Throughout his political career, Lincoln’s primary motivation was to end slavery. Like most Americans in the nineteenth century, he didn’t believe that it was possible for whites and African Americans to live on an equal basis of any kind. He openly opposed citizenship for African Americans and supported laws banning interracial marriage. During his presidency, he supported the ‘return’ of former slaves to their homeland in Africa and approved the allocation of $100,000 for a colonization programme.
After his election to the presidency, Lincoln continued to oppose the expansion of slavery, a subject that had become the most volatile political topic in the nation. The two opposing sides of the issue had become so steadfast in their beliefs that the slavery issue had become a dangerous and incendiary subject. At one point, in the early nineteenth century, the word ‘slavery’ itself was barred from use in Congress in order to avoid outright violence.
In 1856, Representative Preston Brooks of South Carolina confronted Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts regarding a speech Sumner had made that attacked the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Brooks was highly offended by remarks Sumner had included in his speech and beat Sumner into unconsciousness with a cane, leaving him with head and spine traumas. Such was the intensity of political passion for the beliefs on both sides.
While it cannot be denied that slavery was at the core of the issue, Lincoln’s priority as president became the preservation of the United States. Lincoln’s election was not well received in the South. On 20 December 1860, South Carolina voted to secede. In February 1861, a convention was held in Montgomery, Alabama, in which a constitution very similar to the Constitution of the United States was drafted. The Confederate States of America was born, and a president was elected. He was a West Point graduate from Mississippi named Jefferson Davis who had attended the convention in hopes of being given a military command. He would be the first, last and only president of the Confederacy.
In his inaugural speech, Lincoln refused to recognize the secession of the slave states and their formation as a nation independent of the United States, declaring such action to be unconstitutional. This, along with several other executive decisions made early in Lincoln’s presidency, is controversial as to its legitimacy. Five weeks after his inauguration, hostility would erupt and Lincoln’s presidency would focus almost entirely upon efforts to hold the Union together.