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

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Looking back at Lincoln: On March 15, 1861

On this day in 1861, Lincoln wrote a letter to each member of his cabinet - his 'team of rivals' - asking each man whether or not he would supply Fort Sumter, and why.

He asked for their replies in writing.

The annotations at the end of this letter to Secretary of State William Seward provide a snippet from each response. All of these letters and annotations can be found in the Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln. Volume 4 (the University of Michigan has posted the entire library online.)

Executive Mansion
March 15. 1861

To William H. Seward [1]
The Hon. Secretary of State
My dear Sir

Assuming it to be possible to now provision Fort-Sumpter, under all the circumstances, is it wise to attempt it?

Please give me your opinion, in writing, on this question.

Your Obt. Servt. A. LINCOLN.


[1] ALS copy, DLC-RTL. This letter, copied by Nicolay and signed by Lincoln, was sent to each member of the cabinet. The several copies which have been located are: to Bates, IHi; to Blair, DLC-Blair Collection; to Seward, NAuE; to Smith, MH; to Welles, A. Conger Goodyear, New York City. The lengthy replies in the Lincoln Papers are abridged as follows:

(1) (Secretary of State William) Seward, March 15--- "If it were possible to peacefully provision Fort Sumter, of course I should answer, that it would be both unwise and inhuman not to attempt it. But the facts of the case are known to be, that the attempt must be made with the employment of military and marine force, which would provoke combat, and probably initiate a civil war. . . . I would not provoke war in any way now. . . . ''

(2) (Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P.) Chase, March 16--- ". . . . If the attempt will so inflame civil war as to involve an immediate necessity for the enlistment of armies . . . I cannot advise it. . . . But it seems to me highly improbable that the attempt . . . will produce such consequences. . . . I return, therefore, an affirmative answer. . . . ''

(3) (Secretary of War Simon) Cameron, March 16--- " . . . it would be unwise now to make such an attempt. . . . I am greatly influenced by the opinions of the Army officers who have expressed themselves on the subject, and who seem to concur that it is, perhaps, now impossible to succor that fort, substantially, if at all. . . . All the officers within Fort Sumter, together with Generals Scott and Totten, express this opinion. . . . ''

(4) (Secretary of the Navy Gideon) Welles, March 15--- "The question has two aspects, one military, the other political. The military gentlemen . . . represent that it would be unwise . . . and I am not disposed to controvert their opinions. . . . In a political view, I entertain doubts of the wisdom of the measure. . . . I do not . . . think it wise. . . . ''

(5) (Secretary of the Interior Caleb B.) Smith, March 16--- "After a careful consideration of the opinions of Gens. Scott and Totten, and also those of Commodore String[h]am and Mr. Fox . . . I have arrived at the conclusion that the probabilities are in favor of the success of the proposed enterprise, so far as to secure the landing of the vessels at the Fort, but . . . . it would not be wise under all the circumstances. . . . ''

(6) (Postmaster General Montgomery) Blair, March 15--- ". . . I submit the following considerations in favor of provisioning that Fort. The ambitious leaders of the late Democratic party have availed themselves . . . to found a Military Government in the Seceding States. To the connivance of the late administration it is due alone that this Rebellion has been enabled to attain its present proportions. . . . I . . . agree that we must look to the people in these States for the overthrow of this rebellion. . . . How is this to be carried into effect? That it is by measures which will inspire respect for the power of the Government and the firmness of those who administer it does not admit of debate. . . . The evacuation of Fort Sumpter . . . will convince
So here is the breakout of the responses:

Seward: Nay
Chase: Aye
Cameron: Nay
Welles: Nay
Smith: Aye
Blair: Aye

History shows that Lincoln eventually decided to re-supply the Fort, the Confederates opened fire on Sumter... and the war began.

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