The Artificial Crisis and Two Important Resignations

Friday, February 15, 1861

Abraham Lincoln continued his speech of the night before from the balcony of the Monongahela House. A crowd numbering 5,000 had gathered to hear him. Just as he did in Columbus, he claimed “there is really no crisis except an artificial one.”

“If the great American people will only keep their temper, on both sides of the line, the troubles will come to an end, and the question which now distracts the country will be settled.”

Lincoln, taking an indirect route to Washington, headed north from Pittsburgh for Cleveland, arriving during a snow storm around 4:30pm. Crowds of admirers flocked to see him as he spoke again, reiterating the “artificial crisis” idea and calling for cooler heads. Despite this (or probably because of this) the Cleveland Plain Dealer daily newspaper printed an “Epitaph for the Late American Republic: ‘Here lies a people, who, in attempting to liberate the negro, lost their own freedom.'”1

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Raphael Semmes was Secretary of the Light-House Board and a commander in the United States Navy, stationed in Washington DC. He was in charge of all the lighthouses along the United States 3,000 mile coast. Semmes was born in Maryland, but had lived in Alabama for many years. The Light-House Board was under the jurisdiction of the Treasury Department and thus Semmes’s superior was Secretary of the Treasury, John Dix.

On this date, Semmes tendered his resignation, which was accepted the same day. The next morning, he would leave his wife and four (actually five … it’s a long story2 ) children to head south to Montgomery, Alabama to offer his services to the infant Confederate Navy.

He would eventually captain the CSS Sumter and, more famously, the CSS Alabama.3

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Way out in Albuquerque, New Mexico Territory, Major James Longstreet of the United States Army wrote to Alabama Governor Andrew Moore. The communication with the outpost in Albuquerque and the rest of the country was so poor that Longstreet had only a slight idea of the events unfolding in the east.

“I presume, however, that Alabama is out of the Union,” Longstreet wrote, desiring “to tender through you my services to her, should she need a soldier who has seen hard service.”4



  1. Lincoln President-Elect by Harold Holzer. []
  2. Apparently Semmes’s wife had a child to another man while Semmes’s was at sea for a long period of time. Semmes’s forgave her, but never really recognized the child as his own. She was sent away to a boarding school in Philadelphia for most of her childhood. []
  3. My Adventures Afloat: A Personal Memoir of My Cruises and Services in ‘The Sumter’ and ‘Alabama’ by Raphael Semmes, R. Bentley, 1869. []
  4. Official Records, Series IV, Vol. 1, p182. []
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The Artificial Crisis and Two Important Resignations by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International

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