The Real Factors That Caused Secession Of The Southern States

by Jerry Rowley
(as inspired by a speech by The United Episcopal Rt. Rev. Hall of Pensacola, FL SCV Camp)

When our country was founded in 1776, there were many different positions held as to the proper amount of national or federal government necessary to govern. Several compromises were made, the largest of which was the first ten amendments (the “ Bill of Rights”) to the new constitution. The Southern Colonies would not ratify the constitution without these amendments. All this took time and thus, the government was not fully formed until 1789 when our first president, George Washington, took office. The two main factions were those of the New England colonies that felt the federal government should be the main ruling power and the Southern Colonies that thought individual freedom and states rights were more important. The first cabinet was made up of a compromise group to try to please both sides. It turned out this was not to work very well. Almost immediately, there was bickering between the Yankee Secretary of Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, and the Southern Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson. It got out of hand and became a scandal in the newspapers. President Washington called the parties on the carpet and ordered them to stop public bickering and do the business they were assigned. He threatened to ask for both their resignations if they did not comply. His wishes were carried out publicly, but behind the scenes, they never agreed on anything except their strong dislike of each other! This became more than just the two men, but rather the groups they represented, Yankee and Southerner. It was culminated by the infamous duel between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton where Burr killed Hamilton. This much-publicized event left a bitter taste in of the Yankees and made the differences more pronounced and verbalized in the papers. The bitterness continued to fester.

As the years wore on towards 1825, some of the most prominent Yankees in New England became disenchanted with the religious principles of the Pilgrims. Many of the Congregational churches turned away from Christ and became Unitarian. They did not believe Jesus Christ was truly God incarnate, or in the Holy Trinity; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Some of the more prominent citizens actually became agnostics and denied God entirely in private. In fact, they had become academic dreamers, and joined the Fabian Socialist Society in England. Others were followers of a French Socialist, Charles Fourtier. Many of these were considered great writers and thinkers, such as Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Emerson was a Unitarian Minister until he finally went into total atheism and embraced transcendentalism. Horace Greeley, publisher of the New York Tribune, was also in line with them and other prominent Yankees. During the 1840s Greeley had written numerous articles promoting a voluntary system of agricultural collectives he called "associations," based on the writings of French socialist Charles Fourier. Although he employed Karl Marx as a European correspondent in the 1850s, Greeley exchanged most of his high-minded utopian schemes for down-and-dirty party politics in the contentious decade leading up to the Civil War. The list goes on of fellow “transcendentalists” as follows: Bronson Alcott, Louisa May Alcott, Thomas Carlyle, William Ellery Channing, William Henry Channing, Lydia Maria Child, Moncure Conway, Emily Dickinson, Frederick Douglass, Octavius Brooks Frothingham, Margaret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne, T. W. Higginson, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Julia Ward Howe, Samuel Gridley Howe, Harriet Martineau, Theodore Parker, The Peabody Sisters, William James Potter, George Ripley, F. B. Sanborn and Walt Whitman. You see here some of the most notable people in New England. They considered themselves the social elite of their time and had great political power plus the might of the pen (sometimes stronger than the sword).

In 1840, this group had decided to take up a new cause. They were looking for a new "messiah". They became acquainted with a man named John Brown. John Brown had taken up preaching and taken an oath to not only end slavery in the South, but also to "avenge the evil with the blood of the slave owners". With the support of these wealthy and powerful people, John Brown took his sons and a few followers to Kansas, a new territory that was going to be coming into the Union. These Yankees wanted Kansas to come in as a "free state" (free of slavery). John Brown started to preach that God's vengeance was to be enacted through him in the manner of " Nat Turner and his white massacre" (that took place in Southampton, Virginia earlier in 1831). Since the 1790's when slaves rebelled in Santo Domingo and slaughtered 60,000 people, Southerners realized that their own slaves might rise up against them. A number of slave revolt conspiracies were uncovered in the South between 1820 and 1831 but none frightened Southerners as much as Nat Turner's rebellion. John Brown took his band of cutthroats and committed mass murder against a slave holding family in the night. This terrible act got him good press in the North with his friends.

In 1851, Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote a book depicting slave owners as the most lowly of all creatures. Her historic novel was of course "Uncle Tom's Cabin". She followed this book with another anti-slavery “Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin” in 1853, and then “Dread” in 1856. These books were highly touted in Horace Greeley's New York Tribune and they quickly became best sellers. Many hundreds of copies were printed and distributed by a kind of underground group throughout the South. The authoress also traveled around giving anti-slavery speeches, even in Europe. Stories started to circulate that this group of Yankees were trying to turn the blacks against their owners and have them revolt and massacre all whites. In-fact that is exactly what they had in mind. They intended to use John Brown as their agent of vengeance! 

By 1859, John Brown had gained some very interesting followers and supporters. After such bloody encounters as Pottawamie Creek in Kansas, John Brown began to amass arms and make battle plans in earnest for a full-fledged invasion of the South. His band had grown to a small well-armed force of twenty-one men and himself. Of the twenty-one, three were Brown’s own sons; five were black and the rest white. In October of 1859, it was decided that they would go to Harper's Ferry, Virginia and raid the U.S. Federal Armory. They were to take all the weapons and turn them over to a band of slaves and train them to fight. The concept was to "liberate" these slaves (from allover the South) and turn them into a vengeful army to do "Gods work" (according to John Brown) in killing all the Southerners they could find in their beds. John Brown’s band of cutthroats took the entire town of Harpers Ferry, liberated and armed a few slaves, and then took the arsenal. Local Militia was called up, a siege commenced, and a small battle ensued. When Washington learned of the attack on the armory, they dispatched U.S. Army Colonel Robert E. Lee with a small force and a group of U.S. Marines to stop this attack on the Federal Armory and restore order. Lee's second in command was non-other than Lieutenant J.E.B. Stuart. The Marine officer in-charge was Israel Green. When they arrived at the armory, they found John Brown in control but besieged by the local militia. He had killed the army guards and along with several town’s people and taken over the armory. Lee withdrew the Local Militia and sent the Marines to surround the armory. Then, he sent Lt. J.E.B. Stuart to give John Brown the order to surrender or die. John brown refused and Stuart gave the signal to attack (a wave of his famous hat). The federal troops stormed the door with a ladder and the Marines stormed into the armory. Lee was able to end the battle with Brown and capture those who were not killed outright in the battle. John Brown, and what was left of his gang, was turned over to civilian authorities. During the trial, Henry David Thoreau argued for leniency of John Brown. The court didn't listen to Thoreau and found John Brown guilty. He was to be hanged as a traitor to his country on December 2, 1859. After the condemnation of Brown and his associates, fearing from published threats that an attempt might be made by Northern sympathizers to rescue them, Governor Wise ordered Virginia troops to Charlestown to guard the prisoners until after their execution. Toward the last of November about 1,000 were there assembled. Among them the cadets of the Virginia military institute, under command of Col. F. H. Smith, the superintendent. Maj. T. J. Jackson, the famous "Stonewall" Jackson of the war, was present in command of the cadet battery. He witnessed the execution of Brown about midday, December 2, 1859.

All of this got good press once again in the Northern papers. All the infamous "atheist thinkers" (such as Emerson, Thoreau and Greeley) said nice things about there "hero", Brown, and took up the "torch to abolish slavery" and also his pledge "to wash the South in blood". All in the name of "God Almighty", of course. Now they had their "new messiah", and from the grave he was much more angelic and true to “Almighty God” than he was alive! The Northern press kept up the pressure until many people in the North had made up their minds to support anti-slavery issues. During this same time frame, a brand new political party was emerging in the North called the "Republican Party". When they held their first national convention, they picked a replanted Southerner by the name of Abraham Lincoln to head the ticket for the presidency in the 1860 elections. Many anti-southern speeches were reported out of this convention. When they were printed in the Southern papers, the people of the Southern States got very upset. The U.S. Congress also passed a very repressive tax on cotton exports, which really added fuel to the fire. The Northern States had already had congress pass subsidies to the fishing and ship building states. The Northern States were not doing well economically opposed to the Southern States which were quite well off and independent.  Increasingly talk turned toward collective government and away from states right issues, especially in congress and in the Northern press. All this became a very scary issue in the South. The Yankees were determined to have their way and pass laws that would cause the South to spend all their profits on taxes that would be used in the North against their interests. Ultimately, it was felt that the North would abolish slavery and turn all the blacks loose upon the white people with arms given freely to the ex-slaves. Even more bad blood grew between the North and South as the 1860 Democrat Party Convention was split over these issues. The Southern delegates walked out and formed their own Democratic Convention. Thus, two Democratic Candidates were nominated, Douglas and Breckenridge. The Republicans, of course, won over the split ticket. It finally came to a head in 1861 after Lincoln was inaugurated to office.

The Southern State Assemblies started to debate the issue of secession from the Union. The talk got serious in South Carolina and they voted to secede from the United States. Other States followed soon after; South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas -- and the threat of Secession by four more -- Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina. A convention was held and it was decided to form The Confederate States of America. The first Capitol was where the convention was held, Montgomery, Alabama. They appointed a well-known soldier, statesman and business leader to the job of President of the new Confederation, Jefferson Davis. Now most of the factors were in-place. Only one more was needed.

Abraham Lincoln knew that the South was going to want it's territorial forts and armories within their own territory. In fact, they asked him to send the U.S. Army troops packing to the North. The first test was to be Fort Sumter, North Carolina. Lincoln sent reinforcements and orders to "hold the fort at any cost". U.S. Navy ships were dispatched with troops and supplies. When the Confederate forces came upon the fort, they asked the commander to surrender. He refused, and the Southern forces decided to fire on the fort and take it before the Northern reinforcements arrived. They of course, won the battle, and the war was on! The South only wanted to be left alone, but, Lincoln was determined not to let the Union go asunder and ordered Yankee forces to attack the Southern homeland. The first big battle was First Manassas and the rest is Civil War history.

This may be a different story than you have read before in some small ways. Rest assured, it is accurate, though truncated to make a long story somewhat shorter. The main factors of atheism, socialism and greed in the North, opposed by the Southern agrarian society with people who were devoted followers of Judaic-Christian principles (The South had a large Jewish population). They also believed in individual freedoms. Only a few of Southern Citizens were entrenched in slavery (large plantation owners). There were also, in 1861, many free blacks in the South. This was especially true in Mobile, Alabama and New Orleans, Louisiana. Only about ten percent of the Southern people owned slaves and there were more than a quarter million free blacks in the south. Many of these free people owned property including numbers of slaves. Along the Gulf Coast most of these free blacks could vote and hold office.  In the South, the slaves were taken care of from birth to death regardless of being able to work or not (very young and old folks didn't work). In the North, wage slavery was practiced. When there was no work, there was no pay. Those that could not earn money starved to death! These are additional factors that complicate a simplistic answer to the cause of the war.

Was slavery good? Of course not! Was it necessary to go to war to solve differences? Absolutely not! Was there legal precedent for secession? You bet! Several states put it in writing that they only joined the Union so long as they could pull out at any time. Was this right? At the time, it was right for the South. Was it right for the country in the end? Not! Could we see this situation arise again? No, probably not, but with the revisionist history being taught in our schools these days, the anti-Christian sentiment broadcast by the "politically correct bunch" and the racial division being caused by the so-called "liberals", rebellion could fester beyond the point of mob rule into a serious problem. Could the recent turn towards "Islam" in America could be an ominous factor for evil?

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Nat Turner

John Brown

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