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Posted at 4:43 PM ET, 03/10/2011

Disunion lobbyists important to secession movement

By Linda Wheeler

The last of the states to secede from the Union were lobbied by a small army of men who spread out across the upper South to preach the sermon of disunion to all who would listen. They came from those states that had already voted to secede and were particularly interested in speaking at secession conventions in other states.

They were an impressive group of orators who often made their pitch in a state where they had ties, such as birth or education. They did their work well according to Charles B. Dew in his 2001 book, “Apostles of Disunion: Southern Commissioners and the Causes of the Civil War.”

Dew has written a fascinating book, one that is particularly relevant now for those following the timeline of the Civil War 150 years later. The various secession conventions were not meeting in isolation. They had guest speakers and often a large audience. Local newspapers followed the day-to-day action and reported it in front-page stories.

Wherever the apostles spoke, the message was always the same. Abraham Lincoln and the Republican party had destroyed the Constitution and were out to destroy the Southern economy by abolishing slavery. The abrupt end of slavery was much feared by Southern slave owners. It was their worst nightmare. They were sure former slaves would seek revenge on their owners, killing the men and raping the women.

Disunion was the way to save slavery and the white race, the commissioners said. Don’t hesitate. Immediate secession was the only answer. Disunion, even if it meant war, was the right way to go.

Dew points out the speeches were always about slavery. “By illuminating so clearly the racial content of the secession persuasion, the commissioners would seem to have laid to rest, once and for all, any notion that slavery had nothing to do with the coming of the Civil War,” Dew wries. “To put it quite simply, slavery and race were absolutely critical elements in the coming war.”

Dew says the speeches by the commissioners are little known and within a few years of the war, history had already been rewritten. He quotes Confederate President Jefferson Davis in “The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government” published in 1881. “The truth remains intact and incontrovertible, that the existence of African servitude was in no [way] the cause of the conflict, but only an incident.” Davis continued, saying “to whatever extent the question of slavery may have served as an occasion, it was far from being the cause.”

By Linda Wheeler  | March 10, 2011; 4:43 PM ET
Categories:  150th anniversary, News  
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