Book Review: The Rebuke Of Secession Doctrines

The Rebuke Of Secession Doctrines, by Southern Statesmen

It is unclear exactly what is meant by this short pamphlet published in 1863 and made up of generally familiar material from sources dealing with secession and its justification.  Printed in Philadelphia in 1863, this particular material, which was marked as being “printed for gratuitous distribution” seeks to present a non-partisan but generally nationalist perspective.  It appears that this particular pamphlet was organized by Unionist democrats as a way of demonstrating to others that one need not be a Republican partisan to oppose the folly of secession.  The material included is certainly very scattered in nature and there has been no attempt by an editor to weave the different texts, mostly transcripts of speeches, into a coherent whole, leaving the reader to read each of the sources individually and ponder whether or not they support the mentality and approach of the given speaker.  The end result is certainly appealing, but more than a little bit complex as war Democrats faced a difficult struggle to legitimize their hostility to secession but also their disagreement to the policies and approach adopted by Lincoln.  One can well respect the attempt by the publisher of this book to avoid the false dilemma between abolitionism and rebellion to present a support of Union that did not demand an end to the racist mentality that was represented by the rank-and-file of the Democratic political base of the early 1860’s.

The materials of this short work are as follows, taking up a total of 20 pages.  The book begins with an inside cover front and back of a short speech that praises (perhaps ironically) the draft riots of 1863 in New York by racist Irish mobs and points out the lack of actual loss suffered by the rebels in the period between Lincoln’s election and their treasonous deeds.  The titular essay in the book is from Andrew Jackson, that notable slaveowning Union Democrat, whose barbs directed at the rebelliousness of South Carolina during the Nullification Crisis of 1835 were certainly appropriate during the 1860’s as well and gave Union Democrats of the 1860’s someone whose approach they could support and endorse.  After that comes a deeply ironic use of Alexander Stephen’s earnest speech in favor of Union during the secession crisis in opposition to the regime that he ended up serving as Vice President.  After that comes a speech against rebellion by a Tennessee Unionist, one Horace Maynard, in the House of Representatives.  The final material comes from the refusal of a Georgia Democrat to secede from the Charleston Democratic Convention of 1860, which again points to the editor’s desire to support a robust but racist Unionism as Democrats.

It is easier to respect this work than it is to approve of it.  In the face of the Civil War, there were a great many people who could not deign to support the turn of the Lincoln Administration and Republicans in general against slavery who had and continued to vote Democratic.  Yet at the same time these Democrats, who were the political heirs of James Buchanan and Stephen Douglas, were genuine nationalists who did not wish to support disunion as their treasonous Southern brethren had.  While they had always been quick to compromise to seek the “justice” of Southern demands to preserve intraparty harmony, this desire to compromise did not entirely overcome their stern commitment to Unionism and American nationalism.  And this particular selection of works is certainly a testament to that Unionist sentiment that was preserved even in the midst of the Civil War in the mind of Democrats who supported the war insofar as it was devoted to Union, but who had no desire whatsoever to provide freedom, to say nothing of civil rights, to blacks.  If this strikes contemporary sentiments as contemptible, it was certainly an honest position that was held by many Americans, whether as War Democrats in the North or those who opposed secession in the South even after Fort Sumter.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American Civil War, American History, Book Reviews, History and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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