The Federal Crackdown on Maryland Secessionism

September 11, 1861 – Secretary of War Simon Cameron issued orders to Major General Nathaniel P. Banks, commanding Federal forces around Baltimore, to use military force to prevent the Maryland legislature from approving an act of secession.

Major General Nathaniel P. Banks | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org
Major General Nathaniel P. Banks | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Marylanders seeking to secede from the Union had been subdued by Federal military occupation forces earlier in the summer, but the Confederate victory at Bull Run had revived the secession movement. With legislators planning to assemble in an extra session, Cameron ordered Banks: “General: The passage of any act of secession by the Legislature of Maryland must be prevented. If necessary all or any part of the members must be arrested. Exercise your own judgment as to the time and manner, but do the work effectively.”

On Banks’s direction, the Federal provost marshal made numerous arrests over the next five days for alleged disloyalty to the U.S. Federal troops occupied Baltimore and surrounded Frederick, site of the upcoming legislative session. Among those arrested:

  • Eleven men of the 22-man Maryland Senate
  • Forty men of the 73-man Maryland House of Representatives
  • Baltimore Mayor George Brown
  • S. Teacle Wallis (author of an essay defending the constitutional rights of Marylanders)
  • Baltimore Exchange editor Francis Key Howard (grandson of Francis Scott Key)
  • The South editor Thomas Hall
  • Annapolis Republican editor Elihu Riley
  • U.S. Congressman Henry May

President Lincoln defended arresting the suspects by stating that there was “tangible and unmistakable evidence” of their “substantial and unmistakable complicity with those in armed rebellion.” However, the Lincoln administration never produced said evidence. Nevertheless, the arrests left the legislature without a quorum, forcing the remaining lawmakers to adjourn without considering secession.

Those arrested were shipped to a military prison established at Fort Warren in Boston Harbor. They were detained without trial for over two months (some as long as 14 months), long enough to allow for the election of a new Unionist state legislature in November. This ensured that Washington would not be surrounded by enemy states.

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References

Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 5887; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 75-76; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 64; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 117-20; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 289; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 74; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q361

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