FEBRUARY 1861: Convention or No Convention

4 FEBRUARY 1861: The Seceded States Create a Government
At a convention in Montgomery, Alabama, delegates from the seven seceded states meet in Montgomery, Alabama, to establish a government, which they name the Confederate States of America. They also adopt a document similar to the United States Constitution, but with greater emphasis on the rights of each state. On 8 February, those states elect Jefferson Davis of Mississippi as the Confederacy’s first president.

7 FEBRUARY 1861: Newspaper article urging a pro-secession vote:
On Saturday next Tennesseans are to decide at the ballot-box the destiny of the State—to say whether they will go with their friends of the South or their enemies of the North. If you would have your State continue her connection with her Southern sisters—a connection of political equality, of interests, of sympathy, of affection—have upon your ticket the word “Convention” and the names of the Southern Rights candidate.
~ Nashville Daily Gazette

8 FEBRUARY 1861: “TENNESSEANS, DECIDE FOR TENNESSEE”
The voting tomorrow, although not at all decisive of the fate of this State, is of such importance to it, that the native Tennessean will do well to permit nothing but his own knowledge of the situation of the State, its requirements, and its honor to influence his vote. Sit down, Tennessean, to-night, reflect coolly and calmly on the lessons and teachings of your life; forget parties, sects and everything but your wife and little ones. Consider their needs and those of the business by [which] you feed, clothe and lodge them; be guided wholly and solely by your own judgment.
~ Memphis Daily Argus

9 FEBRUARY 1861: “THE CONVENTION.”
To-day the people of Tennessee are deciding whether the State convention shall be held, and who are their choices for delegates to that body. Although at this time nothing definite is known regarding the voice of the State, we have no doubt that the majority in favor of the convention will be very large. The next question which will come up is, whether or not the action of that convention shall be submitted to the people for ratification or rejection; whether the convention, composed as it will be of delegates of every shade of opinion, will be allowed the final disposition of a question involving the destiny of Tennessee, or whether the people after having been furnished with the action of that body, shall be permitted to either approve or disapprove those actions at the ballot box.
~ Memphis Daily Argus

9 FEBRUARY 1861: The vote against secession
In the election on February 9, old Vox Populi [the opinions of the majority] spoke emphatically. In regard to the calling of a Convention, the movement was rejected by a vote of 69,675 to 57,798—not a wide margin. The decision by the people was a significant one, in that the action of both Governor Harris and the General Assembly was rebuked. West Tennessee supported the convention; Middle Tennessee was almost equally divided; East Tennessee rejected it overwhelmingly.
~ Messages of the Governors of Tennessee

In the weeks following the February 9 vote against holding a secession convention, both secessionists and Unionists launched intensive public speaking campaigns in East Tennessee. The threat of violence underscored many of the rallies, and both sides were warned not to enter certain areas where their opponents held a strong majority.

10 FEBRUARY 1861: The Result
The people of Tennessee yesterday had an opportunity of saying through the ballot-box whether or not they desired the assembling of a State Convention… The indications are that a large majority voted for “No Convention.” However much we might have desired a different result, we feel fully satisfied that the proposition to hold a Convention has been defeated. The people have spoken, and we have naught to say against their decree. It may bring no harm, or it may remit evil only-which of the two will be known before the expiration of many days.
~ Nashville Daily Gazette

18 FEBRUARY 1861: Jefferson Davis inaugurated
Jefferson Davis is inaugurated President of the Southern Confederacy during a ceremony in Montgomery, Alabama. In his address he quotes from the U.S. Constitution and makes many references to armed conflict, primarily in regard to defense of Southern lands.
~  Chronology of Major Events Leading to Secession Crisis

28 FEBRUARY 1861
The House passes a measure supported by President-elect Lincoln which prohibits the federal government from interfering with slavery in states where it exists.
~  Chronology of Major Events Leading to Secession Crisis

JANUARY 1861: Secession Fever

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.

Secession Exploded
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.

http://civilwarquilts.blogspot.com/2018/10/the-caldwells-hard-shell-secessionists.html

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:

Wholly unable to comprehend how it can be to the interest of any State to secede from the Union—or how the right to secede can be considered anything else but purely revolutionary; and sees nothing in the past conduct of the Federal Government to justify secession if it were a constitutional remedy; nothing in the aspect of the times promising anything but disaster to the country, to every seceding State, and most especially to herself, from the application of any such remedy, whether by war, by revolution, by the formation of new confederacies, or by the secession of individual States.

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:

It is the opinion of this General Assembly, that whenever the authorities of that State shall send armed forces to the South for the purpose indicated in said resolutions, the people of Tennessee, uniting with their brethren of the South, will ‘welcome them with bloody hands to hospitable graves.’

From a letter by W.W. Fergusson of Riddleton, Tennessee:

Yes, we are all for fighting. Everybody is willing—even the ladies. … I think there is enough patriotism & bravery in this state to sustain the Southern confederacy against the United States troops and all the Yankees who dare accompany them. … The South will never unite with the North again—never.”

~ January 24, 1861

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

1860: Anti-Secession in Northeast Tennessee

1858—1865: Sub-Divisions in East Tennessee

The State of Tennessee comprises three Grand Divisions: West Tennessee, Middle Tennessee, and East Tennessee. There are even further divisions within East Tennessee—Southeast Tennessee, Knox County, and Northeast Tennessee—demonstrating how strongly each subdivision is attached to either the Union or the Confederacy. With new markets provided by the East Tennessee & Virginia Railroad—completed in 1858—Southeast Tennessee sells increased quantities of cash crops to the South and identifies more with the Confederacy. Knox County, once strongly Unionist, relates more with the Confederacy after Southern troops occupy Knoxville in July 1861. Northeast Tennessee remains primarily Unionist from the entrance of the railroad in 1858 until the close of the Civil War in 1865.

1 MARCH 1860: A Unionist speaks out

More than nine months before South Carolina secedes from the Union, a U.S. congressman speaks his mind at a political convention. William Brickly Stokes is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from DeKalb County, Tennessee (4 March 1859—4 March 1861). On 1 March 1860, Stokes expresses his opinion of secession at the Opposition Party’s State Convention:

It may be mischievous to lull the people into security by proclaiming that the Union cannot be dissolved; … that the ties of kindred blood, of a common lineage and language will prevent it; … and that, if nothing else should avail, the magnitude of material interest dependent upon the preservation of the Union will prevent its dismemberment. The Union cannot be saved by such teaching. It should be remembered that the ties of blood and natural affection are often broken by repeated wrongs; that a family quarrel, of all others, when entered upon, is the most bitter and relentless … No! The safety of the Union depends upon the united action and energies of all good men, North and South, and with the blessing of the God of our fathers upon their efforts, the Union can and will be preserved.

JUNE—DECEMBER 1860: Anti-secession campaign

Leaders in East Tennessee begin an anti-secession campaign and spend much of the latter part of 1860 holding meetings and speaking at rallies in counties throughout the region. Men such as Senator Andrew Johnson, Congressman Emerson Etheridge, Congressman Thomas A.R. Nelson, newspaper editor Parson Brownlow, and Horace Maynard, one of the few Southern congressmen to maintain his seat in the U.S. House of Representatives during the Civil War. This strong Unionist leadership early in the secession crisis is essential in keeping East Tennesseans loyal to the Union.

AUTUMN 1860: Governor Harris is working behind the scenes

During the presidential campaign of 1860,Tennessee Governor Isham Harris, a secessionist from West Tennessee, warns that the state must be ready to consider secession if the “reckless fanatics of the north” should gain control of the federal government. After Abraham Lincoln is elected President of the United States on 6 November 1860, Harris begins his own campaign to sever Tennessee’s ties with the United States. Southern Democrats, convinced that Lincoln would abolish slavery, begin calling for secession.

20 DECEMBER 1860: Why can’t everyone live free?

When Abraham Lincoln, a known opponent of slavery, is elected president in November 1860, the South Carolina legislature call a state convention. On 20 December 1860 the delegates vote 169 to 0 to leave the United States of America. This is the culmination of decades of debate between the North and the South about slavery and extending slavery into new Federal territories.

25 DECEMBER 1860: Is the Union lost?

During the secession crisis in Tennessee, most people in the state are not much interested in leaving the Union. However, as secession fever reaches the Unionist counties in Northeast Tennessee, more and more people sense impending conflict. As far away as the state capital of Nashville, a lawyer writes on Christmas Day 1860:

I am of the opinion that our beloved Union is drawing to an ignominious end. Lincoln has been elected President & the whole South is shaken from center to circumference—God grant that we may be preserved from civil war & a servile insurrection.




William L. B. Lawrence Diary

SOURCES

“Civil War Sourcebook,” Thousands of articles chronicling the Civil War in Tennessee, accessed 9 February 2021, https://www.tnsos.net/TSLA/cwsourcebook/index.php    

“East Tennessee Convention of 1861,” Civil War Wiki, accessed 10 February 2021, https://civilwar.wikia.org/wiki/East_Tennessee_Convention_of_1861

“Historical Markers and War Memorials in Tennessee,” Historical Marker Database, accessed 10 February 2021, https://www.hmdb.org/results.asp?State=Tennessee                  

Meredith Anne Grant, “Internal Dissent: East Tennessee’s Civil War, 1849-1865,”2008,Electronic Theses and Dissertations, East Tennessee State University, accessed 24 March 2021, https://dc.etsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=3314&context=etd

“Timeline 1861,” Civil War Glass Negatives and Related Prints, Articles and Essays, Library of Congress, accessed 10 February 2021, https://www.loc.gov/collections/civil-war-glass-negatives/articles-and-essays/time-line-of-the-civil-war/1861/

“William Brickly Stokes,” Wikipedia, accessed 18 January 2021, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Brickly_Stokes