Lincoln's Congressional Message July 1861
The summer of 1861 had come and decisive action became necessary as an answer to the current state of affairs between the Federal Government and a collection of seceded states having established the provisional government of the Confederacy. On July 4th, nearly three months since South Carolina spelled out their political dissatisfaction with the roar of the cannon against Fort Sumter; President Abraham Lincoln wrote the United States Congress and summarized just what the country had embarked upon.
The vast majority of fortifications had already been seized and a disproportionate share of the Federal firearms had managed to find their way into the hands of the southern states known to have been the work of former Secretary of War, John B. Floyd of Virginia. The states now calling themselves a Confederacy and considered by the Chief Executive to be an illegal organization; invoked recognition, aid, and intervention from foreign powers, would not be sanctioned in tearing an established government to pieces.
The President only received acknowledgment from only one slave holding state in response to the call for volunteers as Delaware sent her numbers to defend the old flag. The additional Border States had not quite made up their minds and wished to adapt a policy of "armed neutrality" placing a no man's land within Kentucky, Maryland and Missouri. None would allow the forces of either to transit through their soil. This impassable wall would open free trade with either while tying the hands of the Union; hiding behind the guise of neutrality where these would have no such opportunity had they been an open enemy to the government.
On the 5th day of March 1861, Mr. Lincoln's first full day in office, a letter in the hand of Major Robert Anderson, delivered to the United States War Department and now placed into the hand of the commander in chief, stated that in the officer's unsolicited opinion, no forces could possibly be thrown into Fort Sumter, nor would relief have time to come before all provisions within was depleted. Several of his junior officers attached their concurrence with their commander's assessment.
Lieutenant General Winfield Scott was called on to confer with both the Army and Navy; yet none were able to determine a viable solution to the puzzle. Scott simply returned with an idea to pull the garrison out while the country had still been capable of doing so. However, with grave concern with how this appeared to the rest of the world who had looked on, it simply appeared ruinous or showing weakness.
Instead, Lincoln chose to re-enforce Fort Pickens in the state of Florida. He reasoned that if Fort Pickens could be re-enforced with soldiers, then evacuate the garrison at Fort Sumter, the international outlook would be one of national policy and create a far more positive perception overall among the nations.
Selected for the operation was the USS Brooklyn; yet the warship made the tactical error of transferring her forces to the USS Sabine whose commanding officer continued to act off some sort of armistice the Buchanan Administration had engineered but his successor failed to take notice of. The result in time lost caused the window of opportunity to slip away before the real crisis in Charleston Harbor began..
The government then began preparation of an expedition to relieve Fort Sumter. The Governor of South Carolina duly notified the federal ships had been sent for the purpose to provision the garrison; however unfortunate for the country the cannon assembled against the fort opened up and drove North and South to war. As foretold in his inaugural address the momentous issue of Civil War had rested squarely in the hands of the South.
Although not yet seceded at that time, Virginia had acted as if it had. The legislature filled with the vast majority of Union men had a sudden change of heart, either over the bombardment of Sumter or Lincoln's call to suppress what he had labeled the Rebellion; the Old Dominion had sent their representatives to its new government in Montgomery, Alabama and had later invited it to take residency within her own borders, now but one hundred miles from Washington City.
The President therefore considered it his duty to authorize of his commanding general, Winfield Scott, the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus to be used at his own discretion towards parties who appeared disloyal to the Union. The public outcry began that the head of the country, sworn to take care that the laws of the land be faithfully executed should not thereby violate them. Lincoln's view point on the conflict was born out of rebellion, law breakers among one third of the nation's populous. Again, he questioned of Congress whether all the laws but the one go unexecuted while the Government itself went to pieces, lest the one be violated. Would the official oath be broken should the Government be overthrown when national consensus believed that disregard of that single law would tend to preserve it? That provision dictated that the writ may be suspended in cases of rebellion or invasion; and pointed out that the public safety required it.
The South understood what most considered little difference in calling the present conflict one of secession or one of rebellion. The actions of the southern people could not be raised to any respectable level world wide if by name it would imply a violation of law. Scattered throughout the South were loyal citizens who had still possessed a reverence for the history and government of their common country as any other civilized and patriotic people would. The secessionists had spent the last thirty years in the development of an ingenious sophism, which if conceded upon, was followed with perfect logical steps straight to the country's destruction.
These people insisted that the United States Constitution admitted to secession, yet in making a national constitution of their own, they had neither discarded nor retained the right of secession; as they had insisted it existed in the old. With such an idea no government on earth was capable of endurance.
Outside of South Carolina, no where in the South was it proven that the vast majority of voters were anything less than Union people; and the seceded states as a whole were not capable of making up the vast majority of the country. It became necessary, therefore; that the United States call for a volunteer army never before organized in such numbers. The country, the very union saved at all costs.
Strategic military plans were already underway to destroy the rebel resistance and ordered to march on Richmond before their provisional government had established roots. The firing on Fort Sumter would provide the justification to march the armies out against its very own people. Legally speaking the President of the United States; entitled to call the rift between the sections a rebellion; created the perception that such was incapable of being organized to any great extent. The North would soon learn quickly they underestimated the resolve of the South as both clashed on a quiet Sunday morning along the banks of Bull Run.
Editors Note: Mr.Moran is a feature writer on the US-Civilwar.com writers staff. He may be contacted with your questions, ideas and requests at firstname.lastname@example.org