The Secession Crisis: Southern Challenges, Northern Responses

[Of] calamities and misfortunes which may greatly afflict us … and to fortify our minds against the attacks of these. … The only method of doing this is to assume a perfect resignation to the Divine Will, to consider that whatever does happen, must happen; and that, by our uneasiness, we cannot prevent the blow before it does fall, but we may add to the force after it has fallen.

THOMAS EFFERSON, Jefferson Himself1

Without a party a statesman is nothing. He sometimes forgets that awkward fact.

RONALD SYME, The Roman Revolution2

President-Elect Lincoln’s problems, as he sat musing in the parlour of his Springfield home, were indeed the most unenviable and intractable ever placed before a prospective chief executive of the United States. The course of the secession crisis resembled a menacing minuet. Clearly, the southern states, as they had indeed threatened, would make the first move; but the outcome of that move would be determined by the response of the Federal government; which, in turn would shape the next step. The northern response clearly is as important in determining the outcome of this crisis as southern behaviour. We should never forget A. J. P. Taylor’s injunction that it takes two sides to make a war.3 Here the behaviour of the Federal government is just as decisive in leading to the fateful steps resulting in civil war as the action of southern insurgents. And in tracing this process, attribution of blame for provoking a conflict is a minor consideration when set beside the need to evaluate the chain of causation. Contemporaries were very free in allotting blame at the time, as we shall see, and most of this fell on the shoulders of the hapless President Buchanan; but even the most well-meaning statesman can trigger off a series of events which results in catastrophe. Wars have frequently resulted from a series of well-intentioned acts, and such was the case in 1861.

One important obstacle, which all northern participants in the crisis were powerless to overcome, was the four months’ interlude prescribed by the Constitution before Lincoln could be inaugurated as president. The Founding Fathers had assumed that American democracy would not encounter a crisis of such magnitude in which drastic action would be required. Or, even if this was threatened, that such a crisis would not be so immediate or coincide with a change of chief magistrate. This long period of time stymied dramatic initiative and was an embarrassment to both Buchanan and Lincoln. The latter could not assume office until 4 March. If Lincoln made announcements, it would set in train a deluge of speculation and denunciation which he could not silence by action; if Buchanan took action, which he was temperamentally ill-disposed to do, it could founder with one word from the president-elect. The dilemma was insuperable. Lincoln decided to keep his own counsel and say nothing. The expedient he had employed during the presidential election was employed again during the period of transition. If Washington Irving was right in thinking that American government was nothing but the unadulterated government of words, then the government of the United States ground to a halt in the early months of 1861. Fortunately, there were many others who were willing to fill the breach with talk, but they had no responsibility for action. There is no better example of the age-old problem of equating power and responsibility. Buchanan had power, though it was diminishing, but had no responsibility beyond March 1861; Lincoln had awesome responsibility but no power. He had political authority as president-elect but whether he could do anything constructive with it was quite a different matter. Buchanan (like Douglas) was also sensitive to the need not to make any move which might endanger the return of a Democrat to the White House, which would need southern votes. This additional calculation lent a certain prudence to the moves of a politician not inclined to antagonize the South.4

At any rate, the long period of waiting, if it did not inaugurate a president, inaugurated a protracted period of manoeuvring which attempted to influence the policy of the incoming Lincoln Administration. The Republican Party, more than most, was a coalition of groupings that had little in common with one another. The attempt to discern the policy of the party once it was in government became a major objective. But one characteristic of all these warring factions was that they underestimated the president-elect. They all assumed, on no evidence but a wish that he would prove compliant, that he would have no views of his own and that he would follow the advice of the more distinguished members of his party in a docile and respectful manner. More attention will be devoted to this foolish and unfortunate attitude in the next chapter. Suffice it to say that this presumption, defended by William H. Seward’s biographer on the grounds that Lincoln was untested, only added to the muddle in policy which was exacerbated by structural rigidities, such as the long transition between administrations. On the contrary, the chief executive they would have to deal with, though initially diffident, had already developed tremendous skill in manipulating and cajoling men. He would choose his own cabinet, but would do so without alienating the various factions which were manoeuvring about him. Lincoln posed as a humble man, and he was, in any case, winning, affable and kindly. But he did not underestimate his own capacities, which, in truth, were greater than those of the men around him. But it would take time for this to have an effect on the formulation of policy. Lincoln simultaneously had too much of this and too little; too much time in Springfield, yet too little in Washington DC. In view of his peculiar and unprecedented difficulties, it is possible that Lincoln’s silence contributed to the sense of uncontrollable drift. But he could do nothing. Leadership without action is as pointless as cars without petroleum. Lincoln was surrounded by men who thought that they had all the answers to his problems if only they were in his place. ‘Hindsight makes us admire him [Lincoln] even more’, writes Marcus Cunliffe with characteristic acuity, ‘for his honest bewilderment’.5

Forming the Lincoln Administration

The structure of the Lincoln Administration would determine the Federal government’s response to the crisis. Lincoln himself, even to prominent members of his own party, was an unknown quantity and he lacked the customary alliances and networks which would allow observers to predict in advance his cabinet. The result was a prolonged bout of shadow boxing in which various individuals and factions jostled for influence. The most prominent of these was Seward. Since the Chicago Convention Seward had nursed the illusion, no doubt a sop to his wounded vanity, that he would be left to run the Administration. Seward was devious and rather conceited. It never occurred to him that he would not be the centre of decision-making in the new Administration. Lincoln did not formally become president-elect until 5 December when the presidential electors of Illinois and other states met to confirm the decision of the electorate a month before. Here was a prime example of the inertia of the presidential-making machinery. Lincoln had not wasted this month; he devoted a lot of time, when not importuned by callers, to considering his course of action. He was already providing evidence for those with a mind to see it that he would behave as chief executive in substance as well as in style. The office of the presidency is very personal and may be moulded to fit the character of the incumbent. Lincoln would lead but in his own individual way. He had already discerned from the manoeuvres of Thurlow Weed, Seward’s alter ego, that Seward would try and dominate the new Administration, and he took action immediately to try and counteract this overweening effort. In a series of adroit and complex measures, using correspondence dispatched via the vice president-elect, Hamlin, he sought to ensure that Seward would decline an offer of secretary of state before it was actually tendered. He also felt unable to accept Weed’s invitation to visit Seward at his home at Auburn, New York. Finally, he sent word to the Republican congressional leaders, telling them not to entertain suggestions of compromise with the South. Henry Villard of the New York Herald, the best informed of the watching correspondents, reported that ‘The result of the secession conventions will be awaited. … No difficulty will be experienced in choosing the representatives of the free states in the cabinet’. But would this include a southerner? He predicted, ‘a “coming together” seems a rather remote contingency’.6

During these days Lincoln was often accused of ‘a grotesque joviality’ in his attitude. Those who met him socially gained the opinion that he considered the threats of secession nothing more than bluff. He was asked by Villard to make a public statement. To meet this demand in November he had written out two paragraphs which would appear in a speech by Senator Trumbull. This was a clever move because the sentiments were not binding on the president-elect, having been uttered by Trumbull. Lincoln wrote, ‘all of the states will be left in complete control of their own affairs … and at perfect liberty to choose and employ, their own means of protecting property and preserving peace and order within their respective limits, as they have ever been under any administration’. Perhaps the crucial passage illustrating (as he saw it) the moderate intent of the Lincoln Administration and the hollowness of southern threats, was:

Disunionists per se, are now in hot haste to get out of the Union precisely because they perceive they cannot much longer maintain apprehension among the southern people that their homes, and firesides, and lives, are to be endangered by the action of the Federal Government. With such ‘now or never is the maxim.

Throughout, Lincoln had maintained an optimistic frame of mind. Two months earlier he had predicted that ‘In no probable event will there be any very formidable effort to break up the Union’. In reaching this judgement he relied on ‘many assurances’ he had received from southern correspondents, who included too many individuals ‘of good sense and good temper to attempt the ruin of the government rather than see it administered as it was administered by the men who made it. At least so I hope and believe’.7

But Lincoln’s studiedly optimistic stance was also the product of a knowledge of the fragility of the Republican Party which had to be held together. This could be achieved by adopting an attitude which imposed the minimum stress on its fissure-ridden surface of unity. To take one example, the Indiana Republican Party lay at the centre of Lincoln’s political base. Like his home state, Illinois, Indiana included in its southern counties many citizens originally from the South. The Republican Party there lacked a number of basic principles acceptable to this diverse constituency. Some acquiesced in secession. ‘Of what value will a union be that needs links of bayonets and bullets to hold it together?’ Other conservative Republicans, although they were doubtful whether the allegiance of the Deep South could be held, believed that the Upper South could be divided from their more militant allies. The Indianapolis Journal, for example, proposed that liberty laws be passed that allowed slaveholders to take their slaves through the free states, and the introduction of popular sovereignty in the territories. That is to say, they advocated an abandonment of the very raison d’être of the Republican Party itself. There was hostility to the views of Republicans in New England, ‘fanatical, abolitionised, canting, hypocritical New England States’, whose views on tariff and banking matters were also abhorrent. Could secession spread to the North itself? In the southern counties, some Indianans muttered darkly. ‘I cannot obliviate the fact that our interest is with the South’, wrote one, ‘and I cannot reconcile the separation’. This was a measure of Lincoln’s problem, and he was criticized for keeping silent.

Under these circumstances, Lincoln’s sunny disposition, smiling, making pleasant homilies, receiving enthusiastic crowds with unexceptional sentiment, kissing little girls, and behaving as if he was still on the hustings, had a tactical significance. But Lincoln had to respond to the thousands of moderate Republicans, who though lukewarm if not downright hostile to Negroes themselves, refused to concede an inch on the slavery extension issue. There could be no compromise like that of 1850. To do so would sacrifice the success of the Republican Party just at the moment when it had gained power. ‘The Republicans’, wrote one loyalist, ‘have nothing to take back. … We knew the man we voted for; understood his principles, and, be the consequences what they may, are determined to give him ‘aid and comfort’ in carrying out those principles’. Another claimed, surely rightly, that if the Republicans cowered to the South after bellowing so much ‘anti-slavery bluster’ it was obvious that ‘Republicanism is a dead dog’. How could Lincoln straddle these contradictory currents within his own party and yet present a firm but conciliatory policy to the southern states?8

One ploy was to award cabinet posts to men who might be acceptable to the South, like Edward Bates and John M. Botts, the Virginia Unionist. Lincoln at this stage was reluctant to appoint Seward not only for personal reasons, but also because he would enrage the South – his exaggerated radical image still prevailed – and ‘alarm and dissatisfy’ conservative Republicans. Indeed he pondered on the possibility of making Bates his secretary of state. But he could not do so until Seward had declined the position. Predictions of Lincoln’s conservatism at the Chicago Convention were more than vindicated by these initial moves. Indeed he was prepared in principle to include a southerner in his cabinet. His old Whig ally, Botts, might fit this bill. But Lincoln was under no illusions, given the stream of vituperation frothing from the South, that such an appointment would end the crisis. Indeed when Thurlow Weed mentioned the need to have no fewer than two southerners in his cabinet, Lincoln replied sternly, asking whether these men could be trusted if their states seceded? When Weed assured him that they could and offered to vouch for them personally, Lincoln snapped caustically, ‘Well, let us have the names of your white crows’. Even the most committed recent defender of Upper South Unionism, Daniel W. Crofts, concedes that unconditional Unionism was not a sentiment shared by the majority at this date. Lincoln was right to tread with caution.9

This remark is indicative of a major development on the northern side in the crisis. The longer it went on, the less inclined was Lincoln to compromise. He still hoped to gain the open support of men who had proved enthusiastic for Douglas and Bell, but whatever the press of everyday manoeuvring, he would not compromise the basic tenets of Republicanism. In December 1860 he issued an invitation to Thurlow Weed, as Seward’s emissary, to visit him in Springfield. Seward was anxious to know the policy of the president-elect, because if he joined his cabinet and found that he disapproved of the policy, he would have lost his freedom of action as an influential member of the Senate. Weed himself favoured territorial compromise; Seward was more equivocal, but would latch on to this if it offered a viable solution to the crisis. Weed took back to New York three resolutions which encapsulated the president-elect’s views at this stage; that the Fugitive Slave Act should be enforced; that all state laws inconsistent with those of Congress should be repealed; ‘That the Federal Union must be preserved’. He made no mention of territorial compromise.10

During his talks with Weed (and let it be remembered that Weed was only one of a host of visitors including David Wilmot), Lincoln heard a lot of criticism and ridicule of Seward’s rivals for possible cabinet positions. The final list of names included, Salmon P. Chase, Gideon Welles, Simon Cameron and Montgomery Blair from the defecting wing of the Democratic Party, with three Whigs, Seward, Bates and one other – possibly a southerner. Weed announced that he could count four Democrats but only three former Whigs. The balance of patronage was always uppermost in his thoughts. ‘You seem to forget’, Lincoln reminded him, ‘that I expect to be there; and counting me as one, you see how nicely the cabinet would be balanced and ballasted’, and as for Simon Cameron, he was ‘not Democrat enough to hurt him’ – and the same could also be said of Salmon P. Chase. But Weed’s comment is interesting in revealing the preoccupation of powerful agents within the Republican Party with themselves and their own views. This had the unfortunate effect of writing out the leading actor from the script. Yet Lincoln had already asserted leadership and control over the cabinet-making process; but he did this not by striking attitudes and revelling in bombast but by giving the impression to the various warring factions that he was taking them into his confidence. He then reduced the more exposed issues by some judicious refining of the language employed. It took a man like Lincoln, a politician who had never held an executive office of any kind, to teach the Republican Party, whose short life had been spent in passionate and perpetual opposition, the disciplines of government.11

Yet the illusion persisted, perhaps in spite of rather than because of Lincoln’s style, that one figure would be ‘premier’ in the new Administration. This phrase had been banded about in the Buchanan Administration but had no substance. The jockeying for position around Lincoln was so fevered because the various groups thought that they could capture this position, and enthrone a kind of surrogate president. Although Joshua Leavitt, an ally of Chase, thought that Seward’s seniority and ‘age entitles him to his choice’, Chase’s other allies thought that ‘the post of ‘Premier’ can be secured’ for him if he would allow the effort to be made.12 Chase at first declined the post offered to him of Secretary of the Treasury. Simon Cameron wanted this position; Thurlow Weed wanted to keep Chase out, because as Treasury Secretary, he would control patronage in New York. Neither Chase nor the Blairs were very keen on being placed subordinate in the cabinet to Seward as ‘premier’.13 Such selfish wrangling, which drew much critical comment both from contemporaries and modern historians,14 should be set against the unprecedented crisis and the outbreak of panic on the New York money market which brought calls for an appeasement of the South. Such agitation left Lincoln unmoved, and again he brought his speeches to his correspondents’ attention.

Then in December 1860, Lincoln sent Weed, doubtless so he could pass it on to Seward, a forthright statement of his policy. Lincoln made no concession on the territorial question on which Weed had urged the president-elect to give ground. It was an issue that Weed did not think worth the life of a single New York dragoon. On the contrary, Lincoln now made it quite clear that

I will be inflexible on the territorial question; that I probably think either the Missouri Line extended, or Douglas’s and Eli Thayer’s popular sovereignty, would lose us everything we gained by the election; that filibustering for all south of us, and making slave States of it would follow, in spite of us, under either plan.

Also that I probably think all opposition, real and apparent, to the fugitive-slave [clause] of the Constitution ought to be withdrawn.

Lincoln had referred to this latter requirement in the three resolutions that he handed to Weed when he left Springfield. As to the so-called ‘right’ of secession, Lincoln claimed that ‘no State can in any way lawfully get out of the Union without the consent of the others; and that it is the duty of the President and other Government functionaries to run the machine as it is’.15 Lincoln also began to study Andrew Jackson’s edict, the ‘Proclamation to the People of South Carolina’, which had been promulgated almost thirty years before.16 In conversation with some Kentucky unionists, Lincoln made some shrewd observations on the differences in the southern position over those thirty years. Whereas in 1832 ‘the South made a special complaint against a law of recent origin. Now they had no new law, or new interpretation of old law to complain of. Lincoln apparently remained ‘serene and good natured’ throughout this interview, but it was clear that underneath this facade was a resolute and steely heart, one which deplored ‘the naked desire to get out of the Union’ which underlay the wholly ‘false’ secession crisis. Certainly, he was successful at conveying an air of calm amidst overwhelming waves of southern hysteria. And, like other Republican leaders, he was prone to treat this as bluster, and he expected that the secessionists would give ground and then collapse if the new Administration refrained from making concessions.17

Thus by December 1860 Lincoln still had no cabinet and though his views were forming on how to treat the South these were not articulated except to a number of individuals. In a sense they had already formed. Lincoln remained inflexible on the Chicago platform and the non-extension of slavery. By that date, Lincoln had drawn up a list of cabinet members and this had resisted the importunate inspection of the leaders of a number of pressure groups. Lincoln had changed his mind as to the desirability of keeping Seward out of the cabinet, probably reflecting that it was more advantageous to have him inside the executive branch rather than outside of it, intriguing and doubtless criticizing with magisterial senatorial authority. Thus he had decided on Seward (State), Chase (Treasury), Bates (Attorney-General), Welles (Navy), Smith (Interior) and Blair (Postmaster-General); at a later date, and somewhat reluctantly, the Pennsylvania debt was discharged, by allowing Simon Cameron (War) to take up a portfolio. Lincoln took the audacious step of filling the cabinet either with those who had been his rivals for the nomination, or who had been actively involved in securing it for him – men, in short, who did not need encouragement to take a lofty view of their accomplishments by comparison with his.

Shortly after Lincoln’s arrival in Washington, Seward and his supporters attempted to seize control of the cabinet and displace the three former Democrats, Chase, Blair and Welles. Seward and Chase were rivals for both the vaunted position of ‘premier’ and for the patronage of the state of New York; Lincoln’s own relations with Chase were personally very tense; there was little love lost there. Seward sought to replace them with C. F. Adams, Henry Winter Davis and a former Whig senator from North Carolina, George E. Badger. Clearly, if this coup had succeeded the policy of the administration would have followed the path of appeasing the South. It would also have greatly reduced the effectiveness of the Republican Party as a governing party, because it would have alienated the non-Whig elements. It was also symptomatic of another emotional reaction to the crisis, namely, that if only one particular path of action was adopted (usually to do with appointments), then the whole problem would pass. If only Lincoln would take my advice on forming the cabinet, was a repeated cry, if only Lincoln would appoint Crittenden to the Supreme Court, and so forth. There was a general reluctance to make a clear-cut choice between not using force, and using force, and instead a faith was evinced that some magic formula could be alighted on to spirit away all unpleasant difficulties.

But Lincoln was utterly determined that attempts by one or other group to seize control of the cabinet should be thwarted. Or, as he put it, T can’t afford to let Seward take the first trick’. He hinted mischievously that he might appoint William M. Drayton of New Jersey to the State Department while leaving Chase at the Treasury. This provoked Seward to move out of the undergrowth. He threatened to resign unless Chase was removed from the cabinet list, and did so, overplaying his hand. Leaks that Seward had actually resigned began to appear in the newspapers, and with them the danger that Seward would lose the New York patronage to Chase, with severe implications for his re-election as a senator. With Seward effectively prostrate over a barrel, Lincoln requested him to ‘countermand the withdrawal’, which Seward did hurriedly but good naturedly after the inauguration ceremony was over. Here was clear evidence that the will of the chief executive could not be flouted with impunity and that Lincoln was determined to maintain cabinet unity during the secession crisis. Only in this way could he secure his northern power base and develop a robust policy towards the South.18

The president-elect’s resolution, however, remained concealed. Indeed for the three months prior to Lincoln’s inauguration, the activities of Senator Seward were to dominate public discussion of these vexed issues. Seward’s policy was based on four premises: first, that the South should be conciliated without abandoning Republican principles – this would prove an intractable formula, for it indicated a desire for the ultimate extinction of slavery which agitated southern nerves; secondly, that Lincoln’s three propositions as handed to Weed should be at the forefront of policy; thirdly, that secessionists were impulsive hotheads whose ardour would soon cool once the enormity of their action became obvious, cooler and more restrained counsels would come to the fore and the secessionist thunder clouds would dissipate as rapidly as they had formed; finally, a core of southern Unionism remained that would reassert itself when (and if) conditions were right. By 12 January 1861 these general principles assumed a more concrete form. Northern personal liberty laws would have to be weakened to accommodate southern fears; a constitutional amendment was necessary to ensure that no power could interfere with slavery in the states (Lincoln was prepared to concede this); and finally, New Mexico and Arizona should be admitted as slave states. This sounded well in theory, but was it practicable? Could it be passed? Would it enjoy unanimous Republican support, and if this could not be secured, would the passage of such legislation redound to the credit of the governing party? On these three counts Seward’s policy does not carry conviction. But it overlooked the uncomfortable reality, which loomed in an ever more menacing fashion in the months November 1860 to January 1861, that the basic northern and southern positions were irreconcilable. This did not make civil war inevitable, but it made compromise on the model of 1850 impossible.19 But more than that, the policy was based on fallacious notions about southern aspirations. Both Seward and his associate, Charles Francis Adams, in the opinion of the latter’s son, ‘dwelt in a fool’s Paradise. … We knew nothing of the South, had no realising sense of the intensity of feeling which there prevailed; we fully believed it would all end in gasconade’.20 Yet the president-elect himself had once proclaimed, The probability that we may fail in the struggle ought not to deter us from the support of a cause we believe to be just; it shall not deter me’.21 His ingenuity would be put to the test when, only three weeks after his election, he received news of the secession of the Lower South.

As for the man still holding power, historians have agreed, almost unanimously, that President Buchanan was not a man well equipped to deal with a crisis of this magnitude. By this stage of his presidency, a lot of opprobrium had been heaped on his head. Among historians he ranks among the least admired chief executives; in various polls of historians who were asked to list presidents in order of ability and achievement, Buchanan and Pierce are invariably found lurking at the bottom of the roll. Taken in the round, Buchanan was probably more sinned against than sinning. Peter Parish is surely right in suggesting that he deserves less censure for the conduct of the last days of his presidency than he does for earlier blunders, for example over Lecompton. Buchanan had a proud record of reconciliation and negotiation to his credit; he had been predicting a sectional crisis for thirty years, warning against the consequences of northern hostility to slavery.22 He also brought to the crisis a measure of administrative skill and political insight, and of course four precious years’ experience as chief executive; he was certainly not overawed by his cabinet.23 Yet the nature of his early predictions of sectional strife provides the vital clue for his eventual failure. He put the secessionist crisis down entirely to northern anti-slavery agitation; by his account the South was blameless. He had no conception that so much of the northern annoyance with the South was provoked by the inflammatory language so hysterically and dogmatically expressed by southern spokesmen.24

In his annual message to Congress in December 1860, Buchanan argued that all that was necessary to maintain sectional peace, ‘and all for which the slave States had ever contended, is to be let alone and permitted to manage their domestic institutions in their own way’. But it was not so simple, and the maintenance of the peculiar institution demanded that slave states exert powers over the citizens of free states. He viewed the recalcitrance of some northern states over enforcing the Fugitive Slave Act as unconstitutional. Liberty laws – these ‘obnoxious enactments’ -were the root cause of so much discord. Thus if the aggrieved states had exhausted ‘all peaceful and constitutional means to obtain redress’ they were justified in employing ‘revolutionary resistance’ to the Federal government. Buchanan, in an adroit circumlocution, then appeared to curry favour with secessionists by appearing to justify secession if it took the form of a revolutionary measure to overcome oppression rather than a valid constitutional mechanism open to all states when they chose to use it. Such an approach could hardly hearten southern unionists and it annoyed northerners who could notch up yet another example of the malign influence of the slave power over the Federal government.25

Southern secession: the first phase

The secession of South Carolina brought to the surface the festering sore of southern separatism. Because of an outbreak of small pox in Columbia, the state capital, the ordnance of secession was passed unanimously in Charleston on 20 December. This unilateral and precipitate act confirmed that city’s (somewhat undeserved) reputation as the raging source of secessionist fever. This move was to launch a crisis that would last for the next five or six months. The phenomenon of secession needs to be studied generally, drawing connections between states and tracing oscillations within the secessionist movement. These events should not be allotted to compartments. Yet there has been a tendency by historians to ascribe secession to ‘peace’ and examine it in terms of politics, which are the exclusive preserve of the ‘political historian’. Conversely, when treating events after April 1861, arbitrary divisions between ‘peace’ and ‘war’ (which is where the military historian takes over) are of little value. The secession movement was inextricably linked with preparations to use force, and it cannot be adequately understood purely in political terms. Thus we must perceive this whole crisis as one period of political upheaval during which at one point organized violence broke out. The secession crisis continued after the firing of the first shots. If we consider these general trends, and the failures of secession as well as its successes, then three distinct waves of secession may be detected, exhibiting various degrees of enthusiasm for the secessionist cause – ardour diminishing the further the cause moved away from its viral focus in the Deep South. The first occurs from December 1860 to March 1861 and sweeps South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Florida and Texas. The second wave occurs after the casus belli at Fort Sumter in the second week of April 1861 and represents a reaction to the ‘coercion’ of the slave states. It includes the most populous, wealthy and industrially advanced southern states, Virginia and Tennessee, as well as North Carolina and Arkansas. Without these states the infant Confederacy would have had little hope of creating a viable national unit.

The third stage occurs as a direct result of Lincoln’s call in April 1861 for 75,000 volunteers to put down unlawful combinations, and involves insurrection and controversy in Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland and Delaware. Secessionist progress in these states is halted and crushed by the use of federal military power. Indeed, secessionist progress is reversed; the Confederate tide is turned back by the rapid occupation of the non-slaveholding counties of western Virginia in June 1861. Their representatives, meeting at Wheeling, had announced their desire to ‘secede’ from the rebellious state of Virginia. Military forces were marched quickly into these counties to protect citizens loyal to the Union (West Virginia became a separate state of the Union in 1863). A similar move into the loyal Unionist counties of eastern Tennessee was continually urged on his military commanders by President Lincoln, though it was not successfully mounted until December 1863. Whatever the strength of the legal or constitutional arguments, ultimately these were of secondary importance. The eventual success or failure of their revolutionary movement depended entirely on the ability of the secessionists to bring force to bear to extend or protect their territories from the armed forces of the Federal government in Washington, and correspondingly, on the capacity and the will of the federal authorities to use armed force to stamp secession out. It is no coincidence that secession was strongest in those areas far distant from the District of Columbia, and least successful in those states contiguous to it, notably in Maryland, or in areas, such as Missouri, where federal military power was partly mobilized. The political and constitutional factors obviously have influence (especially in providing a pretext for action), but it cannot be emphasized too strongly that secession was a revolutionary movement and ultimately rested on the sanction of force. It is striking how these important features of the crisis are frequently overlooked in accounts of the secession crisis, which tend to focus on its political or constitutional nature.26

Of course, this should not be overlooked either, because the political and constitutional issues provided the motivation for the precipitating the crisis in the first place. It is perhaps convenient at this point to summarize the issues that have emerged in the previous chapters. The secessionists held that any power that was delegated to the central authorities was bound to increase. To provide a sturdy hedge against such a development, they argued that it was necessary to provide statutory protection for property rights. Slavery had preceded the drafting of the constitution and safeguarding its expansion in the years 1820–60 should become the major priority. Such a rectification would further nurture the peculiar institution within the Union, not least in the territories. Republican critics of the resurgent ‘slave power’ held that the territories were the common possession of the United States, not of individual sovereign states. Both sides fought this constitutional battle, soon to be transferred to the battlefield, within Congress. Both sides supported congressional intervention in this matter. The South demanded congressional protection for slavery; the North demanded congressional legislation to restrict slavery to its current limits within the slave states. Few, mainly Radical Republicans, objected to the sanction of congressional protection being extended to slavery within the slave states; very few were prepared to see such protection cloak slavery in the territories. Moderate northern Republicans and some Democrats would not acknowledge that slavery was founded on the common law; they refused to countenance establishing it by statute. Hence the South’s fervent denunciation of Douglas because popular sovereignty did away with the need for a common foundation of statutory regulation.

The major change during the 1850s was the attempt to coordinate southern action in pursuit of their objectives. The Memminger Resolutions passed by the South Carolina legislature in 1859 called for a southern convention to defend southern interests. Increasingly strident secessionist voices based their appeal on several arguments. The first claimed that the North was motivated by a passionate hatred of the southern people (indicated by their willingness to unleash servile war). Secondly, its proponents argued that secession should be regarded as an alternative to civil war, or a servile revolt provoked by northern controversialists. Thirdly, they claimed their approach was fundamentally defensive. They were protecting themselves, not attacking others. James M. McPherson calls this ‘pre-emptive counter-revolution’. Many wars have been sparked off by both sides claiming that they were acting defensively. A defensive action confronting another defensive move, in an atmosphere of intense mutual suspicion, however, is sufficient to cause a war. Two defensive moves may amount to an offensive in the eyes of one (or both) parties. Defensive insecurities accounted for the fears harboured by many secessionists that non-slaveholders would not stand by a united South; such divisions would provoke serious strife and perhaps, in a confrontation with the North, restrict civil commotion to the southern states, greatly to the detriment of the peculiar institution. Hence, too, a desire to take the struggle to the enemy, thus concealing potential southern divisions. This might explain a reluctance to accept compromises – even take heed of blandishments to consider offers of constitutional amendments to protect slavery in the states. The North could not be trusted; compromise solutions might be a ploy to stir up disaffection and incipient Unionism in the South. Here such fears were more than justified. Almost all the members of the Lincoln Administration who counselled caution and conciliation argued that Unionism in the seceded states would revive and overwhelm secession.27

Of course, it was clear by December 1860 that aside from Yancey, Senator Hammond and the younger Tire-eaters’, there was a wide spread of opinion on how the South should achieve its objectives, and beyond the ‘defence of southern rights’, what those objectives involved. Should they be attained within or outside the Union? Southerners who opposed unilateral, individual state secession were termed ‘co-operationists’. They were essentially an indistinct group, and any political movement has difficulty rousing followers if its appeal is negative or blurred. Unlike secessionists they desired to follow up offers of compromise, but their ultimate goals were by no means agreed. Some southern Whigs, for instance, acknowledged the need to discuss further southern co-operation; others seemed to accept the logic of separatism; an influential group actively spoke out against secession, and expressed great faith in the political value for the South of pursuing their constitutional rights within the Union. They believed that the majority of northern leaders would respect these rights. Some others called for the meeting of a constitutional convention; the proposals emanating from this should be dispatched to the governors of all the northern states; if these were rejected then the South, having exhausted the constitutional process, had the moral right to secede. A further group was even more cautious. They preached prudence and were prepared to wait until the new Republican Administration committed some bellicose and outrageous act that would justify war of some kind. The only problem with this prognosis is that caution was not a striking facet of southern statecraft. At any rate, all these diverse groups were united in opposing impulsive secession by individual states without an agreed structure of cooperation before withdrawal from the Union. Unionist caution was strongest in the Upper South, especially in Tennessee and Virginia, because though they might dread slave emancipation, politicians from these states feared rightly that they would suffer most from the ravages of war in their reluctant role as strategic bulwarks of the Deep South. Elections called in February 1861 resulted in overwhelming defeats for secession in these two states and in North Carolina.28

Secessionists, needless to say, defended the right of peaceable secession. Governor Joseph E. Brown was especially voluble on this point. But it is one thing to assert such a right, quite another to carry it out if it is unacknowledged by the side who must acquiesce in the act of secession. The likelihood of war, and the southern need to fight to defend their independence, was an omnipresent feature of the frantic discussion of secessionist rights. This raises the major problem of discerning the kind of interest that secession was designed to protect; the reasons behind the South’s willingness to fight. Although there were very real differences of a political nature between the North and South, the cultural divergences have been exaggerated. It is striking when comparing American commotions in the mid-nineteenth century, with European upheavals of about the same date, in Italy, Hungary, Poland and in Ireland, all asserting cultural, nationalistic, and separatist claims, the issues agitating North and South revolved around slavery and a threatened social system rather than cultural oppression. And, moreover, how extreme emotions were so rapidly engaged to react to enormities of a very mild kind, especially in connection with hypothetical, conditional threats. The power of the Federal government was conspicuous by its absence in the slave states. The South was not persecuted, either politically or culturally. Southern schools were not being closed because they taught a different language, cultural values or a separate history; on the contrary, they gloried in the same triumphs as the North. Southern students, exclaiming a love of their country, were not prosecuted by vicious judges and officious police; on the contrary, the Supreme Court was consistently pro-southern. Southern middle-class men and women did not cower before an alien military presence – although they were to bring military occupation on themselves in a very mild and limited form after 1865. In short, the South lacked any coherent sense of national identity, based on ethnic convergence, cultural tradition and political roots vis-à-vis the North. This may help to explain the vigour and exaggeration of the language used by southern spokesmen who posited some kind of cultural conflict by 1860 which served as the basis for a broader life and death political struggle. ‘I believe that the northern people hate the South worse than the English people hated France; and I can tell my brethren over there [on the Republican side]’, warned Senator Iverson of Georgia in December 1860, ‘that there is no love lost upon the part of the South’. Jefferson Davis tried to give the South a feeling of identity in his inaugural, with talk of an ‘agricultural people’ and ‘homogeneity’. But a North American example reveals even more starkly how shallow these claims were. If southern appeals to separate nationhood are set beside those of the Québecois in Canada, they look like hyperbole.29

If secessionist action, then, provoked so much hyperbole, can we identify any rational purpose for secession? Even if secession ordinances were advocated by foolish leaders and supported by an ignorant electorate, whose fears had been raised to fever pitch by rabble-rousing, we can still discern the influence of the political and social factor that unquestionably differentiates the South from the North, chattel slavery. If the defence of slavery – indeed its further nourishment – was the prime component of secessionist ideology, then clearly political action which advanced secession can be justified in rational terms by the extent to which slavery was protected by separatist action. Secession can be regarded as an act of self-preservation under certain circumstances. In the words of Eugene D. Genovese, ‘the slaveholders recognized in other than an abstract way their existence as a ruling class and as self-appointed guardians of a way of life’. They believed their dominance was being challenged and they moved dramatically to reassert their hegemony; to preserve that way of life, the economic structure that sustained it, and the system of race relations that bound it together.

Such an analysis has much to commend it, but to borrow one of Professor Genovese’s terms, we cannot, and should not, consider secession in ‘an abstract way’. Whatever the professed intentions of the secessionist leaders, they were undertaking a political act, not arguing a legal brief, and this political act carried with it the strong risk of civil war. Indeed, given the manner in which they comported themselves, whether this was true or not in the abstract is irrelevant, the manner in which they pursued secession unavoidably led to civil war. War of any kind was fatal to the health and stability of plantation slavery. Acts of secession, therefore, which were designed not to avoid war were suicidal. Thus, however much we may judge the act of secession in rational terms, it was justified and carried out in a wholly headstrong, short-sighted, irrational and self-defeating manner.30

The ‘revolutionary’ character of secession has some bearing on this matter. Secession was revolutionary only in a political sense. It sought to drastically reorder the governmental arrangements of the slave states and overthrow by force if necessary the existing structure of government. It was certainly a rebellion in these terms. But the object of this action was to conserve and further the existing social and economic system of the southern states, not to alter it. It was justified by reference to the defence of ‘community’. Those who seek to arrest the momentum of such a political movement, even when the social upheaval envisaged was minimal, need to argue a cogent case and do so convincingly. The American ‘Tories’ during the Revolution, despite their numbers, failed to halt the revolutionary fervour that led to the break with Great Britain in 1775–76. The ‘co-operationists’, especially in the Deep South, were similarly stymied because they were divided in their aims and interests. ‘Those who favour moderation are branded as cowards or traitors’, complained the Whig moderate, Alexander H. Stephens. He believed that Providence had frowned on the co-operationist cause. On the day Georgia voted for the setting up a secessionist convention, he believed a rain storm had cost them 10,000 votes.31 But whatever the exigencies of fate, whose importance can never be underrated, surely the most important factor in sustaining secessionist fever in all the states of the Deep South, and not just in Georgia, was the inability of the co-operationists to agree on a consistent programme and communicate it effectively. They muttered vague pleas but came up with nothing sufficiently appealing which would provide a viable, alternative programme to secession; perhaps given the prevailing mood such a programme was a seductive but an unattainable mirage. The only question on which the co-operationists could agree was their opposition to the unilateral, individual secession of states; the dangers of this did not loom large in the thoughts of secessionist sympathizers. And the majorities secessionists achieved in the votes cast for establishing secession conventions left their critics little to denounce but the procedure used to elect them – hardly an exciting line of attack. The secessionists urged action; many agreed that action was above all things required, but action in pursuit of what?32

The secession movement

The object of secession was two-fold: to remove the external threat to slavery and secure the conservative revolution at home by conciliating slaveholders with non-slaveholders. In addition, there were less concrete issues, a passion to avenge ‘insults’, avoid ‘humiliation’, assert ‘manliness’ and defend ‘honour’; the importance of these fiery emotions should not be underestimated. A conciliation of these diverse aims was to be achieved by elevating the Constitution, suitably amended, and venerated by most southerners like a Greek Orthodox icon. The most important part of this process was the expropriation and reinterpretation of the symbols of the American Revolution in favour of liberty based on enslavement. George Washington and the southern Founding Fathers, the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution itself, ‘the precious heritage of 1776’, were cast in a new light. It is indicative of the weakness of secessionist ideology in particular, and southern national identity in general, that they were forced to seize the national symbols of the nation-state from which they were seceding and which they were prepared, if necessary, to fight. Secessionists perhaps realized that an appeal based exclusively on the defence of slavery was in itself insufficient to carry the revolutionary weight they were forcing it to carry. It had to be developed in two ways. First, the essentially conservative drift of southern thought had bequeathed the notion that, by 1861, the American system of government was ‘too democratic’. Southern critics focused on the evils of the spoils system, which in truth agitated many Americans from all parts of the country. The second party system had thus failed to provide strong and incorruptible government. It was too prone to interfere in matters detrimental to the South’s interests. Secondly, by 1860–61 the South had persuaded itself that it was ‘losing’ the constitutional struggle over slavery. If nothing was done to reverse this position, then future dangers would multiply and overwhelm the peculiar institution. In the secessionist argument, the South must face up to Republican ‘tyranny’ which was characterized by an irrational fear and ignorance of slavery. Slavery was actually ‘benign’, and the slaves themselves happy and contented. This was a terribly weak argument, because southern slaveholders were so sensitive to the mildest complaints about their treatment of slaves, and dreaded servile revolt.

Thus expropriation of the rhetoric and symbols of the American Revolution concealed the weaknesses and contradictions of the southern position under a warmly glowing, hazy and sentimental veneer. The ‘Black’ Republicans could be anathematized as resembling ‘George III’ and British ‘tyranny’; secessionist, and later Confederate leaders, could be held up as the true servants of the revolutionary heritage. Most of the revolutionary leaders, after all, had been southerners and slaveholders. The repeated emphasis in secessionist rhetoric was on unity, harmony, unanimity, and the spurning of party spirit. ‘Our whole social system is one of perfect homogeneity of interest, where every class of society is interested in sustaining the interest of every other class’, claimed Governor Brown in November 1861. But if it was so unified, so blessed in thoughtful consideration for the interests of others, why was it so urgent to take dramatic action? There was one unfortunate, indeed catastrophic, consequence of giving revolutionary symbols such a prominence in secessionist rhetoric. Because the Revolutionary War was viewed in sentimental terms, repeating the experience of a Second Revolutionary War was viewed with equanimity, if not downright enthusiasm. Southern leaders failed to give priority to avoiding war; secession and the need to fight were increasingly considered as interchangeable aspects of the struggle for independence (very few grasped the reality that they would need to wage a protracted conflict). Southern leaders would prevail as George Washington had done before them. No further thought needed be given to the problem. But a lot more thought was needed, and a great deal less complaisance.33

It was a measure of the true insecurity felt by the champions of the South’s peculiar institution that they feared the spread of the Republican Party into their stable and benign homeland. It could be nourished by use of the patronage power. As always, the secessionists demanded nothing less than absolute, unconditional obedience to their dictates. Use of presidential patronage might signal the beginnings of the blockade of slavery which so alarmed secessionist propagandists, with the South ‘under siege’ from ‘abolitionists’ outside. Yet they did not make much of this argument. The reason was that some prominent southern spokesmen were of the view that ‘slavery [was] much more secure in the Union than out of it’.34 Had this theme been exposed more fully the basic fallacy of ‘peaceable secession’ might have been brutally exposed (though one suspects that the argument had much to commend it in hindsight). But this is not to suggest that it would have offered the co-operationists an alternative programme to rapid and immediate secession. In a bellicose atmosphere, pleas for peace sound more like craven submission than sound sense.

An important influence shaping the fevered and panicky atmosphere was the southern press. The influence of press reporting is a perennial problem: to what extent do the opinions of newspaper editors directly influence the views of their readers? Or is the opposite true? Do newspaper editors merely reflect the prejudices and preferences of public opinion? The answer is probably a compound of the two, in inexact and oscillating quantities. Nonetheless, press opinion can decisively shape the atmosphere is which pressing decisions are taken, and the various alternatives discussed. Mere repetition of a point of view however absurd can create its own reality. Outright secessionist newspapers, notably in the Lower South, accepted without question that the election of a Republican president justified secession. ‘For our part’, affirmed one, ‘we would prefer to strike the blow this very hour than to wait for the morrow’.35

Other newspapers were less strident. They dedicated themselves to helping the formation of a coordinated southern action which would permit secession at a later date en bloc. They also dedicated themselves to fostering closer southern economic integration.36 In any case, the press tended to undermine the cooperation case by indiscriminately linking Republicanism with abolitionism – a pernicious consequence of John Brown’s raid. 37 They also inflicted wounds on the co-operationists by branding them as ‘submissionists’. There was no heated debate over the merits of secession, only over its timing and the measure of prudence required of southern political leadership. In this sense, the margin of disagreement between southern radicals and their more moderate critics was only one of tone; the divergence of opinion was indeed marginal.38 Reducing further the space for manoeuvre between these two groups was surely the major contribution of the southern press to the secession crisis. All accounts stress the role played by the newspapers in arousing fear, hatred and suspicion, spurning compromise and creating a combustible atmosphere in which eventually, all southern states accepted the inevitability of war. In short, southern newspapers in general, and not just those tied to secessionist sympathizers (which were few), exerted power and carried awful responsibility. The press was politically dependent and very much a creature of local partisan identities.39

But the deep feelings of insecurity reflected in press opinion and which lay at the heart of southern bellicosity, could not be expressed in a political vacuum. Still, the political form they assumed was very odd. The South tilted at windmills. The further its fears wandered from real concrete political issues, assuming only hypothetical form, the firmer these spectres of some future threat loomed in the southern psyche. And these fears seemed to be agitated by constant and remorseless repetition. ‘Hear the words which were repeated day after day’, one historian has written of the secessionist fervour in South Carolina, ‘in newspapers, in stump speeches, at Sunday barbecues and Sunday sermons, from soap boxes to pulpits, an unrelenting stream of emotional reinforcement from June to December [1860]’. But what was the threat? At bottom, it was not anxiety over the growing strength of northern economic and industrial power, or the assertion of northern influence in Congress. Secession was another magical formula by which future hold over Negro slaves could be ensured; after its incantation slavery could never be abolished.40

In the states of the Deep South the tides of enthusiasm for secession rose to a level which would guarantee the passage of a series of individual state secession ordinances. This was not the ideal way to set up an alternative government to that sitting in Washington DC. It underlines that no coherent programme underpinning the move towards southern independence existed. There was certainly no agreed form on the character of any secessionist government. On the eve of the presidential election, Robert Barnwell Rhett wrote with confidence about the imminent disruption of the Union to Edmund Ruffin. But he stopped short once disunion had been achieved. ‘We wait however to give Alabama and Mississippi and Georgia every opportunity to lead’. This remark illustrates the piecemeal and quite unconsolidated approach to secession adopted by the states in the Deep South. Secessionists like Rhett had devoted so much thought to achieving secession from the Union that their thoughts stopped short of considering what would follow the disruption. The Deep South made all the running. Why did they exert such command in the crisis rather than the more populous and slightly more industrialized states of the Upper South?41

In South Carolina, Alabama and Georgia were heard the most strident voices, and emotive cries can generate much misdirected activity – ‘an irresistible motion towards disunion’, as Channing calls it. On receiving news of Lincoln’s election, the most senior federal officials in South Carolina resigned their posts, followed by the announcement of Senator Chesnut’s resignation from Congress. Then on 9 November followed a meeting in Charleston in which outraged emotion, exultation and a lack of proportion misdirected logical deduction from a false premise. Charleston’s most influential citizens ‘in burning phrase, counselled immediate secession, declared the Union was even now dissolved. As they uttered their fierce words, the multitudes rose from their seats, waved their hats in the air, and thundered forth resounding cheers’.42

In South Carolina the sense of insecurity – and arguably the distance from reality – was greatest, and the irritation, the mood of discontent, most virulent. It was not that these elements were absent from the Upper South, they were most certainly present, but in the Lower South, and especially in South Carolina, a fatal combination of hysteria and a lurking fear that any loosening of the bonds of slavery would result in a catastrophe, led to a mobilization of public opinion, and a frantic increase in those prepared to take the radical step of leaving the Union.43 There was also a further, and significant difference between the Lower and Upper South: in the latter secessionist fervour was undermined by the persistence of two-party politics which had disappeared from the Deep South by the mid-1850s. Consequently, voters were distracted from secessionist appeals by inter-party disputes within states. Secessionists in South Carolina, Alabama and Mississippi were assured of their headstrong path because of the assurances they received from northern conservatives – and in South Carolina’s case, letters – which, in effect, validated their policy with supine assurances that no effort would be made to force the seceded states to return to the Union.44 States in the Upper South were inclined to follow this powerful lead, if reluctantly and slowly, because they feared that if they remained in the Union they would become a harassed minority at the mercy of northern abolitionists.45

How then was this political revolution carried out, involving the manipulation and exploitation of public opinion? First it must be made absolutely clear that the southern states did not behave as a political unit, despite a significant degree of unanimity on the need to defend their common institutions.46 For example, Alexander H. Stephens did not deny that theoretically the South could secede. But he was concerned that the slave states should act in concert and meet in convention to resist any laws hostile to the South’s institutions. Such action would also secure much greater bargaining power vis-à-vis the northern states. He was not convinced that any unfavourable laws would be forthcoming, mainly because Congress was still controlled by an anti-Lincoln majority. This majority was endangered by rash southern action, as immediate secession would result in the withdrawal of southern congressional representatives. The secessionists, for their part, spurned a convention because it weakened their authority as the revolutionary vanguard. Thus the conventions that convened to take their unprecedented decisions (Florida on 3 January 1861, Mississippi and Alabama on 7 January, Georgia on 16 January, Louisiana on 23 January, and Texas on 28 February) were individual state conventions that then took unilateral action. This was their clear aim. In November 1860 in Mississippi at a private meeting of the state’s congressional delegation, L. Q. C. Lamar, Jefferson Davis and Brown argued for a joint, coordinated secession to take place immediately after Lincoln’s inauguration; they were out-voted by their colleagues, who demanded that separate secession begin immediately. This stress on unilateral action was ironical because frequently secessionists argued in the electoral campaigns waged before the meeting of the state conventions, that their programmes involved southern cooperation. But the states were sovereign, they now argued, and some had to act first to ensure that the others would follow. This contradiction at the heart of the secessionist case – that the unity of the new slaveowning republic should come out of fragmentation – would be fatal to its eventual, admittedly bleak prospects of attaining independence without war.47

The secessionist conventions were dominated by men of some means (they were either ‘fire-eaters’ themselves, or influenced by them) who were politically experienced, and exerted considerable sway over their lesser brethren. The more influential and powerful planters assumed that they were the rightful ‘voice’ of their people and were generally opposed to putting their decisions, particularly those pertaining to secession, to the test of a referendum. (The secessionists were opposed in principle to these on the grounds that they would slow down matters that urgently needed to be put to the proof.) There is also, despite some variation between states, a fair measure of uniformity of membership of these conventions. The average age was about 42, usually slightly younger than their co-operationist opponents, with lawyers and farmers as the dominant occupational interests. They were characterized by a passionate desire to defend the existing status quo, so that ambitious members of these assemblies could emulate the richest members and rise to the summits of society as they knew it. Representatives of traditionally Democratic counties were secessionist in sympathy, confirming the disruption of that last national organization. Some former Whig counties were inclined towards ‘co-operationism’, as in Florida, though in Alabama and Louisiana there appeared to be no disagreement between either former Whigs or Democrats over the desirability of secession. All of these groups developed highly tuned techniques in playing on the prejudices of the lower orders, notably the illiterate and dispossessed, who were appalled by the possibility that blacks might be jostling with them for jobs and trades.

One item of evidence that seems to indicate a measure of prudence in an otherwise combustible and impulsive atmosphere, is that areas in Mississippi where the slave population consisted of more than 62 per cent of the total, tended to be far less sympathetic towards secession than those with a population ranging 25–62 per cent. These members may have sensed the danger that secession might represent to existing social and race relations; that the cure might be worse than the disease; that chattel slavery was a delicate organism which should not be tampered with casually. But this would appear to be a minority sentiment, because generally throughout the Lower South, those counties with the largest slave populations were secessionist without reservation.48

Neither was secession as popular in Louisiana as in other states of the Deep South. The popular vote for the convention ranged from 20,448 for the immediate secessionists and 17,296 for the co-operationists (which included those who favoured conditional unionism), electing 80 and 44 delegates respectively. The ordinance of secession did not reflect this less than broad endorsement however, being passed 113 to 17, and hailing that Louisiana was ‘a free, sovereign and independent power’. As with other states, the convention then appointed six delegates to attend a further convention meeting at Montgomery, Alabama, to set up a southern Confederacy. This was done after the state had seceded, and not before. The Louisiana convention pursued the commonplace opposition to referenda, delegating to itself all powers vested in the people of the state. A motion in March 1861 urging that the Confederate constitution be put to the people was voted down 74 to 26; the state convention then voted 109 to 7 to ratify this document. Those historians who see in this process a harking back to the authoritarian methods of the Federalist Party would seem to be right.49

There was unanimity among the state governments and their supporters, whether former Whig or Democrat, as to the desirability of some form of secessionist activity – only the pace and intensity of this activity spawned dissent. The support of the state governors (as commanders in chief of their various militia and volunteer forces) was of enormous import in generating pro-secessionist sympathy and securing installations vital for self-defence. Texas was the exception to this pattern. Here the administration, led by the redoubtable Governor Sam Houston, adamantly opposed the secessionists. Although Houston was forced to acquiesce in the secession of the state, he refused to swear allegiance to the Confederate States of America. In what amounted to a coup, the secessionist convention declared the office of governor vacant and Houston’s election void, and the Lieutenant Governor, Edward Clark, took his place. This was another example of the disruption of democracy itself when it suited the secessionists’ interests, a disruption that led Lincoln to argue that the very existence of the democratic process in North America was at stake. Yet, ironically, Texas was the only state in the Deep South that sought popular ratification of the ordinance of secession.50

Southern opinion

But how united was the South in this ill-directed stampede to leave the Union? Earlier historians, such as Dwight Dumond, were of the opinion that the secession of the Lower South was ‘not a triumph of one party over another but rather a demonstration that the lower South was finally united’. He reflects in this passage the anti-party stance of so many of the participants in the secession crisis.51 Congress had made no concession to this haphazard grouping, though it was to consider doing so. The president-elect had said nothing; the incumbent president had signalled that the Federal government would continue to hold such installations as still lay under the flag of the United States. Of the seven states that had seceded, Georgia was the wealthiest and most populous. The separatist movement now led by South Carolina was stronger than the stand made by one lone state in 1832–33, South Carolina herself, in her struggle with the Jackson Administration. But this was not an impressive combination, and perhaps some optimists might have been forgiven for thinking that it might yet come to its senses and return to the Union. It had no agreed policy, no detailed plan of action, no agreed course of action; its very future depended on enticing further states to take the same hurried and uncoordinated action which had characterized the first phase of the secession crisis – hardly a blueprint for orderly, measured and above all, prudent, political action. Unilateral secession had created anarchy, those conditions ripe for foreign intervention and war. Yet this Confederate grouping lacked experienced officials and an agreed system of governing; it lacked an army, though many southerners had a high opinion of their martial prowess: one southerner could lick five Yankees (or was it ten?); it lacked a foreign policy or indeed basic contacts with foreign powers – whose attitude indeed would be crucial to the success of this whole experiment in secession. Southern unity was fragmentary and was being hastily assembled, like a pre-fabricated house, as each state seceded, and this process was far from complete. Unity of action was essentially a mask; one slip, one adverse vote, and the ‘momentum’ working in favour of secessionist fever might have ground to a halt or even gone into reverse. Secession had not been arranged according to any plan, but improvised unilaterally and in great haste.52

The wealthier and more advanced states with a putative industrial base held back. The secessionists egged on the Upper South by exhorting it to follow the example of the Lower South. The argument that the South should present a solid front within the Union carried greater weight in Virginia. Here a secession convention was elected on 7 January 1861. The western counties, as already noted, felt that any threat was greatly exaggerated and their first loyalty was to the Union. They were annoyed by decades of under-representation and neglect by the planter interests and were outraged that their loyalties had been trampled on in this high-handed manner. The strength of this feeling undoubtedly swayed opinion in the Tidewater that every effort should be made to seek redress within the Union. This forced the secessionist sympathizers to shift ground and emphasize the impossibility of patching up the Union, as in 1850, and that the forces surging to create a southern Confederacy were at high tide and inexorable. They repeated a noisy chorus of exhortation and nagging. Tor heaven’s sake,’ one delegate cried, ‘give us a little more time – one short day’s time at least – to ponder over these great questions, the most important ever presented for the reflection of American freemen’. After the rejection of the Crittenden Compromise53 on 16 January, ten Virginian congressmen and senators circulated a letter to their constituents, arguing that constitutional redress was now impossible. This act provoked a stinging counter-attack from Unionists, whose voice carried greater authority than in the Lower South. On 4 February in an election for a state convention those advocating immediate secession without referring to the people of Virginia were defeated by 145,697 votes to 45,161. The action of the state convention was thus referred to a popular referendum. Delegates to the convention who supported continued Union amounted to 120 out of a total of 152. The secessionists had appeared to overplay their hand; their cause had received a major setback. Yet this victory was rather more conditional than it appeared. The electors had rejected ‘precipitate secession’, not secession per se, and were in favour of restoring the Union in favour of the South.54 Yet this vote, and similar defeats in Arkansas, Tennessee (on 9 February, when the people voted against calling a convention 69,675 to 57,798 and secessionist candidates were drubbed by 91,803 to 24,749) and North Carolina (on 28 February when the bill calling for the meeting of a secessionist convention was defeated 47,323 to 46,672 and 78 of the 120 delegates were Unionists) stalled the seemingly relentless momentum of secessionist success. So North Carolina voted for delegates but refused to allow them to meet in a convention. Was the first phase of the secession crisis going to be its only phase?55

But a number of factors operating in favour of the southern secessionists cannot be ignored. Unlike the rabid revolutionary, the southern secessionists sought to secure, not overthrow, the existing economic, social and race relations of their states. They sought rather to modify the jurisdiction of central authority in relation to the individual states and slavery. The universal nature of the ideals of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution as interpreted by the North, and especially northern liberals, was rejected in favour of a particularist interpretation of those documents. The secessionists, therefore, argued that they should take their goods and chattels out of the Union and create a polity that would protect them; their title to their property was unquestioned – here was no revolutionary secessionist movement involving huge sequestration of property; their claim to the federal property within their native states was more questionable. Nonetheless, the southern secessionist case rested ultimately on the charge of discriminatory redistribution. That is to say, northern tariffs drained the South of specie, and northern political movements endangered the very foundations of that wealth and placed in jeopardy the very lives of white southerners by provoking servile war. If necessary, white southerners would be justified in fighting to preserve their unique culture from the depredations of the Yankees.56

A persuasive case can be made that southern secession was justified. The argument of discriminatory redistribution was made to justify the secession of the United States from the British Empire. Irrespective of the morality of slavery, the South could make the case that like the Thirteen Colonies, the trade policy of the central government was designed to increase its wealth rather than the region from whence it came. But a major difference between the South and the Thirteen Colonies was that the former enjoyed both taxation and representation. Still, southern representatives argued that this would be reduced to impotency because of the steady reduction of the South’s influence within the Congress, and especially in the House of Representatives, which had been felt as early as the Missouri Compromise.57 The strongest argument on the southern side, moreover, was that for a war of independence to be regarded as just it should enjoy popular support. That is to say, secessionist leaders must represent those citizens they were presuming to lead. And there can be no doubt that though very few voters in the South would have supported an unconditional, untrammelled call for disunion, public opinion did eventually support withdrawal from the Union. Southern opinion, moreover, did not hesitate to endorse the unconstitutional methods used to strip Governor Sam Houston of Texas of his office and the use of force to overawe persistent Unionists.58

These constitutional arguments, however, cannot exist in a political or military vacuum.59 In the first instance, no states in peacetime in practice form themselves on the basis of company law, governed by limited contracts or limited liability. Secondly, there is no right of secession, so that components of states can secede unconditionally and unilaterally when they choose. Various degrees of right may be accorded individual cases. This is merely a restatement of the old Unionist argument that the South was quick enough to support the Federal government and criticize those who disagreed with it, when it suited the South. It only flouted the Constitution when it saw electoral shifts moving against slavery. Finally, did the South’s cause, or the occasion, warrant the risks, at the very least anarchy, but more likely civil war or subordination to a foreign power, inherent in the great gamble on which it had embarked? In both cases, the answer must be in the negative. Slavery was a morally abhorrent cause, much as southern apologists themselves attempted to conceal its importance in the move to secede from the Union, and apologists for the South abroad connived in this concealment. The North, irrespective of the legal position, could suppress secession as an act of policy. The grounds for supporting such a move were strong. The South was to make them stronger.60

Efforts at compromise

All previous crises of the Union had ended with some final effort at compromise which succeeded. Although the state of affairs in the early months of 1861 were much graver than in 1850 or 1820, many hoped and others worked for the imposition at the last minute of a compromise solution which would be acceptable to both parties and avoid the outbreak of civil war. Hopes were raised because the American system of government was adept at resolving conflict; indeed some historians have stressed that a pragmatic spirit bereft of ideological dogmatism constitutes the ‘genius’ of American politics. That contemporaries expected the forces of compromise to prevail is not surprising, neither is the praise lavished on these efforts by historians, but whether such proposals were workable is quite another matter.61

Early attempts at compromise tended to focus around two congressional committees: the Senate Committee of Thirteen and the House Committee of Thirty-Three. All measures designed to solve the secession crisis were put to these two bodies. The Senate Committee of Thirteen simply broke up without agreement. The House Committee of Thirty-Three at least enjoyed a modicum of cooperation among its members. The most promising measure was the Crittenden Compromise reported to the Senate on 18 December 1860. In essence it required the passage of six Constitutional Amendments. The most controversial was that all territory held ‘or hereafter acquired’ prohibited slavery north of the line 36°30’, and recognized and protected this institution south of it; secondly, that Congress would have no power to abolish slavery in the areas where it already existed; thirdly, this limitation on congressional prerogative applied to the District of Columbia; fourthly, Congress could not interfere with the inter-state slave trade; fifthly, slaveholders were to receive compensation if they were unable to recover their property due to violence; and sixthly, these amendments were perpetual – they could not be modified in any shape or form by later amendments. These six amendments should be accompanied by congressional resolutions declaring that the Fugitive Slave Law was constitutional and that personal liberty laws passed by individual northern states were to be declared null and void. These latter resolutions provoked much harsh comment, though they secured support from the anxious and beleaguered spokesmen of northern business interests.62

On 4 February 1861, at the request of the Virginian General Assembly, which gave voice to this widespread hope that the inherent mechanisms working towards compromise would now come into play, 132 representatives of 21 states gathered at Willard’s Hotel in Washington DC to seek a solution to the secession crisis. This worked in parallel with the two congressional committees. Forces urging compromise had gathered a head of steam because of the need to keep the Border states quiescent. Crittenden had already advanced his compromise and this would be the focus of discussion at this ‘Peace Conference’. The only difficulty with Crittenden’s otherwise neat solution – of prohibiting slavery above 36°30′ – was that moderate Republicans, including the president-elect, were adamantly opposed to any further slavery extension, which would be permitted as southerners would be able to take their slaves into the New Mexico territory. Congressman Charles F. Adams, a friend of Seward, urged that New Mexico be allowed to join the Union after a vote by its citizens on the desirability of slavery; that is to say, popular sovereignty would be rekindled in the territories. Most compromise proposals were based on prescriptions that were hardly new. Buchanan had favoured a constitutional amendment, similar to that advocated by Crittenden, which would protect slavery in the areas where it currently existed, or in the areas where it would subsequently spread. But it was overlooked by such enthusiasts that Breckinridge’s similar platform in the 1860 election had been very vague, and spoke only in terms of refusing to sanction the eviction of private property from the territories, and even this formula had virtually no northern appeal. To develop it into an amendment which would cloak slavery with moral approval was an impossible task.63

Indeed the conference convened in Washington had the air of ‘yesterday’s men’ offering up to urgent problems which they had failed to solve in their own day, advice based on yesteryear’s failed solutions. This impression is indicated by the average age of the venerable but admittedly distinguished delegation, chaired by former President John Tyler. Only seven of the delegates were under 40. The remainder had long since said farewell to middle age. Twelve were over 70, thirty-four were sexagenarians, and seventy-four were over 50. Radical and moderate Republicans were opposed to any attempt at divorcing the secession crisis from the passions that had provoked it by examining its ramifications with a presumed air of detachment. ‘These venerable old gentlemen are no more fit to be intrusted with … guidance than a bull is fitted to keep a china shop,’ claimed the Tribune, Secessionists dismissed them as rambling old fools. Only conservatives looked to the conference as ‘the hope of the century’. The conference was predominately Whig in sentiment and outlook, particularly in the expectation that a balanced, moderate course should prevail. Above all, conservatives denounced demagoguery, and believed that the people would have the sense to spurn crude emotionalism and turn to their experienced, distinguished and patrician, natural leaders. They deprecated ‘the perverted mediums of stump speeches, partisan diatribes, [and] buncombe resolutions’.

Delegates who were convinced that all that was needed to solve the crisis was prolonged rational study and a strong dose of common sense were perplexed by the agitated state of the country. ‘I cannot comprehend the madness of the times,’ Tom Corwin admitted, ‘Southern men are theoretically crazy. Extreme northern men are practical fools. The latter are really quite as mad as the former’. Those who called for a ‘preventive war’ sanguinely believed that ‘one campaign in the slave state states would settle the matter’. It might all be over before the autumn: all finished, one claimed, ‘before haying time’. Perhaps the deliberations of the peace conference might have compelled respect if contemporaries had enjoyed a more realistic understanding of the nature of the impending civil war. Instead an unthinking, gesture-ridden, extravagant rhetoric prevailed. Lincoln, for instance, ‘should maintain the integrity of the Union if it costs enough blood to fill Charleston harbour’. The signs of preparation for war on both sides were unmistakable. Georgia had set aside $1 million for weapons; South Carolina a mere $100,000. Tension had increased in Charleston harbour; the federal garrison had moved from Fort Moultrie to Sumter.64 Munition shipments heading for southern ports were causing alarm. Even southern states, like North Carolina, which had rejected secessionist blandishments, moved towards a war footing. North Carolina’s Governor, John W. Ellis, was convinced that Lincoln would attempt to ‘coerce’ the seceded states back into the Union. North Carolina must prepare for the contingency. A Military Commission to oversee all martial preparations was set up. The state prepared to organize 20,000 volunteers, and $300,000 was set aside to arm them. The scale of these preparations alarmed Virginia moderates, who feared the country was degenerating into anarchy, a breeding ground for civil war and revolution. ‘The desire of some for change,’ one observed fearfully, ‘the greed of many for excitement, and the longing of more for anarchy and confusion, seemed to have dethroned the reason of men, and left them at the mercy of passion and madness’. The majority of delegates to the Peace Conference were determined to obviate this regrettable release of popular passions. By concerning themselves with this matter, many delegates failed to realize that it was unilateral action by individual states that was the root of anarchy, and thus violence, not movements of popular opinion.65

Northern governors, too, were re-examining their military institutions and readying themselves for civil war. The Governors of Maine, New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Ohio met in New York and signalled their desire to fill any interregnum caused before Lincoln took office by stating their unequivocal intention to see the laws enforced. Governor John A. Andrew examined how to move Massachusetts militia regiments to Washington in the shortest possible time; he needed no encouragement to heed General Winfield Scott’s request ‘to look up their arms and have them taken care of. Through the good offices of Senator Seward, Scott urged Governor Morgan of New York to put together ‘a force of 5000 to 10,000 men in readiness at 48 or even 24 hours notice’; Seward enjoined that ‘no publicity’ should be given to this measure. Efforts were made, moreover, to improve the readiness of central government for a possible military struggle with the seceded states. On 18 February there began prolonged controversy in Congress over an attempt to extend the Militia Act of 1795 to cover possible ‘insurrections against the authority of the United States’. President Buchanan had warned that the existing Act permitted the use of the militia only to assist a US marshal to execute the due processes of law or ‘disperse hostile combinations’; it could not be used to suppress a general rebellion. Some northern senators believed that an extension of the Militia Act would help deter the South from precipitate action; others that it would only inflame southern passions. Those who argued for an overhaul of the Militia Act were optimistic given the disuse into which the militia had fallen over the previous two decades. But though this measure was debated on a number of occasions, it was not put to the vote. Several other efforts were made to give the chief executive increased powers to enforce a naval blockade. Representative John A. Bingham put forward a measure which would permit the collection of customs from the decks of warships, and the protection of customs officers by the army or navy should they face intimidation. This bill was also discussed but not put to the vote. Such discussions, therefore, which continued throughout the three weeks in which the Peace Conference was in session, failed to reach a definitive settlement of the problem of military preparation: local measures were improved; central authority still remained dormant.66

Passions were simmering among the more extreme groups. Companies of Minute Men and Wide-Awakes glowered at one another in the cities of the Border states. The Superintendent of the New York City police was so angered by the circulation of leaflets criticizing the Republicans that he demanded the governor legislate against treason ‘and kindred offenses’. The president-elect, warned by Seward that the North would not endure a long civil war, continued to mutter that he would not make concessions in order that he could have ‘the privilege of taking possession of the government’. Chase summed up the prevailing mood of the new Administration in waiting: ‘Inauguration first, adjustment afterwards’.67

The atmosphere slowly but surely darkened, and the prospects for any compromise seemed less favourable. Moderates anxious to avoid civil war began to express themselves forcibly. But the strong language used by conservatives tended to conceal that the moderates in the North, as in the South, were disorganized and badly led. Many newspapers sounded strident clarion calls for better leadership and a clear aim. It was, however, so much easier to make glib demands for a compromise, so much harder to find common ground for reconciliation when the topography was treacherous and unpredictable. Even small gains were apt to be lost in local landslides, and any edifice might be constructed on sand concealed by a thin layer of rock; all could be hazarded by an unstoppable avalanche. The process of conciliation was painfully slow. The first suggestions for a compromise convention had surfaced in the summer of 1860; further proposals were discussed by Buchanan’s cabinet in November. A resolution embodying an invitation to slave and free states to discuss their ‘present unhappy controversies’ did not emerge from the Virginian legislature until January 1861; then a minority suggested that it should meet not in Washington DC but in the mooted capital of the fledgling Confederacy, Montgomery, Alabama. This indicated in the most explicit form a recurring feature of attempts at compromise. Those moderates in the slave states who were most vociferous in calling for a peaceful resolution of the secession crisis on southern terms were inclined, in the final resort, to favour the secessionists and acquiesce in revolution.68 If accepted such a decision would have weighted the convention decisively in favour of the secessionist case. Agreement to meeting in Washington was achieved by urging acceptance of the Crittenden Compromise and demanding that Buchanan refrain ‘from any and all acts calculated to produce a collision of arms’. But the date, 4 February, was selected because it was the same day on which the seceded states had planned to meet and organize themselves at Montgomery. Virginia sent a delegation to observe this process. This ominous coincidence underlines the inability of all those inclined to seek a compromise solution to bridge the yawning sectional gap which had developed over the issue of slavery. If this gap could not be closed by the summer of 1860 – indeed it had widened during the presidential election – then there were fewer expedients remaining on which to base a workable compromise. In short, the Peace Conference of February 1861 was meeting too late to have any dramatic or emollient effect. Hence the more frenzied calls for action may be gauged as a measure of frustration that the capacity to take action had been reduced. Charles Francis Adams Jr wrote later that The simple fact was that the ship was drifting on the rocks of a lee shore; nothing could save it; this, however, was something none of us could bring ourselves to believe’.69

Because conciliation tended to involve making yet further concessions to secessionists, many Republicans feared that the conference would do nothing but compromise the integrity of the Republican Party. Here the stalwart role of Lincoln was vital in strengthening the parly’s resolve. It could ‘be smashed into a thousand fragments’, warned a correspondent of Senator Trumbull. In the various state caucuses, the middle Atlantic states (and especially New Jersey) were the most enthusiastic supporters of the conference; the Border states were enthusiastic, too, though some secessionist sympathizers tried to send delegations to Montgomery. In New England, however, Sumner tried to prevent Massachusetts sending a delegation; Governor Andrew had been warned by Stanton, the Attorney-General, that any attempt at compromise might lead ‘to … a Provisional Govt. which was to take possession of the Capital and declare itself a nation’. Despite such exaggerated fears (for Tyler was not a Clay let alone a George Washington), delegates from the seceded states were conspicuous by their absence. Therefore, that all-important grouping which would have to be party to any workable compromise did not submit itself to the conference’s deliberations. It had no chance of succeeding from the first day. ‘Southern friends…’, Governor Alexander Randall of Wisconsin declared ironically during the continuing struggle in his state as to whether to send a delegation, ‘… have dictated and browbeat long enough’. This attitude was to gather in strength rapidly in the North during the next two months. So did the realization that the secession crisis was something more serious than a debilitating bout of fever which would pass out of the body politic as quickly as it had come.70

The conservatives likened the proceedings of the Peace Conference to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 which was more an indication of aspiration rather than achievement. Southern delegates, outnumbered 2:1 (because of the secessionist boycott), implored that something be done to propitiate the South. But even though some delegates were inclined to agree, a soporific torpor overcame the conference. Most of the delegates were past their prime; others liked the sound of their own voices; they would ‘babble us all to eternity’, complained one delegate. Attempts to restrict the length of discussion failed. Republicans pursued a strategy of delay, and this was supported by Seward and Weed, who thought this might deliver some kind of compromise at a later date after Lincoln was inaugurated, and he (Seward) was in charge. Many different groups, but especially the Republicans, had much to gain from this inertia. The interminable negotiations ensured that the infection of secession would not spread to the Border states, ensured that Congress remained in quorum, and allowed the counting of the electoral college votes. But the policy of masterly inactivity risked alienating, rather than reconciling, both the Border states and the more radical Republicans, both of whom wanted something to be done though they differed as to what action should be taken. Others took the view that southern unity would soon fragment. ‘If the South was let alone, its own disagreements will soon block the operations of the fire eaters’. But this, too, was a risky strategy, threatening to alienate southerners who were not yet committed to secession. ‘The Abolitionists will continue to amuse us with hopes of Compromise without any real purpose to make a substantial Settlement,’ warned Governor John W. Ellis of North Carolina. ‘They are seeking time in which to find grounds on which to get control of the army and navy and the power of the government’. But attempts to gain time in order to find grounds on which to secure a modus vivendi risked losing it, as the Sumter crisis would demonstrate two months later.71

What were the attitudes of the political leaders to this process of discussion and expiation? Lincoln had already declared his opposition to any accommodation based on the Crittenden Resolution. He arrived in Washington on 23 February while the Peace Conference was still in session. Douglas, who had previously denounced southern rashness and the ‘Rebellion’ over dinner with Tyler, urged him to do everything to prevent a dissolution of the Union. Douglas was of the view that, if Republicans in the conference would help him, and Lincoln gave his presidential blessing to Seward’s call for a national convention, then some progress might be made. Lincoln made no effort to apply any pressure on the Republican delegations at the conference. He listened ‘respectfully and kindly’ to Douglas’s assurances that he would not make personal, political capital out of the crisis, but he failed ‘in getting Lincoln to a point on the subject’. The president-elect continued to keep his own counsel. But he dropped a hint as to his future course some days later, when he was asked what concessions he was prepared to make to avoid civil war? He replied rather enigmatically that war was not always the worst evil that could be inflicted on a nation; he would do all in his power to avoid it, but he refused to ‘neglect a Constitutional duty’. Here was an early clue to Lincoln’s technique of following contradictory courses with two possible outcomes, and then decisively switching to the most appropriate at the correct moment. During the secession crisis this technique was misconstrued as weakness.72

One of the striking features of the Peace Conference’s debate was its fervent rejection of ‘party spirit’; indeed, it was widely assumed that this had brought the crisis on a neglectful nation which had fallen into the hands of wicked and selfish politicians. ‘Your patriotism’, Tyler assured the Conference with an air of smug superiority, ‘will surmount the difficulties, however great, if you will but accomplish one triumph in advance, and that is, a triumph over party’. But Tyler equated partisanship not with his own viewpoint, but with that of the Republican Party. His chairman’s address precipitated a wave of similar denunciations; but the only effect of a sweeping moral denunciation of the other side’s ‘party spirit’ while assuming a monopoly of moral rectitude in one’s own, is to limit the practical effect of any proposals made; such accusations lead to a complete rejection of the proposals offered for review by the side which is denounced. Thus the only long-term effect of these denunciations was to undermine further any hope of securing a workable basis for compromise.73

The Virginia Convention assembled on 13 February and invested a great deal of hope in a successful report from the Peace Conference. Tyler was also a member of this convention and so there was some measure of overlap between the two organizations. But both were equally deluded. After three weeks of discussion, the conference put forward a seven part amendment to the Constitution not greatly different from the Crittenden Compromise. A pregnant elephant had given birth to a mouse. Senator James Guthrie presented the conference’s recommendations on 27 February, dispatching them to Congress a mere four days before the end of the legislative session. It contained seven sections adumbrating the main proposals. First, Section I called for a compromise based on the Missouri Compromise line, which protected slavery south of it but prohibited the institution north of it. Secondly, no new territories were to be acquired, under Section II, without a four-fifths ratification by the Senate; such territories were a source of strife and their significance must be reduced. Thirdly, Congress was not to interfere either with the workings of slavery in the states where it already existed or in Washington DC without the consent of the state of Maryland; clearly the symbolic importance of the peculiar institution in the District of Columbia touched nerves on both sides of the sectional divide. Fourthly, Section IV required that the Fugitive Slave Act should be rigorously enforced. Fifthly, the external slave trade was prohibited. In Section VI those prohibitions and articles pertaining to slavery in the Constitution were judged inviolate; they could not be altered without the agreement of all the states. Finally, slaveholders would be allowed compensation for any damage to their property (or themselves) incurred in recovering it. The general thrust of this document favoured the South and would have permitted some measure of slavery expansion. The Peace Conference, in short, fell back on the expedients of the Compromise of 1850. Any ‘middle’ course would thus favour the institution of slavery.

J. A. Seddon advocated a minority report consisting of the resolutions of the Virginia General Assembly. These demanded that the South exercise nothing less than a veto over all executive and legislative appointments; secondly, that all free blacks should be disenfranchised and prevented from holding office; and thirdly, that all states should be granted the right of secession. There were also calls from John B. Baldwin and other Whigs for a national convention. This was a cry very much favoured by southern radicals because the assembly of such a body would take time. Delay allowed them to consolidate their strength in the seceded states without making the slightest concession.74 Secessionists dismissed the majority report as consisting of ‘wishy washy resolutions that amounted to nothing’ and could find nothing in it worth giving up the strong position that secession had already granted them. Once these irreconcilable differences at the Peace Conference had surfaced, there followed six days of chaos accompanied by incongruous outbreaks of the kind of unseemly brawling that had disfigured congressional debates. Much of the discussion focused around the relative power of the sections vis-à-vis one another over the next decade, whether the seceded states remained in or out of the Union. Some contemporaries then, and some historians later, have claimed that in these heated discussions, slavery was a mere ‘incident’ in this struggle for relative power upon which future stability would rest. What really counted, claimed James B. Clay of Kentucky, was ‘the old question of the balance of power between the different sections and different interests’. In his account of the Peace Conference, Gunderson describes slavery as an ‘emotionally charged symbol for rhetorical and political manipulation’. Obviously, the struggle for relative influence over the Union’s political institutions during the next decade was not irrelevant, but slavery was much more than a symptom or symbol of this sectional struggle. The relative condition of the peculiar institution, the width of its geographical spread, and the breadth of its support and influence in the legislative and executive branches of government, would determine the future character of the Union. It was therefore not only a central consideration in any debate over the future direction of United States economic and social development, but a pervasive and unavoidable issue.75

The failure of compromise

Any attempt to evade the differences over this issue was futile. This was one of the prime reasons why the Peace Conference was doomed to failure. Indeed Republicans manoeuvred in a way that would have been deplored by Tyler. They tried to ensure that the ‘Union-savers’ as they were sarcastically called, both northern and southern Democrats, did not reunite to vote them down. The president-elect held firm consistently to the theme of the 1860 presidential campaign. Attempts to extend the Missouri Compromise line were unacceptable. Lincoln’s consistency was not applauded by those who condemned political expediency; they deplored it. The truth was that Tyler and other Whigs who criticized ‘party’ spirit could do so only because they were convinced of the rectitude of their own political position and could see no good, or integrity, in an opposite point of view; but there was more than one point of view on this vexed issue. Political manoeuvring and lack of coherent principle were not a monopoly of the Republicans. Secessionist sympathizers, for instance, were offering increasingly dogmatic pro-southern amendments in a transparent effort to justify later outright secessionist moves. Lincoln’s response to these efforts, while visiting some of the leaders of the Conference was to admonish them against ‘any concession in the face of menace’. The Constitution he reiterated must be ‘respected, obeyed, enforced, and defended, let the grass grow where it may’.76

The Peace Conference then stuttered to a halt at the moment when it should have been at its most dynamic – as the votes were cast by the various state conventions on the seven sections of the proposals. The call for a national convention was defeated. Tyler revealed his own true sympathies by vacating the chair and canvassing for Seddon’s minority report; this, too, was defeated. Discussion then revolved around the acceptance of the Missouri Compromise line. The southern radicals disliked this because, unlike the Crittenden Compromise, it would not apply to territory acquired in the future. They joined with the Republicans to vote Section I down. Without unity on this all-important clause, the efforts of the Peace Conference were disembowelled. Despite calls from Chase that the Conference should vote on the entire document as a whole, Tyler (now back in the chair), sent the seven sections to the Senate without any formal vote on them at all. They were presented as the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution. It represented the views of the moderate pro-southern lobby as to how the secession crisis should be resolved. For the radical southern secessionists it did not go far enough.

In the Congress this effort at compromise did not fare well. In these frantic last weeks before the session came to an end, it had to compete for consideration of other efforts at compromise, like those of Crittenden. Controversy immediately arose as to whether the House should suspend its rules before receiving the proposition of this putative constitutional amendment. Southern representatives were keen to follow this course so that they could vote it down. But although a majority favoured suspension, it was not large enough to secure a two-thirds majority, and so the House refused even to receive the arduous labours of the Peace Conference. It was forwarded to the Senate on 27 February, where it lay idle and unread for three days. A spur of activity marked the closing hours of the session with Crittenden’s desperate decision to replace his own effort at compromise with that of the Peace Conference. This was a move not calculated to please the South, the very section Crittenden was most concerned to placate. Only seven senators supported this move, while twenty-eight were opposed. There was also a noticeable hardening of the southern position during these frenetic days. Those delegates who had sceptically smiled on the deliberations of the Peace Conference, now spurned it. For example, George Davis of North Carolina, a state which had not shown any marked enthusiasm for secession, now warned that ‘he could never accept the plan adopted by the “Peace Congress” as consistent with the rights, the interests or the dignity of North Carolina’. His state must now align with the rest of the South or face the unenviable fate of being ‘the tail-end and victim of a Free-Soil North’. Again, southern political leaders, even those who disapproved of secession, seemed to be more impressed by something vague and potentially awful which might occur at some unspecified date in the future, than by the immediate threat of civil war.77

The effort at compromise had failed. The president-elect had not endorsed the efforts of Crittenden or the Peace Conference. He was determined to unite his party around a policy that insisted on the restriction of slavery to its present limits. The efforts at compromise mounted by Baldwin, Crittenden, Guthrie and Tyler that sought, at the very least, to permit an extension of the Missouri Compromise line, were doomed to fail if they could not gain the adherence of the governing party. Given the refusal of the southern moderates to accept this restriction, there would appear to have been no realistic basis for a meaningful and enduring compromise. Perhaps the Peace Conference played a useful role in assisting the southern moderates in the February elections, which postponed the second, and in some respects more dangerous wave of secession ordinances in Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Arkansas, until after the resolution of the Sumter crisis in April 1861. The South, let alone the Upper South, was not a monolith. It may also have helped keep the Border states in the Union, and although individual delegates opposed General Scott’s measures, the conference proceedings helped contribute to the peaceful inauguration of Lincoln. ‘We have thus far done all in our power to procrastinate’, Thurlow Weed reported, ‘and shall continue to do so, in order to remain in session until after the 4th of March’.

But we cannot avoid the question why compromise was possible in 1850 but not in 1861? The most obvious reason was that the whole psychological ambience of these days was hostile to the placatory, accommodating and forbearing attitude required to bring forth a compromise. This was true despite the obviously desperate efforts by many to broker such a settlement, a deal which would have enjoyed a great deal of public support. This does not negate, however, the harsh reality that the longer the representatives of the slave states negotiated with those of the North, the more such transactions resulted in a firmer rationalization of their competing positions. There were those who believed earnestly that such polarized positions should be set aside and appeals made to the more elevated, patriotic sentiments of men on both sides; but such calls were rarely as disinterested as they seemed, and were often implicitly, and sometimes explicitly, pro-southern in their connotations. Upper South Unionists steadfastly refused to believe that the Lower South could maintain its independence; they stood out for a ‘compromise’ based on the ‘Border State Plan’, which simply resurrected the Missouri Compromise. To Republicans this was not a compromise at all. Any pro-slavery hints were liable to increase the determination of many Republicans to stand by the platform of 1860. Consequently, there was no unanimity among the ‘great’ congressional leaders to sponsor anything like the Compromise of 1850. When amendments were proffered, they were offered piecemeal and soon sank into oblivion among the quicksand of congressional procedure. They also suffered from the odour of decay. There is something fittingly symbolic that the two politicians, Crittenden and Douglas, who strove most frantically to revive the corpse of the second party system, the republic of Calhoun, Webster and Clay, were both mortally ill.78

If the northern response was occasionally feeble, there can be no doubting the vigour and stridency of the southern secessionist position. It had, of course, gained in confidence and bellicosity since John Brown’s raid in 1859. It was not very well thought out, neither logical nor judicious, but it certainly carried conviction among the great majority of slave states. This was the crucial difference between 1861 and the Compromise of 1850. Then secessionist sentiment was a spurned minority view, and regarded as somewhat eccentric, impulsive and risky. Eleven years later secessionist cries had attained not only respectability, but also, because of the limited coordination of southern action, practicability. Setting up a slaveowning republic seemed a real, and to many, a sensible alternative. Secessionists had ‘momentum’ and moderates, previously sceptical of its allure, now hurried to guard their exposed political flanks and modify their views. With his call for a slave code for the territories, Jefferson Davis, a respected former Secretary of War, had signalled the surrender of the moderates, whose cause he had until very recently upheld, and their adherence to the radical view. But given this combustible compound of overweening belligerence and short-sighted rhetoric, which overlooked the catastrophic dangers facing the South if it joined wholeheartedly in a Gadarene plunge towards the secessionist precipice, it is unlikely that any concessions on the part of either the Buchanan or the Lincoln Administrations would have persuaded the seven seceded states to return to the Union, or placated the six that were contemplating this hazardous step.79

There was, in short, no overwhelming desire for a compromise. The somewhat sentimental, patriotic loyalties, especially to the holy relics of the Revolution, including the revered memory of George Washington, were insufficiently compelling to overcome the southern passion for setting up a republic dedicated to chattel slavery. On the contrary, these symbols were expropriated by the new Confederacy to justify its standpoint on political, economic and constitutional developments in the new republic. There is, in any case, something rather unreal and scholastic in the long and intricate legal discussions over constitutional amendments and their exegesis which preoccupied so many in the days before the firing on Fort Sumter. Yet these had succeeded a decade previously. If Paris was worth a mass, alas, the Union could not be saved by hair-splitting over legal niceties. They could no longer establish a consensus on the fundamental slavery problem. Such discussion was in part designed to conceal the harsh reality that with the Republican victory in 1860, the South had lost some of its power (though not all, and perhaps temporarily) over the Federal government. The southern extremists could not and would not accept this loss; they would not make the slightest accommodation which would cover a graceful retreat. They spoke in terms of an ‘insult’ delivered to the South and in inflammatory language warned of the perils of a resurgent and overpowering industrialism. Hence the contemporary stress on the culturalchasm that separated the two sections. At the end of the PeaceConference, Seddon accused northerners of nursing hatreds: ‘Youhave educated your children to believe us monsters of brutality,lust and ingenuity’. That contemporaries accepted the existence ofan unbridgeable cultural divide, and that this was due to the waypolitical anti-slavery attitudes had worked their way into popularculture and the social and intellectual fabric of the North, isevinced by President Lincoln’s celebrated comment in 1862, onmeeting Mrs Harriet Beecher Stowe at the White House, ‘So this isthe little lady who made this big war?’80

An unwillingness to accede to any accommodation with theSouth is sometimes put down to the prevalence of mean-spiritedand wholly selfish, political partisanship. Politicians’ thoughts wereon their own advancement, not on saving the country from civilwar. This did exist; politicians and ambition are rarely separated.And certainly politicians on both sides underestimated the dangersthey were facing. If the North was prone to underestimate thepotency of the secessionist appeal, then the South completelymisunderstood the forces that would shape the North’s ratherlaggard response to any attempt at separation. Southern leaderssurveyed the threat of war with smug casualness. In any case, theRepublican Party could hardly surrender its partisan interests andremain a viable governing party. It was not a realistic alternative for Republicans to abandon the advantages that had accrued from the political system when their rivals found reasons not to follow their noble example. ‘Compromise’ ten years before had resulted in an extension of the slavery system; this was now quite unacceptable. To have embraced the ‘patriotic’ stance suggested by former President Tyler would have resulted in the Republican Party negating its first presidential victory and all its finest, cherished ideals. For better or for worse, politicians were stuck with the political arrangements they had fashioned and had to work with them. The spoils system forced on them a mode of behaviour and they could not operate in any other way.81 Consequently, because it diverted energies and distracted the attention, the spoils system contributed to those conditions that resulted in the Civil War. But that is not to suggest that an enduring settlement, accommodating both North and South, would have emerged without it.

In truth, for a compromise – defined by the Concise OED as ‘the settlement of a dispute by mutual concession’ – to work it needed an agreement on all sides, extending to the bits of the argument with which all concurred. This was not forthcoming in the early months of 1861. A compromise settlement denotes a desire by all parties to reach agreement. But if that desire is absent on one side let alone both, then such efforts are futile and doomed to fail. It is easy for those who have never known the suffering, misery and sacrifice of a great war to ridicule the well-meaning efforts of those intent on avoiding it. Nonetheless, if it takes two sides to make a war, then it takes at least two sides to keep the peace. The general failure to achieve any accord after the 1860 presidential election led to a fatalistic acceptance of the coming of war. In December 1860 Lincoln had commented, ‘If the tug has to come better now than later’. Three months later this view had hardened, and ‘traitors’ were excoriated in the press. ‘Let this intolerable suspense and uncertainty cease!’ wrote Horace Greeley in the Tribune. ‘If we are to fight so be it’. Historians have frequently commented on the unendurable tension that statesmen feel before the outbreak of a war, and the relief felt, almost a meaningful release, when a decision is finally taken that political disputes must be resolved by war. The men who felt that some kind of conflict was inevitable after February 1861 would perhaps have shown a good deal more prudence if they had known what kind of war was about to overwhelm them. It was one thing for politicians to accept the necessity of fighting a war, another for their constituents to fight it. To convince northern public opinion that this was a case deserving of their commitment and sacrifice was a major challenge. This problem was resolved by the behaviour of the seceded states during the Sumter crisis.82

The Montgomery convention

A convention of the first six seceded states, followed by Texas a couple of weeks later, began the work of forging a slaveowning republic on 4 February 1861 in Montgomery, Alabama. On 9 February, Jefferson Davis, on the strength of his previous distinguished career rather than on the consistency and strength of his secessionist fervour, was nominated in caucus as provisional president of the Confederate States. He eventually faced an unopposed presidential election for a single six year term in November 1861. Alexander H. Stephens was nominated as vice president. The secessionist ideologues, once the movement they had championed had secured its objectives, lost influence, and Yancey, Rhett and Hammond fell almost into political oblivion once the Civil War began. They were essentially wizards of words rather than men of the less mercurial but firmer timbre needed to run great departments of state. This confirmed the extraordinary paradox that characterized the leadership of the Confederacy, namely, that those who strove to secure southern independence and destroyed their careers in this delusive quest, had not been keen enthusiasts for the cause in the first place. This is true of the two civilian officials, Davis and Stephens, and the two generals that commanded the South’s principal field armies, Robert E. Lee and Joseph E. Johnston. All four men had opposed secession in some shape or form, and acquiesced in it only once its momentum appeared unstoppable. But once they had thrown themselves into the cause their loyalty was never in doubt. Indeed, although their loyalty to the ‘lost cause’ was slower in forming, it was surer and steadier, and less flashy and idiosyncratic, than that of the ideologues of secession.83

Stephens was only the most articulate spokesman of those southerners who urged that the new government ‘be modeled as nearly as possible on the basis and principles of the late government of the United States’.84 The delegates at Montgomery claimed to be the true apostles of 1775 and 1787, and simply modified the Constitution of the United States in accordance with their convictions. It says a lot for the legalistic bias of American political culture in the nineteenth century that immediate priority was allotted to perfecting this provisional document instead of taking practical measures to secure southern independence, working out a viable policy towards the Upper South, and establishing a satisfactory foreign policy and the means to implement it. After all, less than half of the slave states had so far seceded, and the Confederacy was behaving as if its independence was an established fact. In this otiose constitutional document, as if its formulation rather than policy would guarantee the operation and security of the new republic, states rights was strengthened. The right to secede was passed over in silence, confirming the unionist suspicion that the South had indulged in a riot of special pleading after the presidential election. The powers of the central government were reduced. Slavery was enshrined and protected at the heart of the new constitution: ‘the new Government… rests upon the great truth’, Stephens affirmed, ‘that the Negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery – subordination to the superior race – is his natural and normal condition’.

Slavery was protected in the Confederate territories and representation in Congress was based on the three-fifths ratio adopted in 1787.85 The Confederate system of cabinet government was identical to that of the United States save that a Department of Justice was created and replaced the Interior. There would, however, be one major change in the style of Confederate government – party spirit would be banished. Though applauded at the time as a means of eradicating narrow selfishness and wicked tricks from the political scene, such a move resembled the proverbial search for a mirage. It also contributed decisively to the dullness and lack of creativity in Confederate politics – ‘sterility’ is William Brock’s word – which became increasingly personalized. But given the enormity of the task before it, the adaption of the United States Constitution and imitation of methods and styles of government, and even discussion as to whether the United States flag should be ‘kept’ (though it was agreed this would constitute a ‘political and military solecism’ and the Confederacy must have a flag of its own), these efforts express the essential provincialism voiced by the southern secession movement. And that parochial spirit was given firm shape by the institution of slavery. The Confederacy was not a vital nationalist movement, but a profoundly provincial one.86

In the wider world, the provincial leadership of the Confederacy floundered. What was to be its policy? There seemed to be much bravado in a number of public statements. ‘There will be no war in our territory,’ Jefferson Davis explained en route to Montgomery. ‘It will be carried into the enemy’s territory’. How could any policy be convincingly framed while the most powerful slave states remained obdurately in the Union? ‘The man and the hour have met!’ Yancey declared with a typically melodramatic flourish, when he first introduced President Davis to a rapturous Montgomery crowd. Davis was in no doubt of the enormity of the task before him. He led nothing more than a fragment of the slave states. He faced the dilemma produced by a series of unilateral, individual state secessions. A policy could not be pursued because the slaveowning republic remained in pieces that still needed to be stitched together. He struck a self-confident, perhaps bombastic note in his remarks. ‘The time for compromise has now passed,’ he announced. ‘The South is determined to maintain her position, and make all who oppose her smell southern powder and feel southern steel’. This was hyperbole. Writing privately to his wife four days later, Davis complained: ‘We are without machinery, without means, and threatened by a powerful opposition; but I do not despond, and will not shrink from the task imposed upon me’.87

Davis was a narrow, stern, conscientious but forbidding and aloof man, who lacked a sense of his true priorities. He coupled dread of conflict with a fatalistic acceptance of its inevitability. ‘Civil war has only horror for me, but whatever circumstances demand shall be met as a duty and I trust be so discharged that you will not be ashamed of our former connection or cease to be my friend’, he wrote to former President Franklin Pierce. ‘When Lincoln comes in he will have but to continue in the path of his predecessor to inaugurate a civil war’, he averred. Davis’s thoughts seemed to revolve rather too automatically around war rather than its avoidance; he, after all, preferred a field command in the Confederate army to high political office. But Davis did not consider in his rigid, complacent way, when reflecting on future federal policy, that he had a prime responsibility for and a supreme interest in, avoiding war, too.88

Davis’s inaugural address was less bellicose than his earlier remarks. War would come only if the North began it, he promised. Perhaps some northern states would wish to join the Confederacy, he surmised, not an altogether fanciful suggestion as it turned out. At any rate, unless he misunderstood ‘the judgement and will of the people, a reunion with the States from which we have separated is neither practicable nor desirable’. Davis proclaimed Jefferson’s ‘right of revolution’ for all southerners. Yet he then denied that a ‘revolution’ had taken place. The Confederacy merely asserted the right which the Declaration of Independence considered ‘inalienable’, that is to say, the methods of government are not immovable and that ‘government rests on the consent of the governed, and that it is the right of the people to alter or abolish them’.89 In fact, the ‘consent of the governed’ had not been asked, as no ordinance of secession had been confirmed by popular vote, and secession had been decided by 854 men selected by their legislatures (of which 157 had been opposed). There was not a single mention of slavery in the address. ‘We have changed the constituent parts, but not the system of government’, he claimed. On five separate occasions he addressed directly the likelihood of war with the North. The whole thrust of his address was that the South had been forced to take itself out of the Union because of ‘wanton aggression’. This defensive posture would determine all its future actions, he argued. ‘If we may not hope to avoid war, we may at least expect that posterity will acquit us of having needlessly engaged in it’. But he was prepared to submit to the test of the sword if Confederate rights or territory were abused by the ‘lust of dominion’ of the northern states. Trade must be kept ‘free’, and Davis hinted that as southern cotton was ‘required’ by many of the world’s manufacturing countries, they might intervene to break any Union blockade of southern ports. The auspices, as without doubt the Lord smiled down upon the southern people, were good. ‘We may…look forward to success, peace, and to prosperity’. But all this depended on avoiding war. Could this be achieved?90

Lincoln’s first inaugural address

By contrast with Jefferson Davis’s comparatively smooth installation as Confederate president, Lincoln’s arrival in Washington DC in February 1861 had been an embarrassment to him. Advised by the Pinkerton Agency of an assassination bid in Baltimore, he was prevailed upon to leave Mrs Lincoln and take an earlier train which would arrive in Washington at the dead of night. Given Lincoln’s eventual fate, it would have been criminally careless of his advisers to ignore such threats. But his arrival incognito did little to elevate the dignity of his office at a time when citizens looked for evidence of resolution and vigorous leadership. It also reinforced the impression, in a city which was nervous and panicky, that Lincoln was a weak and ineffectual nonentity, a ninny, who would make a fool of himself whatever he did; or, that his thoughts and actions were of such little account that they were not worth taking seriously.91 This was unfortunate. The air of long-running farce was confirmed by the failure of Lincoln’s son, Robert Todd Lincoln, to look after the precious copies of the president-elect’s inaugural address on the train, and it was nearly lost. Lincoln carried a copy himself when he arrived in Washington. Met by Congressman Washburne, an old though not intimate ally, he was conveyed to Willard’s Hotel, to meet the Secretary of State (designate), William H. Seward, and, in the opinion of many, to be embraced in his hypnotic clutches. In a city lacking many salubrious hotels, Willard’s was the natural place to base the president-elect until he could move into the Executive Mansion. That Lincoln found Seward’s lively and amusing company convivial (they shared a common delight in story-telling) reinforced the latter’s faith that he could bewitch and beguile the chief executive and exercise his chief’s prerogatives himself.92

One of Lincoln’s first acts was to hand Seward a copy of his inaugural address for comment. Such documents attempted to enshrine a statement of intent at the beginning of an Administration. They had become symbolic statements of sentiment as much as of policy. Clearly, in Lincoln’s case the symbolism was two-fold: he was the first Republican president to take the oath of office; and secondly, the very taking of that oath coincided with the most abrupt and well-organized challenge to the process of presidential transition yet encountered in the short history of the United States. Thus Lincoln’s inaugural would have to embrace a diplomatic appeal which was unprecedented. Many of Lincoln’s finest state papers are short and concise to a remarkable degree; he was a great believer in the dictum that brevity is the soul of wit. It was this acuity and cogency which so many of his contemporaries, schooled in the expansive and voluble tradition of public speaking of a Gladstone or a Calhoun, found so puzzling. This helps to explain why his public utterances lacked contemporary appeal, yet have the protean elevation which has been cherished by successive generations ever since. Lincoln’s first inaugural is a good deal longer than many of his later state papers. Seward found the last paragraph of the first draft rather too blunt. It concluded,

In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow-countrymen, not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The Government will not assail you. You can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors. You have no oath registered in Heaven to destroy the Government, while I shall have the most solemn one ‘to preserve, protect and defend it’.

He suggested to Lincoln that he sandpaper its rather abrasive edge with an appeal to common traditions and wells of patriotism. Lincoln accepted this advice, though he ignored, in Seward’s draft, references to his lack of ability when compared with George Washington, James Madison, Jackson and Clay. Adding on to the draft a new paragraph, Lincoln transmogrified its sentiments into his majestic prose from Seward’s somewhat strained and stilted draft. The inaugural address was now complete.93

Lincoln was to be the target of numerous assassination threats; Washington DC was filled with pro-Confederate sympathizers (Varina Davis was widely quoted by many that she was looking forward to returning to the Confederacy’s natural capital within a few months) ; it was possible that the inauguration would be disrupted. General Winfield Scott made thorough preparations to ensure that the ceremony would not be interrupted and that the process of government would continue. On 4 March Lincoln called on President Buchanan and together they travelled to the steps of the Capitol, its great dome still not in place, and the building covered with scaffolding. Lincoln delivered his address first before taking the oath of office from the Chief Justice, Roger B. Taney. Also symbolic was Stephen A. Douglas’s gesture of holding Lincoln’s top hat while he delivered his address.94 Lincoln’s inscrutable and mournful expression gazed out over a large crowd and he spoke in a pleasing tenor voice. He began by stating yet again that the election of a Republican Administration would not have the slightest effect on the institution of slavery in the southern states; he could think of no reason, save mischief, why that issue should have been raised.

There has never been any reasonable cause for such apprehension. Indeed the most ample evidence to the contrary has all the while existed and been open to their [southerners’] inspection. … I only press upon the public attention the most conclusive evidence of which the case is susceptible, that the property, peace, and security of no section are to be in any wise endangered by the now incoming administration.

Indeed towards the end of his speech, Lincoln signalled that he would not object to a constitutional amendment enshrining the principle that the Federal government ‘would never interfere with the domestic institutions of the States’ – that is to say, slavery. Lincoln also urged that the Fugitive Slave Act remain operative, brushing aside as irrelevant the dispute as to whether this should be enforced by federal or state agencies. But he did take a swipe at the exercise of the ‘slave power’ over the civil rights of northerners by suggesting that future legislation might be required to protect their immunities and privileges as free men while the Act was enforced.95

Promising not to exercise authority or construe laws in a hypocritical spirit, Lincoln then turned to examine the unprecedented crisis which was his unhappy lot to inherit – his ‘great and peculiar difficulty’. ‘A disruption of the Federal Union, heretofore only menaced, is now formidably attempted’, he declared. Immediately, Lincoln turned to elaborate the major premise of his speech and subsequent policy. Secession could not be admitted as valid and would not be acknowledged as a legal or political fact. There could be no compromise with its perpetrators or a tacit acceptance of a de jure right to secede.

I hold, that, in contemplation of universal law and of the Constitution, the Union of these States is perpetual. Perpetuity is implied, if not expressed, in the fundamental law of all national governments. It is safe to assert that no government proper ever had a provision in its organic law for its own termination.

The Union could not be destroyed ‘except by some action not provided for in the instrument itself. Lincoln argued that the Union could not be broken by one party without the assent of the others, even if the right to break it was assented to. But Lincoln then disposed of this possibility by arguing that the Union was older than the Constitution, and that all the elements cementing the Union, the Articles of Association (1774), the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation (ratified in 1781) and the Constitution itself (1787) also sought to create ‘a more perfect Union’ forged perpetually. This was an astonishingly bold – if necessary – claim. But it is doubtful if many northerners would have accepted the assertion that the Continental Congress had established a ‘perpetual’ Union. Unabashed, Lincoln went on:

It follows from these views that no State, upon its own mere motion, can lawfully get out of the Union – that resolves and ordinances to that effect are legally void; and that acts of violence, within any State or States, against the authority of the United States, are insurrectionary or revolutionary, according to circumstances.96

Here was the core of Lincoln’s case; unilateral action by states within the Union to its detriment could never be acknowledged; unilateral action by the elected officials of the Union to safeguard its security was justified. Such action would strengthen the Union if it was directed against political forces outside of it But if states directed unilateral action towards the legitimate government of the United States then the results would be calamitous. Lincoln developed this point by emphasizing, in a sentence added to the final draft at the last minute, that

in view of the Constitution and the laws, the Union is unbroken; and to the extent of my ability I shall take care, as the Constitution itself expressly enjoins upon me, that the laws of the Union be faithfully executed in all the States.97 … I trust this will not be regarded as a menace, but only as the declared purpose of the Union that it will constitutionally defend, and maintain itself.98

In a more placatory tone Lincoln observed that ‘Where hostility to the United States’ was ‘so great and so universal’ there would be no attempt to offer the patronage in the president’s gift to those (such as abolitionists or Republicans) who objected to slavery: ‘there will be no attempt to force obnoxious strangers among the people’ – those who would agitate against the institution of slavery while domiciled in the southern states. ‘The mails, unless repelled, will continue to be furnished in all parts of the Union’. The president stressed that life would continue as it had always done; the charge that his Administration involved a violent break with the past could then be gently laid aside.

In doing this there needs to be no bloodshed or violence; and there shall be none, unless it be forced upon the national authority. The power confided to me will be used to hold, occupy and possess the property and places belonging to the government, and to collect the duties and imposts; but beyond what may be necessary for these objects, there will be no invasion – no using of force against or among the people anywhere.

Lincoln was here expounding a policy that the United States government would not seek the means to implement its policy by force should it not be given a reason for doing so. ‘So far as it is possible, the people everywhere shall have that sense of perfect security which is most favourable to calm thought and reflection’.99

It is difficult to imagine a more pacific line announced by a head of state when confronted by such flagrant and provocative defiance. In the initial draft written at Springfield, Lincoln had set down an intention to ‘reclaim’ the public places and property already purloined by the rebels. Orville Hickman Browning persuaded him to alter this to ‘hold, occupy and possess’ those installations. Seward and Francis Preston Blair had between them ensured that any statements of resolve concerning federal authority were diluted and attempts at reconciliation were accentuated. Benjamin P. Thomas does not exaggerate when he claims that the speech was as ‘indulgent as he could make it without renouncing his constitutional duties’.100 Yet there can be no doubting the consistency of Lincoln’s position since the 1860 presidential campaign, and many of the statements in the inaugural had been made in previous speeches.101

There are several references in the document to the need for careful, calm thought and reflection. This rested upon the strong and widespread sentiment that the secessionists would come to their senses after they had thought through the consequences of their actions, and perhaps that Unionism would reassert itself. Lincoln acknowledged that there were numerous outright, dogmatic and irreconcilable secessionists on whom his words were wasted. Yet he addressed a plea to those, mainly in the Upper South, of a more moderate and doubting disposition.

Will you hazard so desperate a step, while there is any possibility that any portion of the ills you fly from, have no real existence? Will you, while the certain ills you fly to, are greater than the real ones you fly from? Will you risk the commission of so fearful a mistake?

Here was a strong statement that many of the issues raised in the presidential election resulting in the hysterical and ill-informed clamour which dominated the secessionist conventions, were fallacious and in a very real sense, unreal. The secessionists were boxing with shadows. But there exists a warning throughout the speech, despite so many explicit placatory appeals, that the gloves would be peeled off if the secessionists blatantly flouted or lashed out at federal authority. Certainly, Lincoln would shortly discover that moderate southern opinion, even that which even recendy had been Unionist in sentiment, would not call a halt to the secessionist march. His other observation, namely, that there was a stark possibility that the institution of slavery was more vulnerable outside the Union than within it, was more than realized after April 1861.102

An interpretation of the speech in which Lincoln invokes an image of uninterrupted ‘normalcy’ as a contrast to the uncertainty, panic and squabbles which would attend the unknowns of secession and revolution, is supported by the last part of the address. Here the president praises American democracy – the source of ‘that truth and justice, [which] will surely prevail, by the judgment of this great tribunal, the American people’. Obviously, the more haunting and apocalyptic notions advanced since the election of a Republican president with a Republican majority in Congress could be safely ignored. ‘While the people retain their virtue, and vigilance, no administration, by any extreme of wickedness or folly, can very seriously injure the government, in the short space of four years’. Nothing had fundamentally changed, Lincoln assured his audience.103

Such of you as are now dissatisfied, still have the old Constitution unimpaired, and, on the sensitive point, the laws of your own framing under it; while the new administration will have no immediate power, if it would, to change either.

He then made a vain appeal for stocktaking and prudence: ‘Nothing valuable can be lost by taking time’. He upheld the importance of all using their intelligence and relying on ‘patriotism, Christianity, and a firm reliance on Him who has never yet forsaken this favoured land’, factors that ‘are still competent to adjust in the best way all our present difficulties’.104

Then Lincoln, after a beautifully composed but essentially constitutional exegesis, brought the speech to an unexpected, though quite logical and noble climax in a quite sublime passage:

I am loth to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

That a man who could write such a passage was written off as a nonentity must be put down to the giddiness and agitation attending momentous and hazardous events, and the ceaseless and ill-informed chatter which accompanies them. When clever but self-satisfied men are determined to see a fool, they will see a fool even if a sage returns their stares.105

Yet the import of the inaugural address was unambiguous. Lincoln had made every effort to conciliate the southern states. He had conceded as much as he could on the slavery issue. Southern fears about the future of slavery in the states received great attention, and Lincoln had underlined that he would not oppose a constitutional amendment protecting it there indefinitely. He was not markedly enthusiastic about this. Such an initiative was superfluous as slavery was already protected within the states. The only dispute of substance related to its extension. The apostles of slavery were of the view that unless the institution grew it would ultimately wither and die. They chose to use force to ensure this growth. No longer would they have the patience to rely on the negative, protective influence of labyrinthine congressional procedures and the deliberations of the Supreme Court. Indeed Lincoln was of the opinion that the Federal government could not continually defer to the Supreme Court and permit it untrammelled power in this matter, because it would abdicate democratic procedures leaving them in the hands of non-elected judicial officials. The democratic mechanism must be given an unfettered right to decide grave questions unchecked by threats of secession: ‘the central idea of secession is the essence of anarchy’.

Lincoln thus offered the choice of a heart-warming presidential embrace, continuing with the Union as before, with slavery protected but restricted, or the cold and harsh winds of isolation and uncertainty if the embrace was spurned. The South would inhabit an inhospitable environment which might batter slavery to pieces. By cleverly placing the onus on the secessionists to make the next move, however, Lincoln had set in place another strand of the policy which he hoped would deter the secessionists from rashness: that the power of the Federal government would force the secessionists to return to the Union if they failed to take counsel of patriotism and common sense. Charles Francis Adams was to describe the dual elements in Lincoln’s policy by reference to ‘Napoleon’s simile of “a hand of iron and a velvet glove”.106 Lincoln adverted to the dangers of collision, should the seceded states carry on regardless in their headstrong way. ‘Physically speaking, we cannot separate. We cannot remove our respective sections from each other, nor build an impassable wall between them… . They cannot but remain face to face; and intercourse, either amicable or hostile, must continue between them’. On returning to a cold, dingy Executive Mansion, much in need of redecoration, Lincoln’s first act was to read documents which indicated that such a collision seemed to loom sooner rather than later.107

1. Thomas Jefferson, quoted in Jefferson Himself ed. Bernard Mayo (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1970), p. 13.

2. Ronald Syme, The Roman Revolution (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1939), p. 60.

3. A. J. P. Taylor, From Napoleon to the Second International: Essays on Nineteenth Century Europe, ed. C. Wrigley (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1993), pp. 224, 321.

4. The reduction of the period of transition from 4 March to 20 January did not come until the Twentieth Amendment in 1933, when urgent legislation was required with the onset of the New Deal. See Gary Wills, Reagan’s America: Innocents at Home (London: W. H. Allen, 1988), pp. 64–5.

5. See Herman Hattaway and Archer Jones, How the North Won (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1983), pp. 4–5; Glyndon G. Van Deusen, William Henry Seward (New York: Oxford UP, 1969), pp. 248–50, 283; Marcus Cunliffe, ‘The Struggle in Prospect’, in H. S. Commager, M. Cunliffe and M. A. Jones (eds) Illustrated History of the American Civil War (London: Orbis, 1976), p. 146.

6. William E. Baringer, A House Dividing: Lincoln as President Elect (Springfield, IL: Abraham Lincoln Association, 1945), pp. 17, 78–9, 87, 89, 95–6, 99, 100–1, 106–7; Van Deusen, Seward, p. 239. David Potter, Lincoln and his Party in the Secession Crisis, 2nd edn (New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 1942, 1962; New York: AMS Press, 1979), p. 156. On pp. 80–2, Potter claims that Seward’s capacity for leadership during the interregnum would have been greater if he had not been so concerned with cultivating his influence with the new administration. But Potter is too intolerant of the difficulties posed by the electoral system, and his pro-southern bias is pervasive. Furthermore, as the Sumter crisis would show, it is by no means certain that had Seward been given his head war would have been avoided.

7. Baringer, A House Dividing, pp. 32–3, 42–3.

8. Kenneth M. Stampp, Indiana Politics during the Civil War (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1949, 1978), pp. 50–9.

9. Willard L. King, Lincoln’s Manager: David Davis (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1960), p. 168; Baringer, A House Dividing, pp. 109–10; Potter, Lincoln and his Party in the Secession Crisis, pp. 147–8; Daniel W. Crofts, Reluctant Confederates: Upper South Unionists and the Secession Crisis (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1989), p. 134.

10. Potter, Lincoln and his Party in the Secession Crisis, pp. 164–70; Baringer, A House Dividing, pp. 117–20; Van Deusen, Seward, pp. 240–2. These ideas were incorporated into the first inaugural.

11. Baringer, A House Dividing, pp. 121–2; Roy F. Nichols, The Stakes of Power, 1845–1877 (London: Macmillan, 1965), pp. 92–3; Crofts, Reluctant Confederates, p. 246.

12. In November 1860 Chase expressed a commonly held view: ‘Would to Heaven we had a President equal to the emergency. Imbecility, now, works as treason’ (quoted in Baringer, A House Dividing, p. 66). Chase could never bring himself to consider Lincoln a candidate of stature worthy of respect. See Frederick J. Blue, Salmon P. Chase: A Life in Politics (Kent, OH: Kent State UP, 1987), p. 214.

13. Van Deusen, Seward, pp. 239–40.

14. For example, Stampp, Indiana Politics during the Civil War, p. 49.

15. Quoted in John G. Nicolay and John Hay, Abraham Lincoln: A History (New York: Century, 1890), III, p. 253. Here Lincoln was more closely aligned with Thaddeus Stevens, Sumner and Chase, than with Seward and Weed. His conservatism can be exaggerated. See Blue, Chase, p. 135.

16. For this Proclamation, see above, pp. 58–60.

17. Baringer, A House Dividing, pp. 51–2, 57, 62.

18. Baringer, A House Dividing, pp. 326–9; Nicolay and Hay, Lincoln, III, pp. 170–1; Potter, Lincoln and his Party, 21, 35–6, 57, 141–2, 224, 237, 245; Crofts, Reluctant Confederates, pp. 226–9, 290; Crofts reflects the ‘magic solution’ approach, see pp. 353–5.

19. David Donald, Charles Sumner and the Corning of the Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1965), p. 372; Bruce Collins, The Origins of America’s Civil War (London: Edward Arnold, 1981), pp. 138–40.

20. Charles Francis Adams, Jr, An Autobiography, 1835–1915 (New York: Chelsea House, 1974, 1983), pp. 69–70; Potter, Lincoln and his Party in the Secession Crisis, p. 80, quotes this extract in full as evidence of ‘Republican short-sightedness’, though he assumes this to be a northern monopoly when it was more evident in the South.

21. Quoted in Edmund Wilson, Patriotic Gore: Studies in the Literature of the American Civil War (New York: Oxford UP), p. 108.

22. For Buchanan, see James G. Randall and David Donald, The Civil War and Reconstruction, 2nd edn (Boston, MA: D. C. Heath, 1969), pp. 142–3; Avery O. Craven, The Coming of the Civil War, 2nd rev. edn (Chicago UP, 1957), pp. 429–30; Peter J. Parish, The American Civil War (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1975), pp. 71–2; Elbert B. Smith, The Presidency of James Buchanan (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 1975, 1988), p. 143; compare this with Elbert B. Smith, The Death of Slavery: The Limited States, 1831–65 (Chicago UP, 1967) p. 169.

23. Roy F. Nichols, The Disruption of American Democracy (New York: Macmillan, 1948), pp. 76–8; Allan Nevins, The Emergence of Lincoln, II (New York: Scribner’s, 1947), p. 342.

24. Smith, Buchanan, p. 148; see above, pp. 95–7.

25. Smith, Buchanan, pp. 149–51.

26. Allan Nevins, The War for the Union, I, The Improvised War (New York: Scribner’s, 1959), pp. 140–4.

27. Dwight, L. Dumond, The Secession Movement, 1860–1861 (New York: Macmillan, 1931), pp. 3–6, 8–19, 21, 26–8, 30, 107–19; e.g. Van Deusen, Seward, p. 247; James M. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (New York: Oxford UP, 1988), ch. 8.

28. Dumond, Secession Movement, pp. 119–25; Crofts, Reluctant Confederates, pp. 149, 164–94.

29. Quoted in Kenneth M. Stampp, And the War Came: The North and the Secession Crisis, 1860–1861 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1950), p. 1.

30. Eugene D. Genovese, The World the Slaveholders Made (New York: Pantheon, 1969), pp. 94–5.

31. Michael P. Johnson, Toward a Patriarchal Republic: The Secession of Georgia (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1977), pp. 6, 24–5.

32. Dumond, Secession Movement, pp. 144–51; Johnson, Patriarchal Republic, pp. 26–7; Crofts, Reluctant Confederates, pp. 344–5.

33. Emory M. Thomas, The Confederacy as a Revolutionary Experience (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1971); Johnson, Patriarchal Republic, pp. 28–30, 32–5, 37–8, 40–1; Crofts, Reluctant Confederates, pp. 95–9.

34. Quoted in Johnson, Patriarchal Republic, p. 45.

35. Donald E. Reynolds, Editors Make War: Southern Newspapers in the Secession Crisis (Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt UP, 1966, 1970), pp. 14–16.

36. Ibid., pp. 17–18, 44, 143–4.

37. Stephen A. Channing, Crisis of Fear: Secession and South Carolina (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1970), pp. 77–8, 87–9, 93.

38. Reynolds, Editors Make War, pp. 23–7, 127, 131, 136. See also ibid., p. 58 for grotesque racial slurs.

39. Ibid, pp. 116, 142. Reynolds notes (p. 146) that some Whig newspapers thought that Lincoln’s image might improve over time once his essential conservatism became obvious, but time was not on their side. See also Bruce Collins, White Society in the Antebellum South (London, Longman, 1985).

40. Channing, Crisis of Fear, pp. 213–214, 236–7. In Henry Adams’s opinion, ‘The Southern secessionists were … unbalanced in mind – fit for medical treatment, like other victims of hallucination –… mentally one-sided, ill-balanced and provincial to a degree rarely known’. The Education of Henry Adams (New York: Modern Library, 1931), p. 100.

41. Channing, Crisis of Fear, p. 246.

42. Quoted in ibid., pp. 250, 261.

43. William L. Barney, The Secessionist Impulse: Alabama and Mississippi in 1860 (Princeton UP, 1974), pp. 27–9.

44. Channing, Crisis of Fear, pp. 268, 274–5.

45. See Dumond, Secession Movement, p. 215; Michael F. Holt, The Political Crisis of the 1850s (New York: Norton, 1978, 1983), pp. 244–50.

46. Southern historians are prone to blur this point, see Dumond Secession Movement, pp. 107, 124, 209–210.

47. Ibid., p. 178; Ralph A. Wooster, The Secession Conventions of the South (Princeton UP, 1962), pp. 3, 14, 74–5; Barney, Secessionist Impulse, pp. 195, 197.

48. Wooster, Secession Conventions, pp. 20, 24, 31, 34–5, 42–4, 54–5, 62, 64–5, 78–9, 85, 94–5, 105–7, 110, 112, 113–14, 118–19, 126–7; Johnson, Patriarchal Republic, pp. 70–1, 82–3, 110; Barney, Secessionist Impulse, pp. 44–6, 88–93.

49. Wooster, Secession Conventions pp. 101, 104, 111–12; Johnson, Patriarchal Republic, p. 168.

50. Wooster, Secession Conventions, pp. 115, 121, 135; Barney, Secessionist Impulse, pp. 191, 201.

51. Dumond, Secession Movement, pp. 209–10, 214.

52. David M. Potter, The Impending Crisis, 1848–1861, completed and ed. by Don E. Fehrenbacher (New York: Harper, 1976), p. 500.

53. See below, pp. 280–1, 285, 287

54. Wooster, Secession Conventions, pp. 100, 120, 142; Henry T. Shanks, The Secession Movement in Virginia, 1847–1861 (New York: AMS Press, 1934, 1971), pp. 125, 128, 137, 141, 148, 152–3, 154.

55. Dumond, Secession Movement, p. 228; Wooster, Secession Conventions, pp. 180, 192–3.

56. Allen Buchanan, Secession: The Morality of Political Divorce from Fort Sumter to Lithuania and Quebec (Boulder, CO: Westview, 1991), pp. 8, 10, 12, 41, 56, 104–5, has been an invaluable guide here.

57. Ibid., pp. 69–70.

58. Michael Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument with Historical Illustrations (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1977, 1980), pp. 86–94, 104–8; Martin Ceadel, Thinking About Peace and War (Oxford UP, 1987), p. 49. This argument serves also as a justification for foreign intervention on the southern side.

59. Which is the main criticism to be directed at Buchanan’s Secession

60. Ibid., pp. 36, 99, 158.

61. See Daniel J. Boorstin, The Genius of American Politics (Chicago UP, 1953). The standard account of compromise efforts, Robert G. Gunderson, The Old Gentlemen’s Convention: The Washington Peace Conference of 1861 (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1961), p. v, dilates on ‘the American genius for compromise, for adjustment, and for conciliation’.

62. Kenneth M. Stampp, And the War Came, pp. 129–30; Crofts, Reluctant Confederates, pp. 196–213.

63. Smith, Buchanan, p. 151; William C. Davis, Breckinridge: Statesman, Soldier, Symbol (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1977), pp. 231, 234, 264.

64. For the significance of this and other secessionist attempts to seize federal installations, see below, pp. 313, 335.

65. This and the preceding paragraph are based on Gunderson, Old Gentlemen’s Convention, pp. ix, 5–6, 13–16, 23, 31. Whiggish echoes deprecating ‘passion’ may be found in the coda of Lincoln’s first inaugural address.

66. Gunderson, Old Gentlemen’s Convention, pp. 19–21; Stampp, And the War Came, pp. 117–20.

67. Blue, Chase, p. 134; Gunderson, Old Gentlemen’s Convention, pp. 21–2.

68. For instance, Bell had declared ‘Give me disunion’ when confronted with the possibility of a Union bound by force rather than by an acknowledgement of the rights of states. See Davis, Breckinridge, p. 242. Of course, Crittenden himself was a conspicuous exception to this generalization.

69. Gunderson, Old Gentlemen’s Convention, p. 32; Adams, Autobiography, pp. 75, 85.

70. Donald, Sumner and the Coming of the Civil War, p. 376; Gunderson, Old Gentlemen’s Convention, pp. 33–4, 35–6, 38–9, 41; Potter, Impending Crisis, pp. 508, 546–7; Crofts, Reluctant Confederates, pp. 215–16, 233–4, 242.

71. Gunderson, Old Gentlemen’s Convention, pp. 51–2; see below, pp. 322, 331–4, 349

72. Robert W. Johannsen, Stephen A. Douglas (New York: Oxford UP, 1973), pp. 835–6, 841–2; Baringer, A House Dividing, p. 307.

73. Gunderson, Old Gentlemen’s Convention, pp. 45–6.

74. The manoeuvres around calls for such a convention illustrate how the restriction of slavery was the moot issue. Blue, Chase, p. 135.

75. Gunderson, Old Gentlemen’s Convention, pp. 62–6. Gunderson’s comment is found on p. 66. See Thomas J. Pressly, Americans Interpret their Civil War (Princeton UP, 1954), pp. 61–2, 68, 244–5, 247–8, 280.

76. Baringer, A House Dividing, p. 307; Gunderson, Old Gentlemen’s Convention, pp. 84–5. The reference to grass concerned Lincoln’s future responsibility for grass growing in the streets of American commercial cities.

77. Gunderson, Old Gentlemen’s Convention pp. 86, 91, 94–7; Crofts, Reluctant Confederates, pp. 156, 193–4, 196–9, 200.

78. Douglas died at 9 p.m. on 3 June 1861. The doctors were mystified by his symptoms. His purported last words were: ‘Tell my children to obey the laws and uphold the Constitution’. Damon Wells, Stephen Douglas: The Last Years, 1857–1861, (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1971), p. 289; Crofts, Reluctant Confederates, pp. 232–3, 259, 287.

79. Smith, The Death of Slavery, p. 171. Smith is in error, however, in thinking that the Compromise sponsored by the Peace Conference was passed by the House of Representatives by a two-thirds majority.

80. Quotations taken from Gunderson, Old Gentlemen’s Convention, p. 101; D. W. Brogan, American Aspects (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1963), p. 178.

81. For an assessment of the significance of distributing the patronage during the Sumter crisis, see below, p. 342.

82. Lincoln to William Kellogg, 11 Dec. 1860, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 1953–5), 9 vols, IV, p. 150; Gunderson, Old Gentlemen’s Convention, p. 102; Brogan (American Aspects, p. 142) points out that relative to population, the United States suffered greater casualties in the four years of the Civil War than did Great Britain in 1914–18. See above, pp. 186–7.

83. Craig L. Symonds, Joseph E Johnston (New York: Norton, 1992), pp. 93–5; Alan T. Nolan, Lee Considered (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1991), p. 36; Paul D. Escott, After Secession: Jefferson Davis and the Failure of Confederate Nationalism, (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1978), pp. 31–4.

84. Johnson, Patriarchal Republic, p. 155.

85. See above, pp. 25–6.

86. Parish, American Civil War, pp. 211–13; Johnson, Patriarchal Republic, pp. 135–6; W. R. Brock, Conflict and Transformation: The United States, 1844–1877 (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1973, 1978), p. 228; Randall and Donald, Civil War and Reconstruction, pp. 244–6.

87. Davis to Varina Davis, 20 Feb. 1861. Jefferson Davis, Private Letters, 1823–1891, ed. Hudson Strode (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1966), p. 123; William C. Davis, Jefferson Davis: The Man and his Hour (New York: HarperCollins, 1991), p. 305.

88. Davis to Pierce, 20 Jan. 1861; Davis, Private Letters, p. 122; Davis, Jefferson Davis, pp. 303–4.

89. William W. Freehling, The Road to Disunion: Secessionists at Bay (New York: Oxford UP, 1990), p. 7.

90. William C. Davis, Jefferson Davis, pp. 307–10; ‘Inaugural Address’, in Jefferson Davis, Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (London: Longmans Green, 1881) I. pp. 232–6.

91. See David Donald, Lincoln Reconsidered, 2nd enlarged edn (New York: Vintage, 1989), pp. 3–4, 112. On Washington’s nervous state, see Potter, Lincoln and his Party, pp. 254–5, 256–7, 266, 280.

92. Baringer, A House Dividing, pp. 294–304.

93. William H. Seward, ‘Suggestions for a Closing Paragraph’, Robert Todd Lincoln Collection of the Papers of Abraham Lincoln, Library of Congress, Washington DC; The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, ed. Roy P. Basier (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 1953), IV, pp. 261–2n99.

94. Johannsen, Douglas, p. 843.

95. Lincoln, Collected Works, IV, ‘First Inaugural Address – Final Text’, pp. 262–3, 264, 269–70.

96. Ibid., pp. 264–5; Kenneth M. Stampp, The Imperiled Union: Essays on the Background of the Civil War (New York: Oxford UP, 1986), pp. 3–36.

97. Marginalia by A. Lincoln, Draft of First Inaugural Address, Lincoln Papers.

98. Lincoln. Collected Works, TV, pp. 265–6.

99. Ibid., FY, p. 266.

100. Benjamin P. Thomas, Abraham Lincoln (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1953), p. 160.

101. As Lincoln observed at the beginning of the Address, Lincoln, Collected Works, TV, pp. 262–3.

102. Ibid., IV, pp. 266–7.

103. Ibid., IV, p. 270.

104. Ibid., IV, pp. 270–1

105. Ibid., IV, pp. 271.

106. Adams, Autobiography, p. 98.

107. Lincoln, Collected Works, IV, p. 269.

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