A review of The Secession Movement in the Middle Atlantic States (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1973) by William C. Wright (WCW)

“Historical writing during the Civil War and immediately after noted the existence of these men. As the years passed, however, historians came to accept the view that Lincoln had the full support of the North prior to the attack on Fort Sumter. This was simply not true.” WCW 11 Opposition to the Republican Party’s self-nurtured current to war, before and after Sumter, is far more accepted today in 2019. For example, see Northern Opposition to Mr. Lincoln’s War, ed. by D. Jonathan White, Abbeville Institute Press, 2014.


Before Sumter the majority of Americans opposed military force against the Confederacy. Some wanted their State to secede and join the CSA or form another confederacy of States. Some just wanted to let the seceding States go. They wanted no part of a war.

This book looks at the Middle States: Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York. Each had been a colony of Great Britain, each an original State within the United States. From the election till Sumter, the period of Secession Crisis, they harbored some of the most influential, thoughtful, anxious dissent against the Republican resolve never to compromise. Hinged to the financial underbelly of his Party, Lincoln would accept only ‘Union’. He was to his last a Henry Clay man: no secession, use force when necessary. He once claimed secession a path to peace and liberty around the wide world. (Speech in US House of Representatives: The War with Mexico, Jan. 12 1848) In 1861 that path of sovereignty became a fanciful dalliance of his past.

‘Union’ is a poetical word of nebulous legal meaning, a political and personal romance where each decides for themself what it means. Useful in 1776 and1787, it remains so today because it is open to any conceit and any deceit. Lincoln’s ‘Union’ meant obedience to his Party’s nationalistic Constitution. He was always a local politician in every governmental locale he endeavored.


In the 1860 Census they were known as the “Middle States”. They were among the country’s manufacturing leaders producing 42% of the annual value of products made in the United States. They owned 43% of the total invested manufacturing capital. They had 29% of the white population in the country. WCW 15

Each was more or less northern and southern. The northern pull stemmed from New England, its ideas clustering the country into a commercial, shipping, banking and manufacturing conglomerate. Federalism there was in severe decline with remnants locked in memory. Until 1815 New England upheld its own secession cause.

The southern pull centered in Virginia, the flagship of Jeffersonian federalism. The South had remained overwhelmingly agrarian, a culture of enduring measures: community, Christianity, personal honor, the seasons of the natural world. From further south had come the push for secession. It rose with the Abominable Tariff of 1828 and returned in earnest with the Republican Party’s takeover of the Executive in 1860 and its looming Morrill Tariff. South Carolina, then in a steady stream every Gulf State left. Border States, North Carolina to Arkansas voted not to secede. They were hoping to keep the American world in tact.

Political and cultural life, North and South, held little stride with one another. Each wanted a different government: the South to keep the central government a compact, a covenant of sovereign republics; the North to finish sculpting Hamilton’s nationalized union. In 1860 the North found its gathering muscle in the Republican Party, by birth, scope and intention a strictly Northern, strictly nationalistic political force, solely dedicated to the economic of the proverbial ‘North’. It would hold the reins of governmental steeds to embed unconditional nationalism in the central government. The bug for Empire had found a home. But the long, lucrative bonds between North and South were formidable.

The Middle States were in a predicament. Too much money and too much power were at stake. They understood a time of reckoning had come. So they dawdled, muddled, whined and exclaimed. For every good reason none wanted any part of a war. After Sumter, they took cover under the umbrella of necessity. They joined ‘the North’ – which is to say, the armies of the Republican Party.

By vote of their people North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee and Arkansas now voted to stand ground. The worst rupture of American society was finally done except for the bloodiest war in American history. The Republican Party and its primary constituency, the nationalistic Northern financial world, took the central government under its wings and folded them over the land. Washington, D.C., the central government’s town, still only a town, shed forever its original title of ‘Federal City’ to become the ‘National Capitol’ of a faux federal republic.


The author surveys each State’s economic/cultural alliance with North and South, its history of slavery, the views of political leaders, newspapers, influential citizens and communications with the Lincoln administration. But he writes only of pre-Sumter opposition.

The weakness of the book is that the author jumps within each State from one category to another without a unifying stream. The book would read easier if he wrote along a timeline. By juggling future and past, he causes unneeded confusion. This review is not a strict replay of the book’s pages. It means to expose common concerns, and the singularity of each State. They all feared warfare on their soil. In this fear, Maryland held a unique reason.


Art.1, Sec. 8, Cl. 17 empowered Congress to create a “district, not exceeding 10 miles square” for the residence of the United States government on lands to be ceded from the States. Under Washington’s urgent care Jefferson, Madison and Hamilton worked out an agreement that became two acts of Congress: the 1790 Act of Assumption bringing the Revolutionary War debts of the States into control of the central government and the 1790 Residence Act which created Washington, D.C. Maryland and Virginia ceded land for its creation; Maryland land above the Potomac and Virginia land south of the river.

But on July 9, 1846 upon Virginia’s request, President Polk signed a referendum returning Virginia’s land to her. Maryland alone now held the Federal City within her borders. With the advent of secession and its confusing turmoil, Maryland’s Governor Hicks saw clearly the general government would never give up its capitol. War would erupt in Maryland should she secede. To avoid that event, the Governor refused till after Sumter to call a special session of the legislature to consider Maryland’s course.

Among the 5 Middle States, Maryland fostered the strongest secession sympathy. WCW 21 Maryland was divided into three sections: 1) the southern counties, 2) the eastern shore counties, and 3) the northern and western counties. The southern and eastern counties had the fewest immigrants, a long history of tobacco growing and cultural traditions mimicking the South. And, importantly, a long held belief in and practice of subsidiarity – a cornerstone of federalism.

The northern and western counties held an increasing immigrant population including many from Germany after the German failure of their 1848 revolution to create a German national government. They opposed slavery and State sovereignty. They were spotted with small farms run on free labor but with more commercial and manufacturing enterprise than the southern and eastern counties.

Baltimore was the jewel, with strong southern social ties and traditions. The manufacturing and commercial leader of the State, it was hard hit by the recession sweeping the North from the 1860 election to the spring of ’61. Maryland’s products traveled to the West by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. That and Baltimore’s harbor undergirded the State’s prosperity. If Maryland seceded and war came, Maryland would be cut off from the West.

Baltimore was also a slaveholding city governed Breckinridge Democrats whose leaders were firmly for the South. The slave culture was stronger in Baltimore than anywhere else in Maryland. WCW at 23 Slavery in Maryland had been easing out since 1790. In 1783 Maryland banned the entry of African Slaves (5 years after Virginia). In 1790 slaves were 32.2% of the total population, in 1860 they were 12.7 % of total population. In 1810 there were 111,502 slaves. In 1860 there were 87,189. Slavery was 40.1% of the population in the southern counties, some 19.3% in the eastern counties and only 4.4% in the northern and western counties. WCW 24 In the 1860 Census, 49.1% of Maryland’s Black population was free.

WCW at 18 gives a short, clear description of the split in the Democratic Party in 1860 bringing forth 3 separate Presidential contestants: John Breckinridge of Kentucky, Stephen Douglas of Illinois and John Bell of Tennessee. Breckinridge had campaigned on uniting Maryland with the South. Douglas held out for popular sovereignty. Both remained Democrats. Bell ran on the Constitutional Party ticket and argued to stand with the Constitution until violated. Slavery was not parcel to Bell’s campaign.

Breckinridge won the State with 45.92% of the vote, Bell received 45.14%, Douglas 6.45%. Lincoln was last with 2.48%. WCW 24-25 Maryland was not a State long on sympathy for the Republican mantras. Her leaders had their own thoughts.

Governor Hicks has been often misunderstood. His thinking was 1) keep Maryland out of war, 2) not join the CSA, and 3) secede and create a confederacy of the Middle States to include the Border States. He believed only Virginia could lead the States together. But Virginia had its own thoughts.

Virginia prided herself as the mother of America’s federal way of government. And it was Virginia’s Jefferson who faced the country’s first secession movement. His answer, in his 1801 Inaugural, explained to the New England States plainly and without rancor that if they wished to secede (they had been testing the waters for nearly 6 years) he would not stand in the way of their sovereignty. It was an example neither Lincoln nor his Republican Party cared to remember.

Then in January 1861 Virginia issued a countrywide call for a Peace Conference headed by former President John Tyler. Twenty-one States sent delegates in the hope of keeping the Union together. Hicks sent 7 representatives who all voted to support the proposed plan that included the Crittenden Compromise. WCW 52 The Conference submitted their plan to Congress. All the Middle States supported this last hope to avoid war. Lincoln and his Republican clan outright rejected the compromise. Maryland would wait on Virginia.

Nearly simultaneous, on January 10 – 11 Maryland supporters of the Union met in Baltimore and, inter alia, asked the Governor to let the people vote on secession. Hicks declined. On February 18 the State Conference Convention “resolved to act with Virginia” and opposed any coercion of the CSA by the central government. WCW 39 Maryland’s secessionists of every stripe kept a ‘Wait for Virginia’ attitude. Then on April 4, nine days before Sumter, the Virginia legislature voted not to send an Ordinance of Secession to the people.

Maryland began listing in political winds. Lincoln in an attempt to entice Hicks to pull away from secession had offered him the patronage power in Maryland. Hicks refused. He did not want to go with the CSA but also “did not necessarily want to stay with the North”. WCW 40

The overwhelming majority in Maryland was against coercion of the CSA. They believed neither side could justifiably begin war. Few except Republicans wanted or saw the need for war. Maryland dreaded a cataclysm coming. Neither side had reason to attack the other.

When Beauregard fired as ordered, the world went topsy and the CSA blamed for starting the war. The effect was immediate. The entire North inflamed. Maryland secessionists would blame Lincoln for instigating the attack. But the guns against Sumter turned the tide and Maryland in unforeseen numbers rose to defend their flag.

Still, secessionists were not done. The US military had already taken over Annapolis and was moving on Baltimore. The rioting in Baltimore after Sumter was cruel and fierce. On April 17 William W. Glenn attended “a secret meeting of pro-southern leaders in Baltimore”. In his diary he wrote, “… all they did was talk … there was not only no leader of a Southern party in Baltimore at that time but there was no newspaper to advocate the cause”. WCW 72

Maryland was effectively leaderless in a whirlpool of conflict. Anticipating the despair soon to visit the country especially in the South, Mrs. Benjamin G. Harris, who favored secession, wrote in her diary on April 21, “…’the last news from Baltimore is terrible, that the fight has commenced, several of the citizens killed – what can Lincoln mean by allowing such inhuman butchery to go on – everyday brings some new terror’…” WCW at 71 72 (Emphasis added.) The country was in the earliest stages of learning the butchery Lincoln would allow.

That same day, April 21, Hicks finally called the legislature into session to meet on April 26 in Frederick, a Unionist town. General Winfield Scott issued special instructions to General Benjamin F. Butler giving the commanding general (of US forces in Maryland) the authority to act if the Legislature attempted ‘to arm their people against the United States.'” Butler now had authority to commence “‘bombardment of their cities’ if it was necessary to prevent this legislative action.”  WCW 70

Three times the legislators passed resolutions “that called for neutrality, or the recognition of the Confederacy, or the right of the people to decide which section (of the country) they wished to join. But they also agreed that (they) the Legislature had no authority to pass an ordinance of secession.” WCW 70-71 (Emphasis added.)  Her world so completely under the knuckle of the US military, Maryland wended its way into acquiescence.

The chaos and bloodshed had had its own effect: “… once the riots began in Baltimore, no trains entered the city and ships left the harbor. A severe economic recession fell upon the city, and it touched almost everyone …the price of coal and wheat rose. It was a simple lesson that if Maryland went with the South her trade would cease because her railroads to the North would be cut off and the Chesapeake Bay could easily be closed by the Union Navy … Obviously, therefore, Maryland’s economic interests lay with the North.” WCW 73

Survival has no compassion for the obstinate. By mid-May, Mrs. Harris, displaying the vehemence of the secessionists, wrote Maryland’s epitaph: “Maryland has succumbed to Lincoln, and degraded herself.” WCW 72

For WCW the ordeal in Maryland ended in June when the entire Republican slate for Congress was elected. Only one, Henry May of Baltimore, refused the oath of unconditional loyalty. “The secession bubble had burst. By then any fear of secession had vanished – Maryland would stay in the Union”. WCW 71

But that fear had not left Lincoln. WCW does not treat the days of September when the US military roamed free and Maryland still inhaled the fresh air of secession. Ever cautious, Lincoln never took chances he didn’t have to. Without due process of law, he imprisoned prominent secessionists, public officials and private citizens. America was learning Union with the Republican Party under the sturdy, unyielding hand of Lincoln could be a long deadly affair. And so it came to be.


The smallest Middle State divided into 3 counties: New Castle in the north, Kent in the middle and Sussex in the south.  New Castle’s economic prowess easily outshone Kent and Sussex. It manufactured 8 times more than the other 2 counties combined. Its farms exceeded in value those of Sussex by 2 1/2 times. Wilmington, New Castle’s (and Delaware’s principle city) sported E. I. DuPont de Nemours & Company, the producer of 40% of the gunpowder in the country. And DuPont sided with the Unionists. WCW 74

Immigration from Europe and the other States was fairly slow and never voluminous. Folks neither rushed to immigrate nor emigrate. There was no harbor or parcel of land dedicated to the central government. But it was a State with traditions and few of those were nationalistic. Swedish settlers established the first European colony in the Delaware Valley in 1638. The colony transferred hands several times between the Dutch and English till finally in 1681 William Penn received a charter for Pennsylvania and successfully bargained with the Crown for the Delaware counties. Penn wanted open access to the Atlantic. From 1682 to 1701 Delaware was governed by Pennsylvania. Its Assembly then petitioned Pennsylvania for self-government. Though granted, the two colonies shared the same Governor till 1776 when Delaware voted to secede from both Great Britain and Pennsylvania. In late 1787 Delaware became the first State to ratify the US Constitution by unanimous vote of their Assembly.

Slavery was never strong in Delaware. In 1860 free Blacks were 92% of all African Americans in Delaware. There were no more than 1,798 slaves among Delaware’s 587 slaveholders. Only 8 of them owned over 15 slaves. WCW 75

In the 1860 election Breckinridge won all three counties with 45.74% of the total vote. The Constitutional Union Party’s Bell received 24.09%, Lincoln 23.79% and Douglas a mere 6.38%. WCW 77 After the election, recession hit the factories in Delaware as it did other areas in the North.  In December, prior to South Carolina seceding, Wilmington’s Mayor urged South Carolina to “wait upon the northern concessions as well as compromise to settle the dispute”. South Carolina seceded on December 17 and Wilmington witnessed a 100-gun salute honoring her decision. WCW 78

A danger almost peculiar to Delaware quickly rose. There began piecemeal, violent clashes between opposing sides. Delaware is a small, compact State. No mountain ranges or great rivers divide it within itself. This open, easy access within the State, where all distances are short distances, made the danger of internal fratricide greater in Delaware than any other Middle State. Armed companies formed on both sides of the secession issue. The fear arose that “civil war might erupt,” within Delaware. WCW 78 – 79

Thomas F. Bayard commanded one such company.  He was the son of Senator James A. Bayard, Jr., a fervent Jeffersonian federalist already in private communication with the CSA government. He was prominent in every sector of Delaware’s public life including arming citizen companies. WCW 79 – 80 The Senator was a secessionist that wanted Delaware to join the CSA. Yet he was “neither open nor candid about his views, which he, for the most part, confined to the letters he wrote his son, Thomas F. Bayard”. WCW 88 He would continue a critic of the Republican nationalization of the country throughout the war.

Governor William Burton in his annual address on January 1, 1861 spoke almost entirely about secession. He plainly said “‘… some of the States (referring to New England and the North) have either forgotten, or willfully violate their constitutional obligations and fraternal duties toward each and every of the co-equal sovereignties that compose the United States.'” He argued the underlying cause of the secession chaos was “‘the war which an anti-slavery, fanatical sentiment has waged upon more than two thousand millions of property – a war waged for so long a time from the pulpits, from the political rostrum, by the press and in schools – all teaching the sentiment that slavery is a crime and a sin, until it has become the received opinion of a very large portion of one section of our country’.” He accused these anti-slavery belligerents of “‘being aggressive and disunionist'”. To Governor Burton the South “‘… has just cause of complaint against the North'”.  WCW 80

But Burton was cautious for the safety of Delaware. When Governor Hicks of Maryland asked him to bring Delaware into a Central Confederacy, Burton refused. He believed “it is impossible for Delaware to exist as an independent Sovereignty”. He understood “most all of our trade is with the North”. WCW 80-81 Several times he asked the legislature to call a convention to decide Delaware’s future. They always refused. And after Sumter when Simon Cameron, Secretary of War, asked for a regiment of Delaware militia, Burton refused stating the laws of Delaware did not give him the authority to do so. Further, there was no Delaware militia since no law established it. WCW 81 No armed company went to Washington till after Sumter when one volunteer company did. Burton had said that the armed companies could go if they wanted since none were under State control. WCW 81


Delaware’s legislature and its congressional delegation were at odds. While the legislature was against secession, the Congressmen and both Senators supported peaceful secession. “They believed that ‘… the doctrine of the indissolubility of the general government has no foundation in the public law of the world…'” Also “‘… that no power was conferred upon the general government, by the Constitution….’ to keep a State in the Union.” WCW at 86 Senator Bayard wanted Delaware to secede but never alone. He thought first Virginia, second Maryland and then Delaware. WCW 89 Delaware could never make it alone.

Even more, the business and political leaders understood the pervasive importance of E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Company to the State’s economy which included any political decision. The DuPont family was uniformly behind Union. Henry A. DuPont was a cadet at West Point who felt that “the South had definite grievances and that the North was being unfair to the South”. WCW 90 – 91 But after Sumter he wrote to Samuel F. DuPont, “an ardent Unionist”, that  “‘… I now entirely concur with you…'” WCW 91 Family letters show none were secessionist. After Sumter their company refused to sell its products to the South though they “suffered from seizures by the southern states and the Confederate government”. WCW 91 – 92

Before Sumter the Georgetown Messenger was “the only true Unionist newspaper in Delaware”. WCW 94 After Sumter the Union advocates came out strong. The Delaware Gazette which had supported peaceful secession, now called for war. On April 16, three days after Sumter, a gathering of Union support met in Wilmington and wrote resolutions against any effort to have Delaware secede. Secretary of War Simon Cameron sent arms to the Mayor of Wilmington for the city’s defense. A volunteer regiment of militia, not an official military unit of the State, was raised and sent to Washington. The tide had turned.

Delaware had waited on Virginia and Maryland. But after Sumter Maryland became an armed US military camp. Virginia did not secede till May 23, 1861, too late for Delaware’s preponderant secession sentiment to gather strength and bring forth a vote of the public for or against secession. There only existed the multiple secessionist militia units throughout the State. Governor Burton’s hopes for neutrality were evaporating. “The Union Army waited until it was ready and then moved into Delaware and crushed the secessionist militia units… when the time came, Lincoln effectively forced the state of Delaware to support the Union cause against the wishes of many of its residents.” WCW 97

New Jersey

On June 15, 1787 in Philadelphia, William Paterson of New Jersey presented a federal plan for a new government. It was meant to counter Virginia’s plan for a nationalized government. Within a week Wilson, Hamilton and Madison smacked Paterson down. Though the nationalists won the day, the traditions of true federalism, later understood as Jeffersonian Federalism, still impacted the national political scene including in New Jersey.

It has often been a quixotic State. Touching New York City to its northeast and Philadelphia to its southwest, it harbored one of the most active and influential industrial cities in America – Newark, a city that could be properly called “a Southern workshop. For about two-thirds of a century the shoemakers of Newark shod the South, its planters and its plantation hands, to a large extent. For generations the bulk of the carriage, saddlery, harness and clothing manufactured in Newark found a ready and profitable market south of Mason Dixon’s line.” Its shoreline resorts, especially Cape May, were “centers of recreation for people from the South”. Many sons of prominent Southern families attended the College of New Jersey. “Several leading Confederates were born in New Jersey. … Henry Ellet, who was offered but declined … the Postmaster General of the Confederacy; Samuel Cooper, Adjutant and Inspector General of the Confederate Army; and two other generals were born in New Jersey. The exact number of men who joined the Confederacy is impossible to determine.” WCW 98 – 99

Only 18 slaves were reputedly in New Jersey in 1860. There is a conflict among sources but it appears the 18 slaves were “apprentices for life” and later freed in 1866 by the 13th Amendment. WCW 99 – 100. The slaves were called ‘apprentices for life’ pursuant to an 1846 law making all children born of slaves an apprentice for life. What is undoubtable is that Jersey protected owning slaves as private property right up to 1866. Thus “New Jersey retained slaveholding without technically remaining a slave state” and “New Jersey’s emancipation law carefully protected existing property rights. No one lost a single slave, and the right to the services of young Negroes was fully protected. Moreover, the courts ruled that the right was a ‘species of property,’ transferable ‘from one citizen to another like other personal property.'” http://slavenorth.com/newjersey.htm


In 1860 New Jersey “more people opposed than supported Lincoln”. The one issue Jersey favored was a protective tariff. Beyond that, Republicans failed to win a majority in any area, rural or urban.  Secession newspapers argued that New Jersey had 3 options: 1) enter a Northern Confederacy, 2) become part of the CSA, or 3) stand alone as an independent State. The argument went that if Jersey joined the CSA, it would become “the manufacturing center for the south” and “Perth Amboy” (already defunct) would be the rival of Philadelphia”. WCW 102 -103 Today this sort of dreaming appears nonsense.

What was not a dream was the belief that “the abolitionists of the east … have been aggressive … the South is acting defensively…” WCW 104 Former Governor Rodman M. Price openly advocated Jersey joining the Confederacy or going it alone. He believed Pennsylvania and New York would follow. WCW 105 Nor was he alone thinking New York and Pennsylvania would follow. But Charles A. Olden, a Republican, was elected Governor in 1860 and as Jersey’s “War Governor”, he steered his State into neither secession nor union prior to Sumter. If he had not been Governor, WCW believes New Jersey would have joined the CSA “temporarily, at least”. WCW 106 Olden wanted a compromise with the South and no use of force to make the South return. Among Republicans support for Lincoln’s war drum did not come forth until Sumter. In February 1861 Jersey sent a strong delegation to the Peace Conference, with high hopes of success. It was the only Northern State to vote with Southern States to allow slavery in the territories.

Unlike Delaware, New Jersey did not become an armed camp of opposing militia. Yet its support for a central confederacy remained strong, more than any other Middle State. But there was no leadership for secession. Though newspapers that supported Lincoln sided with letting the South go, Jersey leaders never bonded with leaders in other northern States who believed in a central confederacy. WCW 115 Commerce and manufacturing kept alive Jersey’s fear of war. Alongside Newark and Trenton, Paterson was the largest manufacturing center for railroad locomotives in the entire United States. WCW 118 Circling the fear of war was the fear of runaway slaves from the South coming to Jersey if war broke out.

The State government never called for a Convention to decide secession. Governor Olden and the legislature were in agreement on that. Yet quixotic as ever, one of the most rabidly pro-Republican newspapers, the Toms River Ocean Emblem, called for its county to secede from New Jersey and the Union. On the other hand, the Trenton Daily True American called for no coercion and so adamantly raised its voice against war, even after Sumter, that in August 1861, Lincoln labeled it disloyal and barred the newspaper from the US mails, effectively killing its circulation. WCW 116

Though a majority rose to the war fever after Sumter, many New Jersey folk continued long after Sumter to favor peace over war. We do not know how many left to fight for the Confederacy. Nor can we count the many who stayed home and refused to aid in the war effort.


It was among the largest States at the 1787 Convention, nearly twice the size of Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey together. Among its delegation in 1787 were men among the greatest Americans of any time: Franklin, Gouverneur Morris and James Wilson. Both Morris and Wilson were preeminent among the nationalist Founders. Morris authored that most pretentious phrase, “We, the People…” Yet in 1812, “… outraged by America’s tacit alliance with Napoleonic France in a war with England and against the best interests of ‘Christian civilization’, he called for the secession of New York and New England from the Union. Morris’s pamphlet, ‘Address to the People of New York’, led to the Hartford Convention of 1814”. See Founding Fathers, by M.E. Bradford, University Press of Kansas, 1994, Second Edition, Revised, p. 77

In 1861 Pennsylvania was “the most pro-Union State (among the Middle States and) had a Democratic party led by (its native son) the President, James Buchanan, that actively supported the South”. WCW 16

Buchanan didn’t believe the Presidency had powers to coerce a State to remain in the Union. He urged and encouraged Congress to reach an agreement to bring back the seceding States. Congress refused. Buchanan’s own views were highly detailed and cautious, spelled out in his Special Message to Congress on January 8 1861. He denied a State’s right to secede while adding the central government “did not have either the right to recognize the independence of a State or retain a State by force”.  After Sumter, Buchanan would say that like Lincoln he would have done the same to protect the property and laws of the United States when under military attack. He did not say that unlike Lincoln he would never have provoked the CSA to fire on Sumter.

Though predominantly agrarian, Pennsylvania had an extensively diverse economy, from salt production to textiles to iron mining. While Pittsburgh was called the “toolmaker of the West”, Philadelphia engaged 46% of the manufacturing in the State. WCW 125

No slaves were in Pennsylvania and the Black population was a mere 2% of total population. Pennsylvanians were opposed to slavery in the territories while unopposed to slavery where it already existed. In 1846 Pennsylvania passed its version of Personal Liberty Laws. During the Secession Crisis when these laws came under attack, Governor William F. Packer, a Democrat, tried to repeal them. The legislature refused. WCW 125

In the 1860 election, the tariff was Pennsylvania’s premier issue. Both parties fronted strong tariff candidates for Governor. In the State’s October elections, Democrats won only 22 of 66 counties and lost the Governor’s chair. In the November national election, Democrats appear to have stayed home. They lost their stronghold, Philadelphia, and won only 11 of 66 counties. Pennsylvania now had a Republican Governor, Republican House and Republican Senate: Lincoln won the State by 56,673 votes. Andrew G. Curtin was the new Governor. At the first legislative session, he went to work preparing the State militia for war.

Curtin’s predecessor, Governor Packer, a Democrat, had been no secessionist. He believed the compact theory of the Constitution “clearly erroneous”; that the central government possessed its own sovereignty and could enforce its laws in courts or by military power. People breaking those laws committed “crimes of a treasonable nature”. WCW 133 – 135 But Packer was not the dominant Democratic voice. The Democrats were divided with strained voices. Chief Justice of Pennsylvania, George W. Woodward, supported peaceful secession. He wrote, “‘… as a Northern man I cannot in justice condemn the South for withdrawing from the Union. I believe they have been loyal to the Union formed by the Constitution – secession is not disloyal to that, for that no longer exists. The North has extinguished it. …’ If war does occur, he said, ‘I wish Pennsylvania could go with them'” Speaking of Buchanan, the Chief Justice commented, “‘I hear he insists on the execution of the laws in all states that remain in Union, but he will not resist secession. That is exactly right.'” WCW 135

Buchanan had been more precise. “… the right and duty to use military force defensively against those who resist the federal officers in the execution of their legal functions, and against those who assail the property of the federal government, is clear and undeniable.” WCW 130 His belief went beyond edifices. Buchanan believed all the States remained part of the Union until Congress accepted their secession. In effect, he was creating a political limbo. He would not retake forts, post offices, etc., but he would allow seceded States and the Union to wither one from the other without intervention. After Sumter he claimed Lincoln’s call for troops used the same rationale he had. Lincoln, he said, “…had no alternative but to accept war initiated by South Carolina or the Southern Confederacy”. WCW 130 – 131

WCW 132 claims Buchanan would accept de facto secession but not de jure secession, “the subtle difference between defense and offense” the South “never seemed to understand”. On the other hand, Lincoln would not accept secession clothed in any subtlety under any circumstance. Very few Pennsylvania Democrats wanted to join the Confederacy, but most supported the South’s secession. Victor E. Piollet, a friend of Buchanan, wrote in December 1860 that the Southern States “ought all to (secede) before the fourth of March and seize the capital as it is in their section and let Abraham Lincoln be Inaugurated in the Section that elected him…” WCW 136

The Republicans had one Democrat on their side, President Andrew Jackson, and they used him from the start. In the first legislative session of 1861, George Rush Smith introduced a joint resolution against secession using Jackson’s trenchant phrasing: “… ‘That the right of the people of a single State to absolve themselves at will, and without the consent of the other States … cannot be acknowledged; and that such authority is utterly repugnant, both in principles upon which the general government is constituted, and the objects which it was expressly formed to attain.'” The resolution was adamant: “‘… all plots, conspiracies, and warlike demonstrations against the United States, in any section of the country, are treasonable in their character, and whatever power of the government is necessary to their suppression should be applied to that purpose without hesitation or delay’.” On January 11 the resolution passed the Pennsylvania Senate 27-6 and its House of Representatives 68-24. All opposing votes were Democrats from Philadelphia and its environs. This was the story of Pennsylvania from then onward. The debate was lively, often strained and strenuous, but decidedly pro-Union. WCW 139

President Davis should have been listening more carefully. In December 1860, the Philadelphia Inquirer, a Democratic newspaper, called for peaceable secession “provided the South did not attack the United States”. Then the editors went to the heart of the tumult. “No proposition to coerce an aggrieved State, as long as justice is denied, can ever meet with favor. The hearts and voices of the people would repudiate any such measures. While your wrongs remain without redress, there can be no union of the Northern people to coerce you, unless you provoke it by some act that will outrage their sense of right or their self-respect. In this lies your safety and your best assurance of justice. But if you permit the infatuated demagogues who have taken this revolutionary business in hand in South Carolina, to assault Fort Moultrie, or sacrifice its little garrison in accordance with the murderous threats in the Charleston Mercury, the North will rise in arms like one man.'” WCW 151 (Emphasis added)

At 150+ years after the War we recognize the North and South had lost the commonality of culture, enterprise, expectations, even language that helped unite the colonies against George III. Pennsylvania exemplified the new American landscape. In 1787 Philadelphia and its environs were truly most all of Pennsylvania. But in 1860 she was losing political power to the extensive lands and peoples west to Harrisburg and beyond to Pittsburgh. The old State was yielding to the new expansion. New peoples existed there, new customs, new frontiers and a new abiding reliance on a stronger central government to create wealth and secure its future.

New York

In 1861 New York City (NYC) was fully one quarter of New York’s population. It was the commercial, manufacturing and shipping center of the country, its financial capital that would assume leadership in financing the coming war.  As everywhere in America in 1860, the Democrats had divided into competing camps. In New York this insured a Republican sweep in State elections securing all top executive positions and both the Assembly and State Senate with comfortable margins. The Democrats carried only 10 of 62 counties, New York City and its environs. Statewide, Lincoln won by 48,577 votes. In the same election, a State constitutional amendment allowing Negroes to vote lost by 147,892 votes, triple Lincoln’s margin of victory.

The largest market for many New York firms was in the South. Many in NYC advertised themselves as “Exclusively for the Southern Trade”. The recession after the 1860 election made the commercial markets tremble. Merchants feared secession would eliminate southern markets. The debt owed to New York merchants by “creditors in the seceding States” was not less than $150 million. War could only disrupt and endanger the payment of debt to merchants. NYC’s shipping lines covered both transatlantic and coastal seaboard routes. There was little chance the State would secede but a vaunting chance the City may try to go its own way. WCW 164-165

On January 31 1861 the Democrats held a State Convention calling New Yorkers “to co-operate with patriotic citizens … especially with … the ‘Border States’, in putting down the agitations and conspiracies of the Secessionists of the South and the ultra Republicans of the North … to check schemes of corrupt legislation which are already engendered under pretexts of military and coercive projects” WCW 171 The delegates spoke rife with anger and bravura.

Among the major speeches only one, by George W. Clinton, son of a former Governor, DeWitt Clinton, “referred to secession as unlawful and rebellious” and urged war if the Union could not be preserved otherwise. But others spoke to confronting the central government to achieve reconciliation even with New York militia if war was engaged.  Newspapers went on record that the Convention would only accept conciliation. WCW 172-173

Many Democrat leaders did not believe the North could conquer the South by war. Samuel J. Tilden, who would be Governor of New York in 1875 and the Democratic presidential nominee in 1876, declared “… my hand shall never be raised against our brethren of the South”. John A. Dix, Buchanan’s Secretary of the Treasury and a former Senator from New York, personally “tried to persuade the southerners not to secede until the northern Democrats could bring the majority of northerners to accept southern rights. He believed … the South was deserting their supporters in the North, leaving them to face the Republicans alone.” But Dix continued that the South should not seize US forts nor stop the enforcement of the revenue laws. “In 1875 he wrote that if the South had not used violence, the North would have permitted them to leave the Union peaceably, ‘… I never dreamed of the coming war; I detested abolitionism… my sympathies were with the South, and I had no doubt of their right, if they chose, to free themselves gently from those bonds which held us together.'” WCW 176 (Dix was true to his word and exemplifies the turning revolt against the South after Sumter. He was made Major General of Volunteers by Lincoln shortly after Sumter and took command of US troops in Maryland. In September of ’61, he ordered the arrest of the Maryland General Assemblymen thought to be subversive. That was not surprising. While Treasury Secretary under Buchanan, before Lincoln’s Inauguration, he ordered Treasury agents in New Orleans to “shoot to kill” anyone who attempted to take down the national flag.)


Mayor Fernando Wood was not the first to advocate NYC be a Free City, free of both New York State and the Union. The idea came forward during the 1860 campaign when some merchants feared a Republican take-over of the White House. Even a later Union General, Congressman Dan Sickles, Democrat, claimed “in the event of secession in the South, NYC would free herself from the hated Republican ‘State’ government of New York and throw open her ports to free commerce.” WCW 176-177. NYC merchants were the basis for the claim of any Free City advocate. But merchants ran neither the city nor the Republican Party. And it’s here that WCW begins the most interesting section of his book.

New York wasn’t just another State. It was the premier State, the most populous in the Union by nearly a million people. Its political clout was enormous. It had the leading newspapers in the country. It was the financial center for America. It had a leading candidate for President in 1860 in William Seward. So it is strange to suddenly read that the Republicans while governing the State were divided into three antagonistic groups: the Seward faction, former Whigs led by William H. Seward, Thurlow Weed, Seward’s political advisor and Henry Raymond of the New York Times. Horace Greeley, William Cullen Bryant and David Dudley Field led another group, former free-soil Democrats who were anti-Seward. Both were against coercion of the South and wanted compromise. But they were up against a stronger Republican group, the rank and file, who tolerated no compromise and unyieldingly supported the anti-compromise administration in Washington. When Sumter arrived, New York was primed to fight for “the flag”.

 Whither Sumter

WCW explicates at some length the reason secession movements failed in the Middle States: “no single leadership group arose in any of the States to guide the secession movement”. It always had ineffective leadership including, surprisingly, a lack of co-ordination between the States. The Founders did much better in 1776. Secondly, everyone feared war and believed once war would begin, peaceable secession was impossible. “To secede after the firing upon Fort Sumter would have made their communities the natural theaters of war for the union army marching to the defense of Washington.” WCW 207-208 Of utmost importance, the South’s “forcible seizure of arsenals, mints, revenue-cutters, and other property of the common government, and the attack and capture of Fort Sumter, put an end to argument as well as to the spirit of conciliation, and aroused a feeling of exasperation which nothing but the arbitrament of arms could overcome,” quoting John Dix, WCW 208-209

There was also something else WCW sort of dances around: Lincoln had always intended to risk war. He wrote on December 21, 1860, the day after South Carolina seceded, to Elihu Washburne with instructions for General Scott to prepare “to either hold, or retake, the forts, as the case may require”. (Emphasis in original) He repeated this statement in a letter to Major David Hunter on December 22, 1860 and his friend, Orville Browning, Senator from Illinois, related in his diary for July 3, 1861 that Lincoln was elated to take personal credit for the success of the Sumter expedition. And there’s also the letter of Gustavus V. Fox, Assistant Secretary of the Navy and commander of the expedition to re-supply Fort Sumter, to Francis P. Blair, April 17, 1861. “I told the Major (Anderson, commander of Fort Sumter) how anxious the President was that they (CSA) should stand before the civilized world as having fired upon bread yet they had made the case much worse for themselves as they knew the Major would leave the 15th, at noon for want of provisions…” WCW 211 (Emphasis added)

Lincoln knew this war was his party’s war as he admitted to Secretary Fox on May 1, 1861. “You and I both anticipated that the cause of the country would be advanced by making the attempt to provision Fort Sumpter (sic) even if it should fail; and it is no small consolation now to feel that our anticipation is justified by the result.” WCW 212

WCW points out but avoids the contention whether Lincoln “maneuvered” the South to attack. WCW 212 It’s of no use this far in the future to continue to avoid the obvious. The answer is, of course he did. Guile was Lincoln’s habit. He was a political brawler. He understood human nature far better than Jefferson Davis. His low opinion of humanity came from his daily contentions with humanity’s reflexive spirit to protect itself, not merely in body but in its sense of itself. Lincoln’s sense of himself was wrapped within his political life. The South needed itsown political brawler, someone like Sam Houston. Instead, it pushed forward and against his wishes, a political knight of shining armor.

Davis was cultured in an agrarian world sustaining family and fields, a place where change hinged to and sought life within the Ineffable. Lincoln shied from the Ineffable, his life cultured within a personal survival for place and power.

So it is little surprise to learn that Davis never understood why the South’s “friends up North” rallied to their flag and their central government when he ordered Beauregard to fire on Sumter. He did not understand “those people” had a life apart and a flag no one could be allowed to dishonor or trample on. WCW 211

The CSA Secretary of State, Robert Toombs of Georgia did understand, the sole voice of reason in the Confederate cabinet. “… it is suicide, murder, and you will lose us every friend at the North. You will wantonly strike a hornet’s nest … now quiet, will swarm out and sting us to death. It is unnecessary; it puts us in the wrong; it is fatal”. WCW 211

Davis had heard it all before. Richard Lathers, (one of the preeminent businessmen of the age, born/raised in South Carolina, with business interests there, in Massachusetts and New York where he had a 300 acre estate in New Rochelle, who would eventually fight with the rank of Colonel on the Union’s side), tried to instruct Davis, “… there will be no compromise with Secession if war is forced upon the North … You must not be deceived by the indignant and rather hasty threats made by our Northern Democrats, because of attempted infringements of Southern rights…. the first armed demonstration against the integrity of the Union or the dignity of the flag will find these antagonistic partisans enrolled in the same patriotic ranks for the defense of both … Civil war for the destruction of the Union will bring every man at the North, irrespective of his party or sectional affiliation, to the support of the government and the flag of his country..” WCW 210-211.

President Davis could just never grasp the ‘people’ reality of politics.


Hamilton was killed in July 1804. For the last 8 years of his life, he stood staunchly against New England seceding, confronting their hatred of Jefferson’s federalism and his Democratic Republican party as inimical to the Empire they all dreamed of building. He reminded them the States must hold together to create that Empire. But Hamilton wasn’t around in 1861 and his political grandchildren, the newly enthroned Republican Party, had no one his equal in political wisdom, vision or courage. None knew war as he did. On December 28, 1805 Gouverneur Morris would write Aaron Ogden:

“Our poor friend Hamilton bestrode his hobby (i.e. monarchical government), to the great annoyance of his friends and not without injury to himself. More a theoretic than a practical man, he was not sufficiently convinced that a system may be good in itself and bad in relation to particular circumstances. He well knew that his favorite form (of government) was inadmissible, unless as the result of civil war, and I suspect that his belief in that which he called an approaching crisis arose from a conviction that the kind of government most suitable, in his opinion, to this extensive country, could be established in no other way.” As quoted in The Founders on the Founders, ed. John P. Kaminski, University of Virginia Press 2008, p. 208 (Emphasis added)

Vito Mussomeli

Vito Mussomeli is a retired attorney living in Texas. He has spoken and written extensively on the Confederate Constitution and the Confederate legal system.

Leave a Reply