The New York Times has been running an insightful, entertaining, and provocative series of articles in their online Opinionator, which commemorates the sesquicentennial of secession and the Civil War. Taking its readers through the events of the secession crisis on a day-by-day basis, the articles are compelling in their analysis and far-reaching in their scope. This past Monday's article by Adam Goodheart, the Hodson Trust-Griswold Director of Washington College's C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience, recounts the seizure of several federal forts and arsenals in Alabama and Georgia on 4 January 1861. Goodheart poses the question, why did volunteer militia companies in these states, essentially assault and seize federal property when their states still were part of the Union? The governors of both states, Andrew B. Moore in Alabama and Joseph E. Brown in Georgia, had counseled the pre-emptive seizure of federal arsenals for the purposes of self-defense. In the case of Alabama, Goodheart suggests that the sudden appearance in Mobile Bay of the USS Crusader, a small navy vessel, could have caused Governor Moore's precipitate instructions to the state militia to capture the Mount Vernon arsenal and Forts Gaines and Morgan in Mobile Bay. Furthermore, it is conceivable that both governors took this step fully confident that their respective secession conventions (which were scheduled to meet later in January) would authorize secession. This case is somewhat harder to make for Georgia, where cooperationists narrowly out-polled immediate secessionists in that state's voting for delegates to the secession convention, making it difficult even for contemporary Georgians to predict if their state would strike out on its own or remain in the Union. Of course, the more pertinent aspect of the implicit question in Goodheart's excellent article is why did these governors so boldly resort to extralegal action, at best, and treasonous action, at worst, in ordering the seizure of federal facilities? Some might posit a nefarious design on the part of these governors to take matters into their own hands and effect secession themselves, thereby usurping the authority of the secession conventions and placing their delegates in the role of merely affirming an accomplished fact. However, both Brown and Moore likely did sincerely believe that these premature assaults on federal installations were necessary to safeguard their states during a period when they were contemplating leaving the safety of the Union. Indeed, today's addition to the New York Times series, contributed by William W. Freehling, indicates that several southern governors feared that President James Buchanan's sudden decision to resupply the recently re-located federal garrison at Fort Sumter at the end of December 1860, presaged a re-arming of all federal installations in the South in preparation for offensive action. Moreover, the governors' seemingly cavalier attitude in capturing these facilities is not entirely without precedent and was not unique to the South. In a somewhat analogous incident (though, admittedly of a much lesser magnitude) in 1855, Neal Dow, the mayor of Portland, Maine, used extralegal methods to quell a riot that broke out in protest of the city's seizure of a vast cache of liquor. Maine had a particularly stringent temperance law and enforcement in Portland under Dow's watch was harsh and uncompromising. Dow called out the militia to put an end to the Rum Riot, as it came to be known, on the second of June. Yet, when the state militia proved unable or unwilling to disperse the crowd, Mayor Dow assembled the Rifle Guards, an independent militia based in the city. Prizing expediency above the law, he armed the poorly equipped Rifle Guards with weapons and munitions from Portland's state militia arsenal. State law strictly prohibited the distribution of these weapons and materiel to any individual or body of men other than state militia members. To the imperious Mayor Dow, using the state arsenal, even in contravention of state law, was vital to protecting life and property in the port city. Indeed, he remained unapologetic for his heavy-handed and illegal actions for the remainder of his life. This incident and the actions of Governors Brown and Moore during the secession crisis appear to teach the same lesson: these executives were more intent on managing or solving these crises themselves and expeditiously, regardless of the legal implications of their actions. This is not to say that these men, and chief executives generally in this period, were simply heedless of the law. Rather, in an era prior to civil service reform and the professionalization of the office of chief executive, these individuals instead asserted significant latitude in serving what they believed to be the best interests of their constituents. Indeed, this was at the heart of their conception of the public trust imposed in them and their office. They did not merely presume to act boldly, but believed that the people they served demanded such action. They saw the law was an instrument to assist them in executing their duties, but not an impediment to "necessary" action.