Landmark Event - Southern States secede to form the Confederate States of America, December, 1860 – June, 1861

In the interim four months between Lincoln’s election as President and his inauguration, seven Southern states voted to leave the United States with an additional four joining them in ensuing months. It was unthinkable that the people of the states would do this and that Lincoln would not accept it. He treated these states as rebellious, not seceded.

Following his election as President, Lincoln wrote a former colleague from Congress, Georgian AH Stephens, to assure him there was no threat to existing slavery. South Carolina had just seceded on December 20th. Stephens soon became Vice President of the Confederate States of America                                     .

12/22/1860  …I fully appreciate the present peril the country is in, and the weight of responsibility on me. Do the people of the South really entertain fears that a Republican administration would, directly, or indirectly, interfere with their slaves, or with them, about their slaves? If they do, I wish to assure you, as once a friend, and still, I hope, not an enemy, that there is no cause for such fears.


   The south would be in no more danger in this respect, than it was in the days of Washington. I suppose, however, this does not meet the case. You think slavery is right and ought to be extended; while we think it is wrong and ought to be restricted. That I suppose is the rub. It certainly is the only substantial difference between us… LL 369

Lincoln sent this private and confidential letter to his Secretary of State-designate, William Seward, to confirm ‘no compromise’ in extending slavery to territories, even as Southern states continued to secede.

2/1/1861 …seeking to ascertain to what extent I would be consenting for our friends to go in the way of compromise on the now vexed question [of slavery with several states seceding].

   I say now, however, as I have all the while said, that on the territorial question—that is, the question of extending slavery under the national auspices—I am inflexible. I am for no compromise which assists or permits the extension of the institution on soil owned by the nation. And any trick by which the nation is to acquire territory, and then allow some local authority to spread slavery over it, is as obnoxious as any other.  I take it that to effect some such result as this, and to put us again on the high-road to a slave empire is the object of all these proposed compromises. I am against it.


   As to fugitive slaves, District of Columbia, slave trade among the slave states, and whatever springs of necessity from the fact that the institution is amongst us, I care but little, so that what is done be comely, and not altogether outrageous… LL 373-4


On the train ride to Washington DC for his inauguration, Lincoln made several stops for speeches, including one at Independence Hall in Philadelphia on Washington’s birthday. Here he emphasized the value of freedom from the founding fathers, and gave a foreshadowing of a willingness for an ultimate personal cost to procure it. That evening he gave up attending further public events so he could be secretly transported to DC, because of the threat of assassination attempts in Baltimore.

2/22/1861  …I have often pondered over the dangers which were incurred by the men who assembled here and adopted that Declaration of Independence—I have pondered over the toils that were endured by officers and soldiers of the army, who achieved that independence. I have often inquired of myself, what great principle or idea it was that kept this confederacy [the states] so long together. It was not the mere matter of the separation of the colonies from the motherland; but something in that Declaration giving liberty, not alone to the people of this country, but hope to the world for all future time. It was that which gave promise that in due time the weights should be lifted from the shoulders of all men, and that all should have an equal chance. This is the sentiment embodied in that Declaration of Independence.


   Now, my friends, can this country be saved upon that basis? If it can, I will consider myself one of the happiest men in the world if I can help to save it. If it can’t be saved upon that principle, it will be truly awful. But, if this country cannot be saved without giving up that principle—I was about to say I would rather be assassinated on this spot than to surrender it… LL 379-380