Washington, January 22, 1861.
Honorable BENJAMIN FITZPATRICK,
Honorable S. R. MALLORY, Honorable JOHN SLIDELL:
GENTLEMEN: The President has received your communication of the 19th instant,* with the copy of a correspondence between yourselves and others, "representing States which have already seceded from the United States, or will have done so before 1st of February next," and Colonel Isaac W. Hayne, of South Carolina, in behalf of the government of that State, in relation to Fort Sumter, and you ask the President "to take into consideration the subject of the correspondence." With this request he has complied, and has directed me to communicate his answer.
In your letter to Colonel Hayne of the 15th instant* you propose to him to defer the delivery of a message from the governor of South Carolina to the President, with which he has been intrusted, for a few days, until the President and Colonel Hayne shall have considered the suggestions which you submit. It is unnecessary to refer specially to these suggestions, because the letter addressed to you by Colonel Hayne, of the 17th instant, presents a clear and specific answer to them. In this he says: "I am not clothed with power to make the arrangement you suggest, but provided you can get assurances with which you are entirely satisfied that no re-enforcements will be sent to Fort Sumter in the interval, and that the public peace will not be disturbed by any act of hostility toward South Carolina, I will refer your communication to the authorities of South Carolina, and withholding the communication with which I am at present charged will await further instructions."
From the beginning of the present unhappy troubles, the President has endeavored to perform his executive duties in such a manner as to preserve the peace of the country and prevent bloodshed. This is still his fixed purpose. You, therefore, do him no more than justice in stating that you have assurances (from his public messages, I presume) that, "notwithstanding the circumstances under which Major Anderson left Fort Moultrie and entered Fort Sumter with the forces under his command, it was not taken, and is not held, with any hostile or unfriendly purpose towards your State, but merely as property of the United States, which the President deems it his duty to protect and preserve." You have correctly stated what the President deems to be his duty. His sole object now is, and has been, to act strictly on the defensive, and to authorize no movement against the people of South Carolina unless clearly justified by a hostile movement on their part. He could not have given a better proof of his desire to prevent the effusion of blood than by forbearing to resort to the use of force under the strong provocation of an attack (happily without a fatal result) on an unarmed vessel bearing the flag of the United States.
I am happy to observe that in your letter to Colonel Hayne you express the opinion that it is "especially due from South Carolina to our States, to say nothing of other slaveholding States, that she should, as far as she can consistently with her honor, avoid initiating hostilities between her and the United States, or any other power." To initiate such hostilities against Fort Sumter would, beyond question, be an act of war against the United States.
In regard to the proposition of Colonel Hayne, "that no re-enforcements will be sent to Fort Sumter in the interval, and that the public
*Not of record in War Department.