In 1861, What Two Questions About Secession Would You Ask?
I doubt there is not a one of us who has not imagined having a conversation with the men who started the Civil War. Why they seceded & way then? Would be my two questions. As it is, somebody asked them that way back then. The first states that seceded sent commissioners to the fence sitters to encourage them to secede. These men were all distinguished, accomplished judges, public figures & the like. They represented the official position of their respective states, not just their own opinions.
Virginia was the largest & most populist of the slave states. It had a storied history beginning with the Revolution. The seceding states sent their first string to make the case for secession & explain why it had to be now.
Fulton Anderson was Mississippi's commissioner to Virginia.
Mr. Anderson, why did Mississippi secede?
"An infidel fanaticism... among the present generation of the Northern people (believe) that are a race inferior to them in morality & civilization...(they are committed to)... a holy crusade for our benefit in seeking the destruction of that institution which.... lies at the very foundation of ours social & political fabric. (Salvation lay in) ... placing our institutions beyond the reach of further hostility."
"Institutions" in this case means slaveholding.
Henry L. Benning was Georgia's comissioner to Virginia.
Mr Benning, why did Georgia secede?
"The reason can be summed up in a single proposition:
It was a conviction, a deep conviction on the part of Georgia, that a separation from the North was the only thing that could prevent the abolition of slavery."
Mister Benning, why secede now? Why can't we wait?
"If things are allowed to go on a s they are, it is certain that slavery is to be abolished except in Georgia & the other cotton States & ... ultimately in those states, also. By the time the North shall have attained the power, the black race will be in a large majority, & then we will have black governors, black legislatures, black juries, black everything. It is to be supposed that the white race will stand for that?"
"We will be overpowered & our men will be compelled to wander lie vagabonds all over the earth & as for our women, the horrors of their state w cannot contemplate in imagination... the fate which Abolition will bring upon the white race... it will be completely exterminated & the land will go back to a wilderness & become another Africa or St. Domingo."
"Above all, we have cause-the cause of honor,& liberty & property (in human beings) & self preservation. Sir, in such a cause, cowards will become men, men heroes, & heroes gods."
John Smith Preston was a native Virginian sent to convince his natal state to secede. South Carolina made Preston their commissioner to Virginia.
Mr. Preston, why should Virginia secede?
"For fully thirty years or more, the people of the Northern States hav assailed the institution of African Slavery... large masses of their people (have embraced) the most fearful (path to) emancipating the subject race... rising & murdering their masters."
"There can be no doubt that the conflict between slavery & non-slavery is a conflict for lie & death."
"The South cannot exist without African Slavery, none bu an equal race can labor at the North; none but a subject race will labor in the South."
Stephen Hale was appointed commissioner to Kentucky by Alabama Governor Albert B. More.
Mr. Hale why should Kentucky secede & why must we do it now?
"(Lincoln's election is) "... nothing less than an open declaration of war, for the triumph of this new theory of government [all men are created equal] destroys the property [slaves] of the South, lays waste her fields, & inaugurates all the horrors of a San Domingo servile insurrection, consigning her citizens to assassinations & her wives & daughters to pollution & violation to gratify the lust of half-civilized Africans."
"The slave-holder & non-slaveholder must ultimately share the same fate; all be degraded to a position of equality with free negros, stand side by side with them at the polls, & fraternize in all the social relations of life, or else there will be an eternal war of races, desolation the land with blood, & utterly wasting all the resources of the country."
"(Could) Southern men submit to such degradation & ruin? God forbid that they should."
You might wonder if I am picking & choosing to make a personal point. Perhaps a letter written by Congressman Jabez Curry, Alabama's commissioner to Maryland will set your mind at ease as to how ubiquitous the sentiments expressed so far have been.
Mr. comissioner Curry, why did Alabama secede?
"The sentiment of the sinfulness of slavery seems to be embedded in the Northern conscience. An infidel theory has corrupted the Northern heart... Under an Abolition Government the slave-holding states will be placed under a common ban of proscription, & an institution [slaveholding], interwoven in the very frame-work of their social & political being, must perish gradually or speedily with the Government in active hostility to it. Instead of the culture & development of the boundless capacities & productive resources of their social system, it is to be assaulted, humbled, dwarfed, degraded, & finally crushed out."
Alabama sent two commissioners to Maryland. Isham Garrot & Robert Hardy Smith.
Gentlemen, why is Alabama so anxious to secede at this time?
"Alabama has at least eight slaves to every square mile of tillable soil... This population outstrips any race on the glove in the rapidity of its increase; & if the slaves now in Alabama are to be restricted within the present limits, doubling as they do once in less than thirty years, the [white] children now born who will be compelled to flee from the land of their birth, & from the slaves their parents have toiled to acquire as an inheritance for them, or to submit to the degradation of being reduced to an equality with them, & all its attendant horrors."
The commissioners certainly make their case in the strongest terms. If the fence sitting states do not secede, they will loose "...the right to hold other human beings as property." If they do not strike now, the reproductive rate of the slave population will overwhelm them. All the horrors suffered by the white population in Haiti will be theirs. Extinction or degradation would be the inevitable outcome of staying in the Union.
You will, no doubt, notice that the overwhelming number of issues given as reasons for secession on this forum are missing from the commissioner's statements. That was their choice, not mine. Apart from lambasting Lincoln, who wasn't even president yet, the content of the commissioner's message was pro-slavery & terror of a race war.
It is a law of science, the simplest explanation is most likely the correct one. The commissioner's message could hardly be any simpler. Compare it to the often obtuse, convoluted & downright fanciful alternatives that eat up so much space here. Personally, I am a let them speak for themselves man. In my opinion, nothing that was written after March 1861 by Southern politicians can be taken at face value. Slavery had become a political stone around their necks as they sought European intervention. I accept the simple, plain spoken words of the commissioners to the slave states that had not seceded as the truthful reasoning behind secession.