-- Aftermath --

Tuesday April 15, 1861

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Commentary: Lincoln's Proclamation

The Proclamation calling up 75,000 militia for three months service, and convening Congress on July 4, reads as follows:
Whereas the laws of the United States have been for some time past and now are opposed, and the execution thereof obstructed, in the States of South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas, by combinations too powerful to be suppressed by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings, or by the powers vested in the marshals by law:

Now, therefore, I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, in virtue of the power in me vested by the Constitution and the laws, have thought fit to call forth, and hereby do call forth, the militia of the several States of the Union, to the a ggregate number of seventy-five thousand, in order to suppress said combinations, and to cause the laws to be duly executed.

The details for this object will be immediately communicated to the State authorities through the War Department.

I appeal to all loyal citizens to favor, facilitate, and aid this effort to maintain the honor, the integrity, and the existence of our National Union, and the perpetuity of popular government; and to redress wrongs already long enough endured.

I deem it proper to say that the first service assigned to the forces hereby called forth will probably be to repossess the forts, places, and property which have been seized from the Union; and in every event the utmost care will be observed, consistently with the objects aforesaid, to avoid any devastation, and destruction of peaceful citizens in any part of the country.

And I hereby command the persons composing the combinations aforesaid to disperse and retire peacefully to their respective abodes within twenty days from date.

Deeming that the present condition of public affairs presents an extraordinary occasion, I do hereby, in virtue of the power in me vested by the Constitution, convene both Houses of Congress. Senators and Representatives are therefore summoned to assemble at their respective chambers, at twelve o'clock, on Thursday, the fourth day of July next, then and there to consider and determine such measures as, in their wisdom, the public safety and interest may seem to demand.

Lincoln based the proclamation on a 1795 law, enacted during the Whiskey Rebellion, that authorized the President under certain circumstances to call the state militia into federal service for a limited time.

In issuing his proclamation, Lincoln was not necessarily anticipating extensive operations or a long, punishing war. Rather, he was likely thinking of a limited, short-term conflict in which the government defended its positions, especially Washington itself, instituted blockades, and initiated selective military landings to recapture lost possessions. The proclamation seemed sufficient to cope with the situation that then existed. However, Lincoln realized that conditions could change rapidly and, as his private secretaries, Nicolay and Hay, recalled, he "reserved the right to use his best discretion in every exigency." In the coming days, as the Confederacy mobilized its forces, Lincoln took further action, such as instituting blockades and increasing the army and navy.

Bibliography: Lincoln, Works, eds. Nicolay and Hay, 6: 246-48; Nicolay and Hay, Lincoln, 4: 75; Current, Lincoln and the First Shot, pp. 158-65; Randall and Donald, Civil War, pp. 177-78, 274-76; Rhodes, History, 3: 359-60; Nevins, War for the Union, 1: 90-91.

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