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Lincoln's Tyranny by Dr. Richard Lee Montgomery

Lincoln's Tyranny
Dr. Richard Lee Montgomery

I suppose the first thing that is needed, is to have a clear understand of the term “tyranny.”  In the 1845, Noah Webster’s Dictionary, “tyranny” is defined this way: “1. Arbitrary or despotic exercise of power; the exercise of power over subjects and others with a rigor not authorized by law or justice, or not requisite for the purposes of government. Hence, tyranny is often synonymous with cruelty and oppression. 2. Cruel government or discipline. 3. Unresisted and cruel power. 4. Absolute monarchy cruelly administered. 5. Severity; rigor; inclemency [unpleasant].” 1

And then in the 1877, The Waverley Pictorial Dictionary,
Volume 7 states, “A tyrant, in the bad sense of the word, is said to tyrannize over his people. He exercises a tyrannous, or tyrannical, form of government, which we describe as tyranny, and he may be said to rule tyrannously, or despotically.” 2

Perhaps you remember what you were taught, growing up in Junior High or High School when it
came to the subject of American History and specifically the “Civil War,” as it’s right title. There, we were taught that Abraham Lincoln was a man of high esteem and integrity, building him up with high platitudes and accolades which then naturally identifies him as “honest Abe.”

Josiah Gilbert Holland, in his book entitled “Life of Abraham
Lincoln,” published in 1866 describes Lincoln this way: “Every one trusted him. It was while he was performing the duties of the store that he acquired the soubriquet ‘Honest Abe’ a characterization that he never dishonored, and an abbreviation that he never outgrew. He was judge, arbitrator, referee, umpire, authority, in all disputes, games and matches of man-flesh and horse-flesh; a pacificator in all quarrels; every body’s friend; the best natured, the most sensible, the best informed, the most modest and unassuming, the kindest, gentlest, roughest, strongest, best young fellow in all New Salem and the region round about.” 3 Is this not what we have been taught?

There have been other names attributed to Abraham Lincoln as well. By his biographers John Milton Hays and John George Nicolay who made reference to him to as “the ancient,” 4 based on Lincoln’s supposed “ancient wisdom.” He was also known or called “the Great Emancipator” 5 or “the Liberator,” 6 since he supposedly emancipated all slaves by
simply writing some words and delivering a speech stating, “That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free” 7

All or most of us realize that Lincoln did not free any slaves. Those he could have freed, he did not. Those he could not free, he said he freed. This narrative will explain: “That the war was not waged for the emancipation of the slaves has an unanswerable argument in the fact that General Grant, the commander of the Union forces, was a slaveholder and retained possession of his slaves until freed by the war. General Lee, commander of the Confederate forces, freed his slaves before the war. Another strong argument is in the fact that
there were 315,000 slaveholders in the North [Union Army] and non-seceding States and only 200,000 in the Confederacy.” 8

Another name Lincoln was referred as, was “the Rail-Splitter.”  Published in 1889, “Abraham Lincoln: A Biography For Young People,” Noah Brooks writes, “he [Lincoln] mastered the art of
splitting rails and billets of wood for building purposes from the logs drawn from the forest.” 9

Another name he was called, was “the Tycoon,” 10 given to him by John Hay because of his energetic and ambitious
conduct of his Civil War administration. Yet another descriptive name was “Uncle Abe,” describing  Lincoln as a kind and friendly man who in his later years came across as family. Even in Eleanor Gridley’s book, “The Story of Abraham Lincoln; or, The Journey From the Log Cabin to the White House,” she admits, “I have tried to make
the home life of Uncle Abe, the children's friend, so intensely interesting that not a single family in the broad land will be without it.” 11

Now,  I purposefully tried to build a foundation or a picture, so that we might clearly recognize this contrast or this vast difference of what we have been taught versus what the primary sources, of that day, teach us. My goal in this lecture is to show that during the War of Northern Aggression, Abraham Lincoln even made himself an enemy to many Northerners with a  disregard for them in the overall scheme of subjugation or oppression of the South. 

One of the first things he did in the North was the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus on April 27, 1861. The “the writ of habeas corpus” means “A writ directed to the person detaining another, and commanding him to produce the body of the prisoner at a certain time and place, with the day and cause of his caption and detention, to do, submit to, and receive whatsoever the court or judge awarding the writ shall consider in that behalf.” 12 Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus without the consent of Congress, as required by the Constitution, and it matters not, if that right is taken from Maryland citizens or from any other citizen, no matter which state it might be.

The story line that comes to mind first is the case of John Merryman of Baltimore County, Maryland. Interestingly, out of this case comes the friction between President Abraham Lincoln – and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States – Roger Brook Taney.

Before the war, John Merryman was a Third Lieutenant in the
Baltimore County Troops.  In 1861 Merryman was a First Lieutenant in the Baltimore County Horse Guards. 13 Here is the first narrative on the case of John Merryman. From Leonard Magruder Passano’s book, “History of Maryland.” published in 1904 – it says, “The Federal Government, by building forts, stationing troops and holding the railroads in the State, placed Maryland under a sort of military occupation, and to this the people objected. Commissioners were sent to Washington to consult with President Lincoln, who agreed with them that as Maryland had not left the Union she ought not to be subjected to such occupation. He said, however, that the disturbances in Baltimore and the strong secession feeling shown by large numbers of the people made it necessary for the Federal Government to take the steps it had taken in self-defence.

The military rule soon became stronger and more arbitrary. Members of the Legislature, editors of newspapers, judges and private citizens were arrested, charged with treason, and thrown into prison by order of the military authorities without
any process of law and without any trial. Among others, John Merryman, a citizen of Baltimore County, was arrested on a charge of treason and imprisoned in Fort McHenry, where General Cadwallader was in command. Immediately Chief Justice Taney issued a writ of habeas corpus. This was the legal way of asking why Merryman had been arrested. It meant that General Cadwallader must come before the court and show by what right he kept Merryman imprisoned when no charges had been made against him legally.” 14

A second narrative is seen in the actions of Merryman:  “In this emergency Governor Hicks ordered that the railroad bridges should be destroyed ... The execution of the Governor's order was intrusted to Lieut. Merryman, but he exercised his own discretion and burned only one bridge, south of Parkton, as he did not wish to destroy so much valuable property. On May 25, 1861, he was arrested by United States soldiers, imprisoned in Fort McHenry, and indicted for treason in connection with the burning of the bridges. His defense was that he only executed his sworn duty as an officer of the militia of Maryland. He petitioned Chief Justice Taney for habeas corpus, and the latter directed the issue of the writ, directed to Gen. Cadwallader, then commandant at Fort McHenry. The general refused to produce his prisoner and the chief justice then ordered the United States marshal to bring Cadwallader before him on Tuesday, May 28th, to answer for contempt of court. The marshal made return that Gen. Cadwallader had been instructed by President Lincoln to disobey the writ and to resist him; whereupon the chief justice declared that ‘It is therefore very clear that John Merryman, the petitioner, is improperly held, and is entitled to be immediately discharged from imprisonment.’ The affair created great excitement at the time, and though Mr. Merryman was bailed to answer for treason, he was never brought to trial.” 15

Now – on the issue of the writ of habeas corpus. In his book – The
Constitution of the United States – published in 1881– Robert Desty – a law editor and author – of a number of books on law – served in the California legislature and during the Mexican-American War – he served in the United States Army. He says this, “The privilege of the writ shall not be suspended, that is, the privilege of having it issued, and the case heard and determined;! the writ means, the writ ad subjiciendum. It is a writ of right, the privilege of having judicial inquiry made into the cause of imprisonment, and a suspension precludes all further proceedings on a writ issued. The privilege of the writ can only be suspended by act of Congress. The power is given to Congress to suspend the writ in cases of rebellion or invasion, and Congress is the exclusive judge of when the exigency arises, The President cannot suspend the writ, but may be authorized by act of Congress to do so. A statute authorizing the President to suspend the writ, when in his judgment the public safety requires it, is valid. The Secretary of War has no authority to suspend the privilege of the writ, nor can the commander of a military district.” 16 

It is here – that we see the true Abraham Lincoln  – in vivid color – or Technicolor – if you will. Lincoln denied the rights of citizens he was sworn to protect. He suspended the writ of habeas corpus – closed courts by force – and arrested citizens – without legal cause – simply for speaking sympathetically for the South publicly. These people would never be charged with any crimes. Phillip Margulies – in his book The Writ of Habeas Corpus: The Right to Have Your Day in Court – wrote this – about Abraham Lincoln, “Under Lincoln’s authority, thousands of American citizens were thrown into jail without trials. By Lincoln’s command, several thousand citizens were tried by military commission in places where civilian courts were open-in other words, they were denied the constitutional right to trial by a jury of their peers. Lincoln put his signature to nine orders and proclamations that formally announced the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus in 1861.” 17

Now – we can look at – we can examine – we can debate – all the contemporary opinions – who freely give their legal expertise on
this topic – this matter – but I believe it would behoove us to listen – to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of United States of that day – 1861. His name is Roger Brooke Taney – who “administered” 18 – or swore in Abraham Lincoln as President – would later rule on – who is able to suspend the writ of habeas corpus – and he said this, “As the case comes before me, therefore, I understand that the President not only claims the right to suspend the writ of habeas corpus at his discretion, but to delegate that discretionary power to a military officer, and to leave it to him to determine whether he will or will not obey judicial process that may be served upon him. No official notice has been given to the courts of justice, or to the public, by proclamation or otherwise, that the President claimed this power, and had exercised it in the manner stated in the return. And I certainly listened to it with some surprise, for I had supposed it to be one of those points of constitutional law upon which there was no difference of opinion, and that it was admitted on all hands that the privilege of the writ could not be suspended except by act of Congress.” 19

So – Chief Justice Taney ruled – that Lincoln had overstepped his power –  maintaining that only Congress – had the power to suspend the writ of habeas corpus. And again – it is here – that we see the true colors of Lincoln – for after Taney’s ruling – we are told that, “The executive department paid no attention to the decision.” 20 

Also – Lincoln responded – by threatening to arrest the Chief
Justice of the United States – for making such a decision. Some say Lincoln never sought to do this. In his book – A Memoir of Benjamin Robbins Curtis – who served as a U.S. Supreme Court Justice gives this narrative, “The reputation of Chief Justice Taney can afford to have any thing known that he ever did, and still leave a great fund of honor and praise to illustrate his name. If he had never done any thing else that was high, heroic, and important, his noble vindication of the writ of habeas corpus, and of the dignity and authority of his office, against a rash minister of state, who, in the pride of a fancied executive power, came near to the commission of a great crime, will command the admiration and gratitude of every lover of constitutional liberty, so long as our institutions shall endure.” 21 The phrase “great crime” refers to Lincoln’s arrest warrant. We can be thankful – that Chief Justice Roger B. Taney – ruled that Lincoln’s actions were illegal – criminal – and unconstitutional – and did not shy away – but took a stand – based on the Constitution.

He illegally shut down and confiscated the printing presses of dozens of newspapers that had spoken out against him. Lincoln’s troops shut down more than 300 – mostly Democratic newspapers. One of them was the Philadelphia Evening Journal – and arrested it’s editor – “Albert D. Boileau, publisher of the Evening Journal, for printing an editorial article, understood to be the production of Mr. Reed, which held up the character of Jefferson Davis for public admiration, and studiously endeavoured to make Mr. Lincoln an object of contempt in comparison.” 22 Mr. Boileau would be  released – only after he recanted. 

Boileau’s apology – or his encouragement to recant goes like this.: “I, Albert D. Boileau, citizen of Philadelphia, and editor and publisher of the ‘Evening Journal,’ now confined in Fort McHenry for the publication of an editorial article under the title of ‘Davis’s Message,’ in that paper, January 20th, 1863, and ‘for the publication of other articles of a like dangerous character, tending to the support and encouragement of the rebellion against the Government of the United States,’ do hereby freely and voluntarily express my regret for the publication of that article, or of any other article of like tendency or character, and do distinctly disavow such articles being published with my proper authority or knowledge,
and declare that such publication has been made by other persons, agent or employee, and without my sanction and intention; and I do furthermore give to Maj.-Gen. Robert Schenck, commanding the Middle Department and Eighth Army Corps, by whose order in behalf of the Government I have been arrested, my sacred parole of honor, that upon being discharged from my present imprisonment, and suspension of publication of my newspaper being removed, I will not write, print, or publish, or permit others in my name to write, print, or publish any articles having such dangerous character, or tending to the support or encouragement of the rebellion, but will demean myself in all things as a true and loyal citizen of the United States, intending only to support the Government, the Constitution, and the Union, as a faithful citizen should...” 23

Another instance of tyranny was the delivery of the order – in the
form of a letter – on February 25, 1863 – from Edwin MacMasters Stanton – Lincoln’s Secretary of War – sent to newspapers stating, “All newspaper editors and publishers have been forbidden to publish any intelligence received by telegraph or otherwise respecting military operations by the United States forces. Please see this night that this order is observed. If violated by any paper issued tomorrow, seize the whole edition, and give notice to this department that arrest may be ordered.” 24

Then – “On the 17th of March an order was issued from the War Department, directing the seizure of the Washington ‘Sunday Chronicle,’ and the parties concerned in its publication, in consequence of having published on the previous day information of military movements in disregard of general order No. 67.

The order of arrest was placed in the hands of the military governor of the District, and the editor of the paper brought before him. The editor stated that the news was handed in at a late hour, and the paper went to press without his personal supervision. He expressed his regret at the violation of the order, and promised to carefully guard against a recurrence of similar publications. Whereupon, at the request of the military governor, he being satisfied that the offence would not be repeated, the execution of the order was suspended.” 25 

Another decision that Lincoln made – was to re-instate – and promote Army officer John Basil Turchin. “His real name was Ivan Vasilivitch Turchinoff” 26 Now – foundational to this decision – is that Turchin was in the process of a military court martial – aka a discharged with dishonor – by the U. S. Army for what reason? – war crimes. Here is the narrative you need to hear, “In spite of the strenuous efforts
of General Buell to have his subordinates wage war in civilized manner, they were guilty of infamous conduct. General [Ormsby M.] Mitchell was charged by the people with brutal conduct toward  non-combatants and with being interested in the stealing of cotton and shipping it North. He was finally removed by [Don Carlos] Buell.

One of Mitchell's subordinates — John Basil Turchin, the Russian colonel of the Nineteenth Illinois regiment — was too brutal even for Mitchell, and the latter tried to keep him within bounds. His worst offence was at Athens, in Limestone County, [Alabama] in May, 1862. Athens was a wealthy place, intensely southern in feeling, and on that account was most heartily disliked by the Federals. Here, for two hours, Turchin retired to his tent and gave over the town to the soldiers to be sacked after the old European custom. Revolting outrages were committed. Robberies were common where Turchin commanded. His Russian ideas of the rules of war were probably responsible for his conduct. Buell characterized it as ‘a case of undisputed atrocity.’ For this Athens affair Turchin was court-martialed and sentenced to be dismissed from the service. The facts were notorious and well known at Washington, but the day before Buell ordered his discharge, Turchin was made a brigadier general.” 27 Again – a war criminal.

There were many other tyrannous – flagrant – illegal actions by President Abraham Lincoln. I mean – he bypassed Congress once again – by calling up seventy-five thousand men – in his response to Fort Sumter – to invade the South. On this issue – I want you listen to Henry W. R. Jackson of Aiken, South Carolina – who wrote three published books about the Confederacy – he says, “A proclamation was then issued by Lincoln calling out seventy-five thousand men to suppress the popular will of the people of seven States who rose up as a man to adopt their own form of Government and to support a separate national existence. This call for seventy-five thousand men was the cause of the secession of six other additional States, supporting the movement of the seven who had previously seceded, by their almost unanimous and simultaneous withdrawal from the old Union, which has given us thirteen States for the inauguration of the Government of the Southern Confederacy, being a singular coincidence with the formation of the Government of the old United States. Yet, notwithstanding the popular movement and earnest demonstration of the Southern people, it was not sufficient warning to the vile and arrogant Actions of the North to desist from a war of attempted conquest and subjugation—a war which, from its source and means of origin, makes it the most unhallowed in the eyes of God and civilized nations of all conflicts in ancient or modern times, more particularly so, being waged by a people who but recently laid claim to the enlightenment and conversion of the heathens of barbarous nations to civilization and Christianity.” 28

Another tyrannous act by this President – was Lincoln sent the Union Army to arrest any or the entire legislature of Maryland – to keep them from meeting legally – because they were debating a bill of secession – and many or all were imprisoned without charge or trial – in direct violation of the Constitution. Here is the letter from “Secretary of War to General Banks. War Department, Sept. 11, 1861. – General: The passage of any act of secession by the Legislature of Maryland must be prevented. If necessary all, or any part, of the members must be arrested. Exercise your own judgment as to the time and manner, but do the work effectually. Very respectfully, your obedient servant, SIMON CAMERON, Secretary of War.” 29

Also  Lincoln sent 350,000 Northern men to their deaths – to kill 350,000 Southern men in order to force the free and sovereign states of the South – to remain in the Union that they – the people – legally voted to peacefully withdraw from – all in order to continue the South’s revenue flow into the North. Now – just a Side Note: I want to key in on this revenue issue. I think the most important question that needs to be asked – is not –  “Why did the South secede” – but rather – “Why did the North refuse to let the South go.” It’s a very simple answer – if the North would have allowed the South to secede – it would have deprived the North – of most of its tax revenue. The North would not have survived. 

Let me illustrate this once again – with this quote – when Lincoln was asked, “Why not let the South go in peace?” Abraham Lincoln replied, “Let the South go? Let the South go! Where then shall we gain our revenues? And the united North reechoed: ‘Let the South go! Where, then, shall we look for the bounties and monopolies which have so enriched us at the expense of those improvident, unsuspecting Southerners? Where shall we find again such patient victims of spoliation?” 30

What I have sought to demonstrate to you is that – Lincoln’s tyranny was not only directed to the North – but to the South as well. And I realize that Lincoln’s war – was called the Civil War – because he refused to view – the Confederate States – as a Constitutionally legitimate nation.  But – even when he ordered the Union Army to invade the South – he also gave orders for the Union Navy to blockade all sea ports – in the South. The point that I make – is that Lincoln had no motivation to keep the states together – with the good will of the people in mind – seeking to bring no harm to anyone. I mean – Lincoln didn’t send any kind of a peace keeping delegation – to the Southern States – in order to work things out. Lincoln made no effort to be a peaceable man. He only saw one option – to subdue any and all who – stood in his way. Lincoln was a ruthless dictator. Rushmore G. Horton wrote the book A Youth's History of the Civil War – published in 1867 – and stated this in the Preface – he says, “I shall show that the war was not waged ‘preserve the Union, or to maintain republican institutions,’ but really to destroy both, and that every dollar spent, and every life lost, have been taken by the Abolitionists on false pretences. This book will show that the Abolition or so-called Republican party has simply carried out the British free negro policy on this Continent, a pet measure of all the kings and despots of Europe. In order to reach this end, Mr. Lincoln was compelled to assume the Dictatorship, and overthrow the government as it was formed, which he did by issuing a military Edict or Decree changing the fundamental law of the land, and declaring that he would maintain this change by all the military and naval power of the United States. It will also be seen that the war has changed the entire character and system of our Government, over thrown the ancient rights of the States, and forced upon the country a so-called Amendment to the Constitution, in the time of war, and against the free and unbiased action of the people.” 31

Well – up to this point – I have attempted to show or illustrate – just a few examples of Lincoln's tyranny forced on the North – and it’s people. And then on the flip side of the same coin – Lincoln made every effort to coerce the South to be reunited with the Union – no matter what it took – even violating the Constitution – thus tyranny is once again demonstrated. 

I’ll close out with something written by Elizabeth Avery Meriwether – with her pseudonym name being – George Edmonds – and extracted from her book Facts and Falsehoods Concerning the War on the South, 1861-1865 – published in 1904.

“President Lincoln—Had violated personal liberty.—Had violated constitutional rights.—Had violated the liberty of the press.—Had been guilty of all the abuses of a military dictator.—Had repulsed the Confederate peace commissioners.—Had refused to use any means except bloody force to attain peace.—No man who reads Republican history can deny one of the above charges.” 32


1 Noah Webster, An American Dictionary of the English Language (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1845), 865.

2 Harold Wheeler, The Waverley Pictorial Dictionary, Volume 7 (London: The Waverley Book Company, 1877), 4397.

3 J. G. Holland, Life of Abraham Lincoln (Springfield: Gurdon Bill, 1866), 47.

4 William Roscoe Thayer, John Hay, Volume 1 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1915), 105.

5 Elbridge Streeter Brooks, The Heroic Life of Abraham Lincoln: The Great Emancipator (Boston: DeWolfe, Fiske & Company, 1902), 8.

6 Charles Wallace French, Abraham Lincoln: The Liberator (New York: Fung & Wagnalls, 1891), 296.

7 Abraham Lincoln, Emancipation Proclamation (Washington D. C.: Press of the National Republican, 1863), 11.

8 S. A. Cunningham, Confederate Veteran, Volume 28 (S.A. Cunningham, 1920), 463.

9 Noah Brooks, Abraham Lincoln: A Biography For Young People (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1889), 18.

10 John Hay, Letters of John Hay and Extracts From Diary (Washington, 1908), 59.

11 Eleanor Gridley, The story of Abraham Lincoln; or, The Journey From the Log Cabin to the White House (Chicago: M. A. Donohue & Company, 1927), Preface. 

12 John Bouvier, A Law Dictionary: Adapted to the Constitution and Laws of the United States of America, and of the Several States of the American Union: with References to the Civil and Other Systems of Foreign Law, Volume 1 (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1880), 651.

13 Maryland Historical Magazine, Volume 10 (Baltimore: Maryland Historical Society, 1915), 297.

14 L. Magruder Passano, History of Maryland (Baltimore: William J. C. Dulany Company, 1904), 173.

15 J. Thomas Scharf, History of Baltimore City and County: From the Earliest Period to the Present Day (Philadelphia: Louis H. Everts, 1881), 885.

16 Robert Desty, The Constitution of the United States (San Francisco: Sumner & Whitney, 1881), 110.

17 Phillip Margulies, The Writ of Habeas Corpus: The Right to Have Your Day in Court (The Rosen Publishing Group, 2005), 23.

18 Ward Hill Lamon.  Recollections of Abraham Lincoln (Washington D. C., 1911), 54.

19 Samuel Tyler, Memoir of Roger Brooke Taney (Baltimore: John Murphy & Company, 1872), 423.

20 R. A. Brock, Southern Historical Society, Volume 26 (Richmond: Published by the Society, 1898), 52.

21 Benjamin R. Curtis, A Memoir of Benjamin Robbins Curtis, Volume 1 (Boston: Little, Brown & Company, 1879), 240.

22 A Few Words for Honest Pennsylvania Democrats (King & Baird, 1863), 7.

23 The American Annual Cyclopædia and Register of Important Events of the Year 1863, Volume 3 (New York: D. Appleton & Company, 1865), 472.

24 The American Annual Cyclopædia and Register of Important Events of the Year 1862, Volume 2 (New York: D. Appleton & Company, 1865), 480.

25 The American Annual Cyclopædia and Register of Important Events of the Year 1862, Volume 2 (New York: D. Appleton & Company, 1865), 480.

26 Walter L. Flemming, Civil War and Reconstruction in Alabama (New York: The Columbia University Press, 1905), 63.

27 Walter L. Flemming, Civil War and Reconstruction in Alabama (New York: The Columbia University Press, 1905), 62-63.

28 H. W. R. Jackson, Confederate Monitor and Patriot's Friend (Atlanta: Franklin Steam Printing House, J. J. Toon and Company, 1862), 12.

29 Edward McPherson, The Political History of the United States of America, During the Great Rebellion (Washington D. C.: Philp & Solomons, 1864), 153.

30 Frank H. Alfriend, The Life of Jefferson Davis (Cincinnati: Caxton Publishing House, 1868), 201.

31 R. G. Horton, A Youth's History of the Civil War (New York: Van Evrie & Horton Company, 1867), p. iv.

32 Elizabeth Avery Meriwether (Pseudonym, George Edmonds), Facts and Falsehoods Concerning the War on the South, 1861-1865 (Memphis: A. R. Taylor & Company, 1904), 187.


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