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updated: 7/12/2011 10:46 AM

Slavery, states' rights were behind Civil War

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  • Life-like models of Abraham and Mary Lincoln, with their sons, Willie, Tad and Robert, pose in front of the 1861 White House facade in the central plaza area of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum in Springfield, Ill.

      Life-like models of Abraham and Mary Lincoln, with their sons, Willie, Tad and Robert, pose in front of the 1861 White House facade in the central plaza area of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum in Springfield, Ill.
    Associated Press

 

You wanted to know

"How did the Civil War start?" asked students in Jennifer Janik's third-grade at Big Hollow Elementary School in Ingleside.

Slavery and states' rights dominate the causes of the Civil War, a time span of four years, 1861-1865.

The two players were the United States, with Abraham Lincoln as its president, and the Confederate States of America, led by Jefferson Davis. The United States prevailed.

Starting in the 1850s, the United States pushed westward to the Pacific Ocean, and with each expansion brought the question of whether the new territory would adopt or reject slavery within its borders.

The arguments for and against slavery caused an entire political party to dissolve and drove a huge chasm between its defenders and opponents.

"Lincoln and his political party, the Republicans, opposed the spread of slavery beyond those states where it already existed," said Bryon Andreasen, research historian at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield.

On Nov. 6, 1860, four candidates were vying for the White House. Lincoln carried 17 free states.

Andreasen said the South feared Lincoln's victory meant an end to slavery.

"In order to protect slavery, a majority of Southerners decided to have their states secede -- leave or separate -- from the United States and create their own country," he said.

South Carolina's senators resigned after Lincoln's election. On Dec. 20, 1860, the state seceded from the Union. Their representatives requested that federal property in South Carolina be turned over to the state -- Fort Sumter included. President Buchanan denied the request.

Before Lincoln's inauguration on March 4, 1861, six states had seceded and the confederate states had inaugurated a president.

President Lincoln sent a ship to resupply Fort Sumter. On April 12 and 13, 1861, the Confederate States of America's army assaulted the fort.

"Southern military forces fired on the fort, prevented its being resupplied, and forced the U.S. soldiers inside to surrender," Andreasen said.

"In response, President Lincoln called on the states that remained loyal to the United States to send soldiers to put down those in the South who were in armed rebellion. This caused more southern states to secede, and the Civil War was on."

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