Browsing "Withdrawing from the Union"

The Southern Confederacy’s Objective

If we are true to the English language and its usage, what is referred to as the American Revolution was in reality a civil war as opposing sides fought for control of the governance of the American Colonies.  The 1861-1865 war was not a civil war as several Southern States had withdrawn from their voluntary political compact with other States, and formed their own voluntary Union.  The South, then, had no interest in governing the North and truly fought in self-defense; the North, then, truly fought the war for conquest.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Lincoln’s War

“Matthew Forney Steele in his 1951 American Campaigns points out that the American Civil War was unusual for a civil war in having a purely sectional bias. Allegiance in this civil war was decided by one’s geographic location rather than class, religion, political allegiance, ethnicity or other factors that usually set the battling factions in a civil war apart from each other.  This meant, in practical terms, that in the American Civil War the sides fought not among themselves but arrayed against each other.

The Southern Confederacy’s objective was simply to be left alone.  The Union’s determination was to deny them that forbearance.  Thus, an “invasion” of the Southern portion of the country, in Abraham Lincoln’s blandly legal phraseology, to “subdue combinations too powerful to be suppressed by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings,” became the war’s inevitable strategy.”

(Maps and Mapmakers of the Civil War, Earl B. McElfresh, H.N. Abrams Publishers, 1990, excerpt, pg. 20)

The Mine Laid at Washington

Lincoln chose to ignore the advice of the most prescient Cabinet members who could foresee where his aggressive and warlike actions would take him. The inexperienced new president had seen the result of Buchanan’s provocative Star of the West expedition to Sumter in early January 1861, but still rushed headlong into a collision and bloody war which followed. It should also be noted that Southern Unionists who opposed secession were looking to Lincoln for a peaceful settlement of the crisis, and pleaded with him to evacuate Sumter and let time cool the debate.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Mine Laid at Washington

On the 15th of March, 1861, President Lincoln submitted the following request in writing to each member of his Cabinet:

“My Dear Sir, Assuming it to be possible to now provision Fort Sumter, under all the circumstances is it wise to attempt it? Please give your opinion in writing on this question.”

Secretary Cameron wrote that he would advise such an attempt if he “did not believe the attempt to carry it into effect would initiate a bloody and protracted conflict.”

Secretary Welles wrote:

“By sending or attempting to send provisions into Fort Sumter, will not war be precipitated? It may well be impossible to escape it under any course of policy that may be pursued, but I am not prepared to advise a course that would provoke hostilities . . . I do not, therefore, under all the circumstances, think it wise to provision Fort Sumter.”

Secretary Smith wrote:

“The commencement of civil war would be a calamity greatly to be deplored and should be avoided if the just authority of the Government may be maintained without it. If such a conflict should become inevitable, it is much better that it should commence by the resistance of the authorities or people of South Carolina to the legal action of the Government in enforcing the laws of the United States . . . in my opinion it would not be wise, under all the circumstances, to attempt to provision Fort Sumter.”

Attorney General Bates wrote:

“I am unwilling, under all circumstances . . . to do any act which may have the semblance before the world of beginning a civil war, the terrible consequences of which would, I think, find no parallel in modern times . . . upon the whole I do not think it wise now to provision Fort Sumter.”

Postmaster-General Blair and Secretary Chase united in the opinion that it would be wise to make the effort to provision Fort Sumter.

[Secretary Salmon P. Chase] then proceeded to declare that, if such a step would produce civil war, he could not advise in its favor, but that, in his opinion, such a result was highly improbable, especially if accompanied by a proclamation from the President, reiterating the sentiments of his inaugural address. “I, therefore,” concluded Secretary Chase, “return an affirmative answer to the question submitted to me.”

It will be seen . . . that five of the seven members of the Cabinet concurred in the opinion that no attempt should be made to provision or reinforce Fort Sumter, and that such an attempt would in all probability precipitate civil war.

As Mr. Seward expressed it, “We will have inaugurated a civil war by our own act without an adequate object”; or, in the language of Secretary Welles, “By sending or attempting to send provisions into Fort Sumter, will not war be precipitated?” . . . I am not prepared to advise a course that would provoke hostilities.”

If such were the opinions of leading members of President Lincoln’s Cabinet, expressed in confidential communications to their chief, as to the character of the proposed action, can it be deemed unreasonable that the people of Virginia held similar views?

Fourteen days later, the President made a verbal request to his Cabinet for an additional expression of their views on the same subject. Seward and Smith adhered to their former opinions. Chase and Blair were joined by Welles. Bates was noncommittal, and no reply was made by Cameron, so far as records show.

In the light of the facts and arguments presented by the members of the President’s Cabinet, men, not a few, will conclude that, if the explosion occurred at Fort Sumter, the mine was laid at Washington.”

(Virginia’s Attitude Toward Secession, Beverley B. Munford, L.H. Jenkins, Richmond Virginia, 1909, excerpts, pp. 285-289)

 

 

“All the Land Belongs to the Yankees Now”

The South laid down their arms with the understanding that political union with the North would be restored, albeit against their will, but their rights in that political union would be as they were before hostilities commenced. This was not to be — punishment and retribution for seeking independence followed the shooting war – the second phase of the war would continue to 1877 and beyond.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

“All the Land Belongs to the Yankees Now”

“Gloom and depression gripped Richmond after the surrender. Thieves, murderers and pickpockets swarmed in the streets. The prevailing feeling of despair was intensified when suspicions were expressed in certain Northern quarters that Jefferson Davis and other Confederate leaders were somehow responsible for Lincoln’s death. This was, of course, absurd, but Northern radicals were looking for an excuse to punish the South to the limit.

Orders were accordingly issued forbidding as many as three former Confederates to stand on any Richmond street corner, lest they engage in further “conspiracies.” No Confederate insignia could be worn, with the result that a former soldier who had only his battered Confederate coat had to cut off the buttons or cover them with cloth. Many citizens talked of emigrating to Canada, Europe or Latin America.

Negroes were flooding into Richmond and other cities from the country districts. An estimated fifteen thousand came to the former Confederate capital, doubling its black population. Many of these newcomers believed vaguely that they would be cared for indefinitely by “Marse Linkum” or his agents.

As one of Emma Mordecai’s former slaves put it: “All de land belongs to de Yankees now, and dey gwine to divide it out ‘mong the colored people . . .” Another ex-slave was heard to say: “Dis what you call freedom! Can’t get no wuck, and got ter feed and clothe yo’sef.”

It was often easier for blacks to get work than whites. Ex-slaves were known to bring their impoverished former masters or mistresses Federal greenbacks and food from the US Commissary. It was clear that there were strong ties of affection between onetime slaves and their erstwhile owners.

Schoolteachers came down from the North to instruct blacks. Those in charge of these activities were idealistic in the extreme, but too frequently were lacking in understanding. Among those in dire need of help were the returning Confederate soldiers who had been confined in Northern prisons. These haggard, weak and often ill men, clad in hardly more than rags, staggered into town after somehow making their slow and tortuous way back to the South.

Fighting between Federal soldiers and Negroes occurred frequently in Richmond. Two soldiers shot a black through the head, leaving him for dead near the old Fair Grounds after robbing him of two watches and five dollars, according to the Dispatch.

The Virginia press was almost unanimous in opposition to Negro suffrage. The Richmond Times, said, for example: The former masters of the Negroes in Virginia have no feeling of unkindness toward them, and they will give them all the encouragement they deserve, but they will not permit them to exercise the right of suffrage, nor will they treat them as anything but “free Negroes.” They are laborers who are to be paid for their services . . . but vote they shall not.”

(Richmond: The Story of a City, Virginius Dabney, Doubleday & Company, 1976, excerpts, pp. 199-202)

 

Pale Corpse of Murdered Liberty

As Czar Alexander II ruthlessly crushed a rebellion against his oppression in Poland in 1863, French and English newspapers compared it to Lincoln’s war upon Americans in the South who sought independence from his government. In mid-1863 as war seemed imminent between Russia and the French and English allies, Lincoln welcomed two Russian fleets into New York and San Francisco harbors for eight months to forestall European intervention in his war.  Historical orthodoxy today claims European aversion to the Southern slavery they themselves introduced in America as the cause of non-recognition of the Confederacy, when Lincoln’s Russian intrigues were a far more likely reason.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Pale Corpse of Murdered Liberty in America and Europe

“Russia, the most hated nation in Europe, was even more friendless than Lincoln’s government [and her] Polish policy was threatening to embroil her in another European war. She needed America’s support for nonintervention in the Polish insurrection, as much as Lincoln’s government needed Russian support for nonintervention in the rebellion of the Southern States.

US Minister [William L.] Dayton wrote from Paris on February 23, 1863:

“The Polish revolt, which has been smoldering since 1861, broke into a fierce flame, and has driven American affairs out of view for the moment. A disturbance on the continent . . . is so near at hand and touches so many of the crowned heads of these countries, that distant events fall out if sight until these more immediate troubles are settled.”

Russia was ruthless in crushing the insurrection. Thousands of Poles were slain or incarcerated or deported to Siberia. The estates of numerous nobles were confiscated [and the] last remnants of Polish autonomy were extinguished.

Europe was touched by Poland’s plight. France, England and Austria decided to have recourse to diplomatic intervention . . . But the Czar, emulating Lincoln’s stand in the American rebellion, declared that the Polish rebellion was a purely domestic affair and that foreign intervention was unacceptable.

Years before, as a private citizen back in Springfield, Lincoln had not hesitated to take a leading part in protesting against Russia, “the foreign despot,” who “in violation of the most sacred principles of the laws of nature and of nations” had, through unwarranted armed intervention, overwhelmed Hungary when she was striving to throw off the yoke of Austrian tyranny.

[Lincoln] had subscribed to the principle: “That it is the right of any people, sufficiently numerous for national independence, to throw off, to revolutionize, their existing form of government, and to establish such other in its stead as they may choose.”

Now . . . Lincoln declared [the South’s] claim to the right of secession as unconstitutional and sheer treason. Lincoln’s answer [to the South was]:

“The States have their status in the Union, and they have no other legal status. If they break from this, they can only do so against law and by revolution. By conquest or purchase, the Union gave each of them whatever of independence liberty it has . . . Not any of them ever had a State Constitution independent of the Union.”

[Lincoln’s answer in opposing intervention] expressed confidence that the Polish grievances would be righted by the liberalism, sagacity and magnanimity of Czar Alexander II.

America’s refusal to join Russian’s enemies caused the Missouri Republic to declare that “the pale corpse of Poland’s murdered liberty” would haunt Lincoln in the days to come. French journals likened the American Civil War to the Polish insurrection, and pictured Lincoln placing his hand in the bloody hand of Czar Alexander II.

One French editor asked: “Is it right that fifty million Muscovites should unite to retain ten or twelve million Poles under a detested yoke? Is it right that twenty million Northern Germans and Irishmen should unite to impose on eight million Southerners an association they spurn?”

(Lincoln and the Russians, Albert A. Woldman, World Publishing Company, 1952, excerpts, pp. 157-160)

Sacrificing the Substance of Individual Liberty

James D. Bulloch, born in Savannah and descended from Scottish forbears, was the foremost planner of naval affairs for the new American nation in 1861. His grandfather, Archibald Bulloch (1730-1777), guided Georgia’s Liberty Party in actions against oppressive British colonial measures and later served as a colonel in the Revolution. James remained in England after the war and died there in exile in 1901. It is said that Bulloch was encouraged to write his memoirs by nephew Theodore Roosevelt in the early 1880’s, which inspired Teddy’s later book on the War of 1812. Roosevelt praised his uncle and other Southern patriots for following their duty to fight for independence.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Sacrificing the Substance of Individual Liberty

“In 1861 the disintegrating forces prevailed, and eleven of the Constituent Republics withdrew from the Union on the plea that the original conditions of Union had been broken by the others, and they formed a fresh confederation among themselves. The remaining States or Republics resisted that act of separation, and affirmed that the people of the whole United States were, or should be fused into, one nation, and that the division of the Union into States had, or should hereafter have, no greater political significance than the division of the several States into counties.

The Union of 1787 was dissolved in 1861 by the action of ten of the constituent republics. A new Union was formed in 1865 by the military power of the majority of States, compelling the minority to accept their view of the national compact. The former Union was a confederation of States, and was of course a Federal Republic; the latter Union is founded upon a fusion of the people into one nation, with a supreme centralized executive and administrative Government at Washington, and can no longer be called a Federal Republic; it has become an Imperial Republic.

The latter name gives some promise of greater strength and cohesion of the former, but the duration of the restored Union will depend very much on whether the people of the whole country fully realize, and are really reconciled to, the new dogma that each State is only an aggregate of counties, and that its political functions are only to consist in regulating such purely domestic concerns as the central authority in Washington may leave to its discretion.

If the majority who have effected the change in the conditions of the American Union are content to leave the management of public affairs to the professional politicians, the “caucuses,” and the “wire-pullers,” they will have fought in vain, and will find that to secure the semblance of a strictly national Union they have sacrificed the substance of individual liberty.”

(The Secret Service of the Confederate States in Europe, James D. Bulloch, Sagamore Press, 1959, excerpts, pp. 14-16)

The Original Confederacy

The Original Confederacy

The original governing document after the British colonies seceded from England was titled the Articles of Confederation, adopted on November 15, 1777, but not formally ratified by all thirteen States until March, 1781. Hence, the original American government was “Confederated,” the people (and their military arm) referred to as “Confederates,” and the flag they flew was a Confederate flag.

Interestingly, many of the Revolutionary leaders who formed this confederated government were not advocates of what they then knew as “democracy,” and they were unwilling to accept the idea that the Articles of Confederation were an expression of any eighteenth century democratic philosophy.

These leaders and creators of the Articles created a “separation of powers” which is often equated with today’s view of democracy and liberty. To James Madison and John Adams the purpose of such an instrument was to give both men of property and those without a voice in government as well as a check upon one another. Their fear was, that without this check, society could not prevent the exploitation which would probably ensue if either one got control of the government.

Also, the Articles were considered to be the constitutional expression of the philosophy of Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, and what was considered to be “democracy” was written into the revolutionary State constitutions regarding legislative supremacy, governors and the judiciary subservient to legislatures, and churches losing their past privileges.

John Adams wrote in 1817 of those romanticizing the Revolution and forgetting the mighty political battles that took place then and afterward. “There is,” he wrote, “an overweening fondness for representing this country as the scene of liberty, equality, fraternity, union, harmony and benevolence. But let not your sons or mine deceive themselves. This country, like all others, has been a theater of parties and feuds for near two hundred years.”

That Revolutionary generation of English colonists had experienced the rule of the Mother Country for all their lives, and the newspapers of 1775-76 were rife with essays distrusting office-holders, insisting on annual elections, rotation in office and constitutional restrictions on holding political office. Americans of that time were lectured upon that men in power naturally lusted for more power and that restraints were needed on officeholders lest the peoples’ liberties be put in danger.

In 1787’s convention Edmund Randolph pointed out that the authors of the Articles of Confederation were wise and great men, but that “human rights were the chief knowledge of the time.” He followed this by stating that our chief danger arises from the democratic parts of our constitutions . . . that the powers of government exercised by the people swallows up the other branches . . . [and that none] of the [State] constitutions have provided sufficient checks against the democracy.”

As the governing document, or “constitution” of the United States from 1781 to 1789, the Articles simply dissolved (though deemed “perpetual” when ratified) in the latter year as 11 States then bound to it voluntarily seceded and formed a more perfect union – but initially without Rhode Island and North Carolina whose people were suspicious of the new constitution’s grant of additional power to the central government in Washington.

After those two States withdrew from the Articles and joined the other eleven, this new Constitution passed through serious ruptures such as New England’s threats of secession in 1814 and serious tariff crises, until finally collapsing in war between North and South in 1861.”

Bernhard Thuersam

The Revolution of 1787 Ends the Founders Union

Several attempts were made to revise or replace the original founding document, the Articles of Confederation, after their ratification in 1781. By the fall of 1786, a majority of Congress thought an amendment necessary to grant Congress the power to regulate trade, though members warned that a proposed constitutional convention might grant unlimited powers to a national government, and that such a convention would be dangerous to the liberties of the people. Two of New York’s three delegates to the convention were selected because of their opposition to any fundamental reform of the Articles; Virginia included in its delegation Richard Henry Lee (father of Robert E. Lee) and Patrick Henry, both of whom were outspoken opponents of centralized political power.  The nine States (of 13) that ratified the new Constitution seceded from the Articles of Confederation.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Revolution of 1787 Ends the Founders’ Union

“In proposing a second constitutional convention, [Elbridge] Gerry, [George] Mason and [Edmund] Randolph embraced the revolutionary decision of the convention to bypass the amendment procedures of the Article of Confederation. The convention delegates merely asked the members of the Confederation Congress to forward the Constitution to the States with a recommendation that the State legislatures call special conventions to assent to and ratify the Constitution. As soon as nine States had ratified the Constitution it would become operable among those [nine] States.

Gerry, Mason and Randolph accepted the basic outlines of that plan but wanted to allow the States to propose amendments to “be submitted to and finally decided on by another general convention” before the Constitution would finally become the law of the land [in nine States].

Under both proposals the Confederation Congress was being asked to act as an agent in its own destruction and the State legislatures, hitherto bastions of hostility to centralized power, to vest State conventions with the authority to adopt a new form of government that materially restricted their own powers.

Despite the enormity of these requests there was a considerable likelihood they would be approved . . . In addition, the membership of the [constitutional] convention and Congress overlapped significantly. Richard Henry Lee complained that this overlap was so great that “it is easy to see that Congress could have little opinion [of its own] upon the subject.”

Finally, the Federalists, as the proponents of the new Constitution chose to call themselves, seized the initiative. They had a concrete proposal and a clear-cut plan of action. The revolution of 1787 was well underway.

(The Politics of Opposition, Antifederalists and the Acceptance of the Constitution, Stephen R. Boyd, KTO Press, 1979, excerpt, pg. 15)

The Civil War’s Basic Cause: Sectionalism

In this late 1940 address to the Southern Historical Association, historian Frank L. Owsley (1890-1956) spoke of the sectional cause of the Civil War and the North’s reluctance to allow the South to seek political independence.  Prof. Owsley was born in Alabama, taught at Vanderbilt University and was a member of the Southern Agrarians.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Civil War’s Basic Cause: Sectionalism

“Before attempting to say what were the causes of the American Civil War, first let me say what were not the causes of the war.

Perhaps the most beautiful, the most poetic, the most eloquent statement of what the Civil War was not fought for is the Gettysburg Address. That address will live as long as Americans retain their love for free government and personal liberty; and yet in reassessing the causes of the Civil War, the address whose essence is was that the war was being fought so “that government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the earth” is irrelevant.

Indeed, this masterpiece of eloquence has little if any value as a statement of the basic principles underlying the war.

The Civil War was not a struggle on the part of the South to destroy free government and personal liberty, nor on the part of the North to preserve them. Looked at from the present perspective of the worldwide attempt of the totalitarians to erase free governments and nations living under such governments from the face of the earth, the timeworn stereotype that the South was attempting the destruction of free government and the North was fighting to preserve it seems unrealistic and downright silly.

If the destruction of democratic government by the South and its preservation by the North were not the causes of the Civil War, what then were the causes? The surface answer to this question is that in 1861, the Southern people desired and attempted to establish their independence and thereby to disrupt the old Union; and that the North took up arms to prevent the South from establishing this independence and to preserve the Union.

This [Southern] state of mind may be summed up thus: by the Spring of 1861, the Southern people felt it both abhorrent and dangerous to continue to live under the same government with the people of the North. So profound was this feeling among the bulk of the Southern population that they were prepared to fight a long and devastating war to accomplish a separation.

On the other hand, the North was willing to fight a war to retain their reluctant fellow citizens under the same government with themselves.

The cause of that state of mind which we may well call war psychosis lay in the sectional character of the United States. In other words, the Civil War had one basic cause: sectionalism.

Our national state was built, not upon the foundations of a homogenous land and people, but upon geographic sections inhabited severally by provincial, self-conscious, self-righteous, aggressive and ambitious populations of varying origins and diverse social and economic systems; and the passage of time and the cumulative effects of history have accentuated these sectional patterns.”

(The Fundamental Cause of the Civil War, Frank L. Owsley, excerpt, Address to Southern Historical Association, November 8, 1940)

 

 

Readmission a Legal Impossibility

In the following mid-1864 letter to Charles Sumner of Massachusetts, General E.W. Gantt of Arkansas questions the revolutionary logic of the radical Republicans in Congress who claimed sovereign States had become mere territories after unsuccessfully seeking political independence — he expected the North to live up to its alleged aim of preserving the Union as it was. Gantt was a Confederate brigadier who decided by 1863 that Arkansas could not achieve independence and should return to the Union — he became the only Southern general to commit treason.  Historian Bruce S. Allardice suggests that Gantt’s behavior was the result of insobriety, cowardice, opportunism or immorality.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Readmission a Legal Impossibility

Secession and Readmission; Letter to Hon. Charles Sumner from Gen. E. W. Gantt, of Arkansas.

FIFTH-AVENUE HOTEL, June 1, 1864.

Hon. Chas. Sumner:

SIR: But for your resolution and action in reference to Arkansas politics, I feel sure that I should not have appeared before the public again. The subject which calls forth this letter being entirely of a public character, induces me to address you through the columns of the New-York TIMES.

Upon the application of the State of Arkansas to resume her relations — temporarily disturbed — with the National Government, by sending her constitutionally-chosen representatives for that purpose, you have seen fit to introduce the following resolution, to wit:

Resolved, That a State pretending to secede from the Union, and battling against the National Government to maintain their position, must be regarded as a rebel State, subject to military occupation, and without representation on this floor, until it has been readmitted by a vote of both Houses of Congress; and the Senate will decline to entertain any application from any such rebel State until after such a vote of both Houses.

From this I infer that you intend to oppose our peace offering, and to break up, if possible, our loyal State organization, effected as it has been at immense personal hazard, and wonderful exertions and determination upon the part of our loyal people.

When you say that a “State pretending to secede” must be “readmitted” by a vote of both Houses of Congress, what are we to understand you to mean? Do you mean that the State really did secede? That is, that it got out of the “compact?” If that be so does it not occur to you that it went out as a State and became a separate sovereignty? If this be so, “readmission,” it strikes me, is a legal impossibility. The Sovereign Government of Arkansas should apply for “annexation” and not “readmission.” But do you mean that it only pretended it was out, while in point of fact it was in the Union? Then how could you “readmit” that which never was out? It would place the Government in the awkward attitude, it seems to me, of fighting against the people of a State because they “pretended to secede,” and yet had not, and at the same time declaring that they did go out and must be “readmitted.”

But do you mean that the secession ordinances passed by certain legislatures and conventions reduced the States in which the same were passed to Territories? If so, how? If the ordinances referred to put the States out, why they went out as States. It won’t do to say they had just enough sovereignty to scramble out of the Government, and that then they rumbled into Territories.

The sovereignty reserved that could take them out, could hold them up as States. As such, they could form compacts with other Governments, or new combinations of their own. They could not possibly work their way out of the Government, and being out, fall back to the Government as a part of its territory — no more than they could merge into the Russian possessions. A doctrine so dangerous might destroy the Government in a month. Secession ordinances passed by twenty States, reducing them to Territories, would stop the wheels of Government.

But you may intend this as a punishment because our State “pretended to secede.” If so, we are already punished enough. But why discriminate? Missouri pretended to secede, and so did Kentucky. There was no question raised over them. And Mr. BOULINEY, of Louisiana, remained in the Congress of the United States more than one year after Louisiana pretended to secede.

But, then, your opposition may arise from want of regularity in the reorganization. That it was without precedent I admit. That the people, groaning under anarchy, oppression and despair, wrought out a government from the wreck around them, with no beaten path to follow, is true.”

(New York Times, June 3, 1864)

 

Self-Preservation Compelled Secession

Foremost in the minds of Southerners by 1860 was the incessant abolitionist agitation that had wrought Nat Turner’s murderous rampage in 1831, and most recently then, John Brown’s in 1859. The memory of brutal slave uprisings and massacres in Santo Domingo and what may lay ahead for them had much to do with separating the South from the North. Rather than work toward a practical and peaceful compromise to end the labor system inherited from Britain, the abolitionists and Lincoln himself allowed the drift to war and the end of the republic.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Self-Preservation Compelled Secession

“What mighty force lay back of this Southern movement, which by the beginning of February, 1861, had swept seven States out of the Union?

An explanation early accepted and long held by the North made it simply the South’s desire to protect slavery. Forty years of wrangling over this subject, fortified by many statements Southerners had made about it . . . [and] South Carolina in her secession declaration had made the North’s interference with slavery her greatest grievance, and the subject appeared equally large in other seceding States.

Yet simple answers are never very satisfying, and in this case it was too simple to say that Southerners seceded and fought a four-year war for the surface reason of merely protecting their property in slaves. Had not the South spurned the Corwin Amendment, which guaranteed slavery in the States against all interference by Congress? And what happened to the subject of slavery in the territories, which had loomed so big in the 1850’s? Now it was forgotten by both the North and the South.

Slavery was undoubtedly a potent cause; but more powerful than slavery was the Negro himself. It was the fear of what would ultimately happen to the South if the Negro should be freed by the North, as the abolitionists seemed so intent on doing – and Southerners considered Republicans and abolitionists the same.

This fear had worried [John C.] Calhoun when he wrote in 1849 “The Address of Southern Delegates in Congress to their Constituents.” It was not the loss of property in slaves that the South feared so much as the danger of the South becoming another Santo Domingo, should a Republican regime free the slaves.

And it is no argument to say that Lincoln would never have tried to do this. The South believed his party would force him to it if he did not do so of his own volition. If he were not himself an abolitionist, he had got his position by abolition votes. A friend of Salmon P. Chase, Secretary of the Treasury, told him that the South’s knowledge of what happened in Santo Domingo and “Self-preservation had compelled secession.”

(A History of the South, Volume VII, The Confederate States of America, 1861-1865, E. Merton Coulter, LSU Press, 1950, excerpts, pp. 8-10)

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