Charleston, Election of 1860, and Secession

The election of 1860 led directly to the secession of Southern states from the United States and the start of the Civil War, and Charles-ton played a central part. The Democratic Party Convention held in Charleston in Institute Hall, April 1860, revealed the political split.

Northern Democrats supporting Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois at the party’s Charleston convention caucused at Hibernian Hall. They held out for Douglas while Southern delegates either walked out of the convention at Institute Hall or supported other candidates. The convention deadlocked and met again in Baltimore, where the Southern delegates walked out and Douglas was nominated by the Northern Democrats. As a result there were four candidates in the November 1860 election, each supported by a regional party: Abraham Lincoln, Republican, North; Stephen Douglas, Democrat, North; John C. Breckinridge, Democrat, South; and John Bell, Constitutional Union Party, South. (The latter party represented Southern conservatives who hoped to preserve the Union with slavery.) Lincoln won a clear majority of the Electoral College vote but gained only 39.8 per cent of the popular vote. Lincoln was the first president ever to be elected with such a small proportion of the popular vote and with no votes from the South. He was not even on the ballot in most southern states. As a result, a few weeks after the election but before his inauguration, South Carolina held a constitutional convention and voted to secede from the United States; that is, it declared its independence as a separate nation. By the time Lincoln was inaugurated in March 1861, six other slave-holding states of the South had joined with South Carolina in seceding and had formed the new nation, the Confederate States of America.

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