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Nation of Nations A Concise Narrative of the American Republic Book Cover Image
Nation of Nations: A Concise Narrative of the American Republic, 3/e
James West Davidson, Historian
William E. Gienapp, Harvard University
Christine Leigh Heyrman, University of Delaware
Mark H. Lytle, Bard College
Michael B. Stoff, University of Texas, Austin

The Union Broken (1850-1861)

Primary Source Documents

The South Reacts to Lincoln's Election

The following editorials from southern newspapers during the secession crisis discuss southern complaints and grievances following Lincoln's election. Neither the Bee nor the Crescent, both of which urged moderation during the 1860 presidential campaign, had been in the vanguard of the secession movement. Lincoln's election revolutionized public opinion in the Deep South, however, and both papers quickly endorsed secession.

They [Northerners] know that the South is the main prop and support of the Federal system. They know that it is Southern productions that constitute the surplus wealth of the nation, and enables us to import so largely from foreign countries. They know that it is their import trade that draws from the people's pockets sixty or seventy millions of dollars per annum, in the shape of duties, to be expended mainly in the North, and in the protection and encouragement of Northern interests. They know that it is the export of Southern productions, and the corresponding import of foreign goods, that gives profitable employment to their shipping. They know that the bulk of the duties is paid by the Southern people, though first collected at the North, and that, by the iniquitous operation of the Federal Government, these duties are mainly expended among the Northern people. They know that they can plunder and pillage the South, as long as they are in the same Union with us, by other means, such as fishing bounties, navigation laws, robberies of the public lands, and every other possible mode of injustice and peculation. They know that in the Union they can steal Southern property in slaves, without risking civil war, which would be certain to occur if such a thing were done from the independent South.…

These are the reasons why these people do not wish the South to secede from the Union. They are enraged at the prospect of being despoiled of the rich feast upon which they have so long fed and fattened, and which they were just getting ready to enjoy with still greater…gusto.

-- From the New Orleans Daily Crescent, January 21, 1861

Another error…is the belief that the South has been moved to resistance chiefly by the adverse result of the Presidential contest. We are told with marked emphasis that Lincoln has been elected in strict conformity to the mandates of the Constitution and the provisions of the law. Now this is not denied, nor does the South profess to desire a separation exclusively or even chiefly on account of the success of the Black Republican nominee. That was but the crowning stroke to a protracted and wanton series of aggressions on the South;…the final and fitting upshot to a long-continued policy of injustice and oppression. Lincoln's triumph is simply the practical manifestation of the popular dogma in the free States that slavery is a crime in the sight of GOD, to be reprobated by all honest citizens, and to be warred against by the combined moral influence and political power of the Government. The South, in the eyes of the North, is degraded and unworthy, because of the institution of servitude. She is hated by the North because she holds the black race in bondage. She is persecuted because fanatics have made unto themselves a peculiar code of ethics with which the South does not agree, because she knows it to be fallacious.

It is self-evident that if one-half of the people of a country look upon the other half as in the perpetual commission of a heinous offense before GOD, and disseminate the doctrine that they are guilty of the grossest violation of civil, social and religious canons, the section deemed thus culpable must be regarded as inferior in every respect to the former....If this is a sentiment compatible with the endurance of a Union avowedly founded on the most perfect political equality and social harmony and fraternity, then we must ignore the history of our revolutionary struggles, our efforts in behalf of a sound government, and our success in the formation of the Constitution of the United States.

-- From the New Orleans Bee, December 10, 1860


What economic questions are emphasized in these editorials? Are these legitimate grievances?


Were economic issues critical to the origins of the Civil War?


Why did Southerners fear the Republican party? Why did they refer to it as the Black Republican party?


What specific events in the 1850s support each of these assertions of northern aggression: "They have robbed us of our property, they have set at naught the decrees of the Supreme Court, they have invaded our States and killed our citizens, they have declared their unalterable determination to exclude us altogether from the Territories, they have nullified the laws of Congress?"


What importance do these editorials place on the issue of slavery? Was slavery the most important cause of southern secession?


How would a northern Republican respond to the accusations and grievances contained in these editorials?