Swept up in the secession movement

In 1858, James Chesnut Jr. was elected to represent South Carolina in the U.S. Senate. The Chesnuts moved to Washington, D.C., where Mary became friends with many prominent politicians and their wives. But this was a time of great political tension in the United States. The Northern and Southern sections of the country had been arguing over several issues—including slavery and the power of the national government to regulate it—for many years.

Growing numbers of Northerners believed that slavery was wrong. Some people wanted to outlaw it, while others wanted to prevent it from spreading beyond the Southern states where it was already allowed. But slavery played a big role in the Southern economy and culture. As a result, many Southerners felt threatened by Northern efforts to contain slavery. They believed that each state should decide for itself whether to allow slavery. They did not want the national government to pass laws that would interfere with their traditional way of life.

This ongoing dispute came to a crisis in November 1860, when Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865; see entry) was elected president of the United States. Lincoln was a Northerner who opposed slavery, although he wanted to eliminate it gradually rather than outlaw it immediately. Following Lincoln's election, many people in the South felt that the national government could no longer represent their interests. Several Southern states decided to secede (withdraw) from the United States and form a new country that allowed slavery, called the Confederate States of America. But it soon became clear that Northern leaders were willing to fight to keep the

Southern states in the Union. The two sides went to war a few months later.

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