Letter from Abraham Lincoln to Winfield Scott (1861)

No study questions

No related resources

Lieutenant General Scott

My dear Sir: The Maryland Legislature assembles tomorrow at Anapolis; and, not improbably, will take action to arm the people of that State against the United States. The question has been submitted to, and considered by me, whether it would not be justifiable, upon the ground of necessary defence, for you, as commander in Chief of the United States Army, to arrest, or disperse the members of that body. I think it would not be justifiable; nor, efficient for the desired object.

First, they have a clearly legal right to assemble; and, we can not know in advance, that their action will not be lawful, and peaceful. And if we wait until they shall have acted, their arrest, or dispersion, will not lessen the effect of their action.

Secondly, we can not permanently prevent their action. If we arrest them, we can not long hold them as prisoners; and when liberated, they will immediately re—assemble, and take their action. And, precisely the same if we simply disperse them. They will immediately re—assemble in some other place.

I therefore conclude that it is only left to the commanding general to watch, and await their action, which, if it shall be to arm their people against the United States, he is to adopt the most prompt, and efficient means to counteract, even, if necessary, to the bombardment of their cities–and in the extremest necessity, the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus.

Your Obedient Servant

Abraham Lincoln


Teacher Programs

Conversation-based seminars for collegial PD, one-day and multi-day seminars, graduate credit seminars (MA degree), online and in-person.

Coming soon! World War I & the 1920s!