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A Nation Divided.  The Civil War in contemporary prints
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1861: February

[ Secession | Peace Convention | The Confederacy | Abraham Lincoln | Little Rock | Colorado Territory ]


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Secession

On February 1st, the Texas secession convention voted to secede from the United States, joining the six other states which had seceded in January. This vote was ratified by a popular vote on February 23rd.

Peace Convention

In January, Virginia had called for a Peace Convention to try to hammer out an agreement which would bring the southern states back into the fold and preserve the Union. Delegates from 22 states gathered in Washington from February 4th to the 27th, but the seven seceding states did not send delegates. No common ground was found and the convention ended in failure.

The Confederacy

Inauguration of Jefferson Davis
At the same time the Peace Convention was starting in Washington, the six states that had seceded in January (South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, joined by Texas later in the month) met in Montgomery, Alabama, to form a new nation. On February 8th, they created a Constitution for the Confederate States of America, which was to a great extent based on the U.S. Constitution, but with greater emphasis on state's rights. Jefferson Davis was elected as provisional president, until a popular election could be held. Davis then traveled to Montgomery, where he was inaugurated as the provisional President of the Confederacy on February 18th, as pictured in Harper's Weekly the following month.

General Twiggs surrendering troops
The Confederacy continued to attempt to take over U.S. federal establishments in the seceding states. Commissioners were sent to Texas to persuade General David Twiggs to surrender the U.S. troops there. Twiggs was from Georgia and was easily so persuaded, turning over his troops to a Confederate force under Ben McCulloch in San Antonio on February 16th. For this action, Twiggs was dismissed from the Army for treason, subsequent to which he was appointed as Major General in the Confederate army.

Abraham Lincoln

About the same time Davis was traveling to his inauguration in Montgomery, Abraham Lincoln left Springfield, Illinois, to go to Washington, D.C. for his inauguration as sixteenth President of the United States. The last leg of his trip was from Philadelphia to Washington, during which he had to pass through Baltimore, then a city with strong Southern sympathies. Allan Pinkerton, who was in charge of Lincoln's security, decided that Lincoln should travel in secrecy and at night, so the President-elect arrived in Washington on the morning of February 23rd.

Little Rock

Little Rock Arsenal
Arkansas, though a slave state, did not secede from the Union until May, 1861, but after the election of Lincoln there was considerable sentiment against the federal government. The Federal Army had a small garrison at the Little Rock arsenal, which was resented by many. Early in February, armed men from around the state began to gather in Little Rock to demand the surrender of the arsenal, threatening to take it by force if necessary. Governor Henry Rector convinced the arsenal's commander, Capt. James Totten, to surrender and the arsenal was taken over by state troops. Blood shed was avoided for the time being, but things were getting tense around the country.

Colorado Territory

Just five days after Lincoln arrived in Washington, a new territory, Colorado, was created by Congress. While this western territory may seem to be far from the brewing conflict in the east, its creation at this time was very much part of the crisis facing the nation.

As illustrated in the discussion on causes of the Civil War, it was the question of the extension of slavery into newly created territories in the trans-Mississippi West which was the major precipitating issue in the events leading up to the Civil War. As long as the Southern states remained in Congress, it was difficult to create new territories, as the issue of whether they would be free or slave was always paramount and seemingly unresolvable.

There were, however, many demands for new territories in the west. In an article in the New York Times on January 11, 1859, it was reported that there were six applications for the creation of new territories. One of the six territories (Onontagon consisting of the upper peninsula of Michigan) was never created, though variations on the other five were. They were not, however, created until considerably later. It was only once the Congressmen from the seceding states removed themselves from Congress in early 1861, that it became possible for the now heavily northern Congress to pass new acts creating territories. Within the first three months of 1861, three new territories were created; the first of which was Colorado.

The creation of that territory had its roots three years before in the western part of Kansas Territory. The Times article reported that "The demand for the formation of the Territory of Colona comes from the few settlers around Pike's Peak, in a region ...already under the government of Kansas." These settlers were there as the result of gold being discovered in 1858 close to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, near the confluence of the South Platte River and Cherry Creek. This discovery precipitated a huge gold rush in the spring of 1859, usually called the Pike's Peak Gold Rush (though the gold diggings were not very near to that mountain). It is estimated that over 100,000 people flooded into the region that year in hopes of striking it rich. Denver City and other communities soon sprang up and the new settlers in the Rocky Mountain foothills felt the need for a government closer to them than the Kansas Territorial government well to the east.


In early 1859, Representative Schuyler Colfax, of Illinois, introduced a bill to Congress to organize the territory of Colona. The sectarian friction in Congress prevented this bill from passing. Another petition was presented to Congress to create a territory of Jefferson, but this too went nowhere. In response, the settlers in and around Denver City attempted to create a new state on their own. This bold step was voted down by the local citizens, but on October 24, 1859, a provisional government was established for a territory of Jefferson, complete with territorial constitution, governor, and a two-house legislature. This government did to some extent provide governance of the region for almost two years, though it was never authorized by Congress.

Colorado Territory
The need for a local government along the eastern slopes of the Rockies became more and more obvious as the population there grew and communities established themselves. However, it wasn't until those needs were combined with the desire of a northern-dominated Congress to control the region's potential mineral wealth, keeping it from the Confederacy, that action was finally taken in early 1861. By this time, sentiment was against naming this territory for the Southerner Thomas Jefferson, so the new name, "Colorado," was selected. On February 28th, 1861, the territory of Colorado was created out of the western Kansas Territory, the southwestern part of Nebraska Territory, the region of the headwaters of the Rio Grande in New Mexico Territory, and the eastern part of Utah Territory.



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