網頁圖片
PDF
ePub 版

If the architect had anticipated the organization of a government at Montgomery on short notice, he could not have planned so small a building and have arranged its rooms more conveniently for the use of the several heads of departments. On the lower floor, with entrances from two streets, was a large banking office, with a vault attached, and rooms in the rear for executive offices. The keys to these apartments had been delivered to me by Colonel Clanton With them in my hand, I was at an early hour the next day to be found the sole occupant of one of these rooms, upon the door of which had been placed a card designating it as the office of the Secretary of the Treasury. Upon entering this room I found it without furniture of any kind; empty of all it had ever had in it-of desks, table, chairs or other appliances for the conduct of business. Nothing met the surprised selfimportance of the dignified youth but bare walls and a dusty floor. Realizing that within one hour the time would arrive for the Secretary s office hours to begin, I started out in haste to find a furniture store. Fortunately this was close. at hand, and just being opened for the day's traffic. Introducing myself to the gentleman I found in charge, who proved to be the energetic son of Mr. John Powell, I stated the emergency of my case to him, and in a few moments had the satisfaction of seeing him on his way to the Commercial buildings with a neat walnut table, a small desk, and a set of office chairs. When nine o'clock arrived I had swept out the dust and cob-webs of my predecessor's office, placed the furniture in position, and was receiving through an improvised office boy, the first invoice of stationery for the government, from Messrs. Pfister & White, excellent gentlemen, whose book store, in the Exchange building, was known to me as a pleasant stopping place. Ten and eleven o'clock had passed, and I was yet alone in my glory. Pens and inkstands were in place. Legal cap paper presented unwritten pages, and still no one had called upon the Secretary, nor

had the Secretary called upon his clerk. I had re-adjusted everything time and again, gone to the door opening on Commerce street, read and re-read the announcement in the papers, instructed my green office boy a dozen or more times as to the proper mode of receiving a visitor at the front door, when, at last, a messenger arrived with a note from Mr. Memminger informing me that he would be detained with Congress during the day. Another visit to Mr. Powell resulted in a neat matting for the floor, and other conveniences, which made the Secretary's office, by the next morning, quite comfortable.

These details are given to illustrate the small beginnings of the Confederate government, and as they unfold themselves, the reader will see how great emergencies were met from the most limited resources.

While thus remaining the sole occupant of the executive building, and passing the short interval between the organization of the cabinet and the avalanche of work which immediately thereafter bore upon every resource of mind and body, in arranging the appointments of the department, I had the seclusion of my dignity disturbed by a visit, which, while it brought my energies into play, uncovered the then limited resources of the Confederate Treasury.

I had just entered upon the routine duties of the morning, when a brisk, firm step in the hall, and a sharp, decided rap at the door, evidenced the presence of some one on an earnest mission. To the provincial reply-"Come in "-which supplemented the absence of my office boy, there entered a tall, soldierly-looking person, whose whole bearing indicated one accustomed to command. This person at once inquired for the office of Secretary of the Treasury. When informed that he was then in the place appointed as such, he scanned the room in a half skeptical manner and informed me with some emphasis that he desired to see the Secretary at once and on very urgent busi

ness. I stated to my visitor that Mr. Memminger was engaged at the Capitol, with Congress, and that he would not be at the office during the morning. To the further suggestion that I might possibly serve him, as the Secretary's representative, he at once unfolded his mission. "I am Captain Deas, sir, late of the United States army," was the formal announcement of himself. Handing me a note he proceeded about in this manner: "I have been instructed, sir, by the President, whose letter of introduction to the Secretary I have handed to you, to provide blankets and rations for one hundred men, who have reported to him for duty in the army. I want the money, sir, to carry out the instructions of the President."

Returning the President's note to Captain Deas, “late of the United States army," I assured him that nothing could give me more pleasure than to comply with the President's request; "but, Captain," said I, drawing a lean purse from my pocket and opening it, "I have been on a considerable frolic in Montgomery for the past two weeks, and my finances at this moment are somewhat demoralized." Ascertaining that I had a sum amounting to not more than five or ten dollars, I continued: "This, Captain, is all the money that I will certify as being in the Confederate Treasury at. this moment."

At first the dignified Captain appeared provoked at my humor, which to him may have appeared impudence, but when informed that I was with but two days' experience in a department service that began its operations with my presence, his frowning brow relaxed, and he seemed to appreciate my position and to enjoy the joke. Something had to be done, however, to meet this first requisition on the Treasury, as the gallant Captain was determined to execute his order. We were soon at the Capitol to interview Mr. Memminger. Congress was in secret session, but I was enabled to communicate with my chief, who gave me a note of

introduction to Mr. Knox, president of the Central Bank of Alabama, that enabled me to open a credit for the Confederate Treasury, based upon the personal obligation of the Secretary. The relief of Captain Deas was as much a matter of pleasure to me as it could possibly have been to him. We parted with each other at the bank with the understanding that he would make the purchases and send the bills to me for payment. In the evening I visited the troops, in whose behalf this first exercise of executive authority had been made, and ascertained them to be a company of one hundred men from Georgia, who had tendered their services to President Davis. They were under the command of an officer selected from among their number, who bore the historic name of George Washington Lee. Captain Lee was from DeKalb county, Georgia, and his company was the first body of troops who had enlisted to maintain the cause of the Confederacy.

Within a week from the date of his appointment as Secretary of the Treasury, the legislation necessary to establish a credit for the Confederacy had been completed, and Mr. Memminger, with the earnest devotion which had characterized his history in private and in public life, was a Cabinet officer, executing the provisions of the enactments of the Provisional Congress. If, from the necessity growing out of the incomplete character of this legislation, I had found, for the first day or two of my official life, but little to do, there were no moments of leisure when the Secretary transferred his energies and business experience from the deliberations of Congress to the executive branch of the government over which he had been selected to preside.

It is recorded, by one of his biographers, that the great Bonaparte possessed such a wonderful vitality, and was so minute in his elaborate details of office work, that he would exhaust the physical powers of more than one secretary when formulating the plans and arranging the methods of

his military and civil administration. I know of at least one secretary who would often leave the office of the Secretary of the Confederate Treasury after midnight, utterly worn out with labors that had begun in the early morning, and who would leave his weariless chief absorbed in some one of the many problems incident to his most important office.

To organize a Department of Finance for a government formed amid revolutionary surroundings, that would constantly derange normal conditions of political economy and disturb the established basis of credits; to meet promptly the financial demands of such a government, growing as these were, day after day, into colossals proportions, required not only the machinery of organization, but the utmost skill; the resource of the best judgment, and a sagacity which could anticipate events yet to occur.

To meet all the emergencies of the government, the Provisional Congress had provided a loan of fifteen millions of dollars. To the work of preparing and of securing the representatives of this credit and negotiating loans, the Secretary of the Treasury had his attention drawn immedi ately upon assuming the duties of his office.

It will appear strange to one who follows the history of subsequent events, that the Congress should not have anticipated the gigantic war in which the cradle of the Confederacy was not only rocked, but which was in the end to exhaust its powers. The reason for this is to be found in the declaration of right upon which the secession movement was based. Granting the right, secession was believed by some to be a peaceable remedy for the wrongs which the Southern States had so long endured. It never entered into the minds of the very large majority of the Southern Democrats, and was only entertained by a minority of the North, called "National Democrats," that the States had not the right to resume their sovereignty at pleasure. Even

« 上一頁繼續 »