May 6: More states secede

Alexander Stephens
Alexander Stephens

In Montgomery on May 7, 1861, Alexander Stephens had an optimistic report on the progress of secession. The New York Times reported on it:

ANOTHER SPEECH BY A.H. STEPHENS.

RESULT OF HIS MISSION TO VIRGINIA — FURTHER DESIGNS OF THE REBELS.

Hon. A.H. STEPHENS reached Atlanta, Georgia, on his return from Virginia, on the 30th ult. He was received by a large crowd, to whom he made a speech, of which we find the following report in the Confederacy of the 2d:

MY FELLOW-CITIZENS: I think the country maybe considered safe, since your interest in its welfare has brought you out at this hour of the night. I have just returned from a mission to old Virginia. It will be gratifying to you, I know, to state that she is not only out of the Union, but she is a member of the Southern Confederacy, and has sent delegates to our Congress, now assembled. North Carolina will have her delegates with us, also, in a few days. Her Legislature meets to-morrow, and I doubt not she will be out of the Union before Saturday night. The fires which first kindled the old Mecklenburgh Declaration of Independence are again burning throughout all her domains. From all that we have learned in the last, few days, Tennessee will soon put herself on the side of the South, and he a new star in our shining galaxy. The news is also good from Kentucky, though I have nothing official from there. A few of her public men are trying to put the brakes down on her people; but they seem unwilling to submit any longer. From Missouri the news is most cheering, and Arkansas will soon be with us.

He was partly right. Missouri was problematic for the South, and thanks largely to the large German population in the east, as well as the efforts of Nathaniel Lyon, it would remain in the Union. Kentucky was also a stretch. He was right, however, about Arkansas and Tennessee, both of which had already voted to secede on May 6, 1861, though apparently the news had not yet reached Montgomery.

Arkansas’ convention cited the “sectional party” in power, and their opposition to coercion as the reasons for secession:

AN ORDINANCE to dissolve the union now existing between the State of Arkansas and the other States united with her under the compact entitled “The Constitution of the United States of America.”

Whereas, in addition to the well-founded causes of complaint set forth by this convention, in resolutions adopted on the 11th of March, A.D. 1861, against the sectional party now in power in Washington City, headed by Abraham Lincoln, he has, in the face of resolutions passed by this convention pledging the State of Arkansas to resist to the last extremity any attempt on the part of such power to coerce any State that had seceded from the old Union, proclaimed to the world that war should be waged against such States until they should be compelled to submit to their rule, and large forces to accomplish this have by this same power been called out, and are now being marshaled to carry out this inhuman design; and to longer submit to such rule, or remain in the old Union of the United States, would be disgraceful and ruinous to the State of Arkansas:

Therefore we, the people of the State of Arkansas, in convention assembled, do hereby declare and ordain, and it is hereby declared and ordained, That the “ordinance and acceptance of compact” passed and approved by the General Assembly of the State of Arkansas on the 18th day of October, A.D. 1836, whereby it was by said General Assembly ordained that by virtue of the authority vested in said General Assembly by the provisions of the ordinance adopted by the convention of delegates assembled at Little Rock for the purpose of forming a constitution and system of government for said State, the propositions set forth in “An act supplementary to an act entitled ‘An act for the admission of the State of Arkansas into the Union, and to provide for the due execution of the laws of the United States within the same, and for other purposes,'” were freely accepted, ratified, and irrevocably confirmed, articles of compact and union between the State of Arkansas and the United States, and all other laws and every other law and ordinance, whereby the State of Arkansas became a member of the Federal Union, be, and the same are hereby, in all respects and for every purpose herewith consistent, repealed, abrogated, and fully set aside; and the union now subsisting between the State of Arkansas and the other States, under the name of the United States of America, is hereby forever dissolved.

And we do further hereby declare and ordain, That the State of Arkansas hereby resumes to herself all rights and powers heretofore delegated to the Government of the United States of America; that her citizens are absolved from all allegiance to said Government of the United States, and that she is in full possession and exercise of all the rights and sovereignty which appertain to a free and independent State.

We do further ordain and declare, That all rights acquired and vested under the Constitution of the United States of America, or of any act or acts of Congress, or treaty, or under any law of this State, and not incompatible with this ordinance, shall remain in full force and effect, in nowise altered or impaired, and have the same effect as if this ordinance had not been passed.

Adopted and passed in open convention on the 6th day of May, A.D. 1861.

Meanwhile, Tennessee’s convention didn’t give any reasons for seceding. In their ordinance, they declined specifically to take a position on the right to secession. Instead, they titled it a “declaration of independence,” paraphrasing the original and implicitly basing their action on the right of revolution.


DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE AND ORDINANCE dissolving the federal relations between the State of Tennessee and the United States of America.

First. We, the people of the State of Tennessee, waiving any expression of opinion as to the abstract doctrine of secession, but asserting the right, as a free and independent people, to alter, reform, or abolish our form of government in such manner as we think proper, do ordain and declare that all the laws and ordinances by which the State of Tennessee became a member of the Federal Union of the United States of America are hereby abrogated and annulled, and that all the rights, functions, and powers which by any of said laws and ordinances were conveyed to the Government of the United States, and to absolve ourselves from all the obligations, restraints, and duties incurred thereto; and do hereby henceforth become a free, sovereign, and independent State.

Second. We furthermore declare and ordain that article 10, sections 1 and 2, of the constitution of the State of Tennessee, which requires members of the General Assembly and all officers, civil and military, to take an oath to support the Constitution of the United States be, and the same are hereby, abrogated and annulled, and all parts of the constitution of the State of Tennessee making citizenship of the United States a qualification for office and recognizing the Constitution of the United States as the supreme law of this State are in like manner abrogated and annulled.

Third. We furthermore ordain and declare that all rights acquired and vested under the Constitution of the United States, or under any act of Congress passed in pursuance thereof, or under any laws of this State, and not incompatible with this ordinance, shall remain in force and have the same effect as if this ordinance had not been passed.

[sent to referendum 6 May 1861 by the legislature, and approved by the voters by a vote of 104,471 to 47,183 on 8 June 1861]

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