The Great Secession(s)
Of course, the biggest and most damaging secession in U.S. history occurred in from late 1860 thru the first half of 1861. Though side issues of high tariffs, usurious loan rates by Northern banks, and growing influence of northern manufacturers often to the detriment of nascent Southern manufacturing, the overwhelmingly dominant issue was slavery and related matters.
Beginning in December 1814, Federalists in New England met in the Hartford Convention to discuss their grievances of the War of 1812, the dominance of the Republicans and the so-called “Virginia dynasty”, the Three-fifths Clause (in which slaves were counted as three-fifths of a person for census purposes and therefore representation in Congress), and other issues. The more militant delegates wanted to secede from the Union and join Canada, but those desires never gained much ground. In the end, Andrew Jackson’s spectacular victory in the Battle of New Orleans ended those plans and the outcome of the war greatly discredited the Federalists.
That troublesome state South Carolina threatened secession in 1828 over tariffs, one of the many issues cited by some states (such as Tennessee) in their articles of secession in 1861.
South Carolina again threatened to secede over the admission of California under the Compromise of 1850 cobbled together by Whig Representative Henry Clay of Kentucky and Democratic Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois.
In this, they were not alone. The most militant pro-slavery advocates called “Fire-Eaters”, representing nine Southern states, held a convention in Nashville, Tennessee, calling for secession of all slave states and a separate union of their own. The next year legislators in several slave states introduced articles of secession in their assemblies, but Southern Unionists defeated the measures.
The Fire-Eaters came back to the forefront after the Kansas-Nebraska Act, passed in 1854, overturned nearly all provisions of the Compromise of 1850. The violence of “Bleeding Kansas”, as the Kansas-Missouri border war was called and such incidents as the speech of Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner in 1856 strongly attacking slavery. Senator Sumner was one of the very first Senators from the new Republican Party, founded in 1854.
For those who think the recently-departed and lamented-by-none 112th Congress was bitterly divisive, here’s a dose of reality. Two days after Sumner’s speech, in which he had called Senator Andrew Butler of South Carolina a “pimp for slavery”, South Carolina Congressman Preston Brooks, nephew of Senator Butler, attacked him on the floor of the Senate chamber and beat him nearly to death. It was three years before Sumner was physically rehabilitated enough to return to the Senate.
The abolitionists had their own extremists, with William Lloyd Garrison, editor of the anti-slavery newspaper The Liberator, calling for the immediate abolition of slavery and ultimately for the free states to separate themselves from the “Slave Power” of the South. But the most extreme of abolitionists was John Brown of Kansas, one of the leaders of anti-slave forces in that state’s border war with slave state Missouri, who seized the armory at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, in an attempt to start a slave rebellion in that state to incite a general slave revolution. Three years of planning and fund-raising preceded the affair.
On 6 November 1860, former Congressman Abraham Lincoln of the anti-slavery, pro-abolition Republican Party was elected President of the United States, setting in motion the chain of events which led to the Great Secession and the American Civil War/War Between the States/War of the Rebellion/War of the Secession.
According to a local myth, the Independent State of Dade seceded from Georgia even before the campaign had started, which, believe it or not, did not begin until July of 1860. The newspaper Atlanta Constitution, then pro-segregationist, reported upon Dade County’s reentry to the State and the Union on 4 July 1945 that Dade was extremely pro-slavery that it had seceded from both bodies it was then reentering in May 1860.
In truth, Dade had long been known even before that as the State of Dade because of its isolation, there being no road giving the county access to its state. And while Southern states were already discussing secession after the John Brown affair and the propaganda of the Fire-Eaters, if Dade really seceded at that time, it did so to stay in the Union rather than leave it as much of the state wished. North Georgia, particularly the northwest counties of Dade and Walker, were hotbeds of Unionist sentiment and wartime pro-Union partisan activity.
In reality, the first entity voting to secede from the Union was the State of South Carolina, which to do so on 20 December 1860.
On 9 January 1861, the legislature of the State of Mississippi, which ten years before had voted that states did not have the right of secession from the Union, also voted to secede.
The State of Florida followed on the next day, 10 January 1861.
The day after that, 11 January 1861, the State of Alabama approved secession, and this brought about the first major dissension from this course of action. Unionist sentiment was nearly universal in North Alabama, but it had been outvoted by Lower Alabama (the “other” L.A.), whose delegates got to vote for three-fifths of their slaves to continue to keep them in slavery.
Alabama’s secession brought the first serious discussion of secession by a region of a Southern state from that state to preserve a relationship with the Union (barring discovery of evidence of such a motive by the State of Dade). Political leaders in North Alabama held discussion between themselves and counterparts in East Tennessee to establish a neutral State of Nickajack taking in those Unionist regions of their respective states along with the Unionist counties of Dade and Walker in Northwest Georgia.
Speaking of the State of Georgia, it voted to secede on 19 January 1861.
Some three days later, 22 January 1861, Senator Jefferson Davis in his way home to Mississippi stayed at the Crutchfield House in Chattanooga across James Street (MLK Blvd.) from Union Station. He gave a vehemently pro-secession speech in the main dining room of the hotel and was attacked by William Crutchfield, brother of the owner, trying to do to Davis what Preston Brooks did to Charles Sumner. Tom Crutchfield, who was pro-secession, broke up the fight and averted the duel that was supposed that place later.
The State of Louisiana voted to secede from the Union on 26 January 1861.
On 8 February 1861, the six former U.S. states that had seceded from the Union so far—South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, and Louisiana—voted to join together as the Confederate States of America.
On 9 February 1861, a vote about whether to call a convention to decide if Tennessee should secede failed 69 thousand to 58 thousand. A clear majority of Tennesseans didn’t want to even discuss leaving the Union. The vote was the most lopsided in East Tennessee, with only two counties, Sullivan and Meigs, having a majority in favor. With Tennessee still securely in the Union at that time, the plans of North Alabama for the joint State of Nickajack collapsed.
The State of Texas voted to secede from the Union to join the new Confederacy on 23 February 1861.
On 24 February 1861, the very secessionist Franklin County (seat Winchester) at the eastern edge of Middle Tennessee voted to secede from the State of Tennessee and become the pro-secessionist Free State of Franklin, sending its request to Nashville the same day.
Republican from the State of Illinois Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated as the 16th President of the United States on 4 March 1861, replacing one of my collateral ancestors, James Buchanan.
Confederate General G.T. Beauregard, a French Creole from Louisiana, initiated the Battle of Ft. Sumter in Charleston Harbor on 12 April 1861, and accepted the surrender of its garrison under Union Maj. Robert Anderson two days later. The Civil War had begun.
On 6 May 1861, the State of Arkansas voted to secede from the Union and join the Confederacy.
The Tennessee General Assembly approved articles of secession on 6 May 1861 and sent them down to voters. The legislature and Governor Isham Harris, who was very pro-secession, also voted and approved a military league with the Confederacy.
The State of North Carolina voted to secede from the Union and join the Confederacy on 20 May 1861.
The Commonwealth of Virginia followed suit on 23 May 1861.