Extracts from memoirs and diariesby Ian Irvine / November 17, 2016 / Leave a comment
Published in December 2016 issue of Prospect Magazine
After November elections, the new US President is installed in January—but before the Constitutional Amendment of 1933 the transition lasted until March. In the past this long interregnum could prove fateful when the country was ill at ease. On 6th November 1860, Abraham Lincoln (below) was elected president, the candidate of the Republican Party (founded in 1854), which opposed slavery in new states. His election caused immediate uproar in the Southern slave-owning states and threats of secession. Meanwhile President James Buchanan, a Democrat, remained in the White House until Lincoln’s inauguration on 4th March 1861.
The Virginian planter and slaveholder Edmund Ruffin was one of the radical pro-slavery “Fire-Eaters.” He wrote to a friend:
“I cannot doubt that you will view this result as I do, of the clear and unmistakable indication of future and fixed domination of the Northern sections, its abolition policy… and the beginning of a sure and speedy progress to the extermination of negro slavery and the conquest and utter ruin of the prosperity of the South. I cannot doubt that you see the one passage for escape from this impending and awful danger and calamity by secession.”
In late November 1860, journalist Donn Piatt interviews Lincoln in his home in Springfield, Illinois, and finds no sign he knows what is about to happen:
“His low estimate of humanity blinded him to the South. He could not understand that men would get up in their wrath and fight for an idea. He considered the movement South as a sort of political game of bluff, gotten up by politicians and meant solely to frighten the North. He believed th…