Fort Sumter: Review Background Information

By the time I am sworn in as the nation’s sixteenth president on March 4, 1861, seven states in the Deep South have already voted to secede from the Union with the rest of the nation’s fifteen slave states at least considering the same. The Union is falling apart.

In my inaugural I said, “There needs to be no bloodshed or violence.” The Union would not invade the South, but I also vowed to do everything I could to hold onto all federal property. This includes Fort Sumter in South Carolina, the hotbed of secession.

Then, just one day after taking office, I receive a letter from Robert Anderson, the commander of Union forces at Fort Sumter, warning that supplies are running low. Unless additional provisions arrive soon, the fort will have to be surrendered.

For advice on what to do, I call on my cabinet.

Name of Person 1

Montgomery Blair
(1813-1883)

Lawyer, politician, member of Lincoln’s cabinet. He worked for Lincoln’s election and was appointed Postmaster General. Opposed to slavery, he had supported Dred Scott’s petition for freedom, which was rejected by the Supreme Court in 1857.

Name of Person 1

William Seward
(1801-1872)

Lincoln’s Secretary of State, and a former US Senator and governor of New York. After losing the 1860 Republican presidential nomination to Lincoln, in part due to his earlier outspoken opposition to slavery, Seward campaigned actively for Lincoln’s election. He believed that war could be averted by appealing to Union sentiment in the South through a refusal to use force against the seceding states.

Defend Fort Sumter

We should hold onto the fort even if it means war. Only a show of force will inspire respect for the power of the Government and this administration. To give up the fort means giving up the Union.

Surrender Fort Sumter

Trying to hold the fort will lead to war. We should give it up, which will be seen as a gesture of peace and good will. It will help ease tensions and encourage Union supporters in the Upper South to rally to our cause.

So those are my choices: Supply Fort Sumter to show my administration’s resolve to preserve the Union and thereby risk war, or surrender the fort to avoid bloodshed and encourage support for the Union in the South. What should I do?