Limited Did the Fire Eaters deliberately break up the Democratic Party in 1860?

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John Hartwell

Forum Host
Aug 27, 2011
Central Massachusetts
... in order to guarantee a Black Republican victory, and assure secession, at least in the deep South?

It's an intriguing question. But, I'm naturally suspicious of deep conspiracy theories, so I'm skeptical.

Is there any evidence of it at all? Letters? Memoirs? Speeches? I'm not asking unsupported opinions here. Evidence.


Apr 15, 2016
James McPherson alleges so in Ordeal by Fire: The Civil War and Reconstruction, 3rd ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2001), 132-133. Don't have the book handy to verify, but as I recall he stated the same thing in Battle Cry of Freedom.

Whether that is conflating correlation with causation I don't know. But it's hard to see how the Fire-Eaters could have thought they would have prevailed with a democratic split which they caused, and the real drum beats of secession over slavery had been beating for at least a decade at this time. And secession as a cause celebrite had been pronounced since the Nullification Crisis three decades earlier.

As to hard evidence, my guess is it will be hard to find because conspiracies generally don't keep minutes of their meetings, unlike secession conventions and governments. :D


Lt. Colonel
Feb 23, 2010
I should think any good historical account of the event, with annotations and good bibliography, would throw much light on proof.

Many of the delegates from the South who believed in 'the right to secession' were determined to force Northern Democrats to declare themselves for or against southern rights to slavery. The Fire-Eaters among them, knew(because that was what those democrates told them) northern democrats could not carry a single state with such a declaration.

With the determined south to have their own way and equally determined north on protecting itself, within the Democratic Party, what could the Fire-Eaters expect and, what logically, could be expected from such a result, for a Fire-Eater ?


May 2, 2006
I have not read it, but I think this book might be a key to understanding that issue:
Heidler, David S. Pulling the Temple Down: The Fire-Eaters and the Destruction of the Union , Stackpole Books, 1994
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