Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Immediate Secession: "If we fail to resist now . . ."

I have from time to time posted on arguments by proponents of immediate secession that imply that a motivating factor was concern that some white southerners were potentially disloyal. They might be seduced by the patronage and lure of office of a Lincoln administration into affiliating with the Black Republicans, forming a fifth column within the South.

On December 11, 1860, the Federal Union, a weekly paper published in Millidgeville, Georgia, published a December 7, 1860 letter written by Governor Joseph Emerson Brown explaining why he favored immediate secession.

Brown's letter, which you may find in Secession Debated: Georgia's Showdown in 1860, is a remarkable document in a number of respects, reflecting as it does the Governor's north Georgia origins. Brown is clearly focusing on his low-slaveholding northern base and attempting to persuade them that Lincoln's accession will be disastrous to non-slaveholding farmers. More on that, perhaps, in a future post.

For present purposes, the letter is also remarkable because it contains an unusually frank and detailed discussion of potential white southern disloyalty. Brown's “candid opinion” was that the failure to secede before Lincoln took office would be “the utter ruin of the South, in less than twenty-five years.” How? Brown painted a picture in which the Republicans would use patronage to co-opt a small but crucial bloc of white voters (paragraph breaks added):

If we submit now, we satisfy the Northern people that, come what may, we will never resist. If Mr. Lincoln places among us his Judges, District Attorneys, Marshals, Post Masters, Custom House officers, etc., etc., by the end of his administration, with the control of these men, and the distribution of public patronage, he will have succeeded in dividing us to an extent that will destroy all our moral powers, and prepare us to tolerate the running of a Republican ticket, in most of the States of the South, in 1864.

If this ticket only secured five or ten thousand votes in each of the Southern States, it would be as large as the abolition party was in the North a few years since. It would hold a ballance [sic] of power between any two political parties into which the people of the South may hereafter be divided. This would soon give it control of our elections. We would be powerless, and the abolitionists would press forward, with a steady step, to the accomplishment of their object. . . .

I do not doubt, therefore, that submission to the administration of Mr. Lincoln will result in the final abolition of slavery. If we fail to resist now, we will never again have the strength to resist.

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