Brent Glass: Could the war have been prevented?
Director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History
War is avoidable until the fighting starts. Therefore, it was possible to avoid -- or at least delay -- the start of the Civil War if President Lincoln had instructed Union troops at Ft. Sumter to not defend a federal property and quietly withdraw. This action might have given the advocates for peace more time to negotiate a peaceful settlement. An agreement between the U.S. government and newly formed Confederate States of America would have required the recognition of the former slaveholding states as a new nation. It may have required an extension of slavery into western territories perhaps using the boundary established by the Missouri Compromise of 1820 as the boundary line between free and slave states.
Delegates to a peace conference discussed a compromise of this sort at the Willard Hotel in Washington in February, 1861. However, this proposal failed to generate any serious support and everyone at the conference knew that President-elect Lincoln strongly opposed any agreement that resulted in the dissolution of the Union. His decision to protect federal property after his inauguration was symbolic of a deeper belief that the Constitution established a united nation and a single government and that states could not enter and leave that nation. His commitment to preserve the Union and his opposition to the expansion of slavery made it impossible to escape the conflict that began with the firing on Ft. Sumter.
Visitors to the National Museum of American History can find an interesting footnote to the beginning of the Civl War in the exhibition Abraham Lincoln: An Extraordinary Life. Lincoln's pocket watch is displayed along with a story about an Irish watch repairman, Jonathan Dillon. Mr. Dillon was cleaning the president's watch when he heard about the attack on Ft. Sumter. He wrote a short note inside the watch to commemorate the occasion with a hopeful -- and prophetic ending -- "Thank God we have a government!"
- John Marszalek: Could the war have been prevented...
- Gary Gallagher: Could the war have been prevented...
- Dana Shoaf: Could the war have been prevented...
- Kate Masur: Could the war have been prevented...
- Harold Holzer: Could the war have been prevented...
- David Blight: Could the war have been prevented...
| November 8, 2010; 11:36 AM ET
Categories: Views | Tags: Brent Glass
Save & Share: Previous: David Blight: Could the war have been prevented?
Next: Kate Masur: Could the war have been prevented?
Posted by: TylerHealey | November 8, 2010 12:20 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: JHG_sec405 | November 8, 2010 7:19 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: alanwrobel | November 9, 2010 10:53 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: rc115shepherd | November 9, 2010 12:06 PM | Report abuse