Was secession the best course available to the South following the election of Abraham Lincoln?

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larrygates eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Secession was probably the only course South Carolina saw available to it if it's culture and lifestyle were to be maintained. Prior to formation of the Republican Party, Abraham Lincoln had been a Whig. The Republican Party formed from the old Whig Party to oppose the spread of slavery into the Western territories. South Carolina saw the election of Lincoln as an indication that slavery would be confined to the South; expansion into the West was a dead letter. This prospect would not be so terrible (in fact most Northerners were happy to see it continue only in the South) except South Carolina knew that Western territories would one day be States; that those States would come in as free States, and the necessary constitutional amendment to end slavery was a foregone conclusion. This was the reasoning behind the South's insistence that the balance of free and slave states remain the same, --the reasoning behind the Missouri Compromise and the Compromise of 1850--slavery would thereby be protected. South Carolina saw Lincoln's election as the death knell of its way of life. If it were to continue, it's only solution was to revoke its ratification of the Constitution (which is the form Secession took) and remove itself from the Union. A question on which I have often pondered is, would other states have seceded if South Carolina had not? Were they following it's lead, or was South Carolina setting a precedent which others saw fit to follow.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

First of all, though they sound similar, the right word is "secession," not "succession."

Secession was clearly not the best course available to the South, in retrospect at least.  Secession led to the Civil War, which was terribly devastating.

But what else could the South have done?  Their only alternative to secession was staying in the Union and trying to gain more political power. They were worried about the fact that the North had elected Lincoln and they would have needed to try to fight back against the political forces that had brought him to power.

This would probably not have helped, though.  The North was not going to start accepting the idea that slavery would spread and the South was not going to accept it being confined to the South.

Overall, then, the South had no good options.  They could stay in the Union and probably see themselves lose power or they could secede.  Either way, things were not going to be "good" for the South--they were not going to be able to maintain and expand their system.

geosc eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Probably, yes.  The rise to power of the Republican party clearly demonstrated that the majority of voters were taking the country from a republic to a democracy, a mobocracy as Southerners said.  Being an agricultural social system, a republic was better for the South than a democracy.

War did not have to follow secession.  Abraham Lincoln made the war.  War more often follows attempts to seceed than not, because the powers that be do not want to loose what they control and exploit, but not always does war follow secession.  When the Soviet Union broke apart, the states that wanted to leave were allowed to do so.  Perhaps Gorbechev was a better statesman and leader than Lincoln, or less grasping and coveteous.