Sunday, June 14, 2009

'The President Was Not So Optimistic'

22nd of 45 excerpts from Lincoln by David Herbert Donald:
The attack on Fort Sumter cleared the air. The news revived the Lincoln administration, which had appeared indecisive and almost comatose, and gave it a clear objective: preserving the Union by putting down the rebellion.

Many Northerners were euphoric at the outbreak of war, confident that the Union with its vast natural resources, its enormous superiority in manufactures, its 300 percent advantage in railroad mileage was bound to prevail. Surely its 20,000,000 inhabitants could easily defeat the 5,000,000 in the Confederacy (which grew to 9,000,000 after the states of the upper South seceded). [Secretary of State] Seward thought the war would be over in ninety days. The Chicago Tribune anticipated success "within two or three months at the furthest," because "Illinois can whip the South by herself." The New York Times predicted victory in thirty days, and the New York Tribune assured its readers "that Jeff. Davis & Co. will be swinging from the battlements at Washington . . . by the 4th of July."

The president was not so optimistic. Overhearing boastful contrasts of Northern enterprise and endurance with Southern laziness and fickleness, Lincoln warned against overconfidence. Northerners and Southerners came from the same stock and had "essentially the same characteristics and powers." "Man for man," he predicted, "the soldier from the South will be a match for the soldier from the North and vice versa."

On April 15, 1861, the day after Fort Sumter surrendered, Lincoln issued a proclamation announcing that the execution of the laws in the seven states of the Deep South was obstructed "by combinations too powerful to be suppressed by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings," and he called for the states to supply 75,000 militiamen "in order to suppress said combinations, and to cause the laws to be duly executed." At the same time, he summoned a special session of Congress, to meet on July 4.

A tidal wave of approval greeted his proclamation . . . Democrats as well as Republicans rallied behind the President. . . . The only criticism of the President's proclamation was that it called for too few men [Stephen A.] Douglas told Lincoln that he should have asked for 200,000 men . . .

Lincoln called for troops to serve only ninety days not because he believed that the war would be over quickly but because a 1795 law limited a call-up of militia to not more than thirty days after the assembling of Congress. With Congress called into session on July 4, the volunteer force would have to be disbanded by August 4. He could have convened Congress earlier, but that would have meant an even shorter term of service for volunteers.

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