States' Rights

As the North’s economy grew, the South’s economy suffered. Southerners felt resentful. By the 1840s and 1850s, the North and South had each taken extreme positions.

As long as there was an equal number of slave-holding states and non-slave-holding states, the North and South had equal representation in the Senate. However, each new territory that asked for statehood threatened to upset this balance of power. Southerners pushed for states’ rights and a weak federal government.

By the 1850s, Southerners began to discuss secession from the United States. They argued that they would leave the Union unless the Senate allowed the South “the power she possessed of protecting herself before the equilibrium of the two sections was destroyed.”

Attempts were made to find a solution, including legal compromises, arguments, and debates. Southerners felt that the laws favored the Northern economy. The Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 was one law that was in favor of the South. It stated that Northerners in free states must return escaped slaves who reached the North, back to their Southern masters. Northerners strongly objected to the law.

When anti-slavery Republican Abraham Lincoln won the presidential election in 1860, Southerners were sure that the North meant to take away their right to govern themselves, abolish slavery, and destroy the Southern economy. They felt that the only way to protect themselves was to leave the U.S.

Northerners, led by Lincoln, viewed secession as illegal. They saw the Confederate States of America not as a new country, but as a group of treasonous rebels.

Source: States' Rights
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