"How Did The Election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 lead to the Secession of the Confederate States?"

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“How Did The Election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 lead to the Secession of the Confederate States?”

In the American Constitution, every four years, the electorate of the United States chooses a new Chief Executive. In 1860, the regular election of the President tore a tense nation in two. A regional candidate swept the election, causing Southern states effective disfranchisement. The heritage of 1776 and 1789 propelled the nation on a different course, as secessionists and Unionists turned to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution in order to defend their position. The secessionists argued that the concept of voluntary rule in the Constitution allowed states to opt out of the compact, while Unionists saw the Constitution as an instrument to form a “more perfect Union,” a union that predated the Constitution. According to Lincoln, the Civil War was a fight for constitutional government, for if law and order were disobeyed anarchy would result. Therefore, the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 can be perceived as a ‘turning point’ and catalyst for the American Civil War. This is because to state that only the election of Abraham Lincoln led to secession would be incorrect and too simplistic. Bruce Collins in the “Origins of America’s Civil War” argues that the war was too complex for there to be only one factor. Instead, the South (which was known as the Confederate States of America) seceded from the North (also known as the Union) for many other different and complex reasons. They wanted to succeed because there were four decades of great sectional conflict between the two. Between the North and South, to summarise broadly there were deep economic, social and political differences. It did not help the fact that the South wanted to become an independent nation, as they believed they did not have enough states rights. Slavery was also a key issue with regard to the American Civil War, this is because the two sides had contradictory viewpoints. The North wanted to abolish it, whereas the South depended on it a great deal. Taxation issues also played a key role in cementing the South’s decision to secede, as they believed the taxes the North imposed on them were unfair and harsh. Together with these issues were state’s rights issues as the South believed they were not being fairly represented in Congress which added to their frustration.

On Deceember 20 1860, South Carolina seceded from the Union and was followed by six other southern states. This collective South justified the action of secession by citing a people’s “right to revolution.” Secessionist arguments incorporated the theory of states rights in their justifications for secession. The theory of states rights declares that each state is independent, equal and sovereign. This theory gives rise to the compact theory of government, which argues that the Union is merely a compact of these sovereign, independent and equal states. Robert Toombs said that this theory was the “basis, the corner stone of this Government…” Unlike the ‘nullification doctrine’ which was developed by Jonh C. Calhoun to enable a state to protest an unjust law while remaining in the Union, the compact theory was used to dissolve the Union; since the Union was formed by a compact of the sovereign states, they argued it can be broken up in the same way. The South also had little voice in the US congress, for only 83 out of 233 members came from Southern states. In the years before the civil war, the political power in the Federal Government was changing. The Northern and Mid-Western states were becoming more and more powerful; in contrast the southern states were losing political power. The Southern states felt a growing need for more freedom and believed each state should make its own laws. Some southern states wanted to secede, break away from the United States of America and govern themselves. The South had little voice in the US Congress, for only 83 of 233 members came from Southern states. They believed that the United States national government no longer constituted a just government in which Southern states were represented. Thus, citizenship in the United States no longer benefited the Southern states. In fact, the national government became tyrannically against the minority South, for the Presidency was won without a single Southern elector. Therefore, the heritage of 1776 compelled the South to rebel against oppression. British historian whose view can be viewed as reliable since he is a revisionist, Brian Holden Reid argues that the South’s bid for independence has led many historians (southern) to assume the South was a ‘distinct’ region of the United States. For example Southern publicist W. J Cash in her famous book ‘The Mind of the South’ argues the conflict of the South was “…something more than a matter of geography, as an object of patriotism, in the minds of Southerners.” The South had a passionate belief that their civilisation would ‘flourish’ once it had broken free of Northern restraints and inhibitants.

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Another quarrel between the North and South and perhaps the most emotional one, was over the issue of slavery. Farming was the South’s main industry and cotton was the primary farm product. Not having the use of machines, it took a great amount of human labour to pick cotton. A large number of slaves were used in the South to provide the labour. However, many Northerners thought that owning slaves was wrong and disagreed with the South’s beliefs. Yet slavery had been a part of the Southern way of life for well over 200 years. The way the North ...

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