Lincoln and the Coming of the Civil War
This year is the one hundred fiftieth anniversary of Lincoln’s election. This election had a huge impact on the nation. Seven Southern states had already seceded before Lincoln was elected in April 1860 but once he was in office three more states would secede and Fort Sumter was fired upon. What steps could Lincoln have taken in order to avoid the war? Were Lincoln’s attempts to stop the secession of the South enough or could he have done more. These are all questions that surround the new president and the whole era. I will answer these questions in the following essay.
What steps could Lincoln have taken in order to avoid the war? Where Lincoln’s attempts to stop the secession of the South enough or could he have done more? First you must know the steps that Lincoln took in the first place. The first thing Lincoln did was to ensure the Southern states that he would not invade them. Lincoln said in his inaugural address ” You can have no conflict, without being yourselves the aggressors.” Lincoln knew that the Constitution was the absolute law for the country. Lincoln said that the South had two choices “They can exercise their constitutional right of amending it or, their revolutionary right to dismember, or overthrow it.” Lincoln to avoid secession would even accept an amendment legalizing slavery in states were it was already established.
Another step he took to avoid secession was to use “words of affection” to draw the erring children (the seceded Southern states) back into the Union. In his inaugural address Lincoln told the South “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 battle-field, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearth- stone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union…”. These were Lincoln’s words of comfort but according to Eyewitness to The Civil War by Kagan Hyslop what Lincoln was really getting at when he said this was not what most people think. Lincoln said this to influence the Northern public to blame secessionists and to start a war on them. I do not think Hyslop’s interpretation of Lincoln’s speech is correct. I don’t think that Lincoln was looking to provoke anyone to war. He wanted to save lives and keep people in the Union rather then to send them away and pit brother on brother in a Civil War. I don’t think Lincoln wanted to start a war I think that he wanted to do whatever he could to keep the Union together. If that including freeing all the slaves he would, but if it also meant leaving all the slaves in their current status he would do that too if it meant saving the Union.
The next step Lincoln that took to avoid Civil war was not so effective as the others were. This next thing Lincoln did was resupply but not reinforce the garrison at Fort Sumter. Lincoln told Pickens the Federal fleet would bring “Provisions only” to the fort there would be “No effort to throw in men, arms, or ammunition.”. When Governor Charles Pickens of South Carolina heard about the supply mission he went to President Davis right away. Davis met with his cabinet in the first Confederate capitol Montgomery Alabama on April 9th to decide whether or not to seize the fort. Davis knew that if the Confederates fired first Lincoln and the whole North would blame them for it. Davis also knew that the South Carolinians would fire on the fort with or without his orders. Louis T. Wigfall of Texas wrote to Jefferson Davis ” No one doubts that Lincoln intends war” “Let us take Fort Sumter before we have to fight the fleet and the fort.” Lincoln despite all of these things went ahead with the resupply mission. The U.S.S Star of the West was ordered to carry the supplies along with some naval frigates to the fort. The ships never made it to the fort because of the bombardment but the fact that they were sent sparked the proverbial fire known as the Civil War.
Up to April 12h 1860 only seven states had seceded. In the next three months four more states seceded. After all the states seceded the Civil War officially began. Were there things Lincoln could have done to stop this? Yes and no. The no part of the answer is this; everything that has happened in history was and is part of God’s plan and was predetermined before the beginning of time. Everything that happened had a purpose in God’s plan and cannot be changed. Then there is the yes part of the answer. In my opinion I think more legislation could have gone a long way. Yes, there had already been twenty years of compromises and collisions in the Senate but the only way to work something out in a civilized manner is to talk and debate. That is exactly what they do in the senate and that is exactly what Lincoln should have tried harder to do with the Southern Senators. He should have pushed harder for new legislation. Like I mentioned before Lincoln was open to new legislation that would have kept the Union together longer, but in all the uproar no one was willing to sit down and do so as civilized men do discuss it. The Southerners believed their honor had been injured and would not talk anymore.
Because men of the South lived and died for the sake of their honor. Men of the South would live, die, risk property and money all for the sake of their sacred honor. Honor to Southern men was just as important as oxygen is to humans and light is to plants for their growth and nutrition. In the mind of men in this era the only way to retrieve your honor is to either duel or have a war. There were many duels and fights over injured honor in the history of the Senate but the worst thing was the Sumner-Brooks incident. Charles Sumner was giving his ‘Crime Against Kansas’ speech in which he said that Butler, Douglass, and other supporters of the Kansas-Nebraska Act were trying to push Kansas into the “Hateful embrace of slavery.” Sumner also said in his speech that those men were responsible for the “Rape of a virgin territory [Kansas]” Sumner also said that they were raising themselves “To eminence on the floor in championship of human wrongs”. This made Senator Brooks absolutely livid. Brooks thought that Sumner had personally attacked his state (South Carolina) and his kinsman Butler also of South Carolina when Sumner said it would be no great loss to civilization if “South Carolina were blotted out of existence”. So the now very angry Senator Brooks beat Senator Sumner over the head and body. This is just one instance where in someone violently defended their Southern pride and honor.
The gentry of the South felt that their honor had been greatly damaged by Lincoln’s stance on Slavery. They in the South believed that since Lincoln had taken such a derogatory stand though not openly on their peculiar institution he had personally attacked every single slave owner. Which Lincoln did not nor did he ever seek to do that because he believed that they were all country men and he did not want to give them another reason to fight The only time he did take away personal property was when he issued the Emancipation Proclamation. That is one instance where Lincoln did seek to take away the personal property of the slave holders, but only in the areas where the army was in control.
All these steps that Lincoln took helped in their own way, but they also caused trouble. Like what he did to help Fort Sumter actually brought the war on quicker. Nothing that Lincoln did in my mind actually stopped the war from coming. Obviously since the war lasted for four bloody, tragic, horrible war between brothers, fathers, sons, and cousins. An uncivil, familial war that costed the lives of more than six hundred thousand men and boys. It was a war that strengthened America though. We would have been conquered so easily by nations like Germany and Japan had the war not been fought . As Lincoln quoted in his speech in Springfield Illinois in June 1858 “A house divided cannot stand” which is a direct quote from Matthew 12:25 But Jesus knew their thoughts, and said to them: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand”. I think Lincoln knew that if the Union was not a complete one then everything that the founding fathers had striven so hard to establish would be destroyed. If this democracy failed then the rest of the world would see that everything we believe in is wrong and won’t work. Lincoln did everything he could to keep the Union together when he realized that it wouldn’t stay together by meer reasoning and talking he knew that a war was inevitable. So I think that Lincoln did all in his power to prevent the Civil War. Humans are humans and do not always make the right choices, but Lincoln used all of his abilities to do what he did, and he pulled our nation through possibly the hardest time in history. Thank the Lord Almighty for giving us here in America a president who saw and knew that our nation under God is indivisible with life, liberty and justice for all!