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 Posted: Wed Aug 27th, 2008 12:08 am
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Wrap10
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Texas Defender wrote:  The southerners saw him as someone  who would NOT compromise, as someone they could not deal with. Rightly or wrongly, they felt that his election forced their hand.
I think that about sums it up, from the southern point of view at the time. The irony is that they could have compromised with Lincoln, or negotiated with him, however you want to phrase it. But those negotiations would have involved barring slavery from the territories, and placing it back on the road to eventual extinction. That was Lincoln's line-in-the-sand, the point beyond which he was not willing to go. And the South, collectively speaking, simply wasn't going to agree to that concession.

As for Lincoln's inaugural speech having a major impact on the course of the seceded states, I just don't see how. Nor do I know offhand of any historians who have put forth that argument. Even assuming for the sake of argument that he assumes a much more menacing stance toward the seceded states, how is that going to give them pause?

Lincoln's stature in American history fairly well towers above all other presidents with only one or two exceptions. But that's today. In March of 1861, Abraham Lincoln was not an American legend crossing into myth. His reputation was not that of a Washington or a Jackson. He was, by and large, an unknown quantity to most of the country, save for his reputation as anti-slavery. Which, given that he was a Republican, went without saying. Any candidate they put forth in 1860 was going to be anti-slavery.

But Lincoln had no military hero's reputation to back up a strongly worded speech in the manner of Washington or Jackson. In fact, he had virtually no reputation at all at this time, and no one could be sure how he would handle the crisis unfolding. Many folks assumed that Seward would be the power behind the throne, including Seward himself. Until Lincoln set him straight. On top of everything else, the scope of the "internal uprising" he faced was far greater than anything Washington or Jackson ever had to deal with.

I think a fair bit of Lincoln's speech was also aimed at the vital border states, which at this time numbered eight. When the tidal wave of secession first swept across the South, it hit a seawall when it reached the Upper South and border state region. Lincoln wanted to keep it that way. Then, once emotions cooled down a bit and everyone had had a chance to take a deep breath, they could see about trying to undo the secession declarations that had already been issued.

That's not how it worked out and the odds of it happening that way I don't think were ever very good. But I think Lincoln realized the situation was bad enough as it was. He was hoping to pull the country back from the brink rather than take a running sprint toward it.

But you also sense that he tried to strike a balance between conciliation and strength. His lyrical reference on the one hand to those mystic cords of memory that bound the country together as only a shared heritage can do, and closing with his timeless appeal to those better angels of our nature. And on the other hand, his insistence that secession was not legal, and that the government would 'hold, occupy, and possess' all of its property, a clear reference to Fort Sumter. As I think one historian later said, or maybe it was someone at the time, the speech did have a "clank of lead in it." Meaning that it wasn't all sweetness and roses.

Lincoln clearly did not wish to fight. He also was clearly willing to do so if he felt he had to. But Lincoln, in his speech, foreshadowing Neville Chamberlain dealing with Hitler? No, I just don't see it. Had Lincoln truly wished to "appease" the South, he would have agreed to a compromise that allowed slavery in the territories, something he had the chance to do and flatly refused. He also would have voluntarily evacuated Fort Sumter, and possibly taken other actions along a similar line. He did none of these things, because while he was indeed willing and eager to negotiate, and avoid war, he was not willing to write a blank check. There were limits beyond which he simply would not go.

For anyone who would like to read his speech, here's a link, along with some interesting background information -

http://showcase.netins.net/web/creative/lincoln/speeches/1inaug.htm

Perry

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