Secession Debated: Georgia's Showdown in 1860

Overview

The critical northern antebellum debate matched the rhetorical skills of Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas in an historic argument over the future of slavery in a westward-expanding America. Two years later, an equally historic oratorical showdown between secessionists and Unionists in Georgia generated as much popular interest south of the Mason-Dixon line, and perhaps had an even more profound immediate effect on the future of the United States.

With Abraham Lincoln's ...

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Secession Debated: Georgia's Showdown in 1860

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Overview

The critical northern antebellum debate matched the rhetorical skills of Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas in an historic argument over the future of slavery in a westward-expanding America. Two years later, an equally historic oratorical showdown between secessionists and Unionists in Georgia generated as much popular interest south of the Mason-Dixon line, and perhaps had an even more profound immediate effect on the future of the United States.

With Abraham Lincoln's "Black Republican" triumph in the presidential election of 1860 came ardent secessionist sentiment in the South. But Unionists were equally zealous and while South Carolina—a bastion of Disunionism since 1832—seemed certain to secede; the other fourteen slave states were far from decided. In the deep South, the road to disunion depended much on the actions of Georgia, a veritable microcosm of the divided South and geographically in the middle of the Cotton South. If Georgia went for the Union, secessionist South Carolina could be isolated. So in November of 1860 all the eyes of Dixie turned to tiny Milledgeville, pre-war capital of Georgia, for a legislative confrontation that would help chart the course toward civil war.

In Secession Debated, William W. Freehling and Craig M. Simpson have for the first time collected the seven surviving speeches and public letters of this greatest of southern debates over disunion, providing today's reader with a unique window into a moment of American crisis. Introducing the debate and debaters in compelling fashion, the editors help bring to life a sleepy Southern town suddenly alive with importance as a divided legislature met to decide the fate of Georgia, and by extension, that of the nation. We hear myriad voices, among them the energetic and self-righteous governor Joseph E. Brown who, while a slaveholder and secessionist, was somewhat suspect as a native North Georgian; Alexander H. Stephens, the eloquent Unionist whose "calm dispassionate approach" ultimately backfired; and fiery secessionist Robert Toombs who, impatient with Brown's indecisiveness and the caution of the Unionists, shouted to legislators: "Give me the sword! but if you do not place it in my hands, before God! I will take it." The secessionists' Henry Benning and Thomas R.R. Cobb as well as the Unionists Benjamin Hill and Herschel Johnson also speak to us across the years, most with eloquence, all with the patriotic, passionate conviction that defined an era. In the end, the legislature adopted a convention bill which decreed a popular vote on the issue in early January, 1861. The election results were close, mirroring the intense debate of two months before: 51% of Georgians favored immediate secession, a slim margin which the propaganda-conscious Brown later inflated to 58%. On January 19th the Georgia Convention sanctioned secession in a 166-130 vote, and the imminent Confederacy had its Southern hinge.
Secession Debated is a colorful and gripping tale told in the words of the actual participants, one which sheds new light on one of the great and hitherto neglected verbal showdowns in American history. It is essential to a full understanding of the origins of the war between the states.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Outstanding primer on the 1860 Constitutional views of secession from the points of view of the Old South, seen through the lens of Georgia's outstanding statesmen."—Professor Paul Stephen Hudson, Ogelthorpe University

"Excellent little book by two first-rate scholars."—F.N. ganey, University of Georgia

"A very useful source for Georgia and southern history. Ably edited by these two fine scholars."—Ken Noe, West Georgia College

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195079456
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 10/28/1992
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 192
  • Sales rank: 761,114
  • Product dimensions: 8.19 (w) x 5.50 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

William W. Freehling is Singletary Professor of the Humanities at the University of Kentucky. He is the author of Prelude to Civil War, which won a Bancroft Prize in 1967, and The Road to Disunion: Secessionists at Bay, the first in a projected two-volume study, which won the Owsley Prize in 1991.
Craig M. Simpson is Professor of History at the University of Western Ontario and the author of A Good Southerner: The Life of Henry A. Wise of Virginia.

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Table of Contents

1 Thomas R. R. Cobb's Secessionist Speech, Monday Evening, November 12 3
2 Robert Toombs's Secessionist Speech, Tuesday Evening, November 13 31
3 Alexander H. Stephens's Unionist Speech, Wednesday Evening, November 14 51
4 Benjamin H. Hill's Unionist Speech, Thursday Evening, November 15 80
5 Herschel V. Johnson's Unionist Public Letter, Friday, November 16, from Milledgeville 105
6 Henry L. Benning's Secessionist Speech, Monday Evening, November 19 115
7 Joseph E. Brown's Secessionist Public Letter, December 7, from Milledgeville 145
Selected Bibliography 160
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 5, 2007

    A Masterpiece of Historical Editing

    Professor Simpson is one of the most underated Civil War historians of our time. This fine gathering of otherwise unpublished primary source material is a testament to his expertise. The speeches made by Toombs were of particular interest for some of my own research. It is also of little surprise that Simpson, a talented orator in his own right, chose to compile the major politcal speeches that led to Georgia's succession from the Union. If ever given the chance hear one of his exellent lectures on Southern history in person!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 15, 2003

    The Great Debate

    By himself, either of these editors is an authority to be read with pleasure. When you put Freehling and Simpson together, you have a work like this. The Georgia debate serves as a microcosm of the debates throughout the South and also stands important in its own right as one of the pivotal debates/decisons in the future of the South. These two scholars have given us, not a taste of the drama, but, the benefit of full documents. It is well worth the time of the scholar and the general reader who has an interest in antebellum history.

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