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President Lincoln Responds

While Southern states seceded and formed a separate government, President Buchanan continued in office. At that time, newly elected President Lincoln did not take office until March 4, 1861. The country waited anxiously to hear what he would do. These quotes from his Inaugural Address show he attempted to calm the situation.


"Apprehension seems to exist among the people of the Southern States that by the accession of a Republican Administration their property and their peace and personal security are to be endangered.

I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so

. . . there needs to be no bloodshed or violence, and there shall be none unless it be forced upon the national authority. The power confided to me will be used to hold, occupy, and possess the property and places belonging to the Government and to collect the duties and imposts; but beyond what may be necessary for these objects, there will be no invasion, no using of force against or among the people anywhere.

The mails, unless repelled, will continue to be furnished in all parts of the Union. So far as possible the people everywhere shall have that sense of perfect security which is most favorable to calm thought and reflection. The course here indicated will be followed unless current events and experience shall show a modification or change to be proper, and in every case and exigency my best discretion will be exercised, according to circumstances actually existing and with a view and a hope of a peaceful solution of the national troubles and the restoration of fraternal sympathies and affections.

. . . One section of our country believes slavery is right and ought to be extended, while the other believes it is wrong and ought not to be extended. This is the only substantial dispute. . . Physically speaking, we can not separate. . . . Can aliens make treaties easier than friends can make laws?

In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow-countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The Government will not assail you."

* * *

After such mild and conciliatory words, how did it end in war? You probably remember the history. When U.S. troops stationed in Fort Sumter outside the Charleston harbor ran short of supplies and the Federal government sent a ship to resupply them, Confederate forces in Charleston opened fire, leading to the surrender of the fort. War had begun.

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