On November 6, 1860, Abraham Lincoln was elected the 16th President of the United States.  The election of 1860 was the only election in our history that did not result in a peaceful transfer of power.  Fearing a loss of power within the Union, many Southerners revisited arguments about the nature of the Constitution.  Some argued that the Constitution was a compact among states, and that interpretation seemed to allow states to secede, or unilaterally withdraw, from that compact.

The New Republican Party

Lincoln was a member of the Republican Party formed in 1854.  The Republican Party, which opposed the spread of slavery, was only represented in the North.  Southerners hardened their position in response to the perceived threat of the Republican Party.  When the election came, Lincoln’s name did not even appear on the ballot in ten Southern states.  The country was truly divided.

Secession of South Carolina

South Carolina believed secession was justified and that each state could judge on its own whether the federal government had failed to live up to its purposes.  Claiming that the Northern states had repeatedly tried to deny the Southern states their constitutional right to slavery, citing the rise of a sectional party, and quoting the President-elects statement that “Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free,” South Carolina declared its relationship to the Union was dissolved.  South Carolina cited the Declaration of Independence in writing its own Declaration of Secession, stating 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 government.”

Between Lincoln’s election and inauguration, seven Southern states seceded from the Union and created the Confederate States of America (CSA).  After Confederate troops fired on Fort Sumter in April 1861, four more states joined the CSA.

Why do you think President Lincoln’s election was the only one in our history that did not result in a peaceful transfer of power?

To learn more about the Election of 1860, check out our curriculum Presidents and the Constitution, Volume 2.

Posted in The Constitution Throughout History


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