President of the United States

As the presidential election neared, the issue of slavery continued to divide the country. When Lincoln won the Republican nomination, the Southern states threatened to secede (withdraw) from the United States if he were elected president. Lincoln tried to reassure the South that he did not intend to interfere with slavery where it already existed. But most Southerners still felt that a Republican president could not possibly represent their interests. In the meantime, the Democrats had trouble agreeing on a single candidate or platform. They ended up splitting their party into two factions, the Northern Democrats and the Southern Democrats, and running two separate candidates for president, Stephen Douglas and current vice president John C. Breckinridge (1821-1875). As a result, Lincoln was able to secure enough votes to be elected the sixteenth president of the United States.

Lincoln immediately began working to maintain peaceful relations with the South. In his first inaugural address, he argued against secession and let the South know that he would not make the first move toward war. He closed with a moving plea to his fellow countrymen: "We are not enemies but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every last battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearth

Republican presidential nominee Abraham Lincoln.

(A drawing from a photograph by Mathew Brady. From Harper's Weekly, May 26, 1860.)

Republican presidential nominee Abraham Lincoln.

(A drawing from a photograph by Mathew Brady. From Harper's Weekly, May 26, 1860.)

stone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature."

But Lincoln's words seemed to have little effect on the tense situation between North and South. Eleven Southern states had already announced their intention to secede from the Union and form a new country that allowed slavery, called the Confederate States of America, by the time Lincoln was inaugurated (sworn in). A few weeks later, the new Confederate government demanded that he remove the Federal troops stationed at Fort Sumter, located in the harbor at Charleston, South Carolina. Confederate president Jefferson Davis (1808-1889; see entry) viewed these troops as a symbol of Northern authority and wanted them to leave. But Lincoln refused to acknowledge the Confederacy as a legitimate country and claimed that the Southern states were engaged in an illegal rebellion against the U.S. government. When negotiations failed, Confederate forces opened fire on the fort on April 12, 1861. This event marked the beginning of the Civil War.

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