It’s All About Slavery

This writing was a long time coming.  Revisionists have consistently high-jacked the narrative of secession and the Confederacy and the Civil War for well over a hundred years.  This has been done specifically in an attempt to continue in the ways of white supremacy.  I’ve hesitated to write anything about it because everyone from major news organizations to bloggers sitting in their underwear in their parents’ basements have been writing about it.  I wanted to write about it after the white supremacist shooting in Charleston in 2015, and I wanted to write about it after the murder by a white supremacist in Charlottesville this month.

But I also wanted to take my time, compile the facts (although I’m not sure that facts matter to racist white supremacists), and lay them out in a way that I hope is straightforward and palatable but isn’t boring or condescending.  This is purposefully a long piece (I did try to break it into parts – check the bold headings), as it aims to lay to rest all claims that secession and Civil War was about anything besides continuing the institution of slavery, and that current societal issues all deal with trying to take America back to the time of white supremacy.

The photo above is from a back road in Jasper County, South Carolina.  It’s about five miles east of I-95.  I know because I stopped and took the photo in 2011.  I couldn’t believe there was this billboard surrounded by trees, pretty much in the middle of nowhere.  “Never forget.”  Okay.  Never forget that secession and the Civil War were about slavery.  Never forget that the idea that secession was about states’ rights and any other nonsense is pure bullshit revisionism.  Every primary document from the late 1850s and early 1860s tells the truth.  Newspapers, letters, speeches, secessionist constitutions, memoirs, etc. all tell the story of white southerners fighting to keep black human beings enslaved.  All of the other bullshit came after those white southerners lost the war, and still wanted to find ways to intimidate and scare and keep black human beings under their control.  Never forget.



Prior to the election of 1860, the question arose as to why secession would even be necessary.  Judge George Robertson, of Kentucky, delivered a speech at a large meeting on October 10, 1860, before Abraham Lincoln was elected President.  In his speech, he argued that even if Lincoln were elected, South Carolina and others need not worry about seceding.  Lincoln would still have to “enforce the Fugitive Slave Law…[and] veto any bill for the emancipation of slaves in the District of Columbia.”  Furthermore, Robertson stated, if Lincoln were elected,

“he is too sensible to try to do anything upon the subject of Slavery….But then he has no power to do anything.  There is a large majority in the Senate against him, and I think it is probably there will be a majority in the House…so that if Mr. Lincoln should want to pass an act interdicting Slavery anywhere he could not do it.  What harm can he do?”

Robertson goes so far as to label secessionists “crazy” and proceeds to predict that if the Union dissolves, the South will suffer most.  Without the Union, he asks, “Who will protect the slaves then?  You will have no Federal Constitution to do it.” [1]  This was a prescient view, and Robertson wasn’t the only person to feel the same way.[2]  In fact, a number of people believed that if any states did secede they would soon be anxious to rejoin the Union, and if they did it would probably be with more restrictions on slavery instead of less.[3]

But the threat of secession was always a handy political tool.  A group of New England Federalists discussed it at the end of 1814 and beginning of 1815.  Their participation in secessionist discussions disgraced the Party and led to its demise.[4]  The South Carolinians threatened it beginning in 1832.  President Andrew Jackson’s Vice President, John Calhoun, actually resigned his position so that he could run for the Senate in his home state of South Carolina, where he could more easily fight for nullification of the federal tariff bills, and possibly secession.

It was a convenient tool even earlier when the U.S. Constitution was being written. In order to appease the Southern states into accepting the Constitution, the Three-Fifths Compromise was added into the document.  The Founders agreed to count each enslaved human as three-fifths of a white person for taxation and representation purposes.  Closer to the time of secession, the South had won some concessions in the Compromise of 1850, most importantly the Fugitive Slave Law, which forced people to capture enslaved humans who had escaped slavery and return them from whence they came.[5]  Four years later, another concession was made to the South over slavery.  The 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act effectively repealed the 1820 Missouri Compromise (which had banned slavery north of Missouri’s southern border, except in Missouri) and allowed the people of the Kansas and Nebraska Territories to decide if they’d like to have enslaved humans in their states or to be free states.[6]

Many saw secession threats in 1860 as Southern states whining to extract concessions from the government once again.  In fact, in 1860 the New York Times called secession a “political trick,” citing Judge Alexander Handy, a Commissioner from Mississippi to the State of Maryland, who said,

“Secession is not intended to break up the present government, but to perpetuate it….we go out for the purpose of getting further guarantees and security for our rights.  Our plan is for the Southern States to withdraw from the Union, for the present, to allow amendments to the Constitution to be made, guaranteeing our just rights.”[7]

And so it remained a political tool.  As long as the South had an executive on their side (and legislative and judicial power) they were content to let the system work.  As soon as they sensed a change in the balance to their disadvantage, they called for secession as a way to regain the upper hand.  In fact, they were willing to secede, as Judge Handy stated, only for the present – until they got their way again.



When South Carolina seceded, they made it clear that it was over slavery.  Christopher Memminger (who became the first Treasurer of the Confederacy), was the primary author of the South Carolina secession address, which stated that the elected President was “an enemy of our Constitution – that he desires to see Slavery abolished.”  He continued, “The great objection that we raise is not to Abraham Lincoln himself, but chiefly because he is the representative of a hostile opinion, destructive of every interest of the South.”[8]  Pretty clear, I’d say.

But if that’s not clear enough for you, after explaining why they thought they could legally secede, comes the reason for secession.  Citing the Fourth Article of the Constitution,[9]  the authors of the secession declaration state:

“This stipulation was so material to the compact, that without it that compact would not have been made. The greater number of the contracting parties held slaves, and they had previously evinced their estimate of the value of such a stipulation by making it a condition in the Ordinance for the government of the territory ceded by Virginia, which now composes the States north of the Ohio River.”[10]

The secession document also cited “an increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery, [which] has led to a disregard of their obligations, and the laws of the General Government have ceased to effect the objects of the Constitution.”  Getting more to the point, the authors also wrote,

“The right of property in slaves was recognized by giving to free persons distinct political rights….We affirm that these ends for which this Government was instituted have been defeated, and the Government itself has been made destructive of them by the action of the non-slaveholding States.”[11]

I think you get the point, but let me offer one more part of that same document.

“Those States have assume the right of deciding upon the propriety of our domestic institutions; and have denied the rights of property established in fifteen of the States and recognized by the Constitution; they have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery….They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes….A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery.”

Lest you think that this was just one state and shouldn’t be representative of the rest, I’d like to share some parts of Mississippi’s secession declaration.  Following an introductory sentence, the declaration reads,

“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…. and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization.”

I’m not going to put any more of it here because I think I’ve shown enough, but you can read the whole thing and see that it’s clear that secession was over slavery.

Some readers may still be skeptical.  After all, that’s only two of eleven secession states.  (Twenty-three did not commit the treasonous act of seceding.)  The second sentence of Georgia’s secession document reads, “For the last ten years we have had numerous and serious causes of complaint against our non-slave-holding confederate States with reference to the subject of African slavery.”  They discuss in detail why slavery is the reason the state is seceding.  After admitting that “The question of slavery was the great difficulty in the way of the formation of the Constitution,” the authors provide a nice “brief history of the rise, progress, and policy of anti-slavery.”[12]  These authors were appalled that “elements in the North” believed in “the prohibition of slavery in the Territories, hostility to it everywhere, the equality of the black and white races, [and] disregard of all constitutional guarantees it its favor.”  So let the good people of January 1861 Georgia explain why they decided to secede from the Union:

“Because by their [meaning the people of the Northern states] declared principles and policy they have outlawed $3,000,000,000 of our property in the common territories of the Union….Because they give sanctuary to thieves and incendiaries who assail it to the whole extent of their power….Because their avowed purpose is to subvert our society and subject us not only to the loss of our property but the destruction of ourselves, our wives, and our children, and the desolation of our homes, our altars, and our firesides.”

I’d rather not bore you with eight more paragraphs of state secession documents declaring that they’re leaving the Union to continue enslaving human beings for their own benefit.  If you’re really interested, look at this note –>[13].  To be fair, three of the eleven secession ordinances – those of Louisiana, North Carolina, and Tennessee – do not mention slavery specifically.  Don’t read too deeply into that, however; it was still about slavery for them too.[14]



Now that we’ve established that the states seceded over continuing the institution of slavery, I’d like to examine what some of the major players in the war thought.

In a speech now known as the “Cotton is King” speech, Senator James Hammond of South Carolina proclaimed on the Senate floor, in March 1858,

“We do not think that whites should be slaves either by law or necessity. Our slaves are black, of another and inferior race. The status in which we have placed them is an elevation. They are elevated from the condition in which God first created them, by being made our slaves. None of that race on the whole face of the globe can be compared with the slaves of the South. They are happy, content, uninspiring, and utterly incapable, from intellectual weakness, ever to give us any trouble by their aspirations.”[15]

In 1861 the Commissioner from Alabama wrote to the Governor of Kentucky, if the policy of abolitionists were to be carried out, “the slave-holder and non-­slave-holder must ultimately share the same fate—all be degraded to a position of equality with free negroes, stand side by side with them at the polls, and fraternize in all the social relations of life.”  To Commissioner Stephen F. Hale, “free negroes” and the “triumph of negro equality” caused him to “shudder.”[16]

Those are some pretty straightforward feelings and ideas from men who readily seceded because they wanted to keep humans in bondage for their personal gain.  But what about the bigger fish, like Confederate General Robert E. Lee and Confederate President Jefferson Davis?

Before the first battle many Americans, including General Montgomery Meigs (who had served with Lee), believed that Lee, Jefferson Davis, and General Joseph E. Johnston, at the very least, “should be put formally out of the way if possible by sentence of death [and] executed if caught” for committing treason.  These men “who took the oath to support the Constitution”[18] were traitors deserving of death, not of memorials and statues.  After the war, though, Lee was the hero of the South, on par with Washington as a national hero.  His previous life as a slaveholder and a traitor were largely forgotten in favor of acknowledging only his good personal characteristics.

Lee, from early on, demonstrated thoughts on slavery similar to those of his fellow slave-holders.  In 1856, as a colonel, he wrote that “slavery as an institution is a moral and political evil.”  But in the same letter he wrote, “The painful discipline they are undergoing is necessary for their further instruction as a race, and will prepare them, I hope, for better things.  How long their servitude may be necessary is known and ordered by a merciful Providence.”[17]

His actions show that he was no friend to blacks – free or enslaved.  George Washington Park Custis (Lee’s father-in-law) stated in his will that his slaves should be freed five years after his death.  Some claimed that on his deathbed he wished for immediate emancipation following his death.  In accordance with Custis’s will, Lee filed a deed of manumission for more than 150 enslaved humans in 1862.  Lee was not the “benevolent master” of Southern slave-holding fairy tales.  In one account, three enslaved people attempting to escape Lee’s bondage were caught; Lee ordered them tied to a post, stripped to the waist, and given fifty lashes each, with Lee supposedly saying, “lay it on well.”[18] Lee did not support any rights for black citizens following the war, and did not speak out against violence committed against blacks.

What did Lee think of memorials to the Confederacy?  He wrote in 1869, “I think it wiser, moreoever, not to keep open the sores of war but to follow the examples of those nations who endeavored to obliterate the marks of civil strife, to commit to oblivion the feelings engendered.”[19]  There, in his own words, in black and white, I think we can say the hero of the Confederacy, the treasonous racist, would not want any Confederate monuments or displays of any kind.

Let’s now turn to Jefferson Davis, who became the first and only president of the Confederacy.  In a message to the Confederate Congress, on April 29, 1861, proclaiming the ratification of the Confederate Constitution, Davis stated,

“A persistent and organized system of hostile measures against the rights of the owners of slaves in the Southern States was inaugurated and gradually extended. A continuous series of measures was devised and prosecuted for the purpose of rendering insecure the tenure of property in slaves.”

Speaking of the Northern states, the message continues,

“Senators and Representatives were sent to the common councils of the nation…whose business was not ‘to promote the general welfare or insure domestic tranquillity,’ but to awaken the bitterest hatred against the citizens of sister States by violent denunciation of their institutions…for the purpose of impairing the security of property in slaves.”

Then, referring to enslaved humans, Davis said, “they had been elevated from brutal savages into docile, intelligent, and civilized agricultural laborers, and supplied not only with bodily comforts but with careful religious instruction.”  These guys all read from the same playbook, and it’s the one that has been passed down to this day, in an edited form.

In 1848, while Congress debated admitting the Territory of Oregon into the Union, some southerners rejected the idea that Oregon should be a free territory, even though there were little or no enslaved individuals there.  When Davis spoke he said,

“The fact that the slave is property which his owner may carry away with him into any part of the Union was that which they [Southern Senators] were desirous to be recognized….Congress has no power to change the condition or to strip the master of his right in his property.”[20]

Davis believed that slavery should be allowed everywhere in the United States.  “The most judicious course,” he believed, “was to let the institution alone, and permit it to spread itself through the adjacent States.”[21]

In the same speech, Davis used a Biblical reference to justify slavery, another slave-holding favorite thing to do.

“Its origin was divine decree – the curse upon the graceless son of Noah.  Slavery was regulated by the law given through Moses to the Jews.  Slaves were to be of the heathen, and with their offspring to descend by inheritance….Wonderfully has the prophecy been fulfilled; and here, in our own country….”[22]

The protection of slavery knew no limits, and every tool would be used for its defense and continuation, much as white supremacists will use every tool available to them today to get as close to the old days as possible.

It wasn’t only that Davis (and others) believed that they had the right to own human beings.  They also couldn’t believe others would want to take that away from them.  In a speech before the Mississippi legislature in 1858, Davis referred New York Senator William H. Seward as a “dangerously powerful man” who “describes the institution of slavery as degrading to labor, as intolerant and inhuman.”  Davis, incredulous that any man, let alone a U.S. Senator, would use these terms wondered aloud, “Where he learned his lesson, I am at a loss to imagine.”[23]

Lest you think Davis never really thought that way, or maybe he changed his mind after the war, he published two volumes regarding the rise and fall of the Confederate government in 1881.  In his writing, Davis was adamant as ever about protecting slavery.  He wrote in disgust of African Americans serving as Union soldiers,

“The forefathers of these negro soldiers were gathered from the torrid plains and malarial swamps of inhospitable Africa. Generally they were born the slaves of barbarian masters, untaught in all the useful arts and occupations, reared in heathen darkness, they were transferred to shores enlightened by the rays of Christianity. There, put to servitude, they were trained in the gentle arts of peace and order and civilization; they increased from a few unprofitable savages to millions of efficient Christian laborers….Never was there happier dependence of labor and capitol on each other.”[24]

Happier maybe for Davis and others like him, but highly unlikely to be happy for those enslaved.

Turning to the Vice President of the Confederacy, Alexander Stephens – he explained in an 1861 speech (known as the “Cornerstone Speech”) that the new government’s

“corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”

A few years earlier, in 1858, Albert Gallatin Brown, a Senator from Mississippi, delivered a speech in which advocated for the expansion of what Stephens later called the “natural and normal condition.”  Brown said, “I want Cuba, and I know that sooner or later we must have it….I want Tamaulipas, Potosi, and one or two other Mexican States; and I want them all for the same reason—for the planting and spreading of slavery.”  There is little doubt about the feelings of the men who decided upon secession, and what it was about.

Most Southern Senators and Congressmen defended slavery and hinted at violence or secession if the institution was threatened.  Actual violence happened, on the floor of the Senate, of all places, in 1856 when a member of the House of Representatives entered the Senate chamber and literally beat a Senator unconscious.

Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner had delivered a speech (now known as the “Crime Against Kansas” speech) in which he denounced the “Slave Power” as criminals.  The crime was “the rape of a virgin Territory, compelling it to the hateful embrace of Slavery.” In particular, Sumner verbally attacked the authors of the Kansas-Nebraska Act (Stephen Douglas of Illinois and Andrew Butler of South Carolina).  Of Butler (who wasn’t present), Sumner said, “he believes himself a chivalrous knight….Of course he has chosen a mistress to whom he has made his vows, and who, though ugly to others, is always lovely to him; though polluted in the sight of the world, is chaste in his sight; – I mean the harlot of Slavery.” Sumner continued to mock Butler, saying that the South Carolinian believes that if the Slaves states cannot “compel fellow-men to unpaid toil, to separate husband and wife, and to sell little children at the auction-block, – then, sir, the chivalric senator will conduct the State of South Carolina out of the Union!”  And so on.

Representative Preston Brooks, also from South Carolina, did not appreciate Sumner’s comments.  And so, instead of talking to Sumner, or about Sumner, or even challenging Sumner to a duel, Brooks walked into the Senate chamber after the Senate had adjourned and Sumner was gathering his things.  Brooks proceeded to beat the unsuspecting Sumner over the head with a metal-topped cane. This continued for about a minute, as Sumner attempted to protect himself, and even after Brooks broke his cane.  The unconscious Senator was finally carried from the floor, and Brooks walked away.[25]

The myth of state’s rights, or any other reason, just doesn’t hold water to racist ideas of white supremacy and the continuance of slavery.  Need one last example?  Confederate cavalry commander John S. Mosby wrote of the reason for the Civil War to a fellow soldier in 1894, “I’ve never heard of any other cause than slavery.”[26]


The Thirteenth Amendment was passed by the Senate and House before the Civil War ended, and it was ratified and adopted in December 1865.  This Amendment abolished slavery in the United States.  The Fourteenth Amendment, ratified in 1868, granted equal protection under the law.

Four years after the war ended, Russell Conwell, a journalist from Massachusetts, visited some of the secessionist states.  In the homes, he visited he found that

“portraits of Jeff Davis and Lee hang in all their parlors, decorated with Confederate flags….Photographs of [John] Wilkes Booth, with the last words of great martyrs printed upon its borders; effigies of Abraham Lincoln hanging by the neck…adorn their drawing rooms.”[27]

Many Southerners could not get over the fact that not only did they lose the treasonous war, but that those formerly enslaved were now their equals.

The question of “Negro Suffrage” soon became the next battle.  The southern states, of course, completely opposed giving the right to vote to anyone besides white men.  Not all people of the northern states wished to grant the right to vote either, however.  The New York Times claimed that people who were formerly enslaved were too “ignorant” to vote, and asked, “Would it not be quite well to approach a matter of such vast importance with a little caution?”[28]

It took until February 1870, but with the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment, all men were allowed to vote.[29]  As soon as men who were formerly enslaved won this right, the white men who formerly enslaved them found ways to ensure that white supremacy would continue.



Despite Constitutional Amendments, there would be no equality.  Threats and actual violence from whites (including the KKK) kept many blacks from exercising their rights.  Laws were passed in the different states preventing African Americans from voting.[30]

Laws preventing equality weren’t limited to voting.  The Civil Rights Act of 1875, preventing discrimination in public places, was struck down as unconstitutional in 1883.[31]  The change in attitude was due in part to the Compromise of 1877.[32]  The end of Reconstruction (as part of the compromise) led to the removal of the military from Southern states, which meant there was no protection for African Americans living there.  Protecting formerly enslaved people in the south, and black men and women in the nation in general was ignored in favor of political gains.

In 1896, in the Supreme Court case Plessy v. Ferguson, the “separate-but-equal” doctrine was upheld, legalizing segregation.  Facilities were separate, but rarely, if ever, were white and black facilities equal.[33]  I’ll stop here with the legal cases, as there are many more which followed (and many more before which I haven’t mentioned). While on the topic of segregation, though, I’d like to note that even at the dedication of Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. in 1922, blacks had a colored section separate from whites.[34]

Attacks against black men (and women) by white men (and women) were common throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s, and most of them went unpunished.  On August 14, 1908, about two thousand white males attacked African-Americans in Springfield, Illinois (Lincoln’s hometown) and set fire to businesses owned by blacks.  They were said to have yelled, “Lincoln freed you, we’ll show you where you belong.”  The next day, a large group went to the shop of 79-year-old William Donnegan, a black man who had made boots for Lincoln.  The white men set fire to his shop, dragged him outside, threw bricks at him, and then slashed his throat.  Not yet dead, Donnegan was dragged across the street and hung from a tree to die.[35]

Similar assaults and murders occurred throughout the country for many decades, including Atlanta (1906), Brownsville (1906), multiple violent episodes in 1916, Chicago (1919), Tulsa (1921), the 1940s and 1950s in Chicago (and Baltimore) and again in the 1960s in Los Angeles, Detroit, and Newark (among others).

The reasoning is partly due to the underlying but simmering resentment by white supremacists of gains made by non-whites during these time periods.  White supremacists continued to do their best to keep non-whites under their control.  At a meeting of the United Confederate Veterans in 1907 a speech was made which included the following:

“Great and trying times always produce great leaders, and one was at hand – Nathan Bedford Forrest. His plan, the only course left open. The organization of a secret government….This secret government was organized in every community in the South, and this government is known in history as the Klu Klux Clan….Order was restored, property safe; because the negro feared the Klu Klux Clan more than he feared the devil….Bedford Forrest should always be held in reverence by every son and daughter of the South as long as memory holds dear the noble deeds and service of men for the good of others on, this earth.”

The Klan and similar groups are terrorist organizations.  Let us not forget that between 1877 and 1950 more than 4,000 African Americans were lynched as public acts of racial terrorism, many by members of the KKK.  Lynching and other forms of terror were used as tools to control African Americans and reestablish white supremacy.  (For an in-depth look at this, please see the Equal Justice Initiative’s website, Lynching in America.)  The methods may have changed, but the intimidation factor remains.



I’m not going to review the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s.  I think we’re all familiar with the likes of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, James Baldwin, and Medgar Evers.[36]  We should also remember all of the men and women who usually don’t get recognized for their hard work and sacrifices which led to the “separate-but-equal” doctrine being overturned, which led to legalized interracial marriages, and which led to the passage of a number of civil rights laws.  I wanted to mention this time period briefly because it was a big step forward.  But we have seen that the thinking and attitude of parts of American society have not changed over the course of hundreds of years.[37]



CNN recently published a graphic from the Southern Poverty Law Center showing when most Confederate monuments were erected.[38]  A majority of them, by far, were put up between 1900 and 1918.  A smaller surge of Confederate monument building occurred again during the Civil Rights Movement.  Why during these two times?  The latter may be obvious – racists were losing as non-whites were gaining.  As for the former, during the turn of the century, southern states were ramping up anti-civil rights laws (Jim Crow laws) and Southern pride was at a high point.  The monuments served to show who was in control.

CNN found over 1,500 publicly-publicly sponsored Confederate monuments in the U.S. today (as of August 16, 2017), of about which 700 are on public property.  Almost all of these are located in states which seceded from the Union.  The New York Times has compiled a running list of Confederate monuments coming down across the U.S.  These monuments have become a battleground, for good or bad.  Tearing down statues may feel good, and we can hope these actions may lead to a larger movement, but for now they change little in the way of thinking or actions.  Racism and hatred of the “other” by white supremacists will not fall with those statues.

Take for example the note written by the Chief of Heritage Operations of the Sons of Confederate Veterans following the events in Charlottesville.  In it, he said the group “denounce[d] the hatred being leveled against our ancestors by radical leftists who seek to erase our history.”  The author, Carl V. Jones II, doesn’t even know the history to which he refers.  In fact, he is erasing the true history of what happened while “radical leftists” are speaking the truth.

Contrary to what Jones and people like him want you to believe, there is little history or celebration of individuals behind those statues.  Most of the monuments weren’t necessarily erected as a monument to the past, according to Jane Daily, but rather people were “erecting them toward a white supremacist future.”  If you look back at the SPLC graphic, you’ll find that many monuments, especially in the early 1900s, were erected on courthouse grounds.  Dailey said these sites especially were “meant to intimidate those looking to come to the seat of justice or the seat of the law.”  Taking them down is the first step in erasing the intimidation factor that may exist.  But that still won’t change the thinking of a white supremacist.  We need to do more.

Following the events at Charlottesville, Lonnie G. Bunch, the director of the recently-opened National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC, released a statement on behalf of the museum which read, “The violent displays of racism and anti-Semitism are reprehensible. These heinous acts are an assault on our nation’s values and threaten to move our country backward to a time when many had little regard for the principles of fairness, liberty, and equality.”  The statement goes on to say,

“It is crucial at this time to understand the history of white supremacy as a political ideology, and the role of the Ku Klux Klan and other groups in using violence to promote that ideology…. Only when we illuminate the dark corners and tell the unvarnished truth can we learn history’s lessons and bridge the gaps that divide us.”

And with that, I hope that this piece has provided some small understanding of the history of secession, Civil War, and the white supremacy movement that has been ever-present in our nation.  I hope that it has created a desire to learn more, and to read more, and to discover the truth.[39]


[1] “Will the South Secede,” New York Times, November 12, 1860.
[2] In fact, the same edition of the Times, ran speeches from other Southerners who made similar claims – “Why should we manifest such unbecoming fears of Lincoln?…He can claim no power above the Constitution, and we can defend ourselves under it….my prayer shall be as ever, for the prosperity and happiness of our country.”  That was said by the Honorable B.F. Moore of North Carolina.
[3] “The Object of Secession Out at Last,” New York Times, December 26, 1860.  For one, many believed that upon secession enslaved men and women would flee those states that had seceded.  Seceded states would no longer be members of the Union under the Constitution, and therefore would have little redress to reclaim their “fugitive property.”
[4] The Hartford Convention met from December 15, 1814 to January 5, 1815.  Its participants was a group of New England members of the Federalist Party.  They were against the War of 1812, the federal government’s growing power, and slavery.  The Battle of New Orleans began on the day following the Convention’s conclusion, however, and ended on the 18th with a decisive American victory.  The Treaty of Ghent, which had actually been agreed to in December, reached the U.S. after the Battle, and its ratification by the U.S. Senate in February ended the war.
[5] This was part of the Compromise of 1850.  Besides the Fugitive Slave Law, the larger compromise settled a dispute between Texas and New Mexico on their border, admitted California as a free state, allowed any states admitted in the New Mexico and Utah territories to decide if they’d like to be slave states, and banned the slave trade, but not slavery itself, in Washington, D.C.
[6] The ensuing rush by pro-slavery and anti-slavery forces into Kansas (and lesser so Nebraska) to tip the balance of the vote for slavery led to bloodshed in Kansas, which journalists referred to as Bloody Kansas or Bleeding Kansas.
[7] “The Object of Secession Out at Last,” New York Times, December 26, 1860.
[8] “Why They Seceded,” New York Times, December 29, 1860.
[9] “No person held to service or labor in one State, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up, on claim of the party to whom such service or labor may be due.”
[10] That territory referred to here, known as the Northwest Territory, was created during the Constitutional Convention.  Virginia, as well as other states, claimed the land, but ceded the territory to the federal government as part of the Northwest Ordinance.
[11] The part I omitted with the ellipse reads “by giving them the right to represent, and burthening them with direct taxes for three-fifths of their slaves; by authorizing the importation of slaves for twenty years; and by stipulating for the rendition of fugitives from labor.”
[12] It’s not really brief.  I mean, it’s shorter than what you’re reading now, but it’s not something you can read in a minute or two.
[13] There’s a book which you can find online that has the ordinances of secession and other secession documents.  Briefly here, Florida’s states “All hope of preserving the Union upon terms consistent with the safety and honor of the slaveholding States, has been fully dissipated by the recent indications of the strength of the anti-slavery sentiment of the free States.” Alabama’s declaration states only, “It is the desire and purpose of the State of Alabama to meet the slaveholding States of the South…in order to frame a…permanent government.”  Texas’s ordinance reads, “Recent developments in Federal affairs make it evident that the power of the Federal Government is sought to be made a weapon with which to strike down the interests and property of the people of Texas and her sister slave-holding States.” Virginia’s ordinance says that the Federal government has “perverted” its powers, “not only to the injury of the people of Virginia, but to the oppression of the Southern slaveholding States.”  The people of Arkansas stated that the people have elected a President whose political party’s “central and controlling idea of which is hostility to the institution of African slavery.”  They did not approve of the “Republican Party’s intention of closing the territories to slavery….and by declaring that no more slave states shall be admitted to the Union.”  Like Georgia, they give many, many explanations of “slavery’s centrality” to their resolution.
[14] George Williamson, Commissioner from Louisiana to the Texas Secession Convention, stated in a February 1861 speech, “As a separate republic, Louisiana remembers too well the whisperings of European diplomacy for the abolition of slavery in the times of an­nexation not to be apprehensive of bolder demonstrations from the same quarter and the North in this country. The people of the slave holding States are bound together by the same necessity and determination to preserve African slavery.”  Quotes taken from here.
[15] The full speech can be read here.
[16] Journal of the Called Session of the House of Representatives of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, 25
[17] Long, A.L.  Memoirs of Robert E. Lee.  New York: J.M. Stoddart & Co., 1886.  p 83
[18] “The Battle of Arlington,” by Robert M. Poole.  Smithsonian Magazine, November 2009.  Meigs had taken Johnston’s spot as quartermaster general when Johnston resigned to join the Confederate army.
[19] “What Robert E. Lee Wrote to The Times About Slavery in 1858,” New York Times, August 18, 2017.
[20] Davis, Varina.  Jefferson Davis Ex-President of the Confederate States of America; A Memoir by His Wife. Vol. I.  New York: Belford Co., 1890, p. 380
[21] He thought in that way it “might assume a new and more liberal character.”  How so, he didn’t say.  Davis, 381.
[22] Davis, 404.
[23] Speech of Jefferson Davis before the Mississippi Legislature, Nov. 16, 1858
[24] These volumes were reprinted in 1990.  Davis, Jefferson. The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government. Vol. II. Da Capo Press, 1990, p. 162.
[25] The U.S. Senate website has a short summary.  Both men became heroes for their sides.  Brooks attempted to return to the Senate in 1857, but he was unable to.  He only took his seat in 1859.  A motion to expel Brooks in the House failed, but he decided to resign.  He was tried for assault and fined, though not jailed.  A special election was held for his seat in the summer of 1856, and he was elected to a new term.  Brooks died in January 1857, however.
[26] Quoted in Coski, John M. The Confederate Battle Flag. Harvard University Press, 2009, p. 26
[27] “Lincoln’s Contested Legacy,” by Philip B. Kunhardt III. Smithsonian Magazine, February 2009.
[28] “The Question of Negro Suffrage,” New York Times, June 24, 1865.
[29] The Amendment reads, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”
[30] These included such things as a poll tax and a literacy test.  The tax was a heavy burden for many African Americans, and the literacy test was nearly impossible. Check out this link and see how you fare on one of the tests.
[31] Another Civil Rights Act wasn’t passed until 1957!
[32] In summary, the 1876 Presidential election was disputed.  Hayes was eventually given the Presidency in return for ending Reconstruction in the South.
[33] Legal segregation was only overturned in 1954 with the Brown v. the Board of Education Supreme Court decision.
[34] Smithsonian Magazine, February 2009.
[35] “Lincoln’s Contested Legacy,” by Philip B. Kunhardt III. Smithsonian Magazine, February 2009.
[36] If you’d like to read more, check out Gilder Lehrman, the National Humanities Center, the National Park Service’s We Shall Overcome, and this National Park Service site.
[37] Something that I’d like to add here is the issue of redlining, which still occurs today and which has established a distinct disadvantage to people who are not white.  In simple terms, beginning in the 1930s the federal government helped to segregate American housing communities.  The Washington Post, the Atlantic, Slate, and NPR have good articles about this topic.
[38] The entire SPLC report on public symbols of the Confederacy can be found here.
[39] In the spirit of reading more and learning more, there is a series of articles, kicked off by a piece in the Atlantic by Ta-Nehisi Coates who wrote about “The Case for Reparations.”  Kevin Williamson responded to Coates in the National Review with a piece titled “The Case Against Reparations.”  Coates followed up with a piece titled “The Case for American History.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s