Monday, April 23, 2018

Confederate "Heritage" Month 2018, April 23: Secession in Mississippi and the issue that prompted it

Earlier this month, I quoted from an essay by Percy Lee Rainwater (1888-1964) on the politics of secession in antebellum Mississippi. He also had a book on the topic, Mississippi: Storm Center of Secession, 1856-1861 (1938), which incorporates the previously mentioned essay.

Rainwater describes in some detail the members of the Secession Convention that declared secession in 1861 , including their professions and major factions in the secession debate. He constructed this instructive table on the 100 members of the convention relying on The Mississippi Slave Schedule for 1860:

Out of 100 members of the convention, all but 18 directly owned other human beings as property. Using the lower end of the range, members of the Secession Convention owned at the very minimum 2,599 slaves among them. At the mid-range, the number of slaves owned would be 3,364.

But Rainwater is clearly impressed with this group in this 1938 book, describing it as "having every desire for the restraints of law and embracing no cabal of disappointed factionalists striving for illegitimate power." He even enthuses, "The convention was composed of some of the purest, the ablest, and the most opulent men in the state."

All but 18 of whom owned other human beings as property.

But, the neo-Confederates tell us, secession wasn't because of slavery. No, it was about Honor, Courage, Defense of Home, States Rights and it was all the fault of the damnyankees, anyway.

Oddly, though, even in Rainwater's account, they seemed to have been singularly focused on a particular issue:
All members of the convention, of whatever party — although finding the doctrine of States Rights both a convenient plea in estoppel of Northern aggression and, in the case of almost all, a legal right of secession — were united upon the great question that the institution of slavery ought and must at all hazards be preserved. The best means to be employed for making secure the institution of slavery was the sole great question which divided the convention. Every other question was incidental to, and revolved about, this one question upon which all were agreed. [my emphasis]

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