A Documentary History
“These documents make it clear that slavery’s future lay at the center of the sectional conflict. The Introduction effectively contends that the views expressed in the documents reflected widespread beliefs, challenging contentions that Southern elites manipulated or hoodwinked white yeomen into supporting the Confederacy against their will.”—Jonathan M. Atkins, author of Parties, Politics, and the Sectional Crisis in Tennessee, 1832–1861
The election of 1860 put to rest a tumultuous decade of legislative contest over the institution of slavery—even as it set in motion events that led directly to its demise by civil war. While some scholarship tends to minimize the role of slavery in the secession of the Southern states in the early 1860s, Dwight Pitcaithley’s Tennessee Secedes: A Documentary History takes the opposite approach, examining the many factors that both fueled and complicated Tennessee’s unique journey toward secession in 1861.
Organized chronologically by source and speaker, Tennessee Secedes presents a selection of primary sources from December 1860 through the summer of 1861, inviting students to examine the arc of Tennessee’s secession march. Pitcaithley introduces proclamations, declarations, addresses, resolutions, proposed constitutional amendments, and other materials from Tennessee legislators, members of Congress, and delegates to the East Tennessee Convention. These sources highlight the political divisions apparent in the Volunteer State during this season of unrest. While many other Southern states saw little support for Unionism in the early 1860s, Tennessee stood in stark contrast, with a large and vocal population that ardently opposed secession.
Complete with appendices featuring 1861 election returns, communications from the Tennessee Congressional Delegation of the Thirty-Sixth Congress, and a timeline for Secession Winter—as well as questions for further discussion—Tennessee Secedes is an invaluable resource for students of the Civil War and Tennessee history, offering an insightful analysis of Tennessee’s uncertain path to the Confederacy in the summer of 1861.
DWIGHT T. PITCAITHLEY is a professor of history at New Mexico State University. For four decades, he worked at the National Park Service; before he retired in 2005, he was its chief historian. He is author of The U.S. Constitution and Secession: A Documentary Anthology of Slavery and White Supremacy.