The Coming of the American Civil War The Constitution established a federal government, one that divided power between the federal government and the states. In this federal system it was not always clear where federal authority and states rights should be divided.
In the 1830s South Carolina threatened to secede (declare independence from the national government) because of tariffs that were passed by Congress. Andrew Jackson threatened military action and the state backed down, but the idea that a state could leave the union remained.
The issue of slavery and states rights raised its head each time the country expanded. The same question had to be answered. Would the new territory be slave or free? In 1820 Missouri applied as a slave state. A compromise, called the Missouri Compromise allowed this only when Maine entered as a free state and a line was drawn across the country at the 36’ 30’ parallel with slavery o.k. below but not above the line. In 1849, California, most of which is below the line, applied as a free state. Another compromise, the Compromise of 1850averted Civil War.
In 1860, Abraham Lincoln was elected president. Lincoln was a the first Republican president. His party called for no expansion of slavery.
Southerners felt threatened by Lincoln’s election. 11 states seceded from the union and established the Confederate States on America, under the leadership of Jefferson Davis.
Lincoln told the South that he would allow them to keep their slaves but that they could not secede without a fight. He left the choice in their hands. On April 12, 1861 Southerners fired on Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina, and the Civil War began.
The war lasted from 1861 to 1865. 600,000 Americans died. The question of federal authority was settled for the time being. The United States would continue to be united.