You are here:

U.S. History/Did Lincoln deliberately provoke the Civil War


Jay Mooney wrote at 2008-01-16 00:55:04
I cannot see how the states that ratified the Constitution, including many Northern ones, would have done so had they known that to extricate themselves from the Union they would have to fight a bloody, multi-year war to do so.  The South clearly should have had the right to seceed.  

Not only did Lincoln fight the war, he abrogated the Constitution to do it, suspending habeas corpus, acting unilaterally while Congress was out of session (why not call a "special session" rather than just do all he did before Congress came back in).  And prosecuting the war by killing civilians, children and pillaging the land (see Sherman's March)... well, I just think the cost of the war was too high and the benefits too low.  

Yes, the one good thing to come of it was the freeing of slaves.  But the way in which the war left things (along with reconstruction) only served to make racial tension higher in the south.  I submit had Lincoln let the South go and urged Congress to repeal the fugitive slave laws and welcomed fleeing slaves, slavery would have ended pretty quickly.  But the North didn't want a great influx of slaves either.

There is no way to totally untangle all of this.  It is water under the bridge. With a sort of third world nation on our southern border, it may have not been all that great, but, then again, with two smaller governments, and a more liberal northern one, maybe we would not have the great monolithic federal government we have now, a government bent on invading countries such as Iraq, against international law, a government that allows for a president that suspends rights, telling us it is for our own good.  The end justifies the means.  Sounds to me like the seeds for G. W. Bush were sown by Mr. Lincoln.

JC wrote at 2008-03-02 21:41:07
Sherman did not rape, pillage and kill woman and children.  The south started a war, the north had to defend.  Sherman cut supply lines in Atlanta by destroying train depots.  He did not burn Atlanta. He ordered his men to supply themselves from southern homes, which they did, and according to the articles of war, he was more than entitled to do so. In doing so, and because of his genius in putting down the south, he helped end the war quicker.  The south need only look at the attrocities it committed at their prison camps as well as the murder of prisoners of war. The south, to this day, continues to remain in denial about their part in the Civil War.  Their mentallity is one of being victimized.  I have lived in Georgia and I assure you, the war is not over.  Southern hospitality is a myth and the south continues to come from a place of hatred. You can not heal your sins if you don't admit to them.

Brian wrote at 2008-11-16 17:30:29
You are leaving out the fact that the States were "free and Independent" with their own republican Government bodies. The Founders set it up this way as an important check and balance to insure the Federal Government will not grow to an all powerful monopoly. Which is what the federal government is today. History has proven Lincolns decision to attach his own country as wrong. The only way poeple are free is by their ability to opt out.

Pincus wrote at 2009-02-18 19:18:37
I totally agree with the answer.  The secessionists had the right to seceed IF THEY WERE ABLE (as the colonies had been able to seceed from the British).  The government had the right to TRY to stop the secessionists (as the British had tried to stop the colonies from seceeding).  The right to seceed without possessing the POWER to do so would be anarchy.

scalar wrote at 2009-09-12 23:09:19
Pincus, your attitude may make you a good American, but certainly not a good person.  You are touting a "might makes right" philosophy.  This is a legal and moral question, not a "who gots da mos bullets" issue.

O'Bruadair wrote at 2010-11-16 15:31:49
"Had it been his intent to provoke an attack, he probably would not have sent communications to the South Carolina government letting them know that he was merely providing emergency rations of food, that the supply ships would not be carrying weapons, ammunition, or more troops, and expressing the hope that the situation could still be resolved diplomatically."

Merely providing emergency rations? Horse Feathers. The "Fox expedition" that was sent by the lincoln administration to Sumter (with the full knowledge of CS authorities) included 4 US warships with aggregate crews of 715 officers and men and with an aggregate of 38 heavy guns. The expedition also included 3 sea going tugs (to pull the heavy war whips over the Charleston bar and to land troops) and a large transport steamer with a landing force of at least 200 Infantry. Sound like an invasion force to me. Small by latter war standards but plenty large enough to provoke a war. Lincoln, Seward started the war deliberately.

OBruadair wrote at 2013-06-29 01:16:57
There is absolutely no doubt that Lincoln deliberately provoked the war. He admitted as much himself in a letter to Gustavus Fox (the commander of the expedition mounted to reinforce Ft. Sumter)dated May 1st 1861

"You and I both anticipated that the cause of the country would be advanced by making the attempt to provision Fort Sumter, even if it should fail ; and it is no small consolation now to feel that our anticipation is justified by the result."

This letter was written two weeks after Lincoln called for 75000 troops to "suppress the rebellion'. A call that essentially declared war on the Southern States.

Of course it is glaringly obvious here that the "result" than Lincoln "anticipated" could be none other than war.  

U.S. History

All Answers

Answers by Expert:

Ask Experts


Michael Troy


I can answer just about any question on early American History. My specialties are the American Revolution through the Civil War/Reconstruction. I also have greater expertise in matters relating to military, political or legal history.


I have lectured at George Washington University regarding the Civil War, as well as several elementary school Civil War demonstrations. I was also a member of a Civil War reenactment group for about 10 years.


J.D. University of Michigan B.A. George Washington University

Awards and Honors
Truman Scholar

©2017 All rights reserved.