Six Months at the White House/XVII
While sitting one day, Secretary Stanton--whom I usually found quite taciturn--referred to the meeting of the Buchanan Cabinet called upon receipt of the news that Colonel Anderson had evacuated Moultrie, and gone into Fort Sumter. "This little incident," said Stanton, "was the crisis of our history,--the pivot upon which everything turned. Had he remained in Fort Moultrie, a very different combination of circumstances would have arisen. The attack on Sumter--commenced by the South--united the North, and made the success of the Confederacy impossible. I shall never forget," he continued, "our coming together by special summons that night. Buchanan sat in his arm-chair in a corner of the room, white as a sheet, with the stump of a cigar in his mouth. The despatches were laid before us; and so much violence ensued, that he had to turn us all out-of-doors."
The day following, by special permission of Mr. Lincoln, I was present at the regular Cabinet meeting. Judge Bates came in first, and, taking a package out of his pocket, said, "You may not be aware, Mr. President, that you have a formidable rival in the field. I received this through the mail to-day." He unfolded an immense placard, on which was printed in large letters,--"I introduce for President of the United States, Mr. T.W. Smith (I think this was the name), of Philadelphia." The bill then went on to enumerate the qualifications of the candidate, which were of a stunning order; and the whole was signed "George Bates," which the Attorney-General said might be a relative of his, for aught he knew. This decidedly original document was pinned up in a conspicuous place in the council-chamber, where it hung for several days, of course attracting the attention of all visitors, and creating much amusement.
The disaster on the Red River was the subject of official consultation. The positions of the respective forces were traced on the war maps, and various suggestions and opinions offered. The Secretary of the Interior, looking ever to where the Secretary of War sat, said he had a young friend whom he wished to have appointed a paymaster in the army. "How old is he?" asked Stanton, gruffly. "About twenty-one, I believe," answered the Secretary of the Interior; "he is of good family and excellent character." "Usher," was the reply, "I would not appoint the Angel Gabriel a paymaster, if he was only twenty-one." Judge Bates, who was to have a sitting after the adjournment, here beckoned to me, signifying that he was ready for the appointment. And so ended my brief glimpse of a cabinet in session.