This winter marks the 150th anniversary of the secession of seven states and the formation of the Confederate States of America. At a time when people like to discuss issues of patriotism, loyalty, and citizenship, it behooves us to look back at the great secession winter of 1860-61 and explore what happened and why. One can’t restrict that exploration to a single post, and so, over the next eight weeks, all the way up to the 150th anniversary of the formation of the Confederacy, I propose to explore various aspects of that process in an effort to understand what happened and why.
In this initial post, I want to set forth some parameters and assumptions that will guide this exploration. First, the reasons people supported secession may not be the same as the reasons they went to war. Second, it’s more important to read what the participants said in explaining what they were doing and why than to rely on interpretations offered long after the fact, even when those explanations are offered by participants. Both Jefferson Davis and Alexander H. Stephens changed their justification for secession and the formation of the Confederacy after the war, when it was no longer popular to stress the role that slavery played in the origins of the conflict. Third, for purposes of this discussion I’m going to focus on the original seven states that seceded. I may turn to looking later on at what happened to the Upper South, but for the moment I’m looking at the Deep South.