Capture of the Southern Forts
New Orleans Daily Picayune, January 17, 1861
The capture of the arsenals and fortified places of the United States, within the limits of the Southern States by the people and Government of those States, has given rise to an amount of Northern indignation wholly disproportioned to the gravity of the offence, viewed even in the light of a filibustering exploit. If it had been the foray of a lawless mob, for purposes of robbery and rapine, it could not have been visited with a greater amount of vindictive denunciation. The pious loyalty—which slept sweetly over the murderous raid of John Brown, or only roused itself to the utterance of a jibe, or to amuse its lassitude with a sneering objurgation—is aghast with horror at the orderly and authorized occupation of forts and arsenals which cannot be used at all by the captors except in defence of the people or territory they were erected to defend. It will take but little reflection to set this matter right, with those, at least, whose opinions it concerns us to conciliate. Some of our people entertain doubts as to the propriety of the seizure, and numberless conservative thinking men, elsewhere succumbing before the wild ado of their press and politicians, look upon it as treasonable and felonious.
To understand the moral bearing of any act, it is necessary to view it in connection with the circumstances under which it was done. It will be asking little enough to beg our readers who may entertain doubts in this matter, to give to the consideration of a proceeding, which many think might be justified on the naked sovereignty of the actor over the premises, the advantage which even a criminal in the dock has a right to claim, of being judged by the circumstances of the case. Now, the main fact in the matter is that there is an imminent danger of a hostile collision between the North, represented in this issue by the general Government, and the South, represented, for the time being, by their State Governments. Who denies this? Who does not feel it? Whether the causes which may produce this collision be judged sufficient or not, whether the Southern position has been taken precipitately or upon sufficient consideration, it matters not; the main fact in the premises is the same—the imminency of hostile collision. Surely the North will not controvert this fact, whilst she desecrates the Senate with the vaporings of a seedy buffoon like Hale, or the air be vexed by the mouthings of a sentimental poltroon like Sumner. With here and there a bright exception, like jewels glittering in an Ethiop's ear, the Northern press is a dreary waste of hostile diatribe and threatening denunciation. The fact is so—collision is imminent.
This admitted, what in the name of all that is warning in history, or reasonable in prophecy, would any one have the people to do? Sit befogged and listless under frowning batteries till awakened by the alarms of war? This was not the way our revolutionary fathers did. As soon as the war with the mother country became imminent, they seized upon the forts and arsenals of the Government of Great Britain. The ease of the taking of Ticonderoga by Ethan Allen has become memorable from his challenge to the officer in charge to surrender, "in the name of the Great Jehovah and the Continental Congress." But this was not an isolated instance of the capture of Government property before the war was declared. The right was exercised wherever it could be; and Mr. Hale, when he gets back to New Hampshire, can visit, if he thinks fit, the site of a British arsenal so taken; and Mr. Seward, from the parade ground at West Point, can see the ruins of an old fort that met the same fate.
But let us come nearer our own times—last month is near enough we should think—for our purposes. The people of Pittsburg, in December last, imagined that the Government was about to send cannon to the South from the United States Arsenal there. Upon the rumor of such an intention they assembled in great masses and resolved that the cannon should not leave the city. If the Government had any purpose of sending cannon down the river, the menaces of the populace awed them into submission. The cannon were not sent. Now, these pieces of ordnance were not in use in Pittsburg. They were Government stores; and the people of Pittsburg did not know what use the United States designed making of them. But this they did know: that they were not to be employed against them; they were not to be used to coerce that city, to demolish her smoking foundries, to quell her teeming factories.
Contrast the two cases in view of the facts in each, and which is the greater crime, admitting for the salve of comparison both to be wrong? The United States holds her armories North under the duress of mobs. They are as much captured as the forts and arsenals of Louisiana. She cannot move them where the exigencies of the State, in the opinion of the Government, require them. The apprehension that in some way, or in some sort, they know not how, when or where, but certainly not against them or their firesides, they might be employed for or against a people who have as much right to them as they have, was enough to array a posse against their removal, which the Government could not or did not resist. In a practical point of view, the arsenal at Pittsburg was as truly captured as the arsenal at Baton Rouge, without any of the justifications which qualify or the order that characterized the seizure of the latter. And yet not a whimper is heard from one end of the North to the other, not a reproach, not a rebuke.
And all this was done before the seizing of the forts and arsenals of this State was mooted as a precautionary measure. Should the people of Louisiana, or could they, longer delay to take possession of such parcels of munitions as chanced to be within her jurisdiction, until the little that she had should be given to those who had already more than they wanted?
In a strategical view of the pending trouble, the captured places were of no use to the Government. They could not be held against the State in time of war. They were all inland and indefensible from land attack. They were eye-sores and irritations. They were depositories of munitions of destruction, which might be used against us, or removed to leave us naked to our enemies. Does the North want all? Does she require all the ships, and cannon, and stores, and munitions of war to subjugate us? If she does not mean that, she has no use for the things taken. In a few short months she will have her President, her Vice President, her Cabinet, her everything. Why, a generous enemy, instead of railing at the little the South has got, would divide the property held in common, and "after, fight" her.
It is the province of infatuation to view this matter in any other light than that which the time or the facts shed upon it. To consider it in the same spirit in which it would have been viewed a short twelve months past, we would have to bring back the status quo of the twelve months past. Would that we could roll back the wheel of time, retrace the many hours through which eighteen hundred and sixty, "like a foul and ugly witch," limped tediously away, that the people might behold the gulf into which fanaticism and sectional excesses were hurrying them! This can not be; but for the year to come, the North can act as she might have done, had she seen the end in the beginning of the last.