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William C. Harris, ''The Southern Unionist Critique of the Civil War'' (1985)


William C. Harris, ''The Southern Unionist Critique of the Civil War'' (1985)


William C. Harris approaches the Civil War differently than other historians. He read and deciphered various speeches, letters, and books that were written by seventeen southern unionists, and patched them all together in order to provide the reader with a unionist perspective of the causes of secession.

The argument that Harris made in this article was that southern unionist believed that secession was premeditated. Moreover, South Carolina politicians had wanted to secede from the union for quite some time, but they knew that secession would not be successful without the support from other states. South Carolina, Harris argued, scared and manipulated other southern states into secession by making them believe that slavery was going to be abolished. Harris used quotes from southern unionists in order to support these arguments. The unionists’ opinions were very interesting because they illustrated exactly how divided most of the southern states were regarding the split from the union, and why they believed that the abolishment of slavery was a sentiment that had no foundation.

According to Harris and the unionists, the southern state politicians told their citizens that the election of Abraham Lincoln meant that the institution of slavery was in trouble, even though they knew that to be wrong. The unionists specifically pinpoint the politicians’ incentives for making that argument, and explain why that belief was so ludicrous. This article gave a clear understanding of how Harris, and the unionists felt about the secession of the southern United States.


Harris, William C.


Harris, William C. . “The Southern Unionist Critique of the Civil War,”. Journal of Civil War History 31, no.1 (1985): 40-45.




Harris, William C.



Original Format

Journal Article


Missing from these historiographical studies are the views of Southern Unionists. Although containing elements of both contemporary Northern and Confederate interpretations, the Unionist critique of the war is unique, providing insights into the Southern division over the war and Reconstruction, and reflecting the intensity of opinion that existed. It also provides a window into the minds of an often forgotten group of Southerners—and Americans...To them, the South had no distinctive past nor should it have a distinctive future, despite the presence of slavery which they did not see as conflicting with American ideals....

James W. Hunnicutt of Virginia expressed this sentiment when he wrote: "The infernal plot of treason against the Republic was long meditated, maturely digested, systematically planned, ingeniously infused into the minds and hearts of the people, and simultaneously acted out by the arch-leaders of the Gulf States....

As [Alexander H.] Jones [a North Carolinian] claimed, "the secession party, knowingly, purposely and premeditatedly, aided in the election of Mr. Lincoln." Botts wrote that during the presidential campaign secessionist speakers and newspaper editors filled the public mind "with the most frightful apprehensions. ... It was every where proclaimed that [Lincoln's] election would inevitably inaugurate a war against the institutions of the South, until thousands and tens of thousands of well-meaning and patriotic men were led to believe that their welfare, safety, and honor all depended upon the destruction of [the] government....

Excerpt Pages

40-41, 43, 45


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Harris, William C., William C. Harris, ''The Southern Unionist Critique of the Civil War'' (1985), Civil War Era NC, accessed July 17, 2024,