The First & The Last In Their Own Words Reasons For Secession.

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Rhea Cole

Nov 2, 2019
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
Slave auction.jpeg

The First & The Last In Their Own Words Reasons For Secession.

The new constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution African slavery as it exists amongst us the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture & present revolution.

Our new government is founded upon the opposite idea; (that all men are created equal) its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural conditions.
Alexander Stephens

March 21, 1861 Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens enumerated the differences between the Confederate & U.S. Constituions at a gathering in Savannah, Georgia. It has gone down in history as "The Corner-Stone" speech. Remarkably, Jefferson Davis went into a tizzy when he read the text of the speech. The last, the very, very last thing Davis wanted European populations reading was a declaration of the Confederacy's dedication to slavery. The words glorifying slavery were deleted & a vague reference to states rights was substituted. The effort to disguise the the real reason why the slaveholding states seceded began in March 1861. Every single citation in print after that date is suspect because a black propaganda campaign was official Confederate government policy. So, if we delete the last 155 years of misinformation on the reasons for secession, what's left?

What is left are the words like Alexander Stephens' spoken & written before March 1861. Mrs Chestnut noted that, as it became obvious that the war was being lost, the same firebrands who extolled the god given right to own slaves as justification for secession began to talk about states rights, instead. Mrs C was not amused. It wasn't as if people who had lived through the war years didn't know the truth.

In his characteristically succent prose, U. S. Grant summed up the cause of the war in his memoir.

The cause of the Great War of the Rebellion against the United States will have to be attributed to slavery.
U. S. Grant

By the turn of the century, the rewriting of history exemplified by the Lost Cause had become gospel in the South. On June 4, 1907 the Gray Ghost, John Singleton Mosby reacted to the Lost Cause that were obscuring the real reasons the states had seceded.

Now while I think as badly of slavery as Horace Greeley did I am not ashamed that my family were slaveholders. It was our inheritance-- Neither am I ashamed that my ancestors were pirates & cattle thieves. People must be judged by the standard of their own age. It it was right town slaves as property it was right to fight for it. The South went to war-- as she said in her Secession proclamation--because slavery wd. not be secure under Lincoln. South Carolina out to know what was the cause of her seceding...
John Singleton Mosby

The archive at the Gilmer Lehrman Institute is where Mosby's letter is kept. You can google the full text.

Pre-March 1861 Documentation on the Reasons for Secession in Their Own Words

What did the Confederate Constitution have to say on the subject of slavery?

Article V, Sec. 2 (1):
The citizens of each State shall be entitled to all the privileges & immunities of citizens in the several States; 7 shall have the right of transit & sojourn in any state in the Confederacy, with their slaves & other property; & the right of property in said slaves shall not be thereby impaired.

Ordinances of Secession

The full text of the Confederate Constitution is online. The subjects of secession & slavery are not addressed in any other section. That is not a source for pronouncements on those subjects.

There is an official Ordinances of Secession. In all candor, the language is the densest of dense Victorian legalese. You can access it online. I am not going to quote from it here because you need an attorney & antique English translator to make sense out of most of it.

Secession Commissioners

Fortunately, the men who voted to secede felt a need to explain what they had done to their populations. They also dispatched delegates to the slave state legislatures that had not seceded yet.

The Apostles of Disunion by Dr. Charles Dew draws on the record of the secession commissioners. Dew's genius is to let the men dispatched to convince the non seceding state legislatures to join the Confederacy. Everyone should have Dr. Dew's book in their library.

The Declaration of Causes Analyzed

The "Declaration of Causes" published by Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina & Texas were intended as an addendum to the Ordinances of Secession to explain in plain language exactly why they had taken such a dramatic & fateful action. You can google the entire text of all the Declaration of Causes, it would go on forever if I were to quote them here.

Georgia: Confederate States of America--Georgia Secession

Mississippi: A Declaration of the Immediate Causes which Induce & Justify the Secession of the State of Mississippi from the Federal Union

South Carolina: Confederate States of America--Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce & Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union

Texas: Confederate States of America--A Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Impel the State of Texas to Secede form the Federa Union

You can peruse the declaration of causes on your own. The language is straight forward & unambiguous, it was meant for the general public, not the House of Lords.

Map showing the Slave Population of the Southern Staes of the United States, 1860 by County.

There is nothing like a good, accurate graphic to impart a lot of information in a concise manner. The white counties have few to no slaves. The black counties that display the highest density of slaves are, not surprisingly, along rivers & near ports. The reason for rejection of secession by the over the mountain people is obvious on this map.


The U.S. Coast Survey map displaying slave population detailed by county using 1860 census data was revolutionary when first printed. This copy is in the Library of Congress it is available online.

The Declaration of Causes

American Battlefield Trust commissioned a documentary study by the Pew Research Center on the reasons given for secession. After you have read the Article of Secession & the Declaration of Causes issued by four states, the Pew study results will be a very valuable follow on.

Pew graphed the content of the language of the declarations by percentages.
'Context' refers to subjects & language that does not obtain to this subject.
In these documents "States' Rights" referred almost exclusively to the right to travel freely with slaves, expansion of slavery into the western territories, holding slaves, etc. not the post March 1861 definition of States' Rights.

56% Slavery; 23% Economic issues; 15% Context; 4% States' Rights; 2% Lincoln's Election

73% Slavery; 20% Context; 3% States' Rights; 4% Contest

South Carolina:
37% States' Rights 41% Context; 20% Slavery; 2% Lincoln's election

54% Slavery; 21% States' Rights; 15% Context; 6% Military Protection; 4% Lincoln's Election

The American Battlefield Trust Civil War History page on The Reasons for Secession has numerous links to documents & articles. It is a link you should have in your files.


The inspiration for this pre-March 1861 posting came from reading treads in the slavery & causes of secession on the Civil War Talk Forums. It had been a long time since I had read the kind of alternatives to the historical record arguments that are represented in them. I am aware that the Declaration of Causes & the Articles of Secession address slavery directly or indirectly about 70%. All other issues are in single digits. Yet, when you read the thread, everything else but slavery is attributed as the cause. The black propaganda campaign that Jefferson Davis started in March 1861 was one of his few successes.

The entire Black Confederates proposition had been so throughly disproved about 30 years ago that I had not given it a thought until I read the threads here. I have a hard enough time remembering & understanding what actually happened during the Civil War to spend any time on such like. However, the reason I like forums like this is the way they shake off the rust & send me back to the books. Whole new lines of inquiry, analysis & events come my way. I went back to the beginning & reread all the secession documents but the articles. These are the documents that everything else are built upon. It was good to refresh myself. Hopefully, I can inspire others to do the same. I look forward to your comments.
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