Civil War--Secession of the Southern States
of Union and Confederate Resources
York City Draft Riots
Carolina's Declaration of Secession (1861)
Party Platform, 1860
Lincoln's Message to Congress in Special Session (1861)
Lincoln's Proclamation Calling a Militia and Convening Congress (1861)
Lincoln's 'A House Divided Against Itself' Speech (1858)
Lincoln's First Inaugural Address (1861)
to Home from Civil War Soldiers (1863)
Address of Confederate President Jefferson Davis (1861)
of the Confederate States of America (1861)
of the People of South Carolina to the People of Slaveholding States
States of America
of the United States
History: Sectional Rivalries
History: The Debate over Slavery
History: The Preservation of the Union
Article Written: February 24, 2006
Civil War: Secession of the Southern States
Preservation of the Union v. Formation of the Confederacy
By Phil Allard
Do the Southern states have the right to withdraw from the Union if
they decide that being a part of it is no longer in their best
interests? Or would secession and the formation of the Confederate
States of America constitute a rebellion?
- Arguments for Secession:
The federal government is instituting policies that go against the best
interests of the South, such as tariffs that disproportionately hurt
the South and attempts to free the slaves who work on Southern
plantations. Just as the colonists had the right to declare
independence from Britain nearly a century ago, the South has the right
to seek its independence from the Union.
- Arguments against Secession:
When all of the states entered the Union they essentially formed a
binding compact; for that compact to be broken, all states must agree
to its dissolution, not just a handful of them. Preservation of the
Union is far more important than the complaints of individual states;
the country would be weaker if it were divided into two.
New York Historical Society
image is from an envelope issued between 1860 and 1861. Envelopes were
a popular means of propagandizing political views during the Civil War era.
The American Civil War (1861-65) was one of the most pivotal events in the history of the U.S. About 620,000 Americans died in the war, more than in all other American wars combined. The Civil War also resulted in the liberation of roughly four million black slaves, which forever changed the social structure of the South and race relations in the U.S.
Library of Congress
James Buchanan (left) and Abraham Lincoln right).
War became inevitable after several Southern states seceded from—or
left—the Union. The first state to secede was South Carolina, on
December 20, 1860. Ten other Southern states eventually seceded,
joining with South Carolina to form the Confederate States of America. President James Buchanan (D, 1857-61) did not take action to stop the states from seceding; although he argued that secession
was not legal, he also claimed that the federal government did not have
the constitutional right to stop the South from doing so. However, he
did declare that the government would retain its military facilities in
One of those facilities was Fort Sumter,
a military post in South Carolina. Six days after South Carolina
seceded, Buchanan sent troops to the fort to protect it from the
secessionist forces. On April 12, 1861, Southern rebels fired their
first shots on the fort, and on April 14, Union Major Robert Anderson surrendered it to the rebels. The following day, newly inaugurated President Abraham Lincoln (R, 1861-65) called for 75,000 volunteers to join the military to help restore the Southern states to the Union. The Civil War had begun. [See President Lincoln's Proclamation Calling a Militia and Convening Congress (primary document), President Lincoln's Message to Congress in Special Session (primary document)]
Library of Congress
This Reynolds map shows the complex political divisions that existed in the United States following the Missouri Compromise.
The reasons for the break-up of the Union are complex and open to
interpretation. In the mid-19th century, there were vast differences
between the Northern and Southern portions of the U.S. The South had an
economy that was based on farming—particularly on growing cotton—and
it depended on the labor of black slaves. The North was more
industrial, and it did not rely on slave labor. The sectional
differences between North and South gradually heightened tensions
between the two regions.
Slavery was a key factor in the
widening of the rift between the two regions. While the South insisted
that slavery was vital to its economy, many in the North were dedicated
to ending slavery throughout the country. Up until the late 1850s, the
North and South had largely avoided violent confrontations over
slavery. But with the question of the expansion of slavery to new
territories looming larger and larger, the issue was bound to come to a
head. It finally did, with the 1860 election of Lincoln, whose Republican Party had expressed its opposition to the spread of slavery. [See Republican Party Platform, 1860 (primary document)]
However, political and economic factors also played a role in secession. By the 1830s, the North had gained a majority in Congress
due to its increased population; by 1861 approximately 22 million
people lived in the Northern states, while approximately five million
free whites and four million slaves lived in the Southern slave states.
That situation led to policy differences between North and South, in
particular over taxation. Under the Constitution, the House of Representatives
was responsible for legislation that dealt with raising revenue. Since
there was now a Northern majority in the House, the Southern states
could not prevent the passage of new taxes that often benefited
Northern manufacturers while falling heavily on the Southern states.
Library of Congress
The economies and societies of the North and the South had widely diverged by the time of the Civil War.
In the North, cities were swelling with immigrants, and manufacturing
was flourishing. In the South, however, cotton maintained a
stranglehold on the economy, and the population was not expanding as
By the time Lincoln was elected, a growing number of people were
convinced that two very different and deeply opposed societies had
evolved within the nation. The New York Tribune
summed up that state of relations when it wrote, "We are not one
people. We are two peoples. We are a people for Freedom and a people
for Slavery. Between the two, conflict is inevitable." Indeed, that
conflict led to secession and war.
Many proponents of secession argued that the government was acting
contrary to the South's best interests. They particularly expressed
concern about the growing tide of antislavery sentiment in the North;
if slavery were threatened, Southern advocates asserted, then their
very livelihoods would be in peril. Proponents of secession also argued
that the Southern states had reason to secede because they were being
taxed unfairly by the federal government. Supporters compared secession
to the action of the colonists when they declared their independence
from Britain nearly a century earlier; they were acting legally to gain independence from an oppressive master, secessionist claimed.
Opponents of secession, however, argued that the Southern states did
not have the constitutional right to secede from the Union. When the
states had originally entered the Union, critics contended, they formed
a binding compact. Opponents argued that under the guiding principle of
majority rule, that compact could be broken only with the agreement of
a combined majority of Northern and Southern states. Many also feared
that if the prosperous Southern states were to leave, then the economy
and the security of the U.S. would suffer a severe blow.
Lincoln's election in 1860 was not the first time the Union was faced
with secession. The first threat to the Union came just 15 years after
the Constitution was signed. In 1803, Massachusetts declared that it
would secede if the U.S. purchased the Louisiana Territory from France.
Josiah Quincy, a Boston-based political leader and member of the Federalist Party,
said that admitting a new state without specific approval of the
original 13 states would be a cause for dissolution of the Union. Only
mediation by congressional leaders on both sides kept them from
carrying through on their threat.
Rumblings of secession
surfaced again roughly a decade later, when the New England states were
rumored to be considering leaving the Union because of the War of 1812
(1812-15) with Britain. New England was strongly opposed to the war,
which was having a devastating impact on its foreign trade. To discuss
the problems facing New England, the Federalist Party held a meeting in
Hartford, Connecticut, in December 1814 and January 1815. While the
meetings were held in secret, and there were no records of what was
discussed, it was widely believed that the states were considering
secession, although the states never took any action on secession. The
delegates did propose seven amendments to the U.S. Constitution, one of
which aimed at diluting the Southern states' representation in
Congress. Those proposals were all defeated in state legislatures. [See
War of 1812]
But the biggest threats to the Union arose from regional differences
between North and South. In fact, those differences created conflict
from the very founding of the country. The regional differences were
noted by George Mason,
a Virginia delegate to the Constitutional Convention in 1787. Mason had
refused to sign the Constitution, expressing concern with a provision
in which "by requiring only a majority to make all commercial and
navigation laws, the five Southern States (whose produce and
circumstances are totally different from those of the eight Northern
and Eastern States) will be ruined."
Those differences came
to a head in South Carolina in the late 1820s. The state argued that
most of the federal tax revenue derived from the South, and that
Southern states were not getting their fair share in return. That was
because the population had shifted northward, and Northern legislators
in Congress were passing bills that benefited the North.
A piece of legislation that particularly angered the South was an 1828
tariff that came to be known in the South as the "Tariff of
Abominations." The bill—intended to protect Northern industries from
the dumping of competing British products on American markets at
artificially low prices—was designed to keep foreign goods out by
making them more expensive. The measure hurt the South in two ways; it
made manufactured goods more expensive for Southerners to buy, and also
resulted in Britain reducing its import of Southern cotton when the
market for British products shrank.
The North passed a milder tariff law in 1832, but the South was not
satisfied. That year, South Carolina passed an Ordinance of
Nullification, declaring that both the 1828 and 1832 tariff acts were
"null, void, and no law." South Carolina argued that all states had the
right to suspend any federal law in their territory that they felt was
not in their best interests. However, the federal government did not
agree with that reasoning. South Carolina, declared President Andrew
Jackson (D, 1829-37), stood on "the brink of insurrection and treason."
The so-called Nullification Crisis was resolved in 1833, after Congress
enacted a compromise tariff that gradually reduced duties on imported
goods. In response, South Carolina repealed its Ordinance of
Nullification. A showdown between the North and South was averted, but
Another major issue that threatened to split the Union was slavery. In 1803, President Thomas Jefferson (Democratic-Republican, 1801-09) oversaw the Louisiana Purchase
for the U.S., buying a huge parcel of land from France. In one fell
swoop, the land owned by the U.S. doubled. At the time, the population
of the slave and free states was fairly even, and there were as many
slave states as free states. But issues soon arose in Congress
concerning which parts of the new lands would be considered free states
and which ones would be considered slave states. A swing either way
would give the North or the South an advantage in congressional
representation, and neither wanted to be in the minority.
The Compromise of 1820—also known as the Missouri Compromise—admitted
Missouri as a slave state and Maine as a free state, keeping the number
of free and slave states in balance. It also established a line of
division at 36º 30´ latitude through the Louisiana Purchase. Slavery
was permitted south of the line, but prohibited to the north of it.
That solution resolved the slavery issue until 1845, when Texas was
admitted to the U.S. as a slave state. That led to the Compromise of 1850,
which admitted California as a free state while allowing slavery to
persist in the other lands west of Texas (Utah and New Mexico) that
were acquired from Mexico.
In 1854, the Kansas-Nebraska Act repealed the Missouri Compromise. Senator Stephen A. Douglas
(D, Illinois) wrote and introduced the bill that divided the land west
of Missouri into two territories: Kansas and Nebraska. A provision of
the bill called for popular sovereignty, so that residents of the new
territories would decide for themselves whether slavery would be legal
where they settled. [See The Kansas-Nebraska Act]
When the Kansas-Nebraska Act became law on May 30, 1854, antislavery
activists were outraged. If the Missouri Compromise were still in
effect, they reasoned, slavery would have been illegal in both
territories. Passage of the bill resulted in violence, as both
pro-slavery and antislavery activists went to Kansas to try to
determine the outcome of the slavery vote in the first election to be
held in the new territory. The convergence of those two opposing forces
came to be known as "Bloody Kansas," for the violence that subsequently
gripped the territory. As a result of the violence, tensions between
North and South reached a fever pitch.
Those events helped give birth to a new political party—the Republican
Party. In early February 1854, largely in response to opposition to the
Kansas-Nebraska bill, people from a number of existing parties,
Free-Soilers and Anti-Slavery Democrats, gathered in Ripon, Wisconsin,
to create a new party. The party was dedicated to preventing the
expansion of slavery, which Republicans called "the great moral, social
and political evil" of the day.
Library of Congress
The Secession Movement. In this cartoon the South, in an act of hubris, is "galloping" blindly off the cliff.
Tensions between the Northern and Southern states grew even worse on
March 6, 1857, when the U.S. Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Roger Taney,
ruled that Congress did not have the right to prohibit slavery in the
western territories. Taney, a slave owner from the slave-holding state
of Maryland, ruled that a slave named Dred Scott had no right to sue in
federal court. Scott had attempted to sue for his freedom based on the
claim that he had lived on free soil in Illinois and Wisconsin before
moving back to Missouri. However, Scott was denied his freedom because,
according to Taney, "blacks had no rights which the white man was bound
to respect; and that the Negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to
slavery for his benefit. He was bought and sold and treated as an
ordinary article of merchandise and traffic, whenever profit could be
made by it." [See Dred Scott Decision]
The Dred Scott
decision meant that the Republican Party's goal of stopping slavery
from spreading to the western territories was unconstitutional. And it
also meant that the doctrine of "popular sovereignty"—which stated that
territorial governments had the power to prohibit slavery if they so
wished—was also unconstitutional.
abolitionists were outraged at that decision, and saw it as a major
step backward in their efforts to rid the nation of slavery. Some even
believed that Southern Democrats were engaged in a conspiracy to make
slavery legal throughout the country. However, Frederick Douglass, a rising black political leader and abolitionist, stated that "my hopes were never brighter than now." To Douglass, the Dred Scott
decision and its implications were so immoral that he felt it would
bring slavery to the forefront of the nation's consciousness. Douglass
believed this would lead to the ultimate obliteration of the practice.
His words would soon prove prophetic.
A vivid example of
how rancorous the relations between North and South had gotten is
provided by an attack on Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner
by South Carolina Representative Preston Brooks (D). Sumner had given a
speech on the Senate floor in May of 1856 in which he argued that the
"Crime against Kansas" was simply the latest attempt by Southern
political leaders to expand slavery to the west and hence gain power in
Congress. Two days later, Brooks walked up to Sumner at his desk in the
Senate chamber and pummeled him viciously with a cane until Sumner lost
New York Historical Society
An illustration from an envelope issued in 1861.
Against that backdrop, Lincoln was president on November 6, 1860.
Although he claimed to be more interested in preserving a strong union
than in ending slavery, the South predicted that his election would
lead to an attempt to abolish slavery nationwide. Lincoln's election
was the tipping point in the sectional crisis between North and South.
South Carolina seceded shortly after his election, repealing its
ratification of the U.S. Constitution. It was joined by six more states
by the time of Lincoln's inauguration on March 4, 1861: Mississippi on
January 9; Florida on January 10; Alabama on January 11; Georgia on
January 19; Louisiana on January 26; and Texas on February 1. [See South Carolina's Declaration of Secession (primary document) , Dates of Secession of the Southern States and their Readmittance to the Union (sidebar)]
On February 4, delegates from those states met in Montgomery, Alabama,
where they drafted a constitution for the Confederate States of America
(which was adopted on March 11). They chose Jefferson Davis,
a congressman and statesman, as provisional president (he was elected
president in October). Four more states would join the Confederacy in
the following months: Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina and Tennessee.
When the Southern states began to secede, outgoing President Buchanan
did very little to stem the tide, believing that the North did not have
any constitutional right to interfere. However, Lincoln declared that
secession was illegal, and that the Southern states were in rebellion.
[See Constitution of the Confederate States of America (primary document), Inaugural Address of Confederate President Jefferson Davis (primary document)]
Supporters of secession claimed that, through economic legislation such
as tariffs passed by a Northern-controlled Congress, the North was
essentially trying to turn the South into an agricultural colony. In
fact, southerners compared their situation to that of the American
colonists who overthrew the British in the American Revolutionary War
(1775-83). In both cases, they asserted, a group of people declared
their independence from a power that was taxing them heavily; in both
cases, the seceding entity was invaded by a power that did not want
secession to be successful.
In an "Address of the people of
South Carolina to the people of the slaveholding states," in which
South Carolina urged other Southern states to join it in a confederacy
of slave-holding states, secessionists noted that the Southern states
were subordinate to the North in Congress. According to the address:
[see Address of the People of South Carolina to the People of Slaveholding States (primary document)]
representation in Congress is useless to protect them against unjust
taxation; and they are taxed by the people of the North for their
benefit, exactly as the people of Great Britain taxed our ancestors in
the British Parliament for their benefit. For the last forty years, the
taxes laid by the Congress of the United States, have been laid with a
view of subserving the interests of the North.
Secessionists also pointed to the Declaration of Independence
to bolster their claim that states had a right to secede. South
Carolina's secession declaration included wording from the Declaration
of Independence stating that the colonies "are, and of right ought to
be Free and Independent States." The secession declaration further
quoted the colonists' declaration that "whenever any form of government
becomes destructive of the ends for which it was established, it is the
right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute a new
Davis echoed the Declaration of Independence
when he commented that the South's situation "illustrates the American
idea that governments rest on the consent of the governed, and that it
is the right of the people to alter or abolish them whenever they
become destructive of the ends for which they were established." He
further summed up the Southern view when he said, "The North was mad
and blind, would not let us govern ourselves, and so the war came."
Secession proponents also asserted that secession was allowed by the
Constitution, and that the compact between the states was not meant to
be binding. In fact, they pointed out, Article Two of the Articles of Confederation
(the precursor to the Constitution) said that "Each state retains its
sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every Power, Jurisdiction
and right, which is not by this confederation expressly delegated to
the United States, in Congress assembled." Advocates saw nothing in the
Constitution that contradicted that view.
pointed to the 10th Amendment to the Constitution, which stated that
"The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor
prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States
respectively, or to the people." Since secession was a power not
delegated to the government, they reasoned, then it was a power left to
the states. Furthermore, they asserted, there was nothing in the
Constitution permitting the federal government to prevent secession.
In addition, proponents argued that it was hypocritical for the North
to prevent Southern states from seceding when Northern states had
previously tried to do so. They pointed out that Northern states had
previously threatened to secede, yet when a Southern state attempted to
secede, the Northern position on secession changed drastically.
One of the most vigorous arguments by many secessionists concerned the
slavery issue. By the 1850s, Southern leaders were aware that many
Northern abolitionists wanted to rid the entire country of slavery.
Southerners argued that abolition of slavery would have a devastating
effect on the Southern economy, because the South's labor force
included nearly four million slaves.
Many Southerners claimed that Northerners had unfairly taken up the
issue of slavery in order to inflame other Northerners against the
South; they pointed out that far fewer than 10% of the South's roughly
5.5 million whites—only 300,000—were estimated to be slave owners. In
addition, many secession proponents believed that Southern slaves were
treated more humanely than workers in Northern factories. Advocates
argued that slave owners provided shelter, food, care, clothing and
other necessities for a people who could not compete in the modern
world without proper training. Many Southern preachers even proclaimed
that slavery was sanctioned in the Bible.
Representative Laurence Keitt (D, South Carolina) summed up the belief
of many in the South regarding slavery in a speech to the House in
January 1860. According to Keitt:
African slavery is the corner-stone of the industrial, social, and political fabric of the South; and whatever wars against it, wars
against her very existence. Strike down the institution of African
slavery and you reduce the South to depopulation and barbarism....The
anti-slavery party contend that slavery is wrong in itself, and the
Government is a consolidated national democracy. We of the South
contend that slavery is right, and that this is a confederate republic
of sovereign states.
The slavery issue came to
a boil with Lincoln's election. Proponents of secession pointed to
Lincoln's "House Divided" speech of 1858, in which he warned,
"A house divided against itself cannot stand." Lincoln said he believed
that the nation would end up being either entirely free or entirely
accepting of slavery, but secessionists argued that his presidency
would lead to the abolition of slavery. [See Abraham Lincoln's 'A House Divided Against Itself' Speech (primary document)]
Stephen Hale, who had been appointed by the governor of Alabama to
travel to other slave-holding states to advocate secession, discussed
the impact of Lincoln's election and his party's antislavery stance in
a letter to Kentucky Governor Beriah Magoffin (D). Hale wrote:
election of Mr. Lincoln cannot be regarded otherwise than a solemn
declaration, on the part of a great majority of the Northern people, of
hostility to the South, her property and her institutions-nothing less
than an open declaration of war-for the
triumph of this new theory of Government destroys the property of the
South, lays waste her fields, and inaugurates all the horrors of a San
Domingo servile insurrection, consigning her citizens to
assassinations, and her wives and daughters to pollution and violation,
to gratify the lust of half-civilized Africans.
Many opponents of secession, such as Lincoln, stressed the importance of keeping the nation united. In a letter to New York Tribune publisher Horace Greeley,
Lincoln wrote: "My paramount objective in this struggle is to save the
Union, and it is not either to save or destroy slavery. If I could save
the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if I could save
it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; if I could save it by
freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that."
Even some who did not contest the legality of Southern secession argued
against it in practice, claiming that it was more important to maintain
the Union. In January 1861, Alexander Stephens,
a member of Georgia's House of Representatives (who in February would
be elected provisional vice president of the Confederacy) argued
against Georgia's secession. Stephens stated that the current
government "is the best and freest government—the most equal in its
rights—the most just in its decisions-the most lenient in its measures,
and the most inspiring in its principles to elevate the race of men,
that the sun of heaven ever shone upon." He continued:
for you to attempt to overthrow such a government as this, under which
we have lived for more than three quarters of a century—in which we
have gained our wealth, our standing as a nation, our domestic safety
while the elements of peril are around us, with peace and tranquility
accompanied with unbounded prosperity and rights unassailed—is the
height of madness, folly and wickedness, to which I can neither lend my
sanction nor my vote.
But most critics of
secession argued that it was illegal. When the Southern states entered
the Union they were entering into an enduring relationship with the
Northern states, opponents claimed, agreeing to a binding compact. "No
state, upon its own mere motion, can lawfully get out of the Union,"
Lincoln asserted. "They can only do so against law, and by revolution."
Lincoln's belief was that the very core of a civilized
democracy was the principle of majority rule. He and other opponents of
secession reasoned that it was unacceptable because no democracy could
function if sections of the country were to leave the Union simply
because they did not like the results of an election. Such behavior
would lead ultimately to anarchy, they warned.
Lincoln argued that the South's decision to dissolve the compact
between the states would be valid only if it had the approval of a
majority of the states, in both North and South. He addressed those
ideas in his first inaugural address when he stated: [See President Lincoln's First Inaugural Address (primary document)]
divide upon [all our constitutional controversies] into majorities and
minorities. If the minority will not acquiesce, the majority must, or
the Government must cease. There is no other alternative, for
continuing the Government is acquiescence on one side or the other. If
a minority in such case will secede rather than acquiesce, they make a
precedent which in turn will divide and ruin them, for a minority of
their own will secede from them whenever a majority refuses to be
controlled by such minority....Plainly the central idea of secession is
the essence of anarchy.
argued that there were two clauses in the Constitution that made
secession illegal: the supremacy clause and the guarantee clause. The
supremacy clause (Article VI, Paragraph 2) stated: "This Constitution,
and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance
thereof. shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every
State shall be bound thereby, anything in the Constitution or Laws of
any State to the Contrary notwithstanding." Antisecessionists
interpreted that to mean that the act of secession was in violation of
federal mandates against treason.
Furthermore, they noted, the guarantee clause (Article IV, Section 4)
stated: "The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union
a Republican Form of Government." Lincoln referred to that clause to
justify the Northern invasion of the South in an attempt to prevent
secession. "[I]f a State may lawfully go out of the Union, having done
so, it may also discard the republican form of government; so that to
prevent its going out, is an indispensable means, to the end, of
maintaining the guaranty mentioned; and when an end is lawful and
obligatory, the indispensable means to it, are also lawful, and
obligatory," he said.
Northern opponents of secession also argued that the U.S. would be a
much stronger country, militarily and economically, if it were to stay
united. Splitting the U.S. into two countries would leave both more
susceptible to foreign invasion, and both would suffer economically in
the long run, critics warned.
"The Southern Confederacy will not employ our ships or buy our goods.
What is our shipping without it? Literally nothing. It is very clear
that the South gains by this process, and we lose. No—we MUST NOT 'let
the South go'," The Union Democrat, a Manchester, New Hampshire, newspaper declared on February 19, 1861.
Finally, some of the more militant of the abolitionists warned
that if states were allowed to secede, then hopes for abolition would
be dashed. There would be no chance of ending the practice of slavery
in the South if the North were not allowed to intervene in the affairs
of the South, they noted.
Problems between the Northern and Southern states of the U.S. kept
mounting through the first half of the 19th century. The issue of
slavery was a critical factor that drove a wedge between the two sides.
Because of the agrarian nature of the Southern way of life, the South
was largely dependent on slave labor to sustain its economy.
Southerners saw Northern resistance to slavery as a direct threat to
their existence. As a result of what they considered to be
unconstitutional intervention from a hostile central power, which
manifested itself in excessive taxation and the election of a president
whom they considered to be anti-Southern, the Southern states voted to
leave the Union. The goal of secession, then, was simply to create a
confederation of independent local states. Many Southerners viewed
their bold move as a Second American Revolution.
From the North's perspective, however, the secession of the Southern
states was unconstitutional, inasmuch as a state's departure required
the agreement of a majority of states in the country. They also argued
that it was imperative to keep the Southern states in the Union in
order for the U.S. to be a powerful and affluent country.
The differences between North and South could be resolved only through war. The impact of the Civil War
was enormous. As a result of the North's victory, slavery was
eradicated once and for all throughout the U.S., by virtue of Lincoln's
of 1863 and the 13th Amendment, ratified on December 6, 1865, which
outlawed slavery. Also, because most of the fighting took place in the
South, the region was left devastated, and in dire economic and social
straits. In the immediate aftermath of the war,
the nation would have to begin the process of rebuilding the South and
healing long-standing divisions through the process of Reconstruction.
[See Comparison of Union and Confederate Resources (sidebar), Letters to Home from Civil War Soldiers (primary document)]
Library of Congress
Fugitive slaves cross Rappahannock River, Virginia.
1. Many Southerners drew parallels between secession and the colonists'
declaration of independence against Great Britain. In what ways were
the situations similar? In what ways were they different?
2. Should the South have been allowed to secede if it decided that
remaining in the Union was not in its best interests? Why or why not?
3. What role did slavery play in the Civil War? Do you think that the North and South could have ever reached a compromise on slavery without resorting to bloodshed?
4. What would the U.S. be like today if the South had won the Civil War?
5. Imagine that you are President James Buchanan; write a speech in
which you respond to South Carolina's declaration of secession in 1860.
Abrahamson, James. The Men of Secession and Civil War, 1859-1861. Wilmington, Del.: Scholarly Resources Inc., 2000.
Boller, Paul F. Jr. Presidential Campaigns. New York: Oxford University Press, 1984.
Catton, Bruce. The Centennial History of the Civil War. 3v. Doubleday, 1961-65. Comprehensive history: V. 1: The Coming Fury; V. 2: Terrible Swift Sword; V. 3: Never Call Retreat.
Davis, William C. and Wiley, Bell I. Shadows of the Storm. New York: Doubleday, 1981.
Dew, Charles. Apostles of Disunion: Southern Secession Commissioners and the Causes of the Civil War. University of Virginia Press, 2002.
Foner, Eric. Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men: The Ideology of the Republican Party before the Civil War. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.
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