The Democrats naturally clung to their traditions, and, even when they went over, as Black and Stanton did, to the Anti-Southern group, they still hoped that war would not be the result. Equally earnest against war were most of the Republicans, though a few, to be sure, were ready to swing the "Northern hammer." Summer prophesied that slavery would "go down in blood." But the bulk of the Republicans were for a sectional compromise, and among them there was general approbation of a scheme which contemplated reviving the line of the Missouri Compromise, and thus frankly admitting the existence of two distinct sections, and guaranteeing to each the security of its own institutions. The greatest Republican boss of that day, Thurlow Weed, came out in defense of this plan.
No power was arrayed more zealously on the side of peace of any kind than the power of money. It was estimated that two hundred millions of dollars were owed by Southerners to Northerners. War, it was reasoned, would cause the cancellation of these obligations. To save their Southern accounts, the moneyed interests of the North joined the extremists of Abolition in pleading to let the erring sisters go in peace, if necessary, rather than provoke them to war and the confiscation of debts. It was the dread of such an outcome--which finally happened and ruined many Northern firms--that caused the stock-market in New York to go up and down with feverish uncertainty. Banks suspended payment in Washington, Baltimore, and Philadelphia. The one important and all-engrossing thing in the mind's eye of all the financial world at this moment was that specter of unpaid Southern accounts.
At this juncture, Senator Crittenden of Kentucky submitted to the Senate a plan which has been known ever since as the Crittenden Compromise. It was similar to Weed's plan, but it also provided that the division of the country on the Missouri Compromise line should be established by a constitutional amendment, which would thus forever solidify sectionalism. Those elements of the population generally called the conservative and the responsible were delighted. Edward Everett wrote to Crittenden, "I saw with great satisfaction your patriotic movement, and I wish from the bottom of my heart it might succeed"; and August Belmont in a letter to Crittenden spoke for the moneyed interest: "I have yet to meet the first Union-loving man, in or out of politics, who does not approve your compromise proposition...."
The Senate submitted the Compromise to a Committee of Thirteen. In this committee the Southern leaders, Toombs and Davis, were both willing to accept the Compromise, if a majority of the Republican members would agree. Indeed, if the Republicans would agree to it, there seemed no reason why a new understanding between the sections might not be reached, and no reason why sectionalism, if accepted as the basis of the government, might not solve the immediate problem and thus avert war.
In this crisis all eyes were turned to Seward, that conspicuous Republican who was generally looked upon as the real head of his party. And Seward, at that very moment, was debating whether to accept Lincoln's offer of the Secretaryship of State, for he considered it vital to have an understanding with Lincoln on the subject of the Compromise. He talked the matter over with Weed, and they decided that Weed should go to Springfield and come to terms with Lincoln. It was the interview between Weed and Lincoln held, it seems, on the very day on which the Ordinance of Secession was adopted--which gave to that day its double significance.
Lincoln refused point-blank to accept the compromise and he put his refusal in writing. The historic meaning of his refusal, and the significance of his determination not to solve the problem of the hour by accepting a dual system of government based on frankly sectional assumptions, were probably, in a measure, lost on both Weed and Seward. They had, however, no misunderstanding of its practical effect. This crude Western lawyer had certain ideas from which he would not budge, and the party would have to go along with him. Weed and Seward therefore promptly fell into line, and Seward accepted the Secretaryship and came out in opposition to the Compromise. Other Republicans with whom Lincoln had communicated by letter made known his views, and Greeley announced them in The Tribune. The outcome was the solid alignment of all the Republicans in Congress against the Compromise. As a result, this last attempt to reunite the sections came to nothing.
Not more than once or twice, if ever, in American history, has there been such an anxious New Year's Day as that which ushered in 1861. A few days before, a Republican Congressman had written to one of his constituents: "The heavens are indeed black and an awful storm is gathering...I see no way that either North or South can escape its fury." Events were indeed moving fast toward disaster. The garrison at Sumter was in need of supplies, and in the first week of the new year Buchanan attempted to relieve its wants. But a merchant vessel, the Star of the West, by which supplies were sent, was fired upon by the South Carolina authorities as it approached the harbor and was compelled to turn back. This incident caused the withdrawal from the Cabinet of the last opposition members--Thompson, of Mississippi, the Secretary of the Interior, and Thomas, of Maryland, the Secretary of the Treasury. In the course of the month five Southern States followed South Carolina out of the Union, and their Senators and Representatives resigned from the Congress of the United States.
The resignation of Jefferson Davis was communicated to the Senate in a speech of farewell which even now holds the imagination of the student, and which to the men of that day, with the Union crumbling around them, seemed one of the most mournful and dramatic of orations. Davis possessed a beautiful, melodious voice; he had a noble presence, tall, erect, spare, even ascetic, with a flashing blue eye. He was deeply moved by the occasion; his address was a requiem. That he withdrew in sorrow but with fixed determination, no one who listened to him could doubt. Early in February, the Southern Confederacy was formed with Davis as its provisional President. With the prophetic vision of a logical mind, he saw that war was inevitable, and he boldly proclaimed his vision. In various speeches on his way South, he had assured the Southern people that war was coming, and that it would be long and bloody.