Why did the Southern states secede in 1861?

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The succession of the Southern States had been brewing for many years; this was due to fundamental differences in agriculture and resultant adoption of slavery in the South. From early days, the thirteen states had grown up separately, and each had their own culture and beliefs, which were often incompatible with those held in other states. The geographical and cultural differences between north and south would manifest themselves at regular and alarming intervals throughout the hundred years following the drafting of the constitution. Tension increased during the 1850s, over the right to hold slaves in new territories. The Wilmot Proviso of 1846, roused bitter hostilities, and violent debate turned to physical violence during the period of 'Bleeding Kansas'. The election of Lincoln, who the South perceived to be an abolitionist, in 1860, was the final straw, and the secession of seven Southern states followed soon after.

The North and South were very different places. The climate of the North was similar to that of England, so the land was suitable for a variety of uses. The hot Southern climate was perfect for growing cotton, which was a hugely lucrative business at this time. Following the invention of Eli Whitney's Cotton Gin, the South became increasingly dependent on this crop, and an entire society grew out of it. The society was one of wealthy planters, controlling politics and society of the day. Slaves labored in the fields, usually only a handful per plantation, though larger farms were occasionally seen. There were also poor white farmers who scraped out a living from the land. This contrasted sharply with Northern society, where industrialization flourished, creating wealthy entrepreneurs and employing cheap immigrant labour. Given the localized nature of media, and difficulties of transport two cultures grew up in the same nation being very different.

During the presidential election of 1860, Southern leaders told the South to secede from the Union if Lincoln were to win the election because they believed Lincoln was an abolitionist. Lincoln was an Abolitionist but not because he cared about slavery but to try and save the Union. This is clearly evident in his letter to Horace Greeley. Here is an quote from the letter: "My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that. What I do about slavery and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union;." (pg. 809) This clearly shows that Lincoln was only in it for one thing but still an Abolitionist. Abolitionists were people who worked to get rid of slavery. The South was afraid that Lincoln would outlaw slavery while in office. This would have created a problem for the South since its way of life depended on slaves. It would have prevented the South from thriving. Southern farmers would be forced to pay their former slaves in return for working on the farms. Plantation owners would make less money since most of the people working on the plantations would have to be paid. In other words, the main reason the Southern states seceded from the Union was to escape what they felt was a threat to their right to own slaves.

The secession of the southern states would cause the bloodiest war in American history. There were less American men killed in the world wars than there was in the civil war which has had a long lasting effect on the nation. There were many factors why they did secede which are still discussed amongst historians to this present day. Slavery has generally been held to have been the major factor, but not the single cause. Other factors such as state sovereignty, political and economic differences and 'pressure groups' such as the Abolitionists and southern...