Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
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New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co.
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Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
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REBELLION, The (IN U. S. HISTORY). The name rebellion has been retained in this article for the struggle of 1861-5, in preference to that of civil war, which has latterly obtained considerable currency as a milder expression. Whether it was a rebellion or a civil war could only be decided by its result. If it had been successful, it would have decided that the United States had never been a nation in its domestic relations, and the conflict between the states of a voluntary confederacy might very properly have been termed a civil war. As it was unsuccessful, and as the nation maintained its previous and future entity, the logic of events has stamped the struggle as a rebellion by individuals, not a civil war between states. It is true that many of the enactments of congress and of the judicial decisions from 1861 to 1867 can only be explained on the theory that the war was maintained against states: these instances have been collected by Mr. Hurd, as cited below. But they are opposed by more numerous instances to the contrary, and are rather proofs of haste than of a consistent theory or policy. Legally, it may have been a civil war as well as a rebellion; politically, it was a rebellion only. Mr. A. H. Stephens, who regards the struggle as a revolution by which a voluntary confederacy was transformed into a nation, very properly entitles his history of it "A Constitutional View of the War Between the States"; but even he would be compelled to call any similar struggle in the future a rebellion. The name is retained here, therefore, not in any invidious sense, but as one which can not truthfully be avoided. (See NATION, STATE SOVEREIGNTY.)


—It is impossible to date the outbreak of the rebellion exactly. The secession of South Carolina, or of any other state, can not be taken as the date, for it might have been possible for a state to pass an ordinance of secession, refuse to take part in the government, and yet remain peacefully in the Union so long as the execution of the laws was not resisted. The seizures of federal forts, arsenals, mints and vessels in January, 1861, bear far more affinity to a rebellion; and yet these were so irregular and scattered, some of them with, others without, and others disavowed by, the authority of the state, that there seems even yet to have been a locus penitentiœ to the participants. But the organization of the new government at Montgomery (see CONFEDERATE STATES), was a different matter; this was a step which there was no retracing, and with it the rebellion takes a tangible form. From that time there were two incompatible claims to the national jurisdiction of the seceding states, and neither of the two claimants could exist except by forcibly ending the claim of the other. War was a necessity, and the rebellion a fact to be acknowledged.


—The rebellion, however, was not at first acknowledged, nor were instant measures taken for its suppression. The responsibility for this mistake has been concentrated by popular belief upon the head of President Buchanan (see his name), but it is unfair to deny a very large share of it to the politicians of all parties in and out of congress, to their complete ignorance of their constituents, of their associates, and of themselves, and to the inevitable tardiness of action in a republic. Hardly a northern man in congress felt sure of his footing, or felt certain how far his constituents, who were quietly and steadily working at the plow, or in the office, or at the mill, would support him in the hitherto unheard-of measure of "making war upon a sovereign state." And so, through the whole dreary winter of 1860-61, the air of congress was redolent with propositions for compromise; with protestations of belief that the seceding states could never mean it, and that the republic would yet go safely through this crisis; and with appeals to the erring sisters to reason together, to pause a moment, to reflect and see if something may not yet be done; but, so far as preparations to suppress the rebellion were concerned, that congress, on its final adjournment, was as if it had never existed. It is not true that northern politicians hurried the northern people into the war against the rebellion; it is rather true that the uprising of the north and west, after the capture of Fort Sumter, April 13, 1861, educated their politicians as they had never been educated before. A decade before, July 22, 1850, Clay had passionately said of Rhett in the senate, "If he pronounced the sentiment attributed to him, of raising the standard of disunion and of resistance to the common government, if he follows up that declaration by corresponding overt acts, he will be a traitor, and I hope he will meet the fate of a traitor." Unfortunately, it required a popular uprising to bring the average congressman up to Clay's level.


—It is, therefore, almost a waste of space to detail the failures of congress to act in 1860-61. The president suspiciously opened the session with a message which John P. Hale, in the senate, very fairly summed up under three heads: "first, that South Carolina has good cause to secede; second, that she has no right to secede; third, that we have no right to prevent her from seceding." Much of the time of the session was consumed in the consideration of proposed compromises (see, for the principal ones, COMPROMISES, VI.; CONGRESS, PEACE; CONSTITUTION, III., B.), the debates being occasionally interrupted by the farewells and departure of the representatives of the states which seceded without waiting to be conciliated. In the south everything was drifting straight toward war. In Charleston harbor Maj. Anderson, with his force of eighty men, had abandoned Fort Moultrie, Dec. 26, 1860, and established himself in Fort Sumter, a far stronger position, commanding the mouth of the harbor. The same day commissioners from South Carolina to the president arrived in Washington, but he refused to recognize them officially, and they went home again, Jan. 3. Thereafter the state continued to erect batteries at every advantageous point around the fort, and these were strong enough to fire upon, Jan. 9, and drive back the steamer "Star of the West," with provisions for the fort. The confederate government, immediately after its organization, appointed three commissioners to treat with the federal government. These arrived at Washington March 5, and at once opened communication with Seward, the new secretary of state. March 15, Seward refused to recognize them as diplomatic agents of any government, but his reply was not delivered to them until April 8, on which day official notification was sent to Gov. Pickens, of South Carolina, that Fort Sumter would be provisioned at once, and by force, if necessary. On this delay of twenty-three days in delivering the reply, the commissioners based a charge of bad faith against Seward, but it seems to be unjust. Seward seems to have been personally in favor of abandoning Fort Sumter, and the reply was sent only when the rest of the cabinet had persuaded the president not to yield. The notification to Pickens was effectual in one way. Before the relief expedition could reach the fort, it had been summoned and bombarded, and had surrendered.


—Some of the northern states were at least partially prepared for the struggle. In 1857 and 1858 the militia of Ohio had been thoroughly reorganized by Gov. Chase. Gov. Andrew, of Massachusetts, in his inaugural address, in January, 1861, had advised the legislature to put a part of the militia on a war footing, and immediately afterward had sent an agent to Europe to purchase arms, and invited co-operation by Maine and New Hampshire. Jan. 11, the New York legislature voted to offer the whole military force of the state to the government, and five days later the New York city militia formally offered their services to the president. But all these were exceptional instances, and as a general rule the northern and western states were quite unprepared. The president's proclamation, April 15, commanding insurgents to disperse within twenty days, and calling for 75,000 of the militia to secure the execution of the laws in the southern states, met with varying responses. In the south the proclamation was answered by the rapid secession of those states which had hitherto refused to secede, but were opposed to coercion. (See SECESSION.) In the border states, Missouri, Kentucky, Delaware, and, probably most important of all, Maryland (see that state), refused to secede, and gradually came over to an acceptance of the idea of coercion. In the north the response to the call for men was instant, and the quotas of the states were filled twice over. One regiment, the Massachusetts sixth, mustered early on the morning of April 16, and reached Washington three days afterward, after the first loss of life in the rebellion, during a street fight with a mob in Baltimore, April 19. The day before, several hundred unarmed Pennsylvania troops had arrived. April 25, troops began to pour into Washington, having made their way around Baltimore, and the capital became, as it remained for four years, an entrenched camp.


—In the meantime, by alternate proclamations of Presidents Lincoln and Davis (see ALABAMA CLAIMS), open war had begun, the latter regarding it as a war declared by the United States against the confederate states, the former as the suppression of a rebellion. The two difficulties which most embarrassed President Lincoln are elsewhere detailed (see INSURRECTION, I.; HABEAS CORPUS); but, besides these, there were others, more serious, if not so annoying. The loss of Harper's Ferry, April 18, involved a loss of very much of the government machinery for making arms. The burning of Gosport navy yard, April 20, almost annihilated the little remnant of the federal navy. The wholesale resignations of southern-born and even northern-born officers in the public service had seriously crippled it, and of those who remained it was impossible to know whom to trust, or to be confident that any given officer would not resign without notice and betake himself to Montgomery. The treasury had been so nearly bankrupted in the preceding December that the robbery of about $1,000,000 from the Indian trust fund in the war department could hardly be made good. An army, navy and treasury were to be evolved out of nothing, by an administration and a people who knew nothing of war, and all was to be done without legal appropriations of money or authorization by law, for congress, by the president's summons, was not to meet until July 4. For this failure to summon the special session for an earlier date, Lincoln has been sometimes severely censured, but it was either very fortunate, or the result of a wise forecast. So late as July there were among the members of congress several, such as Breckinridge and Burnett, of Kentucky, who were with the confederacy in spirit, and were soon afterward with it in the body. The number of such would undoubtedly have been much larger if May 1 had been fixed for the meeting of congress. And, further, congress would have been divided and probably incompetent at the earlier date. A part of its members would have come only to renew the tedious attempts at compromise of the past winter, and a part animated only by the enthusiasm of the Sumter rising; and internal dissension would have had more attention than the public good. As it was, when congress met, the time for conciliation and compromise was evidently past; a sober realization of the enormous task to come had taken the place of the first inconsiderate, and sometimes foolish, excitement; and congress was a homogeneous body, well fitted for the emergency.


—When congress met, the area of the rebellion had been fairly defined. Its northern boundary was an irregular line from the Atlantic to the gulf of Mexico, following the Potomac and the southern boundary of Pennsylvania to the Blue Ridge; then trending southwest through western Virginia and west through southern Kentucky to the Mississippi; thence west through central Missouri to Kansas, and south and southwest to the gulf of Mexico, taking in the Indian territory, whose people had replaced their former treaties by new ones with the confederate states, and Texas. South of this line the whole people was in rebellion, for the sincerest Union men among the local leaders felt bound to obey the final action of the state (see ALLEGIANCE), and the new national government claimed and received the allegiance of the doubtful mass. Within this line the southern states stood in the attitude of a beleaguered fortress, covering an area of more than 700,000 square miles, with a line of investiture of 10,500 miles, and containing within it a population of 8,000,000 whites, 1,400,000 of them fighting men, and 4,000,000 blacks, most of whom remained faithful laborers to the end. The military and naval events of the rebellion need be only briefly summed up here.


—At first the rebellion was to be overthrown by the "anaconda system," if it can be called a system. The line of investiture was to be assailed at every available point, and the rebellion was to be pressed to death. In the east this idea had several important results, only one of which, the blockade, was of any use, if the captures of Port Royal and Hatteras are to be considered as an integral part of the blockading system. Outside of the blockade, without which the rebellion could never have been suppressed, it is very doubtful whether any military operations in the east were ever of any great service, beyond employing a large part of the confederate armies to counteract them. Even if they had been successful in the first years of the war, they could only have had the distinctly evil result of pushing the rebellion, with its natural energies unimpaired, into the infinitely stronger positions of its central territory. In the west the one great object of desire was at first the opening of the Mississippi to the gulf, and this was effected by the capture of New Orleans, April 24-27, 1862, by the capture of Vicksburg and Port Hudson, July 4 and 8, 1863, and a countless number of subordinate battles. But during this struggle the war had practically been ended, though indirectly, for the enormous wedge of highland east of the Mississippi, running south into the heart of the confederacy, and the natural citadel of the continent, was almost entirely in the hands of the western armies. In November, 1864, Sherman's army, gathered on the southern edge of the great citadel, and, assured of Thomas' ability to master the only confederate army in their rear, had only to choose the direction in which they should pour down upon the plains below and push the rebellion from the mountains to the coast. Thereafter there could be but one object for the officers and men of the confederate armies, to maintain undiminished to the end that high reputation for personal bravery which the national armies have always and cheerfully acknowledged. Lee's surrender took place April 9, 1865, and the first amnesty proclamation of President Johnson, May 29 (see AMNESTY), may be taken as the formal close of the rebellion, though isolated surrenders continued throughout the following month.


—During this long struggle, another was going on at Washington, even more difficult. In the field the general line of success was only developed when the original disadvantages of civil life had worn away, when the original leaders, who fought with one eye on the war and the other on home politics, had been eliminated or forced to subordinate positions, and when the new group of professional soldiers had been developed, Grant, Sherman, Sheridan, McPherson, and others, who were for the time absolutely reckless of political and civil considerations, and who knew but one object—war. But at Washington no such development could or ought to have taken place. There politics had to have at least an equal consideration with war, and the difficulties arising from the complication of the two subjects did not cease even with the cessation of the war itself.


—The 37th congress met July 4, 1861. In the senate there were thirty-one republicans and eighteen opposition, ten of the latter being democrats, and eight "unionists," remnants of the old "American party," such as Garret Davis, of Kentucky, and Anthony Kennedy, of Maryland, supporters of the war, and opponents of every interference with slavery. In the house there were 106 republicans and seventy-two opposition, forty-two of the latter being democrats and thirty "unionists." The house voted to consider at this session only bills relating to the military, naval and financial operations of the government; and July 15, by a vote of 121 to 5, it pledged itself to vote any number of men and any amount of money necessary to put down the rebellion. Laws were passed, by heavy majorities, to authorize a loan of $250,000,000, to define and punish conspiracy, to increase the tariff, to appropriate money for the army and navy, to suppress insurrections (see INSURRECTION, I.), to authorize the president to collect the revenue in federal vessels or to close southern ports in case collection was impossible (July 13), to call out 500,000 volunteers, if the president should think so many necessary (July 22), and to confiscate property, including slaves (see ABOLITION, III.), if permitted to be employed against the government (Aug. 6). A resolution to validate and confirm the president's "extraordinary acts, proclamations and orders," his calling out men, blockading southern ports, and suspending the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, failed to pass, but was made the third section of the act of Aug. 6, to increase the pay of the army. (See HABEAS CORPUS.) An important act of the session was the passage of a resolution that the war had been forced on the government by southern disunionists; that it was waged by the government in no spirit of oppression, and for no purpose of conquest, subjugation, or interfering with the rights or established institutions of the seceding states, but to defend and maintain the supremacy of the constitution, and to preserve the Union with all the dignity, equality and rights of the several states unimpaired; and that, as soon as these objects were accomplished, the war ought to cease. It passed the house, July 22, by a vote of 117 to 2, and the senate, July 26, by a vote of 30 to 5. (See RECONSTRUCTION.) Aug. 6, congress adjourned, having voted all that the executive had asked for. When it reassembled in December (see CONGRESS, SESSIONS OF), the scattered drops of July had settled down into the heavy and steady storm of war which was to beat upon the country for more than three years to come. From the first day of meeting, it was evident that congress had very considerably changed its views as to the proper mode of dealing with slavery. In both houses a large number of resolutions were immediately introduced, looking toward emancipation, and with them began the course of legislation which ended in the general abolition of slavery. (See ABOLITION, III.; FUGITIVE SLAVE LAWS; WILMOT PROVISO.) These acts were then, and have since been, denounced as in violation of the good faith pledged in the resolution of July 22, above mentioned. That resolution undoubtedly expressed what was then the policy and intention of both congress and its constituents, when the magnitude of the war was not yet apparent, and its interdependence upon slavery was not yet plainly perceived. But a congressional resolution is certainly not a part of the organic law, but a mere piece of legislation open to change or repeal at any moment. Other governments are never reproached for vitally changing their policy as a war in which they are engaged grows more desperate. It is a tribute, though sometimes a provoking tribute, to the exceptional good faith of the American republic, to find canons of good faith laid down for it which would not be considered applicable else where. Outside of anti-slavery legislation, and the appropriation bills, the most important action of the session was the act of Feb. 25, 1862, authorizing the issue of $150,000,000 non-interest bearing notes, receivable for all dues to the United States, except duties on imports, and for all claims against the United States, except interest on the public debt, and a legal tender for all debts, public and private, within the United States, with the exceptions above noted, which were to be paid in coin. The legal tender clause was much disliked by Secretary Chase, who only finally yielded to it on the score of military necessity, and as a war measure. (See, in general, FINANCE.) This development of anti-slavery feeling and action in the dominant party, the preliminary proclamation of the president looking toward emancipation (see EMANCIPATION PROCLAMATION), and the summary suppression of opposition to the war by arrest (see Arbitrary Arrests, under HABEAS CORPUS), produced almost a complete political change of relations in the north. Hitherto, democrats in and out of congress had very steadily voted for all measures designed to suppress the rebellion by arms, while they as steadily accompanied their votes with the declaration that the republicans, by abolition agitation, had been as much to blame for the war as the secessionists. They now alleged that the new anti-slavery policy had been adopted mainly for the purpose of forcing their party into an attitude of opposition to the war itself. If there was any truth in the charge, the manœuvre was successful: the democratic party gradually became a peace party (see DEMOCRATIC PARTY, VI.), and those of its members who were willing to include slavery as one of the vulnerable points of the confederacy were forced into the "union party," as the republican party was henceforth frequently termed. The first results of this bouleversement were unfavorable. In the autumn elections of 1862 the great middle and western states, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indians, Illinois, and Wisconsin, all of which had voted for Lincoln in 1860, gave democratic majorities. But, as it happened, the democrats gained and the republicans lost little by these elections: in only two of these state, New York and New Jersey, the election involved a change of state government; and in the members of the house of representatives of 1863-5, chosen this year, the republican majority was hardly impaired. The results were just sufficient to confirm the democrats in opposition to the war, and the republicans in active opposition to slavery, while it should have been evident that, as the two ideas became familiar in the future, the tide of recruits must run steadily from the democrats to the republicans, and no longer from the republicans to the democrats. The democratic party touched high-water mark in 1862-3; thereafter it could only recede.


—The session of congress which began in December, 1862, was used by the republicans mainly in securing the positions which they had already gained, and in making the necessary appropriations for the war. No great advance was made in anti-slavery legislation, except that the final thirteenth amendment was introduced and left to become familiar. The fundamental idea of final reconstruction by congress was also plainly put into form, and left to become familiar. (See RECONSTRUCTION.) In practical legislation the great features of the session were the conscription act (see DRAFTS), by which the national power to compel the military service of its citizens was for the first time declared and maintained; and the national bank act of Feb. 25, 1863. (See National Banks, under BANKING.) West Virginia was admitted (see that state); and the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus was confirmed and regulated. (See HABEAS CORPUS.) The appropriation for the navy this year footed up $71,041,401.01; and for the army $729,861,898.80, with $108,807,645.20 for deficiencies.


—The wonderful tenacity with which the majority in congress held its ground during this last session, taking no step backward on the slavery question, and actually advancing in other respects, in the face of the adverse majorities of 1862, was fully justified by the event. Every day increased the number of democrats to whom the idea of emancipation as an incident of the war became less dreadful as it became more familiar. July 4, 1863, seems to have been the political as well as the military turning point of the war. From that day it was certain that the confederate armies in the east were to be so held in play as to be unable to defend successfully their vital point in the west. Nothing succeeds like success; and every mile of advance by the western armies was a new guarantee to the republicans of security for the past and for the future. Everything had been gained, and nothing lost, and it was only necessary now to pass at leisure the crowning amendment for general emancipation (see CONSTITUTION, III., A.), and to wait patiently while the armed forces worked out the already secured political future. The autumn elections of 1863 were not generally for important offices; but they indicated a strong republican gain for the first time since 1860; and in the states of Ohio and Pennsylvania, where the control of the state government was involved in the election (see those states), the republican majority was decisive.


—A new congress met in December, 1863 the republican majority being 36 to 14 in the senate, and 102 to 84 in the house. Its action was mainly confined to the routine business necessary for prosecuting the war, and to the amendment and enforcement of previous legislation. Provision was also made for the admission of Nevada, Colorado and Nebraska as states (see those states), and for the repeal of the fugitive slave laws. (See that title.) A first attempt was made to pass the thirteenth amendment; the portentous question of reconstruction was fairly introduced; and the existence of the new class of professional soldiers was recognized by the revival of the grade of lieutenant general commanding all the armies. This last grade was intended to be filled by Gen. Grant.


—With the adjournment of this session of congress, the political history of the rebellion practically ends. Little was to be done by the dominant party, beyond gathering up the fruits of victory, and drawing breath for the coming struggle of reconstruction. Lincoln's reelection, in the autumn of 1864, hardly doubtful in the event of any action by the opposition, was made certain by the democratic peace platform of that year. This was followed by the final adoption of the thirteenth amendment, abolishing slavery, the only work of the session of 1864-5 which rises above routine. During the year, it was ratified by the states. (See CONSTITUTION, III., A.)


—Throughout the political work of congress in these eventful four years, its main characteristics are its general reflection of the will of its constituency, its openness, and its determined resolution to retain the supremacy of congress over the generals and armies in the field. In the last two points it differed absolutely from its rival, the confederate congress. (See CONFEDERATE STATES.) At the opening of the war, while most of the military leaders retained the habits of civil and political life, these characteristics led to many evils; annoying interferences and conflicts by the committees on the conduct of the war, with various military leaders; needless assertions of power and dignity by the disputants; and the revelation in the debates, of things in which not only military science, but common sense, should have dictated secrecy. But these evils cured themselves. As the new class of generals grew up, habituated to regard congress as a master, not as a would-be tyrant, congress itself learned self-control by bitter experience; and the war ended with entire harmony between the civil and military agents in it.


—Nor can it be doubted now that congress generally reflected the will of its constituents. The single plausible exception is the winter of 1862-3, above referred to. But, in that instance, the majority in congress, if its members chose to risk their political existence on the supposition had a fair right to presume, 1, that the elections of 1862 were lost through their own lack of importance, and the consequent neglect of many republicans to take part in them; 2, that the coincident choice of a republican majority in the next congress was a fair popular indorsement of their own change of policy; and, 3, that every indication showed that the popular tide in their favor would inevitably be strengthened by the success of the union forces, without which any policy would, of course, have proved a failure. The result proved that in all three suppositions they were correct.


—For the special lines of work done by the congresses of 1861-5, see ABOLITION, III.; AMNESTY; BANKING; CONSTRUCTION; DISTILLED SPIRITS; DRAFTS; ELECTORS, III.; FREEDMEN'S BUREAU; FUGITIVE SLAVE LAWS; HABEAS CORPUS; INCOME TAX; INSURRECTION, I.; INTERNAL IMPROVEMENTS; INTERNAL REVENUE; JUDICIARY; MONROE DOCTRINE; RECONSTRUCTION, I.; SLAVERY; TERRITORIES; WAR POWERS; WILMOT PROVISO; and the authorities cited under them. See also (GENERAL) 2, 3 Draper's History of the Civil War; 12-14 Stat. at Large; Moore's Rebellion Record; Guernsey and Alden's Pictorial History of the Rebellion; Appleton's Annual Cyclopædia (1861-5); 3 Wilson's Rise and Fall of the Slave Power; 2 Greeley's American Conflict; Victor's History of the Rebellion; 4 Bryant and Gay's History of the United States; Botts' Great Rebellion; Pollard's Lost Cause; (POLITICAL) McPherson's Political History of the Rebellion; Raymond's Life of Lincoln; Giddings' History of the Rebellion (to 1863); Wilson's Anti-Slavery Measures in Congress; Hurd's Theory of Our National Existence (index under States, status of); Boutwell's Speeches and Reports; H. W. Davis' Speeches and Addresses; Hurlburt's McClellan and the Conduct of the War; 2 A. H. Stephens' War Between the States; Harris' Political Conflict; Gilletts' Democracy in the United States; (MILITARY) Callan's Military Laws of the United States; Wilson's Military Measures in Congress; Count of Paris' History of the Civil War; Gen. U. S. Grant's Report of the Armses (1864-5); Reports of the Committees on the Conduct of the War; W. T. Sherman's Memoirs; Swinton's Twelve Decisive Battles of the War; Appleton's Campaigns of the Civil War; Ingersoll's History of the War Department; Boynton's History of the Navy During the Rebellion; Records of the Rebellion; Confederate Official Reports (1863); (FINANCIAL) Schuckers' Life of Chase, 216, 293; Von Hock's Die Finanaen der Ver-Staaten; Laws of the United States relating to Loans and Currency (to 1878); Spaulding's History of the Legal Tender Paper Money of the Rebellion; Perry's Elements of Political Economy, 459; Gibbons' Public Debt; McPherson's Index of House Bills on Banks, Currency, Public Debt, Tariff, and Direct Taxes (1875); Lamphere's United States Government, 44; John Sherman's Select Speeches on Finance; Nimmo's Customs Tariff Legislation; and, in general, Bartlett's Literature of the Rebellion (6,073 titles of books, pamphlets and magazine articles relating to the rebellion, directly or indirectly, up to 1866).


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