Just six weeks after Abraham Lincoln became US president in March 1861, Confederate batteries fired on Union troops stationed at Fort Sumter in South Carolina, one of seven southern states that wanted to secede from the United States. The previous December, shortly after Lincoln’s election, South Carolina’s legislature had voted for secession, 169-0. Now they planned to take control of military installations within the state’s borders. The President and his cabinet considered it an insurrection.
After 34 hours of bombardment Major Robert Anderson surrendered the fort. No one was killed and only a few were injured. But during a 50-gun salute at the surrender ceremonies sparks set off an unplanned explosion and killed Daniel Hough, the first casualty of the Civil War.
Three days later, on April 15, later Lincoln issued the following proclamation:
Whereas the laws of the United States have been for some time past and now are opposed and the execution thereof obstructed in the States of South Carolina, George, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas by combinations too powerful to be suppressed by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings or by the powers vested in the marshals by law:
Now, therefore, I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, in virtue of the power in me vested by the Constitution and the laws, have though fit to call forth, and hereby do call forth, the militia of the several States of the Union to the aggregate number of 75,000, in order to suppress said combinations and to cause the laws to be duly executed.
The details of this object will be immediately communicated to the State authorities through the War Department.
I appeal to all loyal citizens to favor, facilitate, and aid this effort to maintain the honor, the integrity, and the existence of our National Union and the perpetuity of popular government and to redress wrongs already long enough endured.
I deem it proper to say that the first service assigned to the forces hereby called forth will be to repossess the forts, places, and property which have been seized from the Union; and in every event the utmost care will be observed, consistently with the objects aforesaid, to avoid any devastation, any destruction of or interference with property, or any disturbance of peaceful citizens in any part of the country.
And I hereby command the persons composing the combinations aforesaid to disperse and retire peaceably to their respective abodes within twenty days from this date.
Deeming that the present condition of public affairs presents an extraordinary occasion, I do hereby, in virtue of the power in me vested by the Constitution, convene both Houses of Congress. Senators and Representatives are therefore summoned to assemble at their respective chambers at 12 o’clock noon on Thursday, the 4th of July next, then and there to consider and determine such measures as, in their wisdom, the public safety and interest may seem to demand.
Two days after that proclamation, Virginia seceded, followed within 24 hours by the resignation of Robert E. Lee from the US Army. On April 19 another proclamation by Lincoln announced a blockade of US ports. The war between the States was underway.
One hundred and fifty years later US states are again rebelling against federal authority, this time over issues ranging from the size of government and social wedge issues to the moral and economic bankruptcy of an empire in decline.