The fate of the nation seemed to be sealed when the Republican Party nominated their candidate for president, a man known for his anti-slavery sentiments. Abraham Lincoln claimed that he was no abolitionist, but admitted that he did oppose slavery. After practising law in Illinois, he entered politics in the 1830s as a member of the Whig Party. In 1846, he was elected to the US House of Representatives, where he opposed the Mexican-American War and developed a Gradualist plan to free slaves in Washington DC. When his two-year term ended, he returned to Illinois and his law practice.
Abraham Lincoln memorial, photograph by Botteville
In 1854, he was again elected and opposed the Kansas-Nebraska Act. When dissension over the act split the Whig Party, Lincoln helped form the new Republican Party. He strongly disagreed with the Dred Scott decision, but as a lawyer deferred to the Supreme Court ruling. He was nominated as the Republican candidate to the US Senate at the Illinois Republican Convention in 1858. At the close of the convention, he gave a speech where he quoted a Bible passage from Mark 3.25, saying, ‘A house divided against itself cannot stand.’ He went on to say that the nation could not endure as half slave and half free.
Lincoln lost the race for senator to incumbent Stephen Douglas. But in a speech at Cooper Station in New York in February 1860, Lincoln so impressed the Republican leaders that he was propelled to a position within the party that led to his election as Republican candidate for president. When the Democratic Party elected Stephen Douglas as their candidate, eleven slave state delegates walked out in protest and chose their own candidate, John C. Breckinridge.
The Republican Party platform had three issues. The first was the preservation of the Union; the second was the reaffirmation of the sovereign rights of individual states; and the third was the abolition of slavery in all Federal territories. Lincoln advocated that existing slave states could keep their slaves if they chose to, and states applying for admission could make the decision for themselves. But there would be new restrictions on slavery.
Southern slaveholders were worried that this would lead to the eventual abolition of slavery. Some Southern states refused to include Lincoln on their election ballots and those who supported secession cited the Republican platform as reason enough to finally leave the Union.