Letter from President James Buchanan to SC Commissioners regarding Federal Troops in Charleston Harbor, 30 December 1860

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The South Carolina Constitutional Convention, which authored the Ordinance of Secession and the Declaration of Immediate Clauses, formed a commission, consisting of R.W. Barnwell, J.H. Adams, and James L. Orr, to negotiate with President James Buchanan.  Two days before the first letter, Major Robert Anderson, the commanding officer in Charleston, moved federal troops from Fort Moultrie to Fort Sumter.  In response, the state militia seized all federal property in Charleston, except for Fort Sumter. 

In the first letter, the Commissioners wrote to President Buchanan to give him a copy of the Ordinance of Secession and ask him to withdrawal federal troops from Charleston harbor. In this letter , President Buchanan replies by refusing to remove the troops.  He explains to the South Carolina Commissioners his inability under the U.S. Constitution to resolve any disagreements with Congress, but states his intention of upholding his constitutional duty to protect the property of the United States, including Fort Sumter, if it is attacked.  Although the attack on Fort Sumter would not occur for four more months, this exchange between the Commissioners and President Buchanan illustrates the significance of federal troops in Charleston in the initiation of armed combat between the two sides.


Letter of President Buchanan to the Washington Commissioners, December 30, 1860, Journal of the Convention of the People of South Carolina, Held in 1860-’61.  Together with the Reports, Resolutions, &c. Charleston, p. 356-362: Evans & Cogswell, Printers to the Convention. No. 3 Broad and 103 East Bay Streets.  1861.  South Carolina Department of Archives and History, Columbia, South Carolina.

Correlating SC Social Studies Academic Standards:

Standard 3-4: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the events that led to the Civil War, the course of the War and Reconstruction, and South Carolina’s role in these events.

Indicator 3.4-4 Outline the course of the Civil War and South Carolina’s role in significant events, including the Secession Convention, the firing on Fort Sumter, the Union blockade of Charleston, and Sherman’s march through South Carolina.

Standard 4-6: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the Civil War and its impact on America.

Indicator 4-6.3 Explain how specific events and issues led to the Civil War, including the sectionalism fueled by issues of slavery in the territories, state’s rights, the election of 1860, and secession.

Standard 8-3: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the American Civil War—its causes and effects and the major events that occurred during that time.

Indicator 8-3.4 Compare the attitudes of the unionists, cooperationists, and secessionists in South Carolina and summarize the reasons that the members of the South Carolina secession convention in 1860 voted unanimously to secede from the Union, including concerns about states’ rights and fears about abolition.

Standard USHC-4: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the causes and the course of the Civil War and Reconstruction in America.

Indicator USHC-4.2 Explain how the political events and issues that divided the nation led to civil war, including the compromises reached to maintain the balance of free and slave states, the successes and failures of the abolitionist movement, the conflicting views on states’ rights and federal authority, the emergence of the Republican Party and its win in 1860, and the formation of the Confederate States of America.

Additional Flash Versions:

Letter from President Buchanan, pg. 1 Letter from President Buchanan, pg. 16

Related Documents

Ordinance of Secession

Declaration of Immediate Causes


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