Opposition to Secession
“Without discussing here the propriety, or the wisdom of secession, it may well be suggested that such conduct displays an utter inability to appreciate the importance of the step contemplated by the parties concerned, and partakes more of the character of the sports of a set of liberated school children, than of that more serious spirit which is supposed to govern men who are about to undertake a great, and terrible responsibility- a responsibility involving the destruction of the greatest and best government under the sun.” These are the words of The Daily Herald, out of Wilmington, North Carolina, discussing South Carolina’s reaction to the election of 1860. (Item 271) North Carolinians seemed very critical of their sister state’s outcries of secession in reaction to Lincoln’s victory.
North Carolinians fought very hard to negotiate a compromise, even after many of its neighbors had already seceded. At the Democratic National Convention of 1860 in Charleston, South Carolina, North Carolina delegates seemed to be the lone voices appealing to both sides to agree on compromise. North Carolinians tried to negotiate not only with southern states, but also Democratic northern states. Northern and southern Democrats could not come to an agreement on any matter, and some southern delegates even left the convention. (Item 275) Secession, in the eyes of North Carolina citizens, was not an option in the early stages of the crisis.
North Carolinians did affirm the legality of a state’s right to secede. What they did not agree on was the moral right to secession. North Carolinians urged peace in any way possible, and they did not see any way that the secession of the states could be accomplished without the threat of war. Knowing that if one state left the Union, others would begin to fall in succession, and many states (including North Carolina) would be thrown into an ordeal against their wishes. The Daily Herald complained that “The State that secedes must pass through a baptism of blood, in which the garments of her surrounding sisters will be freely dipped, although against their will.” North Carolinians did not see the need to secede in 1860. No southern state’s rights had been violated, so states that seceded would be doing so in aggression, not in defense. The states that seceded would be violating the moral integrity on which the nation was founded and bring economic turmoil to the entire country. The citizens of North Carolina felt that the country was finally in relative peace with the world and that seceding states, particularly South Carolina agitated the government. (Item 271)
Besides the fear that secession would bring violence and devastation to the entire nation, North Carolinians worried that the conflicts that plagued the United States in the 1850s would become just as problematic in an independent Confederacy. North Carolinians believed there would be sectional tensions within a southern Confederacy, as the Upper South would become a new “North.” The states bordering North and South were less dependent on the institution of slavery. States in the Deep South feared that Border States would eventually abolish slavery and begin to pressure the Deep South to abolish the institution, much like the North-South conflict over slavery surrounding the election of 1860. North Carolinians therefore did not believe that secession would be the solution to problems facing the United States. If secession happened once, it could very well happen again. Such war and violence would hinder the country from any possible future economic growth as well as hurt many trade relations with other countries. North Carolinians feared that the nation might dig itself into a hole, from which it could never escape. (Item 276)
Some North Carolinians believed that by aggressively moving towards secession, the South would polarize the nation on the matter of slavery and force the federal government to write the abolition of slavery into the Constitution. The North Carolina Standard addressed this fear, stating that, “The end will be- Abolition!... The masses will at length rise up and destroy everything in their way.” Not only was the fear of abolition present for North Carolinians, but also the fear that multiple Confederacies would form, including one in the West. With war brewing in America, North Carolinians feared the European powers would support the North. (Item 278) With these fears ever present in the population, few were willing to risk war and disunion over an institution that, without secession, might survive. Secession in the eyes of North Carolinians was an extreme, unnecessary action, as long as compromise with the Union remained possible.