Maryland State Archives
Museum Online

Straddling Secession:
Thomas Holliday Hicks
and the Beginning of the Civil War in Maryland

"If the president had had forty of those men [secessionist leaders] hung, I would have voted for exonerating him from any responsibility"
-Hicks, speech in U. S. Senate, February 28, 1863

After the rioting in Baltimore, Hicks had no choice but to convene the General Assembly. He decreed that for the "safety and comfort" of the legislators, the Assembly would meet in Frederick on April 26, rather than Annapolis, where thousands of Federal troops were encamped, which Hicks interpreted as an occupation.

Hicks may also have hoped that, by having the legislature meet in Frederick, rather than the capital, he could lessen that chances that a secession ordinance was passed, since Frederick was a more pro-Union city than Baltimore or Annapolis. In addition, Frederick's location made it much more difficult for legislators and citizens to get to from the strongly secessionist southern and eastern parts of the state.

After he called a special session of the General Assembly, Hicks wrote this letter, shown below left, to General Benjamin F. Butler and expressed his concern about the legislators' ability to arrive in Annapolis on the 26th, as the Annapolis & Elk Ridge Railroad was under the military's control. While the Maryland Constitution dictates that the legislature is to meet in the seat of government, the governor "may direct their sessions to be held at some other convenient place" if the capital is under enemy control or may otherwise be deemed unsafe.

Frederick, Maryland
Harper's Weekly
September 27, 1862
MSA SC 1579-1-45 

The legislature began its first meeting with a resolution announcing that fears that it would pass "some measure committing this State to secession.are without just foundation. We know that we have no constitutional authority to take such action." The Assembly adjourned on May 14, after taking little conclusive action. It met twice briefly during the summer of 1861, debating what Maryland's position towards the Federal government should be, still taking no definitive stance.

Beginning on September 12, days before the legislature was to meet once again, Federal troops carried out a series of raids, arresting approximately thirty prominent secessionist leaders, including a number of members of the General Assembly. With only a small number of pro-Union representatives able to attend the session, the legislature took no steps towards establishing diplomatic ties with the Confederacy or seceding.

Click on image to view entire letter

Hicks to Butler
April 23, 1861
MSA S 1274

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