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The Greatest Day of American Beginnings


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The Greatest Day of American Beginnings


By: Richard J TofelDate:March4 , 2011


Today, March 4, marks 150 years since Abraham Lincoln became president of the United States, imploring his Southern fellow citizens not to begin a civil war, because “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies,” and appealing to “the better angels of our nature.”


Most of us at least dimly recall this much from our school days—and we recall also, of course, and correctly, that Lincoln was our greatest president.

But we often gloss over the fact that Lincoln’s first inaugural presaged a moment of failure just as surely as his second—“with malice toward none, with charity for all”—heralded a triumph. The call to avoid civil war was ignored. As Lincoln summed it up four years later, “the war came.”


The events whose anniversary we mark today were, therefore, the opening chapter in our most distinguished leader’s direction of our national affairs, but they also marked the most difficult and dangerous presidential transition in our history.


With seven states having already seceded from the Union, the question of federal forts in the South, especially Fort Sumter in South Carolina, hung over Lincoln’s inaugural . While an earlier draft of his speech that day had pledged to “reclaim the public property and places which have fallen,” Lincoln chose to accept a formulation that “the power confided in me will be used to hold, occupy, and possess the property and places belonging to the Government”—that is, to maintain the status quo at places like Sumter, but not necessarily to seek to retake forts and other facilities that had already been seized by the Confederates.


On March 5, his first morning as president, Lincoln received a report from holdover Secretary of War Joseph Holt—still in office pending the confirmation of Lincoln’s cabinet later that week—that Major Robert Anderson’s command at Fort Sumter was down Scissors-32x32.pnghttp://www.commandposts.com/2011/03/the-greatest-day-of-american-beginnings/

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