The last time the General Assembly terminated its session early it was not a pandemic but rather the Civil War that was beginning to engulf the nation. The inevitable drumbeat toward war came Dec. 20, 1860, when South Carolina became the first state to secede from the Union.
Maryland lawmakers on Wednesday adjourned early as a precaution to stop the spread of coronavirus.
Early in the morning of April 12, 1861, Confederate forces under the command of Gen. Pierre G.T. Beauregard commenced a bombardment of Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor that was occupied by Union forces under the command of Maj. Robert Anderson, who surrendered the garrison the next day.
A week later, the war came to the streets of Baltimore when the 6th Massachusetts Infantry was attacked by a mob of Southern sympathizers as they marched from President Street Station to Camden Station to board B & O trains for Washington, in what became known as the “Pratt Street Riots.”
By the time it ended, eight rioters, a bystander and three soldiers lay dead, with 24 soldiers wounded as well as an unaccounted number of citizens, and Baltimore earned a certain an enduring historical ignominy as being the place where the first blood of the Civil War was spilled, and by the time the war ended four years later, more than 600,000 had perished.
Maryland Gov. Thomas Holliday Hicks and Baltimore Mayor George William Brown summoned the state militia to suppress any further bloodshed, and it was against this backdrop, that Hicks called the General Assembly, which in those years, met biannually, and even though this was an off year, the press of events demanded he take such action.
Hicks called for a special session on April 22 that would gather four days later in Frederick, as Annapolis was occupied by Union forces under the command of Gen. Benjamin F. Butler, and fearing anti-Union sentiment and for the safety of legislators, he felt Frederick, a Unionist stronghold at the time, would be a more suitable venue.
They first met in the Frederick County Courthouse and the next day moved to more commodious accommodations in Kemp Hall of the German Reformed Church, with the main topic facing legislators being secession.
As the session continued through the summer, a bill and a resolution calling for secession were introduced, while Hicks played a carefully and meticulously calculated waiting game.
“Gov. Hicks, really a man of Southern tendencies outwardly, acted to hold the state in the Union, by delaying calling of a secession or the legislative bill, until enough Union troops had been amassed at Washington and in Maryland to control the situation,” George F. Ashworth, a professor of history, at the University of Maryland, College Park, told The Baltimore Sun in a 1934 article.
Legislators still remained critical of Northern policies in what they termed “gross usurpation, unjust, oppressive, tyrannical and in utter violation of the common right of the plain provisions of the Constitution,” Ashworth said.
Simon Cameron, President Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of War, wrote that “the passage of any act of secession by the Legislature of Maryland must be prevented. If necessary, all or any part of the members must be arrested.”
The day the session ended, Sept. 17, 12 members of the Senate and 50 delegates — one third of the General Assembly — were arrested by federal troops and charged as being Southern sympathizers, and jailed at Fort McHenry using Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus as justification for their actions.
"Union members of both the House and Senate refused to meet this morning and the Legislature is of course virtually dead; all the officers under arrest to prevent the calling of the roll, " reported The Sun at the time.
Hicks did not live to see the end of the Civil War as he died Feb. 13, 1865.
At his funeral, Reverdy Johnson, a celebrated Maryland jurist and U.S. senator, praised his friend who was “true to his duty.”
"Throughout his term of office he devoted himself with untiring industry, and an ever watchful patriotism, by every legal means to crush out the spirit of secession, and to retain the State in her allegiance to the Union ... and he succeeded. It is not going too far to declare that this result is in a great measure to be referred to the conduct of Governor Hicks.
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“Had he listened to those who counselled a different policy ... had he lent the power of his office to accomplish this object — had he even failed to devote it entirely to their prostration, Maryland might this day have been a desert, and her name dishonored in the estimation of all good and wise men.”