Lincoln signals determination to preserve the Union

President Lincoln and other Northern political leaders watched events unfold in the South with considerable concern. After all, the Confederate states had gone about the process of creating a recognizable nation for themselves in energetic fashion, and Federal authority in those states was diminishing quickly. Post offices, courts, military posts, customs offices, financial institutions, and other Federal offices were taken over by state troops loyal to the Confederacy in villages and cities across the Deep South. With each passing day, Confederate leaders worked to erase all signs of their previous membership in the Union. By the time Lincoln took office in March 1861, the only four military institutions located on secessionist soil that were still under Union control were three forts along the Florida coastline and a lone fort, called Fort Sumter, located in Charleston Bay in South Carolina.

Despite these developments, however, Lincoln adopted a reasonable tone in his March 4 inaugural address. He made it clear that he was determined to preserve the Union, stating that "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 of the states." But he also declared that he had no wish to go to war against his countrymen. "There needs to be no bloodshed or violence, and there shall be none unless it be forced upon the national authority," he proclaimed. "In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow-countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The Government will not assail [attack] you. You can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors." Lincoln then concluded his address with an appeal for reconciliation, saying that "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."

Lincoln's speech reflected his belief that there was still a chance to preserve the Union without resorting to warfare, provided that he did not offend the eight other slaveholding states in the Mid- and Upper South that remained undecided about whether to stay in the Union or join the Confeder

Fort Sumter, near Charleston, South Carolina. (Illustration by XNR Productions. Reproduced by permission of The Gale Croup.)

acy. He also knew that some people in the Confederate states remained doubtful of the wisdom of secession, and he thought that the rebels might eventually return to the Union of their own free will. As a result, he did his best to avoid violent confrontation with the rebel states throughout his first month in office in hopes of keeping Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, and other Mid-South states from bolting from the already tattered Union.

On April 12, 1861, though, Lincoln's hopes of restoring the Union

Lincoln Preserving The Union
Major Robert Anderson. (Photograph by George Cook. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.)

without bloodshed were shattered. It was on that night that South Carolina troops launched an artillery assault on the Union garrison at Fort Sumter, and the awful civil war that had threatened to envelop the United States for years and years finally began.

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