Secession and Civil War

Start Free Trial

How did the South react to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the U.S. in 1860?  

The South reacted to the election of Abraham Lincoln by eventually seceding from the Union. This, of course, prefigured the Civil War.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The South was very displeased with the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States in 1860. They were convinced Lincoln was going to end slavery. The South came to this conclusion for a few reasons. In the Lincoln-Douglas debates for the United States Senate in 1858 in Illinois, Lincoln made it clear he thought slavery was wrong. He also believed that slavery shouldn’t spread. When he got the nomination from the anti-slavery Republican Party in 1860, the South was very concerned.

The South had made up its mind. They believed Lincoln would end slavery. However, if they would have listened closely to Lincoln, he had said if he could keep the country together by keeping slavery, he would do so. While Lincoln would clearly try to slavery from spreading, he knew keeping the country together was his number one objective. If that meant keeping slavery where it already existed, Lincoln was prepared to do this. However, the South wouldn’t accept this option. At first, seven southern states seceded from the Union. Eventually, four more states joined them in what was known as the Confederate states of America.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

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.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In general, southerners didn't like Lincoln long before the 1860 election.  As a member of the Free Soil Party (before it later became the Republican Party) Lincoln argued against expanding slavery into any of the new territories. To them, he was a threat, and represented the worst of northern politicians.  That is why in 1860, Lincoln's name did not appear on the ballot in ten southern states.  You couldn't vote for him there if you wanted to.

When Lincoln won the election anyway, and with 41% of the vote, the South had had enough.  South Carolina was the first to secede in December of 1860, and ten more states would break away between then and March of 1861, leaving Lincoln to take the Presidency of a country that was disintegrating.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial