Slavery and Secession – The Documentary Evidence

Just a quick addendum to Ilya’s posts here and here about libertarianism, the Confederacy and the Civil War. I know it’s fashionable in some circles to argue that the Confederate states did not seceded in order to defend slavery. I’ve heard the arguments about tariffs and all that. In my mind, the most compelling counter-argument is found in the words of the Confederate states themselves, which made no secret that their desire to defend slave-holding was the reason they opted to secede. See for instance, the Declarations of South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi, and Texas. Note also the various Ordinances of Secession several of which make clear that the Confederacy is to consist of slaveholding states. These documents make it abundantly clear that slavery was the paramount concern of the seceding states.

One final point while I’m on the subject. While the cause of slavery is often identified with federalism and “states’ rights,” it’s also worth noting that the slaveholding states were anything but consistent advocates of states’ rights or limited federal power. Their view of the Fugitive Slave Clause and the various Fugitive Slave Acts made clear that they were all for a powerful federal government, so long as such power was used to force free states to cooperate in the maintenance of slavery as an institution, such as by assisting in the capture and return of alleged fugitive slaves. They sought to protect slavery, not to maintain some idealized federalist structure.