, Research Paper
How did the election of Lincoln to president in 1860 lead to civil war in the United States of America?
In 1860 Abraham Lincoln was elected as president of the United States of America, the repercussions of which led to civil war. However it was not only Lincoln’s election that led to civil war but also the slavery debate between the northern and southern states and the state of the economy in the United States. Together with the election of Lincoln these caused a split, both politically and ideologically, between the North and South states which manifested into what is now refereed to as the American Civil War.
When Lincoln won the 1860 election it was not by a majority vote. As stated by the historian Neville he in fact won less than 40 percent of popular votes. However because the American election system is based on the college votes system (where each state is worth a certain number of points and if a candidate wins the majority of votes in that state he wins all the points for that state, regardless of how much he wins by. To win the entire election a candidate must win the most amount of points) he was able to win the election with a minority of votes. Lincoln won all the states in the north and in the west which, because of their high population, were worth the most points.
This election caused the civil war because of what the southern states, the Confederate, perceived Lincoln to be. He was thought to be an abolitionist, meaning a person who wishes to abolish slavery completely. In fact Lincoln only wished to stop the spread of slavery, not to abolish it completely. He had no intention of changing the established social order in the south.
Historian J. J. Cosgrove sees Lincoln’s election as the straw that broke the camel’s back. He claims in his book, co-written with J. K. Kreiss, Two Centuries that the civil war can be put down to five causes; slavery; political collapse that eliminated compromise; sectional economic rivalry; Southern nationalism; and the effect of fractional minorities such as abolitionists. This can be summed up as a rift between the north and south states.
A rift between the north and the south had been present since the late eighteenth centaury. It began with the industrial revolution, which saw the northern states prosper. The north changed industries from farming and agriculture to textiles and factories. This in turn saw the rise of bankers and lawyers and northern cities such as New York became the known as the cultural centres of America. The southern states continued agriculture and many Southerners became very wealthy with the use of slaves. The invention of the cotton gin in 1792 by Eli Whitney increased the productivity by almost one thousand times. This caused more prosperity in the south. However the North also gained from this in the form of tariffs and taxes. Forty cents out of every dollar made from cotton went to the North. This sowed the seeds for resentment of the North by the South.
The South’s economy was based very much on slavery. The slaves picked the cotton and tobacco that powered the south. With out the slaves the South’s way of life would diminish. When educated northerners claimed slavery to be morally wrong the slave owners fiercely defended their way of life. When religious minorities began to emerge into the public eye the Southern states viewed them as a threat.
Quakers where a non-violent sect of Christianity that preached that slavery was wrong and morally corrupt in the eyes of god. Quakers were typically affluent and well off. They used their wealth to support abolitionist newsletters such as The Liberator, which was run by William Lloyd Garrison. Garrison was a fiery abolitionist who would make no compromise with slave owners and in his first publication wrote on the first page in large font “No Union with slaveholders. The United States Constitution is a covenant with death and an agreement with hell”.
Partly inspired by Garrison but mostly by the cruelty of his master a Negro slave started a revolution, which was named after him as Nat Turner’s Insurrection. Turner and fellow slaves rose up and killed fifty Whites. This was slave owner’s worst nightmare come true. It was seen that the slaves were going about murdering the whites in their beds while they slept. C. P. Hill writes that it was put down with savage cruelty and that Garrison was blamed by the South for the uprising
Another abolitionist attempted to free the Negro slaves in a campaign where he would gain arms for them and they would rise up to meet him. John Brown was a violent Christian fundamentalist, who had previously murdered five slave owners with his sons by hacking them to death with machetes. His plan was that he would take the arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, get weapons for the slaves, who would join him there and together they would head south leaving behind them a trail of freed slaves and dead slavers. However Brown was besieged in the arsenal, which saw most of his party shot, and himself wounded. Between Brown and Turner the voice of minorities was heard in the South, but this caused the Southerners to ignore all the voices of the North as it was seen as a threat to the way of life in the south.
The way of life was extremely important aspect of the lead up to civil war. The Southerners were extremely devoted to their way of life and were willing to pay for it in blood. This is often described as Southern Nationalism because the south began to view itself as its own nation for which southerners felt more allegiance than the whole of the United States. Included in this belief of nationalism was the issue of state’s rights. The South strongly believed in each state having the right to govern itself with out outside interference. It was feared by the south that Lincoln would abolish slavery and therefore interfere with state’s rights.
Before Lincoln’s election the southern states had already proclaimed that if Lincoln were to be elected then they would secede from the union. Unfortunately for the south the main political party (democrats) split over a debate of who should lead the party. Douglas, one member aiming for leadership of the democrats, believed in popular sovereignty ie the population of a state choosing for itself on the matter of slavery. The other member also aiming to rule the democrats was Breckinbridge, who believed in slavery being permitted in all states. The democrat party split into the northern and southern democrats. Because of the split Lincoln was able to win the election, upon which the southern states succeeded from the union.
In conclusion the election of Lincoln as president in 1860 caused a civil war because it was falsely perceived by the south that Lincoln would threaten the state’s constitutional right to slavery. This false idea was due to a rift between the northern and southern states in both an economic and ideological manner. That is the north was based on industry and generally was opposed to slavery. But the South was an agricultural society which ran on slavery and, due to Nat Turner’s Insurrection and John Brown’s stand at Harper’s Ferry, was fearful of the north’s involvement in the governing of states as well as being opposed to this on the basis of state’s rights. The election of Lincoln caused the south to succeed from the union causing civil war.