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


Where was Lincoln in early 1861?

The president-elect was in Springfield, Illinois, and he showed no hurry to get to Washington, D.C. If relations between the Republicans and outgoing Democrats had been bad before the election, they now became much worse. Lincoln did not wish to be conflated, or equated, with President James C. Buchanan.

As he examined his options, Lincoln decided on a simple rule: no more speeches or policy announcements. As late as January 1861, he still believed the questions of freedom and slavery could eventually be solved without a civil war, and he did not wish to add fuel to the flames. He, therefore, made no public speeches in January. When newspaper editors pressed him, declaring that the country was in crisis, Lincoln replied that he had long since said all he had to and that repetition would do no good. Lincoln was usually a keen observer of public sentiment, but this time he was mistaken. Had he spoken vigorously of his belief that slavery—while abhorrent—was protected by the Constitution, war might have been prevented.


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