North Carolina Civil War Documentary

By W. Buck Yearns; John G. Barret | Go to book overview

I
A TIME FOR DECISION

The election on 5 November 1860 of "Black Republican" Abraham Lincoln to the presidency of the United States sent a shock wave through the states of the Lower South. BY 4 February 1861 seven cotton states stretching from South Carolina through Texas had held conventions, seceded, and met in Montgomery, Alabama, to form a southern confederacy. To them their entire way of life was so threatened that the only recourse was refuge in a truly southern nation.

Geographic factors had steered the South into farming, and it was not long before slavery had become its chief source of labor. By the early 1800s southerners were arguing that not only their economy but also most of their basic institutions--the church, the family, government, and society--depended on the use and control of Negro slaves. In the minds of southerners developments in the North posed serious threats to southern civilization. The North's diversified economy demanded national programs--a protective tariff, a national bank, a sound currency, federal appropriations for internal improvements, free western land, and others--which would help few southerners and which would actually distress many of them. Southerners also felt threatened by the antislavery sentiment in the North, which added emotional and moral dimensions to the sectional differences. As the South saw itself becoming a minority section, its leaders sought refuge in the doctrine of state rights, the conviction that each state had retained its sovereignty when it entered the Union and therefore had the final decision on constitutional matters.

The acquisition of new territory as a result of the war with Mexico provoked the most heated sectional issue, whether Congress could ban slavery from a territory. The question was temporarily compromised by Congress in 1850, but the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 revived it. This act established two territories of the remaining Louisiana Purchase and allowed the settlers of each to decide whether their territory would be slave or free. For the first time since the drawing of the Missouri Compromise Line in 1820 southerners had an opportunity to extend slavery above that line. "Bleeding Kansas" resulted, during which both northern

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