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How did the election of Lincoln in 1860 led to the onset of the Civil War?

Brochure Entry:
The Election of 1860, occurring at a time of tension over slavery and state’s rights, landed
Republican nominee Abraham Lincoln victorious as the 16th president of the United States.
Lincoln’s Republican victory and his anti-slavery outlook struck fear into many Southerners who
valued the idea of slavery. Just a month after the election, South Carolina, followed by six other
Southern states, succeeded from the Union, creating the Southern Confederacy and causing a
national crisis that would tear states and families apart with brutal Civil War.

Primary Sources:

H: As modernization began to take place in the United States, there was a major, growing divide
between the Southern slavery dependent ways and the North with its industrial development.
Soon, the goal of restricting slavery began to rise, threatening the labor system and social
structure of the South. John Calhoun, a leading spokesman of the slave states, began to
frequently preach that the Southern life was under assault from the industrializing North. Not
only did the issue of slavery create a regional split, but it also integrated its way into political
parties and became the most important topic of upcoming elections. The Democratic Party soon
became so divided on the issue of slavery and ability of self governed states, that it split into
Southern and Northern Democrats. Southern Democrats argued that states had the rights to
govern themselves and expand slavery, while Northern Democrats opposed the idea and
supported the national government and Union. The Republican Party stayed unified, representing
anti-slavery as one of their main party platforms. A widely campaigned group of Republicans,
known as the Wide Awake Club, was the most passionate of Abraham Lincoln and Republican
supporters. New members of this club began to spring up across neighboring states of
Connecticut, visiting nearby towns and starting passionate rallies, parades, and mounted horse
rides. This Republican support group became so popular that they appeared in Southern
newspapers with alarmist articles accusing the group of being a military organization against the
South’s will. The continuous demonstrations from the Wide Awake Club increased popular
Republican support for the election and slowly led to a downfall of the argument for slavery.
The Democratic Party scrambled before the 1860 election in order to find a candidate that would
be able to represent both sides of the Democratic platform, however Southern Democrats refused
to support candidate Stephen Douglas because of his adoption of an anti-slavery platform. Soon,
Southern Democrats nominated John Breckinridge, a supporter of slavery and states rights, to
represent them in the Election of 1860. The 1860 Presidential Campaign resulted in Republican
candidate and Wide Awake Club Member, Abraham Lincoln, to win by a landslide.
I: The Wide Awake Club was a passionate group of Republicans who started their journey in
Connecticut and surely moved their way across the Northern states, spreading their message
specifically to potential, young voters of the 1860 election. The club appealed to a generation
that was shook by the instability of the 1850’s and offered them a chance to change the unstable
environment of their nation with political identity. After Lincoln had spoke in Hartford,
Connecticut opposing the spread of slavery, a group of five Republicans had officially formed
the group, stating that their mission statement was to induce all Republicans into joining the
passionate political group. Not only did the Wide Awake Club wish to promote anti-slavery,
Abraham Lincoln, and the Republican party platform to young and influential voters, but it also
worked to pressure the Republican party platform onto Southern Democrat states and
individuals. Many Wide Awake rallies moved into the Midwest and then into the South, slowly
working to intervene and influence the ideas of the South.
P: The Wide Awake Club’s believed that the Republican platform was the best option for
political affiliation of a president. They organized in order to support Abraham Lincoln,
believing that he was the perfect representation of the morals, values, beliefs, and justifications
that each member of the United States should have. Wide Awakes believed that prohibiting the
expansion of slavery into the territories was needed and that there should be economic policies in
place in order to stimulate Northern industry over Southern agriculture. This club emphasized the
belief that slavery was not going to be able to be abolished, but believed it would be the best
option to just contain it in the Southern states. They wished to remain a unified nation that was
regionally unique. In addition to believing in the Republican Party ideas, Wide Awakes also
believed that Lincoln was an “innate genius” and believed that if they supported Lincoln’s
campaign passionately with a club that required membership, they could promote Lincoln as a
great candidate and eventually have a quality, Republican president win the election of 1860.
P: The first Wide Awake march was organized in Hartford, Connecticut, where the club made
such an impression on the crowd that they immediately recruited more members, made up a
constitution, and elected members. The Hartford group struck such a chord with enthusiastic
Republicans nearby that they received a multitude of requests for membership. Because there
were so many requests, the Wide Awakes printed out a form letter and sent it around the country
to be filled out instead of answering each member request individually. The Chicago Chapter of
the Wide Awake Club, one of the first start ups of this party, created an unofficial mission
statement that ran the purpose of the club. Typical Wide Awake chapters purpose was to act as a
political police, escort all Republican speakers who visit to address citizens, attend all public
meetings in a unified body, attend all and every poll, conduct themselves in a respectable manner
to induce all Republicans to join them, and to be a “body joined together in large numbers to
work for the good of the Republican ticket” (Wide Awakes). Beyond event coordination and
unification, the Wide Awakes main purpose was to promote and spread the message of the
Republican party and its anti-slavery qualities that it carried. They also worked consistently to
support the Republican candidate, Abraham Lincoln. The purpose of the club is to make as many
people join in order to create a larger support group for the Republican party as the elections

Declaration of the Immediate Causes of the Secession

H: From 1819 to 1860, the growing tensions over the debate of slavery and state’s rights created
constant threats of secession from the Southern states, who felt as if they were under assault from
the growing and industrializing North. Southern states believed that the North took over their
rights about deciding upon the propriety of domestic institutions, announced slavery as sinful,
and supported that slaves rebel to free themselves. The Wilmot Proviso, which would have
outlawed slavery in US territory, the Compromise of 1850, which admitted California as a free
state, and the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which allowed states to use popular sovereignty to decide
upon slavery, had created such a hatred of the North and its seemingly unfair power from the
South. Many famous spokesmen of the South, specifically John C. Calhoun, worked to convince
the South that they had the right to nullify federal law and fostered unity in the South on a
sectional basis. Many Southerners soon broke off into a more separate party, creating a party
known as the Southern Democrats. Soon, tensions were not only about region of land, but also
about political affiliation. Many Southern Democrats became convinced, although the
Republican platform promised to make no moves to interfere with slavery in a state with a law to
uphold it, that a Republican victory would mean eventual emancipation and political equality for
the black population. South Carolina voters became so passionate about the idea that they held a
convention and committed to secession as a response to any Republican presidential victory in
the election of 1860. When Abraham Lincoln was elected, the Southern states, specifically South
Carolina, stated that his opinions were hostile to slavery and the South and that he was
destructive to the peace and safety of the nation. They believed that Lincoln’s election would
demolish the equal rights of the states, strip the South’s power of self government and self
protection, and exclude the South from the common territory. A month after the election of
Republican Abraham Lincoln, South Carolina submitted a resignation from the nation, gathered
the states of Mississippi, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, and Texas, and created a
separate government from the United States known as the Confederate States of America. When
Lincoln was inaugurated on March 4th, 1861, federal troops stormed Fort Sumter and started an
official Civil War between the Confederate States and the Union.
I: As soon as Abraham Lincoln was elected president in 1860, the fears that the South held about
the emancipation of slavery, loss of state’s rights, and no equal say in the law of the land, seemed
to become possible. Southern Carolina acted quickly, immediately sending out a letter of
dissolution and declaring their ability to establish their own separate and independent state with
the same powers that independent states have the rights to. South Carolina wrote the Ordinance
of Secession as an address towards the Union, specifically as a retaliation to the Northern states
and Abraham Lincoln. After South Carolina wrote their letter of secession intended for the
Union, they also wrote an official justification for the reasons of their secession towards the
Union as well. In addition to the justification being directly intended for the Union and Abraham
Lincoln, it also frequently addresses the Federal Government and its dissatisfaction with the way
it is being run.
P: The Southern states believed that they were being overpowered in their say and rights in the
federal government by the North and Republican parties. Southerners held the point of view that
they had the right to have their own property, prosperity, and laws within each state and that with
the election of a Republican president, these rights would be demolished and slavery would be
abolished. Not only did Southerners fear that they would lose their rights and their slavery, but
they also believed that the idea Lincoln presented on remaining a union was impossible if each
region wished to maintain their same ways. More specifically to South Carolina, the first state to
set the example of secession of all Southern states from the Union, was the point of view
proposed in Alfred P. Aldrich’s well known political letter that set the basis for the South
Carolina convention and the Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the
Secession of South Carolina. He stated that declaring secession would be necessary if a
Republican candidate won the Election of 1860 and that it was the only way for the state to
preserve slavery and diminish the influence of the anti-slavery Republican party. Overall, the
South agreed on the need to act on the overpowering nature of the anti-slave North, however
South Carolina’s point of view on the issue was the most radical and extreme, as clearly shown
through the immediate removal from the Union without any hesitation.
P: The purpose of the declaration was to portray the South Carolina government’s reasoning
behind the call for secession from the Union. After the official Ordinance of Secession was
released announcing the state’s withdrawal from the Union on December 20th, 1860, South
Carolina’s convention committee, led by Christopher Memminger, decided to elaborate on the
brief and legalistic nature of the Ordinance, which contained no explanation of the call for
secession. The Declaration of Immediate Causes worked also as a way to declare a type of
justice that the Southern states, specifically South Carolina felt as if they lacked. It clarified the
pent up anger that the Southern states had experienced after their state and property rights were
threatened, free states were created, popular sovereignty was promoted, and anti-slavery political
platforms were strengthening as Executive power over the nation. The text also serves the
purpose of clarifying that the breaking point of the rising tensions was the election of a
Republican president who stood with an anti-slavery platform.

Resolution to Call the Election of Abraham Lincoln as US President a Hostile Act

H: The events leading up to the election of 1860 and the Civil War were tumultuous and
revolved around the argument of the rights of individual States to govern themselves without
interference from the Federal Government and the issue of slavery. For decades, South
Carolinian political leaders had promoted regional passions with threats of nullification and
secession in the name of southern states’ rights and protection of slave power. Alfred P. Aldrich,
a South Carolinian politician, stated that declaring secession would be necessary if a Republican
candidate were to win the 1860 election, and the only way for the state to preserve slavery was to
diminish Republican goals of abolition that were seen as “destruction of the South”. On
November 6th, 1860, when Abraham Lincoln was elected President over the deeply divided and
fractured Democratic Party, the South Carolina General Assembly passed a “Resolution to Call
the Election of Abraham Lincoln as U.S. President a Hostile Act” and stated its intention to
declare secession from the United States. Lincoln was claimed to support equality and civil
rights for African Americans and abolition for slavery, therefore South Carolina was compelled
to secede because of their opposition to these ideas. Four days later, the South Carolina General
Assembly called for a Convention of the People of South Carolina to consider secession. After
an unanimous vote, South Carolina became the first slave state to declare that it had seceded
from the United States and published a Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and
Justify the Secession of South Carolina. The events of secession and a breaking union eventually
led to the bombardment of Fort Sumter in South Carolina, which commenced the American Civil
War. As president, Lincoln announced his intentions to send three unarmed ships to relieve Fort
Sumter, however South Carolina militia forces saw this as an act of aggression and P.G.T.
Beauregard open fired on the fort.
I: The Resolution to Call the Election of Abraham Lincoln A Hostile Act was created before the
official Ordinance of Secession, preparing the United States Federal Government for the
dissolution of South Carolina from the Union. The text was written towards Abraham Lincoln
and his government, but was also made to share with the state of South Carolina about the
official secession of the state from the Union. The South Carolina General Assembly worked to
spread the message across the nation, hoping to promote their ideas about the necessary
secession to other Southern states who were under assault from the North. The call to the
Abraham Lincoln as a hostile act was one of many texts that were used to portray to slave states
that they should consider secession in order to create a confederacy that would accept states’
rights. The states of Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Georgia, and Louisiana all responded to the
South Carolina General Assembly’s text about the danger of Lincoln as president by holding a
convention to create a unified Confederacy of Southern states.
P: Although the sectional divisions in the country had caused threats of a split between the
Northern and Southern states, Lincoln’s election was viewed as the final reason that sparked the
Southern secession and the creation of the Civil War. The creation of popular sovereignty in the
events of Bleeding Kansas in 1850, the growing radical abolitionist movement, the formation of
political affiliations based around the topic of slavery (Free Soil Party, Liberty Party, and the
split of the Democratic Party), and the Missouri Compromise had all contributed to the anger and
resentment that many Southern states experienced. The Southern states strongly believed that
their states’ rights were being taken away be the federal government and their voices were being
diminished by opposing anti slavery sides of the nation. The South strongly believed that the
federal government had gained too much power and was not creating laws that supported both
sides to the slavery debate. Although the Republican platform disavowed any move that would
interfere with slavery, many Southern states believed that Republican victory meant eventual
emancipation and social equality for their black population. South Carolina voters were the most
inflamed believers of this idea, therefore they called for a convention that would commit to
secesion upon Lincoln’s possible victory. When Lincoln won the 1860 presidency, South
Carolina General Assembly combined their intense views against anti-slavery and their
misunderstood bias against the Republican party and stated the idea that Lincoln’s victory was
seen as a hostile act. The idea that the election was a hostile act was written by John Winsmith of
the House of Representatives of the General Assembly. His point of view aligned with the
concerns and fears that South Carolinians held about Lincoln’s election and expressed the
sentiment within South Carolina to secede. He believed that Lincoln’s victory was a detriment to
slaveholding states, and that the only way to respond to the hostile act of a Lincoln’s presidency
was to preserve their sovereign rights by seceding and arming the states.
P: South Carolina worked to ensure that they would spread their message of concern for the
possible threat to their rights by the new Republican party president. South Carolina used
Abraham Lincoln’s presidency as a breaking point of the decades of tension. The text about the
Lincoln’s victory as a “hostile act” was used a clear and final reason for the secession from the
Union, but also as a way to encourage other Southern states to join them in dissolution from the
federal government. The Southern states used this act towards secession also as a way to portray
to Lincoln and the federal government that they strongly desired equal states’ rights and a louder
voice in the government.