Originally from: Letters from Linden
by Fred Dellinger, CCHS Member
Date: April 2011
THE CIVIL WAR AND SOUTHERN MARYLAND – 150 YEARS LATER
contributed by CCHS Member Fred Dellinger
Last month in this Civil War feature we stated that the November, 1860, election of Republican Abraham Lincoln (one of four candidates for President of the United States) triggered the secession of South Carolina (and soon other states) from the Union. Another candidate for this office that November, and a very strong one in Maryland, was the current Vice President of the United States, Democrat John Cabell Breckinridge, in the James Buchanan administration. By the way, Vice President John Breckinridge received the most votes here in the State of Maryland by receiving 42,505 statewide votes for President. Breckinridge received 387 votes in Calvert County while Abraham Lincoln received only 1 vote in Calvert County! (See your 2009 “Calvert Historian”)
There is a 20th century link of Mr. Breckinridge to Calvert County. Mary Marvin Breckinridge Patterson was a great granddaughter of John C. Breckinridge and she married Jefferson Patterson in 1940. Mr. Patterson owned farm land here in Calvert County which after his death became the State owned Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum (JPPM) in Saint Leonard.
Last month we examined excerpts from the December 4, 1860, South Carolina Secession document, which was their own Declaration of Independence. As you read last month, this secession document states “that the government (of the United States of America) thus established (by the 1787 Constitution) is subject to the two great principles asserted in the Declaration of Independence;” (of 1776). Reference 1. The “two great principles” referred to by the South Carolinians were: (1) the people’s right to dissolve their government and (2) the people’s right to be an independent nation. They also added a “third fundamental principle, namely the law of compact” (contracts). Reference 1.
Shortly after the official South Carolina Secession of December 4, 1860, and soon thereafter six other States, Abraham Lincoln was sworn in as the sixteenth President of the United States. In his inaugural address, given on March 4, 1861, he stated among other legal issues the following in direct rebuttal to those states “in rebellion”: “A disruption of the Federal Union, heretofore only menaced, is now formidably attempted.
“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 for 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 …
“It follows from these views that no State upon its own 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.
“I therefore consider that, in view of the Constitution and the laws, the Union in 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 it will constitutionally defend and maintain itself …” Reference 2.
This above legal argument, while logical, required the reader to accept the perpetuity of the Union … clearly the residents of many states did not agree with this logic. What do you think? Could our Union ever dissolve itself? Lincoln further stated in this inaugural address that while he would maintain a Federal presence on all Federal property, he would not resort to violence to do so. Thus the events of April 12, 1861, when South Carolinian Confederate forces opened cannon fire on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, the Federal fort short on supplies, surrendered thirty-four hours later. Thus the Great Conflict began.
Next Month … letters to/from both Commanding Officers involved in the Fort Sumter shelling.
1. Reference: Our Nation’s Archive, The History of the United States in Documents, edited by Erik Bruun & Jay Crosby, copyright 1999 by Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, Inc. pages 340 – 342.
2. Reference: IBID, pages 344 – 345.