Here's what the founding documents of the Confederacy had to say about the cause of the American Civil War

Gettysburg Day of Remembrance ceremonies and parade
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Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, George Brinton McClellan
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South Carolina Declaration of Secession (1860)

In their Declaration of Secession, South Carolina gave a brief history of the United States, which highlighted two principles: the right to self-governance and the right to abolish a government that did not support it. However, it then went on to explain that the self-governance in question was about slavery.

In fact, the document explains that the Constitution included an article about slavery explicitly because, had it not, it would not have been passed in the Southern states. Since slavery was a core part of the United States's founding texts, discussing slavery is inherently discussing government (and vice-versa).

"An increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery, has led to a disregard of their obligations.

A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery.

The guaranties of the Constitution will then no longer exist; the equal rights of the States will be lost. The slaveholding States will no longer have the power of self-government, or self-protection, and the Federal Government will have become their enemy."

South Carolina Declaration of Secession

While the idea that states should have the right to decide their future is certainly in this text, it is explicit in every part that these rights are being infringed by the abolition movement. In each place where governing philosophy is discussed, the application always concerns the right to own slaves, the freeing of slaves in the North, and the growing refusal to follow the Fugitive Slave Act.

Georgia Declaration of Secession (1861)

Like South Carolina, the state of Georgia put together an extensive breakdown of why they planned to leave the Union. However, the primary cause was deemed so important that it was stated within the first two sentences.

"The people of Georgia, having dissolved their political connection with the Government of the United States of America, present to their confederates and the world the causes which have led to the separation. For the last ten years we have had numerous and serious causes of complaint against our non-slave-holding confederate States with reference to the subject of African slavery. "

Georgia Declaration of Secession

The document then goes on to explain a history of the perceived injustices against the slave-holding states, explicitly concerning slavery and its economic benefits. The primary argument of the Georgia Declaration of Secession is that the North has been consolidating power to deny the South their right to govern.

Once again, self-governance is certainly present, but the question always becomes: what rights of governance did the South want? The declaration is very clear that the state of Georgia wanted to be able to make its own decisions regarding slavery.

"Because by their declared principles and policy they have outlawed $3,000,000,000 of our property in the common territories of the Union; put it under the ban of the Republic in the States where it exists and out of the protection of Federal law everywhere; because they give sanctuary to thieves and incendiaries who assail it to the whole extent of their power, in spite of their most solemn obligations and covenants; because their avowed purpose is to subvert our society and subject us not only to the loss of our property but the destruction of ourselves, our wives, and our children, and the desolation of our homes, our altars, and our firesides."

Georgia Declaration of Secession

As seen above, the primary complaints of the declaration are that outlawing slavery would effectively steal the Southerners' property and that the North refused to criminalize fugitive slaves and those who assisted them. Issues of government and economy are present, but they are only brought up because they are the theory backing the South's desire to keep slavery.

Mississippi Declaration of Secession (1861)

While South Carolina and Georgia both included extensive histories of slavery and waxed philosophical about the nature of government, Mississippi opted for a much shorter declaration. While South Carolina's Declaration was 2,181 words long and Georgia's was 3,318, Mississippi's Declaration of Secession had only 688.

"In the momentous step which our State has taken of dissolving its connection with the government of which we so long formed a part, it is but just that we should declare the prominent reasons which have induced our course.

Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery-- the greatest material interest of the world."

Mississippi Declaration of Secession

Because it was so much shorter, this Declaration was much clearer with its point: the North wanted to eliminate slavery, and Mississippi disagreed. Along with some wild pseudoscience regarding how Black people were biologically predisposed to agricultural work, the declaration explained that slavery supported Mississippi's economy and it couldn't survive without it.

"Utter subjugation awaits us in the Union, if we should consent longer to remain in it. It is not a matter of choice, but of necessity. We must either submit to degradation, and to the loss of property worth four billions of money, or we must secede from the Union framed by our fathers, to secure this as well as every other species of property."

Mississippi Declaration of Secession

According to this document, the secessionists of Mississippi believed that they would be destroyed by the North under Abraham Lincoln's presidency. But there are no examples given of how this would happen except that slavery would be abolished. As they stated themselves, slavery was the key.

Texas Declaration of Secession (1861)

Texas is an interesting case, because, as their Declaration of Secession states, they were a "free, sovereign and independent nation" before joining the United States. Because of this, they have always had a more complex relationship with the federal government than other states.

This is a critical component of their Declaration, because they explained that slavery was part of Texas when it was its own country and that it had no intention of ever changing that. If the United States could not accept that, it was willing to be independent again.

"She was received as a commonwealth holding, maintaining and protecting the institution known as n***o slavery-- the servitude of the African to the white race within her limits-- a relation that had existed from the first settlement of her wilderness by the white race, and which her people intended should exist in all future time. "

Texas Declaration of Secession

One additional reason that Texas gave for secession was that it had received little help from the federal government when it was raided by indigenous populations and Mexicans. However, this too is explained as having occurred "for the sole reason that [Texas] is a slave-holding State."

Seemingly, the division between those for and against slavery was at the root of all problems, including those that had more to do with the economy or the military. While modern politics might see these as distinct issues, the Texas Declaration identified all governmental actions as effects of the struggle over slavery.

Furthermore, Texas made it clear that this was a moral and religious stance, as well as a political one. More than just wanting slavery for its benefits to the economy, Texas was willing to explicitly place white supremacy as one of its core tenets, leading to the dissolution of its connection to the Union.

"We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race, and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable.

That in this free government all white men are and of right ought to be entitled to equal civil and political rights; that the servitude of the African race, as existing in these States, is mutually beneficial to both bond and free, and is abundantly authorized and justified by the experience of mankind, and the revealed will of the Almighty Creator, as recognized by all Christian nations; while the destruction of the existing relations between the two races, as advocated by our sectional enemies, would bring inevitable calamities upon both and desolation upon the fifteen slave-holding states."

Texas Declaration of Secession

There may have been distinct causes of dissent for individuals, but the Texas government made it clear that slavery and white supremacy were not just why they seceded, but were also part of their very identity.

Other Declarations of Secession

While eleven states and one territory chose to secede, only a few went to the trouble of detailing why they chose to leave. Most of the seceding states gave little to no explanation.

Alabama, which was the fourth state to secede, only wrote that it was in response to the election of Abraham Lincoln. However, its motive is clear given the invitation for all "slaveholding States of the South" to meet to form a provisional government.

Likewise, Virginia kept their reasoning brief, only stating, "the Federal Government having perverted said powers not only to the injury of the people of Virginia, but to the oppression of the Southern slave-holding States."

A new reason for secession came after the beginning of the Civil War. Abraham Lincoln referred to the previous secessions as a rebellion and sent forces to defeat them on April 15, 1861. This gave states like Arkansas an excuse for secession because, "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."

States like Florida, Louisiana, Tennessee, and North Carolina simply announced their secession with no reasoning given. However, given that these were slaveholding states and all came after the secession of South Carolina, it can be assumed that they held similar positions.

The general theme was that the federal government was conspiring against the South, but the specific terminology made it clear that this was a slight against those who valued slavery. Based on the more detailed Declarations above, the details of this conspiracy all had to do with support for abolition and resistance to the Fugitive Slave Act.

Continue to the next slide for information about the Confederacy's Constitution.