The steps by which the new party of enthusiasm made its deal with the body of capital which was not at one with Belmont and the Democrats are not essential to the present narrative. Two facts suffice. In 1857 a great collapse in American business--"the panic of fifty-seven"--led the commercial world to turn to the party in power for some scheme of redress. But their very principles, among which was non-intervention in business, made the Democrats feeble doctors for such a need, and they evaded the situation. The Republicans, with their insistence on positivism in government, had therefore an opportunity to make a new application of the doctrine of governmental aid to business. In the spring of 1860, the Republican House of Representatives passed the Morrill tariff bill, consideration of which was postponed by the Democratic Senate. But it served its purpose: it was a Republican manifesto. The Republicans felt that this bill, together with their party platform, gave the necessary guarantee to the Pennsylvania manufacturers, and they therefore entered the campaign confident they would carry Pennsylvania nor was their confidence misplaced.
The campaign was characterized by three things: by an ominous quiet coupled with great intensity of feeling; by the organization of huge party societies in military form--"Wide-awakes" for Lincoln, numbering 400,000, and "Minute Men" for Breckenridge, with a membership chiefly Southern; and by the perfect frankness, in all parts of the South, of threats of secession in case the Republicans won.
In none of the States which eventually seceded were any votes cast for Lincoln, with the exception of a small number in Virginia. In almost all the other Southern States and in the slave-holding border States, all the other candidates made respectable showings. In Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky, Bell led. But everywhere else in the other slave-holding States Breckinridge led, excepting in Missouri where Douglas won by a few hundred. Every free State except New Jersey went for Lincoln. And yet he did not have a majority of the popular vote, which stood: Lincoln, 1,866,459; Douglas, 1,376,957; Breckinridge, 849,781; Bell, 588,879*. The majority against Lincoln was nearly a million. The distribution of the votes was such that Lincoln had in the Electoral College, 180 electors; Breckinridge, 72; Bell, 39; Douglas, 12. In neither House of Congress did the Republicans have a majority.
*The figures of the popular vote are variously given by different compilers. These are taken from Stanwood, "A History of the Presidency".
In tracing American history from 1854 to 1860 we cannot fail to observe that it reduces itself chiefly to a problem in that science which politicians understand so well--applied psychology. Definite types of men moulded by the conditions of those days are the determining factors--not the slavery question in itself; not, primarily, economic forces; not a theory of government, nor a clash of theories; not any one thing; but the fluid, changeful forces of human nature, battling with circumstances and expressing themselves in the fashion of men's minds. To say this is to acknowledge the fatefulness of sheer feeling. Davis described the situation exactly when he said, in 1860, "A sectional hostility has been substituted for a general fraternity." To his own question, "Where is the remedy?" he gave the answer, "In the hearts of the people." There, after all, is the conclusion of the whole matter. The strife between North and South had ceased to be a thing of the head; it had become a thing of the heart. Granted the emotions of 1860, the way in which our country staggered into war has all the terrible fascination of a tragedy on the theme of fate.
That a secession movement would begin somewhere in the South before the end of 1860 was a foregone conclusion. South Carolina was the logical place, and in South Carolina the inevitable occurred. The presidential election was quickly followed by an election of delegates, on the 6th of December, to consider in convention the relations of the State with the Union. The arguments before the Convention were familiar and had been advocated since 1851. The leaders of the disunionists were the same who had led the unsuccessful movement of ten years before. The central figure was Rhett, who never for a moment had wavered. Consumed his life long by the one idea of the independence of South Carolina, that stern enthusiast pressed on to a triumphant conclusion. The powers which had defeated him in 1851 were now either silent or converted, so that there was practically no opposition. In a burst of passionate zeal the independence of South Carolina was proclaimed on December 20, 1860, by an ordinance of secession.
Simultaneously, by one of those dramatic coincidences which make history stranger than fiction, Lincoln took a step which supplemented this action and established its tragic significance. What that step was will appear in a moment.
Even before the secession began, various types of men in politics had begun to do each after his kind. Those whom destiny drove first into a corner were the lovers of political evasion. The issue was forced upon them by the instantaneous demand of the people of South Carolina for possession of forts in Charleston Harbor which were controlled by the Federal Government. Anticipating such a demand, Major Robert Anderson, the commandant at Charleston, had written to Buchanan on the 23d of November that "Fort Sumter and Castle Pinckney must be garrisoned immediately, if the Government determines to keep command of this harbor."