Dwight T. Pitcaithley on Florida and Southern Secession
I am pleased to share the following comment that was left on the last post by Dwight T. Pitcaithley. Dr. Pitcaithley worked for many years as the chief historian in the National Park Service and now teaches history at New Mexico State University. He is also responsible for uncovering Florida’s unpublished declaration of causes. He has some interesting observations and given that the other thread is impossible to follow I thought it might be helpful to start a new one.
This has been an interesting exchange that points out, yet again, the importance of primary sources in understanding the past.
The Florida declaration of secession has to be placed in a different category from the other four declarations. Not only was it never approved by Florida’s secession cenvention, it is a hand-written draft that, we assume, was not even approved by the comittee charged with developing it. Why the convention aborted the effort mid-way through the process remains — for now — a bit of a mystery.
The other “official” declarations stand as the best and most authorative justifications for secession available to us today. South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi, and Texas specifically developed their declarations to explain to the people of those states (and to the nation as a whole) why they voted to secede. Having studied them at length, and the convention journals from which they emerged, I see no reason why we should not take them at their word. All of them make clear that the rise of the Republican Party and the election of a Republican president threatened the continued existence of the institution of slavery. As Mississippi declared: There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin.
In answer to an earlier question, all four of the declarations make some mention of John Brown’s raid.
For an interesting twist on the tariff issue, look at Georgia’s declaration which takes some pains to argue that while the tariff was an important subject earlier in the nation’s history, it did not play a role the secession movement of the late 1850s and early 1860s.