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What Seward Thought About Lincoln – Part 2

August 1, 2018

The initial assessment called for 20,000 men.  When Lincoln consulted General Scott, the estimate rose to 25,000 men.  The situation seemed hopeless until the Postmaster General became convinced Fort Sumter could be resupplied by sea.  The idea originated with his brother-in-law who had been an officer in the Navy.  General Scott scoffed at the idea, but Lincoln wanted to discuss it with his advisors.

He asked each member of the Cabinet to provide a written answer to the following question: “Assuming it to be possible to now provision Fort-Sumpter (sic), under all the circumstances, is it wise to attempt it?”

The Secretary of War, the Attorney General, the Secretary of the Navy, and the Secretary of the Interior responded negatively.  The Secretary of the Treasury approved the idea but said he would be against it if he thought it would start a war.  Obviously, the Postmaster General, who had presented the idea, was in favor.

Secretary of State William Seward was also against the plan to resupply Fort Sumter, believing it would “provoke combat, and probably initiate a civil war.”  Lincoln had repeatedly promised that the Federal government would not be the aggressor in any disputes with the slave states, but if the secessionists were to attack Fort Sumter while it was being resupplied, the Federal government would defend its property.  Everyone but Lincoln and his Postmaster General seemed to have missed the point that the fort belonged to the nation and not to any particular state.

Two weeks later, with the Cabinet now evenly divided (3 to 3, with one not in attendance), Lincoln decided to resupply Fort Sumter by sea.  There would be one week until the fleet sailed.  Lincoln had made his decision; now Seward made his.  He would try one last time to reverse the Administration’s course.




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