To hold that African slavery was central to the South’s move to independence is far too simplistic and superficial; one could better conclude that the political partnership of two vastly different people and regions begun during the Revolution had fully unraveled after 80-some years. The constant agitation of violent slave insurrection in the South by fanatic abolitionists led to Southern secession, and the secession of the South caused the North to initiate war, invade and conquer the South, and then treat it as a subject economic colony.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com
Unionism and Secession in the South
One further caveat in thinking about Southern Unionism. Virtually all historians, including this one, are agreed today on the centrality of slavery in explaining the road to secession. Yet if we would understand the nature of Southern Unionism we cannot stop there in accounting for the abandonment of Unionist by sufficient Southerners to create the Confederacy. Human motivation and loyalties are more complex than that. A concern about the future of slavery was more often in the background than in the forefront of Southerners’ thinking about the Union.
Certainly it is difficult to show a clear causal line between direct involvement with slavery and attitudes toward secession. For one thing, too many unconditional Unionists . . . were slaveholders. For such persons the ownership of slaves was not sufficient reason for supporting secession. For another, most of the Southerners who made up the Confederacy were not directly connected with slavery at all. The majority of white Southerners, after all, did not own a single slave. Their concern for the institution of slavery could at best have been only an indirect motive for supporting secession and later the Confederacy.
It makes much more sense to see slavery as a shaper of Southern civilization and values than as an interest. The anxiety about the future of slavery was there because the future of the South was intimately tied up with the institution. But the role of slavery in moving individual Southerners from Unionism to secession was neither simple nor obvious. Precisely at what point an individual Southerner decided that he or she could no longer support the Union when it came into conflict with region depended upon many things, not only upon his or her immediate relationship to slavery.”
(The Other South, Southern Dissenters in the Nineteenth Century, Carl N. Degler, Harper & Row, 1974, page 122)