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Lincoln's election and Southern succession

It took two conventions for the Democrats to nominate Stephen Douglas for president in 1860. The Southerners walked out of the first convention and nominated John Breckinridge, a moderate from Kentucky who was willing to run on a Southern Democrat platform calling for the extension of slavery. The Northern Democrats who were left behind nominated Douglas. Desperate compromisers threw together a Constitutional Union Party, to put a fourth candidate in the race, John Bell of Tennessee. The Republicans thought they were playing it as safe as possible by picking Abraham Lincoln; their other choices were better known but more radically anti-slavery.

During a bitter campaign, the Southerners announced that if "that baboon" Lincoln became president, they were going to start their own country. Although Lincoln scored less than 40 percent of the popular vote, he got electoral votes from every free state. Even with Lincoln elected, the South was under no real danger of having its slavery institution taken way. That would take a constitutional amendment, and the slaveholders had almost twice as many states as they needed to defeat an amendment. The Republicans were a minority in both the House and Senate, and the Southerners still controlled the Supreme Court. But the South was fed up.

Within days of Lincoln's election, Southern states started to secede. Eventually, 11 states left the Union, taking with them most of the U.S. Army guns and supplies on Southern soil. To tell the truth, the army didn't have many supplies to grab. The entire U.S. Army consisted of only 15,000 men, and lots of them were scattered across the frontier, looking out for American Indians. The Union held on to one major fort guarding the approach to the hotbed of the rebellion: Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor.

Even as soldiers drilled, the sides made one final attempt at compromise: the Crittenden Amendments (1860), which would have allowed slavery in the Southwest and in territories to be acquired (watch out, Cuba). That law was a nonstarter.

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