Secession Commissioner's Role in the Creation of the Civil War

Historians attempt to explain different events and happenings through many lenses and with many interpretations. One event that has been highly contested with questions of why it occurred, for what reasons it was fought, and what reminisces and pieces of the battle mean today is the American Civil War. Interpretations like the Civil War was “fought over slavery” or “it was fought over states’ rights”, have created an intense rhetoric around this war.

This question of “The Civil War was fought over what important issue?”, has been brought to the forefront of discussions by historians like Charles B. Dew in Apostles of Disunion.[1]There are many ideas surrounding why this war was fought including, Lincoln’s election, states’ rights, different economic interests, still political rivalries, and slavery.[2]This vast battle for exact causation left Dew looking for his own answer. Within Apostles of Disunion, Charles Dew argues that secession commissioners not only played a large role in southern secession leading to the war, but commissioners also gave exact answers in their speech as to why each state seceded. Speeches were given by secession commissioners were raw and real as they were uncensored at the time they were given. These speeches helped Dew unlock the history behind the powerful question of why the Civil War began.

Dew provides extensive evidence to justify that commissioners, and their messages, led southern states into secession, thus starting the Civil War. Providing speeches from Alabama, the Carolinas, Mississippi, and Virginia, allowed Dew to capture the primary reasons and beliefs behind the succession and eventual participation in the war. He explains that the election of Lincoln to the Alabamians was a “direct declaration of war for it destroyed the property of the south”.[3]The Carolinas then go on to second the Alabamians by declaring that if the south submitted to the north, “it would lead to the certain destruction of slavery”.[4]

Dew was very persuasive in his use of southern secession commissioners just as they were persuasive in their messages surrounding reasons to join the south. I agree with Dew’s tactics, as well as the messages they demonstrated. This powerful analysis of the causation of the American Civil War is ground breaking in history’s attempt to answer the question of “The Civil War was fought over what important issue?”[5]

Southern secession commissioners are essential in interpreting the causes of the American Civil War. Letters and speeches written by secession commissioners depict the real reasons that states were deciding to leave the union and demonstrated the true intentions of the south. Without the looking at the letters and speeches given by these men, historians are unable to examine the full picture of why the Civil War started.

[1]Charles B. Dew, Apostles of Disunion: Southern Secession Commissioners and the Causes of the Civil War (Charlottesville, Virginia: University of Virginia Printing Press, 2001), 4.

[2]Dew, Apostles of Disunion, 10.

[3]Dew, Apostles of Disunion, 54.

[4]Dew, Apostles of Disunion, 49-50.

[5]Dew, Apostles of Disunion, 103.


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