1860 One Hundred And Twenty-five Years Ago

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The slavery question had been a focus of raging debate for years, but during the 1860 presidential election it blinded people to all other concerns. The Democratic party split over it into Northern and Southern factions; the Constitutional Union party was formed with the object of reaching a compromise on the issue; and, by thus weakening the opposition, the slavery question propelled the candidate of a recently established Northern party into the White House. On November 4 Abraham Lincoln was elected the first Republican President, winning the contest with only 40 percent of the popular vote but a strong majority in the Electoral College.

The South took alarm. Lincoln’s position on slavery was moderate, but by advocating a higher tariff, railroad subsidies, and free farms in the West, he posed a threat to the South’s economic stability and political interests. On December 20, South Carolina seceded from the Union, and shortly after, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, and Texas followed suit. At that point no one thought it too late to settle the matter peacefully, and Congress spent the following winter struggling to hammer out a compromise.

• November 12: A sharp drop in prices occurs in the New York financial market.