Secession, Slavery, Traitors


“Remember Fort Sumter!,” 1861-1865. Gift of William Caleb Loring, 33°, A85/012/0111.

The first shots of the American Civil War were fired on April 12, 1861, in South Carolina, with the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter, a Federal fort in Charleston’s harbor. Fort Sumter became a powerful symbol on both sides. The Confederacy viewed it as the flashpoint of an independence movement, while the Union saw the incident as a rallying cry to fight against the southern secessionists’ rebellion. The central cause of the American Civil War was slavery. The Confederacy sought to defend slavery and oppose the fight to abolish it. From the Union point of view, those supporting the Confederacy were traitors who were levying war against the government. 

Envelopes from the 1860 presidential campaign were repurposed during the war, stamping some politicians as “Traitors” and others as “Patriots.” John Bell (1796-1869) ran for president on a ticket with Massachusetts’ Edward Everett (1794-1865). When war broke out, Bell, from Tennessee, sided with the Confederacy. Northern envelope publishers marked him as a traitor.