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"On the Precipice in the Dark": Maryland in the Secession Crisis, 1860-1861

Description: This dissertation is a study of the State of Maryland in the secession crisis of 1860-1861. Previous historians have emphasized economic, political, societal, and geographical considerations as the reasons Maryland remained loyal to the Union. However, not adequately considered is the manner in which Maryland understood and reacted to the secession of the Lower South. Historians have tended to portray Maryland's inaction as inevitable and reasonable. This study offers another reason for Maryland's inaction by placing the state in time and space, following where the sources lead, and allowing for contingency. No one in Maryland could have known that their state would not secede in 1860-61. Seeing the crisis through their eyes is instructive. It becomes clear that Maryland was a state on the brink of secession, but its resentment, suspicion, and anger toward the Lower South isolated it from the larger secession movement. Marylanders regarded the Lower South's rush to separate as precipitous, dangerous, and coercive to the Old Line State. A focus on a single state like Maryland allows a deeper, richer understanding of the dynamics, forces, and characteristics of the secession movement and the federal government's response to it. It cuts through the larger debates about the causes of secession and instead focuses on the manner in which secession was carried out, the intended effect of it, the actual effect it generated in the vitally important state of Maryland, and what it all says about the nature of internal divisions in the South at large.
Date: May 2017
Creator: Hamilton, Matthew Kyle
Partner: UNT Libraries