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The Civil War. 1861-1865. The BIG IDEA. Sectional differences led to a Civil War between North and South that tested the Constitution Soon after the election of 1860, 11 states seceded from the Union

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The civil war

The Civil War


The big idea

Sectional differences led to a Civil War between North and South that tested the Constitution

  • Soon after the election of 1860, 11 states seceded from the Union

  • The Civil War that followed settled the constitutional question of federal supremacy versus states rights on the battlefields of the Civil War

The election of 1860
The Election of 1860

  • The election of 1860 showed clearly how badly divided the United States had become

  • The only remaining national party, the Democratic party split along sectional lines, with the North and South each running a candidate.

  • With Democratic voters divided, Abraham Lincoln, a Republican, was elected, receiving only 39 percent of popular vote.

The election of 18602
The Election of 1860

  • The election of a Northerner who opposed the extension of slavery drove some Southerners to threaten secession

  • To prevent secession, Senator John Crittenden of Kentucky proposed the Crittenden Compromise, which would have divided the nation, slave versus free territory, all the way to California, along the Missouri Compromise line

  • The compromise was defeated because Republicans in Congress would not support it

The secession crisis
The Secession Crisis

  • In December 1860, South Carolina decided to secede from, or leave, the Union.

  • By February 1861, six more Southern States seceded and, with South Carolina, formed the Confederate States of America

  • President James Buchanan took no action to stop those states from seceding from the Union

Lincoln s first inaugural address
Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address

  • Lincoln denied that states had the power to secede from the Union.

  • In First Inaugural Address in March of 1861, Lincoln stated that “in view of the Constitution and laws the Union is unbroken.”

Analyzing documents lincoln s first inaugural address
Analyzing DocumentsLincoln’s First Inaugural Address

“In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow-countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The Government will not assail you. You can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors. You have no oath registered in heaven to destroy the Government, while I shall have the most solemn one to "preserve, protect, and defend it.“

“I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.“

Focus Questions

  • How would you characterize the tone of Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address?

  • What do you think Lincoln meant by “mystic chords of memory”?

Lincoln s first inaugural address1
Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address

  • Historian Paul M. Angle wrote: “The inaugural address was calm, reasoned, but firm.” But at the speech’s conclusion, “Lincoln made an attempt to touch the emotions as well as the reason of his [listeners].”33

  • Historian Susan-May Grant wrote that “Lincoln’s first inaugural justly famous both for the way in which it established the found on which the Union would be defended and for the powerful invocation of those forces that he believed held the Union together.”

  • Historian Christopher J. Olsen noted that President Lincoln “appealed to anxious Southerners, hoping to keep as many states from the upper South in the Union as possible. Like most Northerners, he believed that Southern Unionists were the true silent majority, and that if he appeared as moderate and conciliatory as possible, they would overwhelm the radical secessionists.”

  • The New York Times reported that the speech’s “conciliatory tone, and frank, outspoken declaration of loyalty to the whole country, captured the hearts of many heretofore opposed to Mr. LINCOLN…”

The civil war1
The Civil War

  • President Lincoln did not believe that secession was constitutionally legitimate; his view was that in a democracy a minority had an obligation to accept the decision of a majority, or else elections had no real meaning. In that respect, the war was a test of the viability of majority rule — indeed, of democracy itself.

  • He therefore insisted that the Union remained whole whatever the Southern states might say, which justified his decision to send a relief expedition to Fort Sumter in South Carolina whereMaj. Robert Anderson commanded a small North garrison on an island in the middle of Charleston Harbor surrounded now by hostile forces.

Prof lincoln in his great feat of balancing
Prof. Lincoln in His Great Feat of Balancing

In resupplying the garrison, Lincoln risked war. However, if he ordered the troops to surrender the fort, he would be capitulating to the rebels.

Although Lincoln would take no military action until the South started fighting, he made known his intention to resupply the beleaguered Union garrison at Fort Sumter with provisions.

The civil war2
The Civil War

  • Notified that this expedition was on its way, Gov. Francis W. Pickens of South Carolina passed the information on to Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy.

  • Determined that the South should begin its experiment in self-government with a decisive statement, President Davis ordered Brig. Gen P. G. T. Beauregard to demand Major Anderson’s surrender, and if the major refused, the general was to reduce Fort Sumter with gunfire. At a few minutes past 4 a.m. on April 12, 1861, the Beauregard forces opened fire.

  • Lincoln responded by calling for 75,000 troops to suppress the rebels. Four more southern states, including Virginia, birthplace of seven presidents, seceded from the Union.

  • The Civil War had begun.

Great Constitutional Debates: Preservation of the UnionOnce a state joined the Union, did it have the right to leave?

Southern View

Northern View

  • From the Southern view, the Southern states had the right to secede because the United States had not protected the rights of Southerners

  • Lincoln took the position that states could not leave the Union

  • No minority could act to destroy the nation and its government



What was Lincoln’s “paramount object” at the start of the Civil War?

What actions did Lincoln take to achieve this aim?

Were Lincoln’s actions constitutional?

Analyzing documents letter to horace greeley abraham lincoln 1862
Analyzing DocumentsLetter to Horace Greeley, Abraham Lincoln, 1862

“I would save the Union. I would save it the shortest way under the Constitution…If there be those who would not save the Union, unless they could at the same time save slavery, I do not agree with them. If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same time destroy slavery, I do not agree with them. My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union…

I have here stated my purpose according to my view of official duty; and I intend no modification of my oft expressed personal wish that all men everywhere could be free.”


A. Lincoln.

Lincoln s aims and actions
Lincoln’s Aims and Actions

  • From the beginning of the crisis, Lincoln’s goal was to preserve the Union

  • Drawing upon his constitutional powers as Chief Executive and “Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the Several States,” Lincoln took bold executive action to achieve this aim

Lincoln s aims and actions1
Lincoln’s Aims and Actions

Lincoln took the following measures:

  • He called out the state militias, increased the size of the navy, ordered a naval blockade of the South, and approved for military expenditures while Congress was not in session. Congress later gave its approval of these actions.

  • He ordered the arrest of Southern sympathizers in Maryland and Delaware to prevent those key border states from seceding

  • He suspended the writ of Habeas Corpus (the legal right of a detainee to be brought before a court of law to challenge the legitimacy of their imprisonment) in areas not in rebellion. He later won congressional support for this measure.

  • He declared marital law (the imposition of military rule, rather than civilian authority, over designated regions) which led to the arrests of thousands for suspected disloyalty.

  • He censored newspapers and ordered the arrest of publishers and editors.

Downfall of the idol of 76
Downfall of the Idol of ‘76'

A paper effigy of American liberties in Revolutionary War garb is being burned by actions supposedly taken by the Lincoln administration – Emancipation, the Draft, and Suspension of Habeas Corpus. President Lincoln crouches in front, saying: “I’ll warm yer! Your old Constitution won’t do for U.S.!”

Key themes and concepts constitutional principles presidential power during wartime
Key Themes and ConceptsConstitutional Principles: Presidential Power during Wartime

Lincoln’s actions broadened or increased the power of the executive branch. They also raised troubling constitutional questions:

  • Were such actions constitutional?

  • Did Lincoln’s actions fall within the scope of the President’s war powers, or were they tyrannical?

  • Did the fact that some Northerners sympathized with the South justify the limiting of their civil liberties?

  • Did Lincoln establish a precedent for expanded executive authority that later presidents might use in more questionable circumstances?

Key themes and concepts constitutional principles presidential power during wartime1
Key Themes and ConceptsConstitutional Principles: Presidential Power during Wartime

Historically, presidential power increases in times of war

Name three other examples of increased presidential powers during wartime.

Historically, how has the increase of presidential power during wartime been a threat to civil liberties?

Key Themes and ConceptsConstitutional Principles: Presidential Power during WartimeHistorical examples of increased presidential powers during wartime:

Key Themes and ConceptsConstitutional Principles: Presidential Power during WartimeHistorical examples of increased presidential powers during wartime:

Key Themes and ConceptsConstitutional Principles: Presidential Power during WartimeHistorical examples of increased presidential powers during wartime:

Other government policies during the war
Other Government Policies During the War

In order to help finance the Civil War, Congress created a new federal banking system, establishing a national currency. The currency was backed by government bonds and issued by new federal banks.

This was the first centralized banking system since Andrew Jackson vetoed the recharter of the Bank of the United States in 1832

Other government policies during the war1
Other Government Policies During the War

During the war, Congress passed four major acts to facilitate economic growth and promote the development and settlement of the West

  • the Morrill Tariff Act raised tariff rates to increase revenue and protect American manufacturers from foreign competition

  • the Pacific Railway Act of 1862 authorized the building of the transcontinental railroad along a northerly route, financed with land grants and cash loans (subsidies) to railroad companies

  • the Homestead Act of 1862 provided for the settlement of the west by offering parcels of 160 acres of public land free to settlers

  • the Morrill Land Grant Act of 1862 gave public lands to states and territories to found agricultural, mechanical arts, and military science colleges

Other government policies during the war2
Other Government Policies During the War

The National Conscription Act, passed in March of 1863, made all single men aged twenty to forty-five and married men up to thirty-five subject to a draft lottery. In addition, the act allowed drafted men to avoid conscription entirely by supplying someone to take their place or to pay the government a three hundred-dollar exemption fee. Not surprisingly, only the wealthy could afford to buy their way out of the draft.

New york city draft riots
New York City Draft Riots

  • The passage of the National Conscription Act fueled virulent anti-war and anti-Black sentiment in the North, most notably in New York City, where simmering class and racial tensions resulted in the outbreak of Draft Riots

Military strategy
Military Strategy



  • attack the Union army repeatedly, inflicting casualties and wearing it down until it lost the will to fight

  • in a strategy known as cotton diplomacy, the Confederacy hoped to gain aid and diplomatic recognition from Great Britain and France, two nations that depended upon Southern cotton

  • The Union relied on its superior resources, both human and material

  • Union ships blockaded Southern ports, preventing the Confederacy from importing food and military supplies

  • In 1863, General Ulysses S. Grant led victorious Union forces at Vicksburg, Mississippi, winning the North control of the Mississippi river and dividing the Confederate states

  • In 1864, Grant was appointed by Lincoln to command the Union forces. Grant’s strategy of total war was to destroy not only the Confederate army but also all Southern resources that supported the war effort

the dead, the dead, the dead—our dead—or South or North, ours all, (all, all, all, finally dear to me)Walt Whitman

  • The Civil War was the bloodiest war the United States has ever known

  • Some 600,000 Americans died as new military technologies, as well as disease claimed the lives of soldiers and civilians.

  • The worst single day of the war occurred in 1862 at the Battle of Antietam in Maryland, where Southern commander General Robert E. Lee attempted to invade Maryland in an effort to win a decisive battle that would bring foreign recognition and aid. Some 5,000 soldiers died and more than 17,000 were wounded.

  • In 1863, the three-day Battle of Gettysburg in Pennsylvania was the most costly battle of the war, leaving more than 50,000 dead and wounded on both sides. The battle proved to be a decisive Union victory and important turning point in the struggle. With his Confederate forces shattered, General Robert E. Lee would never again regain the offensive.

The end of slavery
The End of Slavery

From on onset of the Civil War, many Republicans and abolitionists (including Horace Greely, publisher of the New York Tribune) criticized Lincoln for his failure to take action against slavery. Lincoln’s carefully measured position on the issue of slavery took into account political, as well as strategic and military considerations. Lincoln’s concerns included:

  • preventing the border states (which permitted slavery) from seceding from the Union

  • the limits on his executive power to interfere with an institution that the constitution protected

  • the prejudices of many northerners who opposed abolition

  • the fear that premature action against slavery could be repealed if the Republicans lost power in the next election

Confiscation acts
Confiscation Acts

  • Early in the war (May of 1861), Union General Benjamin Butler refused to return captured slaves to their Confederate owners, arguing that the slaves “contraband of war’”

  • The power to seize enemy property that was being used to wage to support an armed insurrection against the government became the legal rationale for the first Confiscation Act passed by Congress in August of 1861.

  • Soon after the passage of this act, thousands of runaway slaves made their way into Union military encampments.

  • In July of 1862, Congress passed the second Confiscation Act, freeing slaves on persons engaged in rebellion against the United States. The law also empowered the president to use freed slaves in the Union army in both combat and non-combat roles.

The emancipation proclamation
The Emancipation Proclamation

  • By July of 1862, Lincoln had already decided to draw upon his powers as commander in chief to free all slaves in the states then at war with the United States. Lincoln justified his policy as a “military necessity.”

  • On January 1st, 1863 Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation freed all slaves in those areas still in rebellion against the Union. The Proclamation had largely a symbolic value in that it freed slaves only in those areas under Confederate control. Slavery in the border states was allowed to continue, although Lincoln did encourage the border states to plan for the emancipation of slaves.

The emancipation proclamation1
The Emancipation Proclamation

Although many criticized the Proclamation for freeing slaves only where the government could not enforce the measure, while permitting it where it could act, the Proclamation was of major importance

  • the Proclamation provided the Union cause with a moral and humanitarian objective in the struggle. For the first time Union armies were fighting against slavery, not merely against secession and rebellion

  • The Proclamation gave added weight to the Confiscation Acts, increasing the number of slaves who sought freedom by fleeing to Union lines. Because the act authorized the recruitment of freed slaves as Union soldiers, the Proclamation greatly increased the number of African-Americans serving as soldiers in the Union army.