Why did the South secede?
Saturday, October 15, 2011
In the comments section of this post, the pro-Lincoln blogger and general pest formerly known as Billy Yank demands to know why seceding Southerners didn’t state the economic tensions contributing to their decision to exercise their right to self-government. After all, he insists, EVERYONE KNOWS the South seceded to preserve slavery.
We’re here for you, man. As I stated in the original post, Southerners saw secession as the only means of escaping economic and political domination by the industrial and commercial North. Here are a few historical quotes for you to consider. The first two are from the Declaration of Causes from Georgia and Texas:
Georgia, January 29, 1861:
The material prosperity of the North was greatly dependent on the Federal Government; that of the the South not at all. In the first years of the Republic the navigating, commercial, and manufacturing interests of the North began to seek profit and aggrandizement at the expense of the agricultural interests. Even the owners of fishing smacks sought and obtained bounties for pursuing their own business (which yet continue), and $500,000 is now paid them annually out of the Treasury. The navigating interests begged for protection against foreign shipbuilders and against competition in the coasting trade. Congress granted both requests, and by prohibitory acts gave an absolute monopoly of this business to each of their interests, which they enjoy without diminution to this day. Not content with these great and unjust advantages, they have sought to throw the legitimate burden of their business as much as possible upon the public; they have succeeded in throwing the cost of light-houses, buoys, and the maintenance of their seamen upon the Treasury, and the Government now pays above $2,000,000 annually for the support of these objects. Theses interests, in connection with the commercial and manufacturing classes, have also succeeded, by means of subventions to mail steamers and the reduction in postage, in relieving their business from the payment of about $7,000,000 annually, throwing it upon the public Treasury under the name of postal deficiency. The manufacturing interests entered into the same struggle early, and has clamored steadily for Government bounties and special favors. This interest was confined mainly to the Eastern and Middle non-slave-holding States. Wielding these great States it held great power and influence, and its demands were in full proportion to its power. The manufacturers and miners wisely based their demands upon special facts and reasons rather than upon general principles, and thereby mollified much of the opposition of the opposing interest. They pleaded in their favor the infancy of their business in this country, the scarcity of labor and capital, the hostile legislation of other countries toward them, the great necessity of their fabrics in the time of war, and the necessity of high duties to pay the debt incurred in our war for independence. These reasons prevailed, and they received for many years enormous bounties by the general acquiescence of the whole country.
Texas, February 2, 1861:
They have impoverished the slave-holding States by unequal and partial legislation, thereby enriching themselves by draining our substance.
As for my native North Carolina, it’s clear slavery was hardly the determining issue. As that rabidly pro-Southern paper, the New York Times, has pointed out:
Arguments about secession in the Upper South were not, however, arguments about slavery. Conservatives and secessionists defended slavery through different methods. In North Carolina, as in much of the Upper South, Unionists believed the nation the best, perhaps only, safeguard for slavery. On the evening after the vote, hearing secessionists fire a hundred-gun salute at the state capitol, Badger called the sound “the death knell of slavery.”
In fact, North Carolina considered secession and rejected it. But when Lincoln called for the State militias to invade the seceding States, many finally realized that a Union held together by conquest was the enemy of liberty. North Carolina’s Zebulon Vance, a Unionist, was addressing a crowd, raising his arm high over his head as he argued for "peace and the Union of our Fathers” when someone handed him news of Lincoln’s call for troops. “When my hand came down,” he wrote, “it fell slowly and sadly by the side of a secessionist."
And Vance was right. The supremacy of the central government was established by force and fraud. That’s why today we have a Chief Executive who can secretly order the execution of an American citizen without a trial (a precedent set by Lincoln himself), or unilaterally declare war. It’s also why we have an irresponsible central government that can mandate demographic revolution, or vote us into permanent servitude through deficit spending.
And that’s why so many are reconsidering secession today.