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Sat Nov 17, 2012, 10:33 AM

Why didn't the North let the South secede?

Well, the title asks the question. Here's why I thought of it. Recently we're seeing the secession petitions, and 'Lincoln' is on at the movies. I won't see 'Lincoln' until it's out on DVD, but tonight I watched the miniseries based on Gore Vidal's book.

There's a heck of a lot of smart, well educated people here, so I can't think of a better place to ask this question.

Why didn't the North just let the South go? Although slavery was the central issue in the Civil War, my limited understanding is that the war was fought to prevent the slave states from leaving the Union. Why? Wasn't the North's position that slavery would not be allowed in border states or new states, but that it would still exist in the deep South? Even the Gettysburg Address says nothing about slavery except, "that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

Was the political pressure from the abolitionists so great that Lincoln felt he had to prosecute the war?

Thanks for any answers.

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Arrow 21 replies Author Time Post
Reply Why didn't the North let the South secede? (Original post)
SnohoDem Nov 2012 OP
dawg Nov 2012 #1
Leontius Nov 2012 #4
Fortinbras Armstrong Nov 2012 #7
Leontius Dec 2012 #8
Fortinbras Armstrong Dec 2012 #9
Leontius Dec 2012 #11
Fortinbras Armstrong Dec 2012 #12
47of74 Mar 2013 #13
Tuesday Afternoon Nov 2012 #2
SnohoDem Nov 2012 #3
Adsos Letter Mar 2013 #15
joseph abbott Nov 2012 #5
Adsos Letter Mar 2013 #16
Bucky Nov 2012 #6
struggle4progress Dec 2012 #10
Democracyinkind Mar 2013 #14
carolinayellowdog Jun 2013 #17
Adsos Letter Jun 2013 #18
Democracyinkind Jun 2013 #19
Adsos Letter Jun 2013 #20
Democracyinkind Jun 2013 #21

Response to SnohoDem (Original post)

Sat Nov 17, 2012, 10:45 AM

1. I think Lincoln realized it would eventually unravel the whole country.

Once you set a precedent that a state can just secede when it loses an election or something happens that it doesn't like, pretty soon you don't have a country anymore. Before you know it, Maine will be seceding because of the tax rate on lobsters or New York will be seceding because they don't think they are being fairly represented due to having the same amount of Senators as Rhode Island.

Certainly Kentucky, Maryland and Missouri were doubtful to stick around through another Presidential election.

As a collection of smaller nations, we would never have become the world power that we are today. I think Lincoln showed great foresight in doing what he did.

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Response to dawg (Reply #1)

Sat Nov 17, 2012, 01:53 PM

4. The New England pols tried to force a confrontation with

the southern states in the early 1800's over fishing rights hoping to provoke the southern states into seceding from the Union, so purity of ideals was definitely not a cause, what it came down to was money.

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Response to Leontius (Reply #4)

Tue Nov 27, 2012, 11:22 AM

7. Actually, no

In 1814, many New England Federalists were unhappy with the War of 1812, which interrupted trade with Britain and Canada. 26 of them met at Hartford, Connecticut, to discuss the possibility of seceeding from the United States and voted out articles of secession. However, these articles got to Washington after the Battle of New Orleans, and were essentially laughed at.

The opposition to the articles of secession was so great that it amounted to political suicide for the Federalists. Interestingly, the opposition to the New England secession effort was strongest in the South.

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Response to Fortinbras Armstrong (Reply #7)

Thu Dec 13, 2012, 08:45 PM

8. You fail to mention any of the previous attempts by New England pols

dating back to the 1780s . They all seem to have one thing in common money.

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Response to Leontius (Reply #8)

Thu Dec 13, 2012, 10:41 PM

9. I didn't mention them because there weren't any

Of course, if you could show that there were, I'd be happy to see them.

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Response to Fortinbras Armstrong (Reply #9)

Sat Dec 15, 2012, 09:25 PM

11. Rufus King, Timothy Pickering, Theodore Sedgwick, New Orleans and Mississippi navigation,

Jay-Gardoqui negotiations , New England separatists look them up, plenty of information on plots and plans to secede for commercial, money, interests before 1814.

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Response to Leontius (Reply #11)

Sun Dec 16, 2012, 07:40 AM

12. I just looked those up

As far as I can tell, Rufus King never advocated secession. Timothy Pickering had made noises about secession in 1802, but nothing serious came of that. Pickering was part of the Hartford Convention that I mentioned in my previous post.

Actually, you should have mentioned the Essex Junto.

Anyway, I stand corrected.

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Response to dawg (Reply #1)

Fri Mar 1, 2013, 11:16 PM

13. I think you're right there...

We would have split seven different ways from Sunday if the north had just let the southern states go off on their own. (Even though at times I get frustrated and angry towards the south because of all the racist crap and disrespect towards the lawfully elected President).

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Response to SnohoDem (Original post)

Sat Nov 17, 2012, 11:26 AM

2. some answers:

http://search.yahoo.com/search?p=Why+didn%27t+the+North+let+the+South+secede%3F&ei=UTF-8&fr=chrf-yff16

We are called the UNITED States. When the South attacked Ft. Sumter President Lincoln basically said, "You want a war, then let's have a war." Both sides felt they would win in days to weeks. Both sides were wrong on the timing.

Because the North didn't want to lose the cotton revenues - over half the export trade of the USA.

The South wanted more control of their own states. Lincoln did not support this. Also, the South supported slavery, and Lincoln didn't.

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Response to Tuesday Afternoon (Reply #2)

Sat Nov 17, 2012, 11:45 AM

3. Both sides were wrong on the timing.

Major understatement! But thanks.

The cotton revenue angle is very interesting.

I'm not trying to slay any sacred cows. When I thought about it, my reaction was, "F*** 'em, we're better off without them". I still see the South as reactionary and uninformed, and I was born there.

We killed at least 600,000 of each other. The Civil War was at least as profound an event in forming the America we live in as the Revolutionary War was.

Thanks for the response. I'm halfway across the world and have to go to sleep.

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Response to SnohoDem (Reply #3)

Thu Mar 14, 2013, 12:28 AM

15. Historians have quite recently upped that figure to well over 700,000

quite a staggering number for a nation of only slightly more than 31,000,000.

And we did almost say "F*** 'em, we're better off without them". One of Lincoln's greatest political struggles, as the war ground on with mounting casualty figures and back-to-back Northern defeats, was keeping the North committed to the war. Even as late as 1864, after the tide had really turned on the battlefield, Grant withheld the true casualty figures from the Cold Harbor battle because of fear of the impact on the presidential election to be held in November of that year. As the war dragged on, increasing numbers of Northerners were inclined to just let the South go.

As to your question: Like most historical questions, the answers are going to be multi-faceted. Along with all the socio-economic factors others have listed, I don't think you can discount the real sense in the North that secession was tantamount to treason against the nation. Lincoln certainly viewed it that way, although his policy prior to Ft. Sumter was to take a light hand toward the South, in hopes that better minds and cooler heads would prevail. It should be remembered that there was distinct anti-secession sentiment in the South as well; primarily for economic reasons, but there was a distinct minority of southerners who also viewed secession as treason.

The fact that the first tier of seven states to secede did so through a series of faits accomplis prior to the mandated requirement for popular conventions to decide the matter, speaks volumes.

The shelling of Ft. Sumter, as well as the surrender/capture of several other Federal military installations in Florida, and along the Gulf Coast during the same time period, marked the end of discussion.

it should be remembered that secession was threatened prior to the Civil War. Andrew Jackson faced the same threats of secession from South Carolina over the tariff of Abominations, and responded with the threat of force; although, in that case, South Carolina backed down, and forestalled the eventual for about 30 years.

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Response to SnohoDem (Original post)

Sat Nov 17, 2012, 09:52 PM

5. Last Great Hope

The US was the last democratic nation at the time. If the Union failed, democracy failed.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Former_countries_in_Europe_after_1815

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Response to joseph abbott (Reply #5)

Thu Mar 14, 2013, 12:30 AM

16. Yup. Secession was widely viewed as treason in the North.

There were also southerners who felt that way.

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Response to SnohoDem (Original post)

Tue Nov 27, 2012, 05:47 AM

6. Cotton was 60-80% of US export products in the Antebellum. You wanna let that go?

Besides, the strongest argument of the day was that the conquest of Texas AND the purchase of Louisiana, Arkansas, & Missouri, AND the liberation of all Confederate points east of there were the result of the shared blood and treasure of the United States. You can't legally just let go of that which you spent your blood and treasury in acquiring.

If you and I as partners bought a property together and invested money in turning it into a store together and then agreed that I would manage the store on a daily basis, that doesn't put me in a position to wake up and decide one morning that I am the sole owner and deprive you of your investment and right to the share in the profits cause I'm the one with the front door key.

The nation-state of the US was and is a covenent among the people of the states that has a term of all posterity. It may yet break apart one day, but all parties involve until that day are fully entitled to keep it from doing so.

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Response to SnohoDem (Original post)

Fri Dec 14, 2012, 01:18 AM

10. Go reread the Gettysburg Address: that stuff mattered to people

The Declaration of Independence was written less than a century before Lincoln's presidency

It hadn't been that long before: plenty of people in 1860 either remembered people who had been involved in the Revolution or knew people who remembered people who had been involved in the Revolution

American Independence and the American Experiment were still fresh ideas to many people, and a bunch of them weren't ready to watch the whole thing capsize and sink

Somebody who was 15 or 20 at the time of Lexington and Concord could easily have lived until 1840. Somebody born in 1825 could easily remember a revolutionary war hero who lived until 1840 and would have been old enough to be an influential solid citizen in 1860

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Response to SnohoDem (Original post)

Sat Mar 2, 2013, 04:23 PM

14. Fort Sumter?

The practical reason - Fort Sumter.

Lincoln's deeper reasonings are best illustrated in his Message to Congress in Special Session on July 4th, 1861.
I'll quote the part that covers Lincolns political reasoning as an example. Try to read the whole thing though - I've never met anyone who wasn't utterly convinced by it.

"(...)And this issue embraces more than the fate of these United States. It presents to the whole family of man the question, whether a constitutional republic, or a democracy—a Government of the people by the same people—can or cannot maintain its territorial integrity against its own domestic foes. It presents the question, whether discontented individuals, too few in numbers to control administration, according to organic law, in any case, can always, upon the pretenses made in this case, or on any other pretenses, or arbitrarily, without any pretense, break up their Government, and thus practically put an end to free government upon the earth. It forces us to ask: "Is there, in all republics, this inherent and fatal weakness?’(...)’"

http://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/index.asp?document=1063

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Response to SnohoDem (Original post)

Thu Jun 20, 2013, 07:23 AM

17. kicking this thread-- the South was deeply divided and the North was well aware of it

450,000 Union soldiers came from the slave states, representing a large minority of the population below the Mason-Dixon line.

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Response to carolinayellowdog (Reply #17)

Thu Jun 20, 2013, 12:13 PM

18. The South vs. The South...

The South Vs. The South: How Anti-Confederate Southerners Shaped the Course of the Civil War
William W. Freehling
http://www.amazon.com/The-South-Vs-Anti-Confederate-Southerners/dp/0195156293

This was part of my reading list for comps in grad school. It really opened my eyes to the fact that The South was never a monolithic entity.

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Response to Adsos Letter (Reply #18)

Tue Jun 25, 2013, 08:20 AM

19. Freehling...

I think Freehling is unique among historians. If you haven't checked out "The Road to Disunion" you'll love it. Freehling is absolutely singular - his writing style is unparalleled. I have a serious historian-crush on him. He's simply great. I find myself often re-reading his books.

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Response to Democracyinkind (Reply #19)

Tue Jun 25, 2013, 11:56 AM

20. I agree.

Yes, both volumes of The Road to Disunion were on my reading list. I have to admit, I preferred the writing style in the second over the first, but I certainly enjoyed both. I remember thinking that his first couple of chapters in the second volume were fine examples of how overviews and introductions should be done, and too often aren't.

Two other works whose writing style I admire are: Eric Foner's Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men, and Gordon Rhea's three-volume work on Grant's 1864 Overland Campaign. Technically, Rhea isn't a Historian but he performs like one of the best in making comprehensible, and engaging, all the complex of actors and actions in that series of battles.

I see from your profile that you are an ex-pat living in Switzerland. We were fortunate enough to spend a couple of weeks in Martigny a few years ago, and thoroughly enjoyed the experience!

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Response to Adsos Letter (Reply #20)

Tue Jun 25, 2013, 12:00 PM

21. Ahh.. I love Martigny! Just thinking about it makes me want to leave work and go there...


Thanks for your additions. I read most of Foner's works - including the one you cited - and I think he's a thorough historian. I think I heard Rhea being mentioned in passing but I never got around to actually read anything by him. Your suggestion will change that as the book is now on my list... Thanks for that!

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