What should Lincoln better have done in 1861

Piedone

Sergeant
Joined
Oct 8, 2020
Please excuse me for once again flooding the forum with another question -

yet there is a highly interesting debate going on about “what was in Lincoln’s - why couldn’t he just let the South secede” from which I really have learned a lot now - but as always (sigh)... this led me to just another question:

Could or should Lincoln have acted differently during his first weeks in office.
Had he a chance to avoid the war?
What would have been the best way for him to handle the emerging crisis?
 

wausaubob

Colonel
Joined
Apr 4, 2017
Location
Denver, CO
Seward did meet with them unofficially. Seward can be blamed for thinking he would get Lincoln to change his mind on some things and misleading the Southern commissioners -- but the Southern commissioners were also misleading Seward, more than happy to let him think things they knew would never happen. Neither side is really clean and honest in this.

In April, Lincoln pulled Seward up short, letting him know that the President was the boss, not the Secretary of State. Seward started backing away from the commissioners about April 5th and had ended his private discussions by April 8th.

Davis had set this up knowing that the US could not accept the papers he sent. He did something similar when he sent the commissioners to the 1865 Peace Conference -- giving them instructions that essentially prevented a deal from happening.
Right. And it worked in 1861. See, we are negotiating, they could say. But it didn't work in 1865. News that the commissioners had gone through the lines spread quickly. Both sides could start thinking about actually surviving until the end of the war.
 

Piedone

Sergeant
Joined
Oct 8, 2020
In my opinion if the south had not rebelled our system of government would have allowed the slave holding states to block any emancipation efforts for many years. We may have had slaver in America all the way until the early 1900s...or even later. That would have been much worse than war and made a mockery of our Declaration of Independence.
Please excuse my belated answer -
and please do not misinterprete me as championing secession...
but wasn´t exactly this the result of the Civil War?

Emancipation efforts were profoundly blocked at places even far into the 1960´s....
And even if slavery ceased to exist the situation many blacks found themselves living in after the war differed only gradually from their prewar-life....

And the way it all happened... well... it produced the situation that the South´s economy was utterly ruined - dooming much of the region to poverty for years to come....

Hence I asked the original question...

I deem modernization by military force will often produce sometimes extreme and unintended repercussions...
 

Piedone

Sergeant
Joined
Oct 8, 2020
LIncoln probably wanted the shooting to start so he could call for militia regiments and protect the capital. Any other comments were political moves to important constituencies.
Hm...why are you so sure about that...I mean...I always got the impression that Lincoln got utterly depressed from the outbreak of the war...

Doesn´t this paint the picture of a coldhearted power-politician who used every means to reach a goal - which I deem hardly corresponding to Lincoln´s character?
 

JerryD

Private
Joined
Aug 23, 2021
Absolutely -
but - please excuse me - that is not my point.
I am wondering if (theoretically) there would have been a chance to steer clear of all of that.
I honestly don't think so. Southern leaders simply lost their minds and made deranged decisions that looked to either war or independence as the only acceptable outcomes, despite the fact that Lincoln and Congress could not legally touch slavery in the slave states and the Supreme Court in 1861 had a decided pro-slavery tilt. Secession was a hugely stupid idea and southern leaders were enthralled by it.
 

JerryD

Private
Joined
Aug 23, 2021
Right. And it worked in 1861. See, we are negotiating, they could say. But it didn't work in 1865. News that the commissioners had gone through the lines spread quickly. Both sides could start thinking about actually surviving until the end of the war.
I always thought one of the reasons Lincoln decided to meet with the commissioners in 1865 was to undermine Confederate morale. At the point the discussion could only be about surrender, unless you were truly delusional like Jefferson Davis. So if the cause was lost anyway, why stay in the army and put your life at risk? He knew the meeting would become public knowledge, and while Davis tried to use the result of the conference to whip up morale, I think it had the opposite effect on those who were thinking rationally.
 

wausaubob

Colonel
Joined
Apr 4, 2017
Location
Denver, CO
I always thought one of the reasons Lincoln decided to meet with the commissioners in 1865 was to undermine Confederate morale. At the point the discussion could only be about surrender, unless you were truly delusional like Jefferson Davis. So if the cause was lost anyway, why stay in the army and put your life at risk? He knew the meeting would become public knowledge, and while Davis tried to use the result of the conference to whip up morale, I think it had the opposite effect on those who were thinking rationally.
On the US side, why should the soldiers think about fighting if the President isn't even willing to come to City Point and speak with the commissioners? Grant and the higher officers fairly quickly knew the terms offered were: reunion, abolition, and no retribution against Confederates in uniform. The rest of the army most likely knew that, fairly quickly.
On the Confederate side, the prospect of the last battle of the war arose. The situation was similar to November 1863. Every man that Lincoln could encourage to quit and go home, before the lines were broken was one less rifle the Army of the Potomac had to deal with.
 

wausaubob

Colonel
Joined
Apr 4, 2017
Location
Denver, CO
I honestly don't think so. Southern leaders simply lost their minds and made deranged decisions that looked to either war or independence as the only acceptable outcomes, despite the fact that Lincoln and Congress could not legally touch slavery in the slave states and the Supreme Court in 1861 had a decided pro-slavery tilt. Secession was a hugely stupid idea and southern leaders were enthralled by it.
The US was going to outgrow slavery, but it was going to take awhile. But 1861 was the last chance for secession.
The US economy was recovering very quickly. The growth area of the US at that time was Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas and Nebraska, but especially Missouri. There was already a Republican minority in Missouri. And in a few years even more internal and international immigrants were going to register and become Republicans or Douglas Democrats. So in just 3 or 4 years, the Midwest would have become like an entire new adversary. The telegraph would have been connected to California and the railroad would have been extended far out into Indian country. In California, the ox cart road to Nevada would have been completed and the railroad would have followed, one gradient at a time.
By 1855 time was running against the secessionists. The railroad across Panama was complete, which made travel to California immensely safer, and demonstrated that with enough men, the US railroad industry could build a railroad anywhere. The Soo Locks were operating, and the Michigan iron ore could be delivered by ship to any place on the Great Lakes. The railroad industry had bridged the Mississippi River. The bridge had burned down, and then was repaired. If the Mississippi could be bridged, it was nearly certain a similar location could be found on the Missouri.
The secessionists had been plotting for months to disperse the US navy, and to locate artillery in places like Norfolk, where the secessionists could pick them up.
The Republican administration was new and was unprepared. That was never going to happen again.
They thought they were ready in 1860. They thought they were so ready that the US would conceded without fighting. They grossly under estimated the power of the economy and the rate of growth of the population in the northern states.
 
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wausaubob

Colonel
Joined
Apr 4, 2017
Location
Denver, CO
I honestly don't think so. Southern leaders simply lost their minds and made deranged decisions that looked to either war or independence as the only acceptable outcomes, despite the fact that Lincoln and Congress could not legally touch slavery in the slave states and the Supreme Court in 1861 had a decided pro-slavery tilt. Secession was a hugely stupid idea and southern leaders were enthralled by it.
The war was necessary. There was no rational way to explain to the secessionist alliance how fast the US was growing, and how fragile US tolerance for race based slavery had become. They had to experience it.
 
Joined
Jun 7, 2021
I honestly don't think so. Southern leaders simply lost their minds and made deranged decisions that looked to either war or independence as the only acceptable outcomes, despite the fact that Lincoln and Congress could not legally touch slavery in the slave states and the Supreme Court in 1861 had a decided pro-slavery tilt. Secession was a hugely stupid idea and southern leaders were enthralled by it.
Pre war Southern society was first and foremost obsessed with preserving "Honor," not figuring out an equitable solution to any problem. This led to a lot of deranged decisions. I have a diary of a Southern woman that records how, just before the war, her brother, in making an off hand comment to a friend one evening, intended as a joke, is challenged by this same friend to a duel. The brother does not want to duel with his friend and wants to apologize in some way.

He and his sister, however, both conclude that any apology or refusal to fight would result in the brother losing all "honor" and he would be socially ruined for the rest of his life . She advises him that she would "see him dead, rather than dishonored." The brother is killed, but the bizarre part (for me) was the two families continued to be friends and socialize together. The duel was seen by all parties as unavoidable.

I sometimes think in a lot of speculation today about the CW, we don't consider enough how society's norms at that time shaped the responses. This is what Lincoln, and the whole North, had to deal with.
 

Jantzen64

Corporal
Joined
Aug 10, 2019
Pre war Southern society was first and foremost obsessed with preserving "Honor," not figuring out an equitable solution to any problem. This led to a lot of deranged decisions. I have a diary of a Southern woman that records how, just before the war, her brother, in making an off hand comment to a friend one evening, intended as a joke, is challenged by this same friend to a duel. The brother does not want to duel with his friend and wants to apologize in some way.

He and his sister, however, both conclude that any apology or refusal to fight would result in the brother losing all "honor" and he would be socially ruined for the rest of his life . She advises him that she would "see him dead, rather than dishonored." The brother is killed, but the bizarre part (for me) was the two families continued to be friends and socialize together. The duel was seen by all parties as unavoidable.

I sometimes think in a lot of speculation today about the CW, we don't consider enough how society's norms at that time shaped the responses. This is what Lincoln, and the whole North, had to deal with.
Very interesting, RR. In studying various speeches and news editorials during the secession crisis, that seems to be a common theme/refrain of many writers - i.e., that Lincoln/the North/the "Black Republicans" were somehow violating/challenging the South's honor. Candidly, I've never studied or considered how "real" this sense of honor was - as opposed to a convenient political talking point. Partly, I suppose, because I struggle to see what Lincoln and the Republicans had done to violate anyone's honor - except of course win an election. Has your study of the diary you reference led you to look further into this facet of the culture?
 
Joined
Jun 7, 2021
Very interesting, RR. In studying various speeches and news editorials during the secession crisis, that seems to be a common theme/refrain of many writers - i.e., that Lincoln/the North/the "Black Republicans" were somehow violating/challenging the South's honor. Candidly, I've never studied or considered how "real" this sense of honor was - as opposed to a convenient political talking point. Partly, I suppose, because I struggle to see what Lincoln and the Republicans had done to violate anyone's honor - except of course win an election. Has your study of the diary you reference led you to look further into this facet of the culture?
I grew up in a Southern culture and my first eye opening experience exploring that was a Sociology class taught by a "Yankee" professor. In my personal experience the whole "honor" code was a real thing. The whole living like "Cavaliers" was a real thing. Manners and "breeding" and who your ancestors were was more important than education or wealth in terms of social standing. Being too ambitious and trying to get ahead of everyone else was a major social faux pas. If you were ambitious it was important to hide that behind an "aw shucks" demeanor. Getting an advanced degree was often seen as a suspected effort to avoid real work. And I don't even want to go into the attitude toward Blacks. Then I got married and moved North and experienced major culture shock. This was in the 1950s and 60s and I have no idea what the current culture in the South is teaching children.

But to the point of this thread, in your studies of speeches and news editorials at the time of the CW, I would urge you to take very seriously how real the importance of honor was to the South.
 

Piedone

Sergeant
Joined
Oct 8, 2020
I grew up in a Southern culture and my first eye opening experience exploring that was a Sociology class taught by a "Yankee" professor. In my personal experience the whole "honor" code was a real thing. The whole living like "Cavaliers" was a real thing. Manners and "breeding" and who your ancestors were was more important than education or wealth in terms of social standing. Being too ambitious and trying to get ahead of everyone else was a major social faux pas. If you were ambitious it was important to hide that behind an "aw shucks" demeanor. Getting an advanced degree was often seen as a suspected effort to avoid real work. And I don't even want to go into the attitude toward Blacks. Then I got married and moved North and experienced major culture shock. This was in the 1950s and 60s and I have no idea what the current culture in the South is teaching children.

But to the point of this thread, in your studies of speeches and news editorials at the time of the CW, I would urge you to take very seriously how real the importance of honor was to the South.
May I ask if you maybe also read Wyatt-Brown´s book "Honor in the South"? I would be highly interested if you could comment on it as I am planning to buy and read it next - but am somehow unsure if it is depicting the (highly interesting) topic correctly...
 
Joined
Jun 7, 2021
May I ask if you maybe also read Wyatt-Brown´s book "Honor in the South"? I would be highly interested if you could comment on it as I am planning to buy and read it next - but am somehow unsure if it is depicting the (highly interesting) topic correctly...
I have not read that. My retirement reading list is growing though and it sounds like a book that should be added to the list 👍
 

jcaesar

Private
Joined
Aug 28, 2020
Pre war Southern society was first and foremost obsessed with preserving "Honor," not figuring out an equitable solution to any problem. This led to a lot of deranged decisions. I have a diary of a Southern woman that records how, just before the war, her brother, in making an off hand comment to a friend one evening, intended as a joke, is challenged by this same friend to a duel. The brother does not want to duel with his friend and wants to apologize in some way.

He and his sister, however, both conclude that any apology or refusal to fight would result in the brother losing all "honor" and he would be socially ruined for the rest of his life . She advises him that she would "see him dead, rather than dishonored." The brother is killed, but the bizarre part (for me) was the two families continued to be friends and socialize together. The duel was seen by all parties as unavoidable.

I sometimes think in a lot of speculation today about the CW, we don't consider enough how society's norms at that time shaped the responses. This is what Lincoln, and the whole North, had to deal with.

Each year at Virginia colleges minor slights were taken as attacks on ones honor and led to non-stop dueling. Jefferson tried to put a stop to it by having the roads of Virginia full of gibbeted corpses of the victors, but his bill was nixed. At a regional level I would say the Cotton States did see themselves as calling out the North for dishonoring them in duel like fashion which set in motion a set of events that dragged everyone else in.

In 1779, as part of a package of reforms, Virginia Gov. Thomas Jefferson proposed new penalties for dueling, which had become a favorite pastime of the students at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg. "Whosoever committeth murder by way of duel," the proposed law read, "shall suffer death by hanging; and if he were the challenger, his body, after death, shall be gibbeted."

Gibbeting has fallen out of favor in our time (thank goodness), so Alan Taylor reminds us of what the term once meant. The gibbeted body of an executed criminal, he writes in "Thomas Jefferson's Education," would be "displayed to rot in an elevated cage as a grim example to deter others." It was a treatment "reserved for the vilest criminals" and thus, as a punishment for students from old and distinguished families, "far too much for Virginia's gentlemen to consider for their dueling sons." Virginia's legislators rejected the proposal. Dueling at William & Mary, to the dismay of the reform's sponsor, continued more or less apace.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/thomas...iew-the-dream-of-a-better-society-11569596940
 

OpnCoronet

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Feb 23, 2010
In Lincoln's First Inaugural Address, his policy is carefully laid out and IMO rigidly adhered to, as much as he allowed to.

The message seems to me to be matter of fact and entirely a matter of facts, including what he could not do and what he was willing to do to achieve a reconciliation. However at the end, although the last paragraph is eloquently for reconcilement, the preceding paragraph is quite blunt.
 

NedBaldwin

Major
Joined
Feb 19, 2011
Location
California
Could Lincoln have prosecuted Jeff Davis for treason before starting hostilities?
A prosecution would be expected to be conducted within the court district within which the crime occurred.
In early 1861, the crimes that were occurring were happening within states where Lincoln could not have got a case started
which is why the Militia Act became a recourse -- it speaks of situations that could not "be suppressed by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings".

Maybe if Judge George Washington Lane (nominated by Lincoln March 26, 1861 and approved by the Senate two days later) had been able to take his seat as the new federal judge in US district court of Alabama, there could have been a venue for a case, but was unlikely.
 

Zack

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Joined
Aug 20, 2017
Location
Los Angeles, California
I think by March 1861 (the point at which Lincoln had real power) the only way to alleviate the crisis would have been to cede every demand made by the South. Namely, enshrine slavery in the Constitution, including the ability for it to extend into the territories (the lack of which promise is what doomed the Corwin Amendment), and furthermore openly abandon the Republican platform.

So then the question becomes, how much sacrifice is peace worth? Where does one draw the line? And in that, we see the exact problem that Lincoln was wrestling with, and we know where he drew the line.

This isn't the Civil War, but I hope it will be permitted as I think it is relevant to this discussion. It is an excerpt from a New Yorker article by Adam Gopnik regarding the lessons of the 20th Century: "The last century, through its great cataclysms, offers two clear, ringing, and, unfortunately, contradictory lessons.....The First teaches us never to rush into a fight, the Second never to back down from a bully."

This is the same debate Lincoln faced. He didn't want to rush the nation into a deadly civil war, but he didn't want to back down from bullying Southerners believing they were exempt from the democratic process.

So maybe the answer to the question is "he should have called up more troops faster, not turned down volunteers, etc."
 
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