Secession and Civil War Questions and Answers

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What event caused Southern states to secede from the Union, just weeks after it happened?

The event that caused the Southern states to secede was Abraham Lincoln's victory in the election of 1860. This election, contested by four separate presidential candidates, was ultimately divided along sectional lines, with Abraham Lincoln dominating the northern states while John Breckinridge won the South. As Abraham Lincoln and the Republican Party were known for their opposition to slavery, the South responded by seceding.

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The election of Abraham Lincoln as president, without one vote in favor from a southern state, was the key event in a long series of events that ultimately led to war. However, it was not until his inauguration in March of 1861, when he emphasized that war could be averted depending on the actions of the South, that the war actually began.

Tensions had been building within the country for a long time before the Civil War actually began. In fact, conflict from the abolitionists, primarily of the North, and the slave owning states of the South can clearly be seen in the writings of prominent abolition supporters such as Emerson and Thoreau in the decade leading up to the war (Thoreau’s “Slavery in Massachusetts” essay of 1854 is one example).

Several events exacerbated the tensions and ultimately led to war. The Mexican-American war was extremely polarizing with regard to slavery. America’s victory in that war led to the conquest of vast new territories that nearly doubled the size of...

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