by Andy Mateja

While the political atmosphere of today’s presidential election has accentuated the deep polarization that exists between passionate Democrats and Republicans, it is by no means the FIRST time it has happened in our nation’s history. While differing ideologies are the major cause of today’s political discord, there was a much deeper and lingering issue that literally split our nation in two for four long and bloody years…..
The fracture in the social ideology of the United States began when the founding fathers formed our nation.
For over 80 years the continuation of slavery was “tolerated” by the citizens of the newly formed United States of America. Crafty politicians sought compromise and appeasement to keep the “peculiar institution” in place. However the tide was turning in the 1850’s with more and more Northerners disdaining the existence of slavery. The issue came to a head in 1860 with the election of Abraham Lincoln and the newly formed Republican Party. Lincoln campaigned on preventing the further expansion of slavery into the newly acquired territories which sent a shockwave throughout the South.
Southern politicians, put in power mostly by slave owners, riled their constituents by exaggerating what the new Republican Party represented, and the “changes” to their way of life would mean to them. Besides the perceived end of slavery, the average non-slave owning residents of the Southern states were inundated with constant allegations that the dreaded “Yankees” would deprive each of their individual rights and release a plague on the South in the form of wanton and uncontrolled mayhem due to the forcible release of slaves onto Southern society.
Not unlike today’s politics where the political party in power attempts to intimidate voters by intentionally distorting what the other party is going to do instead of what THEY, the incumbent party, have already done, Southern politicians in 1860 waged a similar smear campaign, just as intense and vicious. They used racism to intentionally incite their constituents through mendacious efforts regarding the intentions of Republicans and claiming that if elected, they would promulgate sexual-related interracial contact between “Southern Belles” and the liberated slaves. The people were also told that these Republican “radicals” would incite slave insurrections throughout the South. Nowhere in Abraham Lincoln’s speeches nor in the 1860 were Republican Party platform these supposed heinous intentions stated. But it did not matter – perception was reality to the people ……… then as it is now
While non-slave owning Southerners were motivated to resist Northern aggression by convincing them each state was sovereign in their own right and their political leaders should decide what is best for their constituents, slavery was considered a “way of life” for the South and a “normal” part of their agrarian society, tolerated by all residents, south of the Mason Dixon line. Northerners, particularly Abraham Lincoln and the newly formed Republican Party represented a “dangerous change” to their status quo. Never mind that Lincoln never declared that he would end slavery if elected president, in the mind of Southern politicians, who felt their power slipping away by the lack on new slave states entering the Union since 1845, chose to disseminate deliberate lies and espouse hateful rhetoric to generate fear and inflame hateful passions.
Southerners, who dominated the White House for most of the preceding years leading up to the Civil War, did try to rectify the growing imbalance between the slave states and free states. Jefferson Davis, future President of the Confederacy, as Secretary of War and Senator, presided over efforts to add countries like Nicaragua and Cuba into the Union as SLAVE STATES. In the case of Cuba, repeated offers were made to Queen Isabella of Spain to purchase the island nation. When she refused, there were an attempt to invade Cuba by force and add to our country through acquisition. There was also a similar plan developed for the acquisition of Nicaragua
After both attempts failed , attention was refocused on pushing for slavery in existing U.S. territories. This was made possible by the Compromise of 1850 which in essence repealed the Missouri Compromise. While opening the door for the future expansion of slavery, it also opened the door for aggressive competition within each territory to determine if, as a state they would enter the Union as a free or slave state. Aggressive competition led to violence and violence lead to death of American citizens.
Since Southern political leaders realized that the compromises did not result in the preservation of their political power as evidenced by the election of Abraham Lincoln, they undertook even more drastic action to demonstrate their paranoia of the perceived changes to come. Since they could no longer control the U.S. Government in Washington or even remain in parity with their Northern counterparts, they abruptly ended their “compact” with the nation and seceded from the Union. The intense hatred of Abraham Lincoln and Republicans had blinded them to the consequences of their impulsive action and the subsequent results.
Over 620,000 American lives were lost in a civil war that rectified the fallacious actions taken by political leaders who feared the loss of power by the change in ideology. Let’s hope the politicians in Washington D.C. today remember this lesson …………..