With the attention being paid to the battle at Gettysburg–the Civil War’s pivotal moment–it bears repeating why the war started in the first place. It’s really not that complicated, but it cannot be brushed aside, either.
In 1858, Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas were running for a seat in the U.S. senate. They agreed to a series of debates in the summer and fall of that year, even if the people attending those debates could not vote for either Lincoln or Douglas. They voted for their state legislators, who in turn elected the senator, as the Constitution directed back then.It wasn’t like it is today with the direct election of senators by the people. But that’s getting away from my point.
In the first debate, held at Ottawa on August 21, 1858, candidate Lincoln said the following:
“There is no reason in the world why the Negro is not entitled to all the natural rights enumerated in the Declaration of Independence–the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I hold that he is as much entitled to these as the white man. I agree with Judge Douglas he is not my equal in many respects–certainly not in color, perhaps not in moral or intellectual endowment. But in the right to eat the bread, without leave of anybody else, which his own hand earns, he is my equal, and the equal of Judge Douglas, and the equal of every living man.”
We might think that such sentiments were commonly held back in the 1850s, but they were not. The United States–North and South–had tolerated, and even depended upon slavery for centuries. Lincoln’s words were accepted by a small group of Abolitionists, and no one else. In the place and time he lived in, Lincoln’s philosophy was nothing less than revolutionary.
So when the man who proclaimed the equality of a group that had been customarily enslaved and denied their rights was elected as President two years later, the states that did not, and could not, accept Lincoln’s views left the Union. They did not wait for him to be sworn in, and to hear his conciliatory inaugural address, which was specifically directed to them. No, the South simply could not abide having a president who thought as Lincoln did. And any suggestion to the contrary is disingenuous and should be ignored.