most earnestly appeal to your Excellency to strengthen my hands in my efforts to preserve the public order here by placing it in my power to give public assurances that no measures of force are contemplated towards us.
Your Excellency will therefore pardon me for asking whether the United States forts in this State will be garrisoned with Federal troops during your administration? This question I ask in perfect respect, and with an earnest desire to prevent consequences which I know would be regretted by your Excellency as much as myself. Should I receive assurances that no troops will be sent to this State prior to 4th March next, then all will be peace and quiet here, and the property of the United States will be fully protected as heretofore. If, however, I am unable to get such assurances, I will not undertake to answer for the consequences.
The forts in this State have long been unoccupied, and their being garrisoned at this time will unquestionably be looked upon as a hostile demonstration, and will, in my opinion, be certainly resisted.
Believing your Excellency to be sincerely desirous of preserving peace and preventing the effusion of the blood of your countrymen. I have deemed it my duty to yourself, as well as to the people of North Carolina, to make the foregoing inquiry, and to acquaint you with the state of the public mind here.
Very respectfully, your obedience servant,
JOHN W. ELLIS.
WAR DEPARTMENT, January 15, 1861.
To his Excellency JOHN W. ELLIS,
Governor of North Carolina, Raleigh:
SIR: Your letter of the 12th instant, addressed to the President of the United States, has by him been referred to this Department, and he instructs me to express his gratification at the promptitude with which you have ordered the expulsion of the lawless men who recently occupied Forts Johnston and Caswell. He regards this action on the part of your Excellency as in complete harmony with the honor and patriotic character of the people of North Carolina, whom you so worthily represent.
In reply to your inquiry whether it is the purpose of the President to garrison the forts of North Carolina during his administration, I am directed to say that they, in common with the other forts, arsenals, and public property of the United States, are in the charge of the President, and that if assailed, no matter from what quarter or under what pretext, it is his duty to protect them by all the means which the law has placed at his disposal. It is not his purpose to garrison the forts to which you refer at present, because he considers them entirely safe, as heretofore, under the shelter of that law-abiding sentiment for which the people of North Carolina have ever been distinguished. Should they, however, be attached or menaced, with danger of being seized and taken from the possession of the United States, he could not escape from his constitutional obligations to defend and preserve them. The very satisfactory and patriotic assurances given by your Excellency justify him, however, in entertaining the confident expectation that no such contingency will arise.
I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Secretary of War an interim.