Secession of Southern States
Southern States Secede
Southern Secession History
Secession in United States history
Secession is defined as the withdrawal of a state from the Union.
Just as the original
thirteen colonies fought for their independence almost 100 years earlier, the Southern states felt a growing need for absolute
freedom from the central Federal authority in Washington. This topic was referred to as Secession.
On July, 4, 1776, it stated
in the Declaration of Independence by the thirteen colonies: "That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, FREE AND INDEPENDENT STATES...and that, as free and
independent States, they have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all
other acts and things which independent States may of right do." The
right of secession was also regarded by the seceding states as one of their sovereign powers as bequeathed in the Bill of Rights to the United States Constitution. The United States Constitution, furthermore, contained no prohibition in this respect nor conferred any power on the Federal government to compel a state
to remain in the Union against its wishes. The legality
of the concept was, however, always disputed by the Federal government. To this day, the debate of Secession remains a heated
Seven states seceded by February 1861:
South Carolina (December 20, 1860)
Mississippi (January 9, 1861)
(January 10, 1861)
Alabama (January 11, 1861)
Georgia (January 19, 1861)
Louisiana (January 26, 1861)
After Lincoln called for troops, four more states seceded:
Virginia (April 17, 1861)
Arkansas (May 6, 1861)
North Carolina (May
Tennessee (June 8, 1861)
Two more states had rival (or rump) governments. The Confederacy admitted
them but they never controlled these states, and the pro-Confederate state governments were soon in exile: Missouri did not secede but a rump group proclaimed secession (October 31, 1861). Kentucky
did not secede but a rump, unelected group proclaimed secession (November 20, 1861). Both states allowed slavery and had strong
Unionist and Confederate counties.
Recommended Reading: The Impending Crisis, 1848-1861 (Paperback), by David M. Potter. Review: Professor Potter treats an incredibly complicated and misinterpreted
time period with unparalleled objectivity and insight. Potter masterfully explains the climatic events that led to Southern
secession – a greatly divided nation – and the Civil War: the social, political and ideological conflicts;
culture; American expansionism, sectionalism and popular sovereignty; economic and tariff systems; and slavery. In other words, Potter places under the microscope the root causes and origins of the Civil War.
He conveys the subjects in easy to understand language to edify the reader's understanding (it's
not like reading some dry old history book). Delving beyond surface meanings
and interpretations, this book analyzes not only the history, but the historiography of the time period as well. Continued
rejects the historian's tendency to review the period with all the benefits of hindsight. He simply traces the events, allowing
the reader a step-by-step walk through time, the various views, and contemplates the interpretations of contemporaries and
other historians. Potter then moves forward with his analysis. The Impending Crisis is the absolute gold-standard of historical
writing… This simply is the book by which, not only other antebellum era books, but all history books should be judged.
Lincoln President-Elect: Abraham Lincoln and the Great Secession Winter
1860-1861 (Hardcover) (Simon & Schuster) (October 21, 2008). Reviews: "This detailed and gripping narrative of Lincoln's
thoughts and actions during the four months between his election and inauguration -- perhaps more important than any four
months of his actual presidency -- is another tour de force by one of our foremost Lincoln
scholars. Bristling with new information and key insights, it enriches our understanding of this most fateful time in American
history."-- James M. McPherson, author of Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief. Continued below…
is Harold Holzer's best and most controversial book. Many historians, myself included, have depicted Lincoln
in the months between his election and inauguration as weak and indecisive. Holzer, carefully studying the record, argues
that Lincoln was a strong-minded, highly principled, and shrewd
president-elect."-- David Herbert Donald, author of Lincoln
"This is a
stunningly original work that casts completely new light on the most turbulent and critical presidential transition in American
history. Holzer's superb narrative skill, along with his abundant use of colorful details, creates an atmosphere of such immediacy
that the reader feels transported back to "the Great Secession Winter" as an eye-witness to Lincoln's gifted leadership during this dramatic period. This groundbreaking book will take
its place with the most valuable and indispensable works in the Lincoln
canon."-- Doris Kearns Goodwin, author of Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln
"No one has
a finer intuitive understanding of Abraham Lincoln than Harold Holzer. In this fascinating book, he throws a searchlight on
a crucial and surprisingly underexamined episode of Lincoln's life to show us the essential
elements of Lincoln's political and moral greatness."-- Michael
Beschloss, author of Presidential Courage: Brave Leaders and How They Changed America, 1789-1989
Lincoln and Chief Justice Taney: Slavery, Secession,
and the President's War Powers, by James F. Simon (Simon & Schuster). Publishers Weekly: This surprisingly taut and gripping book by NYU law professor Simon
(What Kind of Nation) examines the limits of presidential prerogative during the Civil War. Lincoln and Supreme Court Chief
Justice Roger Taney saw eye to eye on certain matters; both, for example, disliked slavery. But beginning in 1857, when Lincoln criticized Taney's decision in the Dred Scott case, the pair
began to spar. They diverged further once Lincoln became president when Taney insisted that
secession was constitutional and preferable to bloodshed, and blamed the Civil War on Lincoln.
In 1861, Taney argued that Lincoln's suspension of habeas
corpus was illegal. This holding was, Simon argues, "a clarion call for the president to respect the civil liberties of American
citizens." Continued below...
In an 1862
group of cases, Taney joined a minority opinion that Lincoln lacked the authority to order the seizure of Southern
ships. Had Taney had the chance, suggests Simon, he would have declared the Emancipation Proclamation unconstitutional; he
and Lincoln agreed that the Constitution left slavery up to individual states, but Lincoln
argued that the president's war powers trumped states' rights. Simon's focus on Lincoln and Taney makes for a dramatic, charged
narrative—and the focus on presidential war powers makes this historical study extremely timely.
Recommended Reading: Lincoln and the Decision
for War: The Northern Response to Secession (Civil War America)
(Hardcover). Review: When Abraham Lincoln's election
in 1860 prompted several Southern states to secede, the North was sharply divided over how to respond. In this groundbreaking
book, the first major study in over 50 years of how the North handled the secession crisis, McClintock follows the decision-making
process from bitter partisan rancor to consensus. From small towns to big cities and from state capitals to Washington, D.C.,
McClintock highlights individuals both powerful and obscure to demonstrate the ways ordinary citizens, party activists, state
officials, and national leaders interacted to influence the Northern response to what was essentially a political crisis.
He argues that
although Northerners' reactions to Southern secession were understood and expressed through partisan newspapers and officials,
the decision fell into the hands of an ever-smaller handful of people until finally it was Abraham Lincoln alone who would
choose whether the future of the American republic was to be determined through peace or a sword.
Recommended Reading: The Real Lincoln:
A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War. Description: It hardly seems possible that there is more to say about someone who has been subjected
to such minute scrutiny in thousands of books and articles. Yet, Thomas J. DiLorenzo’s The Real Lincoln manages to raise fresh and morally probing questions, challenging the image of the martyred
16th president that has been fashioned carefully in marble and bronze, sentimentalism and myth. In doing so, DiLorenzo does
not follow the lead of M. E. Bradford or other Southern agrarians. He writes primarily not as a defender of the Old South
and its institutions, culture, and traditions, but as a libertarian enemy of the Leviathan state. Continued below...
and his war responsible for the triumph of "big government" and the birth of the ubiquitous, suffocating modern U.S. state. He seeks to replace the nation’s memory
of Lincoln as the “Great Emancipator” with the record of Lincoln as the “Great Centralizer.”
Recommended Reading: Secession Debated: Georgia's
Showdown in 1860. Review: The critical
northern antebellum debate matched the rhetorical skills of Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas in an historic argument
over the future of slavery in a westward-expanding America.
Two years later, an equally historic oratorical showdown between secessionists and Unionists in Georgia
generated as much popular interest south of the Mason-Dixon line, and perhaps had an even more profound immediate effect on
the future of the United States. Continued
Lincoln's "Black Republican" triumph in the presidential election of 1860, the United States witnessed ardent secessionist
sentiment in the South. But Unionists were equally zealous and while South Carolina--a
bastion of Disunionism since 1832--seemed certain to secede; the other fourteen slave states were far from decided. In the
deep South, the road to disunion depended much on the actions of Georgia,
a veritable microcosm of the divided South and geographically in the middle of the Cotton South. If Georgia
went for the Union, secessionist South Carolina could be
isolated. So in November of 1860, all the eyes of Dixie turned to tiny Milledgeville, pre-war capital of Georgia, for a legislative confrontation that would help chart the course toward
civil war. In Secession Debated, William W. Freehling and Craig M. Simpson have for the first time collected the seven surviving
speeches and public letters of this greatest of southern debates over disunion, providing today's reader with a unique window
into a moment of American crisis. Introducing the debate and debaters in compelling fashion, the editors help bring to life
a sleepy Southern town suddenly alive with importance as a divided legislature met to decide the fate of Georgia, and by extension,
that of the nation. We hear myriad voices, among them the energetic and self-righteous Governor Joseph E. Brown who, while
a slaveholder and secessionist, was somewhat suspect as a native North Georgian; Alexander H. Stephens, the eloquent Unionist
whose "calm dispassionate approach" ultimately backfired; and fiery secessionist Robert Toombs who, impatient with Brown's
indecisiveness and the caution of the Unionists, shouted to legislators: "Give me the sword! but if you do not place it in
my hands, before God! I will take it." The secessionists' Henry Benning and Thomas R. R. Cobb as well as the Unionists Benjamin
Hill and Herschel Johnson also speak to us across the years, most with eloquence, all with the patriotic, passionate conviction
that defined an era. In the end, the legislature adopted a convention bill which decreed a popular vote on the issue in early
January 1861. The election results were close, mirroring the intense debate of two months before: 51% of Georgians favored
immediate secession, a slim margin which the propaganda-conscious Brown later inflated to 58%. On January 19th the Georgia
Convention sanctioned secession in a 166-130 vote, and the imminent Confederacy had its Southern hinge. Secession Debated
is a colorful and gripping tale told in the words of the actual participants, one which sheds new light on one of the great
and hitherto neglected verbal showdowns in American history. It is essential to a full understanding of the origins of the
War Between the States.
A Constitutional History of Secession (Hardcover). Review: The
Constitutional History of Secession is the history of the legal practice of secession in the Anglo-American world. The learned
jurist John Remington Graham is possessed of a profound expertise on American, British and Canadian constitutional law. He
has written a compelling defense of the right of secession. Secession, the right of self-determination, and the principle
of "rule by consent of the governed" were among the foremost principles animating the American War for Independence of Seventeen-Seventy-Six.
Yet the consolidationist sophists malign and deny these tried and true principles of free government. Graham, however, traces
British and American constitutional history and developments with great clarity and buoys the case for secession. He offers
an amazing exposition of seventeenth century British constitutional developments, which culminated in the Glorious Revolution
of 1688 in which the Crown peacefully passed from James II to William and Mary without armed conflict. Continued below…
of William of Orange to the throne was met with popular support, as the usurpations of William II were not amenable to the
populace. This so called revolution set a standard for peaceful political separation, and it was exactly what the American
Continental Congress sought from Great Britain. Likewise, peaceful separation was what the
southern states that formed the Southern Confederacy wanted when those eleven states formally separated from the United States. Secession does not have to mean war and violence,
but war was thrust upon American colonials and southern confederates when their previous government refused to acknowledge
their right of self-determination. As the Declaration of Independence proclaims, "...whenever any Form of Government becomes
destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying
its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their
Safety and Happiness." As Confederate President Jefferson Davis proclaimed, "All we ask is to be left alone." The Glorious
Revolution forms the foundation of Graham's treatise as he advances his thesis and makes the case for secession. As Donald
Livingston proclaims in the preface, "The central focus of this work will be revolution, not as an armed overthrow of an established
government, but as a rational and orderly process, specifically allowed by fundamental law."
In making the case for
secession, Graham substantiates the compact nature of the Union as well, which correspondingly
legitimizes interposition, nullification, and secession. Two early constitutional commentaries including St. George Tucker's
View of the Constitution of the United States
(1801) and Pennsylvania Federalist William Rawle's A View of the Constitution (1829) both affirm a right of secession.
Remington Graham further traces American constitutional developments, and in doing so he substantiates the compact nature
of the Union, and makes a profound case for the Constitution as a compact, which in effect
legitimizes the right of secession. He further explains all of these episodes in constitutional history with amazing detail
**The Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions which were in continuity with the colonial-revolutionary tradition
of State remonstrance, protest, interposition and nullification of unconstitutional acts of central government authorities.
**The Hartford Convention and the anti-war, anti-embargo northern secessionist movement which emerged after the unwelcomed
War of 1812 with the British.
**The Webster-Hayne Debates on the nature of the Union
is explained in detail. Likewise, Daniel Webster's case of foot-in-mouth disease is made manifest as Hayne hearkens back to
his deeds at the Hartford Convention.
**The Missouri Compromise and constitutional question of slavery and the sectional
strife over the spread of slavery into the territories is explained.
**The secession of the eleven southern states
from the Union and the circumstances leading to their separation are explained in detail.
Likewise, the birth of the Southern Confederacy and the north's violent refusal to accept their separation is painstakingly
**The unlawful and violent conquest of the South, the unconstitutional political repression in north and
south, the illegal suspension of the writ of habeas corpus throughout the whole nation and the oppressive Reconstruction Acts
are explained with amazing clarity and detail.
**Graham fast forwards to the twentieth-century. In our time, Quebec
has asserted the legal right of secession as a viable political alternative if its relationship with the central government
of the Canadian Confederation does not prove to be more mutually-beneficial and less detrimental to the interests of Quebec's
citizenry in coming years. With a distinctive francophone culture and nearly half of the populace voting for secession in
the last popular referendum, we may well witness the peaceful separation of Quebec from Canada in our lifetime.
All things considered, John
Remington Graham has done a remarkable job at making the case for secession and has made a lasting contribution to constitutional
scholarship. His book is well-documented and awash in powerful quotations from British and American statesmen. There is a
preponderance of evidence in the Anglo-American constitutional heritage which makes secession a lawful exercise. Likewise,
he is very logical in tracing the deducible nature of State sovereignty. Graham in final application points out that self-determination
as expressed in an act of secession emanates from the right of people themselves to self-government. Essentially by presenting
the secession of the American colonies and the Southern Confederacy in its proper historical and legal context, Graham has
made a valuable contribution to understanding the Anglo-American political tradition. John Graham who presently served as
an expert advisor on British constitutional law to the amicus curiae (i.e. friend of the court) for Quebec in the secession state decided in 1998. As Jefferson
astutely opined, "Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient
Causes..." Thus, secession is never to be approached lightly, and the act of secession negates the value, benefits and security
of the Union.
* * * * * * * * * * *
"Whenever government becomes destructive
of these ends (i.e. life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness), it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and
to institute a new government." -Declaration of Independence
of the American Colonies, July 4, 1776
"Sovereignty is the highest degree of political power, and the establishment
of a form of government, the highest proof which can be given of its existence. The states could have not reserved any rights
by articles of their union, if they had not been sovereign, because they could have no rights, unless they flowed from that
source. In the creation of the federal government, the states exercised the highest act of sovereignty, and they may, if they
please, repeat the proof of their sovereignty, by its annihilation. But the union possesses no innate sovereignty, like the
states; it was not self-constituted; it is conventional, and of course subordinate to the sovereignties by which it was formed."
-John Taylor of Caroline, New Views of the Constitution, Nov. 19, 1823
"I saw in State Rights the only availing check
upon the absolutism of the sovereign will, and secession filled me with hope, not as the destruction but as the redemption
of Democracy. The institutions of your Republic have not exercised on the old world the salutary and liberating influence
which ought to have belonged to them, by reason of those defects and abuses of principle which the Confederate Constitution
was expressly and wisely calculated to remedy. I believed that the example of that great Reform would have blessed all the
races of mankind by establishing true freedom purged of the native dangers and disorders of Republics. Therefore I deemed
that you were fighting the battles of our liberty, our progress, and our civilization; and I mourn for the stake which was
lost at Richmond more deeply than I rejoice over that which was saved at Waterloo." -Lord Acton in a letter to Robert E. Lee, Nov. 4, 1866.