The only way a civil war could be prevented was to continue to elect pro-Southern presidents until the South decided to voluntarily gave up slavery. Even so a civil war is likely–passions ran hot over the admission of new states (see Bleedin’ Kansas).
The only way to have prevented the CW was to give in to everything the South wanted. If the South could not have it their way, by 1860 they were determined to leave the Union. This was evidenced by the Democratic convention held in SC in April of 1860. There were a group of extremists, led by William L. Yancey, who were determined to break up the Democratic Party if they could not get an ironclad guarantee of slavery in the territories in the Democratic platform. They failed and fifty delegates, representing eight southern states, walked out of the Democratic convention, splitting the Democratic party for good. This enabled the Republicans to put a man in the White House in 1860, which in turn set into motion the secession movement.
In 1860 the anti-Lincoln vote was split between three different rival candidates. A solid “anyone but Lincoln” coalition might have won the election and stalled things for a few more years, and perhaps Buchanan might have used what influence he had to help bring this about. But at this point a lot of people were tired of coddling the pro-slavery factions. Kansas was a national scandal, and John Brown- by any objective standard a fanatic, terrorist, would-be revolutionary- was lionized as a martyr by many in the north. Very little short of guaranteeing slavery as the law of the land throughout the length and breadth of the Union would have satisfied tha pro-slavery camp, and the north was getting tired of one-sided “compromises”. It was a measure of just how tired that Lincoln could get elected on a platform of explicitly calling for banning the further extension of slavery; something that no candidate would ever have dared suggest just a few years before.
By the time Lincoln took office, secession was a fact of life. But the one step he could have taken that he did not was to exempt the still-loyal Southern states from the army being raised to combat secession. It was his call for troops that pushed the balance in North Carolina’s General Assembly from a slim pro-Union majority to an equally slim pro-secession one, and IIRC the same was true in Tennessee. Contemplate a Confederacy in which Virginia was cut off from the other Confederate states by a band of 200 miles of pro-Union territory, with the big manufacturing centers of the South within 100 miles of the border, and you have a very different Civil War.
Well, Virginia wouldn’t have been a confederate state in your scenario either. Before Lincoln called for troops, the Virginia secession vote was 80-45 against, so that’s almost 2/3 of the delegates voting against secession. The secession didn’t come until April 17th, after the call for troops.
I don’t think just exempting the border states would have done it. Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas were going to remain loyal so long as the government didn’t take any action against the secessionists. Troops being sent through those states to put down the rebellion would have been seen as a provocation and probably would have been enough to trigger resistance and secession, in my opinion.
There’s a huge difference between averting secession and averting Civil War, you know.
By the time Abraham Lincoln took office, numerous Southern states had seceded. There was nothing he could do to un-secede them. But a war was not inevitable. Most Northerners saw little reason to fight to hold on to the South. Most thought either, “Fare thee well, errant sisters” or “Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.”
“The North” as an entity wasn’t willing to fight to the bitter end to preserve the Union. Abraham Lincoln was.
That I was not aware of, Captain; thanks for the info. The Tarheel-centric histories I read had N.C. staying loyal for a short time after Virginia had passed secession.
And, of course, marching through the border states was not the only way to reach the secessionist states – the Union had a Navy and numerous sailing ships; the South, by and large, had only a fraction. (Visualize Sherman’s March from the Sea. :))
It did, sort of. Virginia drafted its secession ordinance on April 17, 1861, and the referendum passed on May 23rd. The North Carolina legislature voted that counties should elect delegates to a secession convention on May 1, 1861, and that convention met on May 20th and passed a secession ordinance.
A good book about all this is Daniel Croft’s “Reluctant Confederates: Upper South Unionists in the Secession Crisis”, which looks at Unionism in Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee, and the competing loyalties and pressures on Unionists of the three states.
The north could have stayed within their constitutionally prescribed powers that were delegated to them.
Or they could have passed revenue measures which affected all of the states equally instead of passing a cotton tariff which landed on the back of the south most heavily.
And, as a third option, they could have avoided the war by letting the states withdraw their approval of the constitution, peacefully secede, and start their own course just as the northern states had done in 1776.
Slavery was going to be a problem at some point so avoiding the civil war meant abolishing slavery peacefully. Up until the 1820’s and 30’s there were still some southerners who saw slavery as a problem that needed to be resolved rather than a blessing that needed to be defended, so there was at least the potential for a peaceful abolition program.
And Jackson was a strong-willed President who would have been willing to enforce emancipation if needed and was pro-southern enough that his actions wouldn’t be seen as a northern attack against the south.
But Jackson never showed any interest in abolition so it was a dead end. Within a few years, southern attitudes had hardened into a position that there could be no compromise in the defense of slavery. It became a question of when, not if, the crisis would occur.