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Beginnings of the Civil War: 1858–1861



Several major national events took place in the three years preceding the outbreak of the American Civil War. The Lincoln–Douglas debates, although spawned by a state senate race, gained national attention because of the issue of slavery throughout the country. Because of new technologies such as the telegraph and the railroad, Americans all over the country could read published transcripts of the debates. The debates strengthened the sectional divide in America, and this was reflected in the divisive 1860 presidential campaign. The outcome of the election caused an unprecedented national crisis—the secession of Southern states from the Union and the formation of the Confederacy. In April 1861 the South attacked Fort Sumter in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina. This act marked the beginning of the Civil War.

At A Glance

  • In seven debates, Illinois senatorial candidates Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas debated the national issue of slavery and its extension into the Western territories.
  • In 1860 four political parties with four different platforms each ran presidential and vice-presidential candidates.
  • Abraham Lincoln won a majority of the total number of electoral votes and the national popular vote in the presidential election of 1860.
  • Following Lincoln's election in 1860, 11 Southern states quickly seceded from the Union.
  • In 1861 Southern states formed the nation known as the Confederate States of America.
  • The Confederacy's attack on Fort Sumter in April 1861 marked the beginning of the Civil War.