The first black African slaves arrived in what would become the United States in 1619, and by the time of American independence from Britain, slavery was practiced throughout the country. By the early 1800s, however, slavery largely disappeared in the North, even as it became more prominent and more entrenched in the South. As the boom in textile manufacturing, both in the Northeast and in Britain, increased the demand for Southern grown cotton, the Southern economy’s dependence on slavery grew ever stronger. At the same time, Southern culture embedded the institution of slavery and a system of racial hierarchy all the more firmly. When Abraham Lincoln was elected president as a Republican, a party that clearly opposed the extension of slavery, many Southerners came to believe that the institution faced immediate existential threat. As a result of Lincoln’s election, South Carolina seceded from the country in December 1860. In the months that followed, growing regional hostility led ten other states to follow.
The decision to secede from the union did not come lightly to the political leaders of the states that joined the Confederacy. They were aware that they would most likely be forced to defend their secession through military conflict with an industrially and numerically superior North. Consider the many obstacles that stood in the way of southern independence, and the conviction required to take that step. Think also about the role of slavery in southern life, on a material level as well as a cultural level.
Write an essay that explains how Southern political leaders became convinced that the institution of slavery was under attack by the North, and especially by Lincoln and the Republican party. Your essay should explain how the debates over the future of slavery changed in the generation before the Civil War began in 1861. Why was slavery so important to Southern political leaders that they seceded?