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Lincoln and the Decision for WarThe Northern Response to Secession$
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Russell McClintock

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780807831885

Published to North Carolina Scholarship Online: July 2014

DOI: 10.5149/9780807886328_mcclintock

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On the Brink of the Precipice: The Election of 1860

On the Brink of the Precipice: The Election of 1860

(p.14) Chapter 1 On the Brink of the Precipice: The Election of 1860
Lincoln and the Decision for War

Gary W. Gallagher

University of North Carolina Press

This chapter describes how the dramatic confrontation of 1860–61 forced Northerners to make any number of momentous decisions, including, in the end, whether or not to engage in a civil war to prevent secession. It is ironic, then, that the conflict's roots could be said to lie in a nondecision: the refusal of the 1787 Constitutional Convention to specify who within the new government would have final authority to decide constitutional disputes. Of course, it could be argued that the true origins of the crisis lie a century before that, in an “unthinking decision”: colonial planters' switch from white indentured servants to black slaves as their chief labor force. Whether or not the crucial decisions had been avoided, unthinking, or lay shrouded in the mists of history, their outcomes left Americans of 1860 to harvest the fruit of their reliance on slave labor.

Keywords:   Northerners, civil war, secession, 1787 Constitutional Convention, new government, constitutional disputes

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