Monday, September 19, 2016

Salmon P. Chase to Alphonso Taft, April 28, 1861

washington, April 28, 1861.

My Dear Sir: To correct misapprehensions, except by acts, is an almost vain endeavor. You may say, however, to all whom it may concern, that there is no ground for the ascription to me by Major Brown of the sentiment to which you allude.

True it is that before the assault on Fort Sumter, in anticipation of an attempt to provision famishing soldiers of the Union, I was decidedly in favor of a positive policy and against the notion of drifting — the Micawber policy of “waiting for something to turn up.”

As a positive policy, two alternatives were plainly before us. (1) That of enforcing the laws of the Union by its whole power and through its whole extent; or (2) that of recognizing the organization of actual government by the seven seceded States as an accomplished revolution — accomplished through the complicity of the late administration and letting the Confederacy try its experiment of separation; but maintaining the authority of the Union and treating secession as treason everywhere else.

Knowing that the former of these alternatives involved destructive war, and vast expenditure, and oppressive debt, and thinking it possible that through the latter these great evils might  be avoided, the union of the other States preserved unbroken, the return even of the seceded States, after an unsatisfactory experiment of separation, secured, and the great cause of freedom and constitutional government peacefully vindicated — thinking, I say, these things possible, I preferred the latter alternative.

The attack on Fort Sumter, however, and the precipitation of Virginia into hostility to the National Government, made this latter alternative impracticable, and I had then no hesitation about recurring to the former. Of course, I insist on the most vigorous measures, not merely for the preservation of the Union and the defense of the Government, but for the constitutional re-establishment of the full authority of both throughout the land.

In laboring for these objects I know hardly the least cessation, and begin to feel the wear as well as the strain of them. When my criticizers equal me in labor and zeal, I shall most cheerfully listen to their criticisms.

All is safe here now. Baltimore is repenting, and by repentance may be saved, if she adds works meet for repentance. Soon something else will be heard of.

Yours truly,
S. P. Chase.
Hon. Alphonso Taft.

SOURCES: Samuel Wylie Crawford, The Genesis of the Civil War: The Story of Sumter, 1860-1861, p. 366-7

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