Buchanan’s Role in Initiating War
Often overlooked in the run-up to the bombardment of Fort Sumter (April 12th) is the Star of the West relief expedition sent by President James Buchanan in January, 1861, and allowing Major Anderson to seize Fort Sumter. Below, Buchanan’s Attorney General, Jeremiah Black of Pennsylvania, takes him to task later that year on his own actions in fomenting war upon Americans in South Carolina. Buchanan seemed to believe the fiction that Lincoln had to "defend the country against dismememberment," a presidential power which is not found in the Constitution. As each State voluntarily aceded to the compact, each State could voluntarily secede from the compact; a sovereign right as embodied in Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence.
Cape Fear Historical Institute
Buchanan’s Role in Initiating War:
"(Former President James) Buchanan had firmly endorsed the war policy since the attack on Fort Sumter and in September, 1861, sent a letter to a Democratic political meeting in Chester County (Pennsylvania). He emphasised in this message that the war would have to be loyally sustained until the bitter end and urged the Democrats to stop wasting their time on a futile demand for peace proposals. The minute he saw this letter, (Jeremiah) Black wrote:
"Your endorsement of Lincoln’s policy will be a very serious drawback upon the defense of your own. It is vain to think that the two administration can be made consistent. The fire upon the Star of the West was as bad as the fire on Fort Sumter; and the taking of Fort Moultrie & Pinckney was worse than either. If this war is right and politic and wise and constitutional, I cannot but think you ought to have made it. I am willing to vindicate the last administration…but I cant do it on the ground which you now occupy."
"…Buchanan would not agree with Black that there was anything but a superficial similarity between the threatening incidents at the end of his Administration and the sustained bombardment of Fort Sumter on April 12. He also disagreed with Black’s view that the war itself was unconstitutional, that Lincoln started it, and that it ought to be stopped as soon as possible by a negotiated peace. "…As to my course since the wicked bombardment of Fort Sumter," he told Black, "it is but a regular consequence of my whole policy towards the seceding States. They had been informed over and over again by me what would be the consequence of an attack upon it. They chose to commence civil war, & Mr. Lincoln had no alternative but to defend he country against dismemberment. I certainly should have done the same thing had they begun the war in my time, & this they well knew."
(President James Buchanan, A Biography, Philip S. Klein, American Political Biography Press, 1962, pp. 416-417)