Master List of Contemporary Quotes Identifying Slavery as the Principal Cause of Secession

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May 8, 2015
Pittsburgh, PA
On another recent thread, when a poster cited the first substantive paragraph of a well-known source, the State of Mississippi's Declaration of Immediate Causes for Secession, as evidence that secessionist leaders considered the future of slavery to be the principal issue behind their actions, he was accused of "cherry picking" the historical record. That is, he was accused, unjustly in my view, of deliberately selecting an atypical, nonrepresentative example of the opinions of southern secessionists in order to make his point.

Very well. Let's see how many "cherries" are in that orchard, and whether or not they all taste pretty much the same. I'll get the ball rolling. Henceforth, this master list can serve as a convenient reference for all future threads. I've also created a parallel thread for a list of citations purporting to show that the principal motivation behind the secession of the original seven Confederate states (who left the Union prior to the onset of armed hostilities) was anything other than slavery:

I will keep count on both threads, and I may at some point make some attempt to rank order the quotes by relevance and importance based on the sources.

Here are a few ground rules:

- Provide only quotes by contemporary sources, either northern or southern, of the 1860-65 period.

- Quotes should directly identify the preservation and/or expansion of slavery, or issues relating directly to slavery, as either the only, or the primary cause of secession. (Either on this thread, or the parallel thread, quotes referring only to states' rights, or only to the rights of southern citizens, etc., should be discounted, unless specific rights are enumerated.)

- Citations should specify the speaker or writer to which the quotation is attributed, and where known: the date, the location, occasion, or printed publication in which the quote appeared, and the source of the poster's information.

Let's start with the previously mentioned quote from Mississippi's Declaration of Immediate Causes:

"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."

And from Lincoln's first inaugural address, on March 4, 1861:

“One section of our country believes slavery is right and ought to be extended, while the other believes it is wrong and ought not to be extended. This is the only substantial dispute."

And from CSA VP Alexander Stephens's "Cornerstone Speech," seventeen days later:

"“The new [Confederate] Constitution has put at rest forever all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institutions — African slavery as it exists among us—the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. ..."

And here are several quotes from
  • Richard Thompson Archer (Mississippi planter): "The South is invaded. It is time for all patriots to be united, to be under military organization, to be advancing to the conflict determined to live or die in defence of the God given right to own the African"---letter to the Vicksburg Sun, Dec. 8, 185
  • Atlanta Confederacy, 1860: "We regard every man in our midst an enemy to the institutions of the South, who does not boldly declare that he believes African slavery to be a social, moral, and political blessing."
  • Lawrence Keitt, Congressman from South Carolina, in a speech to the House on January 25, 1860: "African slavery is the corner-stone of the industrial, social, and political fabric of the South; and whatever wars against it, wars against her very existence. Strike down the institution of African slavery and you reduce the South to depopulation and barbarism." Later in the same speech he said, "The anti-slavery party contend that slavery is wrong in itself, and the Government is a consolidated national democracy. We of the South contend that slavery is right, and that this is a confederate Republic of sovereign States." Taken from a photocopy of the Congressional Globe supplied by Steve Miller.
  • Keitt again, this time as delegate to the South Carolina secession convention, during the debates on the state's declaration of causes: "Our people have come to this on the question of slavery. I am willing, in that address to rest it upon that question. I think it is the great central point from which we are now proceeding, and I am not willing to divert the public attention from it." Taken from the Charleston, South Carolina, Courier, dated Dec. 22, 1860. See the Furman documents site for more transcription from these debates. Keitt became a colonel in the Confederate army and was killed at Cold Harbor on June 1, 1864.
  • Senator John J. Crittenden, Kentucky (Democrat), March 2, 1861, (Congressional Globe, page 1376); "Mr. President, the cause of this great discontent in the country, the cause of the evils which we now suffer and which we now fear, originates chiefly from questions growing out of the respective rights of the different States and the unfortunate subject of slavery..."
  • Henry M. Rector, Governor of Arkansas, March 2, 1861, Arkansas Secession Convention, p. 44 "The area of slavery must be extended correlative with its antagonism, or it will be put speedily in the 'course of ultimate extinction.'....The extension of slavery is the vital point of the whole controversy between the North and the South...Amendments to the federal constitution are urged by some as a panacea for all the ills that beset us. That instrument is amply sufficient as it now stands, for the protection of Southern rights, if it was only enforced. The South wants practical evidence of good faith from the North, not mere paper agreements and compromises. They believe slavery a sin, we do not, and there lies the trouble."
  • Thomas F. Goode, Mecklenburg County, Virginia, March 28, 1861, Virginia Secession Convention, vol. II, p. 518, "Sir, the great question which is now uprooting this Government to its foundation---the great question which underlies all our deliberations here, is the question of African slavery..."
  • William Grimball to Elizabeth Grimball, Nov. 20, 1860: "A stand must be made for African slavery or it is forever lost." [James McPherson, For Cause and Comrades, p. 20]
  • William Nugent to Eleanor Nugent, Sept 7, 1863: "This country without slave labor would be completely worthless. We can only live & exist by that species of labor; and hence I am willing to fight for the last." [James McPherson, For Cause and Comrades, p. 107]
  • William M. Thomson to Warner A. Thomson, Feb. 2, 1861: "Better, far better! endure all the horrors of civil war than to see the dusky sons of Ham leading the fair daughters of the South to the altar." [James McPherson, For Cause and Comrades, p. 19]
  • George Hamill, March, 1862: "I never want to see the day when a negro is put on an equality with a white person. There is too many free ******s. . . now to suit me, let alone having four millions." [Diary quoted in James McPherson, For Cause and Comrades, p. 109]
  • Methodist Rev. John T. Wightman, preaching at Yorkville, South Carolina: "The triumphs of Christianity rest this very hour upon slavery; and slavery depends on the triumphs of the South . . . This war is the servant of slavery." [The Glory of God, the Defence of the South (1861), cited in Eugene Genovese's Consuming Fire (1998).]
  • G. T. Yelverton, of Coffee County, Alabama, speaking to the Alabama Secession Convention on January 25, 1861: "The question of Slavery is the rock upon which the Old Government split: it is the cause of secession."
  • S. C. Posey, Lauderdale County, Alabama, speaking to the Alabama Secession Convention on Jan. 25, 1861: "Mr. President, the fierce strife we have had with the Northern States, which has led to the disruption of the Government, is a trumpet-tongued answer to this question. They have declared, by the election of Lincoln, “There shall be no more slave territory–no more slave States.” To this the Cotton States have responded by acts of secession and a Southern Confederacy; which is but a solemn declaration of these States, that they will not submit to the Northern idea of restricting slavery to its present limits, and confining it to the slave States."
  • John Tyler Morgan, Dallas Cy., Alabama: speaking to the Alabama Secession Convention on January 25, 1861: "The Ordinance of Secession rests, in a great measure, upon our assertion of a right to enslave the African race, or, what amounts to the same thing, to hold them in slavery."
  • Jefferson Buford, Barbour County, Alabama, speaking to the Alabama Secession Convention, on March 4, 1861: "Now, Mr. President, I submit that while our commission is of much higher import and dignity, it is, in one respect, by no means so broad. We are sent to protect, not so much property, as white supremacy, and the great political right of internal self-control---but only against one specified and single danger alone, i.e. the danger of Abolition rule."
  • Pvt. Thomas Taylor, 6th Ala., to his parents, March 4, 1862: "we are ruined if we do not put forth all our energies & drive back the invaders of our slavery South." (Chandra Manning, What This Cruel War Was Over, p. 66).
  • Pvt. Jonathan Doyle, 4th La., to Maggie, May 27, 1863: "We must never despair, for death is preferable to a life spent under the gaulling [sic] yoke of abolition rule." (Chandra Manning, What This Cruel War Was Over, p. 108).
  • Alexander Stephens, Vice-President of the Confederacy, referring to the Confederate government: "Its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery . . . is his natural and normal condition." [Augusta, Georgia, Daily Constitutionalist, March 30, 1861.]
  • On the formation of black regiments in the Confederate army, by promising the troops their freedom:
    • A North Carolina newspaper editorial: "it is abolition doctrine . . . the very doctrine which the war was commenced to put down." [North Carolina Standard, Jan. 17, 1865; cited in Battle Cry of Freedom, p. 835.]
    • Robert M.T. Hunter, Senator from Virginia, "What did we go to war for, if not to protect our property?"
  • Senator William Bigler, Pennsylvania, January 21, 1861: "The fundamental cause of the imperiled condition of the country is the institution of African servitude, ...." [36th Cong., 2nd Sess., Congressional Globe, p. 489]

  • Alfred P. Aldrich, South Carolina legislator from Barnwell: "If the Republican party with its platform of principles, the main feature of which is the abolition of slavery and, therefore, the destruction of the South, carries the country at the next Presidential election, shall we remain in the Union, or form a separate Confederacy? This is the great, grave issue. It is not who shall be President, it is not which party shall rule --- it is a question of political and social existence." [Steven Channing, Crisis of Fear, pp. 141-142.]
  • John C. Pelot, delegate from Alachua County to the Florida secession convention, January 3, 1861: "Gentlemen of the Convention: We meet together under no ordinary circumstances.The rapid spread of Northern fanaticism has endangered our liberties and institutions, and the election of Abraham Lincoln, a wily abolitionist, to the Presidency of the United States, destroys all hope for the future." [Journal of the convention, p. 3]
  • John B. Baldwin, Augusta County delegate to the Virginia Secession Convention, March 21, 1861: "I say, then, that viewed from that standpoint, there is but one single subject of complaint which Virginia has to make against the government under which we live; a complaint made by the whole South, and that is on the subject of African slavery...." [Journal of the Virginia Secession Convention, Vol. II, p. 139]
    Baldwin again: "But, sir, the great cause of complaint now is the slavery question, and the questions growing out of it. If there is any other cause of complaint which has been influential in any quarter, to bring about the crisis which is now upon us; if any State or any people have made the troubles growing out of this question, a pretext for agitation instead of a cause of honest complaint, Virginia can have no sympathy whatever, in any such feeling, in any such policy, in any such attempt. It is the slavery question. Is it not so?..." [ibid, p. 140]
  • From the diary of James B. Lockney, 28th Wisconsin Infantry, writing near Arkadelphia, Arkansas (10/29/63): "Last night I talked awhile to those men who came in day before yesterday from the S.W. part of the state about 120 miles distant. Many of them wish Slavery abolished & slaves out of the country as they said it was the cause of the War, and the Curse of our Country & the foe of the body of the people--the poor whites. They knew the Slave masters got up the war expressly in the interests of the institution, & with no real cause from the Government or the North." [This diary is partly on-line here.]
By my count, this makes 29 documented historical quotes. That is surely the tiny tip of a collossal iceberg - an iceberg that deserves to be definitively documented.
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