Question of Southern/Confederate Secession and Civil War in the early to mid 1850s vs 1860s

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First Sergeant
May 27, 2018
Corona, California
I just finished reading the book Texas, New Mexico, and the Compromise of 1850 which covers the Texas-New Mexico boundary dispute and the legislative debates of 1849-1850 only one of numerous books covering this topic (America's Great Debate, On the Brink of Civil War, and Prologue to Conflict) and The Southwestern Historical Quarterly's The Taylor-Neighbors Struggle over the Upper Rio Grande Region as well as reading the Texas State Gazette and New York Daily Tribune and a few other papers.

As a matter of fact, secession/civil war had in fact come quite close to happening between 1849 and 1850. You see the United States had just acquired a large tract of land from Mexico which included present-day California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado in what became known as the Mexican Cession. At the same time however a major problem arose as to what to do with the territories which was whether they would free or slave which caused a crisis between North and South similar to the legislative debates over Missouri in 1819-1820 over the balance of the states. But it wasn't just the territories such as California and New Mexico there was also the matter of slavery/slave trade in the nation's capital Washington, D.C. as well the escaping of fugitive slaves and Texas' debt accumulated from its days as an independent republic. Northern Democrat Congressman David Wilmot of Pennsylvania tried to ban slavery in the newly acquired territories by writing the Wilmot Proviso in 1846 which was able to pass in Senate in the year 1847 but ultimately was rejected and an attempt to attach to the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 failed.

It got very violent at one point when Henry S. Foote of Mississippi tried to assassinate Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri during a heated debate in April 1850 and failed Benton was yelling "Let the assassin fire!" and Jefferson Davis had even threatened to challenge William Henry Bissell of Illinois to a duel over whose troops in the Mexican-American War deserved credit.

Texas and its boundary claims over the easternmost portions of New Mexico (which was barely just organized) in particular was the flashpoint of what Henry Clay called "the crisis of the crisis" (in "The Speeches of Henry Clay" he mentions Texas numerous times in its relation to the United States) it all started when Governor George T. Wood assigned Spruce Baird of Nachogdoches (a lawyer) in March 1848 to try to enforce Texan authority over there and issued a proclaimation declaring Santa Fe a part of Texas needless to say the Anglo and Latino inhabitants did not take too kindly of Baird's presence. In mid-1849, Baird would meet up with Spencer Webb in Lexington, Missouri at a plantation. Baird tried to calm down anti-Texas sentiment in New Mexico on November 20 at a public meeting full of citizens he defended Texas' claims to land east of Rio Grande (as in easternmost New Mexico areas) ultimately however it came to no avail and while he was establishing clerks and law offcies he contacted the commander of the area Colonel John Washington about Texas' claims to New Mexico to which he replied that he would defend it "at my peril".

So after the rejection of Baird's authority in New Mexico, in December 1849 the newly-elected Governor Peter Hansborough Bell convened with the Texas legislature and stated "I therefore recommnend that the Executive be authorized to send to Santa Fe, if the necessity for doing so should continue to exist, a military force sufficient to enable the civil authorities to execute the laws of the State [of Texas] in that part of the territory [Santa Fe/New Mexico], without reference to any anticipated action of the Federal Government, or in regards to the military power of the United States stationed at Santa Fe; and I make this recommendation with more freedom, because I cannot conceive that a measure of this character will, or ought to give rise to any disturbance in our relations with the Federal Government. The rights of Texas to enforce her juridisction is not more perfect in the county of Travis than it is in the county of Santa Fe; and if the employment of the necessary force to enable her to exercise that right over a refactory population, should produce a collision with the federal authorities, the fault will not be hers. She will stand exonerated in the judgement of just men, from all the fearful consequences which may result from such a conflict". By January 5, Bell would assign U.S. Indian Agent and Texas Ranger Robert Simpson Neighbors as the comissioner of Santa Fe County and on January 8 would leave Austin for El Paso County where he would arrive by February 16 or 17 where unlike Santa Fe successfully established Texas authority over the region he would remain there until March but not without the inhabitants of Santa Fe reacting negatively to his actions so a group of Latinos comprised of Guadelupe Miranda, Rafael Ruelas, and forty others signed and sent a petition to the newly assigned commander of the area Colonel John Munroe while Colonel George A. McCall arrived. Meanwhile in public meetings and gatherings as well as out on the streets pro- and anti-Texas men were clashing with each other with the former having teamsters attack statehood meetings and riotous commotion as well as near bloodshed. By April 8, Neighbors had already arrived in Santa Fe, New Mexico and he went to Munroe for Texas to properly establish its claims to Santa Fe as a county but the latter had not answered the former's question though he would state that the military government would stay however Neighbors explained that if the military authorities did not comply he would use force to obtain the land as he put it himself "That would be the proper course for Texas to pursue; there will in that case no opposition", Neighbors also contacted Judge Joab Houghton (the de facto head of the territory) but told him that he would arrest anyone who tried to establish Texan authority there. Neighbors would then leave Santa Fe, New Mexico and head back to Texas in the state capital of Austin in June and he would publish a report about his expedition there. Peter Hansbourough Bell would also call for a special session of the Texas legislature to occur in August. In July, Bell would issue orders to militia commanders Thomas M. Likens, J.M. Smith, H.B. McCulloch, Jacob Roberts, S.P. Ross, and Eli Chandler as well as companies of volunteers with a mule, a rifle, and two pistols there was also a meeting in Sac Jacinto of issuing troops to go to New Mexico. Bell and the Texas legislature convened in August on the 12th this time calling for two mounted regiments of 1,600 to defeat the U.S. Army stationed in Santa Fe, New Mexico and 1,300 to suppress local dissent ready to march by September 1 by which this time the Compromise of 1850 had been defeated in Omnibus form and Stephen A. Douglas stepped in to divide it. Samuel Colt of Colt Firearms would later offer pistols and weapons for the Texans noting that they were their best customers and there were companies raised from or outside of Texas by secessionists including some students from Harvard flocking to join Texas.

Colonel John Munroe had issued a proclaimation in April to meet for a state convention in May and it would result in a state constitution that excluded slavery from New Mexico. Both Zachary Taylor and Millard Fillmore of course were not too pleased with Texas potentially sending troops to New Mexico to enforce their claims, Taylor told Alfred Pleasanton in June "These southern men are now in Congress are trying to bring on civil war. They are now organizing a military force in Texas for the purpose of taking possession of New Mexico and annexing it to Texas, and I have ordered the troops to in New Mexico to be reinforced, and directed that no armed force from Texas be permitted to go into that territory. Tell Colonel [John] Munroe he has my entire confidence, and if he has not force enough out there to support him I will be with you myself; but I will be there before those people shall go into that country or have a foot of that territory. The whole business is infamous, and must be put down" and "Until the question of boundary shall have been determined by some competent authority. Meanwhile I think there is no reason for seriously apprehending that Texas will practicaly interfere with the possession of the United States". Similarly Fillmore said in a speech in August stating "If Texas militia, therefore, march into any one of the other States or into any other Territory of the United States, there to execute or enforce any law of Texas, they become at that moment trespassers; they are no longer under the protection of any lawful authority, and are to be merely regarded as intruders". Joseph R. Underwood commented on Texas' threatened march to New Mexico "Should she raise troops and march them into New Mexico for any such purpose, she would be making war with the United States and all engaged would commit the overt act of treason, and subject themselves to the traitor's doom . In such an event it would be the duty of the government to repel force by force".

From what I've looked at from what Southerners and even a Northern newspaper reacted to this well I would quote the words of Alexander Stephens, Henry S. Foote, and Henry Clay:
"The day in which aggression is consummated upon any section of the country [North or South, East or West United States], much and I deeply regret it, this Union is dissolved...
"The feeling among the Southern members for a dissolution of the Union - if the antislavery measures should be pressed to extremity - is becoming much more general...Men are now beginning to talk of it seriously, who twelve months ago, hardly permitted themselves to think of it...
"The only safety of the South from abolition universal is to be found in an early dissolution of the Union...
"But I wish to say to you, lest you may be mistaken in the opinions of others, that the first Federal gun that shall be fired against the people of Texas, without the authority of law, will be the signal for the freemen from the Delaware [River] to the Rio Grande [River] to rally to the rescue...
When the 'Rubicon' is passed, the days of this Republic [United States] will be numbered. You may consider the 'gallant State of Texas' too weak for a contest with the army of the United States. But you should recollect that the cause of Texas, in such a conflict, will be the cause of the entire South. And whether you consider Santa Fe in danger or not, you may yet live to see that fifteen states of this Union [Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia], with seven millions of people, 'who knowing their rights, dare maintain them', cannot be easily conquered! Sapientibus verbum sat [Don't Tread on Me in Latin]
" - Alexander Stephens of Georgia in comments about the legislative session of October and December 1849 and in a letter published by the Washington, D.C. National Intelligencer on July 4, Independence Day.

"And we are about to be plunged into into all the horrors of a civil war, unless Congress shall interfere in season, and arrest the fatal course of events...
And venture to declare that, if this [American] government shall ever shed one drop of Texan blood upon Texan soil in such a contest, and under such circumstances, it will be speedily be found that there is not one heroic son of the South who will not arm himself...
On that occasion I declared, and again I seize the opportunity of declaring, that if a single drop of Texan blood shall be shed upon her sacred soil, it will be the duty of every Southern man, able to bear arms, to rush to the scene of strife, in order to put down usurpation and to maintain the cause of justice and of right...
- 3 quotes by Henry S. Foote of Mississippi on a potential North-South conflict.

"But Texas will not be alone; if a war breaks out between her and and the troops of the United States on the upper Rio Grande [River], there are ardent, enthusiastic spirits of Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama, that will flock to the standard of Texas, as they believe they will be contending, for slave territory" - Henry Clay of Kentucky on Texas militia and the United States military garrison in Santa Fe, New Mexico potentially clashing.

I've also found a few other quotes by other Southerners about secession, disunion, and civil war breaking out if no compromise is reached:

"Do us justice and we stand with you; attempt to trample upon us and we separate!" - Thomas H. Clingman of North Carolina warning secession if any attempt on their institutions involves stifling them in January 1850

"And I tell gentlemen that if these measures are passed, there will be but one determination at the South - one solemn resolve to defend their homes and maintain their honor. Let this issue come which it may, and you will find every Southern sinew converted into a spring of steel...
If there be any southern man who would refuse to stand by his country in such an emergency that he would not only be execreated by his own people [Southerners], but his own children would heap curses upon his grave. There are none
" - Richard K. Meade of Virginia and a crowd of Southerners in 1849 about a potential civil war (he would insist he isn't making a threat).

"I do not then hesitate to avow before this House [of Representatives] and the country [United States], and in the presence of the living God, that if by your legislation you seek to drive us from the [Southwestern] Territories purchased by the common blood and treasure of the people, and to abolish slavery in the District [of Columbia], thereby attempting to fix a national degradation upon half the states of this Confederacy [Union], I am for disunion" - Robert Toombs of Georgia in December 1849.

"If you seriously believe that slavery is a stain upon the land where it exists, that it will pollute the soil - that you cannot dwell among the slaveholders - if this is your real belief, then make a partition of the country" - Unionist John M. Berrien of Georgia warning about secession in February 1850.

"The southern members are more determined and bold than I ever saw them. Many avow themselves to be disunionists, and still a greater number admit that there is little hope for any short remedy short of it" - John C. Calhoun of South Carolina about Southern senators' sentiments.

"The two great political parties [Democrats and Whigs] of the country [United States] have ceased to exist in the Southern States, so far as the present slavery issue is concerned. United they will prepare, consult, combine, for prompt and decisive action. With united voices - we are compelled to make a few exceptions they proclaim - in the language of the Virginia resolution, passed a day since, the Preservation of the Union we can, the preservation of the our own rights if we cannot. This is the temper of the South; this is the temper becoming the inheritors of rights acquired for freemen by other freemen. 'Thus far shalt thou come, and no farther', or else the proud waves of Northern aggression shall float the wreck of the constitution" - The Richmond Enquirer, February 12, 1850 about political attitudes in the South.

"Live together, sir, we cannot, unless something is done to settle these differences and compose this strife which seems to be growing daily in intensity and bitterness. The cords which bind this Union together, will fret asunder from mere force of agitation, unless something can be done to quiet it" - Robert Mercer Taliaferro Hunter of Virginia in March 1850 about potential disunion.

"For the safety of Santa Fe and the detachment of the [United States] army whose duty it will be to defend it...
Should the adjustment bill [Compromise of 1850 Omnibus] be defeated, there is no doubt that Texas will absorb New Mexico, and if the United States interfere the Southern States will give her the aid she needs...
- The New York Journal of Commerce on the Southern states and their relation to Texas in the event of a civil war.

"If it can be preserved, and if not, to preserve her own safety and her own welfare out of the Union" - George Mason of Virginia about the possibility of Virginia seceding if their right to move slaves is not guranteed.

"If you fail us, the South is gone - any compromise short of your full boundaries of Texas will undo us. Let us have no compromise - none - none whatsoever, I fear nothing so much as a compromise" - A Virginian to Thomas Jefferson Rusk of Texas.

However, Douglas and the Northern and Southern senators had by this time began to first pass not just the California and New Mexico bills but also the Texas debt and the boundary bills thus stopping a potential civil war from breaking out.

Honestly, if you really want the heated legislative debates of 1849-1850 to evolve into disunion, secession, and civil war among the Southern states you would need to eliminate the most important player of them all Henry Clay (the Great Compromiser). After all, Henry Clay was in bad health suffering from tubercolosis cough and cold inside his lungs as well as needing assistance to walk up to do his work in legislature, for instance whil crafting the Compromise of 1850 at Daniel Webster's house he was coughing continously for an hour. Not to mention a year prior there was a yellow fever epidemic that hit nearby Ohio River states which included Clay's home of Kentucky. Killing Clay off is pretty easy and without him you do not get a Compromise of 1850 and thus a bit of harsh back and forth between Northern and Southern states leading to no compromise by anyone else (Douglas did do his compromise regarding California and New Mexico but that failed) making secession, civil war, and disunion much more potent than in OTL add that with Texas militia clashing with United States troops in Santa Fe and bingo you have a formula for these event occuring in the early to mid 1850s coupled with Millard Fillmore (a New York-born Northerner) overseeing it (I doubt there would be civil war/secession/disunion occuring under Zachary Taylor since he had the military experience and Southern background to put them down)

I've noticed that a civil war between North and South in the early to mid 1850s vs the 1860s would be different in a few ways:
* Little to no railroad and armored train usuage: If you look at a map of railroads in 1850 and contrast that with 1860 you'll see a stark difference since the former period there are relatively few railroads in existence at that period so it means that the North/Union and South/Confederacy (for all intents and purposes) will have to live off the land and transport will be slower for both. Plus the Eastern and Western states of the North won't have much connection outside of canals.
* No Ironclads: This is still the time for steam or wind-powered wooden ships and no ironclads existed either. An early to mid 1850s Civil War would have no ironclads in battles or blockading the coast or capturing cities none of the naval ingenuity would exist.
* The Federal Government fires the First Shot: In a best case scenario for Texas (and by extension the South) when their militia enters Santa Fe, New Mexico and fight the United States military garrison there the latter fires at them thus firing the first shots of the civil war.
* Stronger Secession Sentiment in the Border States: Since the Federal Government/United States fired the first shot of the conflict at Texas it means that there is a much stronger incentive for secessionists in the border states to get the inhabitants to support secession especially in Kentucky and Missouri (the states with the most links to slavery economically, culturally, and politically). Another big thing is that since this is the early to mid 1850s, Missouri doesn't get the flow of immigrants from Ireland and Germany into St. Louis as in OTL in 1860 giving it a more Southern character here.
* No telegraph system: Although there is still a telegraph, the telegraph system will not exist here since it wasn't developed until 1861 when OTL's Civil War began.
* A bit less developed United States: The United States in a early to mid 1850s Civil War doesn't have the extensive railroad system nor does it have ironclads for its navy and it does not have the Legal Tender Act to develop Greenbacks, the Homestead Act to open up land in the Western territories and give land to new settlers, the Railroad Act of 1862 to further extend railroads and build a transcontinental railroad, or the Morrill-Land Grant Acts to grant money to build new colleges.
* A Very Different President from Lincoln: Whoever succeeds Millard Fillmore (let's face after having to shoot at Texas militia and angering the South I doubt he would run for a second term) he is going to be a very different leader from Abraham Lincoln in handling the Civil War most likely a Northern Whig since well the Southern Whigs and Democrats would turn on them and join together for secession while Northern Democrats aren't exactly going to be happy so Free-Soilers are likely to join alongside Northern Whigs.

Political leaders:
North/United States: For this alternate 1852 election it's going to have to be a Northern Whig, Daniel Webster would be too old and dead by the time it begins so perhaps a younger candidate like William Seward could be chosen instead. Northern Whigs perhaps (especially the Conscious ones) would make a coalition with the Free-Soilers. Northern Democrats would run their own ticket themselves and Stephen A. Douglas would be the most likely candidate. For Vice President, I'm thinking Horace Greeley could serve this role in a William Seward administration and the running mate for Stephen A. Douglas in OTL it was Georgia's Herschel V. Johnson in 1860 but since this is an earlier civil war we're talking about Johnson is out of contention and probably a Northern Democrat close to Douglas' views like Franklin Pierce would be chosen instead.
South/Confederate States (for all intents and purposes): Southern Democrats and Whigs would probably unite together and thus a variety of candidates from both parties like say James Hammond, Howell Cobb, or Robert Barnwell Rhett of South Carolina could be the first President of the Confederate States of America but I'm choosing Jefferson Davis (OTL's President of the Confederate States). Vice President could be Alexander Stephens as in OTL or someone else such as Robert Toombs or Robert Mercer Taliaferrero Hunter

Main military leaders:
North/United States: John E. Wool, Winfield Scott, George Meade, Ulysses S. Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman, George McClellan, Joshua Chamberlain, Don Carlos Buell
South/Confederate States: David E. Twiggs, Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, James Longstreet, Braxton Bragg, Albert Sidney Johnston, J.E.B. Stuart

Any thoughts?

Sources (as mentioned above):
America's Great Debate (pages 67-69, 92-93, 120, 131-132, 197-202, 201, 219-220, 244, 251-255, 257, 265, 299, 300-302, 303, 313-316, 318-319) by Fergus M. Bordewich
On the Brink of Civil War (pages 6-7, 74, 119, 139, 143, 153-154) by John C. Waugh
Prologue to Conflict (pages 41-42, 56, 104-105, 110, 146-147, 151-153) by Holman Hamilton
Texas, New Mexico, and the Compromise of 1850 (pages 27, 33-39, 45-60, 63, 68-72, 77-83, 89, 113-114, 115-119, 157, 160-161, 222-235, 237-252) by Mark J. Steigmeier
The Taylor-Neighbors Struggle over the Rio Grande Region of Texas in 1850 by Kenneth F. Neighbors/Southwestern Historical Quarterly/Texas State Historical Association.
Texas State Gazette, December 29, 1849 and August 16, 1850
New York Daily Tribune, July 10, 1850
Richmond Enqurier, February 12, 1850
Webster's Seventh of March Speech and the Secession Movement (pages 246, 250, 251, 252, 257)
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