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The year is 1860, and four Presidential candidates are in the running for the election in November: Abraham Lincoln, John Breckenridge, John Bell, and Stephen Douglas. In our timeline, Lincoln, a Northern candidate, won a plurality and shortly afterward most of the South seceded and formed the Confederate States of America. However, what if a Southern candidate had won and the North had seceded?
In this timeline, none of the four candidates win enough electoral votes, and the election is thrown into the House of Representatives. Bell withdraws from the race, and Douglas throws his support to Breckenridge, paring down the race to just Breckenridge and Lincoln. The House of Representatives votes by a majority to make Breckenridge the President. One week later, Massachusetts votes to secede from the Union. By March 4, 1861, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Oregon have also seceded and have formed the Independent States of America, with Ulysses S. Grant as its Chancellor and its capital at Boston. After the assassination of Breckenridge and his running mate Joseph Lane on March 17 - not long before they were to be inaugurated - the remaining states chose Andrew Johnson to be President and made plans to retake the seceded northern states by force. This decision causes the states of Pennsylvania, Indiana, Iowa, and the western portion of Virginia to secede. Thus begins the US Civil War.