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  • Writer's pictureThe Naming Commission Facts

Franklin Buchanan's Rejection from the US Navy

"Sir: If his Excellency, the President, has not accepted my resignation as a Captain in the Navy of the U. S., I respectfully ask to recall it. The circumstances which induced me, very reluctantly, to tender my resignation, no longer exist, and I cannot voluntarily withdraw from a service in which I have passed near 47 years of my life, in the faithful performance of duty — as the records of the Navy Department will prove.

Respectfully, Sir, Your obedient servant, Franklin Buchanan."

-May 4th, 1861

The Naming Commission is looking for an opportunity to change the name of the Buchanan House and there seems to be ample ability to do so under the standards set by Congress. But the report is always deficient in evaluating the situations of these men because it may accidently inform the world that the Union acted in bad faith and may have caused men to defect to the other side.

A constant theme is that many of the assets are named after officers that were against secession and these views were declared prior to the war or secession itself. Buchanan outlined on May 29th, 1861:

"I am no secessionist, do not admit the right of secession, but at the same time I admit the right of revolution. The revolutionists must have good cause for their acts and take the consequences, of course, but if a state does claim the right to secede for God's sake let her go in peace as nothing can be gained by coercion in this country and every sane man must know that. "

However, the historical record shows that loyalty to the state of Maryland led Franklin Buchanan to resign. Like Lee, he did not want to be in a position of resigning because of the refusal of an order, which is not acceptable and could lead to harsh penalties. Because Buchanan thought Maryland would secede, he felt compelled to resign from the Navy. When it was clear that Maryland would not secede, Buchanan tried to take back his resignation, but was denied by the Navy.

When I resigned, I held the desirable and important position of Commandant of the Washington Navy Yard, and did not know at what hour I might be called upon to equip an expedition upon the South or my native State. Those who have never served in the Army or Navy of the United States for forty years and upwards, and have never fought under her flag or witnessed the respect paid to it throughout the world, wherever displayed, cannot know or appreciate the feelings of those who, from principle, were obliged to war against it, until it became the emblem of tyranny and a military despotism. I do not deny that I felt great regret that circumstances made it necessary that I should leave that navy; in this regret I am not alone, for there are thousands, aye, millions, who regretted. Never for one moment have I ever regretted my course I have taken in this Revolution, except to suffer myself to be led into the popular error, for a short time that a reconciliation could be arranged between the North and the South. My acts in the Confederacy speak for themselves. The revolutionary principles of my grandfather Thomas McKean run through my veins, and I trust that such principles, with a conscience of having performed my duty, will govern me through life. My enemies may exercise themselves to injure me, but they never shall have it in their power to say that I shrank from personal responsibilities or duties."

Ultimately, the political situation, the way Maryland was treated by the U.S. Government (i.e. suspension of Habeas corpus, etc.) and the feelings derived from his treatment by Gideon Welles (the Secretary of the Navy) drove him into the arms of the Confederates.

There are a few relevant facts from Buchanan's story that are important for all of the men analyzed in the report:

  1. The first instinct of these men was loyalty to their home state

  2. Men already in the service needed to resign before orders were issues that they could not follow, such as attacking their home state

  3. U.S. Military Policy under both James Buchanan and Abraham Lincoln was to accept resignations (with honorable discharges) for all that sought them, regardless of the potential for military service in another army

  4. The U.S. Military looked upon some men with suspicion and an opportunity to reestablish ties would not be granted

The Naming Commission put together a report selective in details, poorly sourced and designed to keep hidden information the public, Congress and the Department of Defense find incredibly relevant. Why? Because the law leaves room for public officials make an appropriate decision on assets such as the Buchanan House, named for the first Superintendent of the Naval Academy, not \to honor the Confederacy.

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