The Year Was 1861

The year was 1861 and in addition to Kansas joining the United States as a free state, the territories of Dakota, Nevada and Arizona were all formed, even as the Confederate States of Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, Tennessee, Missouri, and Kentucky followed South Carolina in seceding from the Union.

The Confederacy was taking shape, and before Abraham Lincoln even took the oath of office, Jefferson Davis had been sworn in as the president of the Confederacy.

As the president-elect made his way to Washington on the now-famous train trip, conspirators in Baltimore were planning to assassinate him as he passed through that city. Fortunately, the famous detective Allan Pinkerton had several agents who had infiltrated some of the more inflammatory elements of Baltimore society and were able to relay the details of the plot to President Lincoln and convince him to alter his plans. After fulfilling his engagement in Harrisburg, Lincoln was secretly conveyed to an earlier train that would pass through Baltimore safely the night before his scheduled arrival. As an added precaution, before he left Harrisburg, at Pinkerton’s insistence, telegraph communications from Harrisburg were cut off until Lincoln’s safe arrival in the capital to preclude the possibility that the change in plans be passed on to the assassins. For more information on the “Baltimore Plot,” see this article from Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, June 1868.

A little more than a month after President Lincoln took office, the first shots of the Civil War were fired when Confederate troops opened fire on Fort Sumter, where federal troops were stationed in Charleston Harbor.

As the war got underway, it became clear that money would be needed to fund the war and so legislation was passed creating the first income tax–3% on incomes more than $800. This tax was never put to use, but the following year, Congress passed follow-up legislation that placed a 3% tax on incomes be $600 and $10,000 and 5% on incomes greater than $10,000. It was increased in 1864 to 5% on incomes between $600 and $5,000, 7.5% for those earning between $5,000 and $10,000, and 10% for those making more than $10,000. The income tax was declared unconstitutional in 1872, but many of the Tax Assessments created by this brief income tax are now available online at for members with a U.S. Deluxe membership. Click here to search and view images of the IRS Tax Assessment Lists at Ancestry.

While the United States was being torn apart by the Civil War, the Kingdom of Italy was unified under the rule of Victor Emanuel II in 1861. However, Rome remained under French protection and Venetia was under Austrian control.

In Edinburgh, Scotland, a tenement building suddenly collapsed trapping fifty people in the rubble. Thirty-five of the victims died, and just as rescuers were giving up hope a voice from the rubble cried out “Heave awa’ lads, I’m no dead yet!” The site is memorialized with a plaque that includes those words.

7 thoughts on “The Year Was 1861

  1. Who ever wrote paragraph one needs to go back to the 8th grade and retake American History! KY MO were “border states”!

  2. Actually, dissident groups in Kentucky and Missouri proclaimed allegiance to the Confederacy, but both of those states remained in the Union.

  3. Those IRS Tax Assessment Lists mentioned in the 3rd to last paragraph above are interesting! Not only do they list taxes on income, but excise tax due on possessions such as “horse carriage” (all of $2.00!). Some occupations are also given. It goes month by month and the handwriting can be challenging, but well worth a look.

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