Clearly, the immediate cause of war in 1861 was the Republican Party. Rather than pursue compromise in the Peace Conference led by former President John Tyler, or follow former President James Buchanan’s [and Kentucky’s] suggestion of solving the issues in a National Convention of the States, the turbulent party of Lincoln chose “party over country” and plunged the country into a destructive war which claimed the lives of a million people, and sacrificed the Constitution to a military dictatorship.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org
Sumter: the Republican Party’s Salvation
“After the failure of the Crittenden Compromise, Kentuckians refused to call it an ultimatum. They seemed to have felt that if an earthquake should swallow up the State it would not be more disastrous to them than disunion and civil war. They, therefore, responded with alacrity to the Virginia summons for a Peace Conference.
Unfortunately, the delegations from the northern States were made up of carefully picked “not-an-inch” Republicans, and the Peace Conference made no headway toward conciliation.
In the meantime, the Kentucky Legislature suggested the calling of a great national convention freshly elected by the American people, to deal with the subjects in controversy as became a free, intelligent and enlightened people. Kentucky did not want the Union to be broken in the “mortar of secession to be strung together on a rope of sand”, but neither did she want a higher law than the Constitution of the United States interpreted by the Supreme Court to be set up by a Republican minority.
However, the reinforcement of Fort Sumter directly brought on a so-called disturbance of the public peace and a call for 75,000 troops was thus substituted for the call of a National Convention. Of course, it was obvious after the spring elections that the non-compromising Republicans could secure only a minority of the delegates to such a Convention freshly elected by the people.
Moreover, the calling of such a convention would have been a substantial admission on the part of the Republican leaders that they, themselves, were not representative of the nation and that their argument in favor of a sectional control of the national government was invalid.
In other words, the calling of a National Convention would have amounted to an admission that the Republican party leaders were wrong in the premises – not on the slavery question, but on their advocacy of a sectional control of the national presidency. Lincoln’s statement that if [Major Robert] Anderson came out of Sumter, he, himself, would have to come out of the White House, was doubtless a correct estimate of the effect a withdrawal of troops from Sumter and the calling of a National Convention would have had on the political fortunes of the sectional Republican party.
It can be readily understood just why Republican party politicians would prefer the reinforcing of Sumter to the calling of a National Convention. An appeal to the brain of the nation meant the party’s annihilation, while an appeal to the brawn of the north meant the party’s salvation.”
(The Peaceable Americans of 1860-1861: A Study in Public Opinion, Mary Scrugham, Columbia University Press, 1921, excerpts pp. 111-113)