The Union is Dissolved

Printed copy of South Carolina's Declaration of Independence, December 20, 1860

Six weeks after Lincoln’s election victory, South Carolina defied the outcome and seceded from the Union. Six other states quickly followed.* They left out of fear that Lincoln would interfere with slavery within their borders, yet, as he often said, he had no intention of doing so. Indeed, in his first inaugural address delivered on March 4, 1861, Lincoln reassured Southerners that they could return with slavery intact but he also warned them that he would defend the nation against what he considered an unlawful rebellion.

Lincoln’s stance sprang from a deep devotion to the Union (a then-familiar term for the nation). As Lincoln argued, the Union was formed in 1774 by the Articles of Association adopted by the first Continental Congress, “matured and continued by the Declaration of Independence in 1776,” further matured by the Articles of Confederation, and made “more perfect” by the Constitution. Thus, the Union predated the states and held authority over them. According to Lincoln, the Union was “perpetual” and it could not be dissolved by any of its members. Moreover, Lincoln believed that the Union served a higher moral purpose, which was to secure for all people their natural right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” and to prove to a skeptical world that democracy could work. Thus, in Lincoln’s mind, the Union had to be saved at all cost.

*The order being: South Carolina (Dec. 20), Mississippi (Jan. 9), Florida (Jan. 10), Alabama (Jan. 11), Georgia (Jan. 19), Louisiana (Jan. 26), and Texas (Feb 1).