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A Nation Divided.  The Civil War in contemporary prints
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1861: March

[ Lincoln's inauguration | The Confederacy | New Territories | Fateful decision ]


Lincoln's inauguration

Lincoln's inauguration
On March 4th, Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated as the sixteenth president of the United States. Standing at the east front of the Capitol, in front of a large crowd and protected by watchful troops, Lincoln delivered a heartfelt inaugural address. He appealed for the preservation of the Union, attempting to offer a compromise to the Southerners while maintaining his support in the North. He vowed not to accept secession and to retain all federal property, but he promised the government would not initiate the use of force against the South nor would he seek to end slavery where it existed already. "I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so."

The Confederacy

Lincoln's plea fell on deaf ears in the Confederate States, which had no intention of backing out of their secession. Two days after Lincoln's inauguration, the Confederate Congress authorized an army of 100,000 volunteers to serve for one year.

Those in the Confederate States were not, however, keen on a war, and so within a week they sent a commission to try to come to an agreement with the United States government over issues raised by their secession. Lincoln, refusing to recognize the Confederacy as a separate political entity, instructed Secretary of State William Seward to refuse to meet with the commission.

New Territories

On March 2nd, two new territories were organized in the trans-Mississippi West, Nevada and Dakota, making a total of three new territories in 1861 (Colorado had been formed the prior month). The Dakota Territory was formed from the Nebraska Territory north of 43rd parallel, where settlers had been demanding local control of what had been Sioux lands ceded to the U.S. in 1858.

Nevada Territory was formed from the western part of the Utah Territory. Gold had been mined there, on the eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, from as early as 1850, but in 1859 the Comstock Lode of silver was discovered, the first major discovery of silver in the United States. Over the next year, thousands flooded into the area. This population, most which came from California, was antagonistic to the Mormons who controlled the Utah Territory, so there was agitation for the creation of a new territory. This was viewed favorably by Congress, as the population was primarily anti-slavery and the federal government desired to keep control of the region's mineral wealth.

Settlers in Dakota and Nevada were not the only ones seeking recognition at this time, for those living in the southern part of the New Mexico Territory had been trying for their own territory since as early as 1856. Most of the population in New Mexico was located in the northern part of the territory, near the capital of Santa Fe. Those in the southern parts felt that they were being ignored by the territorial government, so in 1856 and then again in 1860 they held conventions calling for a new Territory of Arizona, to be created from the southern half of New Mexico.

Congress refused to go along with the demands of the Arizonians, initially because the population was so small, but in 1860 because of fears by northern Congressmen that this would become a new slave state. Not only were many in the proposed territory pro-slavery, with extensive business connections to the southern states, but the proposed territory lay below the old Missouri Compromise line of demarcation between slave and free states.

When the Confederacy was created in February, 1861, the Arizonians finally saw an opportunity to create a de facto new territory. A convention was held in Mesilla, where it was voted, on March 16, 1861, to secede from the Union and petition to join the Confederate States. These eastern Arizonians asked those to the west join them, resulting in a convention, held in Tucson, where the delegates voted on March 28, 1861, to join those in the east in forming the new, secession territory.

Fateful decision

Lincoln was faced with an awful dilemma. He saw himself honor bound to hold on to all federal property, so when Colonel Anderson sent him word from Fort Sumter that he needed 20,000 men and provisions to keep the fort from falling into Confederate hands, Lincoln felt forced to act. It was either that or give up the fort or let the troops starve. However, Lincoln also had promised not to become the aggressor nor to instigate conflict with the southern states. After agonizing over his choices, on the last day of March, Lincoln ordered that supplies, but no men nor military supplies, be sent to relieve Fort Sumter.

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