On November 6, 1860 Abraham Lincoln was elected President of the United States -- an event that outraged southern states. The Republican party had run on an anti-slavery platform, and many southerners felt that there was no longer a place for them in the Union. On December 20, 1860, South Carolina seceded. By Febrary 1, 1861, six more states -- Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas -- had split from the Union.
The seceded states created the Confederate States of America and elected Jefferson Davis, a Mississippi Senator, as their provisional president. In his inaugural address, delivered on March 4, 1861, Lincoln proclaimed that it was his duty to maintain the Union. He also declared that he had no intention of ending slavery where it existed, or of repealing the Fugitive Slave Law -- a position that horrified African Americans and their white allies. Lincoln's statement, however, did not satisfy the Confederacy, and on April 12 they attacked Fort Sumter, a federal stronghold in Charleston, South Carolina. Federal troops returned the fire.
The Civil War had begun. Immediately following the attack, four more states -- Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Tennessee -- severed their ties with the Union. To retain the loyalty of the remaining border states -- Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri -- President Lincoln insisted that the war was not about slavery or black rights; it was a war to preserve the Union.
By 1862, Lincoln was considering emancipation as a necessary step toward winning the war. The South was using enslaved people to aid the war effort. Black men and women were forced to build fortifications, work as blacksmiths, nurses, boatmen, and laundresses, and to work in factories, hospitals, and armories. In the meantime, the North was refusing to accept the services of black volunteers and freed slaves, the very people who most wanted to defeat the slaveholders. In addition, several governments in Europe were considering recognizing the Confederacy and intervening against the Union. If Lincoln declared this a war to free the slaves, European public opinion would overwhelmingly back the North.
On July 22, 1862, Lincoln showed a draft of the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation to his cabinet. It proposed to emancipate the slaves in all rebel areas on January 1, 1863. Secretary of State William H. Seward agreed with the proposal, but cautioned Lincoln to wait until the Union had a major victory before formally issuing the proclamation. He issued the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation on September 22. The proclamation warned the Confederate states to surrender by January 1, 1863, or their slaves would be freed.
Despite opposition the president remained firm. On January 1, 1863, he issued the final Emancipation Proclamation. With it he officially freed all slaves within the states or parts of states that were in rebellion and not in Union hands. This left one million slaves in Union territory still in bondage.
The purpose of the Civil War had now changed. The North was not only fighting to preserve the Union, it was fighting to end slavery.
On April 18, 1865, the Civil War ended with the surrender of the Confederate army. 617,000 Americans had died in the war, approximately the same number as in all of America's other wars combined. Thousands had been injured. The southern landscape was devastated. A new chapter in American history opened as the Thirteenth Amendment, passed in January of 1865, was implemented. It abolished slavery in the United States, and now, with the end of the war, four million African Americans were free. Men and women -- black and white and in the North and South -- now began the work of rebuilding the shattered union and of creating a new social order. This period would be called Reconstruction. It would hold many promises and many tragic disappointments.