A Democratic party split over the expansion of slavery helped Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) win the election of 1860. To southerners, his election threatened to abolish slavery, and South Carolina seceded from the Union soon after the election. In the following weeks, six more states seceded, and the Confederate States of America was born with Jefferson Davis as president. The attempt by Lincoln to resupply the garrison at Fort Sumter led to the start of the Civil War in April 1861.
In the 1850s, the idea of popular sovereignty, or letting new states vote on allowing slavery, kept the fragile Democratic party intact. Southern Democrats, however, began to distance themselves from popular sovereignty after they were unable to make Kansas a slave state. The issue of expansion of slavery into new territories in the American West led to a regional schism within the Democratic party, and the party broke into North, South and West factions. The power of the party resided in the South, and without their contingent in a unified party, Lincoln won the 1860 election with only 40 percent of the popular vote.
South Carolina Secedes
Southerners viewed the rise of the Republican party as an unacceptable threat to the institution of slavery, and South Carolina called for a secession convention just a few weeks after the 1860 election. Radical South Carolinians led the citizens of their state to believe that slavery would eventually be abolished under a Republican president. The convention met Dec. 17, and South Carolina voted unanimously to secede from the Union on Dec. 20, 1860. This put the federal garrison guarding the important port at Charleston in peril, and the Civil War would begin at Fort Sumter a few months later.
Soon after the secession of South Carolina, six more states followed suit: Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas. On Feb. 4, 1861, these states formally aligned and created the Confederate States of America with its first capital in Montgomery, Ala. Upon taking office in March 1861, Lincoln attempted to ease southern concerns and bring the Confederacy back into the Union by agreeing to allow slavery where it currently existed. However, he would not budge on the issue of popular sovereignty into new territories, and the Confederacy refused to rejoin the Union.
Fort Sumter was in a perilous location, guarding the port at Charleston, S.C. Because it was located offshore, it was able to resist early efforts by the Confederacy to take the fort by simply refusing to evacuate. However, it soon faced supply problems and an overwhelming Confederate force onshore. By April 1861, war seemed inevitable, and Fort Sumter had become the focus for the onset of war. When Lincoln authorized an attempt to resupply the besieged federal force within the fort, he gave the Confederacy the excuse needed to fire the first shots of the war on April 12. Soon after, four more states joined the Confederacy: Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee and North Carolina.
- The Civil War in Art: The Election of 1860 and Secession
- Tulane University: The Election of 1860
- Smithsonian.com: Fort Sumter: The Civil War Begins (page 2)
- Teaching American History in South Carolina Project: "An Ordinance to Dissolve the Union Between the State of South Carolina and Other States"
- Smithsonian.com: Fort Sumter: The Civil War Begins (page 3)
- Mount Holyoke College: Formation of the Confederacy
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