Friday, March 04, 2011

March 4, 1861: Lincoln's Inauguration

Until the 20th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified in 1933, moving Inauguration Day to January 20, March 4 was Inauguration Day in the United States.  On Monday, March 4, 1861, Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated as the sixteenth president of the United States.  Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Taney administered the oath of office.  Hannibal Hamlin was sworn in as vice president.

The outgoing president James Buchanan began the day with one final cabinet meeting.  Secretary of War Joseph Holt arrived late with a telegram from Major Robert Anderson in Charleston.  Anderson was now saying that without supplies he could not stay long at Fort Sumter.  The bad news would be waiting for Lincoln when the swearing-in ceremony was done.

In his inaugural address in Montgomery, Jefferson Davis had proclaimed that secession was legal and right.  In his inaugural address, Lincoln took the opposing view -- that secession was illegal and wrong.  The Union was unbroken, states were eternally in it, and he himself had just taken a solemn oath to defend it.

"The power confided to me, will be used to hold, occupy, and possess the property and places belonging to the government, and to collect the duties and imposts."
This, in a nutshell, would be Lincoln's policy, and, at the moment, it was all about Fort Sumter. Lincoln was operating under the assumption that Anderson could hold out there indefinitely, and Lincoln could "hold, oocupy, and possess" it simply by maintaining the status quo.  If war began, the South would have to start it.
"In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The government shall not assail you. You can have no conflict, without being yourselves the aggressors. You have no oath in Heaven to destroy the government, while I have the most solemn one to 'preserve, protect, and defend' it."
Only after the ceremony ended, when he arrived at the White House and found Anderson's message, would Lincoln realize that this assumption was wrong.  Lincoln would have to make the first overt action -- resupplying Fort Sumter -- and soon.

Also on this date, in Montgomery, Alabama, the "Stars and Bars," the first official flag of the Confederacy, was raised over the Confederate Capital for the first time.  The flag was designed by Nicola Marschall and consisted of two wide red bars with a white bar in between.  In the upper left corner was a blue field with seven white stars, one for each of the seceded states.  On the battlefield, the flag was often mistaken for the Union Stars and Stripes, so the Confederate Battle Flag, with St. Andrew's Cross, was adopted.

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