Lincoln’s Election, Southern Secession: 1860 to April 1861


What was the political scene in the winter of 1860?

As a new decade began, the American political scene was in the greatest disarray seen in many years. The Democrats had won the two previous national elections, but they were divided on many issues. The Whigs and the Know-Nothings were both spent forces, and the new Republican Party was seen as a strong contender. The difficulty for the Republicans was that they were not seen as a national party, but as a sectional one.

Perhaps unfairly, the Republicans were often called the “Black” Republicans, meaning they were favorable to the cause of abolition. This does not mean that Republicans always liked blacks, but rather suggests that they were against the institution of slavery. As 1860 dawned, it seemed likely that the career of William H. Seward (1801–1872) a U.S. senator and former New York State governor, would now hit its highest point. An outspoken opponent of slavery, Seward seemed like the right person to lead the Republicans. He was upstaged by Abraham Lincoln, however.


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