Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Salmon P. Chase to Abraham Lincoln, March 16, 1861

Treasury Department
March 16, 1861.

The following question was submitted to my consideration by your note of yesterday:

“Assuming it to be possible to now provision Fort Sumter, under all the circumstances is it wise to attempt it?”

I have given to this question all the reflection which the engrossing duties of this Department has allowed.

A correct solution must depend, in my judgment, on the degree of possibility; on the combination of reinforcement with provisions; and on the probable effects of the measure upon the relations of the disaffected States to the National Government.

I shall assume, what the statements of the distinguished officers consulted seem to warrant, that the possibility of success amounts to a reasonable degree of probability; and, also, that the attempt to provision is to include an attempt to reinforce, for it seems to be generally agreed that provisioning without reinforcement, notwithstanding hostile resistance, will accomplish no substantially beneficial purpose.

The probable political effects of the measure allow room for much fair difference of opinion; and I have not reached my own conclusion without serious difficulty.

If the attempt will so inflame civil war as to involve the an immediate necessity of enlisting for the enlistment of armies and the expenditure of millions I cannot advise it, in the existing circumstances of the country and in the present condition of the National Finances.

But it seems to me highly improbable that the attempt, especially if accompanied or immediately followed by a Proclamation setting forth a liberal & generous yet firm policy towards the disaffected States, in harmony with the principles of the Inaugural Address, will produce such consequences; while it cannot be doubted that in maintaining a fort belonging to the United States and in supporting the officers and men engaged, in the regular course of service, in its defence, the Federal Government exercises a clear right and, under all ordinary circumstances, performs a plain duty.

I return, therefore, an affirmative answer to the question submitted to me.

And have the honor to be,

With the highest respect
Your obt. servant
S: P: Chase

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