Do You Really Know American History? Maryland, My Maryland!

October 12, 2014 Local Opinion 1396 Views
Do You Really Know American History? Maryland, My Maryland!

Lincoln

One of the first steps of the Lincoln administration was to secure the Capitol in Washington, although the Southern States wished to secede peacefully and had indicated no aggressive intentions against the Northern capitol. In order to get to Washington, the mustered Union regiments had to come through Baltimore. As the railroad did not go through the city of Baltimore, they had to disembark their troop trains north of the city and proceed by wagon, horse, and foot through the city, and then embark on other trains. on the south side. Unfortunately, on April 19th, the 6th Massachusetts chose to march through the city fully armed and in military formation. They were jeered by unsympathetic crowds of bystanders. Furthering the misfortune, the troops fired on the crowds killing twelve people. Fire then began to be returned from the crowd, and four soldiers were killed. These twelve civilians and four Union soldiers, whose blood flecked the streets of Baltimore, were the among first deaths of a war that would take the lives of 620,000 Union and Confederate soldiers and an estimated 50,000 Southern civilians from all causes.

By May of 1861 Lincoln, his cabinet, and generals had already begun to close down dissenting newspapers all over the country from Chicago to New York. Lincoln also took it upon himself to suspend the Writ of Habeas Corpus, a constitutional guarantee of the Bill of Rights with precedent dating back to the English Magna Carta. Habeas corpus is a fundamental liberty which prevents arbitrary arrest and imprisonment indefinitely without defined charges, trial, or means of release. Suspension of habeas corpus under conditions of civil disorder can only be temporary and must be authorized by Congress within 30 days.

In that same month of May a resident of Baltimore, John Merryman, who had been arrested on the order of Union General George Cadwallader and held at Fort McHenry without charges or trial, petitioned U. S. Chief Justice Roger B. Taney for a writ of habeas corpus. Taney granted a writ and set a date for a hearing, but it was ignored by Lincoln and his generals. Cadwallader responded by letter that Lincoln had suspended habeas corpus, so there would be no compliance with the Supreme Court. Taney ordered a federal marshal to Fort McHenry to enforce the writ, but Union Army officials refused his entrance.

Taney responded by writing a blistering court opinion, a constitutional classic, that held Merryman’s arrest to be unlawful and a violation of the Constitution, and that only Congress could suspend the Writ of Habeas Corpus. The Chief Justice stated that if Lincoln’s actions were allowed to stand,

“…the people of the United States are no longer living under a government of laws, but every citizen holds, life, liberty, and property at the will and pleasure of the army officer in whose military district he may happen to be found.”

Lincoln not only ignored the Supreme Court’s ruling, he wrote out an order for arrest of Chief Justice Taney. This arrest, however, was in the end not actually carried out for fear of extremely adverse public opinion and political consequences.

With these developments, a sizeable portion of the Maryland public was becoming sympathetic not only to the South but even to secession. Therefore, there was much talk of it among Maryland State Legislators. Consequently, Northern informers were asked to identify members of the Maryland Legislature that might support secession in the coming legislative session. Secretary of War Simon Cameron then issued an order to Major General Banks in Maryland that “all or any part of the Legislative members must be arrested to prevent secession.”

On the night of September 12-13 all suspected Southern sympathizers in the Maryland Legislature were arrested and imprisoned in Fort McHenry. In all fifty-one persons were arrested and imprisoned. Ironically, among those arrested and imprisoned was the grandson of Francis Scott Key, the author of the Star Spangled Banner.

To further tighten Union political hold on Maryland, all members of the Union Armed Forces were allowed to vote in the November election, although they were citizens of other states. Voters had to walk through platoons of soldiers with rifles and fixed bayonets to reach their polling place. The London Saturday Review noted:

“It was as perfect an act of despotism as can be conceived. It was a coup d’etat in every essential feature.”

The story of this despotism is reflected in the lines of Maryland’s state song from the poem written by James Ryder Randall in 1861. Few now realize the lines were directed against Abraham Lincoln, his cabinet, and generals. Here are the most famous lines:

“The despot’s heel is on they shore,

Maryland, My Maryland!

His torch is at thy temple door,

Maryland, My Maryland!

Avenge the patriotic gore,

That flecked the streets of Baltimore,

And be the battle queen of yore,

Maryland, My Maryland!

Dear Mother! Burst the tyrant’s chain,

Maryland, My Maryland!

Virginia should not call in vain,

Maryland, My Maryland.”

Twenty thousand of Maryland’s sons were able to escape the Union occupation of their mother state and distinguish themselves in the Confederate Army.

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