THE ROAD TO DISUNION
Volume II: Secessionists Triumphant, 1854-1861
By William W. Freehling
Illustrated. 605 pp. Oxford University Press. $13
In his second volume of The Road to Disunion, William W. Freehling explores the climax of the secessionist movement in the American South. “Secessionists Triumphant, 1854-1861” takes the reader from the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which reignited anti-slavery controversy in the territories, to the opening shots of the War Between the States at Fort Sumter. Long a thwarted minority, secessionists emerged from the political wilderness in these years and fatefully tore the White Republic asunder.
White Nationalists will be surprised to learn that Freehling’s revisionist interpretation of secession challenges the conventional wisdom on the topic. Every American teenager is taught in high school that Southerners stormed out of the Union over their failure to expand slavery in the territories. The Republican Party would have carved out new free states in the West. Eventually, free soilers would have achieved the necessary 3/4th majority to abolish slavery in the South. Thus, Southerners had no choice but to secede and form their own independent nation, as slavery was doomed within the Union.
Freehling uses multiple lines of evidence to undermine this argument. He points out that the most important secessionists, the South Carolina hotspurs, were the least enthusiastic about national expansion. Their champion John C. Calhoun had warned that the Mexican Cession would poison the Union. Likewise, the most important expansionists, the New Orleans imperialists, were among the strongest unionists. South Carolina had wanted to secede from the Union since 1850 and was deterred only because no other state would follow. The Kansas controversy that ensued in the mid-1850s didn’t precipitate the crisis. In the hearts and minds of South Carolinians, the fateful decision for disunion had been made long ago.
Far from being a beleagured minority, the Slave Power had been chalking up one victory after another, and making ever more extreme demands on their Northern colleagues. Texas was annexed to the Union in 1846. The Far Southwest was acquired in the Mexican Cession. The Wilmot Proviso was repeatedly defeated. In the Compromise of 1850, slaveholders had won a new fugitive slave law. The Whig Party was tried and convicted of treason to slavery in the Lower South. In the Kansas-Nebraska Act, the Missouri Compromise was repealed and all the territories were flung open to slavery. In the Dred Scott decision, Congress was stripped of its power to abolish slavery in the territories and free blacks lost their citizenship. Finally, Stephen Douglas defeated Abraham Lincoln in an 1858 Illinois Senate race. The Republican Party grew only because of the seemingly insatiable demands of slaveholders who had never been more powerful.
The Western territories which allegedly were the cause of disunion were largely unsuited for plantation agriculture. Slavery wasn’t about to establish itself in New Mexico, Utah, or Nebraska. This was no real loss: planters had an overabundance of land in more tropical Arkansas and Texas waiting to be exploited. Free states like California and Oregon also usually voted with the South in Congress. In Kansas, a mere 200 slaves were imported into the territory. Southerners knew the North would settle the region with their far larger population. Even if Kansas had been admitted as a slave state under the Lecompton constitution, it wouldn’t have remained one a dozen years later.
Under close examination, disunion seems even more bizarre. Southerners were outraged at Northerners who wanted to ban slavery in the territories, but in seceding from the Union they renounced their claim to all the territories. Southerners worried about the erosion of slavery in the Border South, but in seceding from the Union they abolished slavery in the region. Southerners were worried that non-slaveholders would flock to a Southern Republican Party, but secession divided Virginia and produced thousands of anti-Confederates in East Tennessee, North Alabama, and Western North Carolina. Southerners worried about servile insurrection, but nothing was more likely to produce that result than a Civil War!
The “Black Republican” threat was vastly exaggerated. Only 2% of Northerners wanted to abolish slavery where it already existed. The Republicans only wished to ban slavery in places it could never take root. They had lost on that point in the Kansas-Nebraska Act and Dred Scott decision. In 1860/1861, the Republicans were willing to pass an irrevocable constitutional amendment that would have legalized slavery forever in the Southern states, including the Border South where it was imperiled. Abraham Lincoln even conceded that he wouldn’t use patronage to create a Southern Republican Party in the Lower South.
Lincoln’s election, the proximate cause of disunion, was desired by secessionists like William Lowndes Yancey and Robert Barnwell Rhett. Yancey deliberately used an abstract debate over a congressional slave code to divide the Democratic Party, defeat Stephen Douglas’ candidacy, and ensure a Lincoln victory. This outrage could then be exploited to drive a handful of the most radical states out the Union. The more reluctant Gulf States would then be forced to secede with their brethren. If Lincoln chose to coerce a seceded state, this would force Upper South (and hopefully the Border South) into a Southern Confederacy.
It boggles the mind: secessionists diligently went to work destroying their national political party through which they had lately controlled the Presidency, Congress, and the Supreme Court. If the Democrats had united behind Douglas, they could have defeated the Republicans in 1860. If slaveholders had conceded inhospitable and unwinnable territories within the Union, as they did by leaving the Union, the Republican Party would have faded. Slavery would have been ensconced in an impregnable constitutional fortress. There is no telling when it may have ultimately been abolished.
The revolution the secessionists incited thrust men into power who had not championed disunion. Jefferson Davis, Confederate President, had been a Washington insider and favorite of James Buchanan. He had opposed secession until 1860. Alexander Stephens, Confederate Vice President, opposed Georgia’s secession from the Union. Robert Toombs, Confederate Secretary of State, was a unionist who opposed Georgia secession in 1850. Christopher Memminger, Confederate Treasury Secretary, had been a Cooperationist. The Confederate government was stacked with other late comers. Noticeably absent were the Fire Eaters (Robert Barnwell Rhett and William Lowndes Yancey) who prodded the South to disunion.
These men exploited several issues to drive a wedge between North and South. Robert Barnwell Rhett hoped the Republicans would revisit the issue of abolishing slavery in Washington, DC. Maybe that could be used to dissolve the Union. Yancey argued for reopening the African slave trade in the hope that it would alienate Northern Democrats. Kansas and Caribbean expansion were also seen as useful devices for justifying disunion. Ultimately, the congressional slave code with the abstract “when necessary” language proved the most lethal and effective weapon.
South Carolina set the chain of dominos in motion. There haughty lowcountry aristocrats had long despised American mobocracy and yearned for deliverance. Touchy Southwesterners in Alabama and Mississippi could not tolerate the dishonor of being morally stigmatized or excluded from any territory. They could also not tolerate the decision of the Buchanan administration to coerce South Carolina by sending the Star of the West to resupply Fort Sumter. Florida and Georgia followed their neighbors. Louisiana and Texas cast their lot with their sister states.
The Upper South decisively rejected secession until Lincoln decided to coerce the Confederacy. The Whites in these states felt South Carolinians had been foolish and unwise, but did not contest their right to secede. Lincoln’s violation of states’ rights took Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Tennessee out of the Union. In the Border South, 1/3 of Whites sided with the Confederacy; 2/3 with the Union. Missouri, Kentucky, and Maryland degenerated into civil war.
William W. Freehling searched in vain for a rational explanation for disunion. Wasn’t there an “irrepressible conflict” between the Free States and Slave States? His research uncovered an untidy variety of causes as divergent as the various subregions of the South. Some Southerners were swept along by the excitement and momentum of events beyond their control. Some felt they were being treated as less than equals. Some despised Yankee holier-than-thous. Some felt that slavery would be safer in a Southern Confederacy. Some believed that Northern protectionists were fleecing them with high tariffs. Some would side with their own misguided kin. Some did not believe the federal government could coerce a seceded state. Most subscribed to some combination of these grievances.
It is worth noting that the demise of the White Republic was a self inflicted blow on American civilization. Northerners and Southerners heaped up their own funeral pyre over insoluble sectional differences. Jews did not play an important role in the final unraveling. The reconstructed nation that emerged from the carnage would elevate negroes to civil and political equality. A few years earlier, this had been an unthinkable scenario except in the minds of the wildest fanatics like John Brown. If there is any useful lesson that White Nationalists can draw from this, it is that White fratricide always works to the advantage of our racial enemies.
Isn’t it correct to say that many Abolitionists didn’t support negro equality but rather racial separation? They wanted to end slavery to end the spread of blacks throughout the United States, right?
I have been meaning to research this but I lack the time.
The abolitionists were always unpopular in the North. Only 2% of Northerners wanted to abolish slavery in the South. Most Northerners were anti-slavery in the sense that they wanted to keep blacks out of the territories.
Another superb piece; thanks for your meticulous and concise delivery on these issues.
The last sentence of the review says a lot. White fratricide is a fast track to racial suicide. The last 150 years of hubris, delusion and tomfoolery has led us to the current brink of racial self-destruction. Due to our short sightedness, and the deeply embedded, subversive aliens within, our racial enemies are now massing for the kill.
The same thing happened in the aftermath of the Second World War: racial attitudes were liberalized in the American North after the Yankee war effort became identified with expanding liberty and equality.
I wouldn’t underestimate the role played by the Jews in starting the war between the states.
William J. Cooper in his magnificent biography of Jefferson Davis, tells the story of how the Jew Judah Benjamin nearly wrecked the political career of Jeff Davis.
Benjamin a US Senator from Louisana had enough clout in Mississippi to portray Davis as being soft on slavery, because of Daivs took a pragmatic attitude towards that pecuilar institution mentioned in the review.
My guess is if a historian ever evaluates the actions of the Jews in Charleston, SC, Savannah, Georgia, and elsewhere along the Southern coast they will find that the Jews had a lot to do with formenting the war between the states.
Btw, I believe that the “Franklin Prophecy” attributed to CHARLES COTESWORTH PINCKNEY is probably true to some extent!
If there is any useful lesson that White Nationalists can draw from this, it is that White fratricide always works to the advantage of our racial enemies.
It’s just been unfortunate that the wrong sides have been winning. If the South had won, or Germany had won, we’d be better off. I think the former would have helped the latter win.
If the Confederacy had won its independence, we would still be living in a White Republic right now. I think slavery would have persisted into the 1880s or 1890s. Northern Mexico and Cuba would have probably been acquired. Slaves would have drained out of the Upper South to the Lower South and from there into Mexico and the Caribbean.
Hunter, the Jew writer Mackinlay Kantor would agree with you. LOL.
In reality, the South lost the fight, but, won the war. Minus slavery the status quo was maintained for a hundred years until the Southern corporate elites & politicians, for the most part, sold out in the 1960’s. That sellout has been ongoing and now effects all White Americans.
“The abolitionists were always unpopular in the North. Only 2% of Northerners wanted to abolish slavery in the South. Most Northerners were anti-slavery in the sense that they wanted to keep blacks out of the territories.”
Glad you have come around on this. The abolitionists weren’t exactly unpopular in the North though, many Northerners were abolitionists. The radical abolitionists who sought racial equality were only a very small minority of degenerate Northern elites. I’m sure that more than 2% of Northerners wanted to end slavery in the South by the time of the Civil War. What is the source of that claim? Even Thomas Jefferson wrote about his desire to see slavery ended.
I don’t think a Confederacy that annexed Cuba and Northern Mexico would have remained a White Republic. Just by doing that it would have become dramatically less white, probably putting whites in the minority. It would likely have developed Latin American racial mores with more mixing and migration from newly acquired territories to the Confederate states.
1. Most whites wanted blacks gone; it was a pity that GREED drove the Southern Whites to hang on to their blacks who did “Jobs Americans won’t do.” Southerners come from the same race that brutalized the Irish well into the 20th Century: the “Scots-Irish”. There can be no salvation of the white race while some clans harangue others. It was the immigrant labor force of the north that warred down the superior aristocratic fighting men of the south. The Southerners killed America (as they continue to do) and they would have been better off if they spent their war fury against the blacks, or at least shipped them back to Africa. I spit on them.
2. It is wrong to say that Jews played no major role in Abolition: Christianity is a sect of Judaism. It teaches people to be weak so that they can be ruled by Jewish priests. Where Christianity ascends the white race declines, and vice versa.
“Christianity is a sect of Judaism. It teaches people to be weak so that they can be ruled by Jewish priests. Where Christianity ascends the white race declines, and vice versa” This is the same malarkey that we hear from Tom Sunic from time to time. Christianity has very little to do with Judaism. It is based on the New Testament, which is completely separate from anything the Jews ever believed in. Perhaps you should try comparing the Talmud with the New Testament, and find out how many similarities you find before making your suggestion. If Christianity makes people weak, how is it that the West thrived for 1500 years under this religion, conquering the rest of the world? In fact, the greatest and toughest men in the history of our civilization were Christians. In the civil war period under discussion, the greatest generals involved, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, were devout adherents of Christianity. The decline of the White civilization and populations, which began in earnest in the 1960s, coincided with the decline of Christianity, not its rise.
If you want to judge this religion, it would make more sense to compare Christian nations with secular ones, to see what works better. The Europeans are much more secular than the US, how has this helped them? They are having as few children as possible, and are no model for a strong civilization. As a matter of fact, the healthiest White families out there today are those that are strongly Christian; they are the ones avoiding the popular culture and homeschooling their children.
What bothers me about atheists is not their beliefs, I could care less what they believe. The problem is that in their anti-Christian fanaticism, they seem incapable of making rational judgements on the issue. They want to attack ancient institutions based on some emotional impulse.
The plantation elite was NOT Scots-Irish. There were, however, plenty of Scots-Irish in the ranks on BOTH sides of the conflict.
“The Southerners killed America (as they continue to do) and they would have been better off if they spent their war fury against the blacks, or at least shipped them back to Africa.”
It’s kind of difficult to find fault with White Southerners for being more concerned about the invading army of White Folks from the north than the chained Negros at home.
Interesting, but either you or the book got several points wrong:
“If the Democrats had united behind Douglas, they could have defeated the Republicans in 1860.” APE Lincoln got more of the electoral vote than the other candidates COMBINED.
“Touchy Southwesterners in Alabama and Mississippi could not tolerate the dishonor of being morally stigmatized or excluded from any territory. They could also not tolerate the decision of the Buchanan administration to coerce South Carolina by sending the Star of the West to resupply Fort Sumter.” We were already going out–the timing of the firing on her on the 9th had little if anything to do with leaving …
“South Carolina had wanted to secede from the Union since 1850 and was deterred only because no other state would follow. The Kansas controversy that ensued in the mid-1850s didn’t precipitate the crisis. In the hearts and minds of South Carolinians, the fateful decision for disunion had been made long ago.” SC wanted to leave since the 1830s! If it wasn’t fer “bleeding Kansas” & John Brown, why didn’t we leave @ the Nashville Convention IN 1850?
The BIGGEST problem with WN, is there has never been a White Nation, whereas there was, and continues to be a SOUTHERN NATION!
“Sic Semper Tyrannis” Tribes, not empire …
Freehling is the source.
John Wilkes Booth,
The Confederacy wasn’t a nation in any real sense of the word. It was a league of sovereign states. Southern nationalism was born during the war and especially during the occupation that followed. Southerners felt far more like nation in the 1880s than the 1860s.
When I speak of the White Republic, I am referring to the universal antebellum sentiment that America was a “white man’s country.” This was reflected both in law and culture. The Ku Klux Klan and White League fought a guerilla war against the United States to restore the White Republic in the South.
I can’t fault Southerners for seceding from the United States. If the Confederacy had won its independence, it definitely wouldn’t have imported millions of Jews from Eastern Europe to work in its non-existent industries.
You also forgot to mention the fact that Upper and Border South were more supportive of African deportation than any other region of the country. Virginia and Maryland had their own colonies in West Africa.
An independent Confederacy would have continued to suck negroes out of the Upper South (where cotton wasn’t grown) and the Atlantic South (where the soil was exhausted). In 1861, Charleston had a White majority for the first time ever.
Cuba and Mexico started out as “white man’s countries” in that sense too.
Good piece Hunter.
Kudos also to Travis, John Wilkes Booth and especially Andrew! The Old South was overtly Christian, just like us Kinist. You can not separate Christianity from the likes of our heroes Lee, Jackson, Davis to name but a few.
One thing worth mentioning is timing, as in *”Too late”. Too late is how General MacArthur summed up failure in war. The Fire Eaters were correct in their assessment of where the Northern Abolitionist /Unitarians would take the Southern people. Unfortunately, at the 1850ad Nashville Convention, they did not have enough support from the Southern people to leave the Union. It is clear that Succession in 1850ad would have been bloodless. Not so in 1861ad, too late. Timing is important in any movement/war.
The Forced Union is falling apart right now, via Mexican Irredentism and other massive non-White Invasion.
God save part o the South for White people !
“The history of the failure of war can almost be summed up in two words: too late.
* Too late in comprehending the deadly purpose of a potential enemy.
* Too late in realizing the mortal danger.
* Too late in preparedness.
* Too late in uniting all possible forces for resistance.
* Too late in standing with one’s friends.”
– General Douglas Macarthur