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?
 

OpnCoronet

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Feb 23, 2010
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?
I think many, if not most posters have shown that Lincoln's choices in the first weeks of his administration concerning Secession itself were such that they were not choices at all, in the light of his interpretation of the Constitution and its administration Just as Davis would never consider the idea that the confederacy was not a free and independent country outside the authority of the U.S. Constitution; so Lincoln would never consider the proposition that the southern states were, or ever could be, out of the Union or the authority of their Constitution.

IMO the only relevant area where Lincoln had some degree of freedom of action, concerned the contest for the so-called Border States in general and Virginia in particular. In this I find some negative proof that Virginia's loss was beyond reasonable action by Lincoln, in the fact that Lincoln was universally successful in retaining the border slave states for the Union, except Virginia.(Lincoln mentions in his Address to Congress in Special Session, 4 July 1861, the singular fact that after Va., voted against secession, they stayed in session and a day or two later voted unanimously for secession
 

Piedone

Sergeant
Joined
Oct 8, 2020
the singular fact that after Va., voted against secession, they stayed in session and a day or two later voted unanimously for secession
Wasn‘t that somewhere explained in another thread in detail why this happened. I remember dimly having read something here in this forum. I will search and try to find it.....
 

trice

Colonel
Joined
May 2, 2006
Could Lincoln have prosecuted Jeff Davis for treason before starting hostilities?
The definition of Treason in the United States Constitution is generally considered to be the narrowest and most difficult to prove in court of any country in the world. The Founding Fathers deliberately made it that way (probably because they could have easily been convicted of Treason under British law). The US government has only rarely brought charges of Treason against anyone in more than 230 years of history.

It would have been extremely difficult to find grounds for a charge of Treason against Davis in early 1861. It might have been impossible, given the way the US court process works.

Once "the South" violently attacks Fort Sumter, things get simpler. Beyond the shadow of a doubt, the United States has been attacked. The more than 3,000 rounds of heavy artillery fire rained down on Major Anderson's post provided dramatic and definite proof. That allows President Lincoln to invoke the Insurrection Act of 1807 (only used three times before that, by Thomas Jefferson and twice by Andrew Jackson). Lincoln then uses the Militia Act to raise troops to fight the insurrection. From that point on, it is very clear that anyone fighting for or helping the insurrectionists (IOW, the Confederacy) has fulfilled the constitutional requirements for a charge of Treason. Davis would be one of those.
 

leftyhunter

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
May 27, 2011
Location
los angeles ca
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...
How was the South modernized by military force. Post 1865 the amount of federal troops in the South was miniscule. The white racist paramilitaries didn't even bother the few federal troops and visa versa for the most part. By 1876 the federal troops were gone.
Leftyhunter
 

OpnCoronet

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Feb 23, 2010
Wasn‘t that somewhere explained in another thread in detail why this happened. I remember dimly having read something here in this forum. I will search and try to find it.....
Perhaps, but at the time it could, and did to Lincoln and other Unionists I believe, appear as though Virginia's secession was a set deal. That not seceding was not what the convention was all about, i.e., there was nothing that Lincoln could say or do as President, that would have prevented the convention from seceding , one way or another.

P.S it was suspicious, IMO, that the convention stayed in session after voting not to secede, and adjourned immediately after voting for secession later.
 

Jantzen64

Corporal
Joined
Aug 10, 2019
Perhaps, but at the time it could, and did to Lincoln and other Unionists I believe, appear as though Virginia's secession was a set deal. That not seceding was not what the convention was all about, i.e., there was nothing that Lincoln could say or do as President, that would have prevented the convention from seceding , one way or another.

P.S it was suspicious, IMO, that the convention stayed in session after voting not to secede, and adjourned immediately after voting for secession later.
Just offering this thread as additional discussion on this point: https://civilwartalk.com/threads/why-did-virginia-secede.187848/
As was noted in that thread, the majority of the Virginia Secession convention switched from being against secession to being in favor of secession in the span of several weeks (April 4 to April 17). What happened in between was the firing on Fort Sumter, the seizing of various federal installations and Lincoln's call for troops. The posters on this thread (myself included) held a spirited debate about the reasons for that switch.
 

OpnCoronet

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Feb 23, 2010
Just offering this thread as additional discussion on this point: https://civilwartalk.com/threads/why-did-virginia-secede.187848/
As was noted in that thread, the majority of the Virginia Secession convention switched from being against secession to being in favor of secession in the span of several weeks (April 4 to April 17). What happened in between was the firing on Fort Sumter, the seizing of various federal installations and Lincoln's call for troops. The posters on this thread (myself included) held a spirited debate about the reasons for that switch.
Yes, all very historical, but at the time of Lincolns Address to Congress, on 4 July, all that was known was that the Va. secession convention did not adjourn for several weeks , after they fulfilled their obligations of voting up or down, the question of secession for Virginia, Not defending secession of other states Was it because, Secession was what they intended all along?

It seems to me that one can always find a reason to do what one wants or intends to do, and if that was true concerning the convention's decision I think we can conclude that Lincoln probably had no real options as to preventing the convention from doing what they were determined to do.
 

Jantzen64

Corporal
Joined
Aug 10, 2019
Yes, all very historical, but at the time of Lincolns Address to Congress, on 4 July, all that was known was that the Va. secession convention did not adjourn for several weeks , after they fulfilled their obligations of voting up or down, the question of secession for Virginia, Not defending secession of other states Was it because, Secession was what they intended all along?

It seems to me that one can always find a reason to do what one wants or intends to do, and if that was true concerning the convention's decision I think we can conclude that Lincoln probably had no real options as to preventing the convention from doing what they were determined to do.
I agree with your view, as I feel that the Va Secession Convention was set up in a way that put Lincoln between the proverbial "rock and a hard place" : if you try to enforce the laws in the Cotton States, we'll view that as coercion and we'll secede OR in the meantime, we'll give you time to agree to allow slavery in the territories, etc. and if you don't, we'll secede. Either way, secession was being held over Lincoln's head as a cudgel to force him to act in a certain way. I know that many folks disagree with that characterization, though, so was just flagging the thread.
 

OpnCoronet

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Feb 23, 2010
I agree with your view, as I feel that the Va Secession Convention was set up in a way that put Lincoln between the proverbial "rock and a hard place" : if you try to enforce the laws in the Cotton States, we'll view that as coercion and we'll secede OR in the meantime, we'll give you time to agree to allow slavery in the territories, etc. and if you don't, we'll secede. Either way, secession was being held over Lincoln's head as a cudgel to force him to act in a certain way. I know that many folks disagree with that characterization, though, so was just flagging the thread.
I think Lincoln probably thought as you, after all he thought it important enough to the arguments he was going to bring the curious actions of the Va. Convention to the attention of Congress in his Address of 4 July, 1861.


P.S. and this is just the overt history of Session. We have not even considered the issue of subversive actions taken in the South and Va., to guarantee Secession , no matter what Lincoln did or did not do.
 

Belfoured

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Aug 3, 2019
The definition of Treason in the United States Constitution is generally considered to be the narrowest and most difficult to prove in court of any country in the world. The Founding Fathers deliberately made it that way (probably because they could have easily been convicted of Treason under British law). The US government has only rarely brought charges of Treason against anyone in more than 230 years of history.

It would have been extremely difficult to find grounds for a charge of Treason against Davis in early 1861. It might have been impossible, given the way the US court process works.

Once "the South" violently attacks Fort Sumter, things get simpler. Beyond the shadow of a doubt, the United States has been attacked. The more than 3,000 rounds of heavy artillery fire rained down on Major Anderson's post provided dramatic and definite proof. That allows President Lincoln to invoke the Insurrection Act of 1807 (only used three times before that, by Thomas Jefferson and twice by Andrew Jackson). Lincoln then uses the Militia Act to raise troops to fight the insurrection. From that point on, it is very clear that anyone fighting for or helping the insurrectionists (IOW, the Confederacy) has fulfilled the constitutional requirements for a charge of Treason. Davis would be one of those.
Those are valid points. One question might be the definition of "levying war". In Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia and Louisiana federal installations were forcibly seized by armed militia/"state" troops before Fort Sumter. (In Texas they were handed over by Twiggs as part of a negotiation). Some of the old sources referred to by Marshall in his rambling opinion in US v. Burr might support the notion that the officials in those states had "levied war". Whether any seizures could be tied to Davis, et al is a whole other subject (especially regarding the seizures before Davis took office).
 
Last edited:

trice

Colonel
Joined
May 2, 2006
Those are valid points. One question might be the definition of "levying war". In Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia and Louisiana federal installations were forcibly seized by armed militia/"state" troops before Fort Sumter. (In Texas they were handed over by Twiggs as part of a negotiation). Some of the old sources referred to by Marshall in his rambling opinion in US v. Burr might support the notion that the officials in those states had "levied war". Whether any seizures could be tied to Davis, et al is a whole other subject (especially regarding the seizures before Davis took office).

I agree that there are a whole bunch of things that 'the South" did in December 1860 through early April of 1861 that might be considered acts of war. They might be considered as a cause for charges of insurrection, which leads to Treason. But Buchanan had not reacted to the most egregious of them and they happened before Lincoln was in office.

I think Lincoln and Davis are looking at this in different ways, but they see the same points of conflict where the fire of war might erupt: Ft. Sumter in Charleston, Ft. Pickens in Pensacola. It seemed Pickens would be the choice, but Bragg's report to Montgomery made that unlikely. Thus Charleston became the focal point.
 

wausaubob

Colonel
Joined
Apr 4, 2017
Location
Denver, CO
I agree that there are a whole bunch of things that 'the South" did in December 1860 through early April of 1861 that might be considered acts of war. They might be considered as a cause for charges of insurrection, which leads to Treason. But Buchanan had not reacted to the most egregious of them and they happened before Lincoln was in office.

I think Lincoln and Davis are looking at this in different ways, but they see the same points of conflict where the fire of war might erupt: Ft. Sumter in Charleston, Ft. Pickens in Pensacola. It seemed Pickens would be the choice, but Bragg's report to Montgomery made that unlikely. Thus Charleston became the focal point.
St. Louis. Baltimore. A fort in Texas. Harper's Ferry, Gosport naval yard. Or a more serious outbreak in Kansas. Lots of possibilities. But I think Lincoln preferred Charleston.
 

Zack

Sergeant
Joined
Aug 20, 2017
Location
Los Angeles, California
I agree with your view, as I feel that the Va Secession Convention was set up in a way that put Lincoln between the proverbial "rock and a hard place" : if you try to enforce the laws in the Cotton States, we'll view that as coercion and we'll secede OR in the meantime, we'll give you time to agree to allow slavery in the territories, etc. and if you don't, we'll secede. Either way, secession was being held over Lincoln's head as a cudgel to force him to act in a certain way. I know that many folks disagree with that characterization, though, so was just flagging the thread.

I’m not an expert on Virginia’s secession, but I imagine there’s two causes:
1) why they were considering secession in the first place (slavery)
2) what pushed them over the edge (75k troop call up; preclusion of opportunity to compromise on the slavery issue)

And it seems a lot of the debate regarding why Virginia seceded hinges on how long of a view is taken.
 

Flash Titan

Cadet
Joined
Oct 21, 2020
I apologize in advance if this amounts to thread-jacking (and will accept any guidance from the mods on this), and I do understand that you are asking the question in earnest, but I don't believe that questions like these - made in isolation - are conducive to fully understanding the circumstances that our country faced during these crucial months. To be clear, it is appropriate to assess Lincoln's statecraft - or lack thereof - during these months. But I think exploring this question is only useful when examining the other side of the coin, so to speak. What could leaders in the South (Confederacy or the Confederacy-leaning states) done better or differently to avert the situation? Rarely do I see this side of the question get raised.

In November 1860, Lincoln won the election. No allegations of "rigged system" or fraudulent result (except perhaps that Lincoln was not even on most ballots in the South). Yet, when did leaders of the South ever indicate that they accepted the results of that election and would try to work within the system as the minority party? Lincoln had made it clear that he was not going to challenge slavery within each individual state. Yet, the Cotton States seceded before Lincoln was even inaugurated. What could they have done differently? Could they have pledged their loyal support to Lincoln and then tried to work out compromises about slavery in the territories (or employed delaying tactics until the next election)? Could they have taken note that most of Europe had abolished slavery and so taken the lead on proposing some pathway for abolition in the States (e.g., compensated emancipation)? Could they have made some form of motion within Congress for multilateral secession - an agreed parting of the ways among the States? Of course they could have, but didn't.

Respectfully, questions like the one you pose (and again, I understand you are raising it in good faith) seem to me to hold Lincoln to a higher standard than Southern leaders; i.e., it's okay for Southern leaders to disregard the election and attempt to form their own country, while Lincoln - who just won the election based on a clearly articulated platform - somehow has to act like he lost and compromise on that platform as a condition of peace, unity, etc., and without any guarantee that South will engage as a loyal minority? This seems to me to be a "heads I win, tails you lose type of scenario." So, while there may be some things he could have/should have done better, let's not forget that Lincoln was reacting to conscious decision by at least the Cotton States to separate from the Union on the basis of losing a democratically-held election.
There were only two things that would placate the South in 1861: (1) The election of a Democrat; (2) Southern leaders accepting Lincoln's promise of leaving the peculiar institution of Slavery untouched by the law. The South was determined to secede from the union that they would not even accept getting the store in their dealings with Lincoln. The South was so unreasonable that they were determined to succeed from the Union, even if it meant fighting a war they knew they were unlikely in the extreme to win. Robert E. Lee believed from before Fort Sumpter that the South could not possibly defeat the North. The United States was fortunate to have at this most critical juncture of its history, before or since, a rare great man sitting in the White House who led the country to an amicable peace whose policy was repeated in Hollywood's first blockbuster fil 'BIRTH OF A NATION ) in 1915, "I shall treat the States of the former Confederacy as if they never left." It was this kind of tolerance of the South that mended such deep wounds. Lincoln never blamed the people of the former Confederacy, only their political leaders who violated the law and the Constitution when they attempted to secceed from the Union. Like Andrew Jackson before him, who quelled the initial threat of secession by threatening to personally lead a large Union Army to South Carolina and crush the rebellion and holding the agitators with the most severe of penalties to attempt to breach the indivisibility of the States, "For the people" not the States, which made the nation one political entity that protected all the people under the Federal Constitution as the law of the United States of America.
 

jcaesar

Private
Joined
Aug 28, 2020
I’m not an expert on Virginia’s secession, but I imagine there’s two causes:
1) why they were considering secession in the first place (slavery)
2) what pushed them over the edge (75k troop call up; preclusion of opportunity to compromise on the slavery issue)

And it seems a lot of the debate regarding why Virginia seceded hinges on how long of a view is taken.

There were some VA fire eaters that so badly wanted secession they went all the way down to South Carolina to advise the state on how to bring Virginia on board. Their advice was to thwack the federals with a proverbial twig and when the Lincoln administration invariably comes at SC with a proverbial 2 by 4 Virginia would be up in arms and come to your side.

Jubal Early was the Unionist bulldog in the Virginia legislature and lambasted the CSA for Fort Sumter, but the attack was overall met with at best mild discomfiture. The call for raising an army against the secessionist states unleashed a firestorm though.
 
Last edited:

Philip Leigh

formerly Harvey Johnson
Joined
Oct 22, 2014
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.
Lincoln also held power when he was the 1860 Republican Party Presidential candidate. He could have adopted John C. Breckinridge's Popular Sovereignty plank and thereby effectively limited all (or nearly all) future states from the Western Territories to "free" states. The region was unsuitable for a slave-based agricultural economy. If Popular Sovereignty could not make a "slave" state out of Kansas, it had little hope elsewhere, except maybe Oklahoma.
 

Zack

Sergeant
Joined
Aug 20, 2017
Location
Los Angeles, California
Lincoln also held power when he was the 1860 Republican Party Presidential candidate. He could have adopted John C. Breckinridge's Popular Sovereignty plank and thereby effectively limited all (or nearly all) future states from the Western Territories to "free" states. The region was unsuitable for a slave-based agricultural economy. If Popular Sovereignty could not make a "slave" state out of Kansas, it had little hope elsewhere, except maybe Oklahoma.

So, again, cede every demand made by the South. And, if the only goal was to avoid war, leaving it open to popular sovereignty seems like a bad idea. Popular sovereignty worked well for keeping Kansas peaceful.....
 
Top