What should Lincoln better have done in 1861

Piedone

Sergeant
Joined
Oct 8, 2020
Please excuse me for once again flooding the forum with another question -

yet there is a highly interesting debate going on about “what was in Lincoln’s - why couldn’t he just let the South secede” from which I really have learned a lot now - but as always (sigh)... this led me to just another question:

Could or should Lincoln have acted differently during his first weeks in office.
Had he a chance to avoid the war?
What would have been the best way for him to handle the emerging crisis?
 

Philip Leigh

formerly Harvey Johnson
Joined
Oct 22, 2014
Lincoln also held power when he was the 1860 Republican Party Presidential candidate. He could have adopted John C. Breckinridge's Popular Sovereignty plank and thereby effectively limited all (or nearly all) future states from the Western Territories to "free" states. The region was unsuitable for a slave-based agricultural economy. If Popular Sovereignty could not make a "slave" state out of Kansas, it had little hope elsewhere, except maybe Oklahoma.

So, again, cede every demand made by the South. And, if the only goal was to avoid war, leaving it open to popular sovereignty seems like a bad idea. Popular sovereignty worked well for keeping Kansas peaceful.....
Rejecting Breckinridge's Popular Sovereignty resulted in a far bloodier war that adopting the plank could have avoided while simultaneously transforming the Western Territories into "free" states.
 
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jackt62

Captain
Joined
Jul 28, 2015
Location
New York City
Lincoln also held power when he was the 1860 Republican Party Presidential candidate. He could have adopted John C. Breckinridge's Popular Sovereignty plank and thereby effectively limited all (or nearly all) future states from the Western Territories to "free" states. The region was unsuitable for a slave-based agricultural economy. If Popular Sovereignty could not make a "slave" state out of Kansas, it had little hope elsewhere, except maybe Oklahoma.
I don't see how that would have ever been feasible. To Lincoln and the Republican Party, the idea of "popular sovereignty" was anathema, and would have been tantamount to agreeing with Douglas and the Northern Democratic party platform in 1860. And while the region of the western territories was usually thought to be ill-suited for slave agricultural, mining, construction, and service were potential fields that might have exploited slave labor, as was experienced by some Native Americans and Hispanics, particularly in New Mexico.
 

Zack

First Sergeant
Joined
Aug 20, 2017
Location
Los Angeles, California
Rejecting Breckinridge's Popular Sovereignty resulted in a far bloodier war that adopting the plank could have been avoided while simultaneously transforming the Western Territories into "free" states.

If we grant Lincoln power as the President-Elect (fair enough), then even in November 1860 to March 1861 (inauguration) he’d still have to cave to southern demands in order to avert war. Even if the Republican Party was only selfishly and hypocritically anti-slavery, they’d be continuing to allow bullying Southerners representing only a fraction of the population have outsized say in the running of the country.

And, as @jackt62 argued, there were plenty of other fields in which slavery could have been utilized in the west. Plus that is, of course, setting aside the symbolic and political significance of pushing slavery into the western territories whether it’d be widespread there or not.

Arguing that popular sovereignty probably wouldn’t have created more slave states is also not a particularly persuasive argument for a free soil party or candidate. Besides, it’s a compromise with evil, and, as Lincoln argued, the nation could not long persist half slave and half free.
 

Philip Leigh

formerly Harvey Johnson
Joined
Oct 22, 2014
If we grant Lincoln power as the President-Elect (fair enough), then even in November 1860 to March 1861 (inauguration) he’d still have to cave to southern demands in order to avert war.
Why assume he had to wait until November? He could have adopted the Breckinridge Popular Sovereignty plank months earlier.

Nonetheless, as President-elect under a modified platform his position on slavery expansion would be the same as Breckinridge's and Breckinridge carried nine of the soon-to-be Confederate states. The other two would likely have acquiesced.
And, as @jackt62 argued, there were plenty of other fields in which slavery could have been utilized in the west. Plus that is, of course, setting aside the symbolic and political significance of pushing slavery into the western territories whether it’d be widespread there or not.
That's doubtful. Every state that entered the Union after the Civil War, except Oklahoma, joined when blacks composed around one percent or less of its population.
 

Zack

First Sergeant
Joined
Aug 20, 2017
Location
Los Angeles, California
Why assume he had to wait until November? He could have adopted the Breckinridge Popular Sovereignty plank months earlier.

Nonetheless, as President-elect under a modified platform his position on slavery expansion would be the same as Breckinridge's and Breckinridge carried nine of the soon-to-be Confederate states. The other two would likely have acquiesced.

That's doubtful. Every state that entered the Union after the Civil War, except Oklahoma, joined when blacks composed around one percent or less of its population.

You keep ignoring the main point, which is that he’d have to cave to Southern demands to avoid war.

As for popular sovereignty in the territories, it’s all just a hypothetical. And what does the black population after the civil war have to do with popular sovereignty and slavery before the war?
 

Philip Leigh

formerly Harvey Johnson
Joined
Oct 22, 2014
You keep ignoring the main point, which is that he’d have to cave to Southern demands to avoid war.

As for popular sovereignty in the territories, it’s all just a hypothetical. And what does the black population after the civil war have to do with popular sovereignty and slavery before the war?
You keep ignoring the obvious.

Back in 1850 Daniel Webster famously spoke in the Senate on the unsuitability of the Western Territories for slave-based labor. This was a common opinion when Lincoln was nominated. The failure of the exoduster movement to Kansas during Reconstruction validates the point as does the fact that few free blacks moved West after they were freed.Those are facts, not hypotheticals.

There was little chance that the Western Territories (excepting maybe Oklahoma) would have failed to become "free" states if Lincoln had adopted Breckinridge's Popular Sovereignty plank.
 

Zack

First Sergeant
Joined
Aug 20, 2017
Location
Los Angeles, California
You keep ignoring the obvious.

Back in 1850 Daniel Webster famously spoke in the Senate on the unsuitability of the Western Territories for slave-based labor. This was a common opinion when Lincoln was nominated. The failure of the exoduster movement to Kansas during Reconstruction validates the point as does the fact that few free blacks moved West after they were freed.Those are facts, not hypotheticals.

There was little chance that the Western Territories (excepting maybe Oklahoma) would have failed to become "free" states if Lincoln had adopted Breckinridge's Popular Sovereignty plank.

I don’t think it matters if western territories were likely to host large amounts of slave labor. The political representation factor alone plus the paranoia Southerners felt towards the Republican Party would be enough to push them to fight for more slave states. And who’s to say it would stop with the western territories? Where was the endpoint of American expansion? That question wouldn’t be settled for decades and decades. Perhaps the western territories wouldn’t have become slave states, but what about Cuba? We laugh about it now, but a Southern slave empire extending into the Caribbean cannot be ruled out.

You cite the failure of the Exoduster movement to Kansas, but was not Kansas quite literally the first battleground between pro and anti-slavery forces? They didn’t care much then if slavery was really feasible in western territories.

Furthermore, once the South has extracted this concession, what would be the next one? A slavery amendment? Abolition of the Republican Party? Again, these may sound laughable now, but until a line in the sand was drawn we don’t know how far Southern planters would have gone to protect slavery.

All of this suggests that adopting popular sovereignty - already a non-starter for free soil Republicans hoping to stop the expansion of slavery - was also just generally a bad idea.
 
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Zack

First Sergeant
Joined
Aug 20, 2017
Location
Los Angeles, California
You keep ignoring the obvious.

Back in 1850 Daniel Webster famously spoke in the Senate on the unsuitability of the Western Territories for slave-based labor. This was a common opinion when Lincoln was nominated. The failure of the exoduster movement to Kansas during Reconstruction validates the point as does the fact that few free blacks moved West after they were freed.Those are facts, not hypotheticals.

There was little chance that the Western Territories (excepting maybe Oklahoma) would have failed to become "free" states if Lincoln had adopted Breckinridge's Popular Sovereignty plank.
I don’t think it matters if western territories were likely to host large amounts of slave labor. The political representation factor alone plus the paranoia Southerners felt towards the Republican Party would be enough to push them to fight for more slave states. And who’s to say it would stop with the western territories? Where was the endpoint of American expansion? That question wouldn’t be settled for decades and decades. Perhaps the western territories wouldn’t have become slave states, but what about Cuba? We laugh about it now, but a Southern slave empire extending into the Caribbean cannot be ruled out.

You cite the failure of the Exoduster movement to Kansas, but was not Kansas quite literally the first battleground between pro and anti-slavery forces? They didn’t care much then if slavery was really feasible in western territories.

Furthermore, once the South has extracted this concession, what would be the next one? A slavery amendment? Abolition of the Republican Party? Again, these may sound laughable now, but until a line in the sand was drawn we don’t know how far Southern planters would have gone to protect slavery.

All of this suggests that adopting popular sovereignty - already a non-starter for free soil Republicans hoping to stop the expansion of slavery - was also just generally a risky idea.

Warren Wilkes, a South Carolinian who led pro-slavery Southern forces in Kansas, stated: "Kansas is . . . the turning-point in the destinies of slavery and abolitionism. If the South triumphs, abolitionism will be defeated and shorn of its power for all time. if she is defeated, abolitionism will grow more insolent and aggressive, until the utter ruin of the South is consummated. If the South secures Kansas, she will extend slavery into all territory south of the fortieth parallel of north latitude, to the Rio Grande; and this, of course, will secure for her pent-up institution of slavery an ample outlet, and restore her power in Congress. If the North secures Kansas, the power of the South in Congress will be gradually diminished, and the slave population will become valueless. All depends upon the action of the present moment."

Missouri Senator Stephen Atchison stated, "to those who have qualms of conscience as to violating laws, state or national, I say the time has come when such impositions must be disregarded, since your rights and property are in danger. And I advise you, one and all, to enter every election district in Kansas . . . and vote at the point of the bowie-knife and revolver."

It seems clear from these quotes that popular sovereignty out west was about more than just western territories being well-suited to slave labor. There were long-term political and symbolic consequences. And widespread adoption of popular sovereignty for every Western territory would likely have turned every Western territory into a violent battleground, if for no other reason than Congressional representation.

Quotes Source:
John Brown, Abolitionist: The Man Who Killed Slavery, Sparked the Civil War, and Seeded Civil Rights by David S. Reynolds
Pages 140 and 141
 

Zack

First Sergeant
Joined
Aug 20, 2017
Location
Los Angeles, California
as does the fact that few free blacks moved West after they were freed.

I'm not sure the point you're trying to make here. What does Freedpeople moving or not moving west have to do with slavery and popular sovereignty? What does it have to do with planters or businessmen dragging slaves out west against their will?

There are a thousand and one factors that Freedpeople weighed in deciding whether to stay put or go west. These ranged from financial (cost of the trip) to familial (it would be harder to reconstruct broken families if they moved far from their homes).
 

wausaubob

Colonel
Joined
Apr 4, 2017
Location
Denver, CO
Lincoln also held power when he was the 1860 Republican Party Presidential candidate. He could have adopted John C. Breckinridge's Popular Sovereignty plank and thereby effectively limited all (or nearly all) future states from the Western Territories to "free" states. The region was unsuitable for a slave-based agricultural economy. If Popular Sovereignty could not make a "slave" state out of Kansas, it had little hope elsewhere, except maybe Oklahoma.
But he didn't and he won the election. And he didn't concede the issue in the face of secession for compelling reasons too obvious to need repetition. The Republican governors sustained that and the young men turned out to fill up the armies and navy. The rhetorical trick is to argue as if Lincoln had any choice. Lincoln could conform to northern public opinion, or be swept aside by someone who would so conform.
From the war that happened, it appears the public of adult men had quite enough of the Democrats and southern Democrats running the country and also their threats.
 

Philip Leigh

formerly Harvey Johnson
Joined
Oct 22, 2014
Warren Wilkes, a South Carolinian who led pro-slavery Southern forces in Kansas, stated: "Kansas is . . . the turning-point in the destinies of slavery and abolitionism. If the South triumphs, abolitionism will be defeated and shorn of its power for all time. if she is defeated, abolitionism will grow more insolent and aggressive, until the utter ruin of the South is consummated. If the South secures Kansas, she will extend slavery into all territory south of the fortieth parallel of north latitude, to the Rio Grande; and this, of course, will secure for her pent-up institution of slavery an ample outlet, and restore her power in Congress. If the North secures Kansas, the power of the South in Congress will be gradually diminished, and the slave population will become valueless. All depends upon the action of the present moment."
The above was written before Kansas voted down the Lecompton (Slave) Constitution by a margin of 11-to-2 (11,300 to 1,788) in August, 1858 thereby showing Wilkes' opinion to be badly wrong.

In 1860 Lincoln had the benefit of these results, which showed small chance of anything North of Kansas becoming a "slave" state. He could have factored that into his campaign, unless he wanted to start a War Between the States.

Missouri Senator Stephen Atchison stated, "to those who have qualms of conscience as to violating laws, state or national, I say the time has come when such impositions must be disregarded, since your rights and property are in danger. And I advise you, one and all, to enter every election district in Kansas . . . and vote at the point of the bowie-knife and revolver."

Atchison was angered because the natural migration to Kansas was through Missouri, but New Englanders gave money and weapons to "free" state residents to resettle in Kansas. Again, Atchison's remarks were also before the 11-to-2 vote against the slave constitution. Lincoln knew this.

Finally, the natural migration from any state North of Kansas was through Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin, all free states.
 

Zack

First Sergeant
Joined
Aug 20, 2017
Location
Los Angeles, California
The above was written before Kansas voted down the Lecompton (Slave) Constitution by a margin of 11-to-2 (11,300 to 1,788) in August, 1858 thereby showing Wilkes' opinion to be badly wrong.

In 1860 Lincoln had the benefit these results, which showed there was little chance of anything North of Kansas becoming a "slave" state. He could have easily factored that into his campaign, unless he wanted to start a War Between the States.



Atchison was angered because the natural migration to Kansas was through Missouri, but New Englanders gave money and weapons to residents from their region to resettle in Kansas. Again, Atchison's remarks were also before the 11-to-2 vote against the slave constitution. Again, Lincoln knew this.

Moreover, the natural migration from any state North of Kansas would be through Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin, all free states.

You miss my point. Does this sound like the rhetoric of people who are going to give up the fight because they got voted down? Or because slavery wouldn’t thrive in western territories?

The point I’m trying to make with both these quotes is that there is more to the popular sovereignty question than whether or not it would result in slaveholding states in the western territories. Both these speakers saw an existential fight. You don’t compromise when your existence is at stake.

So the only way to satisfy them would be to give them what they want.

Lincoln could, as you suggest, of course do that.

But I’m arguing that would be a bad long term idea. Popular sovereignty would have settled the slave/free question you say? But wasn’t the Missouri Compromise supposed to have already done that? Popular sovereignty only existed as an effort to blow up the Missouri Compromise deal. So it’s only a matter of time before popular sovereignty is blown up. Why? Because - as these quotes show - it was an existential struggle about far more than just whether or not slavery would thrive out west.
 

Jantzen64

Corporal
Joined
Aug 10, 2019
I’m not an expert on Virginia’s secession, but I imagine there’s two causes:
1) why they were considering secession in the first place (slavery)
2) what pushed them over the edge (75k troop call up; preclusion of opportunity to compromise on the slavery issue)

And it seems a lot of the debate regarding why Virginia seceded hinges on how long of a view is taken.
It's really interesting to go back to January/February 1861 and see how the Secession Convention got organized. At the start, the Legislature passed a series of resolutions which (I contend) set forth the how Virginia was trying to channel the Lincoln Administration. The resolutions are discussed at length in the thread, and start with the premise that secession is a matter of right and that any effort by Lincoln to coerce reunion would cause Virginia to secede as well. But the resolutions continue and explicitly say that if a compromise on the slavery issue is not reached, it was "inevitable" that Virginia would secede as well. The resolutions go further and lay out what that "compromise" would consist of and it is essentially a rejection of the Republican platform (allowing slavery in the territories, repeal of personal liberty laws, slavery allowed in DC etc).

The debates in the secession convention revolved around one faction that wanted immediate secession, and another faction that said, let's give Lincoln time to accept our "compromise" (because he hasn't taken any overt action against the Cotton States). Any vote not to secede was NOT a signal of acceptance of the Lincoln Administration and a pledge of loyalty to the Union - it was always couched with the view/expectation that Lincoln would buckle under and accept the compromise. With the firing on Sumter and Lincoln's call for troops, it was clear that Virginia could no longer ride the fence and had to pick a side. They picked the side which the earlier resolutions said they were in line with.
 

wausaubob

Colonel
Joined
Apr 4, 2017
Location
Denver, CO
It's really interesting to go back to January/February 1861 and see how the Secession Convention got organized. At the start, the Legislature passed a series of resolutions which (I contend) set forth the how Virginia was trying to channel the Lincoln Administration. The resolutions are discussed at length in the thread, and start with the premise that secession is a matter of right and that any effort by Lincoln to coerce reunion would cause Virginia to secede as well. But the resolutions continue and explicitly say that if a compromise on the slavery issue is not reached, it was "inevitable" that Virginia would secede as well. The resolutions go further and lay out what that "compromise" would consist of and it is essentially a rejection of the Republican platform (allowing slavery in the territories, repeal of personal liberty laws, slavery allowed in DC etc).

The debates in the secession convention revolved around one faction that wanted immediate secession, and another faction that said, let's give Lincoln time to accept our "compromise" (because he hasn't taken any overt action against the Cotton States). Any vote not to secede was NOT a signal of acceptance of the Lincoln Administration and a pledge of loyalty to the Union - it was always couched with the view/expectation that Lincoln would buckle under and accept the compromise. With the firing on Sumter and Lincoln's call for troops, it was clear that Virginia could no longer ride the fence and had to pick a side. They picked the side which the earlier resolutions said they were in line with.
All of which occurs in the context of there being about 400K enslaved people in Virginia. They were most in central Virginia and in the southern tobacco growing regions. Slavery in Virginia was different. The enslaved people there had American ancestors going back at least 3 generations, and in some cases much longer. The enslaved people were very Americanized. Philadelphia was near. Slavery in DC was almost certain to end under a Republican President. Had the Virginian men not decided to secede, slavery in Virginia was probably going to erode very quickly.
 

LondonLincoln

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May 12, 2020
Location
London England
I apologize in advance if this amounts to thread-jacking (and will accept any guidance from the mods on this), and I do understand that you are asking the question in earnest, but I don't believe that questions like these - made in isolation - are conducive to fully understanding the circumstances that our country faced during these crucial months. To be clear, it is appropriate to assess Lincoln's statecraft - or lack thereof - during these months. But I think exploring this question is only useful when examining the other side of the coin, so to speak. What could leaders in the South (Confederacy or the Confederacy-leaning states) done better or differently to avert the situation? Rarely do I see this side of the question get raised.

In November 1860, Lincoln won the election. No allegations of "rigged system" or fraudulent result (except perhaps that Lincoln was not even on most ballots in the South). Yet, when did leaders of the South ever indicate that they accepted the results of that election and would try to work within the system as the minority party? Lincoln had made it clear that he was not going to challenge slavery within each individual state. Yet, the Cotton States seceded before Lincoln was even inaugurated. What could they have done differently? Could they have pledged their loyal support to Lincoln and then tried to work out compromises about slavery in the territories (or employed delaying tactics until the next election)? Could they have taken note that most of Europe had abolished slavery and so taken the lead on proposing some pathway for abolition in the States (e.g., compensated emancipation)? Could they have made some form of motion within Congress for multilateral secession - an agreed parting of the ways among the States? Of course they could have, but didn't.

Respectfully, questions like the one you pose (and again, I understand you are raising it in good faith) seem to me to hold Lincoln to a higher standard than Southern leaders; i.e., it's okay for Southern leaders to disregard the election and attempt to form their own country, while Lincoln - who just won the election based on a clearly articulated platform - somehow has to act like he lost and compromise on that platform as a condition of peace, unity, etc., and without any guarantee that South will engage as a loyal minority? This seems to me to be a "heads I win, tails you lose type of scenario." So, while there may be some things he could have/should have done better, let's not forget that Lincoln was reacting to conscious decision by at least the Cotton States to separate from the Union on the basis of losing a democratically-held election.
 

Piedone

Sergeant
Joined
Oct 8, 2020
How was the South modernized by military force. Post 1865 the amount of federal troops in the South was miniscule. The white racist paramilitaries didn't even bother the few federal troops and visa versa for the most part. By 1876 the federal troops were gone.
Leftyhunter
Well...this should be obvious...the whole conflict changed direction in 1863 and abolition became an important aim. But - as I said - it is always hard to try to change a society without broader consent of it‘s members....
 

leftyhunter

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
May 27, 2011
Location
los angeles ca
Well...this should be obvious...the whole conflict changed direction in 1863 and abolition became an important aim. But - as I said - it is always hard to try to change a society without broader consent of it‘s members....
My point was the ACW didn't modernize the American South. Modernizations would come many decades later.
Leftyhunter
 
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