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ALABAMA'S SECESSION COMMISSIONERS Durward Long The American presidential campaign of 1860 brought the disruption of the Democratic party, the successful transition of a third party—the Republican—into a major political body, and a crisis which led to civil war. The election was characterized by ominous threats, hearty brags, and serious dares. The issues, whether of slavery in the territories, the slave trade, the morality or immorality of the institution itself, or even the economic issues of slavery, became indistinguishably intertwined with the issue of secession or union. The Southerners, particularly ofthe lower South, foresaw the ending of constitutional guarantees if a purely sectional president were elected. The Lincoln supporters foresaw a dangerous precedent in acceding to the threats of a minority. Groups in each Southern state threatened to withdraw from the Union if Lincoln were elected. Legislatures in Alabama, Mississippi, and South Carolina, among other Southern states, had resolved retaliatory action in event of Lincoln's victory. There was no provision made, however, nor any plan agreed upon, whereby the retaliation—secession or other action—would be carried out. If the states were to secede, there was no agreement among them as to when or how secession would be performed . It was with this perplexing situation that Alabama's Governor Andrew Barry Moore found himself wrestling in late November, 1860. It was an almost foregone conclusion that the Republican candidate would be elected with the meeting of the electoral college. The Alabama legislalature had charged the governor with the task of making preparation for retaliatory action in the event of a Republican victory. The kind of action to be taken had not been specified. Was the governor to advise separate state action which he felt many Alabamians preferred? Or was he to consult and act only in concert with the other offended states? He knew the latter course was also favored by a great number of his constituents . What should he do to comply with both the resolutions of the Durward Lonc is an assistant professor of history and government at Florida Southern College, Lakeland, Florida. 55 56DURWARD LONG legislature, leading to separate state action, and at the same time give deference to the wishes of the many cooperationists in the state? The governor utilized the commissioner plan in an attempt to reconcile these alternate courses of action. In December, 1860, Governor Moore appointed sixteen commissioners to visit and confer with officials in the other fourteen slaveholding states. The appointment was a practical approach as well as a political device. By this means the cooperationists' complaints could be answered. The appointees would inform other Southern states of Alabama's intentions , and in turn relate the desires and suggested courses of action of other states to Alabama. These commissioners were authorized "to consult and advise ... as to what is best to be done to protect the rights, interests and honor of the slaveholding states, and to report the result of such consultation in time to enable me [Moore] to communicate the same to the Convention."1 Moore acted without authorization in the matter, but no objection was raised. The appointments were approved by the Alabama convention on January 11, 1861, the day on which the secession ordinance was finally approved. The Mississippi legislature, meanwhile, meeting in special session in November, asked that state's governor to appoint commissioners to urge the other slaveholding states to cooperate with Mississippi in effective measures. Alabama and Mississippi were thus the first Southern states to employ the commissioner plan in making real efforts in December , 1860, for cooperation and joint secession. Other Southern states followed the example of Alabama and Mississippi, but in general appointed commissioners after the ordinances of secession were ratified. Because of the early appointments in Alabama and Mississippi, and the early secession of South Carolina, these three states were able to have delegates or messengers present in other states when crucial action was taken.2 All sixteen men appointed as commissioners by the Alabama governor were able men of outstanding reputation and accomplishment in Alabama politics. They were, without exception, in favor of secession, or had stated their support of it as a remedy for the South's grievances...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 55-66
Launched on MUSE
2013-01-02
Open Access
No
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