During the American Civil War, several states seceded from the greater union to form the confederate states with 11 member states. The seceding states created a fully functional government, complete with a president and congress that led a major war until their defeat in the spring of 1865. The reasons for their secession were tied to the assumption that Abraham Lincolns abolitionist policies threatened their way of life which was intricately tied to the institution of slavery. While all of the states gave declarations outlining their reasons for deciding to secede, all of these reasons being in defense of slavery.
The main argument that the southern states used to secede from the north was on the appropriateness of the institution of slavery. The defenders of slavery argued that a sudden end to slavery would kill the Southern economy that was heavily reliant on slave labor for the cotton economy. They also argued that rice production would no longer be profitable, and tobacco harvests would dry in the field due to a lack of cheap labor. Additionally, the supporters of slavery posited that if all the slaves became free, then the southern states would inevitably face widespread unemployment and chaos (Hummel, 2013). The freed slaves would have time to organize uprisings thus leading to anarchy and bloodshed. In support of their arguments, they cited the French Revolution as a good example of how the mob had utilized the rule of terror. The continuance of slavery would lead to continued prominence and affluence of the slaveholding class. Other defenders of slavery highlighted its presence in the Bible where Abraham had slaves. They also quoted the Ten commandments saying Thou shalt not covet thy neighbors house, nor his manservant or maidservant. Additionally, Paul in the New Testament is credited with having returned Philemon, a runaway slave, to his master (Hummel, 2013). All of these arguments supported the continuation and even expansion of slavery.
The second major reason given for secession from the north was States rights. In the 1860s, the concept of states rights was already an old idea. It came from the original 13 colonies in the 1700s where in order to present a united front against Britain, the states had to compromise with each other to ratify a united constitution and country (Reid, 2014). This created a debate over which powers belonged to the states and which to the federal government. In declaring a secession, the state first defined a union as a compact agreement between states that could be nullified if some states were not satisfied with what they received from the federal government. The Southern states cited North Carolinas reluctance to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 which mandated law enforcement in the North to return any run-away slaves captured in the Northern territories (Hummel, 2013). The southern states interpreted this reluctance as meaning the national union was no longer satisfactory.
Another grievance cited in the secession documents is the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the union. Long before his election as President, the southern states had already demonized him as an abolitionist that would proceed with his intentions no matter the consequences and with no regard to the law. However, Lincoln was anti-slavery and was democratically elected (Reid, 2014). The southern refusal to acknowledge the majority rule was viewed as an action against the constitution since the southern states wanted President Lincoln to submit to their demands before they acknowledged his presidency. Lincoln declined as it represented the paradox of a republican government where a minority decided the fate of the majority (Reid, 2014). This rejection eventually led to the civil war .
While the southern states each gave their reasons for secession, all of these arguments were in support of the continuation of slavery. The states gave three major reasons for their secession being the insistence on the abolition of slavery, the concept of states rights, and the election of President Lincoln on a Republican party. The south opposed Lincoln and the Republican party because of their anti-slavery views thus eventually leading to the American Civil War.
Hummel, J. (2013). Emancipating slaves, enslaving free men: a history of the American civil war. Open court.
Reid, B. H. (2014). The Origins of the American Civil War. Routledge.
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