Instead of abandoning or reclaiming forts, some counseled Lincoln to maintain the status quo. Urged upon the President-elect by his friend, Orville H. Browning, this idea affirmed the principle of federal authority and called for the continued possession of those forts still under Union control.
But it cautioned against the risk of war associated with retaking property now in Confederate hands. Less aggressive than the proposal to reclaim federal property, this policy promised to avert conflict and hold the loyalty of the upper South. It would also provide an opportunity for southern unionists to quell secession and reunite the nation.
While it bowed to the reality of the South's military takeover of federal property, it did not recognize the legitimacy of such actions or waive the federal government's right to reclaim property in the future. The forts could and should be reclaimed,
but that could be accomplished by less provocative means whenever conditions warranted.
One Republican newspaper called his suggestion "masterly inactivity." "The object to be aimed at," declared the New York Times, "is the conversion of the Southern people from their Secessionism. The appeal of the Government must be to the minds of the people,-- to their judgment, their political sagacity, their common sense.
Force, as a means of restoring the Union, or of permanently preserving it, is out of the question . . . It may and must be used to repel aggression,-- to hold public property and to enforce obedience to the laws, in every case where temporary disobedience would not be a less evil than the attempt to compel assent: and of this the Government itself must be the judge.
But no war,--no force can ever restore the Union."
Bibliography: Potter, Lincoln and His Party, pp. 240-41,
250-51, 270-72, 327-31; Stampp, And the War Came, pp. 198-203;
Nicolay and Hay, Lincoln, 3: 333-34.