A Day of Humiliation, Fasting and Prayer

Americans on the 4th observed a “day of humiliation, fasting and prayer” as proclaimed by President James Buchanan. This was solemnly observed by those who hoped that this would inspire North and South to ramp up compromise efforts. But some, particularly in the North, derided Buchanan for opting to pray for Union rather than take firm steps to preserve it. The religious newspaper Independent urged its readers to observe the proclamation, even though Buchanan was “a dotard, a hypocrite, a traitor.”

But proclamations were becoming empty gestures as the gap between northern Unionists and southern disunionists was quickly widening. Pro-Union rallies took place in many northern cities such as Chicago, and the legislatures of New York, Ohio, Wisconsin, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania passed resolutions supporting the Union. Minnesota Governor Alexander Ramsey declared: “We are a young state, not very numerous or powerful, but we are for the Union as it is, and the Constitution as it is.” The Pennsylvania legislature asserted that “the right of the people of a single state to absolve themselves at will, and without the consent of other states, from their most solemn obligations, and hazard the liberties and happiness of the millions composing this union, cannot be acknowledged.”

The New York legislature offered to send men, money, and arms to the Federal government to preserve the Union, and it thanked Unionists in the southern states for their loyalty. Copies of these resolutions were printed and sent to the South, where those states’ officials were less than pleased. New York Governor Edwin D. Morgan ordered state authorities to impound all weapons and ammunition stored in private warehouses awaiting shipment to Georgia. Georgia Governor Joseph E. Brown retaliated by ordering the seizure of northern vessels currently in his state’s ports.

New York State may have supported the Union, but New York City was still undecided. Two-thirds of U.S. imports and one-third of U.S. exports came in and out of the city, including southern cotton, which was traded more in New York than in any other Atlantic port. As such, Mayor Fernando Wood proposed that New York secede, not only from “this foreign power” of the state, but also from the “odious and offensive connection” to the U.S., and declare itself a free city. Despite widespread fear that the lack of southern trade would devastate the New York economy, city officials rejected Wood’s proposal.

Northerners may have been growing louder in opposing secession, but they drew a sharp line between Unionism and abolishing slavery. Unionists broke up abolition meetings in Boston and Rochester. The Rochester meeting, where Susan B. Anthony was among the scheduled speakers, was taken over by a crowd calling for three cheers for the United States. Rochester officials refused to allow the abolitionists to hang a banner in the city reading, “No Compromise With Slavery.”

Some abolitionists took the unpopular position of supporting secession because it would end their association with the slave states. Wendell Phillips delivered a speech at the Congregational Society in Boston in which he called himself a disunion man, he welcomed the southern secession as beneficial to the North, and he hoped that all slave states would secede. Phillips was jeered and hissed by the angry audience until police escorted him out of the building for his own safety. Other abolitionists joined Phillips in preferring a U.S. without the South over the Union as it was.

As North and South became more polarized, the congressmen of the 14 middle states that allowed slavery (i.e., the “border” or “mid-South” states) met to discuss compromise ideas. This was the third compromise attempt besides the two committees in the House and Senate. Nothing came of it, although some southerners believed that “the secession of the cotton states is an indispensable basis for a reconstruction of the Union,” in which the North would offer enough concessions for the South to return.

But most southerners had decided that it was time to leave the Union for good. Senators from seven southern states (Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, and Arkansas) caucused and resolved that further compromise efforts would be pointless, and their states should consider secession as soon as possible. And if their states seceded, they should quickly form a confederacy. Former Secretary of War John B. Floyd, a Virginian, urged southerners to oppose Federal coercion to remain in the Union, and a Federal judge in Mobile, Alabama, announced that court in his district was “adjourned forever.”



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