Key Terms and Events
Abolitionism - · Abolitionism was a radical movement to end slavery
completely in the United States. It grew into a distinctly northern
campaign by the 1830s, taking special hold in New England, where prominent
writers and politicians such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, William Lloyd
Garrison and Charles Sumner led the rally cries.
Anaconda Plan - · Proposed by General Winfield Scott in the opening
stages of the Civil War, the Anaconda Plan was designed to constrain
the Confederate military effort in a snake-like vise by controlling
the Mississippi River and enforcing an effective blockade of southern
port cities on the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. Such an
approach was intended to reduce land operations and hence casualties
to a minimum. Although Lincoln ultimately chose not to foreground
the Anaconda Plan, it nevertheless played a crucial role in the
Aristocracy - · An aristocracy is a class of people that rules in
perpetuity and assumes the trappings of nobility. Though seemingly
inimical to the notion of democracy, an aristocracy flourished
in the southern states well through the Civil War, making the Confederate
cause a sympathetic one to the old world aristocracies of Europe.
Border States - · The border states were a bloc of states that retained
the practice of slavery while remaining loyal to the Union. These
states included Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, and Missouri. They played
a large strategic role in the Civil War, as sentiments over slavery
and union were divided in these areas. Although poised to secede
at times, the border states stayed faithful despite strict federal
controls and war-torn conditions.
Carpetbagger - · A carpetbagger was a northerner who went south during reconstruction
to insure that the policies of the federal government would be
properly administered in the former Confederate states—or simply
to profit financially and politically from his or her position.
The term survives today, applying to a politician who seeks office
in unfamiliar territory.
Colonization - · In this case, colonization signifies the plan initially
proposed by Henry Clay in which freed slaves would be federally compensated
in return for relocating to countries such as Haiti and Liberia.
This scheme was intended to diminish racial hostilities in the
United States by gradually reducing the black population. Lincoln
supported colonization well into his presidency, though he eventually
had second thoughts about the honorableness of such an approach.
Confederate States of America (the Confederacy) - · Organized after a group of southern states seceded
from the Union, the Confederate States of America wished to establish themselves
as an independent nation, and fought for this right during the
Civil War. Led by President Jefferson Davis, the Confederates
were plagued by loose organization and low munitions. In addition,
they lacked the support of the international community due to their
continuing reliance on slavery. Four years after organizing, this
association of eleven states fell to defeat, and gradually joined
the United States again.
Conscription Act - · This controversial draft law, passed in the Spring
of 1863, provided for the impressment of all able-bodied young
men in the service of the Union Army. A clause that allowed for
a "rich man's exemption" by payment of a fee or recruitment of
a substitute provoked substantial fury, and led to riots in New York
City that same summer. Ultimately, the Conscription Act was ineffective,
and Lincoln turned to more unashamedly mercenary means to keep the
Constitutional Union - · The Constitutional Union Party was a makeshift party
formed in time for the election of 1860. Earning its primary support
in the border states, the Constitutional Unionists wished to preserve
the Union by advancing a moderate platform that reconciled northern
and southern interests. Their ticket, composed of John Bell for
President and Edward Everett for Vice President, carried a handful
of states in the electoral college, but finished well behind the
pace set by Lincoln in the north and Breckenridge in the South.
Copperheads - · The Copperheads, also known as Peace Democrats, formed
the fiercest opposition to Lincoln in the Union. Many suspected certain
Copperheads, including Horatio Seymour and Clement Vallandigham,
of sympathizing or even collaborating with the Confederates.
Democrat - · The Democrats rose to power as the nation's premier
political party under the leadership of Andrew Jackson. The Democrats were
devoted to states' rights, and strongly opposed the establishment
of a national bank. In the mid- nineteenth century, the party became
increasingly divided over the question of slavery, eventually splitting
into a northern and southern branch before the election of 1860.
During Lincoln's presidency, the party was further divided within
the Union, splitting into War Democrats, who supported the Union's
military effort, and Peace Democrats, or Copperheads, who opposed
Emancipation Proclamation - · The Emancipation Proclamation, officially issued
by Lincoln on January 1, 1863, freed all slaves in the insurgent
portions of the Confederate States of America. The document did
not apply to Confederate areas under Union control or to the border
states. In practical terms, the Emancipation Proclamation was
virtually unenforceable, but it set the tide of antislavery rhetoric
and moral integrity squarely behind the Union. Eventually, this would
sweep the Union to victory and prepare the country for the groundbreaking
Fifth Amendment - · The Fifth Amendment, which states that "no person
may be deprived of life, liberty or property, without due process
of law," was cited by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney in his landmark Dred Scott decision.
By declaring that slaves were not citizens, Taney concluded that
the slave's right to liberty was less important than the slaveowner's
right to property.
Fort Sumter - · A key federal holding in Charleston Harbor, South
Carolina, Fort Sumter became crucial when Lincoln decided to send reinforcements
in against the wishes of South Carolina. A Confederate force led
by General Pierre Beauregard led the bombardment of the Union-held
fort, which eventually surrendered to the onslaught. With this,
the Civil War had begun.
Freedman's Bureau - · Set up by the federal government during reconstruction,
the Freedman's Bureau was an ambitious attempt to improve the education
and employment prospects of blacks in the hostile south. The main
achievement of the Freedman's Bureau came in the form of the thousands
of schools it established and maintained for black children.
Freeport Doctrine - · The Freeport Doctrine, advanced by Stephen Douglas
during the second Lincoln-Douglas debate, held that local authorities reserved
the right to enforce federal jurisdiction as it saw fit. This
extreme stance in support of nullification eventually undermined
Douglas's political credibility, rendering him a martyr to his
own cause of popular sovereignty.
Free-Soil - · The term "free-soil" came to apply to a movement
that believed in containing the spread of slavery. More moderate
than many virulent abolitionists, free-soilers were primarily dedicated
to preserving the line of demarcation arrived at in the Missouri Compromise.
Later, as regional tensions grew, many free-soilers took up the
cause of abolitionism.
Fugitive Slave Law - · Fugitive slave laws became necessary after the growth
of the underground railroad, a system of safe havens, which allowed slaves
to flee north to freedom, often crossing the border into Canada.
A series of fugitive slave laws passed in the mid-nineteenth century
provided for the speedy return of any runaway slave caught in a
free state. Such measures were generally enacted and enforced in
the north as a way of compromise with the southern states over
related matters involving slavery.
Gerrymandering - · Gerrymandering is a system of drawing up electoral
districts irregularly in order to disproportionately benefit a
specific party or special interest group. This term was coined
after its first practitioner, Elbridge Gerry, governor of Massachusetts
and Vice President under James Madison.
Gold Standard - · The gold standard is an economic principle by which
a basic unit of currency is equivalent in amount to and can be
exchanged for a certain amount of gold. Greenbacks were a volatile
currency because they were not backed by the gold standard.
Greenbacks - · Greenbacks were the first national banknotes issued
by the United States government, issued under the authority of Secretary
of Treasury Chase. These notes, not backed by the gold standard,
were first released in order to help finance the growing costs
of the Civil War.
Habeas Corpus - · Literally meaning "we have the body," habeas corpus
is a writ required by the Constitution as proof of reasonable suspicion
in order to authorize a search or seizure. During the Civil War, Lincoln
controversially suspended the writ of habeas corpus.
Homestead Act - · The Homestead Act, signed in 1862, offered 160 acres
of free land to any citizen willing to farm and settle it for five
years. This legislation greatly facilitated frontier expansion
and the peopling of the American West.
Internal Improvements - · Internal improvements are domestic measures to improve
the infrastructure of a country. In the nineteenth century, internal improvements
were mainly advocated by the Whig Party, as in Henry Clay's American
System, which called for the construction of a vast network of
canals and railroads.
Ku Klux Klan - · The Ku Klux Klan developed shortly after the Civil
War in Tennessee as a backlash to radical reconstruction measures
and the rise of black civil rights. After reconstruction fizzled
in the 1870s, the Ku Klux Klan became dormant, only to rise again with
renewed vigor in the twentieth century as black civil rights became
a national issue once again.
Manifest Destiny - · Manifest Destiny was the belief that the United States
was inevitably fated to extend its borders to the Pacific Ocean
and to expand both north and south as well. This idea took hold
after the Louisiana Purchase, and became a rallying cry during
the Mexican War and in the westward expansion that ensued.
Monitor - · The Monitor was the prize craft
of the Union naval forces, an ironclad that did battle with the Virginia during
the spring of 1862.
Monroe Doctrine - · The Monroe Doctrine, issued under President James
Monroe in 1823, asserted that the Western hemisphere was the exclusive domain
of the United States. As such, no intervention from the European
Powers would be tolerated. In exchange, the United States resolved
to follow a power of non-interference in European lands and colonies
across the Atlantic Ocean. More symbolic than practical, the Monroe
Doctrine faced a serious test when France occupied Mexico during
the Civil War. (See the History SparkNote on The Monroe
Doctrine for more information.)
Morrill Land Grant Act - · The Morrill Land Grant Act of 1862 provided federal
lands and monies for the construction of public colleges and universities.
Several prominent institutions, such as Cornell University, the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology, and Purdue University were established
under this legislation.
National Union - · The National Union Party was formed in 1864 out of
a confluence of Republicans and War Democrats in an attempt to keep
the Union war effort strong and re-elect Lincoln. In order to
produce a more balanced ticket, the National Unionists nominated
Tennessee military governor Andrew Johnson for Vice President.
Although their chances looked bleak at times, Lincoln and Johnson
pulled ahead in the November elections for a convincing victory.
New Salem - · New Salem, Illinois was a small frontier town of
the mid-nineteenth century, where the young Lincoln got his start
in life. Living in New Salem between the ages of twenty-two and twenty-six,
Lincoln had his first love affair, earned his law credentials,
and gained his first election to public office.
Nullification - · The principle of nullification holds that a local
or state jurisdiction has the power to overturn a law instituted
by a federal authority. John C. Calhoun was the first strong advocate of
nullification, but his stance was squashed by President Jackson.
Nullification later re-surfaced in the national debate over states'
rights relating to slavery in the months leading up to secession
and the Civil War.
Acts - · The Pacific Railroad Acts of 1862-64 provided for
a central transcontinental railroad running from Chicago to San Francisco,
and later deeded millions of acres of surrounding lands to the
railroad companies themselves.
Peninsular Campaign - · The Peninsular Campaign of 1862 was the Union's first sophisticated
effort to lay waste to Richmond and the Confederacy. Led by General
McClellan, this amphibious strategy began well but faltered in
the Shenandoah Valley during the Seven Days' Battles, when Confederate
forces behind Generals Jackson and Lee dominated the action.
Pocket Veto - · A pocket veto is a presidential filibuster of sorts,
in which the chief executive refuses to address a piece of legislation
for passage and signature until Congress has adjourned, thus rendering
it null and void. Lincoln employed this strategy with regard to
the Wade-Davis Bill.
Popular Sovereignty - · The principle of popular sovereignty, advanced by
Stephen Douglas in the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, held that each local
jurisdiction reserved the right to determine the question of slavery
for themselves. Douglas viewed popular sovereignty as the most
suitably democratic answer to the problem of slavery that wracked
the expanding nation.
Reconstruction - · Reconstruction describes the period from 1865-1877,
when the federal government under Presidents Johnson and Grant, together
with the Congress controlled by Radical Republicans like Thaddeus
Stevens and Charles Sumner, attempted to institute civil rights
reforms in the former Confederate states by a combination of martial
law and policy decrees. Reconstruction ended with the election
of Rutherford B. Hayes and the Compromise of 1877.
Republican - · The Republican Party was established in the 1850s
after the Whig Party found itself on its last legs. Formed in
opposition to the moderate Democratic Party, which equivocated
at every available opportunity on the increasingly heated question
of slavery, the Republicans were much more decidedly in support of
slavery's containment, if not its outright abolition. Eventually,
the rise of the Republicans to power would divide the nation in
half, sparking the southern states to secession and bringing about
the Civil War.
Secession - · Secession is the formal withdrawal of a member state
from an association or union. Several different states had threatened secession
in the first decades of the history of the United States, but it
was only with South Carolina's secession from the Union on December
20, 1860 that the possibility became a reality.
Springfield - · Springfield, Illinois became the capital city of
the state of Illinois in 1837, and was home to Lincoln and family
for over twenty years. During these years, Lincoln practiced law
and established a homestead there.
Tariff - · A tariff is a duty or tax imposed on an imported
or exported good, intended to boost the domestic economy. Because
the northern states were industrialized, and could depend on the south
for its agricultural needs, they were in favor of high tariffs to
protect domestic industries. By contrast, the southern states,
which wished to profit from the export of goods such as cotton, opposed
tariff measures. This frequently disputed policy question exacerbated
regional tensions throughout the early and mid-nineteenth century.
Theater - · A theater is a geographically integrated arena of warfare.
In the Civil War, there were two main theaters: an eastern theater centering
around Richmond and outlying areas of Northern Virginia, and a
western theater that ran along the banks of the Mississippi River,
gradually pushing eastward as the war extended and the Union armies
penetrated further to the south. These two theaters were separated
mainly by the Appalachian Mountains.
Thirteenth Amendment - · The Thirteenth Amendment, ratified on December 18,
1865, provided for the abolition of slavery throughout the United States.
This amendment had originally been proposed by Lincoln as a plank
in his 1864 platform for re- election on the National Union ticket.
Virginia - · The Virginia was a Confederate ironclad
converted from a Union warship formerly called the Merrimac.
The Virginia enjoyed considerable success against
the Union navy before running into a stalemate against the Monitor in
the spring of 1862.
Wade-Davis Bill - · The Wade-Davis Bill of 1864 was a harsh reconstruction measure
proposed by Radical Republicans which required majority loyalty
from a former Confederate state before that state's reapplication
to the Union would be considered. Lincoln pocket-vetoed the bill,
considering it overly punitive.
Wilmot Proviso - · The Wilmot Proviso of 1847 provided for the express prohibition
of slavery from any territory acquired as a result of the Mexican
War. Though the Wilmot Proviso was initiated by a Democratic congressman,
it enjoyed strong Whig support, including that of Representative
Whig - · The Whig Party was formed in the 1830s out of opposition
to the strong rule of President Jackson. Led by vocal senators
such as Henry Clay and Daniel Webster, the Whigs advocated internal improvements,
high tariffs, and a national bank.
Annexation of Texas - As per its program of manifest destiny, the United States annexed,
or incorporated, Texas in 1844 after Texas had successfully won
its independence from Mexico. This development eventually led
to the outbreak of the Mexican War in 1846.
Antietam - After Lee's charge into Union territory, he was repulsed
at Antietam by forces under the command of McClellan on September
17, 1862 in the bloodiest single day of the Civil War.
Appomattox Court House - Appomattox Court House was the name of the small town
in south central Virginia where Lee surrendered to Grant on April 9,
1865, effectively ending the Civil War.
Black Hawk War - The Black Hawk War of 1832 was fought in Illinois and
Iowa when the Sac and Fox tribes led by Black Hawk unsuccessfully attempted
to reclaim their native homelands.
Chancellorsville - The Battle of Chancellorsville, fought May 2, 1863, was
yet another disastrous defeat for the Union in Northern Virginia, this
time under the command of Hooker.
Chickamauga - Chickamauga, fought September 19-20, 1863, was one of
the last significant Confederate successes in the western theater.
Losses were heavy as usual.
Civil Rights Act of 1866 - The Civil Rights Act of 1866 was an early attempt by
the Radical Republicans to assert federal power in the southern
states during reconstruction. The act, which bestowed citizenship
among all blacks, was overturned by the Supreme Court in 1883 as
a violation of states' rights.
Civil Rights Act of 1875 - The Civil Rights Act of 1875, the last major piece of
legislation passed by the federal government during reconstruction,
was an attempt to desegregate all public places in the southern
states. This was a highly ambitious and unrealistic goal, and
quickly proved impracticable, especially after reconstruction officially ended
with the Compromise of 1877.
Compromise of 1850 - The Compromise of 1850, engineered by Henry Clay, allowed for
the entry of California to the Union as a free state in exchange for
a stricter fugitive slave law. However, the compromise did not
settle the question of slavery in the western territories, which led
to increased tensions that came to a head only after the passage
of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854.
Compromise of 1877 - After the election of 1876 ended inconclusively, a
congressional committee met to determine the winner between Republican Rutherford
B. Hayes and Democrat Samuel Tilden. In the Compromise of 1877,
Southern Democrats swung their support to Hayes in exchange for
an end to reconstruction, and the withdrawal of federal troops
from the five military zones in the former Confederacy.
Dred Scott decision - In a landmark decision handed down March 6, 1857, Chief Justice
Roger B. Taney argued that a slave was not a citizen of the United
States, and thus could not bring a lawsuit to a federal court.
Further, he noted that as per the Fifth Amendment, no slave-owning
citizen could be deprived of property, i.e. his slaves, without
due process of law. This controversial decision opened up the
territories and the several free-soil states to legalized slavery,
and heightened regional tensions over the slavery question considerably.
First Inaugural Address - Lincoln gave his First Inaugural Address on March 4,
1861, hoping to avert civil war by asserting the necessity of preserving the
union without coming down too hard on the slavery question.
First Manassas - Fought on July 21, 1861, First Manassas, also known
as the First Battle of Bull Run, ended in catastrophe for the Union,
and served to revise northern opinion that the Civil War would
come to a quick conclusion.
Fredericksburg - The Union suffered a crucial defeat at the Battle of Fredericksburg
on December 13, 1862. After General Burnside was forced to stay
along the northern banks of the Rappahannock River for two weeks,
the Confederacy was able to mobilize its forces, and successfully
turned back yet another aborted Union offensive in Northern Virginia.
Gettysburg - Gettysburg was the turning point of the Civil War. After
Lee and Stuart pushed well north into Union territory, Union and Confederate
forces met in Southern Pennsylvania during a three-day battle that
lasted from July 1-3, 1863. Once Union forces led by Meade had
repulsed the Confederate charge, Lee never seriously challenged
the Union in their own territory again, and the stage was set for
the gradual Union push to Appomattox.
Gettysburg Address - Lincoln delivered his two-minute Gettysburg Address
at the dedication of a national cemetery there on November 19,
1863. Famous though it is today, at the time it fell somewhat
flat, and Lincoln was thought to have been overshadowed by the principal
speaker of the day, Edward Everett.
Kansas-Nebraska Act - Stephen Douglas pushed the Kansas-Nebraska Act through Congress
in 1854, effectively nullifying the Missouri Compromise. By this
new legislation, the question of slavery was once again thrown
open to the discretion of each territory by verdict of Douglas's
popular sovereignty principle. This eventually led to the onset
of violent warfare between rival factions in Kansas, and was an
indirect cause of the Civil War.
Debates - During his 1858 run for Senate on the Republican ticket
in Illinois, Lincoln engaged the incumbent Democrat Douglas in
a series of seven debates across the state. These debates, which occurred
in the weeks and months leading up to election day, received national
attention and propelled Lincoln to prominence. During the second
debate at Freeport, Douglas advanced a doctrine defending the Kansas-Nebraska
Act and popular sovereignty even in the face of the Dred
Mexican War - Fought between 1846 and 1848, the Mexican War was an attempt
by the United States under President Polk to assert its right to
expansionism by virtue of manifest destiny. Seen as a Democratic
power play and an act of foreign aggression, the war was opposed
by many prominent Whigs, including Lincoln. (For more information,
see the History SparkNote on the Mexican War.)
Missouri Compromise - The Missouri Compromise of 1820 was engineered by Henry Clay.
It allowed for the entry of Missouri to the Union as a slave state,
largely in exchange for the creation of a demarcation line categorically
prohibiting the extension slavery north of Missouri's southern
border. This legislation was later repealed by Douglas's Kansas-Nebraska
Act and Taney's Dred Scott decision.
Mumfreesboro - The Battle of Mumfreesboro, fought between December
31, 1862 and January 2, 1863, was a costly affair for both Union and
Confederacy in which no clear winner emerged, and no clear tactical
objective was accomplished.
New York City Draft Riots - The New York City Draft Riots, staged between July
12 and 15, 1863, were a protest against the Conscription Act, and particularly
the "rich man's exemption." Prompted in particular by the Irish-American
community, the riots featured looting, lynching, and pillaging.
After Lincoln sent troops up from Gettysburg to quell the disturbance,
hundreds of people were killed or wounded.
Panic of 1837 - The Panic of 1837 resulted from rampant speculation in combination
with President Jackson's continuing opposition to the national
bank. It hampered the economy for several years and severely damaged
the presidency of Martin Van Buren, Jackson's successor.
Panic of 1857 - The Panic of 1857, caused by a major bank failure, plagued President
Buchanan's administration and added an element of economic tension
to a nation already strained by the question of slavery.
Panic of 1873 - The Panic of 1873 was mainly caused by overexpansion
during the reconstruction years. Under President Grant, the federal government
decided to re-issue greenbacks in hopes of reviving the economy,
despite Grant's previous opposition to any deviation from the gold
Address - Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address, given on March 4,
1865, was notably shorter than his First Inaugural. With the end
of the war in sight, Lincoln appealed to his audience for a compassionate
approach toward reconstruction and the soon-to-be defeated Confederacy.
Second Manassas - A retreating Union army was overwhelmed at Second Manassas, or
the Second Battle of Bull Run. Fought on September 29-30, 1862,
this Confederate victory encouraged Lee to enter Union territory
on the offensive, leading to the Battle of Antietam.
Seven Days' Battles - The culmination of McClellan's Peninsular Campaign, the
Seven Days' Battles ended in defeat for the Union forces after
a brilliant defensive by Generals Jackson and Lee. Fought from
June 25-July 1, 1862, this bloody campaign was one of the most
costly to be fought in the eastern theater during the early stages
of the Civil War.
Sherman's March to the Sea - After capturing, evacuating, and burning the city of
Atlanta in the autumn of 1864, Sherman led a savage six-week march across
the Georgia countryside, consuming and destroying everything of
potential use to the Confederate army for miles around. Just before
the New Year he arrived at Savannah, meeting up with the Union
navy and preparing to begin his push north to Richmond.
Shiloh - The Battle at Shiloh was fought on April 6-7, 1862.
It has been estimated that fully 80 percent of the nearly 80,000
men who fought at Shiloh had never been involved in battle before.
Casualties were high throughout. After an initial pounding, Union
forces under Grant gradually rallied to stave off the Confederate
Trent Affair - The Trent Affair involved the Union
seizure of two Confederate diplomats on board a British mail steamer
in November 1861. After the diplomats were transported to a jail
in Boston, British sentiment rose in anger against the Union.
Only when the British had mobilized a significant army to march
against the Union did Lincoln relinquish the prisoners and issue
an apology in order to smooth over relations between the two countries.
Vicksburg - Vicksburg finally fell to Union forces led by Grant on
July 4, 1863 after a lengthy siege. This victory gave the Union
complete control of the Mississippi River and did much to constrict
the leverage of the Confederate forces in the western theater.
War of 1812
- The War
was fought between the United States and Great
Britain over control of the high seas. After a lengthy campaign,
the United States emerged victorious, producing in the process
a new set of war heroes including Andrew Jackson and Winfield Scott.