The Secession Crisis
In November 1860, the Republican Party's Abraham Lincoln won the national presidential election. Thereafter, one question predominated: Would the president-elect likely menace slavery inside southern states? Had the answer been clear, the post-election secession crisis would have taken a clear-cut form. If Lincoln had been indisputably an immediate menace, with obvious intention of imposing federal antislavery on sovereign states, the whole Slave South would have seceded, and long before the president-elect's March 4, 1861, inauguration. On the other hand, if Lincoln had clearly posed no threat to slaveholders, no southern state would have departed the Union.
So much for clarity and a united southern decision. The president-elect's antislavery position had always been guarded, politic. His ambiguity helped divide the southern house against itself throughout the secession crisis.
Guarded, politic, ambiguous—those Lincolnian mainstream virtues seemed intolerable vices to America's post-1830 antislavery extremists. On New