Post Office Department
Washington March 15th 1861.
In reply to your interrogatory whether in my opinion it is wise to provision Fort Sumpter under present circumstances, I submit the following considerations in favor of provisioning that Fort—
The ambitious leaders of the late Democratic party have availed themselves of the disappointment attendant upon defeat in the late Presidential election to found a Military Government in the Seceding States. To the connivance of the late administration it is due alone that this Rebellion has been enabled to attain its present proportions– It has grown by this complicity into the form of an organized Government in Seven States and up to this moment nothing has been done to check its progress or prevent its being regarded either at home or abroad as a successful revolution– Every hour of acquiescence in this condition of things and especially every new conquest made by the rebels strengthens their hands at home and their claim to recognition as an independent people abroad. It has from the beginning and still is treated practically as a lawful proceeding and the honest and Union loving people in those States must by a continuance of this policy become reconciled to the new Government and though founded in wrong come to be regard it as rightful Government.
I in common with all my associates in your council agree that we must look to the people of these States for the overthrow of this rebellion and that it is proper to exercise the powers of the Federal Government only so far as to maintain its authority to collect the revenue and maintain possession of the public property in the states and that this should be done with as little blood-shed as possible. How is this to be carried into effect? That it is by measures which will inspire respect for the power of the Government and the firmness of those who administer it does not admit of debate.
It is equally obvious that rebellion was checked in 1833 by the promptitude of the President in taking measures which made it manifest that it could not be attempted with impunity and that it has grown to its present formidable proportions only because similar measures were not taken.
The action of the President in 1833 inspired respect whilst in 1860 the rebels were encouraged by the contempt they felt for the incumbent of the Presidency.
But it was not alone upon Mr. Buchanans weakness the rebels relied for success. They for the most part believe that the Northern men are deficient in the courage necessary to maintain the Government. It is this prevalent error in the South which induces so large a portion of the people there to suspect the good faith of the people of the North and enables the demagogues so successfully to inculcate the notion that the object of the Northern people is to abolish Slavery and make the Negroes the equals of the whites. Doubting the manhood of northern men they discredit their disclaimers of a this purpose to humiliate and injure them—
Nothing would so surely gain credit for such disclaimers as the manifestation of resolution on the part of the President to maintain the lawful authority of the nation – no men or people have so many difficulties as those whose firmness is doubted.
The evacuation of Fort Sumpter when it is known that it can be provisioned and manned will convince the rebels that the administration lacks firmness and will therefore tend more than any event that has happened to embolden them and so far therefore from tending to prevent collision will, ensure it unless all the other forts are evacuated and all attempts are given up to maintain the authority of the United States.
Mr. Buchanans policy has I think re-rendered collision almost inevitable & a continuance of that policy will not only bring it about but will go far to produce a permanent division of the Union.
This is manifestly the public Judgment which is much more to be relied on than that of any individual: I believe that Fort Sumpter may be provisioned and relieved by Captn Fox with little risk and Genl. Scotts opinion that with its war compliment there is no force in South Carolina which can take it – renders it almost certain that it will not then be attempted. This would completely demoralize the Rebellion. The impotent rage of the Rebels and the outburst of patriotic feeling which would follow this achievement would initiate a reactionary movement throughout the South which would speedily overwhelm the traitors. No expense or care should therefore be spared to achieve this success—
The appreciation of our stocks will pay for the most lavish outlay to make it one. Nor will the result be materially different to the nation if the attempt fails and its gallant leader and followers are lost. It will in any event vindicate the hardy courage of the North and the determination of the people and their President to maintain the authority of the Government, & this is all that is wanting in my judgment to restore it.
You should give no thought for the Commander and his comrades in this enterprize– They willingly take the hazards for the sake of the country and the honor which, successful or not, they will receive from you and the lovers of free Government in all lands.
I am Sir very respectfully
Yr obt sevt
To the President
SOURCE: Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.