A significant public response in the North to secession and the southern takeover of federal property found expression in the demand for the government not only to hold Sumter and Pickens, but also to reclaim the forts that had fallen to the Confederacy.
The Indianapolis Daily Journal, a Republican newspaper, expressed this position clearly on January 17, 1861. Referring to the secession of the deep South states, it announced: "If we concede their demands now it is the surrender of a nation conquered by rebel members. If we make no effort to resist the wrong we submit at once to disunion and national degradation. There is no course left, either for honor or patriotism, but to reclaim by the strong hand, if it must be so, all that the seceding States have taken, enforce the laws, and learn the traitors the wisdom of the maxim that it takes two to make a bargain . . . The seceding States have raised the issue, argued it to their own satisfaction, and decided it by war. We have been left no alternative but to resist or submit. . . . The government must be preserved. It is ours as well as theirs, and when they attempt to overturn it by force, we must preserve it by force."
The Columbus Daily Ohio State Journal similarly argued on January 15, 1861, that beyond certain limits, forbearance ceased to be a virtue and that the limits of northern forbearance had, in fact, been reached with the seizing of federal fortifications and other property by force: "The time is now upon us to test whether we have a government or not; whether a nation of thirty millions of people is at the mercy of a few thousand restless, desperate traitors. Shall we still delay action until there is no government to act, and anarchy reigns supreme?"
A number of considerations clearly contributed to this militancy. Nationalism and a sense of law and order dictated opposition to secession as a rebellion against the Union. There also was a sense that it was the government's, and particularly the President's constitutional responsibility to see that the laws were obeyed. Then, too, placating the South would only encourage rebellion, while an immediate response would smash any illusion among southerners that secession would be peaceable and acceptable to the North. Firmness would crush the rebellion, while appeasement would help it spread. Arguments for reclaiming the forts, therefore, were not necessarily a call for war, but rather for a policy that accepted the possibility of war if the South continued to claim sovereign control of its territory.
Bibliography: Perkins, Northern Editorials, 2: 343-44, 216; Stampp, And the War Came, pp. 25-28, 187-89.