Raising the Red Flag

Wednesday, November 7, 1860

The morning after the election, the Charleston Mercury announced to a seething public what was now already widely known throughout the city, that Abraham Lincoln was elected president.

A red palmetto flag, similar to the South Carolina flag of today, but with a red background, was hoisted over the street from the Mercury’s office. The crowds, calling for war, cheered wildly as it was unfurled.

This wasn’t simply mob mentality, however. Both the US District Judge and US Attorney in Charleston resigned their posts, while the South Carolina legislature in Columbia introduced several bills calling for a secession convention and to arm the state.

South Carolina was not alone in this sentiment. Georgia’s governor, Joseph Brown, gave an address on federal relations. The gist of this message was that the states themselves should act immediately rather than wait for a convention of states to act in concert. He ended his speech with a warning to the federal government: “The argument is exhausted and we now stand by our arms.”

While in much of the South, Lincoln’s election meant secession or even war, up north, things seemed quite the opposite. The headlines of The Pennsylvania Daily Telegraph (a Harrisburg paper) boldly exclaimed “The Union Saved! Lincoln Elected President!”

In the 1860s, speedy communication was limited to the telegraph wires, which usually followed railroad lines. They were run by small companies and messages were relayed like the childhood game of telephone. Messages were limited only to larger cities and even then breaking news was often a few days late (or in the case of the west coast, weeks late).

The Memphis Daily Appeal had no election story to run on the day after Lincoln was elected. However, they still managed to fill their pages:

Will Lager Drive Men Mad?–The Maine law fanatics say it will, but we think they lie–under a mistake. Lager beer has certainly some stimulus in it, but the quantity is so small that a man would be likely to explode from hydrostatic pressure before he could drink enough of the fluid to give him the delirium tremens. Any man who seriously believes that lager alone ever occasioned mania a potu [sic?] is only fit to “suckle fools and chronicle small beer.”

Soon, it will seem to the north that the entire south has contracted this delirium tremens.


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