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But Lincoln was not seeing what Southerners saw. Lincoln might argue that a president had no authority to lay hands on slavery; but every Southerner knew he could do the next best thing, which was to unsettle it. If ‘‘Mr. Lincoln places among us his Judges, District Attorneys, Marshals, Post Masters, Custom House officers, etc.,’’ raged Georgia governor Joseph Brown, he will be able to seduce unsteady Southern whites to create a Southern Republican party, flood ‘‘the country with inflammatory Abolition doctrines,’’ and create a climate of fear, which would produce either a slave insurrection or else a hasty abandonment of slavery in order to avoid one. The day of Southern hegemony in American politics was past, and Southerners had no reason to suppose that it would ever come back. ‘‘All the powers of a Government which has so long sheltered it will be turned to its destruction,’’ wailed the Augusta Daily Constitutionalist. The South’s only hope ‘‘is out of the Union.’’

- Lincoln: A Very Short Introduction, Allen C. Guelzo


It will be difficult for us to appreciate the degree of desperation produced in the South by Lincoln’s election unless we remember what the presidency meant on the local level in the 1860s. The creation of a professional civil service was still another thirty years in the future, and in the meantime, every federal appointive office—some 900 of them all told, from the cabinet down to the lowliest postmaster—was filled at presidential discretion and usually according to party or philosophical loyalties. Until 1860 fully half of these appointees were Southerners; in the case of the Supreme Court, nineteen out of thirty-four sitting justices appointed between Washington and Lincoln were slaveholders. Much as Lincoln might protest that he was no John Brown, his identity as a Republican was enough to convince most Southerners that he would appoint only Republicans to postmasterships (where they could ensure the free flow of abolitionist literature into every Southern hamlet), only Republicans as federal marshals (who would then turn a deliberately blind eye to fugitive slaves en route to Canada), only Republicans to army commands (and thus turn the federal army into an anti-slavery militia, and federal forts and arsenals in the South into abolitionist havens), and thus make the Republicans, and the anti-slavery attitude, attractive to the nonslaveholding whites of the South without whose cooperation the survival of slavery would be impossible. These Republican intruders would “circulate insurrectionary documents and disseminate insurrectionary sentiments among [the] hitherto contented servile population.” That was entirely aside from the possibility that Lincoln himself harbored hostile designs on the South. Georgia governor Joseph Brown prophesied, with remarkable foresight, that

"if Mr. Lincoln places among us his Judges, District Attorneys, Marshals, Post Masters, Custom House officers, etc., etc., by the end of his administration, with the control of public patronage, he will have succeeded in dividing us to an extent that will destroy all our moral powers, and prepare us to tolerate the running of a Republican ticket, in most of the States of the South, in 1864. If this ticket only secured five or ten thousand votes in each of the Southern States, it would be as large as the abolition party was in the North a few years ago since . . .. This would soon give it control of our elections. We would then be powerless, and the abolitionists would press forward, with a steady step, to the accomplishment of their object. They would refuse to admit any other slave States to the Union. They would abolish slavery in the District of Columbia, and at the Forts, Arsenals and Dock Yards, within the Southern States, which belong to the United States. They would then abolish the internal slave trade between the States, and prohibit a slave owner from carrying his slaves into Alabama or South Carolina, and there selling them . . .. Finally, when we were sufficiently humiliated, and sufficiently in their power, they would abolish slavery in the States. It will not be many years before enough of free States may be formed out of the present territories of the United States, and admitted into the Union, to give them sufficient strength to change the Constitution, and remove all Constitutional barriers which now deny to Congress this power."

- Fateful Lightning: A New History of the Civil War and Reconstruction, Allen C. Guelzo


The Republicans also threatened slavery where it existed, despite their protests to the contrary. They closed off the possibility of improvement by barring slaveholders from the territories. Secessionists emphasized how blocking the institution’s expansion could create a racial explosion. With Republican control of government agencies and the expansion of the number of free states, the South would be helpless to protect slavery. The Republicans’ alleged insistence on racial equality would remove the white man’s special status, wreck the South’s republican form of government with Negro rule, and precipitate racial conflict if not an all-out race war. As De Bow explained in January 1861, “In Northern communities, where the free negro is one in a hundred of the total population, he is recognized and acknowledged often as a pest.… What would be the case in many of our States, where every other inhabitant is a negro?” The end of the White Republic in the South meant the end of white liberty and equality.

- America Aflame, David Goldfield


William D. Holcombe, a Mississippi physician and writer, disabused those who attributed the national breakup to causes other than slavery. “He has not analyzed this subject aright nor probed it to the bottom, who supposes that the real quarrel between the North and the South is about the Territories, or the decision of the Supreme Court, or even the constitution itself.… Opposition to slavery, to its existence, its extension and its perpetuation, is the sole cohesive element of the triumphant faction.… The only alternative left us is this: a separate nationality or the Africanization of the South.”

- America Aflame: How the Civil War Created a Nation, David Goldfield


When Mississippi’s commissioner, William L. Harris, appeared before the Georgia legislature in late December 1860, he noted that a Republican administration promised “freedom to the slave, but eternal degradation for you and for us.” He elaborated: “Our fathers made this a government for the white man, rejecting the negro, as an ignorant, inferior, barbarian race, incapable of self-government, and not, therefore, entitled to be associated with the white man upon terms of civil, political, or social equality.” The choice for the South was clear: “This new union with Lincoln Black Republicans and free negroes, without slavery; or, slavery under our old constitutional bond of union, without Lincoln Black Republicans, or free negroes either, to molest us.”

- America Aflame: How the Civil War Created a Nation, David Goldfield


Davis himself subscribed to Stephens's views. Many southerners did. In a speech to the Confederate Congress just after the war began, and with little national or international coverage, Davis placed the crisis squarely on the northern majority in Congress and its “persistent and organized system of hostile measures against the rights of the owners of slaves in the Southern States.” He praised slavery as an institution in which “a superior race” transformed “brutal savages into docile, intelligent, and civilized agricultural laborers. With interests of such overwhelming magnitude imperiled, the people of the Southern States were driven by the conduct of the North to the adoption of some course of action to avert the danger with which they were openly menaced.”

- America Aflame: How the Civil War Created a Nation, David Goldfield


Secessionists retorted that a stealthy northern majority would initially let Southerners do the menacing. Southern politicians would form a wing of the Black Republican party, dedicated to agitating against slavery, especially in the Border South. South Carolina patricians, the most avid secessionists, considered all agitating parties dangerous. These aristocratic republicans had long taken the proslavery rationale beyond a vision of whites directing blacks. Theirs was a more universal paternalistic conception: The best men should direct lesser humans of all races. To them all national parties portended mobocratic republicanism. Patronage-hungry demagogues would stir up the masses and thus overwhelm disinterested paternalists.

In contrast, Lower South mainstream politicians beyond crusty South Carolina, having long happily participated in national parties, feared not democratic parties in general but a prospective Southern Republican party in particular. They uneasily recalled Frank Blair's delivery of 10 percent of Missourians to Lincoln in the election of 1860, Delaware's 24 percent vote for Lincoln, the more northern South's Opposition party's recent overtures to the Republicans, and Northern Republicans' publication of Helper's call for nonslaveholder war against slaveholders. They knew that Lincoln had patronage jobs at his disposal and that Border South leaders wanted them. They understood that Lincoln, like the Border South's hero, Henry Clay, carried on Thomas Jefferson's vision of emancipation with freedmen's removal financed by the federal government. Lincoln, in short, need not force abolition on the most northern South. He could instead encourage and bribe Border Southerners to agitate for their misty hope of, and his nebulous plan for, removing blacks from a whitened republic. Nor, warned the secessionists, would Republican efforts for black removal be restricted to rallying a Border South white majority. Republicans would encourage slaves to flee the Border South.

With white support melting away and black slaves running away, border slaveholders would dispatch their human property to Lower South slave markets. Then nothing could deter a Border South Republican party. The Slave South, shrunk to 11 states or less and prevented from expanding into new territories, could only watch while northern free-labor states swelled from 18 to 33. In that 44-state Union, concluded secessionists, Republican emancipators would have the three-fourths majority to abolish slavery in 11 states by constitutional amendment.

Southern extremists meant to cancel that democratic drama before the staging began. They would not let northern-style republicanism, with all issues open for discussion, replace southern-style republicanism, in which debate about slavery was impermissible. They would not sit back and watch while a new president used patronage to forge a new centrist position on the forbidden subject. They would not allow Lincoln's method of antislavery, the slow transformation of public opinion, to operate within the South. They had long especially feared democratic agitation in the Border South, that nontropical vestige of seventeenth-century slaveholders' effort to defy tropical geography. Many of the Slavepower's aggressive defenses, including the Fugitive Slave Law and the KansasNebraska Act, had sought to keep Border South whites and Border South blacks separated from contamination by freedom.

Now Lincoln's and the Border South's favorite national solution to slavery-compensated emancipation conditional on federally financed black removal-might establish the most contaminating and indestructible vital center yet. Since gag rule times, southern and northern extremists had unintentionally collaborated to destroy centrist ideological positions and centrist national parties. After twenty years of slavery crises, the Democratic party could no longer find a middle position between that of southern moderates, enraged by Yankee insults, and that of northern moderates, enraged by proslavery ultimatums. But no extremist tactic in the Union might deter a new centrist program, institutionalized in a newly national Republican party. Cries of "traitor" would not deter Border South Republicans, for the region's numerous advocates of black removal thought an all-white Border South exceedingly patriotic. Fear of losing southern elections would not deter conditional antislavery moderates, for Henry Clay Whiggery had done well in the Border South, and Lincoln's party figured to be a rebuilt Whiggish coalition. Furthermore, Border South demagogues could not feast on Lincoln's national patronage. After well-fed politicians started agitating, wouldn't Border South inhabitants agree to remove blacks at federal expense, or Border South masters sell out at Lower South purchasers' expense, especially if more and more of the region's slaves ran away?

- "The Divided South, Democracy's Limitations, and the Causes of the Peculiarly North American Civil War,', William W. Freehling, in Why the Civil War Came, edited by Gabor Boritt


South Carolina, of course, went first. Its “Declaration of the Immediate Causes which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union,” issued on December 24, 1860, complained of Northern states’ and federal failure to return fugitive slaves in accordance with the Constitution and federal law: “But an increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery, has led to a disregard of their obligations, and the laws of the General Government have ceased to effect the objects of the Constitution.” It complained that Northern states had condemned slavery as sinful and that Northerners had elected as president a man who had said, “Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free.” The South Carolinians even criticized Northern states for allowing free blacks (non-citizens under the notorious 1857 Supreme Court decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford) to vote. Far from respecting individual states’ rights, they wanted to compel the federal and other state governments to enforce slaveholders’ rights.

Mississippi was simultaneously moving toward secession. On November 26, 1860, Governor John Pettus urged the legislature to convene a secession convention, declaring, “The existence or the abolition of African slavery in the Southern States is now up for a final settlement.” He accused Northerners of regarding slavery as a sin and urging its destruction. The North, he said, was ordering the South to decide “whether it shall be a peaceable and gradual abolition or speedy and violent.”

On November 30, 1860, the Mississippi legislature called for a secession convention with delegates elected by voters and authorized the governor to appoint delegates to other slave states. The North, they complained, had defied the Constitution’s fugitive slave provision, interfered with slavery, enticed slaves to flee, agitated against slavery, sought to exclude slavery from the territories, and opposed the admission of more slave states.

Abolitionists, moreover, sought to amend the Constitution to prohibit slavery and to punish slaveholders. They had encouraged John Brown’s raid and had elected a president and vice president hostile to the South and its system of labor. In convoking a secession convention, the Mississippi legislature left no doubt that slavery was the main reason for a withdrawal from the Union.

With its legislature already having determined that secession was the proper remedy for all the slavery-related grievances, Mississippi’s January 9, 1861, secession ordinance, passed by the convention without a further vote by the people, surprised no one.

The convention’s declaration of the causes of secession got right to the point:

"Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery—the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin."

After a long list of sixteen slavery-related grievances (many the same as those in the November 30 legislative resolutions), the declaration concluded, “We must either submit to degradation, and to the loss of property worth four billions of money, or we must secede from the Union framed by our fathers, to secure this as well as every other species of property.”

The convention’s declaration was consistent with the fact that their debates had been dominated by slavery-related issues, including the Atlantic slave trade and taxation of slaves. As one leading delegate, Alexander M. Clayton, stated, “We are in the midst of a great work. This movement was inaugurated to protect the institution of slavery, and to preserve it from destruction.” Timothy Smith concludes: “Still, despite some long-held and erroneous modern arguments about slavery’s minuscule role in secession, the delegates obviously had slavery on their minds in almost every decision that they made, and it was on their tongues more than most Mississippians realize today. . . . [T]he commissioners’ speeches leave no doubt that slavery was the key issue in the secession of Mississippi.”

- The Myth of the Lost Cause, Edward H. Bonekemper III


On November 26, 1860, its governor, John J. Pettus, asked his legislature, “Can the lives, liberty and property of the people of Mississippi be safely entrusted to the keeping of that sectional minority which must hereafter administer the Federal Government?” He answered with a resounding no and urged secession as necessary to avoid the blight of “Black Republican politics and free negro morals,” which would transform the state into a “cess pool of vice, crime and infamy.” He successfully urged lawmakers to convene a secession convention and authorize him to send commissioners to other slave states. Within days, he designated Whig and Democratic commissioners to every other slave state.

The first significant presentation by a Southern commissioner was made by Judge William L. Harris, a member of Mississippi’s highest court and that state’s commissioner to Georgia. On December 17, 1860, he addressed a joint session of the Georgia General Assembly. His speech was important because there were in Georgia many Unionists who were not eager for secession. Therefore, he had to be convincing and expound upon issues that would promote secession.

His primary issues were slavery and race relations. He began with a recital of Northern “outrages,” including the North’s 1850s failure “to yield to us our constitutional rights in relation to slave property.” The recently victorious Republicans, he said, “have demanded, and now demand, equality between the white and negro races, under our Constitution; equality in representation, equality in the right of suffrage, equality in the honors and emoluments of office, equality in the social circle, equality in the rights of matrimony.” The new administration promised “freedom to the slave, but eternal degradation for you and for us.”

In a somewhat biased interpretation of America’s founding, Harris argued: “Our fathers made this a government for the white man, rejecting the negro, as an ignorant, inferior, barbarian race, incapable of self-government, and not, therefore, entitled to be associated with the white man upon terms of civil, political, or social equality.” He warned that the Lincoln administration would “overturn and strike down this great feature of our Union, without which it never would have been formed, and to substitute in its stead their new theory of the universal equality of the black and white races.”

After complaining extensively about Northern failure to enforce fugitive slave requirements, Harris laid out the choice for the Georgia legislators: “This new union with Lincoln Black Republicans and free negroes, without slavery; or, slavery under our old constitutional bond of union, without Lincoln Black Republicans, or free negroes either, to molest us.” This choice, he proclaimed, was no choice at all: to avoid “submission to negro equality . . . secession is inevitable.”

To be sure his listeners understood his major, virtually only, point, the judge finished with the words, “Sink or swim, live or die, survive or perish, the part of Mississippi is chosen, she will never submit to the principles and policy of this Black Republican Administration. She had rather see the last of her race, men, women and children, immolated in one common funeral pile [pyre], than see them subjected to the degradation of civil, political and social equality with the negro race.”

After Harris’s speech, the Georgia Legislature adopted a resolution condemning Northerners for supporting a political party “organized . . . for the avowed purpose of destroying the institution of slavery, and consequently spreading ruin and desolation among the people in every portion of the states where it exists.” The legislature ordered a thousand copies of Harris’s speech printed, and the Athens Southern Banner called the day of his speech “the greatest day of the session.”

- The Myth of the Lost Cause, Edward H. Bonekemper III


Yancey conceded that most Republicans sought only slavery's containment. But "carry out" that aim, "and it will necessarily follow that the institution will die out in ... many" southern states. "In others, it will be far less valuable than it now is." Moreover, if Lincoln filled southern federal offices with Republican appointees, "abolitionists would be found everywhere through the South, with strychnine to put in their wells as they were now found in Texas. ... With the offices of the Government in the hands" of our enemy, "property would be deteriorated" with "general desolation" and "universal ruin" following.

Yancey spelled out the ruinous process more completely when he returned to the South. ...

"The times are serious" and "the issues ... grave," declared the orator, and we must emulate "our forefathers ... in 1776." Some say that Lincoln will be "conservative." They mean that he will reject laws that would interfere with slavery inside southern states. But a president must appoint officers in the South, and "do not suppose that no" Southerners will "take office under Lincoln. Do not suppose that ... no men among you ... sympathize with him."

His officers will bring "the irrepressible conflict" seeping "through the Southern States, as water percolates through a rock." His appointees will accomplish "his object ... without legislation. There will be free speech, as they call it, everywhere for the propagation of Abolition opinions. There will be a free press, as they call it, for the circulation of Abolition documents." There will be a "Black Republican president at Washington, to protect and encourage them." Southern Republican "numbers will soon be doubled, quadrupled, -- yea, increased a hundred fold in our midst."

Since slaves torch Texas even before a Republican takes a southern office, continued Yancey, "what mischief may you expect when Lincoln gets into power," even if Republicans "do not legislate at all?" We can expect, answered the Alabamian, that "slave property in Kentucky, and Maryland, and Virginia, and Missouri, would become worthless, by intimidation, by fear, and by other causes." After "the abolition of slavery" in the "border states, ... the whole South would" become "another St. Domingo or Jamaica." Republicans are already "coming over the border." Look "at John Minor Botts of Virginia, Cassius M. Clay of Kentucky, F. P. Blair of Missouri." Look at the "foundation in the Southern States on which these men stand." Give these heretics "your closest attention, if you wish" to know "the position, power, and aims of the [Republican] party."

- The Road to Disunion II: The Secessionists Triumphant, 1854-1861, William Freehling


As the Charleston Mercury pared a complex issue to its explosive essence: "The question now for the South to consider is this -- under whose government will the slaves of the South be most quietly kept in subjection and order? ... If we had a government of our own, the post office, all the avenues of intercourse, the police and the military would be under our exclusive control." Or as the Mercury summed up the folly of waiting for an overt act, with Lincoln's nonovert patronage the imminent gunman, "Although you see your enemy load his rifle with the direct purpose of taking your life, you are to wait ... until he shoots you."


An "Abolition Party in the South, of Southern men," warned the Charleston Mercury, will make "the contest for slavery ... no longer ... between the North and the South. It will be in the South, between the people of the South." United States Marshal Daniel Heyward Hamilton feared that "when we find ourselves fairly embarked in a contest which will shake the world, you will find an element of great weakness in our nonslaveholding population." Hamilton wondered whether "360,000 slaveholders will dictate terms for 3,000,000 of non-slaveholders at the South. -- I fear not; I mistrust our own people more than I fear all of the efforts of the Abolitionists."

The "most immediate danger," diagnosed the Charleston Mercury, "will be brought to slavery in all the Frontier [Border South] States." First, slaves will be infected. "The underground railroad will become an over-ground railroad." Throughout our vulnerable hinterlands, "the tenure of slave property will be felt to be weakened, and the slaves will be sent down to the Cotton States for sale." Subsequently, "the Frontier States" will "enter on the policy of making themselves Free States." Slavery will thus be rolled back into solely the seven Lower South states. The surviving remnant, blackened with ex-Upper South slaves and surrounded by free states, will suffer increasingly dangerous internal debates over their increasingly peculiar U.S. institution.


The upcountry's most systematic argument for divorce, that of State Senator J. Foster Marshall of Abbeville, could just as easily have been a lowcountry gem (not least in barely mentioning that supposedly central concern, the expansion of slave territory). Unionists, scoffed Marshall, would have us wait for the "overt act." They would delay even "talk about dissolving this Union" until "Congress passes a law abolishing slavery in the Territories, or in the District of Columbia, or in the Forts and Arsenals of the slave states." For now, southern delayers would prefer to talk Yankees into "a returning sense of justice."

"Ridiculous!" Hateful Yankees consider slaveholders among "the greatest monsters on earth." They wish to possess "this Government ... to accomplish their hellish work." The foe knows that "direct legislation" would arouse the South "from her supineness and lethargy." Cunning dissimulators will instead creep indirectly inside. They will ply "men in our midst who have "˜tender consciences' upon the subject of slavery," with "promises of office and position." These Southerners "of their own stamp," once placed "into our post-offices and post-roads," will form "small parties" in "our every district and county."

Those tiny cells "will increase under the auspices and patronage of the Black Republicans, until district after district, county after county falls into their power." Once we are surrounded with "free states on our North and West" and "with the Atlantic on our East," their agitations will make slavery "'stink in our nostrils.' To save ourselves, our wives, and our children" from the "insolent, and rebellious negro, we will be made to abolish slavery ourselves." Emancipation will be "far preferable than the attempt to hold the negro in slavery, with such influences acting and inciting him to rapine and murder."

Do you protest, roared this upcountry secessionist, that this "is an overwrought picture of the workings of the Government in the hands of the Black Republicans? Then for proof," look at Frank Blair, Jr.'s victory in Missouri. "Look at the burnings" in Texas. Look at "the poisoning and murdering of her men, women, and children that was contemplated. ... If the Abolitionists can thus destroy our property and excite our people by merely sending their agents and money in our midst, what can they not do when the Treasury" finances their saboteurs? Lincoln's nonovert threat, answered J. Foster Marshall, "is one of life or death."

- The Road to Disunion II: The Secessionists Triumphant, 1854-1861, William Freehling


Southerners alone would have to decide about emancipation inside their states, after Northerners imprisoned slavery's moral horror inside the South.

With Republicans such as Lincoln silent on how imprisonment might lead to extinction, Southerners had to guess. They often guessed that although Republicans might allow caged Southerners to decide about slavery, those outside the cage might open up white men's democracy inside the prison. The Republican Party, having overturned unrepublican protections of slavery in the nation, might unleash republican debate against the institution in the South. If a national Republican administration showered patronage on Kentucky's Cassius Clay and Missouri's Frank Blair, the heretics might be transformed from gadflies into mainstream politicians. If freshly empowered southern critics attacked slavery from a position inside the national political establishment, they might win more Border South votes; more border slaves might run away; and more border slaveowners might sell out to the Lower South. If the beleaguered institution collapsed in the borderland and if free labor controlled all new states, Republicans could secure enough states to pass a constitutional amendment. Then the federal governmen t could impose abolition on holdout slave states. Thus might the Lincoin s begin to nudge slavery toward extinction just by distributing rewards of office inside southern areas slack in their commitment to the institution.

In their presidential election campaign in the fall of 1860, Republicans offered no evidence that they intended to transform border slackness into a southern antislavery movement. Republicans insisted only on slavery's containment. They demanded only the extinction of the Slave Power's grip on national politics, on northern whites. On that anti-Slave Power program (with much thundering against slavery's sins sweetening the northern political appeal), Lincoln swept to the presidency in November 1860. The question now became, would this anti-Slave Power hater of slavery become a menace to the institution inside southern states? Southern disunionists preferred to dwell on more certain matters. They called Lincoln's antislavery insults bad enough. No honorable Southerner could tolerate the castigation. Some secessionists claimed that no institution could endure without expanding. Some ridiculed northern protestations about never interfering in the South. But disunionists also faced the immediate menace question squarely. They warned that Lincoln would immediately appoint border heretics to office. They claimed that he would but lightly enforce the fugitive slave law. They predicted that Republicans would abolish slavery in Washington, D.C., located uncomfortably close to southern Maryland's black belts. They prophesized that within a decade, slavery would wither away in Maryland and throughout the Border South. They calculated that within twenty-five years, the North and the liberated Border South would possess a three-fourths free labor state majority. Then would come the knockout punch, the antislavery constitutional amendment. In early 1861, for example, Georgia's Henry L. Benning told the Virginia state convention, called to consider secession, that Lincoln could immediately begin poisoning slavery. This former state Supreme Court jurist noted that "the North hates slavery." When haters can abolish the hated, they "will do it." The North could end supposedly hateful slavery by admitting only free labor states into the Union and by speeding up the process whereby "some of our own slave States are becoming free states already." Benning cited Maryland, Delaware, and "other States in the same [border] parallel." Because of close-by Yankee antislavery prejudices, "owners of slave property in these States have a presentiment that it is a doomed institution, and the instinct of self-interest impels them to get rid of " doomed property. Thus slave property will be sold "lower and lower, until it gets to the Cotton States—until it gets to the bottom." Benning feared "that the day is not distant when the Cotton States, as they are called, will be the only slave States." Then free labor states "will have the power to amend the Constitution, and say that slavery shall be abolished." If masters wait until then to secede, weakened rebels will "be hung for disobedience."

- The South vs. The South: How Anti-Confederate Southerners Shaped the Course of the Civil War, William W. Freehling


Some examples:“The conflict between slavery and non-slavery is a conflict for life and death,”a South Carolina commissioner told Virginians in February 1861.“The South cannot exist without African slavery.”Mississippi’s commissioner to Maryland insisted that “slavery was ordained by God and sanctioned by humanity.” If slave states remained in a Union ruled by Lincoln and his party, “the safety of the rights of the South will be entirely gone.” If these warnings were not sufficient to frighten hesitating Southerners into secession, commissioners played the race card. A Mississippi commissioner told Georgians that Republicans intended not only to abolish slavery but also to “substitute in its stead their new theory of the universal equality of the black and white races.” Georgia’s commissioner to Virginia dutifully assured his listeners that if Southern states stayed in the Union,“we will have black governors,black legislatures, black juries, black everything.” An Alabamian born in Kentucky tried to persuade his native state to secede by portraying Lincoln’s election as “nothing less than an open declaration of war” by Yankee fanatics who intended to force the “sons and daughters” of the South to associate “with free negroes upon terms of political and social equality,”thus “consigning her [the South’s] citizens to assassinations and her wives and daughters to pollution and violation to gratify the lust of half-civilized Africans.”

- This Mighty Scourge: Perspectives on the Civil War, James M. McPherson, Citing Apostles of Disunion, Charles B. Dew


In order to justify secession, most of the Southern states did attempt statements of grievances. These were made as much to convince their own reluctant citizens as to satisfy the outside world. They, therefore, dealt primarily with those immediate abuses and threats which would have the greatest emotional appeal. Underlying factors were largely ignored. Yet these statements did reveal the final patterns into which all differences had been cast the symbols which covered and took the place of details.

South Carolina led off with an elaborate assertion of the Federal-compact character of the American government which permitted withdrawal when one party did not live up to its obligations. The stipulation to return fugitive slaves, they said, had been written into the Constitution, and that this compact would not have been made without it. Yet Northern states had openly refused to live up to their obligations. They had passed laws which nullified the acts of Congress, or "rendered useless any attempt to exercise them." Some states had refused to surrender to justice those who had incited servile insurrections. All of them had denounced the Southern domestic institution of slavery as sinful, and had now "united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States whose opinions and purposes were hostile to slavery" and to its future expansion. Public opinion "at the North" had thus "invested a great political error with the sanction of a more erroneous religious belief."

The other seceding states of the lower South followed this same line of defense. They varied their statements to fit local conditions, but stressed the threat to domestic institutions and their inability to protect themselves longer. Georgians, for example, spoke of "the feeling of insecurity" among the people who had become a permanent minority, and of the "imminent peril" of "being in the power of a majority reckless of Constitutional obligations and pledged to principles leading to our destruction." They, too, pointed as proof to the refusal to surrender fugitive slaves. Alabama saw Lincoln's election as the triumph of a sectional party "hostile to the domestic institutions and to the peace and security" of the state. It was "a political wrong of so insulting and menacing a character as to justify secession." Mississippi declared herself to be "so identified with the institution of slavery" that she had no choice left but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union. Hostility to slavery had trampled underfoot "the original equality of the South," denied her the right of expansion, nullified the Fugitive Slave Law, and destroyed the compact made by the Founding Fathers. Secession was "not a matter of choice but of necessity." Texas, somewhat more concerned with the way Southerners had been excluded from the territories, ascribed it all to a Northern desire to gain control of "the common government, to use it as a means of destroying the institutions of Texas and her sister slave-holding states." She also complained of the lack of Federal protection, of the acts against the returning of fugitives, and of the final reduction of the South "to a hopeless minority."

It is thus apparent that slavery, its protection, its expansion, and even its moral standing, had become the symbol of Northern aggression and of Southern rights. Even the reforms sometimes suggested by the conservative opposition in these states dealt almost exclusively with the protection of slavery.

"The Fatal Predicament", Avery Craven, in Politics and the Crisis of 1860, Norman Graebner


Lincoln’s old friend Alex Stephens, the latter’s Georgian colleague Herschel Johnson, Senator Judah P. Benjamin of Louisiana, the South Carolinian Benjamin F. Perry, and others tried to persuade their neighbors that Lincoln was moderate. In any event his powers would be checked and balanced, since the Republicans did not win a congressional majority and the Supreme Court was in friendly hands. It would be folly for the South to fling away its constitutional armor and march alone into a world hostile to slavery. At the very least the South should not cry until hurt. Even the ideologue James Hammond urged restraint lest precipitate acts divide the South. He likened the Fire-Eaters to “the Japanese who when insulted rip open their own bowels.” To judge by the Unionist majorities in New Orleans, Vicksburg, Atlanta, and Richmond, southern businesspeople agreed. Unionists repeatedly begged Lincoln to help by offering words of assurance. He obliged them only once, and then indirectly, by sitting on the podium while Senator Lyman Trumbull of Illinois affirmed states’ rights and denied Negroes’ equality. The northerners’ reaction was angry; the southerners’ reaction nil. “This is just as I expected,” said Lincoln. He fell mum, content to refer inquirers to his speeches and platform.

So be it. Lincoln’s speeches gave southern editors all the ammunition they needed. This was the man who proclaimed that a house divided could not stand, but must become “all one thing.” This was the man whose reading of the Declaration of Independence condemned slavery as a sin against the civic religion. This was the man who told the Cooper Institute that nothing would satisfy the South but “this only: cease to call slavery wrong, and join them in calling it right.” This was the man whose abolitionist supporters damned southern patriots and wept for John Brown. Now the entire North had turned insult to injury by electing this man president. In the heat of the campaign of 1860 (and the summer was exceedingly hot that year) folks in the Deep South burned Lincoln in effigy and called Republicans the party of “free love, free lands, and free negroes.” They spread rumors of insurrections among slaves who thought that “Black Republican” meant Lincoln himself was a Negro. Mobs, vigilantes, and “minutemen” cowed Unionists and called for the lynching of suspect strangers. They vowed to prevent Lincoln’s inauguration or else secede from the Union. They preached resistance as a duty to God, fasted and prayed, and cheered when their clergy cited biblical and civil texts to justify slavery and secession. They likened the sectional strife to a poisoned marriage and Republicans to a castrating wife. In November they discovered their own rhetoric delivered them into the hands of the Fire-Eaters.


For decades the South had watched its influence fade. The Republicans’ triumph would hasten that trend until Dixie sank to the status of satrapy in a corrupt, heretical northern-run empire. The time to act was now or never. Likewise, all secessionists fumed over the hateful slanders heaped on them by people they had once thought their countrymen. They were fed up with being called sinful, licentious, barbaric, brutal, and, worst of all, un-Christian. An editor of the New Orleans Bee managed to make the point calmly: “Lincoln’s triumph is simply the practical manifestation of the popular dogma in the free States that slavery is a crime in the sight of God, to be reprobated by all honest citizens, and to be warred against by the combined moral influence and political power of the Government. The South, in the eyes of the North, is degraded and unworthy, because of the institution of servitude.”

- Throes of Democracy: The American Civil War Era, 1829-1877, Walter A. McDougall


The South despaired of the maintenance of slavery in the old states and put no faith in the Republican Party platform which professed to let the institution stand, where it was already in place. They feared several things from the new president: that he could force free circulation of abolition literature in the South; that he would lead an effort to outlaw slavery in the District of Columbia; that he would work to repeal the fugitive slave laws; and, that, in patronage, he would appoint anti-slavery men to federal offices in the South. Southerners did not realize how moderate Lincoln was and mistakenly regarded Seward as a fanatic, fearing he would control the administration. Southern insecurity, affecting all classes of whites, feared the loss of property, the liberation of blacks in areas where they outnumbered whites, the gradual provision of political rights to freed blacks, and finally, a catastrophic breakdown of all racial barriers leading to the unspeakable eventuality of amalgamation of the races. The Southern newspapers reflected the public’s fear and repugnance.

- And the War Came: The Slavery Quarrel and the American Civil War, Donald J. Meyers


By the winter months of December and January, Southerners had taken advantage of Buchanan’s hands-off policy and had begun what he predicted would never happen—their assaults on federal property, not just in South Carolina but throughout the South. Buchanan did not try to block the takeovers of Fort Moultrie and Castle Pinckney in Charleston harbor; nor did he comment on the surrender by a naval officer of the revenue cutter Aiken. He said nothing when, on January 3, 1861, Georgia troops captured Fort Pulaski, and nothing about the successful assaults by Louisiana militia forces on Forts Jackson, St. Phillips, and Pike or the seizure of the New Orleans or Baton Rouge customhouses. Nor did he respond a few days later when Florida militia seized the Pensacola navy yard along with Fort Barrancas and Fort McRae, or in February when secessionists seized the Little Rock arsenal in Arkansas. Perhaps most egregiously, he said nothing when a general of the U.S. Army, David Twiggs, simply surrendered his military units without any struggle to a local militia before Texas had even seceded. Most of these aggressive actions were prompted by the false statements and threatening propaganda, fostered by Southern governors, that the United States was about to send federal reinforcements.

For example, Governor Joseph Brown of Georgia ordered a local colonel in charge of 125 state volunteers to seize Fort Pulaski and to retain it until the Georgia convention “decided” on secession. In most cases there was no opposition from federal forces, and nearly all of these actions occurred extralegally, even before the states had seceded. The results would be devastating when the Civil War came. According to William Freehling, “some 75,000 stands of arms had been confiscated from U.S. forts and arsenals” in December and January.13 By any rendering, through his inactivity the president of the United States had become an activist, allowing arms to be delivered into the hands of the future enemies of the United States.

Although General Winfield Scott had twice recommended to the president the immediate garrisoning of these forts to deter any attempt to take them over and to make any effort “by surprise or coup de main ridiculous,” Buchanan had not agreed. -- Jean H. Baker, "The South Has Been Wronged: James Buchanan and the Secession Crisis" in James Buchanan and the Coming of the Civil War, edited by John W. Quist and Michael J. Birkner