Kentucky and the Secession Crisis

A Documentary History

  • Author(s): PItcaithley, Dwight T.
  • Series:
  • Imprint: University of Tennessee Press
  • Publication Date: 2022-09-15
  • Status: Active
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As the election of 1860 loomed, the United States suffered tumultuous division over the political fate of slavery in the western territories. While Northern states favored territorial sovereignty, the Deep South advocated for federal protection of slavery during the territorial period. Disagreement festered and gave way to civil war—but for some states literally caught in the middle, choosing a side was not so easy.

A slave state itself but bordering three non-slave-state neighbors across the Ohio River, Kentucky was in a difficult position as division swept the country. Aware that secession would nullify the Fugitive Slave Act and believing that slavery as a statewide institution would be better protected if Kentucky remained in the Union, the Bluegrass State ultimately stepped away from its Deep South sister states and chose not to secede. Kentucky and the Secession Crisis: A Documentary History showcases the discourse that followed the 1860 election and sheds light on Kentucky’s political thought processes as the state struggled toward a decision.

This important collection includes addresses by Governor Beriah Magoffin; Senator John J. Crittenden’s December 1860 address proposing a Constitutional solution to secession; speeches by various proponents and opponents of the Crittenden amendment; various Constitutional amendments proposed by Kentuckians; and documents related to the second session of the Thirty-Sixth Congress, the Washington Peace Conference of 1861, and the Border Slave State Conference. With a lengthy introduction and questions for discussion, Kentucky and the Secession Crisis is an insightful and valuable resource for historians as well as for the classroom.


Dwight T. Pitcaithley worked for the National Park Service for three decades, the final decade as its chief historian. Following his retirement from the National Park Service in 2005, he was a professor of history at New Mexico State University. He is the author/editor of The U.S. Constitution and Secession: A Documentary Anthology of Slavery and White Supremacy and Tennessee Secedes: A Documentary History.