Abraham Lincoln

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Abraham Lincoln : biography

February 12, 1809 – April 15, 1865

On April 15, Lincoln called on all the states to send detachments totaling 75,000 troops to recapture forts, protect Washington, and "preserve the Union", which, in his view, still existed intact despite the actions of the seceding states. This call forced the states to choose sides. Virginia declared its secession and was rewarded with the Confederate capital, despite the exposed position of Richmond so close to Union lines. North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas also voted for secession over the next two months. Secession sentiment was strong in Missouri and Maryland, but did not prevail; Kentucky tried to be neutral.Oates, p. 226.

Troops headed south towards Washington to protect the capital in response to Lincoln’s call. On April 19, secessionist mobs in Baltimore that controlled the rail links attacked Union troops traveling to the capital. George William Brown, the Mayor of Baltimore, and other suspected Maryland politicians were arrested and imprisoned, without a warrant, as Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus.Heidler (2000), p. 174. John Merryman, a leader in the secessionist group in Maryland, petitioned Chief Justice Roger B. Taney to issue a writ of habeas corpus, saying holding Merryman without a hearing was unlawful. Taney issued the writ, thereby ordering Merryman’s release, but Lincoln ignored it. Then and throughout the war, Lincoln came under heavy attack from antiwar Democrats, called Copperheads.Scott, pp. 326–341.

Assuming command for the Union in the war

After the fall of Fort Sumter, Lincoln realized the importance of taking immediate executive control of the war and making an overall strategy to put down the rebellion. Lincoln encountered an unprecedented political and military crisis, and he responded as commander-in-chief, using unprecedented powers. He expanded his war powers, and imposed a blockade on all the Confederate shipping ports, disbursed funds before appropriation by Congress, and after suspending habeas corpus, arrested and imprisoned thousands of suspected Confederate sympathizers. Lincoln was supported by Congress and the northern public for these actions. In addition, Lincoln had to contend with reinforcing strong Union sympathies in the border slave states and keeping the war from becoming an international conflict.Donald (1996), pp. 303–304; Carwardine (2003), pp. 163–164.

The war effort was the source of continued disparagement of Lincoln, and dominated his time and attention. From the start, it was clear that bipartisan support would be essential to success in the war effort, and any manner of compromise alienated factions on both sides of the aisle, such as the appointment of Republicans and Democrats to command positions in the Union Army. Copperheads criticized Lincoln for refusing to compromise on the slavery issue. Conversely, the Radical Republicans criticized him for moving too slowly in abolishing slavery.Donald (1996), pp. 315, 331–333, 338–339, 417. On August 6, 1861, Lincoln signed the Confiscation Act that authorized judiciary proceedings to confiscate and free slaves who were used to support the Confederate war effort. In practice the law had little effect, but it did signal political support for abolishing slavery in the ConfederacyDonald (1996), p. 314; Carwardine (2003), p. 178.

In late August 1861, General John C. Frémont, the 1856 Republican presidential nominee, issued, without consulting Washington, a proclamation of martial law in Missouri. He declared that any citizen found bearing arms could be court-martialed and shot, and that slaves of persons aiding the rebellion would be freed. Frémont was already under a cloud with charges of negligence in his command of the Department of the West compounded with allegations of fraud and corruption. Lincoln overruled Frémont’s proclamation. Lincoln believed that Fremont’s emancipation was political; neither militarily necessary nor legal.Donald (1996), pp. 314–317. After Lincoln acted, Union enlistments from Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri increased by over 40,000 troops.Carwardine (2003), p. 181.