Let every American, every lover of liberty, every well wisher to his posterity, swear by the blood of the Revolution, never to violate in the least particular, the laws of the country; and never to tolerate their violation by others.

As the patriots of seventy-six did to the support of the Declaration of Independence, so to the support of the Constitution and Laws, let every American pledge his life, his property, and his sacred honor; let every man remember that to violate the law, is to trample on the blood of his father, and to tear the charter of his own, and his children's liberty.

Let reverence for the laws, be breathed by every American mother, to the lisping babe, that prattles on her lap; let it be taught in schools, in seminaries, and in colleges; let it be written in Primers, spelling books, and in Almanacs; let it be preached from the pulpit, proclaimed in legislative halls, and enforced in courts of justice. And, in short, let it become the political religion of the nation; and Let the old and the young, the rich and the poor, the grave and the gay, of all sexes and tongues, and colors and conditions, sacrifice unceasingly upon its altars.

While ever a state of feeling, such as this, shall universally, or even, very generally prevail throughout the nation, vain will be every effort, and fruitless every attempt, to subvert our national freedom.

- Abraham Lincoln, January 27, 1838
  Address Before the Young Men's Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois

Monday, March 09, 2009

Looking back at Lincoln: On March 9, 1861

On this day in 1861, and shortly after he took office, Lincoln wrote the following letter to then General in Chief Winfield Scott to address the tricky issue of supplying Fort Sumter. The attack on Fort Sumter by the Confederacy on April 9, of 1861 - a month to the day after the writing of this letter - was purportedly triggered by Lincoln's attempt to resupply Major Robert Anderson (Sumter's commanding officer) after attempts to negotiate with the Confederacy failed.

The firing on Fort Sumter - and its eventual surrender - is considered the opening salvo of the Civil War. There is actually a good writeup on the political maneuvering surrounding Sumter in Wikipedia:

Following the formation of the Confederacy in early February, there was some internal debate among the secessionists as to whether the capture of the fort was rightly a matter for the State of South Carolina or the newly declared national government in Montgomery, Alabama. South Carolina Governor Francis W. Pickens was among the states' rights advocates who felt that all of the property in Charleston harbor had reverted to South Carolina upon that state's secession as an independent commonwealth. This debate ran alongside another discussion as to how aggressively the properties—including Forts Sumter and Pickens—should be obtained. Jefferson Davis, like his counterpart in Washington, D.C., preferred that his side not be seen as the aggressor. Both sides believed that the first side to use force would lose precious political support in the border states, whose allegiance was undetermined; prior to Lincoln's inauguration on March 4, five states had voted against secession, including Virginia, and Lincoln openly offered to evacuate Fort Sumter if it would guarantee Virginia's loyalty. In March, Brig. Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard took command of South Carolina forces in Charleston; on March 1, Davis had appointed him the first general officer in the armed forces of the new Confederacy, specifically to take command of the siege. Beauregard made repeated demands that the Union force either surrender or withdraw and took steps to ensure that no supplies from the city were available to the defenders, whose food was running out. He also increased drills amongst the South Carolina militia, training them to operate the guns they manned. Ironically enough, Anderson had been Beauregard's artillery instructor at West Point; the two had been especially close, and Beauregard had become Anderson's assistant after graduation. Both sides spent the month of March drilling and improving their fortifications to the best of their abilities.

By April 4, President Lincoln, discovering that supplies in the fort were shorter than he had previously known, and believing a relief expedition to be feasible, ordered merchant vessels escorted by the United States Navy to Charleston. On April 6, 1861, Lincoln notified South Carolina Governor Francis W. Pickens that "an attempt will be made to supply Fort Sumter with provisions only, and that if such attempt be not resisted, no effort to throw in men, arms, or ammunition will be made without further notice, [except] in case of an attack on the fort."

In response, the Confederate cabinet, meeting in Montgomery, decided on April 9 to open fire on Fort Sumter in an attempt to force its surrender before the relief fleet arrived. Only Secretary of State Robert Toombs opposed this decision: he reportedly told Jefferson Davis the attack "will lose us every friend at the North. You will wantonly strike a hornet's nest. ... Legions now quiet will swarm out and sting us to death. It is unnecessary. It puts us in the wrong. It is fatal."

In this letter of March 9th, it is apparent that Lincoln was already working to resolve the Sumter issue in early March, with war looming on the horizon, and only days after taking office.

Lieutenant General Scott: Executive Mansion, March 9, 1861.

My dear Sir: On the 5th inst. I received from the Hon. Joseph Holt, the then faithful and vigilant Secretary of War, a letter of that date, inclosing a letter and accompanying documents received by him on the 4th inst. from Major Robert Anderson commanding at Fort Sumpter South Carolina; and copies of all which I now transmit. Immediately on the receipt of them by me, I transmitted the whole to you for your consideration; and the same day you returned the package to me with your opinion endorsed upon it, a copy of which opinion I now also transmit to you. Learning from you verbally that since then you have given the subject a more full and thorough consideration, you will much oblige me by giving answers, in writing, to the following interrogatories:

1st To what point of time can Major Anderson maintain his position at Fort Sumpter, without fresh supplies or reinforcement?

2d. Can you, with all the means now in your control, supply or re-inforce Fort Sumpter within that time?

3d If not, what amount of means and of what description, in addition to that already at your control, would enable you to supply and reinforce that fortress within the time?

Please answer these, adding such statements, information, and counsel as your great skill and experience may suggest.

Your obedient Servant A. LINCOLN.
After the war began, the elderly General in Chief Winfield Scott - known as "Old Fuss and Feathers" - struggled to maintain control over the already insubordinate General McClellan. He eventually resigned on November 1, 1861.

Ironically Scott was succeeded by McClellan; an arrangement that Lincoln came to regret (dealing with the chronically insubordinate McClellan then became his problem.)

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