The Retiring Administration

Providence Daily Post, March 5, 1861

Mr. Buchanan retired from office yesterday, and is to-day only a private citizen. That he rejoices in being rid of the cares and responsibilities of office, no one can doubt; but that he returns to his home satisfied with the results of his official experience, or with himself, we do not believe. In all things he may have acted cons[c]ientiously, but it is not plain that in all things he has acted wisely.

It is generally conceded that Mr. Buchanan has managed our foreign relations with great ability, and with an unfailing regard for the country's interests. No living statesman, we think, could have better managed our controversies, or better succeeded in preserving friendly feeling between our own and other governments. His movements have been characterized by caution, and yet by firmness, and have been calculated to strengthen the influence of the government in foreign courts.

And in the management of our domestic affairs, it must be admitted that, in the main, the President's policy has been a good one. He has met most of the questions which have been submitted to him in a spirit of candor and fairness, and has brought to the work of their solution a degree of knowledge, derived from long experience in public affairs, which few Presidents have exhibited. That some of those who enjoyed his confidence were dishonest men, cannot be denied; but that the President himself has countenanced their dishonesty, or has meant to avail himself, in any way, of improper conduct on their part, it is not easy to believe. A close partizan relationship, growing out of, or at least strengthened by difficulties which culminate in a division of the Democratic party, may have led him to take little notice of matters which ought to have warned him of corruption; but it is by no means probable that he intended to act the part of a defender or an indifferent spectator of corrupt actions. Much has been charged against him in this direction; but a careful scrutiny of facts will show, we are confident, that he has himself preserved clean hands, and that even in the selection of his friends, he has not been more unfortunate than either of his Whig predecessors in the Presidential chair.

The great mistake of Mr. Buchanan was in consenting to a permanent division of the Democratic party. With his Kansas policy, we never found any fault, and are not disposed to find fault, to-day. We regretted that other Democrats should have found fault with it, and especially that Mr. Douglas and his friends should have allowed it to separate them, even for an hour, from his administration. But it is plain enough to all, that the time came when it was in the power of Mr. Buchanan to restore peace to the councils of the party; when the weapons of opposition to him had been thrown down, and all hard feelings on the part of those who had opposed him had apparently died out. Nothing was needed to secure permanent peace, but generous forgiveness and a straightforward, consistent course, as a Democratic President, on his part. Unfortunately, he failed to listen to the appeal that was made to his magnanimity. He kept up the war against Stephen A. Douglas. He carried it into the Convention at Charleston, and into the Convention at Baltimore. He countenanced the factious conduct of unprincipled political gamblers. He countenanced the only half-disguised schemes of outright disunionists. He did what no one but a Democratic President could have clone. He divided and crippled the Democratic party, so that it became an easy prey to Northern sectionalists. He filled thousands of offices with enemies of the Union, so that he himself became the easy prey of Southern secessionists.

Probably Mr. Buchanan did not mean to secure the election of a Republican President. Certainly he did not mean to aid in a dissolution of the Union. But the first of these things he certainly did do; and the last has followed as a reasonable consequence. His mistake was seen, if he ever saw it, too late to be remedied. And when he would have put forth his hand to save the government from disgrace and the Union from disruption, he found himself brought face to face with those whose best friend he had proved himself. He appealed to their generosity, to their sense of justice, to their patriotism; but his appeals were in vain. They laughed at his calamity, and mocked when his fear came. Even in his own cabinet, after deceiving him as long as they could, they derided his unquestionably well meant, patriotic efforts to stop the wheels of ruin and restore what had been lost.

There has been much discussion as to the wisdom of Mr. Buchanan's policy since he became aware of the real state of the country, and turned his back squarely upon the secessionists. Many believe that a more vigorous policy—one carrying with it all the energy of the government, and a determination to show no favor and give no quarter to the secessionists—would have been far more successful than that which was adopted. They believe it was not too late to save the Union by force, even after South Carolina had taken the fatal step. It is barely possible that they are right; but we do not believe that they are. The President, we know, availed himself at once of the opinion of sincere Union men from the border States, and from the North; and almost without an exception they assured him that any attempt to intimidate or coerce the South, or any part of it, would certainly hasten the secession work—would extend it to the border States—would involve the country in civil war—and would, finally, render any reconciliation utterly impossible. He followed the counsels of these men, given in good faith, to the letter; and it is our belief that if he had not done so, every Southern State and the capital itself would long ere this have been in the hands of the secessionists. Then would have followed civil war. The South would have been crippled, undoubtedly; but the Union would not have been restored.

Mr. Buchanan goes home to Wheatland a heart-broken man. He loved the Union, undoubtedly. He loved to contemplate its growth in all the elements of strength and happiness. He did not mean to be the last President of an undivided Republic. He is disappointed and heart-sore. The present is full of disaster and apprehension. The future is shrouded in the blackness of midnight.—All this he realizes more than we can realize it; and who can doubt that it brings to him all the anguish which a parent must realize in the violent disruption of his own household?