'Give Us Slavery or Give Us Death'

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Manisha Sinha has a pretty fascinating piece in the Times on the central role of South Carolina's Calohounites in urging the country to war:


During the debates over the Compromise of 1850, a fairly strong secession movement arose not just in South Carolina but also in Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia. Invoking and simultaneously subverting Patrick Henry's famous revolutionary slogan, the South Carolinian Edward Bryan proclaimed, "Give us slavery or give us death!" But a new split emerged, one between single-state secessionists, who believed in Calhoun's notion of absolute sovereignty that would allow any individual state to secede from the Union, and cooperationists, who argued that the South should secede as a whole. The latter won in 1850 and secession talk abated; 10 years later, the former won the day. 

Why the flip? The Lower South states, with their large slave and slaveholding populations, started resembling South Carolina in more ways than one during the 1850s: with the demise of the Whig Party, they became one-party states and breeding grounds for Southern extremism. Slaveholders in those states became more receptive to radical ideas, like the Carolina-led movement to reopen the African slave trade. And they agreed with the contention by South Carolina's leaders that the opposition by newly formed Republican Party to the extension of slavery was the first step towards general emancipation. 

South Carolina not only inspired its fellow Lower South states to follow suit, but those states in turn worked on getting the Upper South to fall in line. Mississippi and Alabama dispatched emissaries to North Carolina, Maryland, Kentucky and Missouri urging secession, though they took particular aim at Virginia. On Feb. 13, three commissioners from South Carolina, Georgia and Mississippi arrived simultaneously in that state. South Carolina's John S. Preston, who had earlier argued, "Slavery is our King -- Slavery is our Truth -- Slavery is our Divine Right," now told Virginians that the election of Lincoln meant the "annihilation" of Southern whites....

As always, I'm struck by the sheer weight primary source evidence for slavery being the cause of the Civil War. Before I came to this I thought there was room for the debate. But there just isn't any. Check out the aforementioned Preston making his case. Search for the word "slave" and see how many times it appears.

The earth revolves around the Sun. It just does.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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