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Clarifications: Each clarification provides an explanation of an indicator/objective to help teachers better understand the skills and/or concepts.

Standard 5.0 History

Topic C. Conflict between Ideas and Institutions

Indicator 5. Analyze factors affecting the outcome of the Civil War

Objective c. Explain why the 1860 election led to the secession of the southern states


Since 1820, the question of slavery had fueled steadily increasing sectional tensions. The principal issue was whether slavery would be allowed in the new western territories. During the late 1850s, the Dred Scott decision and John Brown’s raid had increased agitation further. Southerners were talking of secession.

The issue of slavery dominated the election of 1860. Differing stances on slavery split the Democratic party into a Northern and a Southern wing. The Northern Democratic candidate, Stephen Douglas, promoted popular sovereignty as the means of determining where slavery would exist in the western territories. The Southern Democrat, John Breckinridge, supported a federal slave code that protected slavery everywhere in the territories. The Republican, Abraham Lincoln, vowed to protect slavery where it existed but exclude it from the territories. Constitutional Union candidate John Bell ignored the issue of slavery altogether, running on a weak platform supporting the Union but offering no real strategy for preserving it.

Voting patterns from the election revealed rigid sectional divisions. Abraham Lincoln swept the North. Breckinridge swept the South. Bell took most of the border states, and Douglas won only Missouri and part of New Jersey’s electoral votes. Because the North had a much larger population than the South, the North had a larger representation in the electoral college. By winning every Northern state, Abraham Lincoln won the presidency, even though his name did not appear on most Southern ballots.

Southerners were outraged. Lincoln’s pledge to ban slavery from the territories meant that the South’s power would continue to erode as more free states entered the Union. Southerners feared that Lincoln and the Republicans would not protect Southern rights and would work to gradually abolish slavery altogether. In December 1860, South Carolina seceded, and, after an attempt at compromise failed, the other Southern states followed suit during the winter and spring of 1861. The Union had been broken.

Resources for Objective 5.C.5.c:
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