Sunday, April 11, 2010

Immediate Secession: Did Georgians Fear Other Georgians?

In a recent post, I referred to the idea that southern radicals may have urged immediate secession in part because they were concerned that other southerners could be seduced by Republican patronage.

In his fine study of Georgia politics in the antebellum era, Parties, Slavery, and the Union in Antebellum Georgia, Anthony Gene Carey agrees that “[s]ome immediatists' exhortations . . . betrayed distrust of their fellow white men.” “Particularly worrisome was the prospect that the corrupting power of patronage could be used to create a southern Republican party.” Prof. Carey cites, among other things, a letter written by “Sentinel” that appeared in the Augusta Constitutionalist on December 13, 1860:
“Sentinel” had no doubt that Republicans intended “to build up in the South under the name of a Union party – first, a party for submission, and gradually through its instrumentality an antislavery party.” The “effects of patronage and the blindness of party zeal” would spread the “anti-slavery virus” first in the border states, and then Republicans would endeavor to “stir up class jealousies” in the Deep South and set nonslaveholders against slaveholders.
Prof. Carey analyzes the nature of the fear, at least in Georgia, as follows:
The concern was not so much that antislavery sentiment existed in Georgia (the doubtful loyalty of some white men in the upper South was another matter),but that it could be made to exist under certain conditions. Experience had taught that even the best men could be seduced by the lure of office, and it would be leaders, not common white men, whom Republicans would tempt. Only if influential politicians turned traitor would there be a danger of the masses embracing Republicanism. If it were built at all, in other words, a southern Republican party would be built from the top down, like other political organizations. . . . [I]mmediate secessionists hoped that quick action would prevent assaults by northern abolitionist officeholders and immunize the South against any possible antislavery contagion.
The illustration is courtesy of

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