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Chapter 7: Secession Conventions in six States.

Dring the first thirty days of the year 1861, the disloyal politicians in six States of the Union, following the example of those of South Carolina, passed ordinances of secession and appointed delegates to a General Convention for the purpose of forming a Southern Confederacy. These ordinances were passed in the following chronological order:--In Mississippi, on the 9th of January; in Florida, on the 10th; in Alabama, on the 11th; in Georgia, on the 19th; in Louisiana, on the 26th; and in Texas, on the 1st of February. At the same time, large numbers of “Minute-men” in Virginia, under the control of ex-Governor Henry A. Wise, and others in Maryland, under leaders unknown to the public, were organized and drilled for the special purpose of seizing the City of Washington, and the Government buildings and archives there.

At the same time the conspirators, in several places, acting upon the counsel of those of South Carolina, began to plunder the National Government, by seizing its property in the name of certain States in which such property happened to be. Even in the loyal State of North Carolina, where there was no pretense of secession until four months later,

May, 1861.
the Governor, John W. Ellis, seized the forts within its borders,
January 8.
and the Arsenal at Fayetteville (into which Floyd had lately thrown seventeen thousand small arms, with accouterments and ammunition), under the pretext of securing them from occupation by mobs. He then wrote a letter to the President, telling him that if he (the Governor) could receive assurances that no troops would be sent to that State prior to the 4th of March (the day fixed upon by many as the one on which the first blow at the life of the Republic should be struck), then all would be “peace and quiet” there. “If, however,” he said, “I am unable to get such assurances, I will not undertake to answer for the consequences. The forts in this State have long been unoccupied, and these being garrisoned at this time will unquestionably be looked upon as a hostile demonstration, and will, in my opinion, certainly be resisted.” 1 The State troops were soon afterward withdrawn from the forts and the Arsenal.

The politicians of Mississippi were the first to follow the example of those of South Carolina. We have already observed initial movements there, by the Legislature authorizing a State Convention, and the appointment of Commissioners to visit other Slave-labor States.2 Immediately [162] afterward the whole State was excited by preparations for the election of delegates to the Convention, ninety-nine in number. The 20th day of December was the time appointed for the election, and the 7th of January

was the day selected for the Convention to assemble. Public meetings were held in all parts of the State, at which the most distinguished men in the Commonwealth were speakers.3

There was a diversity of sentiment among the politicians in Mississippi, mainly on the question whether there should be immediate, separate, and independent State action, or whether they should wait for the co-operation of other States. Two parties were formed, one called the “Secessionists” proper, the other “Co-operationists.” Each was zealous in a bad cause, for all had determined on secession in some form. “These are but household quarrels,” said one of the “Co-operationists ;” “as against Northern combination and aggression, we are united. We are all for resistance. We differ as to the mode; but the fell spirit of Abolitionism has no deadlier, and, we believe, no more practical foes than the ‘Co-operationists’ of the South. We are willing to give the North a chance to say whether it will accept or [163] reject the terms that a united South will agree upon. If accepted, well and good; if rejected, a united South can win all its rights, in or out of the Union.” The Co-operationists, swayed by reason rather than by passion, counseled waiting for an overt act of wrong on the part of the incoming Administration, before raising the resisting arm. This counsel the Hotspurs denounced as cowardly in thought and disastrous in practice; and one of their poets, with bitter irony, put submissive words into their mouths, calculated to stir up the passions of the people. He said:--

We are waiting till Abe Lincoln grasps the purse and grasps the sword,
And is sending down upon us all his Abolition horde;
Waiting till our friends are murdered, and our towns and cities sacked
And “poor Sambo” gets his freedom-waiting for the “overt act.”
Waiting till our fields of cotton, cane, and rice, and waving grain,
All are desolate and lonely, 'neath King Cuffee's stupid reign;
Till our sisters, wives, and daughters are compelled to his embrace;
Yes, we're waiting, only waiting, for this horrible disgrace.

The Convention met on the 7th of January, at Jackson, the State capital, a town of about two thousand five hundred inhabitants. It was found that only about one-third of the members were “Co-operationists.” This gave the “Secessionists” entire confidence, and made them exceedingly arrogant in speech and manner. Efforts were made by the “Co-operationists” to postpone action, but these were put down by decided majority votes. This unanimity made the progress of business easy.

Delegates from South Carolina and Alabama, who were present, were invited to seats in the Convention, and were received with great applause. A committee appointed to draft an Ordinance of Secession, having their work all prepared for them by the leaders, were not long at their labor. An ordinance was reported on the 8th, and many of the “Co-operationists” were so intimidated by threats, that on the final vote on the measure only fifteen had the courage to say No. It was adopted on the 9th, by a vote of eighty-four ayes and fifteen noes, and was afterward declared unanimous. It was brief, and arranged in four sections. The first was a simple declaration, in set terms, that all connection with the old Union was forever broken, and that Mississippi was a “free, sovereign, and independent State.” The second decreed that the clause in the State Constitution, which required all officers to take an oath to support the National Constitution, was thereby “abrogated and annulled.” The third declared that all rights acquired and vested under the National Constitution, or any act of Congress, and not incompatible with the. Ordinance, should remain in full force and effect. The fourth, speaking for the people of the State, said, that they would “consent to form a Federal Union with such of the States as have seceded or may secede from the Union of the United States of America,” upon the basis of the National Constitution, with a qualification.

The next step was to assert the sovereignty of Mississippi by acts. That sovereignty was formally acknowledged by Judge Samuel J. Gholson, of the United States District Court, who resigned his office because his State, in the exercise of sovereignty, had cut the bond that held it to the old Union. South Carolina was formally acknowledged as a Sovereign State by the younger but not less ardent sister, who, like herself, had a population [164] of slaves greater in number than her population of freemen — a distinction then not vouchsafed to any other States in the Union.4

Steps were taken, through committees, to sever effectually every connection with the National Government, excepting the convenient one of the postal system. They also assumed the right to dictate the terms upon which the Mississippi River should be navigated, in the portion that washed the borders of their commonwealth. By order of Governor Pettus,

January 12, 1861.

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