Decision for War
Even though Lincoln was elected on November 6th of 1860, he would not take office until March 4th, 1861. So after the secession of South Carolina on December 20th, 1860, it was lame duck President Buchanan who had to deal with the immediate secession crisis.
January and February 1861 saw six other states join South Carolina and form a new government called the Confederate States of America. Federal facilities and assets were seized throughout the new Confederate nation. No resistance was offered by the Buchanan administration. However, several Federal facilities were not occupied by the forces of a seceded state during Buchanan’s final months in office. These were, Fort Sumter located in the port city of Charleston, South Carolina, Fort Pickens located in the Florida panhandle and Fort Tortuga located in the Florida Keys. All three were still in Federal hands when Lincoln took the oath of office in March 1861.
Why? Why didn’t Buchanan relinquish possession of these facilities, too?
Certainly it wasn’t due to lack of effort by commissioners from the Confederate States. Their efforts to acquire them, even by purchase, failed to gain approval from President Buchanan. He left this powder keg to his successor, Lincoln.
President Buchanan failed to address secession or the loss of Federal facilities before he left office. In fact, he added more flame to the smoldering fire. He did so with his last official act, when he signed into law the Morrill Tariff just hours before Lincoln was to take office.
In his March 4th inaugural Lincoln made it clear that he did not recognize either secession or the Confederate States of America. On the contrary, he pledged to retain all federal property and collect the new federal import duties in every port.
Despite Lincoln’s declaration, his cabinet advised him to surrender Fort Sumter. His military advisor, General Scott agreed and advised him to recognize the existence of the Confederate States and wish them well.
Lincoln refused to follow any of this advice.