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Wilentz makes a point to discuss how the institution of slavery caused a major fracture in the Union. He talks about how the “fire-eaters” led the charge of the South’s eventually succession, but it is important to note that there have been threats of succession for many decades leading up to this cataclysm.
Many attempts were made to curb the tension between the North and South. Such as the Democratic National Convention being held in Charleston instead of New York. They had hoped that this would seem like a gesture of goodwill but it had the opposite effect. The presence of the Northern politicians provoked the anger of the Southerns.The voting in this convention ended up in a standstill and forced a reschedule which managed to slightly delay the inevitable fracture. This political unrest in just choosing a candidate only exasperated the issue more.
Wilentz noted that Lincoln had high hopes that secessionists would fail because they had misinterpreted him. He hoped that the sensible people of the South would see through the extremists’ lies and remain members of the Union. Unfortunately, Lincoln’s election had the opposite effect. It turned Deep South moderates and even Unionists into Secessionists. The question soon became not whether or not to secede but when and how.
South Carolina was the first state to secede on December 20 soon followed by Mississippi, then Florida, and the rest of the southern states to Texas. There was a strong counteroffensive in the border states but that only managed to slow the process. With the South seceded the inevitable conflict was on the horizon.