Lincoln was without question a sharp Whig attorney who knew the intricacies of Illinois politics. On the national stage he led a conglomeration of former Whigs, anti-Catholic Know Nothings, radical abolitionists, free-soilers, Transcendentalists and tariff protectionists who valued their own interests above all. As stated in the second paragraph below he knew that his political support from this rainbow of varied interests and controlled by Radicals, would fall apart should any compromise to save the Union be embraced. He placed his party above his country.
His predecessor James Buchanan was not a supporter of secession but aware that a president waging war against a State was committing treason – Article III, Section 3 of the US Constitution. His attorney-general confirmed this. A president could not raise an army – only Congress could do this – Lincoln circumvented the Constitution with Republican governors sending him their own State troops until Congress met in July. By that time congressmen were aware that they faced arbitrary arrest for “treason” should they oppose Lincoln’s actions.
The Choice Between War and Peace
“Lincoln’s cabinet was almost equally divided between Conservatives and Radicals. The Radicals favored an immediate attempt to resupply Fort Sumter even should this precipitate war. These men thought the new Confederacy would crumble upon the first show of force, because a small junta had caused all the trouble, and the Southern people would have no heart in a conspirators’ war.
The Conservatives believed that given peace and adequate time, the Union could be reconstituted. Would it not be better to withdraw the small garrisons from forts to so as to prevent immediate hostilities and secure the Border States to the Union? Seward knew there were no military reasons for keeping Sumter and had no doubt that it would soon be evacuated. On March 7, Lincoln told a caller that if Sumter were abandoned, he would have to leave the White House the same day.
On March 12 1861 Stephen Douglas began a debate designed to force the Radical Republicans either the accept or attack Lincoln’s peace policy as stated in his inauguration speech.
He reviewed at length the legal status of federal authority in the South. As the laws stood, the Executive could not use the army and the navy to enforce the law in the Southern States. What would be involved in the use of force? He had secured estimates from competent military authorities as to the troop requirements in the event of war. At least 285,000 men would be needed to compel submission and it would cost at least $316,000,000 to keep them in the field for a year. How could eighteen States ever pay the cost of subjugating fifteen?
The Republicans sat silent as he talked, smiling contemptuously. When he finished, Henry Wilson of Massachusetts, attacked him as the country’s outstanding alarmist. Douglas lost his temper and taunted the Republican Radicals with desiring the Union dissolved. The Republicans were unyielding, the few Northern Democrats were impotent but the galleries applauded wildly.”
(The Eve of Conflict: Stephen A. Douglas and the Needless War, George Fort Milton, Houghton, Mifflin Company, 1934, pp. 548-551)