Why did the south fire on Fort Sumter?

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I hear so many say the south started the war by firing on Fort Sumter.
But, considering the southerners' view of estrangement from the north's government, wasn't moving the troops at Fort Moultrie--under the cover of darkness--into Fort Sumter's preferred control of Charleston Harbor, something that might be considered an act of war?

I realize this concept may be unpopular, but isn't it like finding the federal government posting soldiers at your front door, claiming they are only there to look after the street and help protect you?
 

wilber6150

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I hear so many say the south started the war by firing on Fort Sumter.
But, considering the southerners' view of estrangement from the north's government, wasn't moving the troops at Fort Moultrie--under the cover of darkness--into Fort Sumter's preferred control of Charleston Harbor, something that might be considered an act of war?

I realize this concept may be unpopular, but isn't it like finding the federal government posting soldiers at your front door, claiming they are only there to look after the street and help protect you?
They were both federal properties and Anderson had as much right to go to either one of them and Moultire was not secure as there were CSA troops in nearby houses that could look and shoot directly into the fort...Anderson trying to protect his force moved them to the more secure Sumter..
 

johan_steele

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FT Sumter could not realistically do damage to Charleston. Anderson did the right thing, he was protecting his men and his command was being threatened regularly.

Some people are cool w/ shooting at, spitting on and assaulting US soldiers. I am not, I happen to think of it as reprehensible. Others mileage apparently varies.
 
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Freddy

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FT Sumter could not realistically do damage to Charleston. Anderson did the right thing, he was protecting his men and his command was being threatened regularly.

Some people are cool w/ shooting at, spitting on and assaulting US soldiers. I am not, I happen to think of it as reprehensible. Others mileage apparently varies.
I think it was treason.
 

trice

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I hear so many say the south started the war by firing on Fort Sumter.
But, considering the southerners' view of estrangement from the north's government, wasn't moving the troops at Fort Moultrie--under the cover of darkness--into Fort Sumter's preferred control of Charleston Harbor, something that might be considered an act of war?

I realize this concept may be unpopular, but isn't it like finding the federal government posting soldiers at your front door, claiming they are only there to look after the street and help protect you?
No, not by any stretch of international law. This mythical "act of war" was in the minds of Southern rebels, and nowhere else.

Tim
 
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But wasn't holding Fort Sumter a useful move for anyone wishing to choke off the flow of goods into Charleston Harbor?
Couldn't that be viewed by locals already in fear of federal control as a dangerous step towards stifling their economy?
 
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Glorybound

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But wasn't holding Fort Sumter a useful move for anyone wishing to choke off the flow of goods into Charleston Harbor?
Couldn't that be viewed by locals already in fear of federal control as a dangerous step towards stifling their economy?
Maybe there were some locals who thought that. But I don't think Major Anderson was thinking in those terms when he moved his garrison out there. I believe he was thinkng that "the sh*t is shortly going to hit the fan in a big way, and I want my men in the most secure position possible, when it does."
 

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But wasn't holding Fort Sumter a useful move for anyone wishing to choke off the flow of goods into Charleston Harbor?
Couldn't that be viewed by locals already in fear of federal control as a dangerous step towards stifling their economy?

What are the alternatives - in the general sense?
You have a fort, you have troops. Someone says "give them to me."

Do you give them?
If you do, are you inviting any power, anywhere in the world to make the same claim on US forts or vessels?
"Your ship made us feel threatened, so we took it." - do you really want to serve (or have your children or relations serve) in a military of a nation that will abandon you at the slightest pretense? Really? Would you volunteer to put yourself in harm's way for such a country?

The president had an obligation as CINC. Part of that involved barracks and fortifications. Had congress approved a treaty with a foreign, sovereign power that gave ownership of Sumter to SC, then he'd have been correct to cede it over. Until then he had a moral obligation to hold it - the president cannot make treaties.

As to whether the citizens of Charleston liked it or not - it doesn't matter how they felt. Do you think Cuba's government is thrilled about Gitmo? A US military facility, on land leased by a previous government, right in the middle of the place. Of course they don't like it, but it doesn't really matter.




I can understand a certain sentiment that wishes it could have been, but Sumter got shot at because it was convenient.
 

wilber6150

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But wasn't holding Fort Sumter a useful move for anyone wishing to choke off the flow of goods into Charleston Harbor?
Couldn't that be viewed by locals already in fear of federal control as a dangerous step towards stifling their economy?
That could very well be one of the reasons that the South took it as an aggressive move, however the Confederates had also moved to capture Moultrie from the few remaining troops that were there, I believe it was like 5 men. They did this so quickly that there was a proposal to order Anderson back but it was deemed useless as Moultrie was already occupied..Also, keep in mind that there were scores of federal installations being taken and Anderson, an honorable man was in a position which made him responsible for the safekeeping of federal property and the men under his command. He had to do something to safeguard what was put under his care and the best way to do that was to move his command to a more secure and defensible position in the other federal fort...
I also think this move shocked the Confederacy as it started to show that the Union really did have a spine and was starting to do things to stand up to the aggressive moves against it..The Confederacy was getting used to doing what they pleased to Federal installations and getting away from it, and here you have a Union officer daring to move his men without permission to a fort which they wanted...
 
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ole

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But wasn't holding Fort Sumter a useful move for anyone wishing to choke off the flow of goods into Charleston Harbor?
Couldn't that be viewed by locals already in fear of federal control as a dangerous step towards stifling their economy?
This has mostly been answered already, but there wasn't really a flow of goods into Charleston Harbor. If the channel were closed through natural causes, Charleston and South Carolina would not have noticed the difference. Much of what Charleston recieved was through coastal shipping and rail from New York. Very little of it came directly from Europe. (Read the previous posts as to the tariffs collected in ports other than New York, Boston and Philadelphia.)

Very close to nothing shipped directly into Charleston. Or Savannah. What wasn't transhipped out of northern ports on US flagged coastal runners?

Now can we get to the gist? No one was looking to choke off the flow of goods into Charleston Harbor. Almost all of it came in smaller ships from New York, and the tariff had already been paid. No one had orders to stop the trade. What we are looking at here is that they "could" have. Just like "they" could have cancelled slavery. Speculation.
 

trice

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But wasn't holding Fort Sumter a useful move for anyone wishing to choke off the flow of goods into Charleston Harbor?
Couldn't that be viewed by locals already in fear of federal control as a dangerous step towards stifling their economy?
You are talking about the fears that existed in the minds of Southern rebels, not the law.

The only reason to be at all concerned about the movements of Anderson and his roughly 80 men to an unfinished fort was if you were planning an illegal rebellion or act of war against the United States. Anderson's move is completely legal, and done because of his fear the secessionists were about to attack him -- a reasonable fear since it was being discussed on every street corner in Charleston and the papers were printing articles on how best to assault Fort Moultrie.

Faced with that, Anderson moved his men to a position where they were less vulnerable. Doing so made it harder for the Southern secessionists to attack him, which upset them.

Tim
 

trice

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Maybe there were some locals who thought that. But I don't think Major Anderson was thinking in those terms when he moved his garrison out there. I believe he was thinkng that "the sh*t is shortly going to hit the fan in a big way, and I want my men in the most secure position possible, when it does."
I believe that Anderson's thinking surely included the knowledge of what a garrison in Ft. Sumter could do. He was an extremely well-regarded military man (in late 1860, down in Texas, General Twiggs was heard to say Winfield Scott thought God had to spit on his hands when he created Robert E. Lee and Anderson). He knew artillery well, and certainly could see what guns in Sumter could do. But if he had intended to use force aggressively to put down the secession, he would have moved to Castle Pinckney -- where the repairs had been set in motion in August and the guns dominated the city of Charleston at close range. Ft. Sumter was a location that gave his force security and also ensured much time would pass before the secessionists would be likely to come after him -- allowing the politicians to try to settle all this without bloodshed.

Tim
 
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M E Wolf

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John Haueisen, sir;

You wrote:
I hear so many say the south started the war by firing on Fort Sumter.
But, considering the southerners' view of estrangement from the north's government, wasn't moving the troops at Fort Moultrie--under the cover of darkness--into Fort Sumter's preferred control of Charleston Harbor, something that might be considered an act of war?

I realize this concept may be unpopular, but isn't it like finding the federal government posting soldiers at your front door, claiming they are only there to look after the street and help protect you?
The many forts constructed on the coastal boarders of the United States had origins soon after the War of 1812, to which defense was lacking and the "united" states and commonwealths in agreement began construction using the common treasury (U.S. Treasury) in paying for the costs of construction of the many forts as to thwart foreign invasion and designed to aim outward --not internally, which would be defended by militia, military and its many patriotic citizens.

The most prestigious engineers happened to be trained by the United States Military Academy, known now as "West Point," in New York; not to be confused with West Point, Virginia. After serving in the military, many graduates retired after their duty to the military and paid handsomely in the private sector for their engineering minds. Since forts were for the military defense who best to build them but military men.

South Carolina's forts were being constructed at the same time but, size and or difficulties of construction caused some to go ahead more smoothly than the others.

The South Carolina Governor circa 1840's sold the land where forts were being constructed -- thus legally deeded to the United States Government, et. al., and in a sense -- to the whole of the United States--not just one state; as the Revolutionary War, War of 1812 and other conflicts in between acknowledged that war would travel where the armies would move around within. We, in a general sense know through history, e.g. French-Indian Wars, Revolutionary War, War of 1812, etc., that invasion can be at any port of entry and the goal of invasion elsewhere. So, in fact all of these forts were designed for the common defense of all Americans--not just the host state to which forts were built upon and property dedicated and deeded lawfully to the United States as to make a statement of unity if attacked. Forts were as much a symbolic function as well as defense function. Attack a fort-you attack the U.S.A., et.al.

Prior to the attack in earnest of Fort Sumter; Governor Pickens repeatedly through documentation in the 1860's wished Fort Sumter to be destroyed. Long before the Provisional Confederate Government, President Cobb presiding President and the more recognized Confederate States of America was formed, to which President Jefferson Davis was elected to in Montgomery, Alabama (the true cradle of the Confederacy, in my opinion).

In the lame duck years of President James Buchanan's Administration, delegates representing South Carolina paid a visit on President Buchanan giving stipulations to Buchanan and wanting the forts returned to South Carolina --so Governor Pickens was acting as sole agent for South Carolina. Unknown to President Buchanan; then Senator Jefferson Davis, head of committee on Military affairs; Secretary of War, Floyd and Adjutant-General - Colonel Sam Cooper had been feeding Governor Pickens' inside intelligence, funneling money and arms to the states to which would soon secession be finalized.

President Buchanan was duty bound to provide living necessities, such as food, clothing and or other supplies, like any other military fort inside the interior or, forts on the water's edge. In addition, the President Buchanan was not empowered to deed over the fort as the delegation demanded--this power to deed and or eminent domaine property is within the U.S. Congress. Jefferson Davis, Floyd, Perkins and the whole lot of politicians had to have known this. In addition to appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals. The judicial aspects were never approached with these 'questions and difficulties' proffered by Governor Pickens and the Provisional Confederate Congress to the Buchanan Administration.

In several threads on the topic of Fort Sumter and in response to Abraham Lincoln starting hostilities in regard to Fort Sumter; the fact remains that in 1860, Governor Pickens was bent passionately to destroy Fort Sumter at all costs and for all kinds of excuses, naming it was a threat to South Carolina.

Governor Pickens kept pressure on the U.S. Government, in concert with Secretary of War Floyd, Colonel Sam Cooper --Adjutant-General, Senator Jefferson Davis in the Senate and chairman of the military affairs during the Buchanan Administration. Meanwhile, Major Anderson to whom was married to a South Carolinian wife--remained steadfast loyal to his oath and commission. Engineer Foster, often overlooked as an additional key player--did all he could to plead the plight of the situation, along with Major Anderson - commanding officer of the post. So, two arms of services -- Captain Foster of the Engineers, in charge of many civilian workers and family, few staff members and Major Anderson with a detail - not a full company of artillery providing a military presence with a many unmounted guns and certainly not enough men to man all the guns properly.

Governor Pickens himself maintains in a letter to Provisional President Cobb, that Lincoln may or may not take up the problem concerning Fort Sumter, thus diverts proof that this whole issue of Fort Sumter was ripe during the Buchanan Administration and timing all things upon the transition of the Government's mantle from one President to another, while the incoming President would be void of his cabinet and valuable advisers.

Few acknowledge the two incidents to which Fort Sumter were fired upon prior to 'official' firing on Fort Sumter. Though claimed as an accident twice--I can't think of any excuse as to why a artillery piece was aimed at Fort Sumter if it was for 'practice.'

Few acknowledge that only 40 muskets were taken from the Government's arsenal and such a stink was raised by Governor Pickens--Anderson had to return said muskets back. Few acknowledge that Anderson's mail was read and interaction between Anderson and the U.S. Government was censored as well as monitored.

Few acknowledge that there was a constant angry mob of individuals in town. Certainly, provoked by the hostilities within the political realms and fanned by fire-eaters.

Denied humanitarian resources, such as food and hygiene products to the military men of the artillery detachment and engineers, their wives and children, civilian laborers --this in my opinion was holding those individuals hostage. South Carolina denied Major Anderson any sort of guards, city watchmen to be posted as to be a protective barrier between Anderson, et.al., and the angry citizens of South Carolina.

When Senator Jefferson Davis resigned, then Floyd -- suddenly South Carolina shouts 'this means war.' -- documents after their departure no doubt raised some insight as to what went on behind the scenes behind President Buchanan's back.

Of course prior to this -- Beauregard has assembled a healthy army as to set upon Fort Sumter. His artillery posted at the other two forts under South Carolina's flag -- not the C.S.A. flag -- South Carolina's flag; months prior to all of this.

Personally, I think there are many reasons why 'the South' et.al., fired on Fort Sumter; as Jefferson Davis quickly jumped into Governor Pickens' long entrenched idea to take Fort Sumter by force if necessary with the claim of state's rights as it's rally call--to me, seeing that it was well planned to exit Washington as to time it between Administrations and perhaps an assumption that Lincoln was just a 'country bumpkin' and not skilled in leadership, government of any great size and the surprise of the attack on Fort Sumter.

What the citizens at large did not know, was the proper deeding of land to the Federal Government by South Carolina in the 1840's and their overall understanding how the Federal Government functioned and why Congress was the power to hold responsible for any change of land holdings back and forth between states/commonwealths just as any foreign country. To make Buchanan and Lincoln appear as the responsible parties for the hostilities, when it would have been more fair and proper to hold "Congress" responsible --this political slight of hand as far as manipulating the public was easy to do; as most civilians didn't have the education as to the function of the three branches of Government. Easily fanned by patriotism, the defense of country and home--good people were justly alarmed and joined military services.

In these times--providing for family of the most basic of things was more important than education. However, this does not include the intelligence of mankind. However, the lack of education and resources to check for themselves what was being said and spread, I am of the opinion was a major factor for the empowering of the few by so many.

I am of the thought, that the good men and women of the Secession States and Commonwealths, would not know how much they were duped until post Civil War. When education was pushed even stronger as to give individuals the ability to read, write and think for themselves which is--in a sense, a form of independence. Americans at large, hate to loose and hate to have been tricked into something ...be 'the sucker' per se. It is only natural to 'save face' when found in an embarrassing and or compromised position.

I am of the opinion, that those of the Confederacy and or "The South", et.al., should be more flattered than offended, as to have the many Union states fight so hard and passionately to keep those secession states/commonwealth within 'the family' because, to me-- when you have family that will risk all to safe another of that family from a terrible act, a wrong path and or a self destructive journey; it means you (in a general sense) have value as a member of the family/community/a Nation.

I cannot help but return my thoughts to Lee and Grant at Appomattox. Grant entitled to grand applause and such, in the surrender of Lee's Army--but, in shutting all celebrations down fully--he opened the door to allow all wayward brothers to return peacefully and with genuine appreciation. General Chamberlain and General Gordon exchange -- coming from the heart a quiet acknowledgment of respect and honoring fellow Americans and Gordon waking up to the realization that in defeat--there was/is honor. There can be honor but, hate must be removed entirely for exchanges of respect, honor and civility as to uplift one another to take hold. General W. T. Sherman and General Joseph E. Johnston, working together for peace in the spirit of Lee and Grant at Appomattox -- nearly spoiled by the assassination of President Lincoln. The heartfelt anguish expressed by General Ewell in prison speaking for the many other Generals and military men of the Confederacy upon news of Lincoln's Assassination.

No matter how and why things happen -- the blame, in my opinion is on those politicians/law makers, to whom were the law breakers by entering into conspiracy as to gain at the expense of the whole citizenry of the United States.

Just my opinions.

Respectfully submitted for consideration,
M. E. Wolf
 

Southland

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You are talking about the fears that existed in the minds of Southern rebels, not the law.

The only reason to be at all concerned about the movements of Anderson and his roughly 80 men to an unfinished fort was if you were planning an illegal rebellion or act of war against the United States. Anderson's move is completely legal, and done because of his fear the secessionists were about to attack him -- a reasonable fear since it was being discussed on every street corner in Charleston and the papers were printing articles on how best to assault Fort Moultrie.

Faced with that, Anderson moved his men to a position where they were less vulnerable. Doing so made it harder for the Southern secessionists to attack him, which upset them.

Tim
"Upset them"? Can you prove the South was upset over anything other than lincoln not meeting with the Commissioners?? Any references?
 
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ole

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I'm a good ol southern boy through and through but I gotta admit IMO pulling the trigger first was a seriously stubid thing to do.
Yes, it was. But I do have to argue about it a bit. Without doing that, Virginia was dangling out there. Could she be pulled in without the shooting?

Going here on the assumption that there could have been no Confederacy without Virginia.

I'm trying to think what Jeff Davis was thinking.

Personally, I'm thinking it was a dumb way to start a war, but what was he thinking?

He was not stupid. (Or maybe I just think so.) There had to be a political reason to reduce Ft. Sumter.

He had to know that would be the kick in the butt that no one can let pass. And that the tiger would awake. But he went for it anyway.

Why?

We get all kinds of **** about how Lincoln provoked the war, but we don't get a whole lot of why the bait was bit. There is something in there that does not compute.

Reducing that fort wasn't really that important, was it? But reducing it would surely wake up the north. Jeff had to know that. So why? Who was pulling the strings?

I address this to you, Bill, because you seem to be a son of the south with questions.
 
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carson_reb

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I hear so many say the south started the war by firing on Fort Sumter.
But, considering the southerners' view of estrangement from the north's government, wasn't moving the troops at Fort Moultrie--under the cover of darkness--into Fort Sumter's preferred control of Charleston Harbor, something that might be considered an act of war?

I realize this concept may be unpopular, but isn't it like finding the federal government posting soldiers at your front door, claiming they are only there to look after the street and help protect you?

From my readings of McPherson, Catton and other contemporaries, the fire-eaters in the Davis cabinet were just itching to pull the trigger and get on with it (war)...something they had been threatening to do for years. Davis himself may have been hesitant to fire the first shot, but he caved to his cabinet and authorized Beauregard to use his "judgment" on the matter.

As far as the federal garrison moving from Moultrie to Sumter being considered an act of war, I suppose it could have been by Gov. Pickens and others with an itchy trigger finger. But, then again, the federal garrison showed no overt aggression in the move that could reasonably be construed as an act of war. So, for the move to be considered an "act of war" would seem to me to be a bit of a stretch. Again, though, I imagine the fire-eating secessionists in Charleston and elsewhere in the Cotton 7 states would have seen things differently. Anything that could set them off at that point would have been an act of war. The nation was more or less already at war when Charleston defenses fired upon the Star of the West, steaming in to provision Sumter.

Looking at it pragmatically, the federal garrison was moving from one federal fort to another, and from one piece of federal property to another. South Carolina's secession was not recognized as legitimate or legal by the U.S. government, which was not going to recognize federal property as belonging to the state of South Carolina. I guess the bottom line is that everyone was on pins and needles between 12/20/60 and 4/12/61 when the balloon finally popped.
 

trice

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"Upset them"? Can you prove the South was upset over anything other than lincoln not meeting with the Commissioners?? Any references?
There are so many well-known examples from before Lincoln ever left Illinois, journeyed to Washington, or was inaugurated into the Presidency that I have no idea why you would request them.

For example:
=====
EXECUTIVE DEPARTMENT,
Charleston, December 28, 1860.
Hon. D. F. JAMISON, President of the Convention :

SIR: As the Convention sent for me yesterday, to be informed upon important business, I take the occasion to say that, under my order, Castle Pinckney was taken last evening, and the United States flag hauled down and the Palmetto banner run up in its place. And I also ordered a detachment from an artillery regiment to occupy Sullivan's Island; and if it could be done without any immediate danger from mines, or too great loss of life, to take Fort Moultrie and to run up the Palmetto flag, and put the guns in immediate preparation for defense. I have now full possession of those two forts. I considered the evacuation of Fort Moultrie, under all the circumstances, a direct violation of the distinct understanding between the authorities of the Government at Washington and those who were authorized to act on the part of the State, and bringing on a state of war.

I therefore thought it due to the safety of the State that I should take the steps I have. I hope there is no immediate danger of further aggression for the present.

Respectfully,
F. W. PICKENS.
=====

Lincoln is not even officially elected President at this point (granted, it is all but certain and only a technicality: the Electoral votes are not actually counted until the sixth day of January), and Buchanan has more than two months left in office. Yet the state of South Carolina has already used military force to take (illegally) Ft. Moultrie and Castle Pinckney, and the Governor is declaring Anderson's move to Ft. Sumter an "act of war". I'd say that qualifies as "upset". Do you agree?

The Governor, by the way, is absolutely wrong. Even if we lean over backwards to take side of the South Carolina gentlemen's view of their talk with Buchanan as fact, their own written account commits the State of South Carolina to nothing at all and indicates they had no power to speak for the state. They make no promises; they only speak of their "convictions" and "hope" that South Carolina will not attack.

=====
His Excellency James Buchanan,
President of the United States:

In compliance with our statement to you yesterday, we now express to you our strong convictions that neither the constituted authorities, nor any body of the people of the State of South Carolina, will either attack or molest the United States forts in the harbor of Charleston previously to the action of the [secession] convention, and we hope and believe not until an offer has been made, through an accredited representative, to negotiate for an amicable arrangement of all matters between the State and federal Government, provided that no re-enforcements shall be sent into these forts, and that their relative military status shall remain as at present.

JOHN McQUEEN
WM. PORCHER MILES
M.L. BONHAM
W.W. BOYCE
LAURENCE M. KEITT
=====

Anderson, of course, did not move until after the Secession Convention had acted. Any claims that some mythical agreement between the State of South Carolina and the United States had been violated is clearly false. It is merely propaganda.

Tim
 
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