CHAPTER IV. BRITISH SUSPICION OF SEWARD
There the matter rested for a time, for the Confederate Commissioners, regarding Seward's policy of delay as wholly beneficial to the maturing of Southern plans, and Seward "as their cat's-paw," did not care to press for a decision. Moreover, Seward had given a personal pledge that in case it were, after all, determined to reinforce Sumter, notification of that determination would at once be given to South Carolina. The days went by, and it was not until the last week of March that Lincoln, disillusioned as to the feasibility of Seward's policy of conciliation, reached the conclusion that in his conception of his duty as President of the United States he must defend and retain Federal forts, or attempt to retain them, for the preservation of the Union, and decided to reinforce Fort Sumter. On March 29, the Cabinet assembled at noon and learned Lincoln's determination.
This was a sharp blow to Seward's prestige in the Cabinet; it also threatened his "peaceful" policy. Yet he did not as yet understand fully that either supreme leadership, or control of policy, had been assumed by Lincoln. On April 1 he drafted that astonishing document entitled, "Some Thoughts for the President's Consideration," which at once reveals his alarm and his supreme personal self-confidence. This document begins, "We are at the end of a month's administration, and yet without a policy either domestic or foreign." It then advocates as a domestic policy, "Change The Question Before The Public From One Upon Slavery, Or About Slavery, for a question upon Union or Disunion." Then in a second section, headed "For Foreign Nations," there followed:
"I would demand explanations from Spain and France,
categorically, at once.
"I would seek explanations from Great Britain and Russia, and
send agents into Canada, Mexico and Central America to rouse
a vigorous continental spirit of independence on this
continent against European intervention.
"And, if satisfactory explanations are not received from
Spain and France.
"Would convene Congress and declare war against them.
"But whatever policy we adopt, there must be energetic
prosecution of it.
"For this purpose it must be somebody's business to pursue
and direct it incessantly.
"Either the President must do it himself, and be all the
while active in it, or
"Devolve it on some member of his Cabinet. Once adopted,
debates on it must end, and all agree and abide.
"It is not in my especial province;
"But I neither seek to evade nor assume responsibility."
Lincoln's reply of the same day, April 1, was characteristically gentle, yet no less positive and definite to any save one obsessed with his own superior wisdom. Lincoln merely noted that Seward's "domestic policy" was exactly his own, except that he did not intend to abandon Fort Sumter. As to the warlike foreign policy Lincoln pointed out that this would be a sharp reversal of that already being prepared in circulars and instructions to Ministers abroad. This was, indeed, the case, for the first instructions, soon despatched, were drawn on lines of recalling to foreign powers their established and long-continued friendly relations with the United States. Finally, Lincoln stated as to the required "guiding hand," "I remark that if this must be done, I must do it.... I wish, and suppose I am entitled to have, the advice of all the Cabinet."
This should have been clear indication of Lincoln's will to direct affairs, and even to Seward would have been sufficient had he not, momentarily, been so disturbed by the wreck of his pacific policy toward the South, and as yet so ignorant of the strength of Lincoln's quiet persistence. As it was, he yielded on the immediate issue, the relief of Sumter (though attempting to divert reinforcements to another quarter) but did not as yet wholly yield either his policy of conciliation and delay, nor give up immediately his insane scheme of saving the Union by plunging it into a foreign war. He was, in fact, still giving assurances to the Confederate commissioners, through indirect channels, that he could and would prevent the outbreak of civil war, and in this confidence that his ideas would finally control Lincoln he remained up to the second week in April. But on April 8 the first of the ships despatched to the aid of Sumter left New York, and on that day Governor Pickens of South Carolina was officially notified of the Northern purpose. This threw the burden of striking the first blow upon the South; if Southern threats were now made good, civil war seemed inevitable, and there could be no peaceful decision of the quarrel.