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Joan Waugh: What if Lincoln lost the election?

By Joan Waugh

Professor of history at UCLA


If Abraham Lincoln had lost the election to the (Northern) Democratic candidate Stephen A. Douglas, I do not believe that seven states of the Deep South would have seceded so quickly or formed a government in Montgomery, Ala., by February 1861. A wholly sectional party had come to power that threatened the slaveholders’ social and economic security, and that fact spurred secessionist action. But even if Douglas had won in 1860, would secession have come eventually, as so many Northern Democrats were in favor of limiting slavery’s expansion in the western territories? Maybe, but I suspect that Democrats would have found a way to compromise to at least delay it for a while.

By Joan Waugh  | October 31, 2010; 10:32 PM ET
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One of the truly unfortunate outcomes of the War of the Southern Insurrection (not the Civil War) is that those responsible for it were not acknowledged as traitors, and, as such, hanged.

Posted by: potaboc | November 2, 2010 3:15 PM | Report abuse

Sorry, Prof. Waugh, a compromise of sorts, the Missouri Compromise, had been in place, but the intellectual "originalist" forebears of Chief Justice Rehnquist, Chief Justice Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito, and, of course, Clarence Thomas ruled it unconstitutional.

To the extent that it is possible to make any sense of George W. Bush' highly confused remarks during his 2004 Missouri debate with John Kerry, Bush vowed to nominate "strict constructionist" judges like the ones who sent Dred Scott back into slavery. And he did in fact do so.

Posted by: edallan | November 2, 2010 4:15 PM | Report abuse

Before we start hanging people, we should consider that the concept of secession was considered legitimate at the time; that Ft Sumter was on the property of the new Confederacy and there were 0 casualties in that confrontation; that the War of Northern Aggression was in part an economic one since the loss of what had previously been legal slave labor would have bankrupted the South, which it did as a conclusion of the war. We should also consider that technology would have ended slavery pretty soon anyway, since surely anyone would rather have one John Deere that a bunch of people that one has to feed, cloth and always keep from running off.

Posted by: jams4dad | November 2, 2010 5:24 PM | Report abuse

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