Freedom: A History of US

Webisode 5. Segment 8
Splitting Apart

In 1858 Stephen Douglas defeated Abraham Lincoln and became the senator from Illinois. But the tall country lawyer was now well-known; the Lincoln-Douglas debates have been read across the nation. Now, two years later, when both men run for the presidency, people are ready for Lincoln's words. In 1860, Abraham Lincoln is elected president of the United States See It Now - "Lincoln Elected!". Before he even has a chance to take office, seven southern states secede from the Union. Alexander Stephens is a leading Southern figure See It Now - Alexander Stephens. He says Hear It Now - Alexander Stephens: "All efforts to save the Union will be unavailing. The truth is our leaders and public men do not desire to continue it on any terms."

South Carolina leads the way. Mississippi, one of the richest states in the nation, follows eagerly. So do Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas. The other slave states in the South hesitate until President Lincoln calls for volunteers to fight the Southerners. That decides it for Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Tennessee. In all, eleven states leave the Union and form the Confederate States of America See It Now - "The Union is Dissolved!"Check The Source - The Constitution of the Confederate States of America.

In February 1861, the Confederate States elect their own president—Jefferson Davis of Mississippi. See It Now - Jefferson Davis''All we ask is to be left alone,'' he says at his inauguration.

The abolitionists are screaming for Lincoln to free the slaves. But in his own inaugural address, Lincoln said that slavery would be left alone in the slave states. The issue is the expansion of slavery in the West Check The Source - Lincoln's First Inaugural Address. If there is to be a war, Lincoln knows he needs to hold onto the slave states that border the South—Maryland, Kentucky, Missouri, and Delaware. He says if he frees the slaves, loses the war, and destroys the Union, he won't help the slaves or anybody else. But there seems to be no way to stop a war. If the Union is to survive, and be true to its founding principle—that all men are created equal—people will have to fight for it.

And this is how it begins: Southern guns fire on U.S. troops at a small fort in the harbor at Charleston, South Carolina. Theodore Upson was a boy who was there. He wrote: "Father and I were husking our corn when William Corry came across the field. He was excited and said, 'Jonathan, the Rebels have fired upon Fort Sumter.' Father got white, and couldn't say a word."

Fort Sumter is a United States government fort, and those shots announce that South Carolina is serious about having left the United States. The South Carolinians do more than fire on the fort. They destroy it. A Charleston eyewitness describes it this way Hear It Now - Charleston Eyewitness: "A perfect sheet of flame flashed out, a deafening roar, a rumbling, deadening sound, and the war was on."

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