Issues ranging from the legality of slavery, states’ rights and the extent of the Federal government’s authority, were the key issues surrounding the election of 1860. While Maryland’s stance seemed to be neutral towards these issues, the state’s electoral votes went to John C. Breckinridge, the pro-slavery incumbent vice president from Kentucky. Breckinridge collected 45.9 % of the state’s popular votes while the eventual president, the pro-abolition Abraham Lincoln, barely grabbed 2.5% of the vote. While Lincoln was victorious in the intense and harsh election of 1860, the South subsequently countered with declarations of secession. The South believed that Lincoln and the Republican leaders would attempt to abolish slavery and not compensate the slave owners. In addition to abolition fears, the huge increases in tariffs upset the southern states. These tariffs reduce the income of Southern cotton producers by 10% and proved to be inefficient. It not only redistributed wealth from farmers and planters to manufactures and laborers and could make the country poorer (Open Court, 39-40, 73).As strict constructionists of the Constitution, they believed that the federal government should perform only the functions that were delegated to it by the Constitution. Led by South Carolina, the South formed the Confederate States of America. While many in Maryland supported the cause of the newly founded Confederate States of America, the state did not secede. The Maryland Legislature rejected it in 1861 and Governor Thomas Hicks voted against it. Governor Hicks assured the people that no troops should be sent from Maryland, unless it was to defend the national capital (Maryland in the Civl War).
The state of Maryland itself was split between Union and Confederate ties. According to historian James M. McPherson, the grain growing northern and western counties of the state had few slaves and were pro-Union. The tobacco growing southern and eastern counties of the state were Confederate sympathizers and secessionists. With the state seemingly split, there were northern Marylanders who were pro-Confederate. Notable northern Marylanders who were pro-Confederate included John Wilkes Booth and General James J. Archer.
Booth was a notable actor whose extreme dislike for the Lincoln administration would subsequently lead to him assassinating the president in the waning days of the Civil War. General Archer was a lawyer and officer in the United States Army during the Mexican-American War. He then served as a general in the Confederate Army and was subsequently taken as a prisoner of war at the Battle of Gettysburg by General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.
Many Marylanders who were compassionate of the South’s cause would cross the Potomac and fight for the Confederacy. Of the 85,000 men who formed local militias after John Brown’s assault on Harper’s Ferry, 60,000 of these men joined the Union while the remaining 25,000 fought for the Confederacy.