The Election of 1860 And Secession

By 1860, the divisions of the country had reached a breaking point. Southerners were outraged over a plot by abolitionist John Brown to start a slave rebellion at Harper's Ferry, Virginia in 1859.Northern Republicans were equally angered by the recent Supreme Court decision in the case of Dred Scott v Sanford declaring Free Soil unconstitutional. Northern Democrats struggled to convince Americans that their policy of popular sovereignty still made sense.

Following the presidential election of 1860, all these conflicts came to a head with dramatic consequences. The Democratic Party split into three groups along regional lines. Each group was vying for control of the party and each held different ideas about how to deal with slavery in the west. Because Lincoln’s opponents were so deeply divided, he won with less than forty percent of the popular vote (but with fifty-nine percent of the Electoral College) and without taking a single slave state.

South Carolina was the first to responded to Lincoln’s election by seceding from the union on December 20, 1860. Other slave states followed suit; Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas. They formed a new nation, the confederate states of America and named Jefferson Davis President.

Many Americans, including citizens in the Upper South states that had not left the Union, tried to convince the seceded states to return. President James Buchanan declared secession unconstitutional, but did little else.

During Lincoln’s inauguration, he encouraged the south to return and promised that slavery would be protected where it already existed.

When Lincoln attempted to re-supply the Union troops stationed at Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina, the stalemate collapsed. Lincoln was determined not to allow Fort Sumter to be taken, so he sent unarmed supply ships to the fort, giving Jefferson Davis advance notice of his actions. The Confederacy attacked the Fort before the ships could arrive, opening fire on April 12, 1861. The Union troops inside held out for 34 hours, but finally surrendered on April 14. The next day, President Lincoln called out 75,000 militiamen to put down the rebellion. War had begun.

Source: The Election of 1860 And Secession
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