Road to Civil War: Secession and War
The election of 1860 • The issue of slavery eventually caused a break in the Democratic Party before the 1860 presidential election. • A northern wing of the Democrats nominated Stephen Douglas who supported popular sovereignty, allowing states to decide the slavery issue for themselves. • Southern Democrats nominated John C. Breckinridge who vowed to uphold slavery and supported the Dred Scott decision. • Another party, the Constitutional Union Party, was formed by moderates from the North and South. • They nominated John Bell of Tennessee who took no position on slavery. • The Republicans nominated Abraham Lincoln who ran on a platform of letting slavery remain in the states that already has it but preventing it from moving into new territories.
Lincoln Wins • With the Democrats divided, Lincoln won a clear majority of the electoral votes, but only 40% of the popular vote. • Douglas was 2nd with 30%. • Lincoln’s name did not even appear on the ballot in most Southern states, but he won every Northern state. • In effect, the more populous North had outvoted the South. • Despite Lincoln’s promises not to disturb slavery where it existed, many Southerners did not trust the Republican Party. • On December 20, 1860, South Carolina held a special convention and voted to secede.
Attempt at compromise • As other Southern states debated secession – withdrawal from the Union – leaders in Washington D.C. worked frantically to fashion a last-minute compromise. • Although it was suggested by some to create a Constitutional amendment protecting slavery in the South, both sides found this unacceptable. • Lincoln, who believed that slavery would eventually destroy itself, did not want it permanently added to the U.S. Constitution. • Southern states said it was too little too late.
The Confederacy • By February 1861, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, and Georgia had joined South Carolina and also seceded. • Delegates from each of those states met in Montgomery, Alabama to form a new nation and government. • Calling themselves the Confederate States of America, they chose Jefferson Davis, a senator from Mississippi, as their president. • They argued that the states had voluntarily joined the Union, and because the government had violated the Constitution by refusing to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act and denying Southern states equal rights in the territories, they were justified in leaving.
Reactions to Secession • In the North some abolitionists preferred to allow the Southern states to leave. • If the Union could be kept together only by compromising on slavery, they declared, then let it be destroyed. • Most Northerners, however, believed that the Union must be preserved. • The slave states of Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri, and Arkansas voted to remain in the Union for the time being, but watched Washington D.C. closely to see what would happen. • Lincoln had won the election, but James Buchanan’s term ran until March 4, 1861. • Although Buchanan protested secession, he was quick to add that there was nothing he could do to stop them.
Fort Sumter • Confederate forces had already seized some United States forts within their states. • On the day after Lincoln’s inauguration, he received a dispatch from the commander of Fort Sumter, South Carolina, a United States fort on an island guarding Charleston Harbor. • The fort was low on supplies, and Confederates were demanding its surrender. • Lincoln responded by informing Governor Francis Pickens of South Carolina that he was sending an unarmed expedition with supplies for Fort Sumter. • Instead, Confederate President Jefferson Davis ordered his forces to attack Fort Sumter before the supplies could arrive.
The War Begins • Confederate guns opened fire on the fort early on April 12, 1861. • High seas had prevented Union relief ships from reaching the besieged fort. • Thousands of shots were exchanged during the siege, but there was no loss of life on either side. • The Union garrison held out for 33 hours before surrendering on April 14. • News of the attack galvanized the North, and President Lincoln issued a call for 75,000 troops to fight to save the Union. • Meanwhile, Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas voted to join the Confederacy. • The Civil War had begun.