On Southerners and secession (1860-61)… motivations…

Posted on January 11, 2012 by


Please pardon my rather lengthy absences over the past few months. Between dealing with some health issues, having surgery… and somewhere in between… still working an average 90+ hours per two weeks… not to mention the average 12-15 hours of commuting per week… writing has fallen significantly on my list of priorities (sleep has ranked higher)… oh… and stay-tuned… I’ll be moving soon, as well. Still, I greatly miss the chance to write as much. Ideas come and go, and, unfortunately, I haven’t had much time to act on them, here.

That said, whenever I can, I sneak in some reading, here and there.

Over at Kevin’s Civil War Memory, I took-in this post, today, that strikes me as worth further discussion. I was going to write a comment, but think I’d like to approach this from a post of my own.

The comment that led to Kevin’s post was this one…

“ever threatened your livelihood and well being? Are you so different from being a Confederate, that if a very real threat affected your very livelihood and families well being, that you would not defend them?”

I’m not going to answer that question, directly, but will take things down a path of thought sparked by the comment.

Frankly, I think some are being too dismissive (and I must say, that this is from both sides of the argument), and not fully appreciating the complexities Southerners in the wave of secession, between ’60 and ’61… even Southerners who, at least initially, supported secession.

I have no doubt that slavery was at the core of secession, and that (this is important…) the motivation was greatest in those with a direct interest in the institution (I’m of the mind that it WAS a rich man’s war). I can also grasp how those with indirect financial interests would be concerned of the threat of seeing slavery go away… and even how those with no financial interests at all would be concerned (the social concerns… how will the freedom of slaves impact my ability to land a job; will there be intermarriages, etc., etc.? I don’t think anyone can dismiss the thought that these concerns were real).

I can also appreciate the thought that a culture of fear may have been developed by those with the above-listed concerns and interests, repackaging their arguments as to make them palatable to the other part of the free population of the free South, and, perhaps, even to some who weren’t free (the sense of ownership of birthplace).

Let’s also be honest with ourselves from another angle… in the middle of all of this turmoil (I can imagine how the world, truly, seemed to be turned on its ear), why wouldn’t there be concerns generated about Federal troops descending on the Southern states? It’s the unknown that can scare the hell out of us, and many simply didn’t know what to expect (consider another time and place, for example… the civilian Okinawans and their fear of a Marine landing… a generated fear by those with an interests in keeping those Marines at bay).

I think all of the above-listed motivations are legitimate… from the interests in slavery to the interests in fighting for hearth and home with nominal (though, facts show that these folks had limits in just how far/how long they would go to sustain the new government of the Confederacy), or non-existent interests in the institution of slavery.

So, that taps into those who bought into secession, or actually sold the ideas to others, but still… there were more Southerners, with more opinions…

One of those that I find rather intriguing are the Southerners who saw certain death for slavery in a move toward secession. Think of it… to these folks, secession would only speed-up the demise of the institution, but preservation of the South within the Union would/might prolong the institution. Was it only prolonging the inevitable, or was it in the hope that there might be some glimmering hope for its longer existence?

Then too, what about the Southerners who went in the other direction… who had no interests in the institution of slavery, and despised the impositions made on them by the new government of the Confederacy, making them embrace the Union even more (perhaps even turning those “leave-loners” into “cause and effect” Southern Unionists)?

So, in discussions about secession, I find that there is a repeated failure… a failure to acknowledge the Southern people as being more complex, with a diverse range of opinions and sentiments, and that all did not concentrate on slavery or embrace secession and the Confederacy.

Why is it so hard to comprehend this, and why do so many, on both sides of the fence, fail to acknowledge the complexities of the Southern people of the Civil War era? When can we be honest about secession, and appreciate all the complex story of Southern people in the midst of it?