EX-SECRETARY FLOYD ON THE CRISIS
(Correspondence of the Baltimore American)
SPEECH DIVULGING CABINET SECRETS - WHAT CAUSED GENERAL CASS&RSQUO; RESIGNATION - GENERAL SCOTT&RSQUO;S PLAN OF SETTLING NATIONAL DIFFICULTIES - GENERAL CASS&RSQUO; DEMAND OF THE PRESIDENT - MAJOR ANDERSON&RSQUO;S EVACUATION OF FORT MOULTRIE, ETC.
Richmond, Jan. 12, 1861.
The event of yesterday (outside of the Legislative chambers) was a grand dinner to ex-Secretary Floyd, at the Ballard House. The banquet commenced at nine o’clock. General A. A. Chapman, of Monroe, presided. Judge Hopkins and F. M. Gilmer, Esq., the distinguished Commissioners from Alabama to Virginia, were present. Whilst the festival was in progress, General Chapman arose and read a telegraphic despatch announcing that Alabama had seceded from the Union, which was received with tremendous cheers.
The first toast was - “The Constitution, as our fathers made it.” (Music - “Hail Columbia.”)
To this Hon. James A. Seddon, formerly member of Congress, made an eloquent response, in which he invoked the people of Virginia to demand some power by which our destiny be held in our own hands.
The next sentiment was - “The Hon. John B. Floyd, the worthy son of a noble sire. All honor to the Virginian who spurns the trappings of a federal place, respects a mother’s rights and resents a mother’s wrongs.” (Music, and three cheers for Governor Floyd.)
Mr. Floyd expressed his deep sense of the honor conferred upon him. He had not made a public speech since, four years ago, they assembled under this roof to celebrate what was then considered a great national triumph. There was then a feeling that all would be well. Their leader stood upon a platform of peace - a platform of salvation. Where are those hopes now? Gone, like last year’s cloud, and gone forever. He then adverted to the causes of all this. You, he said, have done nothing to bring it about. It is attributable to a blind fanaticism which has resulted in an alienation of the North and South, and at length a disruption of the most glorious fabric on earth. He alluded to the condition of things thirty years ago, when abolitionism was a speck no bigger than a man’s hand, but which was now a cloud overshadowing the whole earth. It has seized upon and destroyed every institution of the country, until it has come to a point where forbearance is no longer possible. He then spoke of the Scriptural character of slavery and the unparalleled prosperity to the white race, and the civilization of the black it had produced in America. The cultivation of cotton was another great result. Cotton was now one of the great governing powers of the earth. It is with the products of slave labor that we settle up the balance accounts with England and all Europe every year. It keeps up the banks, the ships, the workshops, and does more than that - it puts Europe under bonds to keep the peace with the United States. Yet, with all these lights before them, they had dishonored and laid violent hands upon this Divine institution. The speaker then spoke of the other features of abolitionism - the “irrepressible conflict” doctrine - the election of Lincoln upon the avowed declaration that slavery is a sin. They demand of you an acknowledgement of your inferiority or they demand your blood. God knows, he said, they shall have every drop of mine before I surrender one iota to their demands. He had come to cast his lot with Virginia, and would live or die for her. He could see no hope for the future but through our united opposition to wrong. Mr. Floyd next adverted to the election and administration of Mr. Buchanan, who, he said, had been true to his political pledges, to the constitution and the South. He had never wanted to go into the Cabinet, and when he became the subject of vituperation by official aspirants, he undertook so to dispose of the business in his hands that it might be said, “This man has done his duty.” (Applause.) He thought Mr. Buchanan had not been quite so strongly sustained by the South as he ought to have been. But it might be natural that he could not come quite so near the wishes of the South as a son would come to the wishes of his mother. The speaker alluded to the two policies set forth in the President’s Message. Mr. Attorney Black said we must execute the laws. I, said Mr. Floyd, could not quite bow to that. Mr. Buchanan said, “This question of the forts is a question of property.” I agreed to that. I said more. I said, “I am your Secretary, and have in my hands this property of the forts. I will turn over to my successor that property inviolate. I know these people of South Carolina, I went to school among them. I know they are not thieves. Isaac Hayne, Manigault and Frank Pickens are good men - they are great men - and I will back their honesty and integrity, if necessary, with my blood. But I cannot consent that you place among them a military power that would choke them to the ground.” At a subsequent interview with the President he said to me, “Mr. Floyd, what about sending recruits to Charleston?” I said, “Nothing about sending recruits.” “Don[’t] you intend to strengthen the forts at Charleston,” he asked. I replied, “I do not.” Said he, “I would rather be at the bottom of the Potomac to-morrow than that these forts should be in the hands of those who intend to take them. It will destroy me - it will cover your name, which is an honored one, with infamy, for you will never be able to show that you had not some complicity in it.” I said: - “Mr. President, trust me - there is no danger. I will stake my reputation and I will stake my life that the forts of Charleston will not be touched.” I said this because I felt it. The President then said: - “But, Mr. Floyd, does that secure the forts?” “No, sir,” said I, “ but it is the best guarantee I can give you that they will not be touched.” He replied: - “ I am not satisfied.” Said I: - “It is yours to command, and you will be obeyed. You can strengthen the forts, but it will lead to the effusion of blood. You can, however, put an orderly sergeant there - a man with a worsted epaulette and a stripe on his pantaloons. He is a representative man - (laughter) - the representative of the stars and stripes, and of ‘Hail Columbia’ and ‘Yankee Doodle.’ He can stand there and so proclaim himself, and his authority will be respected. Why not submit to Congress the question of the secession of South Carolina. Congress may say a State has a right to withdraw, or may say we repudiate the right of secession - we will send down our armies to coerce you to submission. Do this, and I will wait the issue.” Mr. Floyd then proceeded to state that he called to his aid Jefferson Davis, “that bright Saladin of the South;” Mason and Hunter, with other patriots, Northern as well as Southern, and talked with the President. He then said: - “I am content with your policy - we will send no more troops to the harbor of Charleston.” It delighted me, and I now thought the question capable of peaceful solution. Mr. Floyd next spoke of Gen. Cass, to whom he paid a glowing tribute. Gen. Cass said: - “These forts must be strengthened. I demand it.” This, gentlemen, is the Northern sentiment. The President replied: - “I am sorry to differ from the Secretary of the State, but the interests of the country do not demand a reinforcement of the forts at Charleston. I cannot do it. I take the responsibility.” The next day Gen. Cass resigned. Thus matters stood, when there was a proposition to send for Gen. Scott. Mr. Floyd, who had long known and admired him as a Virginia soldier, gladly acquiesced. Gen. Scott came. He had other ideas. He was a soldier. He had a programme to allay disunion and bring peace to the country. He laid this programme before the Secretary of War, who told him he did not like it. He then laid it before the President and the President did not much like it at that time. The programme of Gen. Scott was as follows: - To take Fort Sumter and Castle Pinckney, strengthen Fort Moultrie, occupy and hold the forts of Georgia, Florida, Alabama and Louisiana, and to send ships-of-war and revenue cutters to the waters of South Carolina. No Northern forts were to be occupied, but troops were to be taken from them and sent to Southern forts. Mr. Floyd looked upon this as trampling on the political rights of the South. Next came Major Anderson’s unfortunate move. He was not authorized by the Secretary’s instructions to change his position. Major Anderson wrote to the Secretary and said he could change his position if he had authority to do so. But Mr. Floyd had pledged his word to South Carolina and he is confident the President had also. South Carolina, with twenty men, could have taken the fort at any time, but she respected her pledge. Major Anderson changed his position. South Carolina said to Mr. Floyd, “You have violated your pledge.” He replied, “I have not. All I can do is to resign. I did, and here I am.” Mr. Floyd then denounced the doctrine of coercion, and quoted John Q. Adams and others against it. Referring in his conclusion to matters personal to himself, he said he was the first Secretary for years who had administered the War Department upon the estimates and within the appropriations made. In investigations of his official course he only asked that they would not resort to forgery and perjury.
The speech was enthusiastically received, as were others full of devotion to the South.