Maryland Secession

MarylandAlthough Maryland never joined the Confederacy, the story of why she didn’t merits scrutiny.

Shortly after President Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to suppress the cotton states rebellion, Maryland Governor Thomas Hicks convened a special session of the legislature on April 26, 1861. Since Hicks was a Union-loyal man he did not want the session held in the state capital at Annapolis because of the prevailing Southern attitudes in the eastern part of the state. Therefore he chose Frederick, which was a strongly pro-Union town northwest of Washington.

The session starting on April 26 adjourned on August 7 without voting to secede but agreeing to reconvene again in Frederick on September 17. However, the April-to-August session did approve two items hostile to the federal government. First, it voted to refuse to reopen railroad connections to the Northern states that were cut when bridges north of Baltimore were destroyed four days after Lincoln’s call for volunteers. Second, it passed and delivered a resolution to President Lincoln protesting Union occupation of the state.

After the Confederate victory at First Bull Run on July 21, Southern sentiment gained potency in the state. Another Confederate victory at Wilson’s Creek in Missouri the following month strengthened the impression that the Confederacy would win its independence. (It would be another six months before a significant Union victory would suggest otherwise.) By mid-September many legislatures increasingly believed Maryland could join the winning side by seceding whereas picking the winning side earlier appeared to be a more speculative matter.

Although Maryland voters had previously chosen their legislators in free elections, President Lincoln concluded he would selectively prevent those representatives suspected of harboring pro-secession attitudes from attending. Consequently, he suspended the writ of habeas corpus and arbitrarily arrested legislators presumed to be pro-Confederate. He never brought any of them to trial for the simple reason that they had not committed any crime.

Thirty-one legislators were arrested. Many others were prevented from attending because they realized that if they journeyed to Frederick they too would be arrested if Lincoln suspected them of Southern sentiments.

While nobody can know whether Lincoln’s “intervention” (usurpation?) prevented Maryland’s secession, at least one authoritative participant concluded that it did. Specifically, Assistant Secretary of State Fred Seward, who was the son of Secretary of State William H. Seward and involved in the arrests, wrote that he believed the session of the Maryland General Assembly scheduled for September 17 would have voted to secede.

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If you enjoyed the above analysis, consider one of my Ciivl War books.

Lee’s Lost Dispatch and Other Civil War Controversies
Trading With the Enemy
Co. Aytch: Illustrated and Annotated

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