Election of 1860 and Outbreak of the Civil War

A week ago, the United States had a very highly contentious election, and as a result of the election protests and riots have broken out in numerous places. In 1860, the United States endured another highly contentious election, as well as the outbreak of the Civil War.

The Election of 1860 was the election when Abraham Lincoln became President...but what led to the election being so contentious? Well, that would be the issue of, you guessed it, slavery.

In 1854, the Kansas-Nebraska Act was passed, which allowed for states to have popular sovereignty, basically eliminating the Missouri Compromise. As a result, there was a lot of violence in Kansas, so much so that some people would argue that the Civil War began in 1857. Another result of the Kansas-Nebraska Act was the formation of the Republican party, which consisted largely of former Free Soilers, Northern abolitionists, Whigs, and some No-Nothings. The Republicans were sectional, meaning their supporters were almost exclusively from free states in the North and West.

With this, the stage was set for the Election of 1860. The Republicans nominated Abraham Lincoln, a lawyer and former Representative from Illinois; the Democrats had some issues and nominated both Stephen Douglass (who appealed to Northern Democrats) and John Breckinridge (who appealed to Southern Democrats). Lincoln himself hated slavery, but he had stated numerous times throughout his campaign that he would leave it alone in states where it existed. Lincoln managed to win the most Electoral College votes, and thus the presidency, without any votes from the South.

Despite the promise to leave the institution of slavery alone, seven states had seceded and formed the Confederate States of America shortly after Lincoln was elected.


The Southern states began to secede from the Union on December 20, 1860 and extended through June 1861 when eleven total states severed ties with the Union. each of the states that seceded wrote down their reasons for doing so in a declaration of causes (linked to here: Declaration of Causes), and each mention the issue of slavery above all others. The Union was divided approximately on geographic lines, with the 21 northern and border states retaining the name United States and the seceding states naming themselves the Confederate States of America. The border slaves states of Maryland, Delaware, Kentucky, and Missouri remained with the Union but sent volunteers to fight for the Confederacy. Fifty counties of western Virginia remained loyal to the Union/United States and in 1863 would be granted statehood and become the state of West Virginia.

This divide was geographical as the economies of both the North and the South changed. In the North, the Market Revolution changed industry. With the mechanization of various industries such as the meat packing industry and the clothing manufacturing industry, immigrants began to flood to flock to the North, and the Northern states realized that they no longer needed slavery because they could exploit the immigrants for cheap labor. Due to the Market Revolution's advances in agriculture, a plantation "cotton culture" worked by slave labor became centralized in the South. As the Transcendental Movement spread in the North and abolition rhetoric increased, the South saw their way of life being threatened and began making threats to secede as early as 1819.


In April 1861, the first shots of the Civil war rang out at Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina.

Fort Sumter was still under construction when South Carolina seceded from the Union on December 20, 1860. Despite Charleston being a major sea port, only two companies of federal troops guarded the harbor at the time. Those federal troops were commanded by Major Robert Anderson and were stationed at another nearby fort, but Anderson moved his troops to Fort Sumter. South Carolina militiamen would go on to seize the city's other forts.

On January 9, 1861, a ship called the Star of the West arrived in Charleston with over 200 US troops and supplies intended for Fort Sumter. South Carolina militia fired upon the ship as it reached Charleston Harbor, forcing it to turn back without being able to resupply the fort. Anderson refused to surrender the fort, and by March over 3,000 South Carolina troops were besieging his garrison. Other US military garrisons had been seized as well, and Fort Sumter was seen by many as one of the few remaining hurdles they needed to be overcome before achieving sovereignty.

Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated in March 1861, and as a result the situation in the South escalated. Major Anderson and his men were running out of supplies, so Lincoln announced he would be sending three unarmed ships to relieve Fort Sumter. South Carolina viewed the action as an act of aggression and on April 11, 1861 PGT Beauregard, the South Carolina militia commander, demanded that Anderson (his former teacher at West Point) surrender, but Anderson again refused. Beauregard opened fire on Fort Sumter around 4:30am on April 12th; US Captain Abner Doubleday ordered the first shots in defense of the fort. Around 2pm on April 13th, Anderson was forced to surrender Fort Sumter.

In the days following the battle, Lincoln issued a call for Union volunteers to quash the rebellion while others sent volunteers to fight for the Confederacy.

The Battle of Fort Sumter played a major role in triggering the Civil War, and it showed just how much each side was willing to fight for what it believed in


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