Why was there
let's establish that the USA did, in fact, start the
Ownership and control
of federal properties within the sovereign territory of the
seceding states immediately placed the two governments on a collision
course. Forts near Charleston, SC (Sumter and others) and Pensacola, FL
(Pickens and others) were held by federal troops against state
authority and Confederate authority after each state declared independence and were immediately
a point of contention. Had the U.S. government shown some good faith toward eventually surrendering the forts now outside the United
States---with just compensation due, of course----the states in question would undoubtedly have
given reasonable concessions for the orderly evacuations and reasonable
It's clear from the record that
Lincoln never had any intention of allowing the Southern states to
peacefully secede. In his 1861 Inaugural address, Lincoln said,
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 ; but beyond what may be necessary for
these objects, there will be no invasion, no using of force against or
among the people anywhere..."
question of WHY Lincoln would not allow peaceful secession will be covered
in the next section.
If Lincoln could not peacefully persuade the Confederate states
to return to the Union voluntarily, then he intended to use
force, at a minimum to hold federal property
and to collect duties and imposts . It's also clear
that the Confederate States declared independence precisely to avoid paying
U.S. duties they deemed unfair and about which there had been constant
conflict for the past thirty-five years. The Tariff Acts of 1824,
1828, and 1832 were the subject of heated debates and almost brought war
in 1833. More on this later.
So even though Lincoln seems to suggest in the quote above
that he would not mount an invasion or use force, his lawyerly caveats
clearly state he will. Lincoln knew that it was highly unlikely
that the South would reverse course by March of 1861 and revoke their
declaration of independence. He therefore knew they would not voluntarily
pay any U.S. duties or imposts and would not allow a U.S.
military presence on their sovereign territory.
Furthermore, it's clear from the record that Lincoln
wanted to avoid appearing to be aggressor
for political and public relations purposes, both within the U.S.
and abroad. Lincoln knew that it was highly likely, almost certain
in fact, that South Carolina and the Confederate government would not
allow Fort Sumter to be resupplied or reinforced. Indeed,
sending the Sumter
resupply mission of warships and troops was for the
purpose of inducing the South to fire the first
shot as an excuse to start the war.
For a detailed analysis and timeline
of events, see the Tulane site on
Fort Sumter .
shot" was actually fired in January 1860, when General Winfield Scott
convinced President Buchanan that he must send troops and supplies to
Sumter. The "Star of the West" was loaded with ammunition, food and
200 men (kept below decks) and sent to secretly resupply Sumter.
Shore batteries fired on The Star of the West and she fled back to New
York harbor without delivering supplies. No military
reaction followed the firing on a U.S. flag ship. Buchanan
was determined to avoid bloodshed in his administration. U.S. Major
Robert Anderson had already seized Fort Sumter in defiance of President
Buchanan's orders--an act of war--because he knew he could not defend Fort
Moultrie in Charleston. Buchanan ordered Anderson to make no move
that could be construed as aggressive. South Carolina Governor
Francis Pickens, in retaliation (another act of war), seized the other
federal forts in Charleston.
The day after
Lincoln's inauguration, he received a letter from the commander at Fort
Sumter, Major Robert Anderson, that supplies were limited and that he
could hold the fort for only about six weeks. Lincoln consulted
General Winfield Scott and other Army officers who concurred that the fort
must be evacuated because there was no practical way to successfully
reinforce Sumter. Lincoln had been resolved to abandon Sumter after
consultation with his Cabinet. However, various U.S. Naval officers
presented a plan to reinforce Sumter and expressed confidence it could be
All during the month of March, the pressure escalated as Governor Pickens
demanded immediate evacuation and surrender of Fort Sumter.
Confederate President Jefferson Davis placed General Beauregard in command
of the forces surrounding Charleston and ordered him to deny U.S. troops
the courtesy of coming into Charleston to purchase food and
supplies. Pressure escalated despite the fact that U.S. Secretary of
State Seward had given South Carolina authorities the impression that
evacuation was imminent. Davis ordered General Beauregard to resist
the resupply or reinforcement of Sumter "at any hazard."
and his administration refused to meet with Confederate commissioners
sent to Washington to negotiate a peaceful evacuation of
Sumter. U.S. Secretary of State Seward, with the permission of Lincoln,
advised Governor Pickens that a convoy of U.S. warships had been dispatched to
"provision" Sumter, not to reinforce it, but that any resistance to the
provisioning would be met with force.
Faced with the
knowledge that U.S. warships were inbound with the intent to resupply the
fort, Confederate batteries bombarded Sumter into submission before the
ships could arrive.
The U.S. Navy officer who convinced Lincoln that he
could resupply and reinforce Fort Sumter was Captain Gustavus V.
Fox. The following excerpt is from a letter from Abraham Lincoln
dated May 1, 1861, to Captain Fox which shows that Lincoln's intent was to hold the fort if possible
AND, in any case, induce the South to fire the first
The letter is three
paragraphs, the first two expressing confidence in Captain Fox's abilities
and efforts to accomplish the Sumter mission. The last paragraph is
You and I both anticipated
that the cause of the country would be advanced
by making the attempt to provision Fort Sumter, even if it failed
; and it is no small
consolation now to feel that our anticipation is justified by the
result. Very truly your friend,
So the question of Why did the
USA start the war? boils down to...Why didn't the USA
allow the Confederate States to leave in peace? What was the
thinking of President Lincoln and the other
The answer is discussed in the next
Why was there war?
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