Order of Secession During the American Civil War

Why and When Eleven States Seceded from the American Union

Lincoln Visits Civil War Headquarters
President Abraham Lincoln visits Civil War headquarters. Bettmann Archive / Getty Images

The American Civil War was made inevitable when, in response to growing Northern resistance to the practice of slavery, several Southern states began to secede from the union. That process was the end game of a political battle that had been undertaken between the North and South shortly after the American Revolution. The election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 was the final straw for many southerners. They felt that his goal was to ignore states rights and remove their ability to enslave people.

Before it was all over, eleven states seceded from the Union. Four of these (Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Tennessee) did not secede until after the Battle of Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861. Four additional states that bordered pro-slavery states ("border slave states") did not secede from the Union: Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, and Delaware. In addition, the area that would become West Virginia was formed on Oct. 24, 1861, when the western portion of Virginia chose to break away from the rest of the state instead of seceding.

Order of Secession During the American Civil War

The following chart shows the order in which the states seceded from the Union. 

State Date of Secession
South Carolina December 20, 1860
Mississippi January 9, 1861
Florida January 10, 1861
Alabama January 11, 1861
Georgia January 19, 1861
Louisiana January 26, 1861
Texas February 1, 1861
Virginia April 17, 1861
Arkansas May 6, 1861
North Carolina May 20, 1861
Tennessee June 8, 1861

The Civil War had many causes, and Lincoln's election on Nov. 6, 1860, made many in the South feel that their cause was never going to be heard. By the early 19th century, the economy in the South had become dependent on one crop, cotton, and the only way that cotton farming was economically viable was through the stolen labor of enslaved people. In sharp contrast, the Northern economy was focused on industry rather than agriculture. The Northerners disparaged the practice of enslavement but purchased cotton generated from the stolen labor of enslaved people from the South, and with it produced finished goods for sale. The South viewed this as hypocritical, and the growing economic disparity between the two sections of the country became untenable for the South.

Espousing State's Rights 

As America expanded, one of the key questions that arose as each territory moved towards statehood would be whether enslavement was allowed in the new state. Southerners felt that if they did not get enough pro-slavery states, then their interests would be significantly hurt in Congress. This led to issues such as 'Bleeding Kansas' where the decision of whether to be a free state or a pro-slavery state was left up to the citizens through the concept of popular sovereignty. Fighting ensued with individuals from other states streaming in to try and sway the vote. 

In addition, many southerners espoused the idea of states' rights. They felt that the federal government should not be able to impose its will on the states. In the early 19th century, John C. Calhoun espoused the idea of nullification, an idea strongly supported in the south. Nullification would have allowed states to decide for themselves if federal actions were unconstitutional—could be nullified—according to their own constitutions. However, the Supreme Court decided against the South and said that nullification was not legal and that the national union was perpetual and would have supreme authority over the individual states.

The Call of Abolitionists and the Election of Abraham Lincoln

With the appearance of the novel "Uncle Tom's Cabin" by Harriet Beecher Stowe and the publication of key abolitionist newspapers like "The Liberator," the call for the abolition of slavery grew stronger in the north.

And, with the election of Abraham Lincoln, the South felt that someone who was only interested in Northern interests and was against the enslavement of people would soon be president. South Carolina delivered its "Declaration of the Causes of Secession," and the other states soon followed. The die was set and with the Battle of Fort Sumter on April 12–13, 1861, open warfare began. 


  • Abrahamson, James L. The Men of Secession and Civil War, 1859-1861. The American Crisis Series: Books on the Civil War Era, #1. Wilmington, Delaware: Rowman & Littlefield, 2000. Print.
  • Egnal, Marc. "The Economic Origins of the Civil War." OAH Magazine of History 25.2 (2011): 29–33. Print.
  • McClintock, Russell. Lincoln and the Decision for War: The Northern Response to Secession. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2008. Print.
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Kelly, Martin. "Order of Secession During the American Civil War." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/order-of-secession-during-civil-war-104535. Kelly, Martin. (2023, April 5). Order of Secession During the American Civil War. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/order-of-secession-during-civil-war-104535 Kelly, Martin. "Order of Secession During the American Civil War." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/order-of-secession-during-civil-war-104535 (accessed May 28, 2023).