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PoP's Southern American: Lincoln Launches His War Against the Confederacy

7/08/2011

Lincoln Launches His War Against the Confederacy

In manipulating the Fort Sumter crisis to produce that “first shot,” Abe Lincoln had followed the advice of his long-time political friend, Orville Browning, of Illinois. Lincoln had first met Browning during brief service in the Illinois Militia, when they were both chasing after Black Hawk’s Native Americans. Well-educated, Browning practiced law in Quincy, Illinois, and was a Whig politician during the years that Lincoln was active in the Whig party. Then, like Lincoln, Browning became a major figure in the founding of the Illinois Republican party in 1856.

But Browning’s instruction about manipulating the Fort Sumter crisis to produce that most valuable “first shot” had been his most fearsome influence on Lincoln. Before the inauguration, Browning had written Lincoln: “In any conflict…between the [Federal] Government and the seceding States, it is very important that the [Secessionists] shall be [perceived] as the aggressors, and that they be kept constantly and palpable [allegedly] in the wrong. The first attempt…to furnish supplies or reinforcements to Sumter will induce [a military response] by South Carolina, and then the [Federal] Government will stand justified, before the entire [Federation], in repelling the aggression, and retaking the forts.” Later that summer Lincoln would happily tell Browning, “The plan succeeded. They attacked Sumter—it fell, and thus, did more service than it otherwise could.”

Lieutenant [Gustavus] Fox was very discouraged by his failure to resupply Fort Sumter, and would soon write Abe Lincoln a letter of apology. To Fox, Lincoln would reply: “You and I both anticipated that the cause of the [Federation] would be advanced by making the attempt to provision Fort Sumter, even if it should fail; and it is no small consolation now to feel that our anticipation is justified by the results.” Having in his hand his coveted “first shot,” Abe Lincoln lost no time in launching a war against the Confederacy.

On the very next day, April 15, Lincoln issued an Executive Proclamation directing the Army and Navy to invade the Confederacy and force her States to submit to Federal authority. Lincoln cloaked his rhetoric in awkward language that avoided referring to the Confederacy by name, ignored the fact that seven States had seceded prior to his taking office, ignored Fort Sumter, alleged the existence of lawlessness and rebellion on the part of some of the people in seven States, and inferred that the northern States were somehow in harm’s way. The Proclamation was set in legal language to circumvent the authority vested in the Federal House and Senate to declare war, and to suppress the notion that the Confederacy even existed. Instead of naming the Confederacy, he called his adversary, “combinations too powerful to be suppressed by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings.”

In his proclamation Abe Lincoln had totally ignored the action of his fleet of warships and the Confederate eviction of the Federal regiment from Fort Sumter. To have done so would have required that he admit that 7 States had seceded and formed a new nation, that the States into which he was dispatching militiamen were actually members of a peaceful foreign nation.

(Abe Lincoln’s First Shot Strategy, excerpted from Bloodstains, an Epic History of the Politics that Produced the American Civil War,” Howard Ray White, 2011, pp. 38-43)

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