Why Did the Confederate States Secede?
Entire Unit | South Carolina | Georgia | Mississippi | Texas |
of the Missouri Compromise of 1820.
View the map and become familiar with the location
of the free states, the slave states, the regions identified
as U.S. territories, the regions identified as not belonging
to the U.S., and the 36º30' line. By clicking on each state,
students can bring up statistical information about each state
in the year 1820, compiled by reference to the U.S. Bureau of
the Census from the Department of Commerce. Students will find
particularly interesting the statistics of their own state, if
it existed by 1820.
Visualizing Secession and Conflict
NOTE: This materials
is from the Learning Page at the Library of Congress
President James Buchanan,
in his last State of the Union message to Congress (December
movement toward secession. When Lincoln’s victory in the presidential
election was confirmed, South Carolina called for a state convention
and by unanimous vote seceded from the Union on December 20,
1860. By February 1, 1861, six states in the lower South—Mississippi,
Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas—followed South
Carolina, leaving the Union in rapid succession. Buchanan took
no overt action as these states seceded. Some of his advisors
were sympathetic to the South. Secretary of War John Floyd
resigned his office after being implicated in a plot to defraud
Before leaving office and returning to his native Virginia,
Floyd transferred war materials from Pittsburgh to arsenals in
and Texas. The Confederacy seized firearms and ammunition held
in federal arsenals in their respective states.
Passage through Baltimore Before Lincoln’s inauguration on
March 4, 1861, Jefferson Davis of Mississippi had been elected
inaugurated president of the Confederate States of America.
Davis called on other slave- holding states to join the CSA.
Maryland and Virginia, the states that surrounded the nation’s
capital, were pressured to secede, but neither had joined the
Confederacy by March 1861.
The president-elect traveled by train to Washington in February,
making public appearances along the route until he reached Maryland.
Warned of an assassination plot in Baltimore, Lincoln traveled
the last leg of his trip in secret, boarding a special train
Floyd off for the South. [Pictorial envelope].
Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress
Floyd on galloping horse carrying bags of money. Tan envelope
with black ink. Image on left.
All that the seceding states ask is to "let alone."
Passage through Baltimore by John Volck.
Etching, Baltimore, 1863. Prints and Photographs Division,
Library of Congress
Lincoln, dressed as a
Union soldier, on his way to Washington by train (according
to Weitenkampf, to be inaugurated), peers
timidly out of the door in Baltimore and is scared by a hissing
cat. May refer to the passage of Union troops through Baltimore
on April 19, 1861.
Examine the two illustrations above and answer the following
- What two events in the period between the election of 1860
and Lincoln’s inauguration do these illustrations depict?
- How are
the two illustrations similar? How are the two different?
Summarize each artist’s position in one sentence.
Library of Congress has a relevant primary resource for this
During the Civil War: The Diary of Horatio Nelson Taft, 1861-1865.
South Carolina seceded from the Union
on December 20, 1860, about two weeks before Horatio Nelson
Taft's first diary entry, January 1, 1861:
The old year passed away in gloom and sadness and the
new one opens today without affording one hopeful ray of
to the future. There seems to be a determination on the part
of nearly the whole south to break up the Government. The
Comrs [commissioners] from S.C. are still here and little is
in the City about what is taking place betwen them and the
President & Cabinet.
From "The Diary of Horatio Nelson Taft, 1861-1865, Volume
1, January 1, 1861"
Even before South Carolina issued its
Ordinance of Secession, the state pressed President Buchanan
for the transfer of federal
forts and arsenals to the state. With secession, Forts Moultrie
and Sumter became the focal issue. Major Robert Anderson, commander
of the garrison at Fort Moultrie, recognized that it was indefensible
and moved his garrison to the more secure Fort Sumter in Charleston
harbor. South Carolina demanded that Anderson return his garrison
to Fort Moultrie and sent commissioners to Washington at the
end of December to negotiate a settlement. Although the President
originally seemed amenable, considerable pressure from throughout
the North convinced him to terminate negotiations. On January
2, 1861, Taft reported that Buchanan had "…refused to acknowledge
the Commissioners as being anything more than distinguished citizens
from the State of S.C."
What was the significance of recognizing the commissioners as
nothing more than "distinguished citizens" from South
A General History of Fort Pulaski from the
National Park Service
This resource has an archeological viewpoint
and provides details about the fort's construction and
signficance in the Civil war.
Gulf Islands National Seahore in Mississippi from
the National Park Service
has two interesting places with a Civil War connection: Fort
Jefferson Davis and Mississippi
As a U.S. senator
from Mississippi, Jefferson Davis had tried to keep the Union
from the Union, however, Davis became a Confederate man.
Background Information: Jefferson
Davis was President Franklin Pierce's Secretary of War.
While Davis achieved fame as President of the Confederate
States of America, he represented Mississippi in Washington
as a member
of both the House and the Senate. Davis was elected as
a Representative to the 29th Congress in 1845 and served one
year before resigning
to command the First Regiment of Mississippi Riflemen in
the war with Mexico. He distinguished himself at Monterrey
General Zachary Taylor and at Buena Vista. In 1847, Davis
was appointed to the U.S. Senate to fill the vacancy caused
the death of Jesse Speight. He became a leading defender
of states rights. Davis was subsequently elected, and in
he resigned from the Senate and ran for governor unsuccessfully.
After serving as Pierce's Secretary of War from 1853 to
1857, Davis was again elected to the U.S. Senate where he served
from 1857 until Mississippi seceded from the Union in January
January 21, 1861
Jefferson Davis' Farewell
From the US Senate website
any standard, this scene has to rank as one of the most dramatic
events ever enacted in the chamber of the United States
Senate. Would-be spectators arrived at the Capitol before
sunrise on a frigid January morning. Those who came after
finding all gallery seats taken, frantically attempted
to enter the already crowded cloakrooms and lobby adjacent
Just days earlier, the states of Mississippi, Florida,
and Alabama had joined South Carolina in deciding to secede
the Union. Rumors flew that Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas
would soon follow.
On January 21, 1861, a fearful capital city awaited the farewell
addresses of five senators. One observer sensed "blood
in the air" as the chaplain delivered his prayer at high
noon. With every senator at his place, Vice President John
Breckinridge postponed a vote on admitting Kansas as a free
state to recognize senators from Florida and Alabama.
When the four senators completed their farewell addresses,
all eyes turned to Mississippi's Jefferson Davis—the acknowledged
leader of the South in Congress. Tall, slender, and gaunt at
the age of 52, Davis had been confined to his bed for more
than a week. Suffering the nearly incapacitating pain of facial
neuralgia, he began his valedictory in a low voice. As he proceeded,
his voice gained volume and force.
I rise, Mr. President, for the purpose of announcing
to the Senate that . . . the state of Mississippi . . . has
declared her separation from the United States." He explained
that his state acted because "we are about to be deprived
in the Union of the rights which our fathers bequeathed to
us." Davis implored his Senate colleagues to work for
a continuation of peaceful relations between the United States
and the departing states. Otherwise, he predicted, interference
with his state's decision would "bring disaster on
every portion of the country.
Absolute silence met the conclusion of his six-minute address.
Then a burst of applause and the sounds of open weeping swept
the chamber. The vice president immediately rose to his feet,
followed by the 58 senators and the mass of spectators as Davis
and his four colleagues solemnly walked up the center aisle
and out the swinging doors.
Later, describing the "unutterable grief" of that
occasion, Davis said that his words had been "not my utterances
but rather leaves torn from the book of fate."
Citation: Davis, William C. Jefferson Davis: The Man
and His Hour, A Biography. New York: HarperCollins, 1991.
the US Senate website, Profiles in Courage by John
Sam Houston earned his place in Profiles in
Courage by his refusal to support the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. This
bill repealed the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and would have
allowed the residents of territories from Iowa to the Rocky Mountains
to decide the slavery issue themselves. A Southerner by birth
and one of the first two Senators from Texas, Houston felt that
the act would further divide the Union. He tangled with the powerful
John C. Calhoun, saying that Calhoun was trying to destroy the
Union by introducing the legislation. He was the sole Southern
Democrat to vote against the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Houston’s constituents
were furious and rumors of his political demise were rampant.
Not one to engage in a defensive fight, Houston announced his
plan to run for governor of Texas as an independent—while he
was still in the Senate. Despite his oratorical gifts and sheer
physical presence, the citizens of Texas did not forget his “anti-Southern”
vote against the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Houston was defeated for
the governorship and was dismissed from the Senate by the Texas
legislature in 1857. However, two years later he was asked to
come out of retirement to again run for governor of Texas, and
his election was a major setback to Southern pro-slavery extremists.
In February 1861, despite Houston’s valiant attempts to stop
it, the Texas legislature voted to secede from the Union. His
refusal to take the oath of allegiance to the Confederacy led
to his ouster as governor in March 1861.
- The First Inaugural Address (1861)—Defending
the American Union
How did Lincoln defend the American union from states seeking to leave or "secede" from
This lesson examines Lincoln's First Inaugural Address to understand why
he thought his duty as president required him to treat secession as an act
of rebellion and not a legitimate legal or constitutional action by disgruntled