Why Did Mississippi Secede?

Once again, let’s ignore the words of historians and neoconfederates, but rather let’s look at what Mississippians said at the time.

[Begin quote]

A Declaration of the Immediate Causes which Induce and Justify the Secession of the State of Mississippi from the Federal Union.

In the momentous step which our State has taken of dissolving its connection with the government of which we so long formed a part, it is but just that we should declare the prominent reasons which have induced our course.

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. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin.

That we do not overstate the dangers to our institution, a reference to a few facts will sufficiently prove.

The hostility to this institution commenced before the adoption of the Constitution, and was manifested in the well-known Ordinance of 1787, in regard to the Northwestern Territory.

The feeling increased, until, in 1819-20, it deprived the South of more than half the vast territory acquired from France.

The same hostility dismembered Texas and seized upon all the territory acquired from Mexico.

It has grown until it denies the right of property in slaves, and refuses protection to that right on the high seas, in the Territories, and wherever the government of the United States had jurisdiction.

It refuses the admission of new slave States into the Union, and seeks to extinguish it by confining it within its present limits, denying the power of expansion.

It tramples the original equality of the South under foot.

It has nullified the Fugitive Slave Law in almost every free State in the Union, and has utterly broken the compact which our fathers pledged their faith to maintain.

It advocates negro equality, socially and politically, and promotes insurrection and incendiarism in our midst.

It has enlisted its press, its pulpit and its schools against us, until the whole popular mind of the North is excited and inflamed with prejudice.

It has made combinations and formed associations to carry out its schemes of emancipation in the States and wherever else slavery exists.

It seeks not to elevate or to support the slave, but to destroy his present condition without providing a better.

It has invaded a State, and invested with the honors of martyrdom the wretch whose purpose was to apply flames to our dwellings, and the weapons of destruction to our lives.

It has broken every compact into which it has entered for our security.

It has given indubitable evidence of its design to ruin our agriculture, to prostrate our industrial pursuits and to destroy our social system.

It knows no relenting or hesitation in its purposes; it stops not in its march of aggression, and leaves us no room to hope for cessation or for pause.

It has recently obtained control of the Government, by the prosecution of its unhallowed schemes, and destroyed the last expectation of living together in friendship and brotherhood.

Utter subjugation awaits us in the Union, if we should consent longer to remain in it. It is not a matter of choice, but of necessity. 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. For far less cause than this, our fathers separated from the Crown of England.

Our decision is made. We follow their footsteps. We embrace the alternative of separation; and for the reasons here stated, we resolve to maintain our rights with the full consciousness of the justice of our course, and the undoubting belief of our ability to maintain it.[End quote]

Mississippi is very up-front about what they are concerned about:  “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery — the greatest material interest of the world.”  And they’re worried because “a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin.”  They complain about “The hostility to this institution.”  They complain, “It has grown until it denies the right of property in slaves, and refuses protection to that right on the high seas, in the Territories, and wherever the government of the United States had jurisdiction.”  They claim, “It refuses the admission of new slave States into the Union, and seeks to extinguish it by confining it within its present limits, denying the power of expansion.”  Through the attempt to deny the expansion of slavery, they claim that “It tramples the original equality of the South under foot.”  They say, “It has nullified the Fugitive Slave Law in almost every free State in the Union.”  They claim, “It advocates negro equality, socially and politically, and promotes insurrection and incendiarism in our midst.” They next make the claim that, “It has enlisted its press, its pulpit and its schools against us,” in referring to the antislavery movement in the United States.

Mississippi is also concerned about what other southerners of the time called “emancipation emissaries.”  “It has made combinations and formed associations to carry out its schemes of emancipation in the States and wherever else slavery exists.”  Interestingly enough, they feign a concern for the slaves:  “It seeks not to elevate or to support the slave, but to destroy his present condition without providing a better.”  As if freedom wasn’t an elevation of their status.  They also bring up the specter of John Brown:  “It has invaded a State, and invested with the honors of martyrdom the wretch whose purpose was to apply flames to our dwellings, and the weapons of destruction to our lives.”  And they clearly identify the choice they are making:  “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.”

As we can see, the only concerns Mississippi has are all related to slavery and its protection.  Their choice, as they see it, are either to lose slavery and have blacks equal to whites or secede from the Union.  They chose secession.

Like Georgia, Mississippi sent secession commissioners to other states.  One of these was William L. Harris, a native Georgian who moved to Mississippi and Governor John J. Pettis named him to be Mississippi’s commissioner to Georgia.  On December 17, 1860, he delivered an address to the Georgia General Assembly in which he said, “It will be remembered, that the violation of our constitutional rights, which has caused such universal dissatisfaction in the South, is not of recent date. Ten years since, this Union was rocked from centre to circumference, by the very same outrages, of which we now complain, only now “aggravated” by the recent election. Nothing but her devotion to the Union our Fathers made, induced the South, then, to yield to a compromise, in which Mr. Clay rightly said, we had yielded everything but our honor. We had then in Mississippi a warm contest, which finally ended in reluctant acquiescence in the Compromise measures. The North pledged anew her faith to yield to us our constitutional rights in relation to slave property. They are now, and have been ever since that act, denied to us, until her broken faith and impudent threats, had become almost insufferable before the late election.”  This, obviously, was a reference to the Compromise of 1850, which again was over an argument about slavery.

He said to them, “They have demanded, and now demand, equality between the white and negro races, under our Constitution; equality in representation, equality in the right of suffrage, equality in the honors and emoluments of office, equality in the social circle, equality in the rights of matrimony. The cry has been, and now is, ‘that slavery must cease, or American liberty must perish,’ that ‘the success of Black Republicanism is the triumph of anti-slavery,’ ‘a revolution in the tendencies of the government that must be carried out.’ ”  Clearly, this official representative of the State of Mississippi is telling Georgia that the victory of the Republicans meant the end of slavery and the equality of the black and white races.  He tells them, “To-day our government stands totally revolutionized in its main features, and our Constitution broken and overturned. The new administration, which has effected this revolution, only awaits the 4th of March for the inauguration of the new government, the new principles, and the new policy, upon the success of which they have proclaimed freedom to the slave, but eternal degradation for you and for us.”

Harris says, “Our fathers made this a government for the white man, rejecting the negro, as an ignorant, inferior, barbarian race, incapable of self-government, and not, therefore, entitled to be associated with the white man upon terms of civil, political, or social equality.”  That’s what secession was all about.  And this is why the Lincoln administration was unacceptable to them:  “This new administration comes into power, under the solemn pledge to overturn and strike down this great feature of our Union, without which it would never have been formed, and to substitute in its stead their new theory of the universal equality of the black and white races.”

Harris tells Georgia the official position of Mississippi:

“Mississippi is firmly convinced that there is but one alternative:

“This new union with Lincoln Black Republicans and free negroes, without slavery, or, slavery under our old constitutional bond of union, without Lincoln Black Republicans, or free negroes either, to molest us.

“If we take the former, then submission to negro equality is our fate. if the latter, then secession is inevitable — each State for itself and by itself, but with a view to the immediate formation of a Southern Confederacy, under our present Constitution, by such of the slave-holding States as shall agree in their conventions to unite with us.”  He ends by telling them, “Whatever may be the result of your deliberations, I beg to assure her from my intimate knowledge of the spirit and affections of our people, that no enemy to her constitutional rights, may consider his victory won, while a Mississippian lives to prolong the contest. Sink or swim, live or die, survive or perish, the part of Mississippi is chosen, she will never submit to the principles and policy of this Black Republican Administration.

She had rather see the last of her race, men, women and children, immolated in one common funeral pile [pyre], than see them subjected to the degradation of civil, political and social equality with the negro race.”

That’s what Mississippi’s secession was all about.

Another of Mississippi’s secession commissioners was Jacob Thompson, who was Mississippi’s commissioner to North Carolina.  In a letter to the Governor of North Carolina, John W. Ellis, Jacobson wrote, “The Executive and Judicial departments of the government, and the Senate of the United States have always held that property in slaves was recognized by the Constitution, and therefore, under a common flag was entitled to protection. The dominant party denying this proposition, and thus, by their construction, the Constitution will be changed, this common Government will be revolutionized, and instead of throwing its broad shield over all the citizens of all the States, protecting each and all equally in the possession and enjoyment of their rights of property, it will be perverted into an engine for the destruction of our domestic institutions, and the subjugation of our people.

“The question which is now submitted both to Mississippi and North-Carolina, is this, shall we sit quietly down without a murmur, and allow all our constitutional rights of property to be taken away by a construction of the Constitution which originates in hostility and hatred, or shall we, as men who know their rights, bestir ourselves, and by a firm, united and cordial ‘co-operation,’ fortify and strengthen them, that they may be transmitted unimpaired to our children, and our children’s children, throughout all generations. Wisdom dictates that all the questions arising out of the institution of slavery, should be settled now and settled forever.”  The only issue Thompson is concerned about is the issue of slavery.

A. H. Handy was Mississippi’s commissioner to Maryland.  In a speech delivered in Princess Anne on January 1, 1861, Handy said, “He [Lincoln] has been elected upon the openly declared principle that an irrepressible conflict” exists between the Northern and anti-slavery States on the one side, and the Southern States on the other, by which all the States of the Union must become either slaveholding or non-slaveholding Statesthat slaveholding is a sin and a national disgrace, which they of the Northern States will not submit to bear—that holding property in man is against the law of God, the principles of our Government, and the opinion of the civilized world, and will not be tolerated and cannot continue in the States belonging to the same Union under which they live. These views Abraham Lincoln is elected to carry into practice by the use of all the power of his administration and for proof of this, I refer you to the platform upon which he was elected, and the views of the leaders of his party, and to a few of his declarations of opinion upon the faith of which he was chosen as the standard bearer of his party, and has since been elected President of the United States.”  For A. H. Handy also, the only issue at hand was slavery.

Fulton Anderson was Mississippi’s commissioner to Virginia.  In a speech to the Virginia Secession Convention, Anderson said, “As early as the 10th of February, 1860, her Legislature had, with the general approbation of her people, adopted the following resolution:

” ‘Resolved, That the election of a President of the United States by the votes of one section of the Union only, on the ground that there exists an irrepressible conflict between the two sections in reference to their respective systems of labor and with an avowed purpose of hostility to the institution of slavery, as it prevails in the Southern States, and as recognized in the compact of Union, would so threaten a destruction of the ends for which the Constitution was formed, as to justify the slaveholding States in taking council [sic] together for their separate protection and safety.’

“This was the ground taken, gentlemen, not only by Mississippi, but by other slaveholding States, in view of the then threatened purpose, of a party founded upon the idea of unrelenting and eternal hostility to the institution of slavery, to take possession of the power of the Government and use it to our destruction. It cannot, therefore, be pretended that the Northern people did not have ample warning of the disastrous and fatal consequences that would follow the success of that party in the election, and impartial history will emblazon it to future generations, that it was their folly, their recklessness and their ambition, not ours, which shattered into pieces this great confederated Government, and destroyed this great temple of constitutional liberty which their ancestors and ours erected, in the hope that their descendants might together worship beneath its roof as long as time should last.

“But, in defiance of the warning thus given and of the evidences accumulated from a thousand other sources, that the Southern people would never submit to the degradation implied in the result of such an election, that sectional party, bounded by a geographical line which excluded it from the possibility of obtaining a single electoral vote in the Southern States, avowing for its sentiment implacable hatred to us, and for its policy the destruction of our institutions, and appealing to Northern prejudice, Northern passion, Northern ambition and Northern hatred of us, for success, thus practically disfranchizing [sic] the whole body of the Southern people, proceeded to the nomination of a candidate for the Presidency who, though not the most conspicuous personage in its ranks, was yet the truest representative of its destructive principles.

“The steps by which it proposed to effect its purposes, the ultimate extinction of slavery, and the degradation of the Southern people, are too familiar to require more than a passing allusion from me.

“Under the false pretence of restoring the government to the original principles of its founders, but in defiance and contempt of those principles, it avowed its purpose to take possession of every department of power, executive, legislative and judicial, to employ them in hostility to our institutions. By a corrupt exercise of the power of appointment to office, they proposed to pervert the judicial power from its true end and purpose, that of defending and preserving the Constitution. to be the willing instrument of its purposes of wrong and oppression. In the meantime it proposed to disregard the decisions of that august tribunal, and by the exertion of bare-faced power, to exclude slavery from the public Territory, the common property of all the States, and to abolish the internal slave trade between the States acknowledging the legality of that institution.

“It proposed further to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia, and in all places within the Territory of the several States, subject under the Constitution to the jurisdiction of Congress, and to refuse hereafter under all circumstances, admission into the Union of any State with a Constitution recognizing the institution of slavery.

“Having thus placed the institution of slavery, upon which rests not only the whole wealth of the Southern people, but their very social and political existence, under the condemnation of a government established for the common benefit, it proposed in the future, to encourage immigration into the public Territory, by giving the public land to immigrant settlers, so as, within a brief time, to bring into the Union free States enough to enable it to abolish slavery within the States themselves.”

He further said, “The party thus organized on the principle of hostility to our fundamental institutions, and upon the avowed policy of their destruction, with a candidate thus representing that principle and policy, has succeeded in the Presidential election, by obtaining a large majority of the votes of the people of the non-slaveholding States, and on the 4th of March next, would, unless prevented, have taken possession of the power and patronage of our common government to wield them to our destruction.”

As with  all the others, the only issues Fulton Anderson is concerned with are issues resulting from the institution of slavery.

It was slavery, and slavery alone that led to the secession of Mississippi.

9 comments

  1. Thanks for posting these Al. I had never read the complete declarations of causes until about a decade ago whehn someone posted them on the net. Thank God for the internet. Similarly, I only knew a little about the secession delegates before Dew’s book. This material that has been out there for 153 years is dispositive on the reasons for secession.

    1. It certainly dispels the myth that they seceded to avoid a centralized government, or they seceded due to tariffs, or any other neoconfederate malarkey, Pat.

  2. So, what you are trying to tell me is that my theory of them ceeding because the North was taking all their money via the shipping big wigs is all wrong? Next thing you’ll tell me is that the 200K African Americans that were enlisted and fighting against those dang Yankees is wrong as well.

    1. Sorry to burst all your bubbles at once, Ray. 😉

  3. Michael Rodgers · · Reply

    I second Pat’s thanks. It’s good you’re presenting the words of the commissioners to the other slave states as well as the declarations.
    If you do SC and Texas, you can compare your findings to the 4 graphics presented by the civil war trust..

    1. Thanks Mike. I will include them plus the other states eventually. I also have some comments about the CWT analysis after all that.

      1. Michael Rodgers · · Reply

        I look forward to it. When you get to it, there are some comments and good analysis with Kevin Levin’s blog post “Visualizing Secession” and some nice data, figures, comments, and good analysis with Andy Hall’s “Not Surprising, Part Deux.”
        In the meantime, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

  4. TIMOTHY J ORTIZ · · Reply

    It is not slavery that compels us now. It is our right to govern ourselves. Independent from Washington, DC. Southern Independence ! It is still our dream ! Let us go in peace. !

    1. Such is the claim of those who are ignorant of what happened. Mississippi was very clear: “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery.” I fail to see how one honors them by calling them liars.

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