the compact. I believe there has been something in the newspapers about it. All that appears in the newspapers I found out is not true. Some things in them are true. The President said to me--and I thought I never saw him in my life look so much like what comes up to my idea of a President of the United States as he looked that evening--he said, “Mr. Floyd, are you going to send recruits to Charleston to strengthen the forts? What about sending reinforcements to Charleston?” I was taken very much by surprise to find the President making this inquiry, indicating, to my mind, a change of policy on his part. I said, “Mr. President, nothing about sending recruits to Charleston.” “Don’t you,” said he, “intend to strengthen the forts at Charleston?” “I do not intend to strengthen the forts at Charleston.” (Tremendous applause.) Says he, “Mr. Floyd, I would rather be in the bottom of the Potomac to-morrow than that these forts in Charleston should fall into the hands of those who intend to take them. It will destroy me, sir.” And, said he, “Mr. Floyd, if that thing occurs it will cover your name--and it is an honorable name, sir--with an infamy that all time can never efface, because it is in vain that you will attempt to show that you have not some complicity in handing over these forts to those who take them.” That is what the President said to me. Gentlemen, if you stood in the presence of the President, and conversed with a man you respected and loved, these words would have brought ponderous significance. What had I to do, and what had I to say? I said, “Mr. President, there is no danger; trust me, sir, trust me, sir, there is no danger. I will willingly risk my reputation, whatever that may be--I will trust my life--that the forts at Charleston are safe under the declarations of the gentlemen of Charleston--that they cannot be touched.” (Loud applause.) I said, and felt it, and as God is my judge, I would have given the blood of my life as soon as a chew of tobacco to a stranger in the wilderness to make that good. (Tremendous applause.) He said to me, “that is all very well; but pardon me for asking you, does that secure the forts?” I said, “No, sir; but it is a guaranty that I am in earnest in the belief that I expressed to you that the forts are secure.” Said he, “I am not satisfied.” I said, “I am sorry for it. Now, sir, it is for you to order; you are the President and can order. You can say to this man, ‘come, and he cometh; go, and he goeth;’ you have a right to order that these forts shall be strengthened. When you make that order, then I will consider your orders; but I would be recreant to you if I did not tell you that this policy of garrisoning the forts will lead to certain conflicts; it is the inauguration of civil war and the beginning of the effusion of blood. If it is a question of property, why not put an ordnance sergeant--a man who goes about with a sort of worsted epaulette upon his shoulder and stripes down his breeches--he is a representative man--he is a significant personage--he tells with peculiar emphasis, ‘I am the representative of the ‘Stars and Stripes,’ of ‘Hail, Columbia,’ and ‘Yankee Doodle,’ and in the name of all--in the name of that great shibboleth--I stand here the representative of the property of the United States.” (Laughter.) I said that this would be enough to secure the forts. If it is a question of property he represents it, and let us wait until the issue is made by South Carolina. She goes out of the Union, and sends her Commissioners here. She sends them to the Executive. Up to this point the action is insignificant. Action after this demands the attention of the great council of the nation. Let us submit the question to Congress, and let Congress say what shall be the issue upon the act of South Carolina. When she says I shall not continue in the Union any longer, but shall take back the powers I delegated to the general government--when that period comes, it is not for you, sir, much less for me, to say how that shall be decided, it is for Congress to deal with the matter. And when you submit it to Congress, there is another great question which follows as a corollary. Congress must then say, we admit the right of the State to withdraw--we admit the power to resume her sovereign rights, and because she has withdrawn and resumed her sovereign rights everything within her borders belongs to her. This will give a peaceful solution of the difficulty, if it is so decided; if not, Congress will have to say we deny the right of secession and the resumption by you of sovereign power, and in case you do resume such power, we will send down our armies and our fleets to coerce you to obedience. That is the issue. I will stay with you, sir; I will sustain you, sir, until that issue comes; and may God Almighty in providence decree that you may be on the side of the States. (Applause.) I stood there, gentlemen, I can’t say how--I won’t say with what doubts--I will never declare with what fears and with what trepidity--with what pain and with what suspense I stood there. I wanted help, and I called for help. I called for help from the blessed old mother that gave me birth. I called for help from that bright Saladdin of the South, Jeff Davis, of Mississippi--(applause)--and I said come to my rescue--the battle is a little more than my weak heart can support--come to me, and he came. Then came that old, jovial looking, noble hearted representative from Virginia--James M. Mason. (Applause.) Here came that anomaly of modern times, the youthful Nestor--here came Hunter. (Applause.) From the North, the South, the East and the West, there came up the patriots of the country, the champions of constitutional liberty, and they talked with the President of the United States, and they quieted his fears, and assured him in the line of duty. They said, let there be no force, and there was no force; and the President said to me, I am content with your policy; and then it was that we determined that we would send no more troops to the harbor in Charleston. (Applause.) So it went on, and, gentlemen, for the first time in three and three-quarter years--dreary years, dreary years--I had a real sentiment, an agreeable thrill of happiness. I felt in my heart--I thought the question then capable of a peaceable solution, and I earnestly returned my thanks to God in prayer. It brings me now to a point that I feel unspeakable pain in telling. The Secretary of State, General Cass--allow me, gentlemen, to say, as noble a specimen of God’s handiwork as ever yet has been made--an honest man, a true man, a good man, a wise man, a great man, that we all once took delight in honoring--he differed in the policy, and he said this will never do; these forts must be strengthened, and I demand that they shall be strengthened. Gentlemen, it is a Northern sentiment. Let me insist that you remember the remark; there is a significance in it beyond what General Cass said--it is a Northern sentiment. It is the conviction of our brethren at the North. He said there must be force, and there shall be force. The President said to him in reply, with a beautiful countenance and with a heroic decision that I shall never forget, in the council chamber, “I have considered this question--I am sorry to differ from the Secretary of State--I have made up my mind. The interests of the country do not demand a reinforcement of the forces in Charleston. I cannot do it--I will not do it--and I take the responsibility of it upon myself.” That is what he said, and the next day this glorious old Premier sent in his resignation. Then, gentlemen, I clapped my hands again. I was sorry to part from him, God knows, because he has done what has seldom been done; he has inspired during four years a feeling of affection in my heart; but when he left, I could not help cocking my eye and saying, “God speed you, old man, to the North.” (Laughter and applause.) Thus stood the controversy. In the meantime another had been called upon the tapis. Another man made his appearance. There was a proposition made to me by the President to send for General Scott in this emergency. What could I feel, and what could I say? I said, send for General Scott. Gladly, gratefully I accepted the proposition; and as quick as lightning could carry it from the metropolis to the great commercial emporium of the country, a summons was sent for General Scott to come on, and in good time the old General was on the spot. The General had ideas upon the great question involved very different from mine. General Scott was a soldier. I had not thought of what would be the sentiments of a soldier who had been a soldier winning laurels in the field from the time that I was an infant in my swaddling clothes to the present time. From that period I thought of General Scott as the laurel victor of a hundred battles. I thought of him as a cherished and beloved son of Virginia; I thought of him as a man whose name had been engraved and inscribed by Virginia on lasting memorials of esteem; I thought of General Scott as a man that Virginia had elevated and delighted to honor, whose brow had been encircled, not with a wreath of flowers, but with a mountain of laurels; I thought of one who had the decorations of the State on a Virginia gold medal dangling from his neck, and on a sword broad enough to defend Virginia and Virginia’s honor. (Applause.) What could I say but to send for Gen. Scott? And he came. Gen. Scott is a soldier, he is a general, he has fought our battles everywhere--he is a great general, the captain of the age beyond a doubt. Gen. Scott had a programme, it was what I might call an Abracadabra; it proposed to allay all spectres of trouble and disagreement and bring peace to the country. He laid it before me, as the Secretary of War, as his superior. I did not like it. (Applause and laughter.) I told him I did not like it in very unmistakeable language. He went immediately before the President and submitted it to him, and he did not very much like it at that time. I will tell you what it was, and why I did not like it. Gentlemen, Fort Sumter was to be taken possession of, also Castle Pinckney, and Fort Moultrie was to be strengthened. The forts in Georgia were to be occupied and held; the forts of Florida were to be taken possession of and manned; the forts in Alabama were to be dealt with in like manner; the forts in Louisiana were to be occupied by the troops of the United States; and, in addition to this, ships-of-war and revenue cutters were to be stationed in the waters of the South. There was the programme and there was the plan. I have been nearly four years Secretary of War, and it was not thought necessary to occupy any of these forts. Here, in a line from Chesapeake bay up to the border line, were numerous forts, much more numerous than those South, and it was not in the programme that any one of these Northern forts was to be occupied. More than that, the troops from the Northern forts were to be removed and sent to Southern forts. Now what was this to me, whatever it may be in a military point of view. I gave him the credit of looking at it in this view. As a Virginian, as a Southern man, could I shut my eyes to the fact that there was this significancy in it? You are maintaining particular principles, and these principles being based upon pure military ideas, are to exclude all pretentions to rights, and I put my foot down and declared while I was Secretary of War it never should be done. (Applause.) Now, gentlemen, I beg you to consider this thing, because it is of great significance and importance to Virginia and the whole South. Here was the corollary that I deduced from all this. However right it may be in a military point of view, it presupposes a state of facts that I never will consent to. It is, that this government of the United States shall have the power to step forward and say you shall demean yourself in a particular manner; otherwise, we shall seize the power you put into our hands to curse you. If General Scott was as good a politician as he is a soldier, he never would have done this. But that was his plan--that was the Northern plan. There is another plan, and let us see how they come together. There are men who have a policy, and I maintained that policy up to that point. There was the coercive policy, which is General Scott’s policy. On the other hand, the North, when Congress assembled, had been for pacification. They acknowledged the proposition of the right of property, and that alone. When General Scott came and revealed his plan of coercion, presto, change--instantly the whole North rallied upon another and a counter proposition, which was a proposition of force. The plan of agreement in the administration had been up to the point when the Commissioners from South Carolina should come and fail. Then we would take care of the question of property. Gentlemen, I never supposed that I could stay in the Cabinet after that; but to stay in it up to that point I thought would be well. As soon as this plan was understood the whole North changed front. Mr. Dixon, of Conn., made a speech full of conciliation. Hale, under the pressure of home influences, took grounds in opposition to conciliation. The New York Tribune, soon after the election of Lincoln, declared more than once that coercion was a fallacy, and the black republican party were rallying under this banner until this proposition of Scott’s began to get wind, and then instantly they changed the front to the rear, and they demanded power, they demanded military reinforcements, and thus demanded coercion to break up the Southern movement. Then this unfortunate affair of Major Anderson precipitated the decision at once with the administration. Major Anderson is a man of honor, and truth, and courage. I selected him myself, not only for that, but other services that were high and honorable. You have seen published the correspondence between the President and the Commissioners, and you have seen there the instructions I gave to Major Anderson; and if I had to give them to-night I would not alter a word, line or letter. But there is something from Major Anderson after he received these instructions which does not appear in the correspondence. This is very significant. I know that they are attempting to say that the instructions of the Secretary of War authorized Major Anderson to change his position. The President in his communication to the Commissioners from South Carolina states that he did not authorize the change of position. But there is a higher authority than the President, and that is Major Anderson; for after receiving these instructions he wrote to the Secretary of War, “I could not change my position, for I have no authority to do so.” And why had he no authority? Because I had said to the men of South Carolina I pledge to you my honor, and like some of you, they knew me, gentlemen, they took my honor and pledged themselves that the status in the port of Charleston should not be changed. I am not certain, I will not swear it on the Bible, but I believe the President said the same. They could have gone to Fort Sumter and bright, sunshiny evening and taken possession of it; it was open, the portals were wide spread, and they had nothing to do but to march the troops into Fort Sumter, when the harbor of Charleston would be impregnable to the world, the flesh and the devil. (Laughter and applause.) But there was a barrier in the way, and what was it? The simple declaration of these gentlemen that they would not do it. (Applause.) But Major Anderson from some cause determined one night to swap forts, and he seized For Sumter, and thus precipitated this necessity. That brings me to the point which I left. The status which we pledged our honor to have maintained had been violated and broken. The condition of the troops has been changed, and these gentlemen said to me, Mr. Secretary of War, with your word that the condition of things there should be preserved, we forebore any action on our part in conformity with our pledge. Contrary to your guaranty, the condition of things in Charleston harbor has been changed. Well, I said to these gentlemen, you have my pledge, and all I can do to show that I was sincere is to go out of the Cabinet, and I accordingly resigned my position into hands of the President. (Loud applause.) And here I am. Now, this brings us to the consideration of the last question, and the only one to which I shall refer. I am sure you have grown weary of this prolix address. (Cries of “No, no”--“Go on.”) Now, this fissure which commenced in the iceberg has gone on, splitting in its progress whatever came in contact. It split the church in two, and the next disaster which it threatens is the breaking up of our whole political system. What is the only issue now presented? It is the issue of coercion on the one side, and peace on the other. That is the issue. If my proposition of representing the power of the property of the United States by an ordnance sergeant had been adopted, then how would have stood the matter? We have said the forts throughout the South are within the power of the South, not the possession of the South; but we rely on their honor that they will not steal them and capture the cannon. Congress must decide the question. The North are called upon to say whether it shall be peace or war. If the forces had been withdrawn no collision need be apprehended; but the troops have not been withdrawn, and this issue comes up and you must consider it:--Shall the pretext of holding the property of the United States be made the grounds upon which the arms and the armaments of the United States are to be introduced into the forts of the South for the purpose of coercing them and making them to submit to an unwilling tyranny? You are unwilling to do that, I think, and a power greater than your power comes up and seizes that point which you are unwilling to seize. You must do it, as coercion is the policy announced; that is the principle avowed. I tell you to-night that that is the plan on foot. You have got to meet it. It is in vain, altogether in vain, that the decided and intensified manifestations of feeling are so extensively made throughout the Commonwealth. It is in vain that a timid man, that a coward may hug the delusion to his bosom that no coercive policy will be enforced, and that the times will be better. There are no better times; that is the issue you have got to meet now. (Loud applause.) Let you men of Virginia and of the South prepare. I know that I will be allowed to indulge a little before a Virginia audience in something of eulogy upon Virginia and of her acts, however distasteful it may be to those beyond our borders. You who have done so much--you who have done so long. There are a few of us here who know how long we have been doing for this Union. You, I say, should be active in the work of maintaining your own rights in this crisis. But do you know that the Virginia forces, the Virginia carcasses and the blood that was strewn all over this continent, from Quebec to Utah--(applause)--to establish our present and secure our liberties? But in this age of material considerations, practical appliances and monetary pursuits, you find still here in the school some wonderful excellences. Since God Almighty, with his own right red hand, marched the children of Israel through the desert, and said to them here is the promised land, which I give you, there has not been another such magnificent tract of territory as has been given by Virginia to free soil principles that are now turning upon you to destroy and annihilate you; you gave to them Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, a good part of Iowa and the whole of Wisconsin. That you gave to them as a propitiation to this Union, and this power is now turned upon you--this power which says we demand that you shall submit to the laws, the exactions and the fanaticism of the North. We demand this at your hands, or we will coerce you into obedience. Gentlemen, the principle of coercion is no new one, and in God’s blessed name are we standing here in Virginia at this hour and this day considering not the right but the possibility of submitting to coercion? Look a little back to the history of the past, I pray you, and then answer me the question, who have we been taught to look upon as the arch enemy of popular rights in the United States? Alexander Hamilton. Who next? John Quincy Adams. And yet Alexander Hamilton and John Quincy Adams have declared that the right of coercion was monstrous and untenable, and now we are told that the doctrine of coercion is a doctrine that you shall have to submit to. John Quincy Adams was President of the United States, and the proposition was made to him in a conflict between the federal authorities and the authorities of the State of Georgia, to exercise coercion against the latter, but he refused, saying, “I cannot undertake to crush a State.” It has been promulgated and declared everywhere that there is no such power existing on the face of the earth; and now it is not only proclaimed, but it is carried into actual operation. Are you the sons of the men who put themselves in battle array against King George upon the mere assumption of a power on his part to overtax tea? In the State of Virginia they seldom saw a cup of tea. When they sprang to arms in those days to resist the imposition of this trifling tax, how much more readily should the descendants of those men resist the accumulated grievances heaped upon them. Patrick Henry stood within the very echoes of this spot proclaiming, “Give me liberty, or give me the death.” (Applause.) If it was a violated pledge of a law trampled under foot, if it was a constitutional infraction, I would say that there was ground for hesitation and delay; but when you come here, standing for the rights granted by the constitution of the United States, standing for the rights solemnized and embalmed in the laws of the United States, standing for the rights consecrated under the decision of the Supreme Court when you ask for that and no more, if you hesitate, I can say, he who dallies is a dastard, and he who doubts is damned. (Immense applause.)

    Mr. Floyd concluded with a few brief remarks in vindication of his official career in connection with the War Department. He was very warmly applauded throughout.

    Speeches were delivered by John Randolph Tucker, Esq., Attorney General for the State, and two or three others, which, for want of time before the departure of the mail, I am unable to transcribe.

    How to Cite This Page: ""The Floyd Banquet," New York Herald, January 17, 1861," House Divided: The Civil War Research Engine at Dickinson College, https://hd.housedivided.dickinson.edu/index.php/node/677.