Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address: A Plea For Union

I doubt if there has ever been a bleaker inaugural of a President than that which awaited Abraham Lincoln on March 4, 1861.  Seven slave states of the deep South had already seceded from the Union, stretching from South Carolina to Texas.  Secession movements were active in every other slave state except for Delaware.  The nation was shattering in two, a process that James Buchanan had been impotent to stop.  North and South, all Americans now were eagerly wondering how the new President would address this overwhelming crisis.  Lincoln realized that this speech would be carefully read and he chose his words carefully as he set out the policy of his new administration:

Fellow-citizens of the United States:
In compliance with a custom as old as the government itself, I appear before you to address you briefly, and to take, in your presence, the oath prescribed by the Constitution of the United States, to be taken by the President “before he enters on the execution of this office.”

I do not consider it necessary at present for me to discuss those matters of administration about which there is no special anxiety or excitement.

Lincoln gets right to the point.  The secession crisis was all anyone in the country was thinking about, and there was no use pretending otherwise.

Apprehension seems to exist among the people of the Southern States, that by the accession of a Republican Administration, their property, and their peace, and personal security, are to be endangered. There has never been any reasonable cause for such apprehension. Indeed, the most ample evidence to the contrary has all the while existed, and been open to their inspection. It is found in nearly all the published speeches of him who now addresses you. I do but quote from one of those speeches when I declare that “I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.” Those who nominated and elected me did so with full knowledge that I had made this, and many similar declarations, and had never recanted them. And more than this, they placed in the platform, for my acceptance, and as a law to themselves, and to me, the clear and emphatic resolution which I now read:

Resolved, That the maintenance inviolate of the rights of the States, and especially the right of each State to order and control its own domestic institutions according to its own judgment exclusively, is essential to that balance of power on which the perfection and endurance of our political fabric depend; and we denounce the lawless invasion by armed force of the soil of any State or Territory, no matter what pretext, as among the gravest of crimes.”

This would be a recurring theme of the speech, Lincoln’s repetition of something he said throughout his career.  The federal government had no power to interfere with slavery in the states, no matter how evil slavery is.  Keep slavery out of new territories, hedge the Peculiar Institution in where it currently exists, and it would be placed on the path of ultimate extinction.

I now reiterate these sentiments; and in doing so, I only press upon the public attention the most conclusive evidence of which the case is susceptible, that the property, peace and security of no section are to be in any wise endangered by the now incoming Administration. I add too, that all the protection which, consistently with the Constitution and the laws, can be given, will be cheerfully given to all the States when lawfully demanded, for whatever cause — as cheerfully to one section as to another.

Lincoln is no threat to the South and slavery in the South.

There is much controversy about the delivering up of fugitives from service or labor. The clause I now read is as plainly written in the Constitution as any other of its provisions:

“No person held to service or labor in one State, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up on claim of the party to whom such service or labor may be due.”

It is scarcely questioned that this provision was intended by those who made it, for the reclaiming of what we call fugitive slaves; and the intention of the law-giver is the law. All members of Congress swear their support to the whole Constitution — to this provision as much as to any other. To the proposition, then, that slaves whose cases come within the terms of this clause, “shall be delivered,” their oaths are unanimous. Now, if they would make the effort in good temper, could they not, with nearly equal unanimity, frame and pass a law, by means of which to keep good that unanimous oath?

There is some difference of opinion whether this clause should be enforced by national or by state authority; but surely that difference is not a very material one. If the slave is to be surrendered, it can be of but little consequence to him, or to others, by which authority it is done. And should any one, in any case, be content that his oath shall go unkept, on a merely unsubstantial controversy as to how it shall be kept?

To the South:  you want the fugitive slave law?  You may have it.

Again, in any law upon this subject, ought not all the safeguards of liberty known in civilized and humane jurisprudence to be introduced, so that a free man be not, in any case, surrendered as a slave? And might it not be well, at the same time to provide by law for the enforcement of that clause in the Constitution which guarantees that “the citizens of each State shall be entitled to all privileges and immunities of citizens in the several States”?

To the North:  there will be proceedings to ensure that no free Negro is taken to bondage.  Lincoln is treading carefully here.  The fugitive slave law is unpopular in the North, and anathema inside his own party.

I take the official oath to-day, with no mental reservations, and with no purpose to construe the Constitution or laws, by any hypercritical rules. And while I do not choose now to specify particular acts of Congress as proper to be enforced, I do suggest that it will be much safer for all, both in official and private stations, to conform to, and abide by, all those acts which stand unrepealed, than to violate any of them, trusting to find impunity in having them held to be unconstitutional.

The fugitive slave law has been passed by Congress and Lincoln will enforce it.

It is seventy-two years since the first inauguration of a President under our national Constitution. During that period fifteen different and greatly distinguished citizens, have, in succession, administered the executive branch of the government. They have conducted it through many perils; and, generally, with great success. Yet, with all this scope for [of] precedent, I now enter upon the same task for the brief constitutional term of four years, under great and peculiar difficulty. A disruption of the Federal Union, heretofore only menaced, is now formidably attempted.

Lincoln tells the nation something that everyone knew:  the endless talk of secession for decades was now fact.  The crisis that men his age had heard discussed all their lives was now finally upon them.

I hold, that in contemplation of universal law, and of the Constitution, the Union of these States is perpetual. Perpetuity is implied, if not expressed, in the fundamental law of all national governments. It is safe to assert that no government proper, ever had a provision in its organic law for its own termination. Continue to execute all the express provisions of our national Constitution, and the Union will endure forever — it being impossible to destroy it, except by some action not provided for in the instrument itself.

The Union is to be perpetual and Lincoln is not going to allow it to be shattered.

Again, if the United States be not a government proper, but an association of States in the nature of contract merely, can it, as a contract, be peaceably unmade, by less than all the parties who made it? One party to a contract may violate it — break it, so to speak; but does it not require all to lawfully rescind it?

A division of the Union can only occur by agreement of the people of all the states.

Descending from these general principles, we find the proposition that, in legal contemplation, the Union is perpetual, confirmed by the history of the Union itself. The Union is much older than the Constitution. It was formed in fact, by the Articles of Association in 1774. It was matured and continued by the Declaration of Independence in 1776. It was further matured and the faith of all the then thirteen States expressly plighted and engaged that it should be perpetual, by the Articles of Confederation in 1778. And finally, in 1787, one of the declared objects for ordaining and establishing the Constitution, was “to form a more perfect Union.” But if [the] destruction of the Union, by one, or by a part only, of the States, be lawfully possible, the Union is less perfect than before the Constitution, having lost the vital element of perpetuity.

The Union is more than the Constitution and is older than the Constitution, even older than the Declaration of Independence.

It follows from these views that no State, upon its own mere motion, can lawfully get out of the Union, — that resolves and ordinances to that effect are legally void, and that acts of violence, within any State or States, against the authority of the United States, are insurrectionary or revolutionary, according to circumstances.

The process of secession is not a lawful exercise of a right, but mere revolution.

I therefore consider that in view of the Constitution and the laws, the Union is unbroken; and to the extent of my ability I shall take care, as the Constitution itself expressly enjoins upon me, that the laws of the Union be faithfully executed in all the States. Doing this I deem to be only a simple duty on my part; and I shall perform it, so far as practicable, unless my rightful masters, the American people, shall withhold the requisite means, or in some authoritative manner, direct the contrary. I trust this will not be regarded as a menace, but only as the declared purpose of the Union that will constitutionally defend and maintain itself.

He will not recognize secession as a fait accompli.  No matter what the states of the “Confederacy” may proclaim, in Lincoln’s eyes the Union remains whole.

In doing this there needs to be no bloodshed or violence; and there shall be none, unless it be forced upon the national authority. The power confided to me will be used to hold, occupy, and possess the property and places belonging to the government, and to collect the duties and imposts; but beyond what may be necessary for these objects, there will be no invasion — no using of force against or among the people anywhere. Where hostility to the United States in any interior locality, shall be so great and so universal, as to prevent competent resident citizens from holding the Federal offices, there will be no attempt to force obnoxious strangers among the people for that object. While the strict legal right may exist in the government to enforce the exercise of these offices, the attempt to do so would be so irritating, and so nearly impracticable with all, that I deem it better to forego, for the time, the uses of such offices.

Lincoln’s line in the sand:  Federal installations in the seceded states will remain under federal control.  Lincoln will attempt no invasion if federal installations and property are left alone. 

The mails, unless repelled, will continue to be furnished in all parts of the Union. So far as possible, the people everywhere shall have that sense of perfect security which is most favorable to calm thought and reflection. The course here indicated will be followed, unless current events and experience shall show a modification or change to be proper; and in every case and exigency my best discretion will be exercised according to circumstances actually existing, and with a view and a hope of a peaceful solution of the national troubles, and the restoration of fraternal sympathies and affections.

The Federal government will continue to operate as best it can in the seceded states.

That there are persons in one section or another who seek to destroy the Union at all events, and are glad of any pretext to do it, I will neither affirm nor deny; but if there be such, I need address no word to them. To those, however, who really love the Union may I not speak?

Here Lincoln addresses the unionists in the seceded states.  Except for South Carolina, they were an important fraction of the white population.

Before entering upon so grave a matter as the destruction of our national fabric, with all its benefits, its memories, and its hopes, would it not be wise to ascertain precisely why we do it? Will you hazard so desperate a step, while there is any possibility that any portion of the ills you fly from have no real existence? Will you, while the certain ills you fly to, are greater than all the real ones you fly from? Will you risk the commission of so fearful a mistake?

Here Lincoln asks white Southerners to contemplate whether secession is not a reaction to a phantom menace to slavery.

All profess to be content in the Union, if all constitutional rights can be maintained. Is it true, then, that any right, plainly written in the Constitution, has been denied? I think not. Happily the human mind is so constituted, that no party can reach to the audacity of doing this. Think, if you can, of a single instance in which a plainly written provision of the Constitution has ever been denied. If by the mere force of numbers, a majority should deprive a minority of any clearly written constitutional right, it might, in a moral point of view, justify revolution — certainly would, if such right were a vital one. But such is not our case. All the vital rights of minorities, and of individuals, are so plainly assured to them, by affirmations and negations, guaranties and prohibitions, in the Constitution, that controversies never arise concerning them. But no organic law can ever be framed with a provision specifically applicable to every question which may occur in practical administration. No foresight can anticipate, nor any document of reasonable length contain express provisions for all possible questions. Shall fugitives from labor be surrendered by national or by State authority? The Constitution does not expressly say. May Congress prohibit slavery in the territories? The Constitution does not expressly say. Must Congress protect slavery in the territories? The Constitution does not expressly say.

Lincoln returns here to the battles that had divided North and South for two generations and the fact that the Constitution was clear on none of the points in contention.

From questions of this class spring all our constitutional controversies, and we divide upon them into majorities and minorities. If the minority will not acquiesce, the majority must, or the government must cease. There is no other alternative; for continuing the government, is acquiescence on one side or the other. If a minority, in such case, will secede rather than acquiesce, they make a precedent which, in turn, will divide and ruin them; for a minority of their own will secede from them whenever a majority refuses to be controlled by such minority. For instance, why may not any portion of a new confederacy, a year or two hence, arbitrarily secede again, precisely as portions of the present Union now claim to secede from it? All who cherish disunion sentiments, are now being educated to the exact temper of doing this.

Allow secession to succeed once, and it would be a constant remedy reached for in times of national crisis.

Is there such perfect identity of interests among the States to compose a new Union, as to produce harmony only, and prevent renewed secession?

Plainly, the central idea of secession, is the essence of anarchy. A majority, held in restraint by constitutional checks and limitations, and always changing easily with deliberate changes of popular opinions and sentiments, is the only true sovereign of a free people. Whoever rejects it, does, of necessity, fly to anarchy or to despotism. Unanimity is impossible; the rule of a minority, as a permanent arrangement, is wholly inadmissible; so that, rejecting the majority principle, anarchy or despotism in some form is all that is left.

Secession destroys the basis for a government founded on contested elections to long endure.

I do not forget the position assumed by some, that constitutional questions are to be decided by the Supreme Court; nor do I deny that such decisions must be binding in any case, upon the parties to a suit; as to the object of that suit, while they are also entitled to very high respect and consideration in all parallel cases by all other departments of the government. And while it is obviously possible that such decision may be erroneous in any given case, still the evil effect following it, being limited to that particular case, with the chance that it may be over-ruled, and never become a precedent for other cases, can better be borne than could the evils of a different practice. At the same time, the candid citizen must confess that if the policy of the government upon vital questions, affecting the whole people, is to be irrevocably fixed by decisions of the Supreme Court, the instant they are made, in ordinary litigation between parties, in personal actions, the people will have ceased to be their own rulers, having to that extent practically resigned their government into the hands of that eminent tribunal. Nor is there in this view any assault upon the court or the judges. It is a duty from which they may not shrink, to decide cases properly brought before them; and it is no fault of theirs if others seek to turn their decisions to political purposes.

No, the Supreme Court had not resolved the issue of slavery in the Dred Scott case.

One section of our country believes slavery is right, and ought to be extended, while the other believes it is wrong, and ought not to be extended. This is the only substantial dispute. The fugitive slave clause of the Constitution, and the law for the suppression of the foreign slave trade, are each as well enforced, perhaps, as any law can ever be in a community where the moral sense of the people imperfectly supports the law itself. The great body of the people abide by the dry legal obligation in both cases, and a few break over in each. This, I think, cannot be perfectly cured, and it would be worse in both cases after the separation of the sections, than before. The foreign slave trade, now imperfectly suppressed, would be ultimately revived without restriction, in one section; while fugitive slaves, now only partially surrendered, would not be surrendered at all, by the other.

Slavery is the only cause for secession, and there is no reason to break up the Union over the difference of opinion on slavery.

Physically speaking, we cannot separate. We can not remove our respective sections from each other, nor build an impassable wall between them. A husband and wife may be divorced, and go out of the presence, and beyond the reach of each other; but the different parts of our country cannot do this. They cannot but remain face to face; and intercourse, either amicable or hostile, must continue between them. Is it possible, then, to make that intercourse more advantageous or more satisfactory, after separation than before? Can aliens make treaties easier than friends can make laws? Can treaties be more faithfully enforced between aliens than laws can among friends? Suppose you go to war, you cannot fight always; and when, after much loss on both sides, and no gain on either, you cease fighting, the identical old questions, as to terms of intercourse, are again upon you.

Quite right.  Slaves would still be escaping to the North, and conflicts over territory in the West would have been a constant flashpoint between the Union and the Confederacy.

This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing Government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it, or their revolutionary right to dismember or overthrow it. I cannot be ignorant of the fact that many worthy and patriotic citizens are desirous of having the national Constitution amended. While I make no recommendation of amendments, I fully recognize the rightful authority of the people over the whole subject to be exercised in either of the modes prescribed in the instrument itself; and I should, under existing circumstances, favor rather than oppose a fair opportunity being afforded the people to act upon it.

This is a reference to what I like to deem ” The Evil Thirteenth Amendment”.  This amendment would have enshrined protection for slavery in the Constitution.  It read as follows;

“ARTICLE THIRTEEN, No amendment shall be made to the Constitution which will authorize or give to Congress the power to abolish or interfere, within any State, with the domestic institutions thereof, including that of persons held to labor or service by the laws of said State.”

It was passed by Congress two days before Lincoln’s inaugural,  and would be ratified by two states before the War and History made it merely a curious foot note.

I will venture to add that to me the Convention mode seems preferable, in that it allows amendments to originate with the people themselves, instead of only permitting them to take or reject propositions, originated by others, not especially chosen for the purpose, and which might not be precisely such as they would wish to either accept or refuse. I understand a proposed amendment to the Constitution, which amendment, however, I have not seen, has passed Congress, to the effect that the federal government shall never interfere with the domestic institutions of the States, including that of persons held to service. To avoid misconstruction of what I have said, I depart from my purpose not to speak of particular amendments, so far as to say that holding such a provision to now be implied constitutional law, I have no objection to its being made express and irrevocable.

Lincoln was willing, in order to preserved the Union, to go so far as protecting slavery in the Constitution.   Note however his preference for a Constitutional Convention.  It is quite possible that Lincoln calculated that a Convention would ultimately reject such an amendment.

The Chief Magistrate derives all his authority from the people, and they have referred none upon him to fix terms for the separation of the States. The people themselves can do this if also they choose; but the executive, as such, has nothing to do with it. His duty is to administer the present government, as it came to his hands, and to transmit it, unimpaired by him, to his successor.

If there is to be a sundering of the Union it must be done by the people of the entire nation.

Why should there not be a patient confidence in the ultimate justice of the people? Is there any better or equal hope, in the world? In our present differences, is either party without faith of being in the right? If the Almighty Ruler of nations, with his eternal truth and justice, be on your side of the North, or on yours of the South, that truth, and that justice, will surely prevail, by the judgment of this great tribunal of the American people.

By the frame of the government under which we live, this same people have wisely given their public servants but little power for mischief; and have, with equal wisdom, provided for the return of that little to their own hands at very short intervals.

While the people retain their virtue and vigilance, no administration, by any extreme of wickedness or folly, can very seriously injure the government in the short space of four years.

Lincoln saying to the secessionists:  You lost the last election.  You might win the next one depending upon the will of the people. 

My countrymen, one and all, think calmly and well, upon this whole subject. Nothing valuable can be lost by taking time. If there be an object to hurry any of you, in hot haste, to a step which you would never take deliberately, that object will be frustrated by taking time; but no good object can be frustrated by it. Such of you as are now dissatisfied still have the old Constitution unimpaired, and, on the sensitive point, the laws of your own framing under it; while the new administration will have no immediate power, if it would, to change either. If it were admitted that you who are dissatisfied, hold the right side in the dispute, there still is no single good reason for precipitate action. Intelligence, patriotism, Christianity, and a firm reliance on Him, who has never yet forsaken this favored land, are still competent to adjust, in the best way, all our present difficulty.

Lincoln trying to put the brakes on the crisis.  I rather suspect he realized it was too late for that.

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 shall have the most solemn one to “preserve, protect, and defend it.”

A perceptive adviser to Jefferson Davis would have told him too things from this passage.  First, Lincoln would argue that the Confederacy fired the first shot in any conflict over federal installations in the South, and, second, that there was no compromise with Lincoln on the issue of independence for the Confederacy.

I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle-field, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearth-stone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

Lincoln in one of his most moving passages. He reasoned like an attorney but often wrote like a poet.

In his first inaugural Lincoln hit on the great truth of the secession crisis.  From the standpoint of white Southerners it was all unnecessary.  Lincoln was simply not going to tamper with slavery where it existed, and, absent a Civil War, he lacked the power to do so in any case.  Secessionists were the cause of the death of slavery in America by precipitating a Civil War that destroyed it.  Absent a Civil War, the Peculiar Institution was safe in the South.  Secession, undertaken to protect slavery, proved to be the only means by which slavery would be eliminated swiftly and irrevocably from the United States.

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Donald R. McClarey

Cradle Catholic. Active in the pro-life movement since 1973. Father of three and happily married for 35 years. Small town lawyer and amateur historian. Former president of the board of directors of the local crisis pregnancy center for a decade.


  1. All true enough — good article.

    But you omit the 600 lb gorilla in the middle of the room, and that is, Southern Ultimatums.

    The Southern leaders in Montgomery — before the attack on Ft Sumter — issued Five Ultimatums. All five Ultimatums were about the same thing -the SPREAD of slavery.

    Newspapers in the South heralded the Five Ultimatums as “The True Issue”. New York papers reprinted the Ultimatums, and suggested Lincoln obey them, to avoid war. The South demanded them — or promised war.

    These were not suggestions — they were Ultimatums. They called them Ultimatums themelves, proundly and loudly. When LIncoln would not obey the Ultimatums, the South attacked.

    The First Ultimatum was that the US Congress must spread slavery into “the territories” — they meant Kansas. Kansas, of course, had just fought a four year war to keep slavery out. The people of Kansas had just voted 98% to 2% to ban slavery forever.

    Few places on earth were more anti slavery than Kansas — but the First Ultimatum was that Congress must force slavery in there. Kansas must “accept and respect slavery”.

    Gone was even the fig leaf of “state’s rights” — the Ultimatums were a naked assault on even the pretense of states rights. States nor Congress, nor the people in the territories and states, would have any right whatsoever to pass any of their own laws about blacks, or slavery, or civil rights for anyone with any “negro” in them.

    These Ultimatums were issued by the Southern leaders, proclaimed joyfully by Southern newspapers at the time. They were not some “historian” interpreting things 100 years later. These were the read deal headlines in Southern papers at the time.

    And these were not some last minute over exhuberance uttered in a fit of power or the passion of the moment. These were essentially the same demands made for decades. These were the demands made in 1820, that led to the so call “Compromise” — which was about as much a compromise as a 7-11 armed robbery.

    These were the same demands made in 1850, that resulted in that “Compromise”.

    Only here – in the Five Southern Ultimatums, the South had already seceded. The first thing the South did as a separate country was to demand the US spread slavery into the territories! And that the US not allow their own states to pass laws regarding events within their own borders. THis is an astonishingly complete repudiation of their so called regard for “states rights”. It was always about the spread of slavery.

    Somehow, in our histories and our text books, we have totally glossed over the overhwelmingly powerful demands by the Southern leaders — the spread of slavery. We think we have to say the South was protecting slavery. That was not even a real issue to them. The real issue was the spread of it.

    Sure — the rhetoric that the antebellum Southern newspapers used was geared to scare people that LIncoln was going to make “our children be with ni**ers” But that was clearly deceptive.

    When push came to shove, the South demanded one thing – -the SPREAD of slavery.

    As Toombs shouted to screaming crowds “EXPAND OR PERISH” He meant expand slavery. And everyone knew it. The governor of Florida declared quote clearly that “just stopping the spread of slavery is like burning us slowly to death” because of the hyper abundance of slaves.

    Let the South — speaking at the time – speak for itself. Their headlines, their speeches, their ultimatums. The SPREAD of slavery was their ultimatum, Later, after they lost, they changed their tune. But at the time, their own leaders, their own ultimatums, their own repeated demands, were for the SPREAD of slavery.


  2. I am always amazed at Catholics who seem to revere Lincoln. The Southern states had no right to secede, but only because they were dragging millions of slaves with them, slaves they had no right to hold in any case, let alone force into a new nation. But the principle of the right to secede is inviolable for any society of free men. None of the original 13 colonies would ever have ratified he Constitution had they thought it would bind them forever. Lincoln was a tyrant who, by destroying the South in his great brotherly affection for the Union, destroyed the liberty of all Americans, and gave us the all-powerful federal government that we have today.

  3. Just a thought on the results of the Civil War. The slaves were free. The Union was intact. The South was destroyed. The North was enriched.

  4. “The South was destroyed. The North was enriched.”

    Too bad T. Shaw that the white Southerners who ran the South decided to secede in order to safe guard slavery. Would you agree with me that this was the biggest error in American history?

  5. Timothy — maybe learn some real history.

    When the South seceded — Lincoln did nothing. Got that? Nothing.

    When the South issued five Ultimatums to spread slavery – Lincoln did nothing. Got that? Nothing.

    The South issued Ultimatums to spread slavery or face war. Lincoln did nothing.

    Only when the South attacked — did Lincoln do anything. What should he do?

    Remember, by the time the South attacked, they were a different country. They threatened the capital, they hung voters, they promised war if their Ultimatums were not met.

    Finally– only AFTER the South hung voters, only AFTER the South issued war ultimatums to spread slavery, only AFTER the SOuth attacked, only AFTER the South made good on their threats to attack, did Lincoln do anything.

    He did not to a thing when they seceded.

    If you think the South seceded – why not do it again? Attack 12 forts again, hang voters again, promise war if the North did not spread slavery for you again, claim God told you to spread slavery again, do all that again.

    Do that again if it was right. Go on.

    What was Lincoln supposed to do? Obey their demands to spread slavery? That was their ultimatum — the South issued Ultimatums for the North to spreadd slavery into Kansas. Did you know that?

    Was LIncoln supposed to obey? That was the only way to avoid war – and they said so. The South said so.

    So learn what happened – learn the Southern Ultimatums, learn what actually happened. Learn about their hanging voters, learn about their insane attacks, learn about their threatening the capital.

    If you like that – go for it. Get another Civil War started. Do that all again.
    Tell everyone God told you to spread slavery — like the SOuth did — and go for it. Good idea.

  6. The South did in no way secede to protect slavery.

    They seceded — and then attacked – to spread slavery. And they said so.

    Over – and over, and over and over. That is what their headlines screamed as ” THE TRUE ISSUE”

    The TRUE issue — according to Southern newspapers, and Southern Ultimatums, and Southern speeches, and Southern actions, was the SPREAD of slavery. Not the protection of it, but the SPREAD of it.


  7. Several years ago — actually, it was around the time of the first Star Wars prequel, The Phantom Menace — there was a conversation at my blog about the secession, and whether or not there is a right to it. I’d never really thought about that theoretical question before — in the context of our Civil War, it seemed obvious that the South was in the wrong, as is being argued here (and I still see that as true).

    But to the question of the right of secession… I’d be curious to hear thoughts from the commenters here. If a state chooses to join the union, can it never leave? If it can’t, why not? If it can, on what grounds and in what scenarios?

    Any thoughts?

  8. Mark, try reading my post again. I specifically denied that the South had the right to secede BECAUSE it was a society based on slavery. I said a society of FREE men has an inviolable right to determine its own political destiny, including the right to secede, just as the thirteen colonies chose to do from England. How many wars has America fought (especially recently) to guarantee this right to other peoples, a right we ourselves no longer possess, thanks to Lincoln. What I find so appalling about Lincoln is his absolute hypocrisy on matters of race. He is the perfect modern politician. Ruthless and amoral.

  9. ” . . . the biggest error in American history.”

    Surely, BIG MISTAKE for the South. The “business model” was doomed, anyhow. For decades at the South’s expense, the North’s industrialization was advanced: tariffs. The North the BIGGEST WINNER in American History. The South was destroyed and never recovered. The North was enriched.

    Biggest error in American history was made in November 2008.

  10. BTW: that ultimatum was a tactic. It cut the ties. It communicated that there would be no compromise.

    That ultimatum’s purpose may have been same as Cortez’ when he burnt the ships off Mexico. There would be no retreat. Do or die.

  11. “The South was destroyed and never recovered.”

    Actually it has recovered quite nicely and it was never destroyed. The South’s economic development was retarded quite a bit post Civil War because of poor race relations between white and black, and the treatment of blacks as fifth class citizens throughout almost all of the old Confederacy from the close of Reconstruction until the rise of the modern Civil Rights movement in the Forties, Fifties and Sixties of the last century. The invention of economic air conditioning post World War II helped also.

    Prior to the Civil War, far sighted Southerners contended that the reliance on the South of slavery and cotton was an economic dead end and that the South needed to industrialize and which is what happened after the Civil War albeit at a much slower pace than in the North. The South would have enjoyed prosperity much sooner if the speech by Booker T. Washington linked below had been heeded:


  12. Timothy — if you call that secession, do it again.

    If you think hanging voters, like the South did, was secession, do it again.

    If you think attacking the US after your ultimatums to spread slavery was secession — do it again.

    If you think threatening the US Capital, after you threaten them to spread slavery for you — do it again.

    What part of this do you not understand? The South was taken over by very totalitarian violent lunatics. Men who tortured women and children. Men who said God told them to enslave millions. Men who promised war if the North did not spread slavery for them.

    What part of this do you not grasp? Imagine if Mexico today issued war ultimatums — that we must spread slavery for Mexico’s amusement. Can’t imagine that?

    Well that is what the CSA did. They promised war if the US did not spread slavery — and LIncoln still did nothing.

    Only when this illegal, violent, religious bunch of lunatics attacked, did LIncoln do anything.

    Your problem is, you don’t know real history. You only know the politically correct nonsense they teach in schools. No where are we taught about Lee torturing young women, for example. No where are we taught that the South issued war ultimatums that the NORTH must spread slavery for their amusement.

    Since you have no understanding of what went on, you should do that first.

    Find out about the following/

    1) Southern Ultimatums that promised war if the North did not spread slavery for the South.

    2) The violent suppression of free speech for 40 years– including torturing preachers for speaking against slavery.

    3) The violent suppression of religion, including torturing preachers for speaking against slavery.

    If you see the Southern governmeents as rational and legally installed, then you simply don’t know history. Southern opposition was violently suppressed — did you know that? Did you know, yes or no, that pastors where tortured for preaching things the Southern “government” did not like?

    Really — did you know that? No, you did not.

    Did you know that if a person just said he was against slavery, he could be tried, and subjected to AT LEAST being deported — and at most, being tortured, That is just for SAYING what they believed.

    Since you have no idea of what really went on — first go learn the truth.

    Hiton Helper, the famous Southern writer, said that if the South had allowed real elections, slave owners would have been kicked out of power. But there were no real elections. THe only elections allowed in the South were “Saddam Hussen” type elections.

    Did you know that? DId you know free speech was stopped from 1820’s on?
    Did you know there where no real elections? You can’t have real elections if you are tortured for speaking out on the issues.

    YOu have a lot to learn about history. I suggest you start reading.

    Where did I get this information? Not from text books. I got it from the South – bragging about it. I got it from Lee’s own papers, from Southern newspapers, from Southern documents, at the time. Not some drivel they made up later.

    Read the real evidence — what the Southern leaders, and books, and newspapers, and documents, said at the time. It’s clear you have no idea.

    Here is a good place to start.http://leepapers.blogspot.com/

  13. Mark, you seem to have a little trouble reading yourself. Try reading my posts again, and you will find no defense of the South. You insist on seeing the world in terms of black and white: “Lee was a bastard, so Lincoln must be a saint.” Trying to create heroes out of Civil War characters is a sketchy proposition. Lincoln was just as much a racist as anyone else in America. True, he modified his views (somewhat) over time, but he fought the Civil War over power, pure and simple. And he wasn’t going to permit any law – free speech or habeas corpus – or any Constitution, or any court, to interfere with his prosecution of the war. If you revere Lincoln, how can you possibly object to any of the characters currently running the country?

  14. I mean: it doesn’t matter what he said. Judge Lincoln by his deeds.

    September 1862, the CSA invaded the USA. That was 22 months after it seceded and after naval blockades and after umpty-ump unconstitutional invasions by hundreds of thousands of federal mercenaries. Lincoln did not abide by the Constitution, i.e., did not federalize the militias because . . . The militias of the Southern states (Democracy, anyone? Consent of the governed, anybody?) would not come out.


    No state would have been forced to allow slaves, but no state would be forced to ban slavery.

    You cannot make up stuff.

    As in: provide names (dates and places) of preachers that were tortured for inciting massacres of Southern women and children.

    Did you ever read the violent tracts of abiltionists? Did you ever hear of John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry Armory? Did you ever hear of “Bloody Kansas”? Did you ever hear of Nat Turner?

  15. “Lincoln did not abide by the Constitution, i.e., did not federalize the militias because . . . The militias of the Southern states (Democracy, anyone? Consent of the governed, anybody?) would not come out.”

    Lincoln used the same system that had been used in all of America’s wars up to his time. The states provided regiments and batteries that were placed into Federal service. By the end of the war white regiments were raised in each of the states of the Confederacy except South Carolina.

    “September 1862, the CSA invaded the USA. That was 22 months after it seceded and after naval blockades and after umpty-ump unconstitutional invasions by hundreds of thousands of federal mercenaries.”

    Give me a break! $14.00 bucks a month to risk their lives. Some mercenaries! Most of the troops were there out of pure patriotism. As for invasions T. Shaw, the whole point of the War from the Union perspective is that it was one country. Additionally, I doubt if almost all black southerners viewed it as an invasion, or the approximately 100,000 white southerners from Confederate states who fought for the Union and their families.


    “No state would have been forced to allow slaves, but no state would be forced to ban slavery.”

    Actually the right to keep slaves was enshrined in the Confederate Constitution. Theoretically a Confederate state could have banned slavery, but the ban would have been useless since the Confederate constitution guaranteed protection to slave holders in owning slavers.

    “Did you ever hear of “Bloody Kansas”?”

    Yes, and it gained that name due to the attempt by slave holders to impose slavery in an area completely unsuited to it. Cotton plantations were never going to rise on the Kansas plains.

  16. Mac,

    Lighten up.

    I think the operative just war principle is that the war should not result in worse (greater) evil than the causes of the war. You and Lincoln believed it (preserving the US and freeing the blacks) was worth mass murder and destruction. I am not convinced. Thank God I didn’t have to decide.

    It took 148 years, Obama eclipsed Lincoln as worst prez out of IL.

  17. I would appreciate it T. Shaw if you could refrain from attempting to tie Obama and Lincoln together. After the election of Obama his sychophantic followers attempted to do so, and I can think of no two Presidents more dissimilar than Lincoln and the empty suit who currently pretends to lead the nation.

    The Civil War involved death in combat T. Shaw, and both sides were willing to undergo the scourge of war rather than to retreat from their goals. I am very glad that the nation was preserved and that the slaves were freed. 620,000 war dead was a terrible price to pay, but far worse would have been a divided nation and the continuation of millions of Americans living their lives as property.

  18. Mr. McClarey,

    Please don’t be too hasty. Just because slavery is evil, does not mean 280,000 Southerners deserved to die.

    (1) Both St. Peter and St. Paul admonished slaves to obey their masters. See I Peter 2:18, Ephesians 6:5. St. Paul did request Philemon to free his slave Philemon, but voluntarily.

    (2) 90% of the soldiers who fought and died for the Confederacy owned zero slaves.

    (3) Pope Pius IX recognized Jefferson Davis as President of the CSA. Of course we Catholics are not obligated to support every political position taken by every Pope. But if the Confederacy garnered the Pope’s support, that means something at least.

    (4) After World War II, the USA helped Germany and Japan rebuild. After the War between the States, where was the Marshall Plan for South Carolina, Georgia, Virginia, Mississippi, etc.?

    I’m not trying to change your mind. But I earnestly beg you to see things from a different point of view.

  19. Just because slavery is evil, does not mean 280,000 Southerners deserved to die.

    Where in this post is such a statement even made? This is not about whether people “deserved to die,” but whether southern secession merited Lincoln’s response.

    (1) Both St. Peter and St. Paul admonished slaves to obey their masters. See I Peter 2:18, Ephesians 6:5. St. Paul did request Philemon to free his slave Philemon, but voluntarily.

    You have got to be kidding me. At least most of the neo-Confederates who argue about the righteousness of the southern cause at least go through the motions of saying that slavery is evil. I salute you for being the first to use the canned responses of slavery defenders circa 1855. It’s nice to sit here in modern day America behind the comfort of your computer screen writing abstract justifications for slaves to be docile to their masters, but I suggest such sweet-sounding bromides might not have soothed the slave woman whose children had been ripped away from her so that they could be sold elsewhere.

    After the War between the States, where was the Marshall Plan for South Carolina, Georgia, Virginia, Mississippi, etc.?

    It is true that the north bungled Reconstruction efforts – and I would argue that it is principally because Lincoln had been assassinated and the Union lacked a strong leader to bridge the differences between the extreme wings of his party. But remember that it was the South that told the North to take a hike and end Reconstruction efforts.

    But I earnestly beg you to see things from a different point of view.

    I love comments like this, as though Donald and those who don’t believe in the cause of the Confederacy are just ignorant rubes who haven’t explored the issue from every angle. Can’t speak for Donald, but I have seen the War from different points of view, and I still think the Confederacy was wrong.

  20. First of all, Lincoln did nothing until the South gave Ultimatums to spread slavery — and then attacked.

    If you don’t know that, you don’t know the basic history of the South.

    Oh, you didn’t know the South demanded the SPREAD of slavery — against, against, against, the will of the WHITE people? Well welcome to real history 101.

    Go see the SOUTH’s own Ultimatums. Their OWN ultimatums, not mine, theirs. Go see the Southern headlines saying what the TRUE ISSUE was. Not my headlines, the SOUTH’S headlines.

    The TRUE ISSUE — in big headlines– in SOuthern papers, showing the SOUTHERN ultimatums to spread slavery into Kansas.

    Gee, I wonder why the South has hid this — and everything like it?

    Go see what the South has been hiding for 150 years. Learn some truth.

    The truth matters – ask Jesus.


  21. Just because slavery is evil — Lincoln could not obey Southern demands to spread it for them.

    Did you know the Southern leaders demanded Lincoln and the North spread slavery FOR the South? Oh, you didn’t read the Richmond papers bragging about these demands?

    Oh, your “history” books forgot to tell you this?

    Maybe it’s the same “history book” that forgot to tell you about the many many horrible and profoundly embarrassing things about the South.

    Keep in mind, Lincoln didn’t do anything when the South seceded. He didn’t do anything when the South issued really goofy war ultimatums that the North must spread slavery for the South.

    He only did anything when the South attacked AFTER he refused to obey their insane demands.

    I suggest you learn real history, the very history the South has hid from, and hoped no one would notice.


  22. I see above a DEFENSE of slavery!

    Amazing! First of all, the biblical defense of slavery by the South was vile and corrupt.

    But if you believe we are supposed to have slaves — why don’t you volunteer?

    Did you notice after the Civil War, the Southern white folks didn’t volunteer to become slaves? Oh, their leaders sure believed in slavery, yes sir.
    But by their own logic and scriptures, they should have been slaves after they lost the war! They should have been forced to work under a whip, and their children sold, and they have all freedoms taken.

    After all, didn’t their bible say slavery was of God? Didn’t they defend slavery and try to spread it? Well, if it was such a great enterprise, why not enslave them? They lost. Slaves in biblical times were often people from the losing side in a war.

    So when did slavery go from God given gift — to something they sould not submit to? Exactly when they qualified to BE slaves!

    Funny how that works.

    And if you believe so strongly in slavery – go do it again! See how it works. You must feel terrible not enslaving others — it’s ordained of God you say! So go get some slaves! Or be a slave!

    See how that works for ya. Tell me when you are gonna enslave folks, I want to see it. Or tell me when you are going to be enslaved by others. I want to see that too.

    If you are gonna talk the talk about how great slavery is -walk the walk.

  23. Paul Zummo and Mark:

    I was thinking more along the lines of Brazil. Brazil ended slavery in 1888. it took them a long time, but at least they did it peacefully.

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