The following is excerpted from a postwar letter written by Clement C. Clay of Alabama, to review the facts leading to the withdrawal of the Southern States in 1861, and Jefferson Davis’ efforts to forestall secession, seek conciliation with Northern leaders, and preserve the Union. It clearly identifies those wanting to preserve the Union, and lays the responsibility for disunion at the feet of Lincoln’s party.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com
The Republican’s Stubborn Purpose
“Mr. Davis did not take an active part in planning or hastening secession. I think he only regretfully consented to it, as a political necessity for the preservation of popular and State rights’ which were seriously threatened by the triumph of a sectional party who were pledged to make war on them.
No “plan of secession” or “scheme of revolution” was, to my knowledge, discussed – certainly none matured – at the [Democratic] caucus, 5th of January, 1861 . . . I have never heard that the caucus advised the South “to accumulate munitions of war,” or “to organize and equip an army of one hundred thousand men,” or determined “to hold on as long as possible to the Southern seats [in Congress].”
So far from it, a majority of Southern Senators seemed to think there would be no war; that the dominant party in the North desired separation from the South, and would gladly let their “erring sisters go in peace.” I could multiply proofs of such a disposition.
As to holding on to their seats, no Southern legislature advised it, no Southern Senator who favored secession did so but one, and none others wished to do so, I believe.
The “plan of secession,” if any, and the purpose of secession, unquestionably, originated, not in Washington City, or with the Senators or Representatives of the South, but among the people of the several States, many months before it was attempted. They followed no leaders at Washington or elsewhere, but acted for themselves, with an independence and unanimity unprecedented in any movement of such magnitude.
Before the election of Lincoln, all the Southern States, excepting one or two, had pledged themselves to separate from the Union upon the triumph f a sectional party in the Presidential election, by acts or resolutions of their Legislatures, resolves of both Democratic and Whig State Conventions, and of primary assemblies of the people – in every way in which they could commit themselves to any future act.
Their purpose was proclaimed to the world through the press and telegraph, and criticized in Congress, in the Northern Legislatures, in press and pulpit, and on the hustings, during many months before Congress met in December, 1860.
Over and above all these facts, the reports of the United States Senate show that, prior to the 5th of January 1861, Southern Senators united with Northern Democratic Senators in an effort to effect pacification and prevent secession, and that Jefferson Davis was one of a committee appointed by the Senate to consider and report such a measure; that it failed because the Northern Republicans opposed everything that looked to peace; that Senator [Stephen A.] Douglas arraigned them as trying to precipitate secession, referred to Jefferson Davis as one who sought conciliation, and called upon Republican Senators to tell what they would do, if anything, to restore harmony and prevent disunion. They did not even deign a response.
Thus by their sullen silence, they made confession (without avoidance) of their stubborn purpose to hold up no hand raised to maintain the Union . . .”
(The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government, Volume One, Jefferson Davis, D. Appleton and Company, 1881, excerpts, pp. 206-209)