Lincoln on Race and Slavery

By Henry Louis Gates Jr.; Donald Yacovone et al. | Go to book overview

42

First inaugural Address:
CW, 4:262–264, 268–269

Secessionists raised the palmetto flag in Charleston, South Carolina, the day after Lincoln's election on November 6, 1860. The state officially voted for secession on December 20, and headlines splashed across the nation's newspapers, “Union Dissolved!” The next month, one Southern state after another voted for secession, and by the time Lincoln gave his first inaugural address seven states had left the Union—four more would leave after the attack on Fort Sumter. Lincoln knew many Southern politicians who wished to preserve slavery and the Union, and he believed that some accommodation remained possible. In fact, Unionism persisted in the South, and all the states except South Carolina eventually sent considerable numbers of men to serve in the Union army. Nevertheless, in the spring of 1861, the loss of the presidential election left the overwhelming number of Southerners in dead fear that their power and the institution of slavery would fall before an aggrandizing, abolitionist North. To combat such anxieties, Lincoln distanced himself and his party from abolitionism, and assured the South that he would never “directly or indirectly” interfere with slavery where it already existed. He repudiated the actions of men like John Brown, whose 1859 attack at Harpers Ferry caused such distress, and assured the nation that he fully intended to enforce the Fugitive Slave Law. The only difference between North and South, he maintained in his first remarks as president, was over extending slavery to places where it did not previously exist.

-214-

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