Home >> Encyclopedia Americana, Volume 27 >> 1 The War With to 35 The Political Events >> 35 the Political Events_P1

35 the Political Events of the Civil War

union, slavery, lincoln, national, party, government, south and secession

Page: 1 2 3 4 5 6

35. THE POLITICAL EVENTS OF THE CIVIL WAR. The Civil War in Amer ica began by the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter, 12 April 1861. The secession move ment had begun upon Lincoln's election; war had become inevitable at the time of his inaugu ration. Two authorities — two sovereignties were claiming independent jurisdiction over the same area, and, after that, it was only a ques tion of time when these would meet in armed conflict. All effort at further compromise had failed. The time for saving the Union by con ciliation and concession had passed. The United States government had now to decide either to recognize the Southern Confederacy as an independent power in its own limits, or to vindicate the national authority by force of arms. There was no longer any middle ground.

The issue upon which Lincoln had been elected was the restriction of slavery to the area of the slave States. The first purpose of the new President upon coming into power was to restrict the area not of slavery but of seces sion. There were still thousands of Union men. especially in the border States and among Mr Lincoln's party opponents in the North, to whom °coercion? was odious; who thought that military force as a means of holding the States together was not only useless but pernicious; who believed, or professed to be lieve, that the national authority could never be successfully asserted by the bayonet and the sword against such a formidable revolution as that represented by the confederated slave States; that compromise and conciliation were still the only hope of holding the border States; that the Union, now destroyed because of aboli tion fanaticism and folly, could be restored only by dividing public opinion in the South, and by waiting until Southern men could be induced to accept Federal appointments and until the civil machinery of the Federal gov ernment could again be put in motion in the Southern States. Lincoln recognized this body of conservative Union opinion, and whatever of genuine loyalty to the national cause there was in it he wished not to antagonize. He would bring every possible man, every ounce of opinion, to oppose secession. He would, if possible, unite the North, divide the South and save the border States. For this reason Mr. Lincoln's inaugural address was quite concilia tory in its attitude toward slavery and the South. The platform of his party committed him both to °the preservation of the Union and the maintenance of the right of each State to order and control its own domestic institutions according to its own judgment exclusively" In his inaugural'address Lincoln reiterated this sentiment of his party platform, and, quoting one of his former speeches, he declared, °I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to inter fere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful

right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so." In this address Lincoln took no positive anti slavery stand. He spoke in favor of the return of the fugitive slave, and he in no way urged the cause — the non-extension of slavery for which he had been elected. In this Lincoln merely recognized, as any statesman should have done, that the paramount issue confront ing the nation had changed since his election in November. Then it had been the extension of slavery; now it was the preservation of the Union, the unity and integrity of the nation itself. Therefore, on 4 March 1861, Lincoln stood ready, for the sake of avoiding war and disunion, to subordinate, so far as it was mor ally possible, his own and his party's anti-slav ery purposes. He would not surrender the principle for which he had been called into power and his party into being. But he de clared his willingness to accept an irrevocable amendment to the Constitution prohibiting the national government from ever interfering with slavery in the slave States; and he assured the people of the South that they would not be assailed, and that they could have no conflict unless they themselves became the aggressors. But the President declared that, despite the ordinances of secession, he regarded the Union as unbroken, and that, as the Constitution and his oath of office bound him to do, he would faithfully the laws of the Union in all the States"; and this he would continue to do unless, and until, his °rightful masters, the American people, shall withhold the requisite means or in some authoritative manner direct the contrary." °The power confided to me,° he said, °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 any where.° Here was clearly drawn the political issue of the Civil War—national unity and the en forcement of the national auttiority against dis union and the right of secession. It was not possible for the national authority to recognize this issue — its own right to exist — as within the field of negotiation, and the attempt of the Confederate government to secure recognition by opening diplomatic relations at Washington was repelled.

Page: 1 2 3 4 5 6