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Secessionists in Maryland & the Middle States

March 24, 2011

William C. Wright, in his book The Secession Movement in the Middle Atlantic States (Associated University Presses, Inc., 1973) describes the secession movement in the Middle States, focusing primarily upon Maryland:

The five Middle Atlantic states exerted influence and power, and they present an interesting case study. The United States Census Bureau in 1860 referred to this area as the “Middle States.” The Bureau recognized a unity of interest in this geographic area. Over 26 percent of the population of the entire United States, including the Confederate States, was located in this five-state area. More significantly, over 29 percent of the white population lived in the Middle Atlantic region. About 5 1/2 percent of the people who moved into this region came from the eleven southern states that were to make up the Confederacy. These people who moved from the South were about one-half of one percent of the total Middle Atlantic population….

Within these five states there were three types of secessionists: first, those who wanted to join the Confederacy; second, those who wished to form a central confederacy, that is, to join with the other border states and divide the United States into three separate nations; third, those who preferred to allow the South to go in peace rather than to use force to save the Union. Many individuals who did not want a war with the South refused to admit the right of secession.

The secession movement was prominent in the five Middle Atlantic states, and each of the five states reacted differently to the secession crisis; Maryland was ready to join the Confederacy, while elements of her population strongly favored the Union. A small state like Delaware was dependent upon its surrounding states and had to wait for their actions. Of the five, Pennsylvania, the most pro-Union state, had a Democratic party led by the President of the United States, James Buchanan, that actively supported the South. New Jersey, with relatively few slaves and strong economic and social ties with the South, had many supporters of the Confederacy as well as the central confederacy. New York was divided between upstate regions that supported the Union and the Hudson Valley and New York City areas that had ties with the South. Fernando Wood, Mayor of New York City, proposed that New York be made a free city….

Of the five Middle Atlantic states Maryland had the strongest secession movement. Situated below the Mason-Dixon line, the traditional dividing line between the North and the South, it was truly a border state. The state itself can be divided into three sections; the southern counties: Saint Mary’s, Charles, Prince George’s, Anne Arundel, Calvert, Howard and Montgomery; the Eastern Shore counties: Kent, Queen Anne’s, Talbot, Caroline, Dorchester, Somerset and Worcester; and the northern and western counties: Allegany, Washington, Frederick, Carroll, Baltimore, Hartford and Cecil, including the city of Baltimore.

Tradition and tobacco culture aligned the Eastern Shore and the southern counties closely to the South…. These areas had few immigrants, resulting in a rather homogeneous population. They believed that they could sold,

“their problems through their county and state governments. They firmly believed that those same agencies could also solved the question of slavery…. On the question of secession the people of these sections also had definite ideas. They believed that states had rights and powers equal, or perhaps superior to those of the federal government…. The idea that the federal government had the right to maintain the Union by military force, they regarded as entirely wrong.”

Economically these areas lagged behind the northern and western section of Maryland.

The northern and western section of the State resembled the North more closely. Manufacturing was growing in the city of Baltimore and the counties of Baltimore, Howard, Frederick, Washington, and Allegany. According to the United States Census of 1860, the leading manufacturing area of the State was centered in Baltimore City and the County. It was followed by the western counties of Frederick and Allegany. This was also an area of small farms with a  large German immigrant population. Most of the immigrants settled in Baltimore or migrated into western Maryland. The small farms were worked by free labor, and they produced most of Maryland’s corn, wheat and livestock. The German immigrants or descendants of immigrants opposed slavery and states’ rights, which appeared to them to be nation-splitting issues similar to what they had left in Germany. The leading agricultural counties, both in the number of improved acres and in the cash value of the farms, according to the United States Census of 1860, was Baltimore, Frederick and Washington. It can be see, therefore, that the northern and western section of Maryland dominated the state.

Baltimore was a manufacturing and commercial city that although closely linked to the North had southern social ties and traditions. When Fort Sumter was fired upon, it appeared Baltimore would join the Confederacy and take the rest of the State with it. The South offered to make Baltimore a leading commercial city by removing the tariff so that both northern and southern commercial establishments could buy duty-free European goods in Baltimore. However, the commercial classes of Baltimore threw their support to the North when it became obvious there would be a civil war. The city could be blockaded easily by the Northern navy, bringing ruin to their establishments. In addition, the manufacturers of the city did not wish to compete with cheap European goods, which would come into Maryland duty-free. Furthermore, the city of Baltimore was connected to the west by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. Grains brought on this railroad were milled and then shipped to other cities in the United States or abroad. With the secession of Maryland, this lucrative business would come to a halt.

One of the greatest fears of all Marylanders was that the State would become the battleground for opposing armies….

Nevertheless, a growing tide of secessionist thought and feeling enveloped the city….

[T]here was diverse opinion within Baltimore as well as within the state of Maryland. The various areas of the States, with different backgrounds and traditions, of different ethnic composition, and of different economic conditions, responded to the secession crisis in different ways. Southern and eastern Marylanders were more pro-South, and therefore pro-secession; central and western Marylanders were less happy with the South, and therefore resisted secession; the city of Baltimore would supply the battleground for a contest of conflicting elements until the federal troops put an end to any secession movement in Maryland….

Three types of secessionists divided the State, each with its own advocates. As the months passed, the group that supported closer ties with the South gained strength, tying itself to Virginia, always saying: “wait for Virginia, if she leaves the Union, so must we.” This hope was unfulfilled, for after Virginia left the Union, the Federal troops were able to control Maryland….

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  • Chris

    Interesting. Kind of the same problem that was going on in Kentucky at the time. Maybe just a little different but almost similar.


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