The United States was a Divided Country
The United States was a divided country during the nineteenth century. The North wanted to abolish slavery, while the South was completely convinced that they would not be able to survive without it. This was an issue that could not be resolved on its own, and it was so controversial that it resulted in a great division between the southern states which were sequentially breaking apart and eventually seceding from the Union.
There were two undoubtedly important individuals that played a vital role in the secession of southern states and the outbreak of the Civil War. John Smith Preston, a commissioner and spokesman for the south, spoke on the behalf of South Carolina’s secession to Virginia hoping they would follow behind. Abraham Lincoln, who was elected President of the United States during this period of division, hoped to reach a point of peace between the northern and southern states and ensure the safety of the Union. In contrast to his agenda, his election actually led to the secession of South Carolina which had a cascading effect which eventually developed into the separation of the northern states (The Union) and southern states (Confederacy) resulting in the exposition of the American Civil War.
During this time, it was in fact illegal to secede from the country according to the United States Constitution. Through the influence and consensus of such a large group, these southern states felt that they could not be fettered by the Union considering that what had already been done to them was, in the eyes of a southerner, so unlawful and unrighteous. John Smith Preston made sure to make this known at the Convention of Virginia. Preston intended to highlight how wrongly they had been treated and how it was only going to get worse if actions were not taken. After the secession of South Carolina, Preston was attempting to get Virginia to secede and get them to support the Confederacy in the war.
Abolishing slavery above the mason-dixon line limited what the southerners could do economically and with their slaves because in the North because their slaves were considered free after passing that line. Not only were they limited in Northern states, but also in the newly discovered western territories. These states were being claimed as free states, which infuriated the South because it automatically placed such limitations on them. Without the ability to expand and grow, their success was would be restricted. This created the fear that slavery could be abolished because if they could not expand the lands of slavery then it would be easier to eliminate it.
The limitations the North kept placing on the Confederate states, along with the growing fear that slavery could be made illegal in the South after the North …Had declared and acted upon the declaration, that the existence of slavery in the Southern States is an offence and a danger to the social institutions of the Northern States, made secession like the best alternative for the South (Preston 2). Although secession meant war, war was what would ultimately be the most benefiting for the South. War meant the South had a fighting chance to keep slavery alive because if they won the war then they would have also won the right to keep slavery legal.
Technically speaking, states could not and should not break away from the Union, but they did. Doing so went against the Constitution, Abraham Lincoln’s wishes, and created chaos in the country. Lincoln thought the South should remain peaceful, and that they should be friends and not enemies. Lincoln felt that it would be in the best interest of the South to remain faithful to the Union and follow the laws if they wanted to keep slavery safe and not create chaos in the country. The South feared that Lincoln’s intentions were to abolish slavery, which is why the reacted so aggressively when he was elected.
For his election, Lincoln made it clear that he had No purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the states where it exists (Lincoln 1). Yet, southern states feared he would go against his word when really all Lincoln wanted was the Union laws to continuously be executed and not create chaos. Southern states could break away and secede from the Union figuratively, but Lincoln made the point of saying Physically speaking, we can not separate (3).
Lincoln felt the southern states were violating the Constitution by secession, which was something he would not tolerate because it generated havoc and disloyalty to the Union. As the President of the United States, Lincoln’s main duty was to make sure that the laws of the Union were being executed properly by all states, especially in the south. Lincoln knew that with such great division it was his responsibility to united and to be the leader bringing the states together not tearing them apart any further, this could pose as a reason why he was at first so compromising with the southern states. He intended to reunite the country and keep the states at peace. He played a very involved role as commander in chief during the Civil War. Many believe that his involvement with the military helped lead the Union to victory.
Though Lincoln had hoped for a peaceful election the opposite occurred. The southern states went against the Union laws and seceded. The dividing issue of slavery could no longer be avoided or ignored, so the south felt that a protest was needed. This protesting and their succession brought upon the Civil War, which followed along with the chain of chaotic events. Though Lincoln’s elected created war, it also eventually brought the country closer together than before after the Union’s victory. The differing of opinions and the south’s ability to protest and speak out actually did not act in their favor, but resulted in the most moral conclusion.