States across the American South responded to the election of Abraham Lincoln to the presidency by discussing among themselves the possibility of actually seceding from the Union, a step first officially taken by South Carolina on December 24, 1860. The rest of the South soon followed South Carolina's lead and, on February 4, 1861, the Confederate States of America was formally established. The South had effectively seceded, politically if not yet militarily. The attack on Fort Sumter, a Union bastion surrounded by the newly-established Confederacy, marked the opening shots of the Civil War, which would rage until the South's surrender on April 9, 1865, when General Robert E. Lee formally signed the articles of surrender across the table from General Ulysses Grant at Appomattox in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
The issue of states' rights, with slavery constituting the single most important "right" demanded by the southern states, was the central focus of the Confederacy. The South's defeat in the Civil War, of course, reunited the United States of America, although the bitterness felt by the South, its territory and economy destroyed and its source of cheap labor largely eliminated (although Reconstruction saw many "freed" blacks still forced to work on plantations and farms under disadvantageous conditions due to their dire financial situation), would continue to manifest itself in violent resistance to desegregation for decades to come.