Abraham Lincoln on Secession

Running head: HISTORY 1
Abraham Lincoln on Secession
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Abraham Lincoln on secession
Why does Lincoln believe secession is not permitted in a constitutional republic?
The recent debate concerning succession has inspired many people to dig back into the
ideologies of political theory to find moral guidance on how to handle matters concerning state-
breaking. Most American prominent leaders are considered to have gone silent on this matter.
However, Abraham Lincoln has major arguments that call for keen attention because he
presented himself as an exceptionally reflective leader in matters that are arguably history’s most
remarkable and prolonged conflict of the secessionist. This essay is a critical review of the
arguments made by Lincoln against the country’s South struggle for independence. History
records that Lincoln is one of the greatest political figures in America. However, soon after his
election as president of America, the southern states withdrew from the union (Farber, 2003).
According to the secessionists, the constitution of every state gave them the right to exit the
union. Lincoln opposed the idea of secession citing the following reasons; the states could not be
separated physically, the Americans are not enemies but friends, secession is forbidden by the
law, a government that permits secession will promote anarchy, and that secession of states
would lead to the destruction of the only existing democracy of the world and the only proof of
all times to future generations of America and the world as a whole, was that the people’s
government is unable to survive.
The ideas that were voiced and tabled by Lincoln concerning secession do not make a
strong case for changing the way history assesses him. For instance, it is not clear what to make
out of his belief that “perpetuity is implied if not expressed in the fundamental law of all national
governments.” If these statements were true, there would be a foreclose to all the claims made by
secessionists regardless of their substantive value. However, there is no doubt that Lincoln
intended to justify the absolutist position he had taken. The only tactic which he used effectively
was to generate arguments that were intended for secession and show how each instance of his
argument applied to the southern states case. However, there are two major historical points that
must be made clear while examining Lincoln’s arguments concerning secession. (First Inaugural
Address) The first point is that made by Lincoln date about four decades ago, while most of his
ideas concerning secession are drawn from quite a short duration. Secondly, Lincoln failed to
actively oppose the slavery in the South until the time when the war began, an issue that was
noticeably unavailable in the discussion about secession. During his inauguration in March 1861,
he made a direct point that, “I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the
institution of slavery in the states where it exists, I believe I have no right to do so, and I have no
inclination to do so.” It is quite ironical that when the issue of slavery appeared to be the main
agenda in the minds of the leaders in the South, Lincoln had no direct concern with this issue
because as a matter of principle, its omission is a reflection of Lincoln’s understanding that may
point towards an abolition that would lead to the loss of the south.
Lincoln argued that if one region is allowed to secede, it creates an environment where
secession is increasingly regarded as a solution to political problems. In the presumption that the
outcome of secession is unfavorable, Lincoln effectively rules out all justification for secession.
On his second argument, Lincoln objects all secession debates as a reduction that compares
secession to inclusivity. This implies that if all states made a decision to assume the mandate to
drive one of them away from the union of states, then the portion of seceding politicians would
have a chance to deny power and denounce such acts, which are considered the greatest outrage
on the state rights. In this context, Lincoln noted that any morally significant difference between
the majority and minority secessions does not exist (Address to the New Jersey Senate). If things
appear to be different in the south that constitutes 49 to 50 percent of the state union, there would
be no difference between the two forms of secession, commonly known as exclusion, which is
apparently impermissible. Therefore, it is morally wrong to exclude all states.
In his third argument, he presents a slightly sweeping idea that does not intend to
prevent secession. He asserts that at a minimum, it is discordant and unnecessary for what he
views as “republican form of government” in which institutions can freely change the
constitution in ways such as government elections, provisions for revolution, and constitutional
amendments. These changes have proved to be adequate in addressing all forms of conceivable
grievances. In the line of these arguments, Lincoln only managed to handle the difficulties that
were inherent in the claims made by the confederacy secessionists. For this reason, he made a
statement to Congress on July 4, 1861 “the constitution provides, and all the states have accepted
the provision that the united states shall guarantee to every state in this union a republican form
of government but if a state may lawfully go out of the union, having done so, it may also
discard the republican form of government so as to prevent its out, is an indispensable means to
the end of maintaining guaranty mentioned In this statement, Lincoln does not make any open
objection to succession. He only aims at protecting the republican government from the threats
of secession. Therefore, it is notable that secession is distinct from a well-known uprising
movement that is propagated by elites and it is illegitimate according to the Republican point of
According to Lincoln, there are consequences of secession to all humanity. This
consequence of secession was clearly expressed by Lincoln in his address to New Jersey Senate
when he said that this was a form of testing of whether a nation conceived and dedicated can
keep up with the goals of the union. “The government of the people, by the people, and for the
people shall not perish from earth.” Lincoln was confident that the fate of the world’s democracy
solely depends on how successful the American experiment on the dissolution of the union
would be, the entire nation’s political freedom and its benefits will be extinct from the face of the
earth. Therefore, at an ideal level, Lincoln’s argument against secession seems to be sound
because, for a democratic nation, the primary virtue clearly makes secession unnecessary
because it triggers trouble and anarchy in a practical doctrine (Farber, 2003). It is clear that a
healthy constitutional democracy should be in a position to handle multiple grievances.
Therefore, Lincoln ideally objected the South’s separation movement due to lack of popular
Farber, D. A. (2003). Lincoln's Constitution. University of Chicago Press.
Lincoln, A. (1861). First Inaugural address. TeachingAmericanHistory.org. Retrieved from
Lincoln, A. (1861). Address to the New Jersey state senate. TeachingAmericanHistory.org.
Retrieved from: http://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/document/address-to-the-new-
Lincoln, A. (1861). Message to Congress in special session. TeachingAmericanHistory.org.
Retrieved from: http://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/document/message-to-

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