Chairman of The Lincoln Forum
While the firebrands and the more vitriolic helped move secession along leading to the votes that carried separation from the Union in 1860-61, secession had been urged for over a decade by Southern politicians who believed their way of life was threatened by the North. They maneuvered and organized to ready the South for the break which appeared more imminent with John Brown’s raid in 1859, disintegration of the Democratic Party in 1860, Abraham Lincoln’s election in November 1860 and South Carolina’s secession in December 1860.
The Upper South states - Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas - were less committed to slavery and disunion and had either voted secession down or failed to vote on the issue. With economic ties to the North, many people in the Upper South were worried about the risk separation would bring to their interests. If there was a chance at conciliation, what could the new president offer the Upper South without betraying the Northern voters who had elected him as head of a sectional party. Though not proposing to abolish the “peculiar institution,” the Republicans would prohibit slavery where it did not already exist. By 1860, the two sections had been unalterably driven apart by the polarizing events of the 1850s.
Only two questions remained. When would the Union break up further with the Upper South following the seven states in support of the new Confederacy and whether armed conflict would ensue?