The core motive for Confederate secession which sparked the civil war, while obvious to historians, has been a source of much heated among the American public over the years. It seems to be obvious to the vast majority of historians researching this matter over what that motivation really was, but to many others, the reasons are anything but. To put it straight, the core grievance for Confederate secession surrounded that of Slavery. While the preservation of “States rights” is the term used by many to explain the motivation for secession of the Confederate States, that “States right” in question goes right back to the institution of Slavery. How do we know that Slavery was the core reason for Southern secession again? Well let’s start with the ordinances of secession and Declaration of immediate causes below by some of those States whom declared secession from the Union between 1860-1861:
Texas ordinances of secession on February 2nd, 1861:
Texas abandoned her separate national existence and consented to become one of the Confederated States to promote her welfare, insure domestic tranquillity and secure more substantially the blessings of peace and liberty to her people. She was received into the confederacy with her own constitution under the guarantee of the federal constitution and the compact of annexation, that she should enjoy these blessings. She was received as a commonwealth holding, maintaining and protecting the institution known as negro slavery–the servitude of the African to the white race within her limits–a relation that had existed from the first settlement of her wilderness by the white race, and which her people intended should exist in all future time”
Note that slavery is mentioned first as a grievence for secession and mentioned a total of 3 times. “Non-slave-holding States” are mentioned a total of 5 times, “white race” is mentioned 3 times and “african”is mentioned 4 times. Tariffs are mentioned a total of “0″ times and taxes are mentioned a total of “0″ times in the Texas ordinances of secession.
South Carolina declaration of immediate causes, December 24th, 1860:
The General Government, as the common agent, passed laws to carry into effect these stipulations of the States. For many years these laws were executed. But an increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery, has led to a disregard of their obligations, and the laws of the General Government have ceased to effect the objects of the Constitution.
Note that slavery and/or slaves are mentioned first as a grievence for secession and mentioned a total of 11 times. ‘Non-slaveholding States’ are mentioned a total of 3 times . Tariffs are mentioned a total of “0″ times and ‘taxes’ are mentioned once in the lower half.
Mississippi declaration of immediate causes:
Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery– the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth.
Note that slavery and/or slaves are mentioned first as a grievence for secession and mentioned a total of 7 times. “Non-slaveholding States” are mentioned a total of 7 times . Tariffs are mentioned a total of “0″ times and “taxes” are mentioned a total of “0″ times.”Black race” is mentioned once.
Georgia declaration of immediate causes, 29th January 1861
The people of Georgia having dissolved their political connection with the Government of the United States of America, present to their confederates and the world the causes which have led to the separation. For the last ten years we have had numerous and serious causes of complaint against our non-slave-holding confederate States with reference to the subject of African slavery.
Note that “slavery”, “anti-slavery” and “slaves” are mentioned first as a grievence for secession and mentioned a total of 25 times. “Non-slaveholding States” are mentioned a total of 6 times . Tariffs are mentioned a total of “0″ times and “taxes” are mentioned a total of “0″ times.
Alabama ordinance to dissolve the Union, 11th January 1861
Be it further declared and ordained by the people of the State of Alabama in Convention assembled, That all powers over the Territory of said State, and over the people thereof, heretofore delegated to the Government of the United States of America, be and they are hereby withdrawn from said Government, and are hereby resumed and vested in the people of the State of Alabama. And as it is the desire and purpose of the people of Alabama to meet the slaveholding States of the South,
Note that only “Slaveholding States” are mentioned, where as tariffs are mentioned a total of “0″ times and taxes are mentioned a total of “0″ times.
Below is a letter sent by Alabama Commissioner, Stephen Hale, directed toward the then Kentucky Governor Beriah Magoffin, 27th December, 1860, concerning their stance on the civil war:
“Upon the principles then announced by Mr. Lincoln and his leading friends, we are bound to expect his administration to be conducted. Hence it is, that in high places, among the Republican party, the election of Mr. Lincoln is hailed, not simply as a change of Administration, but as the inauguration of new principles, and a new theory of Government, and even as the downfall of slavery. Therefore it is that the election of Mr. Lincoln cannot be regarded otherwise than a solemn declaration, on the part of a great majority of the Northern people, of hostility to the South, her property and her institutions — nothing less than an open declaration of war”
So what about Florida, Louisiana, Virgina, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Tennessee? They don’t mention slavery in either of their ordinances or immediate causes? Well the fact of the matter is that not every Confederate State came up with their own declaration of immediate causes. Some Confederate States used declarations of Immediate causes and ordinances to voice out their grievences while others merely allowed their delegations to speak about those grievances among their State legislators. We can only refer to the comments and accounts of and from the governors and the southern representitives of those States at that time on how they viewed what the motivation for secession was:
Louisiana Governor Thomas Moore, 1860-1864:
“I do not think it comports with the honor and respect of Louisiana, as a slaveholding state, to live under the government of a black Republican”
Florida Governor Madison Starke Perry, 1857-1861
“A President has recently been elected, an obscure and illiterate man without experience in public affairs or any general reputation mainly if not exclusively on account of a settled and often proclaimed hostility to our institutions and a fixed purpose to abolish them. It is denied that it is the purpose of the party soon to enter into the possession of the powers of the Federal Government to abolish slavery by any direct legislative act. This has never been charged by any one. But it has been announced by all the leading men and presses of the party that the ultimate accomplishment of this result is its settled purpose and great central principle.”
Virginia Governor John Letcher, 1861-1865
“The Northern States must strike from their statute books their personal liberty bills, and fulfill their consitutional obligations in regard to fugitive slaves and fugitives from justice. If our slaves escape into non-slaveholding states, they must be delivered up”
North Carolina Governor John Ellis, 1859-1861
“Such, gentlemen, are the parties to the contest. The issue between them should be clearly understood, especially here at the South. I assert, and shall maintain it with the proofs, that this issue is, whether African slavery shall be abolished here in the States, where it now exists? Let us not be deceived upon this point. Men may talk about our rights in the territories, but depend upon it they are not the questions now in issue. The abolition of slavery here at home is the design of our opponents. This is the bond that cements all the anti-slavery elements in one solid column against us.”
Arkansas Governor Henry Rector, 1860-1862
“Is it to be the Union without slavery,” he asked, “or slavery without the Union?”
“In answer to your requisition for troops from Arkansas to subjugate the Southern States, I have to that none will be furnished. The demand is only adding insult to injury. The people of this commonwealth are freemen, not slaves, and will defend, to the last extremity, their honor, lives and property against Northern mendacity and usurpation.”
Tennessee Governor Isham Harris, 1857-1862
7th January, 1861
The systematic, wanton, and long continued agitation of the slavery question, with the actual and threatened aggressions of the Northern States and a portion of their people, upon the well-defined constitutional rights of the Southern citizen; the rapid growth and increase, in all the elements of power, of a purely sectional party, whose bond of union is uncompromising hostility to the rights and institutions of the fifteen Southern States, have produced a crisis in the affairs of the country, unparalleled in the history of the past, resulting already in the withdrawal from the Confederacy of one of the sovereignties which composed it,
In 1861, Jefferson Davis, prior to assuming the role of president for the future Confederacy, made a farewell speech in front of the senate chamber on the 21st of January 1861. In that speech he made it clear that the motivation for secession was based on what he viewed as an attack on Southern Social institutions. Jefferson then narrowed down that specific social institution that was under attack by stating that:
‘our Constitution was formed, the same idea was rendered more palpable, for there we find provision made for that very class of persons as property; they were not put upon the footing of equality with white men’
(1). Just over 4 months after making that speech, by that time as president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis again made it clear what the civil war was about and what the motivation of Southern secession was about:
‘In twelve out of the thirteen States negro slavery existed, and the right of property in slaves was protected by law. This property was recognized in the Constitution, and provision was made against its loss by the escape of the slave’ (2).
So Jefferson made his view rather clear on what the core motivation for secession was.
Accusations against Lincoln and the Republicans of an abolitionist plot
Even prior to the civil war, southern governors and representitives accused Lincoln and the Republican party of planning to enforce a Federal ban on slavery once they assume office. They warned that if Lincoln were to win the elections (which he eventually did) secession would be the only viable option given the abolishonist sentiment in that party:
The straw that broke the Southern camel’s back was the election of Abraham Lincoln, a Republican and avowed opponent of slavery who was supported by many vocal abolitionists. Fearful that the North, which was richer, more populous, and industrial, would even more insistently impose its will against them, the Southern states felt they had no recourse but to pull away from the Union and form their own nation.
Abraham Lincoln actually went on record prior to the elections stating that the institution of slavery would be preserved under his administration, however this could not quell the secessionist sentiment:
The Southern image of Lincoln began as a mere sectional stereotype, and Southern hostility to his presidential candidacy was largely impersonal. Secession, although undertaken in response to the outcome of the election of 1860, had nothing to do with the particular qualities and qualifications of the man elected. It was the “Black Republican party” that Southerners hated and feared, whoever might happen to be the party’s official leader.
What do the Historians have to say?The vast majority of historians agree that slavery was the core grievence for Southern secession. In 2011 on a panel discussion held by PBS with three Civil War historians, Drew Gilpin Faust, the president of Harvard University, Edna Medford from Howard University and professor Walter Edgar at the University of South Carolina, all three agreed that the civil war was sparked over the issue of Slavery (3).
‘historians are pretty united on the cause of the Civil War being slavery.
And the kind of research that historians have undertaken, especially in the years since the centennial, when there has been so much interest in this question of the role of race and slavery in the United States, that research has shown pretty decisively that, when the various states announced their plans for secession, they uniformly said that the main motivating factor was to defend slavery’
Ralph Mann is an associate professor of history at the University of Colorado:
“The war was about slavery,” Mann says.
Princeton professor James McPherson:
‘Everything stemmed from the slavery issue,’
David Blight of Yale:
‘No matter what we do or the overwhelming consensus among historians, out in the public mind, there is still this need to deny that slavery was the cause of the war.’
So what can we conclude from all the evidence piled up above?
1. That slavery is clearly made the core grievence in the immediate causes of ordinances of secession.
2. That Southern Governors went on record both before and after the 1860 elections, citing slavery, and a fear of a black Republican party, as the core reason for secession.
3. That warnings were made of secession if Lincoln won the 1860 general elections due to his abolitionist support.
4. That the vast majority of historians have concluded that the cause of the American civil war was about the institution of slavery.