When Lincoln took office, his tasks were many. First, of the fifteen slave states, seven had seceded and withdrawn from the United States. It was Lincoln’s job as president to hold the remaining eight states.
Lincoln’s next task was to unite the North as far as possible. There was in the North an extreme devotion to the flag. Benjamin F. Butler, a Democrat, had warned the people in the South that while they might count on a large pro-slavery vote in the North, war was a different matter. The moment you fire on the flag, he said, you unite the North; and if war comes, slavery goes.
Lincoln also had to deal with foreign nations. The sympathies of these, especially England and France, were strongly with the South. They would jump at the chance to recognize the South as an independent nation. It was a difficult matter to guide affairs so that this didn’t happen.
Lincoln kept the two promises of his inaugural. First, that he would hold the United States forts, and second, that he would not be the aggressor. “In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow-countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The government will not assail you. You can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors. You have no oath registered in heaven to destroy the government; while I have the most solemn one to ‘preserve, protect, and defend’ it.”
In other words, if there were to be war, the South would have to fire the first shot.
And it did.
On Friday, April 12, 1861, the South fired on Fort Sumter, S.C., a U.S. military base. The Civil War had begun.
When Fort Sumter fell, Lincoln had been in office less than six weeks. The fall of Sumter caused an outburst of patriotism in the North. For a time, enthusiasm and patriotism ran very high. Those in the North who were in sympathy with the South remained quiet, and those who were doubtful were swept along with the tide of popular feeling. The flag had been fired on. That one fact unified the North.
The morning after the evacuation of Fort Sumter, Lincoln issued his call for 75,000 volunteers to serve in the Army for three months. The reason why the number was so small was that this was the largest number that could be clothed and armed quickly. It was later learned that three months was way too short a period for so serious a fight. Did Lincoln really think the rebellion could be put down in three months? Why did he not call for five-year enlistments at the beginning?
First, he had no legal power to call for a longer period of enlistment. And, Lincoln did not want it to look like he was preparing for a long war. Had his first call been for 500,000 men for three years, it would have looked as if he intended and desired a long, bloody war, and this would have angered lots of people.
The U.S. and Confederate armies fought, literally sweeping the face of the country with destruction. The oldest soldiers were fifty-five when the war closed. The youngest were twelve when the war opened. Older men and younger boys were in the war and were killed on the field of battle.
In the early part of the war, there were certain attempts at emancipation, or freeing the slaves, a movement that Lincoln held in check because the time for that had not arrived. “There’s a tide in the affairs of men,” he said.
But when Lincoln felt the “tide” had turned and the time was right, he presented his first proclamation to his cabinet on July 22, 1862. The real proclamation of emancipation was issued January 1, 1863.
Whereas, on the twenty-second day of September, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-two, a proclamation was issued by the President of the United States, containing, among other things, the following, to wit:–
That on the first day of January in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any state, or designated part of a state, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward and forever free, and the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom.
In January 1865, the 13th Amendment to the Constitution was passed, abolishing slavery. On April 9, 1865, General Robert E. Lee of the Confederate army of the South surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant of the army of the North. The Civil War was just about over, although the last fighting didn’t end until May 26, 1865.
Slavery was over. The country was whole again and faced the future with much to do. It would face it without Lincoln at the helm, though. An assassin’s bullet to Lincoln’s head ended the president’s life on April 15, 1865. His legacy lives on.
Based on the book by Henry Ketcham
Edited by Deborah Carroll
QUESTION OF THE DAY
In today’s finale, Lincoln speaks that “there’s a tide in the affairs of men,” meaning that timing is everything when you make a significant change. In your life, what significant change is it time for? Maybe you should take on additional responsiblities at home. Or perhaps its the right moment to discard an old, childish habit that you’ve continued. So tell us, what change needs to happen in your life?
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