Slavery, Not States' Rights, Inspired Secession

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), August 23, 2003 | Go to article overview

Slavery, Not States' Rights, Inspired Secession


Byline: Edward H. Bonekemper III, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

What was the primary cause of the Civil War? The conflict stemmed directly from the secession of seven Southern states after the 1860 election and before the March 1861 inauguration of Abraham Lincoln - and the major distinguishing feature of Lincoln's presidential campaign was his opposition to the extension of slavery to the Western territories. Was slavery, then, the issue that prompted secession by South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas?

South Carolina went first. Its Dec. 24, 1860, "Declaration of the Immediate Causes which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina" complained of Northern states' and federal failure to return fugitive slaves, as required by the Constitution: "[A]n increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery, has led to a disregard of their obligations, and the laws of the General Government have ceased to effect the objects of the Constitution."

The document declared that Northern states had condemned slavery as sinful and that Northerners had elected as president a man who had said, "Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free."

Mississippi followed suit in January 1861, and its similar Declaration got right to the point: "Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery - the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization."

Following a long list of slavery-related grievances, the Mississippi Declaration concluded, "We must either submit to degradation, and to the loss of property worth four billions of money, or we must secede from the Union framed by our fathers, to secure this as well as every other species of property."

That same month, Alabama seceded by adopting a Secession Ordinance that gave only one reason: "Whereas, the election of Abraham Lincoln and Hannibal Hamlin to the offices of President and Vice-President of the United States of America by a sectional party avowedly hostile to the domestic institutions and to the peace and security of the State of Alabama, preceded by many and dangerous infractions of the Constitution of the United States by many of the States and people of the Northern section, is a political wrong of so insulting and menacing a character as to justify the people of the State of Alabama in the adoption of prompt and decided measures for their future peace and security."

Georgia's Jan. 29 Declaration of Causes solely addressed "numerous and serious causes of complaint against our non-slave-holding confederate States with reference to the subject of African slavery. …

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