The Civil War ended not only the Democratic Party's control of the Presidency and Congress, but also civilian control over the government's military arms production. The national and sectional pressures that exploded into catastrophic Civil War in 1861 undid political compromises and understandings that had knit the nation together since the late 1700's.
The Whigs took the Presidency from the pro-slavery Jacksonian Democrats in 1840, removing the national armories from civilian control. The Democrats regained the Presidency in 1844-48 and mobilized the national armories in support of territorial expansion in the southwest. By the mid-1840's, enormous pressure was felt in Congress and throughout the nation to increase US territory in the southwest for exploitation by highly profitable slave-holding plantations. The war between Mexico and the United States in 1846 assured the annexation of Texas as a state as well as the creation of more potential slave-holding territory in the Southwest, pitting the interests of the Northern "free" states against those of the Southern states. Democrats returned the armories to civilian control after winning the Presidency in 1852.
One of the earliest expressions of rising sectional tensions during this period took the form of a poem. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow visited the Springfield Armory on his honeymoon with his second wife, Frances Elizabeth Appleton. According to Appleton , during their tour she described the double racks of new muskets in the Middle Arsenal as looking like an organ. Inspired by this visit and his wife's observation, in 1843 Longfellow penned the pacifist poem, The Arsenal at Springfield , where he described the muskets “[l]ike a huge organ, rise the burnish'd arms.” He ended the poem twelve stanzas later with:
And no longer from its brazen portals
blast of war’s great organ shakes the skies!
beautiful as songs of the immortals,
holy melodies of love arise.”
if in denial of Longfellow’s fearful message, in 1852 author Jacob
Abbott published in Harper’s Magazine a
detailed description of many more muskets “arranged in racks set
up for the purpose along the immense halls, where they stand upright in
rows,…” He asked his readers: “Can it be possible… that
such a scene of tranquility and loveliness can be the outward form and
embodiment of a vast machinery incessantly employed in the production of
engines of carnage and death?” He then answered the same question
by positing that “[t]hey ought, perhaps, to be considered rather
as instruments of security and peace… They protect by their existence,
and not by their action….” Ironically, he could write this
more easily looking back into the past, with the Mexican War but five years
old, than he could had he been able to see but nine years into the future
when the Arsenal would be emptied by the Civil War.
The years 1859-60 witnessed the transfer of large numbers of muskets from Springfield Armory to government arsenals located in slave-holding states. In one order from 1859, Secretary of War John B. Floyd, a Virginian, ordered “the distribution of 65,000 percussion and 40,000 altered muskets, caliber .69, from Springfield Armory to 5 of our southern arsenals . . ..” This accounted for most of the older muskets then in storage. In September 1860, Secretary Floyd ordered that Springfield allow “two distinguished gentlemen” from Georgia to gain access to all Armory work sites and records for the purpose of replicating the Armory in Georgia. Similarly, the former Acting Master Armorer of Harper’s Ferry Armory, James Burton, was to be given free access to Springfield Armory’s records, drawings and sketches of weapons and machinery. On December 4, Burton returned to Harper's Ferry to obtain model rifle-musket patterns and components for his new employer, returning to Richmond with a large portfolio of drawings. In June 1861, Burton was appointed superintendent of the Richmond Armory, where his complete familiarity with the machinery for manufacturing United States firearms proved indispensable to the Confederacy. In addition, Mr. S. Adams, the clerk to Springfield Armory’s master armorer, Erskine Allin, resigned his office at this time to take up the superintendency of the Virginia State Arsenal in Richmond.