Yet the crisis came up in 1861 when the civil war broke out with a threat to the very existence of the Federation. Of course, a conflict between the north and the South was inevitable and this is a real wonder that how the breakdown could have been avoided for such a long period of time. In fact, ever since the formation of the Union, the units of the North and the South were cross-purposes. Ostensibly, the war centered round the institution of slavery; but, in fact, it was involved with much bigger issues of political and economic affairs as well. There was a strong reason for which the Southern states intended to desert the Union. While the North was highly industrialized, the South depended upon Agriculture and the finished goods from the North. Moreover, the South needed the slaves for agriculture, but the North was in favor of their emancipation. “The cotton-growing South, irritated by the growing threat of Abolitionist Movement, and fearing this predominance in the Congress, began to talk of secession from the union” (Wells). In short, the interests were very much conflicting. Gradually, the idea state-right gained ground and the Southern states began to think that it was useless to remain in the Federation. As their political fear along with the economic grudge mixed up, the existence of the Federation was seriously at stake.
Finally, the election of Abraham Lincoln as the President of America in the year 1866 brought the matter to a head. His success in the election was taken to be the ominous sign of a triumph of the slave-abolitionists and thus, everything rapidly drifted from bad to worse leading to a five-year war in 1861.
It is during this crucial time that the quality of the presidential leadership was seriously tested. As Sidney Warren has observed, “Abraham Lincoln, reacting boldly to the challenge of rebellion not only enlarged the constitutional role of presidency in times of crisis but invested the office with the attribute of moral leadership” (Warren). He believed that the Federation could not be broken up by the Southern states in this way and, in order to keep it intact, military measures were to be adopted with unbending tenacity and firm determination. Resultantly, the South was defeated, and the Federation was preserved.
It is a fact that the South began well and initially it achieved a number of victories. But the failure to capture Maryland was a turning point of the war. Lincoln immediately seized the opportunity to proclaim the emancipation of slaves in the rebellious states. It was truly a master-stroke, because the slaves in the Southern zone now began to support the President. And, moreover, it won the sympathy of foreign nations with the result that, since then, the rebels failed to win any outside assistance.