Events Leading up to the American Civil War for Kids - 11 Southern States Secede from the Union Illustration

American Civil War for Kids - 11 Southern States Secede from the Union

 Back in Colonial America, before New York, Rhode Island, and Virginia would sign the Constitution in 1787, they made it clear that they reserved the right to secession. Succession had always been understood to be a legal option for any state. All the states realized their power was greater together than it was separately, especially when it came to blocking foreign aggression. But for decades, the Southern slave states had maintained their right to keep slavery legal by threatening to secede from the Union if that right was taken away. The South had threatened so many times that most Northern politicians did not believe the threat was real. They thought the South was bluffing. 

Lincoln did not believe the South would secede either. He saw no reason for them to secede. He had said many times during his campaign that he would not abolish slavery if he was elected. That was something Congress had to accomplish, by adding an Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. And Congress was split on the question of slavery. But Southern states were worried. Lincoln was a Republican. Northern abolitionists were Republicans, and Northern abolitionists had been calling Southerners violent thugs and morally bankrupt for years because of slavery. Some abolitionists spoke of the North seceding from the South.

In November 1860, Lincoln was elected president. In December 1860, South Carolina seceded from the Union. The people of South Carolina were delighted. Within weeks, other Southern states also seceded from the Union. These states included Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. Representatives of the seceded states formed a new country, the Confederate States of America. Individual states in the Confederacy kept states rights but gave their loyalty and allegiance to this new country. Montgomery, Alabama was selected to be the capital of the Confederate States of America. A constitution was written, a president elected. They set about the business of running their own country. Southerners considered this step somewhat like an overdue divorce.

In March 1861, Lincoln gave his first inaugural speech and tried to invite states who had already seceded back into the Union. His speech began with, "I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the states where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so." He went on to say, "A disruption of the federal Union, heretofore only menaced, is now formidably attempted.....Will you risk the commission of so fearful a mistake?"

Rather than an olive branch, some Southerners interpreted Lincoln's speech as a threat of war. Others found his invitation immaterial. The South had finally taken steps to become independent. They did not wish to give up this independence. They wanted to protect their way of life.

Between April and June, 4 more Southern states did secede - the states of Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Tennessee. That brought the total to 11 states who had seceded from the Union, and were now part of a new country, the Confederate States of America.

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Nov 1860 Election for President

April 1861, Shots fired on Fort Sumter: the Civil War begins

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