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Civil War opened with peace resolution among local counties

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Ripples over the Dike

By Dave Taylor

The first shots of the War Between the States were fired upon Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, S.C., 150 years ago on April 12, 1861.

The Louisville Journal speculated that Kentucky Gov. Beriah Magoffin would attempt to join the Confederacy in secession from the United States of America.

Magoffin was a state’s rights advocate and believed in the right to secede. Further, he sympathized with the Confederate cause.

Unionists captured nine of Kentucky’s 10 congressional seats in special elections held in 1861, and held two-thirds majorities in the Kentucky General Assembly. The legislature adopted a position of neutrality in the war. Magoffin held to it, refusing calls for aid from both the Union and Confederate governments until his resignation from office in August 1862.

Tensions were high among the populace of bordering counties. A number of slave owners lived in Trimble and Carroll counties prior to the government emancipation of negroes. Residents of local counties were hopeful that everyone would live – and let live – in peace.

To that end, delegates of Carroll and Trimble counties met with citizens in Madison, Ind., at the Jefferson County, Ind., Courthouse on April 24, 1861, “to consider matters pertaining to the present crisis,” according to The Madison Daily Evening Courier, published the following day.
Col. John Preston of Trimble County was named chairman of the meeting. Preston, whose wife, Mary Howard Preston, had inherited a 2,300-acre plantation in the northwest section of the county, represented Trimble in the legislature.

Preston was described as a “notable citizen” by Trimble historian John C. Strother in “A Historical Sketch of Trimble County,” a speech presented before the Filson Club in Louisville on Feb. 2, 1920. Preston, Strother said, was “a gentleman of the old school, ponderous, dignified, and congenial to his neighbors.”

The courthouse was packed, according to news accounts, when the meeting was called to order.
“Col. Preston, in a very brief manner, explained the object of the meeting,” The Madison paper reported. “He counseled harmony and unanimity in action. He said that the people of the counties of Trimble and Carroll, Ky., and the people of Madison and Jefferson, Ind., had sent up their delegates to and in preserving the harmony and good feelings that had heretofore existed between the two states bound together with the ties of interest, friendship, and consanguinity, and now was not the time to be misled by the acts of unauthorized persons that committed acts of hostility on either side of the river, when such persons had no sympathy with the great mass of people. He made some further remarks, in which he was loudly cheered.”

Preston appointed a subcommittee to draft a preamble and resolutions. Committee members representing Carroll and Trimble counties included George Farran, J. Roberts, F. Willis, M.T. Abbott and George F. Young. Madison representatives were Howard Watts, J.H. Cunningham, Judge Charles E. Walker, A.W. Hendricks and Capt. N. Powell.

After their work was completed, the committee announced the following document, which was later published in newspapers 
in Louisville, Cincinnati and Madison.

“WHEREAS, the people of Kentucky and Indiana, now represented in the meeting, have long been associated together as friends and brothers, and are connected together by many ties of consanguinity and interest, and are mutually desirous, in view of the fearful calamities and civil commotions which are now disturbing the peace and happiness of our beloved country, to adopt such measures of precaution as will secure quiet and good order on either side of the Ohio River, thereby to protect, as far as practicable, the good people on the immediate border from all apprehension of danger to person and property, and secure to each the continuance of peaceful relations; therefore:

“RESOLVED:  That we the citizens of Madison and Jefferson County, Indiana, and those of Trimble and Carroll Counties in Kentucky, through their delegates appointed in general mass meeting, do hereby pledge our sacred honor to mutually protect the rights of each other, in abstaining from and preventing as far as practicable every species of hostility or lawlessness circulated in the remotest degree to affect the rights and property of others.

“RESOLVED: That it shall be the duty of the people of Madison and Jefferson County, Indiana and the people of Trimble and Carroll Counties, Kentucky to communicate at the earliest practicable moment to each other all and any information they may have of unlawful combinations or conspiracies forming on either side of the Ohio River for the purpose of invasion or lawless raids either upon the people of Kentucky or the people of Indiana.

“RESOLVED:  That should any lawless demonstrations or lawless designs on the part of irresponsible persons against the rights and persons and property of citizens on either side of the river become known to the people here represented, that prompt measures be taken by the people on either side to communicate to the other the apprehended danger, and take immediate steps to suppress the same.

The Committee also submitted a resolution previously adopted by the citizens of Hanover on the 19th of April:

“RESOLVED:  That a committee be appointed to confer with the authorities of Carroll and Trimble Counties, Kentucky, to assure them that in any preparation which we make for our defense, we do not desire to injure them either in their persons or property; that we pledge ourselves, so far as is in our power, to prevent the harboring of any fugitive from justice or service, and we ask for similar assurance and pledge from them respecting their future conduct towards ourselves.
“On motion, the resolutions of the committee, together with the Hanover resolution, were submitted to the meeting and were unanimously adopted.

“RESOLVED by them, that the citizens of Trimble and Carroll Counties reciprocate the sentiment of the above resolution and pledge their counties to act in conformity with its spirit.”