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Posted at 10:30 AM ET, 02/14/2011

Brag Bowling: How real was the so-called "Baltimore Plot" to kill President-elect Lincoln when he passed through that city en route to Washington?

By Brag Bowling

Director of the Stephen D. Lee Institute


Anyone who has ever listened to the lyrics of Maryland’s historic state song will recognize immediately that Maryland, at least during the Civil War, had what could easily be described as a “Yankee problem”. Maryland had always recognized herself as a Southern state with political and social institutions similar to other southern states. Considering this fact, it was not surprising that the Lincoln train would meet trouble once it crossed the Mason-Dixon Line.

The transformational election of 1860 was unprecedented in American history. On its face, the election made Abraham Lincoln President via the Electoral College without a popular vote mandate. Lincoln’s opponents had a heavy popular majority. The election was purely sectional with the Republicans seen as a “Northern” party. Lincoln was particularly disliked politically in Maryland. He received only 1,211 votes and no electoral votes. In 1860 Maryland’s population was 560,000. Maryland’s eight votes went to Democratic candidate John C. Breckinridge.

As the deep Southern states began seceding following the election, Maryland, while remaining in the Union, had strong Southern sentiment. Maryland’s legislature approved a resolution calling for the “peaceful and immediate “recognition of the Confederate states. On April 12, 1861, the firing on Ft. Sumter led to the immediate call up of 75,000 militia troops to suppress “combinations too powerful to be suppressed by the ordinary course of judicial proceeding, or the powers vested in the Marshals by law.” Troops immediately were transported to Washington D.C. from the North. Four thousand Massachusetts troops arrived in Baltimore on April 19. Violence occurred.

No true history of this period in Maryland’s history would be complete without knowing more of the picture. Lincoln was never certain of Maryland’s allegiance. On April 19, he took matters in his own hands and issued an order for the arrest and detention of anyone suspected of subversive deeds or utterances while suspending the writ of habeas corpus.

This resulted in the landmark judicial decision of Ex Parte Merryman. The Federal Circuit Court of Maryland ruled against Lincoln’s heavy handed actions and forbade the arbitrary imprisonment of Maryland citizens as unconstitutional. The opinion, written by Chief Justice Taney, held that Article 1 Section 9 of the Constitution gave to Congress alone the power to suspend the writ in cases of rebellion and that Lincoln’s action had been without warrant and represented a threat to the liberty of all Americans. Lincoln ignored the ruling and even went to the point of allegedly having an arrest warrant issued for the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Roger B. Taney.

One would have thought that this brush with the Maryland Federal Circuit Court would have tempered President Lincoln’s actions. When it appeared that the popularly elected Maryland legislature was close to passing a Secession Ordinance, Lincoln quickly acted and had Secretary of State William Seward arrest 31 pro-secession legislators thereby preventing Maryland from joining the Confederacy.

That fall, Lincoln allegedly tampered with Maryland state elections by placing Federal Provost Marshals at polling places and arresting known Democrats. Troops from Maryland in the Union Army were given a special 3 day furlough to vote. These actions provided what Lincoln sought, a pro-Union legislature in Maryland. He had effectively thwarted the will of a majority of Maryland’s citizens. But, even during the course of the war, the military hierarchy was suspicious of Maryland’s Union troops and their ultimate loyalty.

By Brag Bowling  | February 14, 2011; 10:30 AM ET
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Next: Frank Williams: How real was the so-called "Baltimore Plot' to kill President-elect Lincoln when he passed through Baltimore en route to Washington?


If Maryland was so pro-south why didnt they rise up and follow Lee in the Antietam campaign?

Posted by: persingerce | February 14, 2011 4:46 PM | Report abuse

"If Maryland was so pro-south why didn't they rise up and follow Lee in the Antietam campaign?"

Great question.....I'm so glad you asked. The obvious answer is that Maryland was occupied by numerically superior Federal forces which imposed martial law and usurped the Constitutional rights of citizens following the events of April 19, 1861. Union fortifications on Federal Hill trained cannon on Baltimore City Hall. Pro Southern members of Maryland's Legislature were arrested upon orders of the Lincoln administration. Despotism reigned supreme as the Union military violated the rights of Maryland's citizens.

Substantial numbers of Marylanders, estimated in excess of 24,000 individuals, had already enlisted in Confederate service by the time of the Sharpsburg campaign.

Clearly, Lincoln recognized Maryland's pro Southern sentiments and wanted to make certain that the Capitol was not threatened. Maryland's sympathy to the Southern cause was of such a concern that even the US Naval Academy in Annapolis relocated to Newport, Rhode Island.

Interestingly, the beautiful Confederate Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery, designed by the world-renowned sculptor Sir Moses Ezekiel, incorporates 14 state shields into its design. Thirteen of the shields represent the official seceded Confederate States while the 14th shield recognizes Maryland, the pro Southern State whose citizens were subjected to such egregious violations of Constitutional rights by Lincoln’s military occupation.

Posted by: TerryMKl | February 16, 2011 8:16 AM | Report abuse

Oh poor Maryland! What about blacks who were not even seen as citizens in the USA! The white, pro-south citizens in Maryland had it made, compared to them!!!!TerryMKI

Posted by: persingerce | February 16, 2011 9:12 AM | Report abuse

persingerce writes
"Oh poor Maryland! What about blacks who were not even seen as citizens in the USA! The white, pro-south citizens in Maryland had it made, compared to them!!!!"

You've discovered an interesting point......the war was not fought to free the slaves, and slavery was allowed to continue to exist in Lincoln's Union.

Lincoln was not all that concerned about the fate of slaves and in fact was willing to allow passage of the Corwin Amendment, preserving slavery in perpetuity.

Posted by: TerryMKl | February 17, 2011 7:51 AM | Report abuse

Its funny how these neo-conferdates love thier r. e. lee's and mr davis's who loved slavery, had slaves, and fought for a (want to be nation) who said clearly that slavery was Gods gift to mankind, and they keep trying to bash lincoln who was the greatest president ever!!!!!!!

Posted by: persingerce | February 17, 2011 11:21 AM | Report abuse

The south seceded because they feared Lincoln would stop slavery going into the territories, just like he said he would and they felt this would destory their precious institution. So lincoln kept Maryland in the union, which helped the war effort and would finally end slavery!

Posted by: persingerce | February 17, 2011 12:35 PM | Report abuse

To be historically accurate, Robert E. Lee never owned a slave.....but Union General Ulysses S. Grant did. In fact, Grant's wife would frequently visit him in the field, accompanied by her slaves.

Posted by: TerryMKl | February 18, 2011 8:12 AM | Report abuse

Not true!!!!! When his father in law died Lee got his slaves!!!! and kept them way past the time his father in law's will stated!!!!!! so you are wrong wrong wrong!!!!!!!!

Posted by: persingerce | February 18, 2011 10:00 AM | Report abuse

Further more, U.S. Grant isn’t celebrated as a great Christian statesman the way Lee is, so Grant did own slaves, nobody is saying he wasn’t wrong on the point. Terrymki, please research history a little further before you try to correct someone else, I’m really embarrassed for you.

Posted by: persingerce | February 18, 2011 3:34 PM | Report abuse

Slavery, as vile as we see it to be through our 21st century eyes, was the law of the land in the 19th. Both Lee and Grant were subject to that law and lived in accordance with it. If Lee had broken the law of the land, he would not be considered such a great statesman - but he did not - and thus cannot be diminished by the fact that he may or may not have participated in owning slaves. It was legal. Being a Christian is determined be one's relationship to God, through Jesus Christ. Lee tried to live his life exemplifying Christ, to the best of his ability. If you are insinuating that anyone that owned slaves from the time that Jesus died on the cross - to redeem all who trust in Him of their sins - through December 1865 when the 13th amendment was ratified, were hell bound sinners then you've just set yourself up as judge, jury, and executioner of millions of people - north, south, and internationally regardless of the fact that Christ himself has deemed them FORGIVEN! You see, Christians aren't perfect - just forgiven. Perfection will not be attained by any in this life, only in the next. Lee was a great Christian and statesman - Grant, well that's another story, not part of the point I'm attempting to make. What we might see as horrendous today has not always been viewed as such. Even in Christ's day slavery existed. Did Christ have slaves during His earthly life? Absolutely Not, but some of His early followers did - read the NT book of Philemon. The war wasn't fought over the slavery issue anyway, as the PC crowd wants everybody to believe. It was far more complex than that! 90 to 95% of those in the South never owned a slave. If it were solely over slavery, where did the Confederate Army come from? Surely not from the 5 to 10% that did! That's insane! Get your facts together and speak from them and not from emotion or from the way we might view things today. The truth isn't always found conveniently in a history book either - you have to dig for it through personal research.

This was a great article!

Posted by: JSStones | February 21, 2011 10:48 AM | Report abuse

The issues for secession were not only about the expansion in the west, but the threat from Radical Republican rule, that a new regime had succeeded in taking hold of the Government. And threatened the very development of the Nation as a whole, except for their electing constituents. The issue of slavery was used as disadvantage against the South. Northern Aggression, further inciting violence against Slave holder's, which were generally white, and any White southerner was therein threatened. Southerner's did what they had to do to prepare for a of coming war, to defend themselves.

Posted by: AmericanStatesmen | February 21, 2011 5:01 PM | Report abuse

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