Why didn't the South Wait?

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UnionTitan

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Hi All,


There is a question I've always had, even after reading dozens of books on the Civil War: "Why didn't the South wait?"

There were some smart politicians in the south, men that should have been able to cut through the emotional urges that the Lincoln election brought. Why didn't cooler heads prevail and construct a "secret confederacy " that would use the oversized representation the south had in congress to funnel monies, build railroad track and shift more military resources to the south? Lincoln would have definitively added some southerners to his cabinet in efforts to stave off secession (my opinion). Why not bid your time, improve your infrastructure, obstruct Lincoln politically, and then when your ducks are in a row mobilize for war? I've read that John B. Floyd sent arms to the South during his controversial stint as Secretary of War, why not replicate this?

I'm sure I'm missing something obvious, but the question has always stuck in my mind. If anyone could elaborate I'd be thankful!
 

Potomac Pride

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The south didn't wait because they realized that their political power was rapidly diminishing on the national level. The Republican Party was a novice party that represented the interest of the northern states. Lincoln had been elected as President when he wasn't even on the ballot in most of the southern states. The northern states were gaining in terms of population and would gain control in Congress in the near future. In addition, the Republicans were opposed to the expansion of slavery into the western territories and the number of free states would eventually outnumber the slave states considerably.
 
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Robin Lesjovitch

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Hi All,


There is a question I've always had, even after reading dozens of books on the Civil War: "Why didn't the South wait?"

There were some smart politicians in the south, men that should have been able to cut through the emotional urges that the Lincoln election brought. Why didn't cooler heads prevail and construct a "secret confederacy " that would use the oversized representation the south had in congress to funnel monies, build railroad track and shift more military resources to the south? Lincoln would have definitively added some southerners to his cabinet in efforts to stave off secession (my opinion). Why not bid your time, improve your infrastructure, obstruct Lincoln politically, and then when your ducks are in a row mobilize for war? I've read that John B. Floyd sent arms to the South during his controversial stint as Secretary of War, why not replicate this?

I'm sure I'm missing something obvious, but the question has always stuck in my mind. If anyone could elaborate I'd be thankful!
The question assumes that the states that eventually made up the Confederacy were one place with one mind.
The "South" was no more one place than the "North" was one place. North Carolina had more in common with Indiana than Texas, and Virginia more with Ohio than Louisiana.
The 1860 presidential election placed the Executive in the hands of a minority faction in the country.That faction had a lot of loose screws.
In response to perceived threats, another faction constructed with loose screws determined to put space between 'them"' and 'them".
A great, liberating sense of paranoia grabbed the country, and has only partially let go even today.
There was no planning for this, there could not be.
 

Carronade

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Indeed, the balance had already turned against them. The 35th Congress (1857-59) and previous Congresses based on the 1850 Census had 237 Representatives of whom 90 were from slave states and 66 from the future Confederate states (curiously, both numbers work out to 6 per state). There were 66 Senators, 30 from slave states and 22 from Confederate states. I believe the south had some advantages in seniority and committee appointments, but they had limited ability to reallocate federal investments, let alone keep it secret.

It's often argued that the 3/5 rule gave the slave states disproportionate power, but if the Constitution had made no distinction between "free persons" and "other persons", representation would be based on the total number of "persons". The slave states would have more Congressmen, not fewer. It was not until the 14th Amendment that representation in the House was tied to letting all adult, male, US citizen residents vote.
 
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wausaubob

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The incoming Republican administration was the weakest point for the US. Even six months of preparation, recalling navy vessels and resupplying forts, emptying arsenals would have strengthened the US. Harper's Ferry and Norfolk navy yards, Gosport, were very important. And Virginia might not have seceded if they had waited.
Neither side thought they were beginning a revolutionary war that would permanently alter the structure of economy.
 

wausaubob

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A major defect in Confederate thinking was not anticipating what the Republicans and free soil Democrats would do without opposition of the southern Democrats. They enacted their whole program in 12 months and began military emancipation. The Confederates had no response to that except impotent outrage.
 

wbull1

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Some historians suggest that the Civil War really started in "Bleeding Kansas." Both sides had already spilled the blood of their opponents and the nation was headed toward war. Jefferson Davis held off attacking, recognizing the advantage of being attacked versus attacking first. He could not restrain everyone in the Confederacy who were eager to start what they saw as a short, easy-to-win, military conflict.

Also, Lincoln was largely unknown. He was a figure onto which people projected their fears and hatred. Being obscure, encouraged irrational thoughts about him. The long-term forecast favored the North, but my opinion is that the decision was more emotional than reasoned.
 
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Robin Lesjovitch

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The plantation owners were cash heavy. They had a lot of confidence.
Maybe there were some planters with some cash, but I think most had little but paper. There was very little cash in the areas of commericial planting. Assets were on paper. After selling production there was money. on paper, but if it were not used for the next year's production, well.... it was like having a cake you could not eat. The cake looked good, and it could be decorated a bit, but it was still a cake that could not be eaten. The motivation for some secessionists was to get away from the economic dependence on Northern capital. Most of the paper was kept in the North.
 
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Robin Lesjovitch

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Some in the South did wait. South Carolina was ready to secede in 1852, but didn't want to secede alone, so they waited.
I'd say there were many in SC that would have considered leaving the US long before 1852.
The very fact of SC, as it became, eastern-heavy, almost assured that it would be odd man out in any real conflict. It wasn't the people of SC that created the anomaly it was, but the politics that created it before there was a United States.
 

WJC

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if the Constitution had made no distinction between "free persons" and "other persons", representation would be based on the total number of "persons". The slave states would have more Congressmen, not fewer.
Which is why at the Constitutional Convention, delegates from slave-holding states wanted slaves fully counted while delegates from 'Free States', who favored the elimination of slavery, wanted only freemen counted.
 
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Nathanb1

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My answer? See the avatar? I'm spitting on Louis T. Wigfall's grave. If you don't know about him, let's start with this--the guy rowed out to Fort Sumter with his own letter demanding surrender--at night. He climbed up the ramparts and stuck his head through a gun port, where Abner Doubleday discovered him. Oh yeah, he was wearing his own Confederate uniform. Seriously. He's one of the jerks most responsible for Sam Houston being driven out as Governor of Texas. His incendiary letters back to Texas during the pre-secession period (he was a US senator from Texas--but he came from South Carolina) did a lot of stir up people. He was the first commander (organizer) of Hood's Texas Brigade--but after the first boring winter camp, he bailed on them and...Yep...became a member of the Confederate Government, where he continued in meddling until he escaped to England sans family. Oh, and it was the duel between him and Preston Brooks that indirectly led to the caning of Sumner--he wounded Brooks, who then needed a cane to walk. He did everything in his power to make sure the peace talks before the war failed. He's the poster boy for dysfunction and chaos--and he did as much or more than any other fire eater to make sure there was a war. Civilwartalk won't let me accurately describe him--profanity can't be used on this site. However, just imagine....

wigfall.jpg
 

OpnCoronet

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Hi All,
There is a question I've always had, even after reading dozens of books on the Civil War: "Why didn't the South wait?"
There were some smart politicians in the south, men that should have been able to cut through the emotional urges that the Lincoln election brought. Why didn't cooler heads prevail and construct a "secret confederacy " that would use the oversized representation the south had in congress to funnel monies, build railroad track and shift more military resources to the south? Lincoln would have definitively added some southerners to his cabinet in efforts to stave off secession (my opinion). Why not bid your time, improve your infrastructure, obstruct Lincoln politically, and then when your ducks are in a row mobilize for war? I've read that John B. Floyd sent arms to the South during his controversial stint as Secretary of War, why not replicate this?
I'm sure I'm missing something obvious, but the question has always stuck in my mind. If anyone could elaborate I'd be thankful!



There is, I believe, a general consensus among many mainline historians, that, in fact, the political leadership of the United States, in general was not particularly high and there is a legitimate school of though, that ascribes a reat part of the cause of the CW was a general failure of political leadership in the country.

In any event, while the miinds of the populouus of the South were not in the same place or time, that is not true of the radicalFire-Eaters)leadership of many of their states.

Secession occured when and where it did, because of a conspirac of highly placed political leaders in the gov'ts of most, if not all, of the original seceding States.

How could the conspirators wait for Lincoln's administration to prove itself, when in fact, his election(and, not just his election, but, ANY Republican) was chosen to signal the conspiracy's drive for independence.

In most Revolutions, the last thing its leaders want, is quiet contemplation or cool thinking from their followers, ou want action, and speed Less though and more action the better.
 

WJC

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There is, I believe, a general consensus among many mainline historians, that, in fact, the political leadership of the United States, in general was not particularly high and there is a legitimate school of though, that ascribes a reat part of the cause of the CW was a general failure of political leadership in the country.
Can you explain this statement? Thanks!
 
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jackt62

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Another viewpoint holds that the south did indeed "wait." The tinderbox that was ignited by Lincoln's election was simply the last in a long series of what the southland considered to be provacations and infringements on its rights (or in other words, its right to enslave its Black population.) The drumbeat towards disunion did not suddenly begin in 1861; its roots were decades old and were particularly strengthened by the various crises and political somersaults of the 1850's; the 1850 Compromise, the Kansas-Nebraska act, "Bleeding Kansas," the Dred Scott decision, John Brown's Harpers Ferry Raid, to name the most critical. Taken in that context, the south held out as long as it deemed its existential interests were not jeopardized. Once they concluded that these interests were seriously at risk, they opted for secession and war.
 
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