Today was a lazy day: a walk on the wide windswept beach of Sullivan’s Island, and a cruise around Charleston Harbor. The star of that show, of course, is Fort Sumter.
Built by the federal government after the War of 1812, South Carolina claimed it January 31, 1861 as tensions rose after Lincoln’s election. Governor Francis Pickens demanded that President James Buchanan surrender the fort because “I regard [federal] possession is not consistent with the dignity or safety of the State of South Carolina.”
When Buchanan and then Lincoln refused to surrender the fort, South Carolina blockaded it. When the fort’s supplies dwindled, Washington sent a ship to resupply it; the state then fired on both the ship and the fort. War was on—and Lincoln had maneuvered the South into starting it.
So what have we learned here? It will take many weeks for me to integrate my time here.
Some say history repeats itself. It’s more accurate to say it rhymes, it echoes, it twists and turns and revisits itself.
Charleston was a city of Revolutionary War patriots—Fort Sumter was named after one of its heroes—and less than a century later, became a city of traitors. Or patriots, depending on your point of view.
Were the North and South two countries at war, or were the Confederates merely criminals?
Lincoln was remarkably flexible on this point, depending on his political needs. For example, the Emancipation Proclamation would have been an illegal government seizure of legal property unless slaves were property that contributed to a foreign power’s war effort. Ironic, that: to free the slaves, Lincoln had to declare them property.
Since Charleston lacks mountains or quarries, Fort Sumter was built with seventy tons of New England granite. That must have been some government contract. It isn’t hard to imagine that people in both the North and South made a fortune on it. They lived in the same country—the country of money.