Stanton: The Life and Times of Lincoln's Secretary of War

By Benjamin P. Thomas; Harold M. Hyman | Go to book overview

CHAPTER V
FIRST BLOW FOR THE UNION

STANTON found little to encourage him in what he knew of the President and his suspicious and rancorous cabinet colleagues. Buchanan, nearing seventy, tired, infirm, and nervous, though wise in his resolve to avoid provocative action so long as compromise or sober second thought might reconcile the sections, lacked the courage, initiative, and will power to implement such a policy. A long career in politics had made him cynical and coldly calculating; his habit of taking the indirect approach degenerated at times into craftiness. Though anxious to preserve the Union, he felt in his heart that the South's grievances were just. He interpreted the Republican triumph of 1860 as a personal defeat; in resisting it, the Southern states were vindicating him.

Cobb's resignation had removed a blatant secessionist influence from the cabinet, but still vying with Black for Buchanan's ear were Jacob Thompson, of Mississippi, Secretary of the Interior, Philip F. Thomas, of Maryland, Cobb's successor at the Treasury, and John B. Floyd, of Virginia, Secretary of War. Thompson, a genial, able man, though moved by real loyalty to Buchanan, felt a higher loyalty to his state, and went no further in opposing secession than to suggest that overt action be postponed until the Republicans took office on March 4. Thomas was wholeheartedly sympathetic toward the South; and though Floyd, like most Virginians, had opposed secession thus far, he had been under the critical scrutiny of Republican congressmen because of his partisan, loose, and inefficient conduct of his office. Buchanan had asked for his resignation, which Floyd was reluctant to sub-

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