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Tennessee and Secession – Slavery, Equality, and the Degradation of the White Race

When the slave states of the Deep South seceded, most gave reasons why they were making this move. In their various “Declaration of Causes,” South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi, and Texas all listed slavery as the reason. The state of Tennessee, however, appears to be an interesting exception. Rather than drawing up an Ordinance of Secession, they issued a Declaration of Independence. Within that Declaration, Tennessee mentioned nothing at all about slavery. In fact, they gave no reasons at all why they were seceding.

There was, of course, a reason – and one not too far under the surface of their declaration. To discover it doesn’t even take all that much digging. As it turns out, the Tennessee secessionists responsible were incredibly upfront about why they wanted to leave the Union.

Mr. Reed – “Somebody Who Wore the Shoe”

Mr. Reed, born into slavery in Mississippi, was interviewed in 1929. He talks about the education of slaves, religion, last names, the Civil War, the treatment of female slaves, and lynching during the Jim Crow Era. These may not be easy words to hear, but are word worth hearing.

‘Not Shed a Tear’ – Emancipation Before the Fighting

The idea is often put forward that up until the issuing of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, the Civil War was fought by the United States to keep the Union together. It’s claimed that only after did it become a war to free the slaves. This, however, is not entirely accurate. From the start, especially to the Republican Party, the war was one to do both. It’s purpose was to reunite the nation, while its intended consequence was to abolish slavery. Nowhere is this made clearer than during the first summer of the war.

It’s important to recognize just how early this drive for emancipation began. Not only were there simple stirrings and rumblings, but actual votes were taken and actual laws were passed that actually freed people enslaved by Confederate masters – all before the first large battle took place.

Early Confederate Attempts to Arm (But Not Emancipate) the Slaves

Prior to the Civil War, black American slaves had fought in every conflict. Sometimes they were forced, other times they were allowed to volunteer, and were even granted freedom as a reward for their service. This reward descended from a long tradition of emancipating slaves who risked their lives for their masters in a time of war. Usually, the prospect of freedom was the only reason for a slave to fight.

During the Civil War, a few Confederate citizens offered their slaves so that they might be used not only for digging trenches, but in combat. Never in any such discussion was the idea of emancipation entertained. Quite the contrary – the promise to keep the slaves enslaved following the conflict was floated in hopes of gaining favor. Nevertheless, all offers were refused until the very end.

In this short piece, let’s take a look at the history of slavery in American warfare, as well as the refusal of the Confederate government to arm its slaves.

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