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Representative Clingman and Anti-Slavery as the Cause of War

With great zeal, many Confederate apologists attempt to convince themselves and others that the Confederacy seceded from the United States for the noble causes of liberty, self-rule and states rights. This is only understandable – the historical reasons given by most Southern leaders were not exactly heroic, becoming or moral.

Brig. Gen. Thomas L. Clingman
Brig. Gen. Thomas L. Clingman

By February of 1861, before Lincoln took office, seven of the Deep South slave states had already seceded. Representative Thomas Lanier Clingman, hailing from North Carolina, had not yet brought his state to that brink. In fact, though he was a member of the secession convention, on February 4, 1861 – three days after Texas left the Union – Clingman spoke before the House, offering a variety of complaints.

Throughout his winding speech, Mr. Clingman explained how anti-slavery sentiment was causing the South to secede from the United States. He spoke of why the “conservative men of the South” refused to accept the legitimate election results favoring the “progressive democracy” North.

What follows are excerpts of the speech, given on February 4, 1861 in the United States Senate 1The Speech can be read in full here.:

Freed Slaves: The Greatest Possible Injury to the South

Look over the Southern country, and ask yourself what would be the greatest injury that could be done to it? It would not be the establishment of a monarchy, or a military despotism, because we know that monarchies and military despotisms often afford a high degree of security and civil liberty to those subject to them.

The greatest possible injury would be to liberate the slaves, and leave them as free negroes in those communities. It is sometimes said that they are worth $4,000,000,000 in money. This, I suppose, is true; but that is only a portion of the pecuniary loss, if we are deprived of them.


In the North, for example, if the horses and working cattle were removed, in addition to this loss, other property, such as vehicles and working utensils, the lands themselves would be rendered valueless to a great extent; and so, in fact, if you were to liberate the slaves of the South, so great would be the less that financial ruin would be inevitable.

And yet, this is not the greatest evil. It is that social destruction of society by infusing into it a large free negro population that is most dreaded. Northern gentleman may realize the evil, perhaps, by considering this case, which I put to them.

The negroes of the South are, in most of the States, worth more than the lands. Suppose there was a proposition now to abolish the land titles through the free States, that, if adopted, would produce immense mischief; but, in addition, suppose there were to be transferred to those States a free negro population, equal to half their own, or, as they have eighteen million of people, turn loose among them a population equal to nine million free blacks, and that accompanied with the destruction of the land titles and abolition of landed property; would not the people of those States at once ruse in rebellion against such measures?

Free Speech as a Reason to Leave the Union

There are, in all communities, discontented elements; there are everywhere men men who are ready for a change and ripe for revolution. So powerful is this element in most countries in the world, the people have to be kept down by force. There is, perhaps, not a country in Europe where there would not be a revolution every ten years if it were not for the arms and power of the government.

But when a government undertakes to foment revolution, it is omnipotent; and I have no doubt that, with all the patronage and all the power which a Republican President could bring to his aid, with a free post-office distribution of abolition pamphlets, would would see a powerful division in portions of the South.


No Reason to Accept Election Results

Again: we are told that having gone into the contest [election], we are bound to submit to the results, just as a gambler who plays a game must pay the stakes he loses. Why on this principle, if the Republicans were to nominate a free negro, I suppose w ought to let him be elected without opposition, for if we run a candidate against him, we would be bound to submit to him if elected, and there fore ought to let him go in without opposition.

If we had not attempted to defeat Lincoln, in fact, by running a rival candidate, we might have been obliged to submit, and ought to have been, and would have been justly held responsible. We, however, did our duty to the country by making an honest effort to defeat him, thought possibly we may not have conducted the contest skillfully.

I maintain that no party in the South is justly chargeable with Lincoln’s election, as, in spit of their resistance, he obtained a large majority over all opposition in States enough in the North to elect him.

Complaints About Compromise

Our people are coming to the conclusion that this government has become to vast that it is an impracticable one. I am not sure of this. I think , large as the country is, that the government might be well administered, but for the anti-slavery excitement.

When a family is divided into two sections, who are warring against each other, of course household duties must be neglected. We have had a struggle for the last ten years; the North pressing and the South struggling for its honor and safety against the [anti-slavery] movement; and such measures are its results.

Clingman after the War
Clingman after the War

In fact they are directly traceable to that hostility of Northern anti-slavery men. The people of the Northwest do not want high protective tariffs – by no means; and many Republicans do not want them; and yet you find the Republicans in a body, in the House and on this flood, coming up and voting or a most enormous tariff. Why? It is to secure the support of the tariff-men of Pennsylvania and elsewhere.

Again, New England does not like this homestead bill. At any rate, when I came here fifteen years ago, I found the men from New England were in favor of holding on to the public lands, and so far from wishing to retain them at home and thus keep down the price of wages. Now you find the solid vote of New England, I believe, for the homestead bill to tempt their people to go away.

Why is this? They want to satisfy the West; and you find the northwestern Republicans going for this high protective tariff to secure the votes of Pennsylvania and the East. The anti-slavery men form the great nucleus of the party, and they spread out their arms in all directions and gather in allies.

How Far Will Anti-Slavery Sentiment Go?

The Senator from New York [William H. Seward] said on one occasion, not long since, that, in this dispute between the North and the South, it was a matter of conscience with the North, while with the South it only a matter of interest; and therefore the South ought to yield.

By this mode, the conscience of the North can be relieved without subjecting the South to financial bankruptcy, political degradation and social ruin. The anti-slavery current can then run its course unchecked and untrammeled. It has already demanded, at Boston, the removal of the statue of Daniel Webster because he was willing to compromise with the South. How long will it be until it reaches that stage when it will requite that the statues of such slaveholders as Washington and Jackson shall be thrown into the Potomac, and the monument of the former razed to the ground, and the very name of this city changed to one in harmony with the anti-slavery feeling?


Clingman concluded his speech by pleading that the North simply allow the South to secede without war. He claimed that “war places an impassable gulf between” both nations.

During the war he dreaded, he commanded the 25th North Carolina Infantry, and soon held the rank of Brigadier General. He was wounded at Cold Harbor and Petersburg, but returned in time to surrender to William T. Sherman under Joseph Johnston’s command.

Clingman’s view that war would rendered the North and South irreconcilable is understandable. He was, however ultimately incorrect in this conclusion. Following the war, the former Confederate States (with much aid from their former foes), soon established Black Codes and Jim Crow laws, bringing back a sort of de facto slavery through share cropping and prison camps.


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Has always had a love for history and the Civil War. During the 150th anniversary of the war, writing the Civil War Daily Gazette blog, which published daily for nearly five years. Wishing to continue the exploration, following the Charleston murders in 2015, and the activism around removing the Confederate Battle Flag, decided to dig a little deeper into the causes and repercussions of the War.