Old South Term Paper

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Old South and Secession

What Led Southerners to Choose Disunion?

The South had several grievances against the North and the federal government. First they resented and feared the intent of some Northerners to limit the spread of slavery or to abolish it. Slavery was becoming more and more an issue of contention as time passed. Second, Southerners hated the high tariffs imposed by the Northern dominated Congress. Since the South had little manufacturing capacity, it had to import finished goods, and thus was interested in low tariffs. The North wanted to protect its industry from foreign competition and favored high tariffs. Some have argued that this issue more than slavery led to succession. Third, Southerners felt that the federal government was making more investments in the North with regard to transportation systems and infrastructure. The government favored a strong central banking system as well. Many Southerners felt that the investments in the North and the support given to banks favored Northern commercial interests at the expense of the South. Fourth, the cultures were too different. The North was contained many recent immigrants and had an industrial economy, while Southern culture harkened back to the landed gentry of England. The main events that precipitated succession and war were the split of the Democratic Party in June, 1860 into Northern and Southern wings, which made the South feel isolated, the election of a Republican President, who opposed the expansion of slavery, and the call for volunteers after Fort Sumter was attacked. Despite assurances to the contrary, Southerners were convinced that Lincoln would end slavery. The call for volunteers pushed some wavering Southern states that had resisted secession, into the Confederacy (Catton, 1961; Davis, 1982).

II. The Role of Southern Radicals in Influencing Southerners to Support Secession

Radicals on both sides pushed the nation towards war. Southern Radicals were known as "Fire-Eaters." Men like William L. Yancey, William H. Gist, Roger Pryor, Jefferson Davis, and John Breckenridge were often unrelenting in their pursuit of succession. Davis had become convinced that the South was headed to minority status in the country and would have less and less influence in the country as time went on. The Radicals saw succession as the only hope of preserving the Southern way of life. Davis remarked to a Northern colleague that the North, with its superior numbers and greater wealth, was bent on making the South subservient to it. The radicals played on the fears of each group of Southerners. They convinced the planters that they would lose their slaves and wealth if slavery were abolished. They convinced poor and middle class whites that ex-slaves would challenge their social positions. The radicals also convinced many people that the tariffs supported by the North would impoverish all Southerners. The radicals made people believe that the North had no will to fight. When federal property was seized in Alabama and Florida with no federal response, many people felt that the radicals must have been right. Finally, they worked to squash all attempts at compromise, such as the Crittenden Compromise (Catton, 1961; Woodworth, 2000).

III. The Birth of the Confederacy

The Confederacy was born as a result of the election of Abraham Lincoln in a four way race on 6 November 1860. The states of the Deep South, particularly South Carolina, had said that they would leave the Union if a Republican were ever elected. On 20 December 1860 South Carolina seceded. Six more states followed from 9 January to 1 February 1861. On 4 February 1861, these states held a convention in Montgomery, Alabama to form the Confederacy. Jefferson Davis was elected President. These seven states began to seize federal property within their borders as President Buchanan, a lame duck, took no action. Fort Sumter, in the harbor of Charleston, SC remained in federal hands, but was besieged and running low on supplies. On 12 April Confederate forces fired on and captured Fort Sumter. Within days, President Lincoln called for the Union States to furnish 75,000 troops. This prompted four Upper South states to secede and join the Confederacy. On 29 May 1861, Richmond, Virginia became the capital of the Confederacy (Woodworth, 2000).

IV. Challenges of the Infant Confederacy

The main challenge that the infant Confederacy faced was the lack of support from…

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