The Election of 1860
Slavery and its expansion into the western territories divided the nation. Southern slaveholders thought that banning slavery in the territories was the first step to abolishing it everywhere. Many northerners believed that if slavery expanded westward it was just a matter of time before it would move back into the North. This debate fractured the political parties into regional factions.
Republican Abraham Lincoln won the election with less than 40 percent of the popular vote and without winning one southern state. News of his victory prompted a secession movement across the South.
By the time Lincoln took the oath of office, seven southern states had formed the Confederate States of America. Four others soon joined. On April 12, 1861, Confederate forces bombarded Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina, and Lincoln responded by calling for 75,000 new volunteers for the Union army. Both North and South were confident they could easily win the struggle. Each misjudged the other’s determination and tragically underestimated the horrors of the war ahead. Neither predicted that African Americans would transform this war into a battle for freedom.