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Posted at 9:43 AM ET, 02/22/2011

Frank Williams: Why did South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas choose to secede?

By Frank Williams

Chairman of The Lincoln Forum

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While the election of Abraham Lincoln was the immediate cause with their concern over the “Black Republican” and his party’s unalterable position against the expansion of slavery, the embers had been burning for some time – especially in South Carolina. Many of the hotheads remembered the Nullification Crises of 1832 and had been planning for secession since that time.

As Lincoln’s election provoked secession in these states, South Carolina was the catalyst for the other states as the extreme secessionists like Robert Barnwell Rhett schemed against the expected Democratic nomination of Stephen A. Douglas. William Lowndes Yancy of Alabama joined in this conspiracy to divide the Democratic Party to insure a Republican victory and then help lead their states out of the Union. Douglas Egerton gives a fascinating account of these machinations in "Year of Meteors: Stephen Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, and the Election That Brought on the Civil War".

In addition, the haste of secession in South Carolina created a frenzy in the other states with no time to seek alternatives to separation. As Unionist Sam Houston discovered to his dismay in Texas, no quarter was given for secession as there was no time for discussions with “Cooperationists.” Rhett and Yancey had been working on separation ever since the 1850 convention held in Nashville - despite a strengthened Fugitive Slave Law, the Kansas-Nebraska Act repealing prohibition of slavery north of 36 degrees 30 minutes and the infamous Dred Scott decision. To them and other rabid secessionists there were new grounds for leaving when Senator Douglas objected to Kansas statehood along with John Brown’s raid on Harper's Ferry. The North, including President Buchanan and Abraham Lincoln failed to understand these passions and the depth of the commitment to separate.


By Frank Williams  | February 22, 2011; 9:43 AM ET
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