TREASURY DEPARTMENT, March 16, 1861.
Sir: The following question was submitted to my consideration by your note of yesterday: "Assuming it to be possible to now provision Fort Sumter, under all the circumstances is it wise to attempt it?"
I have given to this question all the reflection which the engrossing duties of this department have allowed. A correct solution must depend, in my judgment, on the degree of possibility, on the combination of reinforcement with provisioning, and on the probable effects of the measure upon the relations of the disaffected States to the National Government.
I shall assume, what the statements of the distinguished officers consulted seem to warrant, that the possibility of success mounts to a reasonable degree of probability, and also that the attempt to provision is to include an attempt to reinforce, for it seems to be generally agreed that provisioning without reinforcements, notwithstanding hostile resistance, will accomplish no substantially beneficial purpose.
The probable political effects of the measure allow room for much fair difference of opinion; and I have not reached my own conclusion without serious difficulty.
If the attempt will so inflame civil war as to involve an immediate necessity for the enlistment of armies and the expenditure of millions, I cannot advise it in the existing circumstances of the country and in the present condition of the national finances.
But it seems to me highly improbable that the attempt, especially if accompanied or immediately followed by a proclamation setting forth a liberal and generous yet firm policy toward the disaffected States, in harmony with the principles of the inaugural address, will produce such consequences; while it cannot be doubted that in maintaining a port belonging to the United States and in supporting the officers and men engaged in the regular course of service in its defense, the Federal Government exercises a clear right and, under all ordinary circumstances, performs a plain duty.
I return, therefore, an affirmative answer to the question submitted to me.
And have the honor to be,
With the highest respect,
Your obedient servant,
S. P. CHASE.
Bibliography: Lincoln, Works, eds. Nicolay and Hay, 6: 201-202.