Chapter 18 — The Secession of South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas, the Birth of the Confederate States of America, and the Election of Jefferson Davis.
By Howard Ray White of N. C., S.I.S.H
The purely sectional, six-year campaign by the new Republican Party – full of rhetoric demonizing and punishing the Southern states, their political leaders and their slave holders – had produced numerous advocates of State Secession. Although a Republican attempt to emancipate slaves was of little immediate concern, high import taxation, restrictions on moving slaves into the National Territories and a general punitive attitude toward the Southern culture was viewed as impossible to endure any longer. Although State Secession was viewed as a legal remedy, a Republican-launched War Between the States was certainly viewed as a horrible, although real, possibility.
President James Buchanan’s Cabinet lost three Southerners during December and January. Secretary of the Treasury Howell Cobb of Georgia resigned to help lead his state in secession. Secretary of War John Floyd of Virginia was forced out of office by intense Republican pressure. The day before Mississippi seceded, Secretary of Interior Jacob Thompson resigned to return home. Although a Democrat, Buchanan of Pennsylvania was giving in to Republican pressure.
South Carolina Secession, December 20, 1860, by a 169 versus 0 vote. On November 8, the South Carolina Legislature began debating a bill to call for a Secession Convention, which passed a few days later. South Carolinians elected delegates who gathered at Charleston. The final secession vote was taken on December 20. The tally was 169 in favor, none opposed. South Carolina – of a rich colonial history, heroic in gaining victory in the Revolutionary War, and a founder of the Federal Government – was the South’s secession leader and unanimously committed. The Ordinance of Secession said:
“We, the people of the State of South Carolina, in convention assembled, do declare and ordain, and it is hereby declared and ordained, That the ordinance adopted by us in convention on [May 23,1788], whereby the Constitution of the United States of America was ratified, and also all acts and parts of acts of the General Assembly of this State ratifying amendments of the said Constitution, are hereby repealed; and that the union now subsisting between South Carolina and other States, under the name of the “United States of America,” is hereby dissolved.”
On December 24 delegates approved a carefully worded, legal and comprehensive secession justification document (see Google link at end). Students should study this document on a computer or tablet. Careful study and legal analysis will show that secession is defended but slavery is not the cause of it.
Mississippi Secession, January 9, by a 84 versus 15 vote. Two important events occurred on January 9. An “unlawful” attempt by Federals to reinforce Fort Sumter with 200 soldiers and supplies failed when South Carolina artillery turned back the merchant ship Star of the West while the escorting warship Brooklyn declined to engage its guns. (Attorney General, Jeremiah S. Black of PA, had advised President Buchanan that he could defend the government but had no right to use offensive force against a State.) Meanwhile, Mississippi seceded, declaring “That all the laws and ordinances by which the said State of Mississippi became a member of the Federal Union [are . . .] repealed, and that all obligations . . . be withdrawn, and that the said State doth hereby resume all the rights, functions, and powers . . . and shall from henceforth be a free, sovereign, and independent State.”
The Farewell Address of Senator Jefferson Davis. Upon his state’s secession, Senator Jefferson Davis, of Mississippi, addressed the US Senate, saying in part:
“Then, Senators, we recur to the compact which binds us together; we recur to the principles upon which our Government was founded; and when you deny them, and when you deny to us the right to withdraw from a Government which thus perverted threatens to be destructive of our rights, we but tread in the path of our fathers when we proclaim our independence, and take the hazard. This is done not in hostility to others, not to injure any section of the country, not even for our own pecuniary benefit; but from the high and solemn motive of defending and protecting the rights we inherited, and which it is our sacred duty to transmit unshorn to our children.”
Also resigning from the Senate that day were Democrats David Yulee and Stephen Mallory of FL, and Clement Clay and Benjamin Fitzpatrick of AL. Republicans would soon admit Kansas to statehood to gain two more Republican Senate seats.
Florida Secession, January 10, by a 62 versus 7 vote. “We, the people of the State of Florida in Convention assembled, do solemnly ordain, publish and declare: That the State of Florida hereby withdraws herself from the . . . United States of America, and from the existing Government of said States . . . and the State of Florida is hereby declared a Sovereign and Independent Nation . . . .”
Alabama Secession, January 11, by a 61 versus 39 vote. “Be it declared and ordained by the people of the State of Alabama, in Convention assembled, That the State of Alabama now withdraws . . . from the Union known as ‘the United States of America,’ and henceforth ceases to be one of said United States, and is, and of right ought to be a Sovereign and Independent State.”
Georgia Secession, January 19, by a 208 versus 89 vote. “We the people of the State of Georgia in Convention assembled do declare and ordain and it is hereby declared and ordained that the ordinance adopted by the State of Georgia in Convention on [January 2, 1788], whereby the constitution of the United States of America was assented to, ratified and adopted, and also all acts and parts of acts of the general assembly of this State, ratifying and adopting amendments to said constitution, are hereby repealed, rescinded and abrogated.
“We do further declare and ordain that the union now existing between the State of Georgia and other States under the name of the United States of America is hereby dissolved, and that the State of Georgia is in full possession and exercise of all those rights of sovereignty which belong and appertain to a free and independent State.”
Louisiana Secession, January 26, by a 113 versus 17 vote. “We, the people of the State of Louisiana, in Convention assembled, do declare and ordain, and it is hereby declared and ordained, That the ordinance passed by us in Convention on [November 22, 1811], whereby the Constitution of the United States of America and the amendments of the said Constitution were adopted, and all laws and ordinances by which the State of Louisiana became a member of the Federal Union, be, and the same are hereby, repealed and abrogated; and that the union now subsisting between Louisiana and other States under the name of “The United States of America” is hereby dissolved. We do further declare and ordain, That the State of Louisiana hereby resumes all rights and powers . . . which appertain to a free and independent State.”
Texas Secession, February 1, by a 166 versus 8 vote. “We, the people of the State of Texas, by Delegates in Convention assembled, do declare and ordain that the ordinance adopted by our Convention of Delegates on [July 4, 1845], and afterwards ratified by us, under which the Republic of Texas was admitted into the Union with other States, and became a party to the compact styled “The Constitution of the United States of America,” be, and is hereby, repealed and annulled; that all the powers which, by the said compact, were delegated by Texas to the Federal Government are revoked and resumed; that Texas is of right absolved from all restraints and obligations incurred by said compact, and is a separate sovereign State . .”
The Birth of the Confederate States of America.
With few exceptions, those mentioned above who voted against secession accepted the will of the majority and became dedicated Confederates. They had not doubted the right of secession, only its prudence or timing. A section of the Alabama Ordinance of Secession invited delegates to come to Montgomery to discuss founding a constitution for the Confederate States of America.
“Be it resolved by the people of Alabama in Convention assembled, That the people of the States of Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky and Missouri, be and are hereby invited to meet the people of the State of Alabama, by their Delegates, in Convention, on [February 4, 1861], at the city of Montgomery, in the State of Alabama, for the purpose of consulting with each other as to the most effectual mode of securing concerted and harmonious action in whatever measures may be deemed most desirable for our common peace and security.”
These seceded states sent delegates who quickly created a Confederate Government limited in power by a provisional Constitution approved four days later. The preamble stated:
“We the People of the Confederate States, each acting in its sovereign and independent character, in order to form a permanent Federal Government, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity – invoking the favor and guidance of Almighty God – do ordain and establish this Constitution for the Confederate States of America.”
It limited tax rates on imports to only that needed for revenue and prohibited Confederate financing of construction projects (harbors, canals, railroads) for they were to be state projects. It prohibited the importation of bonded African Americans unless accompanied by an immigrant owner (say, a Kentuckian immigrates to Alabama and brings his bonded people). Any three states could propose an amendment to the Confederate Constitution which would be approved if agreed to by two thirds of the states. The President and Vice President would serve for six years and could not seek re-election.
For Provisional President, Delegates elected resigned U.S. Senator Jefferson Davis of Mississippi and for Provisional Vice President, Alexander Stephens of Georgia. Davis had graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, had fought in the Mexican War and had been U.S. Secretary of War from 1853 to 1857. Both were sworn in on February 18. A portion of Davis’s inaugural address is given below:
“We have entered upon the career of independence, and it must be inflexibly pursued. . . . As a necessity, not a choice, we have resorted to the remedy of separation; and henceforth our energies must he directed to the conduct of our own affairs, and the perpetuity of the Confederacy which we have formed. If a just perception of mutual interest shall permit us peaceably to pursue our separate political career, my most earnest desire will have been fulfilled. But, if this be denied to us, and the integrity of our territory and jurisdiction be assailed, it will but remain for us, with firm resolve, to appeal to arms and invoke the blessings of Providence on a just cause.
“Reverently let us invoke the God of our fathers to guide and protect us in our efforts to perpetuate the principles which, by his blessing, they were able to vindicate, establish and transmit to their posterity, and with a continuance of His favor, ever gratefully acknowledged, we may hopefully look forward to success, to peace, and to prosperity.”
Organizing the Confederate Government.
The next day Davis dispatched Major Caleb Huse to Europe to purchase ships and arms, appointed General Josiah Gorgas Chief of Ordinance, and directed Raphael Semmes to go north to purchase ships and arms and to hire mechanics. Six days later he dispatched a three-man commission to Washington to seek peaceful relations with Abraham Lincoln.
Davis soon had a functioning Cabinet – Sect. of State, Robert Toombs of GA; Sect. of the Treasury, Christopher Memminger of SC; Sect. of War, LeRoy Pope Walker of AL; Attorney General, Judah Benjamin, of LA; Sect. of the Navy, Stephen Mallory of FL, and Postmaster General, John Reagan of TX.
Suggestions for Class Discussion
You have learned much about the secession of 7 states and the political organization of the Confederate government. But 8 Democrat Southern states declined to secede. Imagine that you are Republican President Lincoln, just entering the White House. How would you deal with the Davis government?