Frank Williams: How pervasive was the abolitionist movement and did it influence any of the southern states to secede?


Chairman of The Lincoln Forum

As Adam Goodheart stated in his excellent, “1861: The Civil War Awakening” (just published), “In the minds of nearly all Americans – even up to the moment the Civil War began – it was abolitionism, not slavery, that threatened to split  the nation asunder.” This is a bold statement as the influence of the abolitionists clearly outweighed their numbers and Southerners were fearful of the former as much as they were of slaves rebelling following John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry and the election of the “Black” Republican Abraham Lincoln.

Abolitionism, along with simmering fears of Northern majoritarianism, was clearly a factor in the secession of Southern states and the arguments of the shrill Southern minority who insisted on leaving the Union – despite the assurance of Abraham Lincoln that the Republican Party and most Northerners were not abolitionists and did not espouse ending slavery. Lincoln gave these assurances at Cooper Union, in his other 1850 speeches and in his First Inaugural, but to no avail. The firebrands continued to lash out at the perceived threat of Northern encroachments on Southern liberties including the end of slavery. This was due in large part to abolitionists, who to them, were all those in the North.

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