Learning Lincoln On-line

FROM-- SET ONE, CIVIL WAR STUDIES

Topic Fifty:  Abraham Lincoln Commanding the War

TABLE OF CONTENTS FOR TOPIC FORTY-EIGHT

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How Lincoln Thought

Lincoln's Cabinet Lincoln's "Higher Moral Ground" Holding the Union Together The Slavery Issue
Lincoln, the War and Congressional Oversight Mr. Lincoln's Generals (Finding a Fighting General) Lincoln Learning and Becoming Commander & Chief Lincoln's Political Leadership (the Issues) Post-War Reconstruction Planning Library of Congress Timeline

CONTENTS FOR TOPIC FIFTY

Lincoln as Commander in Chief. A self-taught strategist with no combat experience, Abraham Lincoln saw the path to victory more clearly than his generals.  Photo by Alexander Gardner in the Smithsonian

WAR BREWS BEFORE LINCOLN'S INAUGURATION

Shortly before the November election, the general-in-chief of the army, Winfield Scott, had prepared a memorandum for President Buchanan titled "Views suggested by imminent danger". Lincoln was provided a copy of the document. While believing that Lincoln's election would not lead to "any unconstitutional violence, or breach of law", Scott warned that there was a danger of "the seizure of a number of federal forts on the Mississippi River and on the Eastern coast -- including the vulnerable installations at Charleston harbor". Scott recommended that "all those works should be immediately so garrisoned as to make any attempt to take any one of them by surprise or coup de main ridiculous". Buchanan dismissed Scott's suggestions as provocative to the South. Lincoln however responded by thanking Scott for the information and his patriotism.

As the secession crisis deepened, Lincoln, along with much of the North, became concerned as southern states seized federal property. Reacting to a report that President Buchanan was about to surrender Fort Moultrie in Charleston, Lincoln said, "If that is true, they ought to hang him". On December 21, through Congressman Elihu B. Washburne, he asked Scott "to be as well prepared as he can to either hold, or retake, the forts, as the case may require, at, and after the inauguration".

Lincoln was introduced to the crowd by his long-time friend, Oregon Senator Edward D. Baker. Lincoln's inaugural address began by attempting to reassure the South that he had no intention or constitutional authority to interfere with slavery in the southern states. He promised to enforce the fugitive slave laws and spoke favorably about a pending constitutional amendment that would preserve slavery in the states where it currently existed.

After these assurances, however, Lincoln declared that secession was "the essence of anarchy" and it was his duty to "hold, occupy, and possess the property belonging to the government". Focusing on those within the South who were still on the fence regarding secession, Lincoln contrasted "persons in one section or another who seek to destroy the Union as it exists" versus "those, however, who really love the Union". In his closing remarks he spoke directly to the secessionists and emphasized the moral commitment that he was undertaking.

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".

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.


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