MOOC | Secession of the Lower South | The Civil War and Reconstruction, 1850-1861 | 1.10.4

MOOC | Secession of the Lower South | The Civil War and Reconstruction, 1850-1861 | 1.10.4


>>Now in the election of 1860, remember I said this last time: there was no South. The South was divided. The Upper South went for Bell, the Lower South went for Breckinridge. Breckinridge, supposedly the most radical, did not receive a majority of the votes, taking all the slave states together. It was essential for one state to take the lead, in the view of the secessionists. And of course South Carolina was the logical one: the most radical state, always the most radical; the state with the largest percentage of slaves in the population, 60 percent; the state with the least democratic political structure. You know, in South Carolina they still in 1860 didn’t have a presidential election. The legislature chose the presidential electors, not the voting populace. There was almost… It was a very authoritarian political system with the legislature apportioned so that the, what they call the “Low Country,” the counties along the coast with the big slaveholdings, controlled the legislature even though the Upcountry with more white population now outstripped them. But the political structure was set back at the time of the Revolution. And South Carolina — and this may sound like an odd thing — is small. What does that have to do with anything? It doesn’t have a large area — it has no area of non-slave holders. It’s the only state where a majority of white families owned slaves. North Carolina has western North Carolina. Georgia has northern Georgia. Most Southern states — western Virginia — have an area of little slaveholding with poorer white farmers who are not for secession. They’re internally divided. Not South Carolina. It is united. It doesn’t get up to the Appalachian Mountains except at one county, Spartanburg. So all this led South Carolina to take the lead, secede, declare the compact is broken. We are canceling our membership in the American nation. And then they send commissioners to other Southern states to spur them onwards. And someone here did a dissertation years ago about South Carolina College, which is now the University of South Carolina, and how many leaders of secession in other states were graduates of South Carolina College. South Carolina College for 30 years had been educating people in the theory of secession. So you look at the Mississippi Convention, you look at Louisiana — half of them are South Carolinians who had moved out there and carried the South Carolina ideology, which Sinha is talking about in her book, with them. One by one after South Carolina, other Southern states secede. I’m not going to go through each one — Mississippi, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas — some of them after much debate. Georgia particularly, which is key, you know, it’s in between South Carolina and the Deep South. Georgia had a big upcountry of white farmers who were not in favor of secession. It had as I said Stephens, a very important political leader, not in favor of secession. Many of them urged delay, see what happens. But the impetus was behind the secession, the secession movement. So by February 1st, the secession of the Lower South is complete. But I want to show you my map of secession, okay? Seven slave states secede from the Union, from South Carolina west: South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, out to Texas, in pink there. Seven slave states sever their connection with the Union from Lincoln’s election to February 1st [1861]. But eight slave states remain in the Union. There is no South — I keep telling you that — at least not for the moment. A majority of the slave states are still in the Union when Lincoln is inaugurated. What is it that differentiates those Deep South states from the other states? Not slavery but cotton. Cotton is the cause of the Civil War. Don’t quote me on that, though. [laughter] At least, cotton is what differentiates the secession movement at the beginning. It’s the cotton states. That is the dynamism of the South. That is the part of the South that is where Sinha’s ideas, you know, that she’s describing, take hold. That is the expansionary part. That’s where they’re looking in the… These are places that are near or on the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico. These are places that look south, not north or west, for their future. New Orleans is a tremendous entrepot for that whole region. But the rest of the South, no. North Carolina, and all those states just say, no, forget it. Let’s see what happens. They vote it down. They elect conventions which say, no, we’re not seceding. So the South is still considerably divided. But in the secession conventions of the Lower South, slave holders are overrepresented, in terms of their proportion of the population. They have the political, kind of, you know, energy and dynamism. The people who are opposing it are disorganized and don’t know whether they’re totally opposed to secession or just in favor of the idea, but think you should wait a while and see what happens. But the South had always — Southern politics had always been, you know — the planters had always basically controlled Southern politics. So the secession movement was one which followed the normal course of Southern politics, which was more oligarchic in a sense than in the contemporary North. And planters got secession by exercising powers they had always exercised. Now Northerners said, hey, they didn’t have referendums. There’s no referendums in these states, except Texas much later on, so they’re afraid, they’re afraid to put this to a popular vote, actually. Whereas the secessionists said, well, wait a minute, we just elected delegates to these conventions, so why do we have to have a vote? People elected the delegates. The delegates deliberated. They decided they want to secede. So why have a referendum after that? But Northerners kept insisting: they don’t really trust their own population to vote directly on whether to secede or not.

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