Less than a month after the Civil War began, Abraham Lincoln explained what the conflict represented. When told that the White House mailbag bulged with appeals to emancipate the slaves, the president, who hated slavery as much as any abolitionist hated it, replied
For my own part, I consider the central idea pervading this struggle is the necessity that is upon us, of proving that popular government is not an absurdity. We must settle this question now, whether in a free government the minority have the right to break up the government whenever they choose. If we fail it will go far to prove the incapability of the people to govern themselves.