How did Lincoln prevent Maryland from seceding?

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Maryland was in a unique position as the United States broke into civil war. The primary divisions in the Civil War were regional, between the Northern and Southern states. These regions had considerable differences, perhaps nowhere more so than in their economy: Northern states focused on manufacturing, while Southern states...

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Maryland was in a unique position as the United States broke into civil war. The primary divisions in the Civil War were regional, between the Northern and Southern states. These regions had considerable differences, perhaps nowhere more so than in their economy: Northern states focused on manufacturing, while Southern states relied primarily on agriculture. The main cause of the conflict between these regions leading up to the war was slavery, which was vital to the agricultural foundation of the South. The Northern states largely opposed slavery (many had abolished slavery on a state level), though this was largely on political and economic grounds rather than popular support for abolition.

Maryland was smack in the middle—a state halfway between the North and the South, which relied on both to succeed economically. It was also one of the very few slave states that did not secede during the Civil War. Due to their heavier economic reliance on and geographic proximity to the North than most Southern states, Maryland was less enthusiastic about secession than states farther south, yet they also relied on slavery to support their agricultural industry. In the presidential election of 1860, Abraham Lincoln and the Republican Party were largely seen as abolitionist (though their platform was instead opposing the further spread of slavery, rather than the elimination of existing slavery). In Maryland, Lincoln received only 2.5% of the vote, which reflects how different they were from many of the other Northern states.

Once elected, the secession movement began in earnest, and Lincoln was faced with concern over how Maryland would react—after all, the capital of Washington, DC, was just south of the Maryland border. Losing Maryland would be a huge loss to the Union and could have quickly turned the tide of the war. While Lincoln gave some early concessions to Maryland (he agreed to alter troop movements through the state to appease the local leaders who feared increasing violence from pro-secession groups), pressure from the Confederacy started to alter popular opinion within the state. Lincoln sent troops to seize the largest city of Baltimore, where martial law was declared. Habeas corpus was suspended, which meant opponents could be imprisoned without being charged with a crime—a decision that the Supreme Court found unconstitutional but which Lincoln ignored.

With Maryland in firm control by the Union military, many Confederate sympathizers were intimidated into silence (as they could be imprisoned indefinitely for essentially any reason while under martial law) or fled south.

The final act by Lincoln was the Emancipation Proclamation in January 1863, which immediately freed all slaves in the Confederate states, but crucially not in the Union slave states (Kentucky, Delaware, Missouri, and Maryland). As Maryland was still part of the Union, it further incentivized them to remain within the Union—if they seceded after the Emancipation Proclamation, all slaves would be legally and instantly freed. While the Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery would be passed several years later, the Emancipation Proclamation extended the institution in Maryland for those two additional years, as long as they didn’t secede.

In general, the strategic importance and unique political, social, and economic nature of the state put Maryland front and center in the Civil War. Abraham Lincoln was initially lenient with the slave state, but as tension within the state increased, he was obligated to increase troop presence and force Marylanders into acquiescence. The enactment of martial law and accompanying suspension of habeas corpus, as well as the Emancipation Proclamation, helped keep Maryland from seceding, which was a crucial element of the Union’s strategy during the war.

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Lincoln needed Maryland to stay in the Union so that Washington D.C. would not be surrounded on all sides by Confederate territory.  If this happened, the city would soon be captured and the Confederacy would win the war.  Also, if Maryland seceded, other slave states which had stayed loyal to the Union such as Delaware, Kentucky, and Missouri would secede as well.  

Lincoln had problems with Maryland even before the war officially began.  There was a plot to assassinate him there  as he traveled through the state on the way to the inaugural.  Lincoln suspended civil liberties in Maryland by jailing anyone suspected of being a secessionist.  He had the Baltimore city council suspended and its mayor arrested on the grounds of being pro-Confederate.  This was not a move that was initially suggested by Lincoln--his Secretary of State William Seward suggested that curtailing civil liberties in border states was necessary to keep potential troublemakers at bay.  Lincoln's declarations of martial law in Maryland was fodder for dispute and it did become an issue during the 1862 mid-term elections and the 1864 presidential election, but by that time Union sentiment was starting to grow and there was a movement to win the war no matter the cost.  

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Lincoln prevented Maryland from seceding from the Union when the Civil War began. Lincoln understood it was essential to keep Maryland in the Union. Because Washington, D.C. was made up of land donated by Virginia and Maryland, Lincoln knew that if Maryland seceded, Washington, D.C. would be cut off from the Union. This would have happened because Virginia had already seceded. If Maryland seceded, Washington, D.C. would have been isolated. Thus, Lincoln knew he had to keep Maryland from seceding. Since the Maryland legislature would make this decision, Lincoln had to devise a plan ensuring Maryland would stay in the Union. Thus, Lincoln arrested any Maryland legislator who would have voted for secession. This prevented Maryland from seceding. This action was really illegal, but nobody in the North questioned Lincoln’s actions. Thus, by devising this plan, Lincoln was able to keep Maryland in the Union.

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