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Posted at 10:00 AM ET, 12/20/2010

Scott Hartwig: Did the national government or individual states own the federal forts in the South?

By Scott Hartwig

Veteran of the National Park Service and Gettysburg National Military Park's supervisory historian

Hartwig

The national government did. The forts and the arsenals were built and existed for the common defense, not solely for the defense of state property or at the expense of the individual state in which they existed. They were garrisoned, except for those forts that had no garrison, by United States soldiers, not state militia. To seize them by force was a
belligerent act of rebellion and war. Yet, to allow them to stand challenged the claim of sovereignty by the seceded states. There was the rub.

When Lincoln informed South Carolina Governor [Francis] Pickens that an attempt would be made to reinforce Ft. Sumter with provisions only, and that if this re-supply mission was not resisted that the U.S. Government would not reinforce Sumter with arms, ammunition and men, Confederate President Jefferson Davis could, in theory, have allowed the re-supply and temporarily avoided war. But could he have held a fledgling Southern Confederacy together had he chosen to allow the United States flag to continue to fly over Confederate territory? The answer to that was not likely. On the other hand, Lincoln could have chosen, as some of his advisers recommended, to have surrendered Sumter and the other federal installations to the Confederacy in the hopes of avoiding war and the secession of the upper south. Yet, this meant official recognition of secession and the Confederate States, which Lincoln could not do. And so war would decide who owned the federal forts.



By Scott Hartwig  | December 20, 2010; 10:00 AM ET
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Comments

In all of this discussion, what happened to "That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness"? How can any American government claim legitimacy when it's imposed by force on states that rejected it in convention of their people--the same authority that ratified the constitution of the federation of free and independent states in the first place? How is it that not one of these experts knows these basic facts?

Posted by: KevinOrlinJohnson | December 20, 2010 11:15 AM | Report abuse

Kevin, at the time of the attack on Ft. Sumter, the majority of South Carolina's residents were slaves. We know this because they were counted in the census, and for the purpose of congressional districting were counted as 3/5 of a person.

If Jefferson's statements on the rights of the people are to be applied here, what do you think was the will of that majority in this matter? Do you honestly think you can speak for it?

Posted by: nikkiru | December 20, 2010 3:58 PM | Report abuse

"what happened to '"That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government?'"

----------
The Federal Government was not destructive to the ends of preserving the natural rights of the People of South Carolina. They seceded in order to continue to be destructive to the end of preserving the natural rights of their slaves. There is no right to rebel in order to keep people in slavery. If any group could appeal to the Declaration of Independence as justification for rebellion, it would be the slaves of South Carolina, not white South Carolinians.

Posted by: AlMackey | December 20, 2010 4:46 PM | Report abuse

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