JANUARY—JUNE 1861: The South secedes
South Carolina seceded in December 1860. During the months of January and February 1861, six more states secede: Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas. Leaders in these states believe that, despite his promises, Abraham Lincoln will abolish slavery. After a long pause, four more states leave the Union in April and May 1861: Virginia, Arkansas, and North Carolina, with Tennessee being the last to secede on 8 June 1861. These eleven states form the Confederate States of America.
By William Wiswell
This anti-Confederate satire is a vision of the Union defeat of the secessionist movement. A monster representing secession emerges from the water at left. He is hit by a charge from a mammoth cannon “Death to Traitors!” operated by Uncle Sam (right). The explosion sends several small demons, representing the secessionist states, hurling through the air. Prominent among them is South Carolina, in a coffin at upper right. Tennessee and Kentucky, two Southern states internally divided over the secession question, are represented by two-headed creatures. Virginia, though part of the Confederacy, is also shown divided–probably an acknowledgment of the Appalachian and eastern regions’ alignment with the Union. Among the demons is a small figure of Tennessee senator and 1860 presidential candidate John Bell, with a bell-shaped body. In the foreground is a large American flag on which Winfield Scott, commander of the Union forces, and a bald eagle rest.
7 JANUARY 1861: Governor calls for a secession convention
Tennessee Governor Isham Harris, a secessionist from West Tennessee, convenes a special session of the Tennessee General Assembly on 7 January 1861. Harris asks the lawmakers to approve a convention to consider the state’s position on secession. However, the legislators do not believe they have the authority to call a State Convention without a vote of the people. They call for a referendum in which all Tennessee voters will decide whether a secession convention should be held, setting the date for 9 February 1861.
JANUARY 1861: Parson Brownlow
Pro-Union newspapers accuse Governor Harris of treason. William G. Brownlow, editor of the Knoxville Whig, particularly despises Governor Harris and says so daily in the pages of his newspaper. As a minister in a previous life, Brownlow acquired the nickname ‘Parson.’ He became well known in the late 1830s and early 1840s as editor and publisher of the Knoxville Whig. He believes strongly in his principles and personally attacks his political opponents, sometimes to the point of bodily harm. Against slavery in decades past, during the Civil War, Brownlow returns to his anti-slavery views, going so far as to call for emancipation. He also staunchly opposes secession.
By 1861, the Knoxville Whig has 14,000 loyal subscribers, and some secessionists accuse Brownlow of being the root cause of the stubborn Unionist sentiment in East Tennessee. Knoxville Democrats try to counter Brownlow’s editorials by supporting the Knoxville Register, East Tennessee’s dominant newspaper. Radical secessionist Jacob Austin Sperry edits the Register, but he flees when USA General Ambrose Burnside takes possession of Knoxville in September 1863.
9 JANUARY 1861: Shall Tennessee submit?
In the House of Representatives yesterday, Mr. [William H.] Wisener of Bedford [County], presented a series of resolutions declaring against the policy of holding a State Convention, as proposed by Governor Harris, … We must confess that we were not prepared to expect such broad indications towards submission, from any member of the Tennessee Legislature. But for charity sake we take it for granted Mr. Wisener has not lately paid much attention to the political events of the day, and is especially ignorant as to what has been lately transpiring in Congress.
For we cannot see how any Southern man, who is at all familiar with the history of the times, can in his capacity as the Representative of a Southern constituency, in a Southern Legislature solemnly declare it inexpedient for the people of his State to hold a convention and determine whether they will resist or submit to the Abolition rule now about to be inaugurated [Abraham Lincoln]. … No event of the future can be put down as more certain than that Tennessee will resist … [Tennessee will resist the actions of the Federal government.]
~ Nashville Daily Gazette
20 JANUARY 1860: Is secession the answer?
The Rev. Dr. Robert J. Breckinridge writes an open letter to his relative—Vice President John C. Breckinridge—calling for moderation in resolving the differences between North and South. This is an excerpt:
24 JANUARY 1861: The rhetoric is heating up
The state of New York offers men and money to the Federal Government “to be used in coercing certain sovereign States of the South into obedience to the Federal Government.” The Tennessee House responds by saying:
From a letter by W.W. Fergusson of Riddleton, Tennessee:
26 JANUARY 1861
We can never live in a Southern Confederacy and be made hewers of wood and drawers of water for a set of aristocrats, and over-bearing tyrants. We are candid in urging East Tennessee to withdraw from Middle and West Tennessee, if they shall be so reckless as to consent to go out of the Union. The people of East Tennessee are with us in this, and will demand it, sooner than be oppressed with direct taxes and forced loans. We have no interests in common with the Cotton States. We are a grain-growing and stock-raising people, and we can conduct a cheap Government … The vile and wicked leaders who have precipitated the revolution, will do none of the fighting, but will manage to hold civil and military offices, with large salaries, to pay for which, money will be wrung from the masses by a system of direct taxes. And these common people will themselves have to shoulder their knapsacks and muskets, and do the fighting.
~ Parson Brownlow, editor of the Knoxville Whig newspaper