Traditionally, the secession of the states in the lower South has been viewed as an irrational response to Lincoln’s election or as a rational response to the genuine threat a Republican president posed to the geographical expansion of slavery. Both views emphasize the fundamental importance of relations between the federal government and the southern states, but overlook the degree to which secession was a response to a crisis within the South.
Johnson argues that secession was a double revolution—for home rule and for those who ruled at home—brought about by an internal crisis in southern society. He portrays secession as the culmination of the long-developing tension between slavery on one side and the institutional and ideological consequences of the American Revolution on the other. This tension was masked during the antebellum years by the conflicting social, political, sectional, and national loyalties of many southerners. Lincoln’s election forced southerners to choose among their loyalties, and their choice revealed a South that was divided along lines coinciding roughly with an interest in slavery and the established order.
Starting with a thorough analysis of election data and integrating quantitative with more traditional literary sources, Johnson goes beyond the act of secession itself to examine what the secessionists said and did after they left the Union. Although this book is a close study of secession in Georgia, it has implications for the rest of the lower South. The result is a new thesis that presents secession as the response to a more complex set of motivations than has been recognized.
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