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Col. Robert A. Anderson Describes Anti-Union Sentiment in South Carolina
Digital History ID 337

Author:   Robert A. Anderson


Threats of secession were nothing new. Some Southerners had threatened to leave the Union during a Congressional debate over slavery in 1790, the Missouri Crisis of 1819 and 1820, the Nullification Crisis of 1831 and 1832, and the crisis over California statehood in 1850. In each case, the crisis was resolved by compromise. Many expected the same pattern to prevail in 1861.

Four months separated Lincoln's election to the presidency and his inauguration. During this period, there were two major compromise efforts. John J. Crittenden (1787-1863) of Kentucky, who held Henry Clay's old Senate seat, proposed a series of Constitutional amendments, including one to extend the Missouri Compromise line to the Pacific Ocean, in defiance of the Compromise of 1850 and the Dred Scott decision. The amendment would prohibit slavery north of the line but explicitly protect it south of the line. On January 16, 1861, however, the Senate, which was controlled by Democrats, refused to consider the Crittenden compromise. Every Republican Senator opposed the measure and six Democrats abstained. On March 4, the Senate reconsidered Crittenden's compromise proposal and defeated it by a single vote.

Meanwhile, Virginia had proposed a peace convention to be held in Washington, D.C., February 4, 1861, the very day that the new Confederate government was to be set up in Alabama. Delegates, who represented 21 of the 34 states, voted narrowly to recommend extending the Missouri Compromise line to the Pacific. The delegates also would have required a four-fifths vote of the Senate to acquire new territory. The Senate rejected the convention's proposals 28 to 7.

Compromise failed in early 1861 because it would have required the Republican party to repudiate its guiding principle: no extension of slavery into the western territories. President-elect Lincoln made the point bluntly in a message to a Republican in Congress: "Entertain no proposition for a compromise in regard to the extension of slavery. The instant you do, they have us under again; all our labor is lost, and sooner or later must be done over....The tug has to come and better now than later."

With compromise unattainable, attention shifted to the federal installations located within the Confederate states, especially to a fort located in the channel leading to Charleston harbor. In November 1860, the U.S. government sent Colonel Robert A. Anderson (1805-1871), a pro-slavery Kentuckian and an 1825 West Point graduate, to Charleston to command federal installations there. On December 26, under cover of darkness, he moved his forces (10 officers, 76 enlisted men, 45 women and children, and a number of laborers) from the barely defensible Fort Moultrie to the unfinished Fort Sumter. On January 9, 1861, President James Buchanan made an effort to reinforce the garrison, but the supply ship was fired on and driven off. In this letter, Anderson describes South Carolina's mood.

Document: Your affectionate and complimentary letter of the 14 inst. has given me very great pleasure. All give me much more credit for what has been done here, than I deserve. I feel that I have been merely an humble instrument in the hands of our Heavenly Father, and I trust that he will be pleased to dispel the dark and threatening clouds which still hang over our poor country. I fear that as a nation we have taken too much upon ourselves--that we have thought most of self and of worldly vanity and pride than we have of our Maker and that He may now bring us under subjection to his will by severe punishment. Never had a people better reason--if any be needed--than ours to be grateful to God.

These people seem to me to have lost all love for the Union, and to think that S. Carolina is all the world to them. The time will come, I think, when their children's children will think kindly of me for having, for a time, at least, saved their ancestors from civil strife. I am heartily tired of my position here, and hope that it will not be a long time before I may be enabled to join my wife and children

Source: Gilder Lehrman Institute

Additional information: Colonel Robert A. Anderson to Anthony Thornton

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