Essay Question: “Southerners maintained that secession was the ultimate expression of democracy, while Lincoln claimed it was rejection of democracy. How
did they explain and justify their principles.”
On December 20, 1860, the Confederacy was born when South Carolina
seceded from the federal Union. The Union and the Confederacy severely clashed in
their views on the Constitution; the South felt that individual states should have the right
to nullify laws, while Abraham Lincoln believed the federal government should appoint
representatives for individual states. The South and Abraham Lincoln contrasted
sharply on the idea of secession because the Constitution was ambiguous regarding
Immediately following the election of Lincoln, the southern secessionists wanted
to separate from the Union. Southerners feared that the Republican victory in 1860
would “interfere in their domestic concerns–particularly their right to property and slaves
as guaranteed by the fifth amendment of the Bill of Rights” (Jones 24). As a result, the
state of South Carolina held a convention and voted to secede from the Union.
Following South Carolina’s lead, Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and
Texas also seceded. “Their growing minority status had left them vulnerable to northern
oppression; their right to withdraw from the governing pact remained a fundamental
precept of the Declaration of Independence” (24). Representatives from each state
convened on February 1860, to create the Confederate States of America. Although
this document was roughly based on the Constitution, it assigned limits on the
government’s power to impose tariffs and restrictions on slavery. The southerners felt
that they needed to create a new constitution because “the preamble to the Constitution
. . . does not propose to make the old Union more perfect, but to ‘form a more perfect
Union;’ that is, to create a new and better one” (6). At the convention, the southerners
declared that “they are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states” (Stampp
5). Southern whites felt that they were acting in the tradition of the Revolution of 1776;
therefore, they had a right to national independence and to nullify a constitutional
compact that did not protect them from northern cruelty. “Charles Cotesworth Pinckney
argued that the old compact ‘had been repeatedly broken by every state in the Union;
and . . . when the parties to a treaty violate it, it is no longer binding” (7). Continuing
with this notion, the southern states justified their succession with the idea that the
federal government was interpreting the Founding Fathers’s documents incorrectly,
thus, infringing on their natural rights to life, liberty and property. Additionally, the
seceded states claimed that they had a legal right to secede from the Union because
they voluntarily joined the Union, and the Constitution had no clause prohibiting
withdrawal from the Union. The Confederacy’s last defense was “that the states are
older than the Union. . . they created the Union but without yielding any party of their
sovereignty,” (5). Therefore, if the Union tried in anyway to relieve the South of their
sovereignty, they would secede under their Constitutional rights. The South believed
that when the Declaration of Independence stated “all men are created equal,” the
document was only referring to white men owning property. As a result, their
interpretation of the Declaration of Independence was the opposite of Lincoln’s, causing
Contrarily, Lincoln saw no reason why the South would secede from the Union.
He felt that there was no economic advantage to joining an independent slave South.
“[The Confederacy] rejected secessionists arguments that an identity of economic
interest linked all slaveholding sates” (Crofts 106). Lincoln, along with...
Bibliography: Crisis. North Carolina: The University of North Carolina Press, 1989.
Jones, Howard. Abraham Lincoln and a new birth of freedom: the Union and slavery
the diplomacy of the Civil War. Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 1999.
Stampp, Kenneth M. The Imperiled Union. New York: Oxford University Press, 1980.
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